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Mr. Gapes: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes: In a moment.

My hon. Friends and I made our position clear on Second Reading. We have long advocated London having its own democratic government, and we therefore supported introducing a Bill that would allow us to consider that proposal, but we raised five principal objections.

We said that there was far too much central Government power over what was meant to be a handing over of regional government power. That was true, and is still absolutely true. We said that there was no power, which there should have been, to vary the amount of money raised by the Greater London Authority. If we want to give real political power, we have to give real economic power. That was true, and is still true.

We said that the mayor would be too powerful relative to the assembly. That was absolutely true, and is still absolutely true.

The Minister for London and Construction (Mr. Nick Raynsford): No.

Mr. Hughes: It is absolutely true. As the Minister and his colleagues kept on telling us, the Bill's structure means that we will have an executive mayor and an assembly that, if it is lucky, will benefit from a bit of consultation about what the mayor is planning to do.

Like many of the people who responded to the Green Paper, we argued strongly that the principal powers should be extended to include duties relating to the health of Londoners and the co-ordination of the provision of higher, or post-secondary, education. Neither has been included in the Bill. We argued that, although the electoral system would be better than the one we had when London last had regional government, the proposed system was not the best. That is as true now as when we started our consideration of the Bill. I have to report that there has been no improvement at all to any of the proposals that were the subject of those five objections.

We were surprised that the Government resisted so many of the specific ways in which we sought to amend the authority's general powers. We argued that a principal purpose of the new authority should be promoting the health of people in Greater London, but they resisted that. We argued that a principal purpose should be the achievement of sustainable development. They resisted that. Saddest of all, when we argued yesterday that a principal purpose of the authority should be the promotion not only of social development but of equal opportunities, they resisted that, too.

We argued that it might be possible for the deputy mayor to be chosen by the assembly, given that the deputy mayor has to come from the assembly. We thought that the Government might accept that reasonable and modest proposal--but no, the deputy mayor has to be appointed by the mayor because the mayor has to keep all the power to herself or himself.

On Second Reading, we also flagged up the fact that we wanted to introduce parish and community councils in London under the umbrella of the Bill. The rest of Britain

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can have them, but sadly, that was not technically possible because of the Bill's long title. We shall have to come back to that issue.

We have clearly moved forward in some respects and progress has been made. We flagged up the fact that the Government were proposing that, although the elections would be in May next year, the authority would come into existence in April. We persuaded them that that was not terribly logical. There will now be elections for the assembly in May and the authority will come into being in July, which is a welcome change.

We welcome the proposals for consulting more widely with London's representative communities, which we argued about in Committee. We welcome wider consultation with people about the appointment of chief officers of police, which we pressed for in Committee. We greatly welcome the great concessions of yesterday, when the Government accepted our amendments: climate change should appear instead of global warming, and waste minimisation should be added to the listof environmental considerations. Those are small amendments for which we are nevertheless grateful.

It was also accepted all round the House that, for the first election, there should be a minimum threshold, for particular London reasons, for those who are to be elected on the top-up list. However, Liberal Democrat Members made it clear that we reserve our position until we have heard the electoral commission's report on the viability and appropriateness of continuing a threshold thereafter.

Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town): Given the vandalism of the Conservative Government, who abolished the GLC, and the fact that this Government are re-establishing London government, may I suggest that Liberal Democrats are nitpicking? They accuse us of centralisation, but we are responding to public demand and restoring London government. In respect of economic power, we are creating a regional development agency and the power of the mayor will be balanced by the assembly. Health is a feature, and we are not returning to a GLC. We are restoring London government, and Londoners will elect a Labour mayor.

Mr. Hughes: The hon. Gentleman has a duty to defend the proposition put forward by his party, given that he is responsible for so much in London Labour party politics.

We take the same general view on this Bill as we take on the Government's constitutional reforms in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Government could have been brave, but they are usually timid. They could have real devolution, but they always stop short. They could have given power away from Whitehall, but they always keep Secretaries of State and Prime Ministers in charge of the bodies that are meant to be devolved.

Mr. Gapes: In his discussions with his colleagues, could the hon. Gentleman find time to suggest to his mathematical colleague, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow), that he might wish to calculate the number of repetitive arguments that have been put ad nauseam by the Liberal Democrats at every Committee sitting and in the House?

Mr. Hughes: I seem to remember that the hon. Gentleman came up with some extraordinary views in

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Committee which suggested that Stalinism still reigns on some of the Labour Benches. We kept to the agreed timetable in Committee. My hon. Friends and I contributed to most debates, unlike most Labour Back Benchers, who were noticeably silent. Sadly, that is a reflection of the state of the parties: we speak our minds, whereas Labour Members are often not allowed to do so.

The Government had opportunities to make progress. They could have agreed to allow the mayor to be recalled--a point made by the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway)--if he or she no longer had the confidence of Londoners, but they resisted. They could have allowed London government to take account of national policy, but not to be required to be consistent with it. Why have devolution if the devolved body has to do the same as everyone else? However, the Government resisted that. They could have allowed London government to be free of capping, but they resisted it. They could have allowed the current concessionary fare regime, which is the best of the series of regimes, to be the starting point for concessionary fares in the new London government, but instead we shall start with the old regime, which is less good in terms of those who benefit from the concessions.

Although we welcome the opportunity for road charging to be levied both at the workplace and for road users, the Government resisted other transport proposals that were obviously necessary. They resisted permanent hypothecation, which we debated regularly with the Minister for Transport in London. They resisted the proposal by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) for a guaranteed annual increase in funding for London transport in line with the retail price index.

Then, in Committee, we had the blow that none of us expected. We imagined that London Regional Transport would be abolished and handed over to Transport for London, but we discovered that it would not be abolished after all. We discovered that the invitation to tender for the new tube system, which was meant to be issued early this spring, had still not been issued, and that the public-private partnership, which the Government say is not driven by empty ideology, is something to which the Government are so wedded that they will continue with it, despite the fact that it appears to be an empty proposition. Nobody is playing that game. My hon. Friends have offered the Government a better, internationally tried and tested, and acceptable alternative--a public interest company to run London underground. Instead, next July we are to have a London government that will not allow the mayor or the assembly to run the key transport system that everybody thought it would run.

We do not support the Conservative amendment, and we shall oppose it. The Conservatives complain about the fairer electoral system that is proposed, because they believe that it will lead to parties having an influence out of proportion to the number of their candidates who have been elected. The fact is that people will be elected in proportion to the votes cast for them. The Tory party has set itself against the right of the London government to introduce road charging, which we think it should have. The Tory answer to the problem of the future of the tube is to privatise it, which my hon. Friends and I have always opposed.

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I pay tribute to my hon. Friends who have worked assiduously in Committee for 100 hours, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake), who has supported us throughout. For Liberal Democrats, this Bill has been a test of whether the Government would deliver regional government for London. We gave them the benefit of the doubt on Second Reading. Sadly, we have been let down, so we shall not be able to support the Bill on Third Reading tonight.

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