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Commons Chamber

Volume 300: debated on Monday 10 November 1997

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House Of Commons

Monday 10 November 1997

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Culture, Media And Sport

The Secretary of State was asked

Millennium Projects


What the legacy of the millennium projects will be in London and the regions. [13426]

During its lifetime, the Millennium Commission will spend more than £2 billion on projects throughout the United Kingdom, covering five key themes: investing in education; promoting science and technology; revitalising cities; supporting communities; and encouraging environmental sustainability. It will thus prove of lasting benefit to the whole nation.

The forest of Burnley scheme has overwhelming support in my constituency, but it could not have gone ahead without millennium funding. Will not such schemes change the country positively for the forthcoming millennium?

My hon. Friend is right. The forest of Burnley scheme has received a £1.7 million grant from the Millennium Commission. It will create 500 hectares of new woodland and engage an arts and education programme linked to the woodland work.

I should like to add that I am delighted that, later this afternoon, my hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio will be answering questions about the millennium dome. I remind the House how important it was that I suggested four months ago that he should take over direct responsibility for the millennium experience. It would have been improper for me, as chairman of the Millennium Commission, which provides a major proportion of the funding, to be in charge of the company that received the money.

The Secretary of State will be aware that one project being undertaken throughout London, as well as at London in my constituency, is the restoration of church bells. Is he aware of the difficulty being experienced throughout the London area and in other parts of the United Kingdom? English Heritage is insisting that church bell frames should also be maintained, even though 200 or 300-year-old frames are often not suitable for the restoration of existing bells. The Secretary of State should be aware of that problem, which is causing a logjam, as people cannot easily get up to belfries to see the frames—after all, the object of the exercise is the heritage of bell ringing and the bells themselves.

I am aware of the issue. We need to ensure that the frames are robust enough and that heritage interests are taken fully into account. I shall discuss the matter with English Heritage.

I thank the Secretary of State for the money that has already been allocated to Northern Ireland projects. Will he reconsider the problem of shortfall in the satellite for the sports academy, which is so vital to our heritage? We have been boxing above our weight over the years, as a small community. It would be worse if we did not have that facility to match the others.

I am well aware of the issue. My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport will have a word or two to say about the British academy of sport later. We hope to make some specific announcements in a few days.

Tourism (Minimum Wage)


What representations he has received on the impact of the introduction of a minimum wage in the tourist industry. [13427]

I have received representations from a number of leading figures in the tourism and hospitality industry, and have taken careful note of the views expressed.

Has the Minister seen the evidence presented to the Low Pay Commission by the British Hospitality Association, which represents 25,000 establishments in the hotel and catering industry, some 78 per cent. of which think that the introduction of a national minimum wage without regional variations will have a particularly serious effect on jobs and businesses in rural and coastal areas? Does the Minister agree with the association's view that the least that should be done to help those businesses is for benefits in kind to be taken into account in assessing compliance with the minimum wage?

The hon. Gentleman should give the Government credit for honouring their election pledges: first, to commit 'themselves to a minimum wage; secondly, to set up the Low Pay Commission; and, thirdly, to ensure that the commission recognised the issues faced by the tourism industry. The hon. Gentleman referred specifically to the British Hospitality Association. I remind him of the views of the president of that association, Garry Hawkes. Referring to a survey showing that 84 per cent. of hospitality staff and 65 per cent. of their employers supported a statutory minimum wage, he said:

"this research shows there is a broad acceptance of the minimum wage issue now. This industry is not against it, but employers want it to be set at a realistic level".
That is entirely the Government's intention.

Does the Minister recall the words of Sir Winston Churchill? He said that a minimum wage was needed because, otherwise, the good employer would be driven out of business by the bad, and the bad employer would be driven out of business by the worst. I have consulted tourism employers in my constituency who say that they have no problem with the principle of a minimum wage, although they believe that the level at which that wage is set is important. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that a wide range of voices in the tourism industry will be consulted before a final decision is made?

That process is already going on. I agree with my hon. Friend, who rightly referred to Winston Churchill. One of the problems about the Conservative party is that it not only does not know where it is going—it does not know where it is coming from. The minimum wage has been supported by Winston Churchill, by Harold Macmillan, by the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), and, much more important, by people such as John Scott, the managing director of the Frere Jacques restaurant in Kingston, Surrey, who said:

"this is not about altruism. It makes sound business sense to pay high wages because I get good-quality, highly motivated people."
That is the Government's intention as well.

What does the right hon. Gentleman think will be the impact of the European Commission's social chapter proposal, which we cannot now veto, to impose works councils on small and medium-sized businesses? Does he not recognise that that, coupled with the introduction of the minimum wage, will destroy the viability of our tourism industry, destroy jobs now and destroy the ability of this important industry to create jobs in future?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post and look forward to further exchanges. I hope that, on future occasions, he will get his facts right. He does not speak for the industry when he deplores the social chapter, and he does not speak for the British people either. The Labour party's policies were endorsed by the British people and we intend to implement them. We do so in the knowledge that we are attempting to ensure proper job motivation, proper careers, especially for young people, and the removal of sweatshop conditions that the industry itself deplores. I recommend the hon. Gentleman to make some of the visits that I have made over the past six months in every part of the country. He will hear from people such as Jerry Walden, who wrote just a few weeks ago from the New Commercial inn in Axminster, Devon. He said—his views are important—

"the long-term future of our industry is dependent on a better paid, better cared for, better trained and more professional workforce".
That is what we intend to introduce.

