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7.45 pm

I trust that it will reassure the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) to hear that it was not this evening's amendments that occasioned the guard within the Bill to ensure that there is no conflict between the mayor, the assembly and the boroughs. The final paragraph of the letter from the ALG states:

The basic argument of the hon. Member for Croydon, South is that the Opposition want the boroughs to send a representative, not a leader, because it is the best way to ensure that the assembly best serves the interests of the people of London. However, he then rubbished individual boroughs. Haringey and Hammersmith featured in his contribution. He accused the letter of my noble Friend Lord Harris of demonstrating nothing more than cronyism. Indeed, he stated that the letter from the ALG was not worth the paper that it was printed on. I find it bizarre that someone who clearly holds the borough representatives in such low regard is arguing that those are the people who should automatically be appointed to an assembly.

The hon. Gentleman failed to touch on a particularly important point inasmuch as the Bill is about restoring a democratic voice to the people of London. The official Opposition's proposals would ignore the wishes of Londoners twice. In effect, they would ensure that their choice of borough representative would not be there to do the job that they had elected him or her to do. The proposals would also ignore the voice of Londoners in their directly elected mayor because an unelected assembly could scrutinise an elected mayor. That is hardly a democratic benefit; it is a democratic deficit twice.

The contributions from Conservative Back Benchers were infinitely more constructive than those of the hon. Member for Croydon, South. The amendments that he tabled would wreck the provisions of the Bill--provisions agreed by Parliament and endorsed by the people of London in a referendum held only nine months ago. The contributions of the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster and the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) were particularly positive in that both were concerned, in essence, with what is central to our Bill--the good governance of London.

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The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) also made a somewhat surprising contribution inasmuch as she supports the amendment. Yet, when we debated the possibility of an elected deputy mayor earlier--also an Opposition proposal--she argued that directly elected assembly men would be much too busy attempting to reply to their correspondence to constituents to be able truly to scrutinise the mayor's proposals and policies. Apparently, by supporting this amendment, she is perfectly prepared to put in assembly men who have no mandate from the people of London, but who would not be able to deal with their constituents in the boroughs to which they were directly elected.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) attaches importance to a constituency link. There will be constituencies; we have announced the new constituencies for which residents will vote for their assembly members. We are not attempting to mix and match or pour a quart into a pint pot, but proposing modern government of the sort that the people of London have shown, by their overwhelming support in the referendum, that they wish to have introduced.

The Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill contained the question on the ballot paper that was put to the people of London in the referendum. It was quite explicit and asked

Around 70 per cent. of those who voted in the referendum voted yes, and there was a clear yes vote in every London borough. It is astonishing that the Conservative Opposition, which supported a yes vote during the referendum and approved an elected assembly, should come forward with tired old arguments about having appointees rather than elected members. Is that really the new democracy for the new millennium that they seek to establish?

Several Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Gainsborough, mentioned parochialism. Some felt that the authority would not play its proper part. The point is that the GLA will be a strategic authority concerned with matters that affect the whole of London. I touched lightly on the environment and a proper strategic waste disposal plan, and explained how one borough's actions can adversely affect the lives of people in neighbouring boroughs. That does not mean that the GLA will be unconcerned by issues that arise in individual boroughs or groups of boroughs but that, under the Bill, the GLA cannot ride roughshod over the interests of the boroughs or the decisions that they take. The boroughs do not therefore need to be represented on the GLA.

As a strategic authority, it is essential that the GLA should focus on broad, Londonwide issues. Borough council members are elected to represent the views, and promote the interests, of their boroughs, but sometimes a broader perspective is necessary. It is that broader perspective that directly elected list members of the assembly will be expected to provide. The borough councils will of course continue to have a major part to play in the governance of London. Their role is carefully safeguarded by the Bill. They, if not the Conservative party, have recognised that the GLA is not a threat to them. I quoted the final paragraph of the letter from

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the Association of London Government. Indeed, the ALG's briefing on the Bill states:

    "The ALG supports this major initiative to give Londoners an elected Mayor and Assembly".

The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) made several points in response to the Conservative amendments that chimed closely with our responses. He noted that the strategic nature of our proposals is essential. He inquired why there was no requirement on the mayor and assembly to have a strategic overview of health. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) touched on some of the reasons. There is a requirement in the Bill that the mayor must improve the health of Londoners, but that is part and parcel of the other strategic policies that the mayor and assembly will introduce.

The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton discerned a lack of democracy in our national health service. I am sure that he knows of the announcement made in the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health in which he listed in no small detail the true democratic perspective that will be brought to bear in respect of our NHS and our NHS trusts. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that he wants social services and health departments to work more closely together for the benefit of our constituents. The Government have already begun to put that in place. The most recent standard spending assessment settlement has done precisely that.

I found the Liberal Democrat amendments surprising. An assembly of 40 members is not what Londoners voted for. They backed our proposals for a small, streamlined assembly of 25 members. We intend to deliver for Londoners their wishes, as endorsed by the referendum. That is not through any concern about press comment, whether adverse or pro. We have said all along, in the Green Paper, the White Paper and in the Bill, that the assembly needs to be small, streamlined and strategic in focus. We think that 40 members would far too many. An assembly of 25 members will be large enough to allow it to perform its essential scrutiny and investigativeroles without becoming unwieldy and unnecessarily bureaucratic. Its size will allow it to take a strategic view rather than a parochial one, which would lead to competition with the boroughs.

The Liberal Democrats may have proposed a larger assembly because they want it, rather than the mayor, to perform executive functions. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton mentioned that point. To set his mind at rest, let me say that Transport for London is an executive arm of the mayor and assembly, not a body that will discuss what is required for London transport. It does not require membership from the boroughs because it will put in place the policies that the mayor will have campaigned on and that have been validated by the people of London. The Liberal Democrats clearly think that a larger body is needed, but we think that their proposals are a recipe for bigger, more bureaucratic government with more committees and, inevitably, less efficiency. In his typically robust and entertaining contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) shared his interpretation of precisely why the Liberal Democrats propose a larger assembly.

Londoners want action. They backed our proposals for a directly elected mayor coupled with an assembly,thus ensuring that the mayor's activities are open

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and accountable, because they want action taken in the areas of particular concern to all Londoners. If hon. Members consider the detail of the Liberal Democrat proposals, they will recognise that there is little logical in them. Why have 23 constituency members? I can at least understand--although I do not agree with it--the rationale for an assembly of 33 members, one for each London borough and one the for the City, or for our proposal for 14 constituency members under which we can combine two or three boroughs to form constituencies.

The Liberal Democrat proposals could require boroughs to be divided up into new constituencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich pressed hard to find out who the Liberal Democrats thought representatives for such constituencies would be speaking for. It is an unnecessary and impractical proposal. Londoners could find themselves voting in an entirely new electoral area that was not a borough, an easily recognisable combination of boroughs or a parliamentary constituency but yet another electoral unit. That would produce confusion and severe irritation.

If the amendments were accepted, they would be likely to delay the elections. The Local Government Commission would need to conduct a further review of constituencies, scrapping the thorough work that it has just completed which produced recommendations that have attracted little criticism. A new review would be particularly complex and controversial because the commission would be asked how best to divide up boroughs to create wholly new units. That is a recipe for delay and confusion. The Government believe that a directly elected assembly of 25 members is right for London; it was certainly backed by London. I therefore ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

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