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Mr. Deputy Speaker: I must remind the House that Madam Speaker has selected the reasoned amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

9.8 pm

Mr. Ottaway: I beg to move,


The Conservatives make no apology for having scrapped the Greater London council--it was a bloated, inefficient and expensive organisation. However, we recognise that there is a case for a voice for London. We believe that the borough system has worked well for the past decade and argue that, working with the mayor of London, the boroughs have it within their grasp to become a more effective organisation. That would be to the benefit of the London boroughs and of London as a whole.

The model enshrined in the Bill, however, does not hold much appeal for us. Our arguments that the assembly should comprise an assembly of borough representatives have been rejected and, as a result, we believe that the potential for conflict with the London boroughs is real, and we fear clashes reminiscent of the bad old days of the GLC. We also believe the method of election of both the mayor and the assembly to be flawed. The assembly is almost guaranteed to be hung, and all the inherent weaknesses of proportional representation will be on display.

It is also arguable--in the light of the Government's confessed concerns about the potential rise of extremist parties in London--whether PR is the right method of election for London.

Mr. Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman says that he believes that the Greater London Authority is almost bound to be hung. If by that he means that there is bound to be no majority for one party, and if it is the case that Londoners who vote do not by a majority vote for one party, does he not accept that the GLA would be more accurately representing Londoners if it represented them according to the share of the votes that they cast than by the result of a distorted figure that gives a minority a majority?

Mr. Ottaway: Time does not permit a detailed analysis of electoral systems. The hon. Gentleman is going into old territory on proportional representation. The Conservative party thinks that PR gives disproportionate power to minority parties and that that will be to the detriment of the assembly.

Before I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, I was questioning whether PR is the right method of election for London given the Government's professed concern about

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the potential rise of extremist parties in London. It is safe to say that it is not beyond the realms of possibility that a British National party candidate could be elected to the assembly. There is also a lack of checks and balances if the mayor loses the plot. The separation of powers between the executive and the assembly is unique to this country. Without the checks and balances of such democratic systems as exist in the United States, for example, the risk of disaster will always be round the corner.

In the old Greater London council, the leader could be removed. In the House, the Prime Minister can be removed. The leader of any council in the country can be removed. However, in London, even if 5 million people signed a petition calling for the removal of the mayor, with a unanimous resolution of this House and the other place and a flock of psychiatrists in Harley street declaring the mayor to be insane, nothing could be done and he could continue in office if he so wished.

London is to be used as a pilot scheme for extra taxation in the form of road user charging. Given that that is unlikely to have any effect upon congestion; given that most public transport systems in London are already saturated and could not cope if there were an exodus from the car; given that the stated aim of road user charging is to reduce the level of pollution, which it is unlikely to do; and given that it is a tax by the back door, we believe that London is not the right place to introduce such a scheme, and we oppose it.

Above all, the biggest disaster waiting to happen concerns London underground. The Government are busy negotiating a public-private partnership. They have little idea how it will end up, but they know that they will not have completed negotiations by the time the new authority starts work. The Government have given little indication of the mayor's involvement in the negotiations. They simply intend that when they have finished their negotiations, they will dump the outcome on the people of London, walk away from it and say, "You pay off the debt."

The Government are so panicky that the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) may end up as the first mayor of London that they have introduced no fewer than 250 powers to enable the Secretary of State to intervene. The House should be under no illusion but that whoever is elected as the first mayor of London will be very much under the thumb of the Secretary of State. The mayor's room to manoeuvre will be minimal and his chance to introduce his own flair and imagination will be strictly limited. The shape and direction of the authority will be very much at the Government's whim. None of this bears any resemblance to, or has any place in, the Conservative party's vision for London.

Our vision is of a lighter touch, with an assembly of borough leaders working with the mayor, not against him. We have a vision of an underground system maximising the benefits that the private sector can bring, with the motorist being managed, not clobbered. It is a vision of working with the people of London, not against them. It is for these reasons that I urge the House to support our reasoned amendment.

9.15 pm

Mr. Darvill: I oppose the amendment and support the Third Reading of the Bill.

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As a member of the Standing Committee and a comparatively new Member of the House, I found the experience in Committee extremely worth while. It was a good-natured Committee, by and large. More than 100 hours of work on the detail of the Bill certainly added to my knowledge of pan-London issues.

The restoration of strategic Londonwide government, in which I am proud to have played a small part, will be a lasting legacy of the Government. Within two years of the general election and on the basis of my party's firm manifesto commitment, a referendum was held and supported by a large number of Londoners, and a comprehensive Bill produced. That is indeed a tribute to the work of the Government and the House.

The Bill not only has support in the House and Londonwide, through the ballot box and the referendum, but during the course of the Standing Committee I received numerous briefings from business organisations, the Association of London Government and so on, supporting the broad thrust of the Bill. It clearly meets the wide-ranging demands of various groups of Londoners.

Developing strategy for the mayor will be an important part of life in London for the next year or so, as we lead up to the election, and afterwards. It is not a question of working against Londoners, as the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) claimed. The ethos of the Bill is to work with Londoners, the London boroughs and all the participatory organisations set out in the Bill.

Transport will be the principal focus of the GLA and the mayor. It was good to debate the subject at such length today, as that is the aspect of life in London where most difference can be made. The time that we spent debating transport this evening and in Committee was time well spent. Adding democratic power to the police authority is another important step. The powers of the London development agency to regenerate London and the measures relating to the environment and the emergency services are all significant.

I believe that in Committee we spent too long on some clauses and not enough time on others. With due respect to colleagues on the Liberal Benches, having listened to them on many occasions I thought that our time could have been better spent on the more important clauses, rather than listening to the repetition of the same points on others. It is for hon. Members to present their own arguments, but when we are considering a Bill of more than 300 clauses that deals with such important issues as transport and strategic regeneration, we must use our time effectively. On the whole, however, the Committee did its work well.

I am proud to support the Bill and I wish it good speed.

9.19 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes: This is not only a long Bill; its size suggests serious reading. At the start of our debate yesterday, it was already the largest and longest in the living memory of the Officers of the House, comprising 306 clauses and 26 schedules. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) kindly added up the additional contents, which have been added over only the past two days. We calculate that the Bill

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now comprises 338 clauses and 27 schedules. The only significant problem is that it has not got better; with expansion, it has got worse.


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