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9.31 pm

Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North): I welcome the Bill, which will restore democratic accountability to London. I still welcome it, even though we spent until midnight yesterday discussing it, and 100 hours in Committee, not to mention Second Reading. As amended, it is now an immensely detailed document. If the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is to be believed, it is the largest ever Bill. It will fundamentally affect the lives of Londoners by setting out how the mayor and assembly will be elected, the accountability of the mayor, which is most important, and the strategies of the mayor.

The capital's transport strategy is of great importance to Londoners, and has rightly generated huge interest. It has taken up a great deal of time and energy on the Floor of the House and in Committee. It was one of the areas that I focused on in my speech on Second Reading on 14 December. I raised issues of concern to the licensed taxi trade, a large number of whose drivers live in my constituency. I was pleased to introduce a new clause in Committee on charging fees for "the knowledge", so that existing drivers do not have to subsidise applicants for licences. The Government have accepted the case, and hope to introduce a measure in the other place.

The Bill deals with the vital area of planning. There is a clear need for a strategic approach to planning in London. If strategic planning was not needed after the abolition of the Greater London council, why did the London Planning Advisory Committee have to be established?

There is also a clear need for a London overview of environmental issues, such as biodiversity, waste management, air quality and noise. A culture strategy is also important. That comes last on the list, but as far as I am concerned last is not least. As a former chair of the leisure committee on the London borough of Redbridge and as a professional librarian, I strongly hold the view that people spend their quality time on leisure and culture--what they choose to do with their time, rather than what they are obliged to do with it. Under that heading come art and tourism, sport, buildings, treasures, antiquities, broadcasting and other media, museums, galleries and libraries.

I am delighted that the London research centre--the former research library--which was wrenched from its place in County hall when the GLC was spitefully abolished, will return under the umbrella of our splendid new GLA to continue to serve Londoners through their mayor and assembly.

9.34 pm

Mr. Wilkinson: The Bill has been notable for the excellent relations between hon. Members on the Front Benches. That has enabled us to make progress within the

5 May 1999 : Column 1050

timetable, and to try to improve the Bill. Candidly, it has come out of its Committee and Report stages hardly any better. It is undoubtedly longer, and I shall judge it by its effect on my constituents.

I must pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), who has been good humoured, but tenacious throughout; our Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), who was the only non-London member of the Standing Committee; and the Nestor on our Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), to whom we Conservative Achaeans always turn for wise counsel in the difficult task of investing socialist--I must not call it that--new Labour Ilium. The triumvirate--or should I say "tripersonate"?--on the Government Front Bench, the hon. Members for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) and for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), have been attentive and courteous, and we appreciate the way in which they have responded to all our questions.

I asked whether the Bill would benefit my constituents. It will provide a voice for London; but will the mayor's voice be the authoritative voice of Londoners, or will he merely articulate his own concerns? We look to the assembly to modify his opinions, and to provide counsel and input to ensure that local interests are secure. We have our doubts, however. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South said, without borough representation there is a serious likelihood that important local interests will be subordinated to the concerns and preoccupations of the mayoralty, or of London as a whole.

The assembly will be a strange political hermaphrodite. How the two parts will coexist remains to be seen, but I am sure that the directly elected representative for my constituents' borough and the neighbouring borough of Ealing will carry more weight than the more rootless individuals who will have no constituency connection. The jiggery-pokery involved in the imposition of an arbitrary 5 per cent. threshold rather than the arithmetical threshold of about 3.8 per cent. of normal turnout will ensure that probably one representative on the list is not the authentic person who would have been elected under an arithmetical system, and is therefore not the representative in a wholly democratic sense.

As for the qualities desired in the mayor, he will need drive and vision, but, above all, he will need political attributes to be able to take advantage of the wide powers of consultation that the Bill vests in him. I think that we approve of the manner in which the Government have sought to widen the consultation and make it effective, but, if the mayor is to reconcile diverse and potentially conflicting interests involving boroughs, business, race and minorities, industry and the environment, he will need a sense of balance.

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

Mr. Wilkinson: No, because others wish to speak. Normally, I would give way.

My constituents are apprehensive about planning. The spatial development strategy of the mayoralty will, in essence, take precedence over the unitary development plans of the boroughs, and thus could militate against my constituents' concern to ensure a balance between

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developmental and residential needs, and recognition of the paramount importance of maintaining the environment and the quality of life in London.

In that context, people will look to the authority to bring about a genuine improvement in London's transport system. They are doubtful whether road user charges could ever work: they are aware that the British motorist already pays the highest taxes in Europe, and that these are just additional taxes. I consider it diabolical that employers should have to pay taxes for the people who come to work on their premises. As for promoting the Bill and taking it to its final stage without meeting the main objective that the Labour party set itself in London--the creation of a public-private partnership--that is a deficiency of the worst order, of which I am sure the electorate will prove highly critical in the elections next spring for the mayor and members of the assembly.

This will not be a truly democratic institution of the kind to which we are used, particularly because there is no mechanism to hold the mayor to account, and to get rid of him if necessary. We have reservations about the system of election and about the powers and undue influence of the Secretary of State. That said, we are determined that the assembly and the authority, in the person of the mayor who heads it, will be Conservative controlled next spring. That is our objective. We are determined to make the system work. Our constituents may have reservations now, but, with Conservative control, it could potentially do a very good job.

9.40 pm

Mr. McNulty: I say to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) that Solihull was not the only non-London representation on the Committee. The Vale of Glamorgan was there, too, and that should be recognised.

It is not worth rising to the flatulent twaddle of the Liberal Democrats, save to say that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) entirely forgot the one lasting and only significant impression that they made on the Bill. Hon. Members who were on the Committee may remember that, on one occasion, there was a "which" where the "h" had been left off. The Liberal Democrat train spotters noticed it and put the "h" back in. That--I mean it with all sincerity--is the only significant, substantive change that the Liberal Democrats made to the entire Bill.

Nothing in the reasoned amendment--we have to say "reasoned"; I do not know why--that has been tabled by the Conservative party would find any support among Labour Members. It is quite a disappointment, given that we spent so much time lovingly together upstairs in Committee Room 12.

The first point in the reasoned amendment is fine: we would anticipate that from Conservatives. They are against democracy, so they do not want a directly elected chamber of any significance in terms of the assembly. If they were honest, they would admit that they would rather have some blokes-in-suits way of securing the mayoralty, perhaps an hereditary principle or something like that. Nothing else that they suggest in the reasoned amendment is worth supporting. It should simply be dismissed out of hand.

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The real reason why I wanted to speak was to say that there were three people in the Committee who did substantive work and should be congratulated by the entire House, not just by Labour Members. As a preface, I say that the Conservatives are to be congratulated on the way in which they dealt with matters of substance in Committee. They had their position. It was bonkers and entirely wrong on most occasions, but they put it in a reasoned and fair way. Their position was full of integrity, rather than the on-going teenage "Call My Bluff" which we had ad nauseam from the three Liberal Democrats, lovingly referred to as Moe, Larry and Curly, the Three Stooges.

The three who made significant contributions are, of course, the Front-Bench team. It is not invidious to point out that, although the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), and my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London played a significant role, the real architect of the piece is my hon. Friend the Minister for London and Construction. He is to be hugely congratulated on his work, which is why that is enough from me; I want to hear from him.

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