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9.43 pm

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty). He spoke on the Committee as much as any Labour Back Bencher. I join him in his praise for the Minister for London and Construction and his colleagues. It has been a long road. It has been a pleasure to follow that road in the steps of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway).

I go back briefly to the governance of London debate in mid-June 1997. At that stage, the Government did not seem to be clear where they were going. I recall quoting a question to Alec Douglas-Home during the 1964 general election about VAT, to which he replied, "A lot of clever chaps are thinking about it at this moment."

After the debate, the Minister confirmed to me that a lot of clever chaps were beginning to flesh out what the Labour party thought about the governance of London in preparation for the Bill. I am not totally confident that the Government know even now where they are going.

We have come to Third Reading. Like the hon. Member for Harrow, East, I greatly enjoyed the Committee stage. I am sorry that I have not been present more often during Report. Much work has been done by those clever men, but, as with devolution on the eve of the first elections and as with the House of Lords Bill in the Committee stage--we have not even been allowed to debate the White Paper on the future of the House of Lords--ultimately, we do not have a clear idea that the Government know their direction. The best evidence for that is the gallimaufry and mishmash of new clauses and new schedules with which we have been festooned during the debate.

The Government have relied on the election and the referendum result, which they claim endorsed their proposals. As their political opponent, I am content that they should remain lulled into false security, although, as I re-entered the Chamber a little before 6 o'clock this evening, I felt the susurrus of flapping--not yet the flapping of London Labour Members concerned about their seats, but certainly the flapping of chickens coming home to roost.

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To state the position in London terms, I sadly have a sense of the Third Reading of this Titanic of a Bill steaming steadily into the darkness; its engine room, which is the London underground, as invisible as the underground is to the average London pedestrian. The Minister for Transport in London has been temporarily lost overboard, but she is obliged to believe that all is well with the Government's plans for the London underground. As a traveller on the underground, I place more confidence in the permanent way than the third way. I fear that, as time passes, the number of Londoners who believe that all is well with the underground under Labour is beginning to recede. That is how support for a Government haemorrhages. I do not say that with pleasure, for I am a Londoner, but it increases the sense of drama and the feeling that the Government will first visibly retreat in the heart of our capital.

9.46 pm

Mr. Randall: Even if I had the skills of Liberal Democrat Members, unfortunately time does not allow me to indulge in the verbal incontinence that we have heard them demonstrate throughout the Committee proceedings on the Bill. Those hon. Members who were not present in Committee did at least witness a small example of that a few moments ago.

The people of Uxbridge were, at best, lukewarm when they voted in the referendum for London government without knowing the meat on the bones of that concept. Now that there is a little more meat, they will be disappointed to find out exactly what they voted for. However, it would be churlish of me not to say that the Bill contains some good proposals, although it is not the Conservative model, and I fear that it will not fulfil the aspirations that many Londoners have for it. My particular worry is that the outer London suburbs, such as the area that I represent, will pay for the inner boroughs and will end up being neglected by the mayor and assembly.

I accept that, although we shall shortly vote for the reasoned amendment in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends, the mathematics will be against us once again. I am pleased at least to have taken part in this undoubtedly historic moment in London's history. I hope that my doubts will not be realised, because I take pride in this great city of ours. However, I fear that it will take a Conservative mayor and assembly to make sure that the Bill works for the people.

9.47 pm

Mr. Raynsford: The reasoned amendment serves only to highlight the confusion and muddle that characterise the Conservative party's approach to the governance of our capital.

Fifteen years ago, the Conservative party introduced legislation to abolish democratic and strategic government in London, without consultation, without a referendum and without so much as a by-your-leave. They left London for 13 years without a democratic, citywide authority. Two years ago, the Conservatives went into an election arguing that there was no need for any strategic authority for the capital. Following their comprehensive rejection by the people of London, they were forced to think again. Today, we see the result of that extended process of policy reappraisal.

While the rest of London looks forward to the potential and possibilities that the Greater London Authority will bring, the Conservative party has, at long last and after

5 May 1999 : Column 1054

much consideration, got around to a grudging acceptance of the need for a representative body for London, although it still proposes to vote against the Third Reading of the Bill that will set up the new authority.

Of course, the people of London have not chosen to wait for the Conservative party's conclusions. While it has been deliberating, the Government have published a Green Paper and a White Paper and held a referendum in which our policy proposals were overwhelmingly endorsed by majorities in every one of the 32 London boroughs and the City of London. It is those proposals that the Bill will implement.

We intend that there should be a mayor and assembly for London: a mayor to offer strategic leadership across the capital and an assembly to ensure proper scrutiny and accountability. The mayor will be elected with a clear mandate from the people of London--which the supplementary vote may be more capable of delivering than first past the post. The assembly will not--as the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) suggested--be a hung council. Conservative Members seem not yet to have recognised that the mayor and not the assembly will be the executive, and that the mayor will have a clear mandate.

The assembly will be elected by the proportional, additional member system, with a mixture of constituency and list members--reflecting the diverse views of London, and ensuring that the assembly is best placed to perform its role as a body charged not with executive responsibilities, but with questioning, scrutinising and investigating on behalf of the capital's electorate.

The electoral systems have been designed for effective government in London, were clearly stated in our White Paper and were overwhelmingly endorsed in the referendum. Conservative Members' refusal to accept those facts borders on the incredible.

I shall now deal with road user charging, which was also mentioned in the Opposition's reasoned amendment. In doing so, I should briefly provide some background to our proposals.

When Conservative Members left power, they left behind a city suffering from traffic congestion and air pollution--with all the costs to health and the economy that those entail, but without any framework or plan for dealing with them. The position was not sustainable. However--perhaps with the exception of Conservative Members--there has been broad endorsement of our approach, in our integrated transport strategy, to tackling those problems.

We developed our proposals on road user charging and workplace parking charging with the support of a wide range of organisations from the business community--such as London First--and from the wider community, including the Association of London Government. Contrary to the claims of Conservative Members, our proposed measures are not anti-car, but represent a balanced package aimed at reducing congestion and generating investment.

Moreover, the proposals are not--as Conservative Members suggested--being imposed by the Government. The mayor and the London boroughs will have the power to introduce such charges if they choose to do so. That is a proper democratic framework. We have also guaranteed that, for 10 years, every penny so raised will be devoted to investment in transport.

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Again, therefore, the Opposition's reasoned amendment reflects nothing more than a lack of understanding of the challenges facing London, and the disengagement of the Conservative party from London's new political agenda--which has been symbolised by yet another spectacular U-turn, as Conservative Members try to forget the congestion charging proposals that they themselves made in a Green Paper only three years ago, when they were in power. Conservative Members have given up all principle and consistency and are opportunistically seizing any issue that they think might bring them a little cheap short-term popularity.

When the Government came to power, we inherited a clapped-out underground system, suffering from years of neglect and underinvestment and with no satisfactory arrangements for future investment. It is therefore astonishing to have to listen to carping criticisms from Conservative Members when they are faced with the new and creative approach that we have adopted to bringing much-needed investment back into the underground system. Their carping simply demonstrates the total bankruptcy of their views, their failure to recognise London's new mood, and the new way forward offered by the Government.

I criticise Conservative Members, but I also criticise Liberal Democrat Members. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick) rightly stressed in his intervention, while the Government are engaged in restoring a vibrant new democratic structure of government for London, the Liberal Democrats are capable only of narrow-minded carping. We have heard a series of whinges from them--such as their belief that the mayor will be too powerful. They simply cannot stomach the idea of an effective mayor who will be able to deliver for the people of London.

The Liberal Democrats claimed that there was no provision for health, but they were wrong. The Bill contains clear provisions allowing the mayor to have full regard to the health of Londoners, and to promote initiatives to improve the health of Londoners.

For decades and generations, the Liberal Democrats have campaigned on electoral reform, but--would you believe it?--when we present them with a proportional electoral system for London, do they say, "Yes, we welcome it"? No, they carp, whinge and criticise. It is typical that they should fail to welcome the proposal.

The fact that the Liberal Democrats will abstain in the vote on Third Reading--sitting on their hands while we are creating a new structure of government for London--[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said that he would not be supporting either the Conservatives' reasoned amendment or Third Reading, and that is abstention. It is a failure to sit on either side of the fence--which is typical of a party of protest, not of a serious party of government.

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