Having heard numerous representations from the Opposition on the minimum wage, has my right hon. Friend formed the impression, as I have, that it is a matter of supreme indifference to them whether people are earning £1.50 an hour, £1 an hour or even less? Although we regret the fact that the Opposition are taking such a time to learn basic, decent standards of industrial relations, does my right hon. Friend share my pleasure that, even six months after the election, they still have not begun to learn some of the reasons why they were beaten?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The tourism, hospitality and leisure industry employs 1.7 million people. It has a great future, but not one based on exploitation, poor wages or lack of training. That is one of the many reasons why the Conservatives are in opposition and we are in government.

Museums (Minimum Wage)


What representations he has received on the impact of a minimum wage on employment in the nation's museums. [13428]

No direct representations have been made to me, but I am aware that a number of organisations that represent museum interests have submitted written evidence to the Low Pay Commission in response to its invitation.

Will the Minister be making any representations to the commission in order to safeguard the interests of the museums which, for the time being, are under his care? If so, what will he say? Is he concerned about the possibility that the museums might have to lose valuable staff if a minimum wage were wrong-headedly set at too high a level? Is that one of the things that he will say?

No. I have met the Museums and Galleries Commission and the Museums Association and seen their submissions to the Low Pay Commission. They have discussed the issues and are much more positive about the proposals than the right hon. Gentleman appears to be.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that tourism has a track record of low pay, which results in high staff turnover and low investment in training? Does he further recall the report that was commissioned and published by the previous Administration showing that 45 per cent. of full-time tourism staff—

Order. I regret to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but his remarks relate to the earlier question. We have moved on and are now dealing with the nation's museums. The hon. Gentleman's question must relate to the substantive question on the Order Paper.

Order. Had the hon. Gentleman mentioned museums in the earlier part of his question, it would have been acceptable. Presumably, he is talking about the staff in museums.

Thank you, Madam Speaker. I omitted to mention that in the earlier part of my question.

Does my hon. Friend recall the survey commissioned by the previous Administration covering tourism staff, including museum staff, which showed that 45 per cent. of full-time staff in the sector had received no training since they left education, and that 74 per cent. of part-timers were in the same position? Does he agree, therefore, that the national minimum wage offers the museum sector of the tourism industry the chance finally to break the vicious cycle of recruitment problems, skill shortages, low pay and poor image?

I think my hon. Friend makes his point extremely well and I agree with him.

I am sorry the Minister's answers are not to be followed by a countermanding from the Secretary of State, who seems to be in the habit of saying that the Minister has it wrong whenever the hon. Gentleman opens his mouth in public.

I hope that the Minister will reconsider the effect of a national minimum wage on the enthusiasts who are the lifeblood of many small local museums, many of whom work for less than £2 an hour, which is really pocket money. Is he saying that in future, under a caring Labour Government, such people must work for nothing—if they work at all?

No. The right hon. Gentleman probably refers to the Association of Independent Museums. I have received representations from Mr. Jonathan Bryant and others in that association. It is quite right that they should make those representations—and they have done so—to the Low Pay Commission. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Low Pay Commission is required to take into account the social as well as the economic impact of the report.

Television Licence


What representations he has received concerning the television licence. [13430]

We have received nearly 500 letters from hon. Members and members of the public about the television licence. In addition, there have been 12 questions on the subject from hon. Members. The majority of those representations have been about television licence fees and licensing requirements for specific individuals or groups.

I am grateful for that reply. Since pensioners are still reeling from the news that they will get no support with their energy bills as regards the wind chill factor, does the Secretary of State agree with the early-day motion tabled by some of his colleagues just three years ago—some of whom are now Ministers—urging the Government to take urgent action to facilitate free television licences for pensioners? Is it not the case that Labour Members support pensioners when in opposition but betray their trust when in government?

It is a bit rich for Conservative Members to talk about doing down pensioners. I received a letter from the hon. Gentleman on 6 July about the BBC licence fee, in the course of which he mis-spelt the word "licence" not once but four times. That, I suppose, is the result of 18 years of Tory education policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that, if we made free licences available to all pensioner-only households, it would cost £465 million, which would mean an increase in the licence fee for everyone else of £30 a year. We are not prepared to do that.

Despite some useful changes in the regulations governing television licence fees for elderly people, I must tell my right hon. Friend that there are a huge number of anomalies in the scheme. If nothing else, will he look at those anomalies, which need to be addressed because they are causing great resentment and irritation?

My hon. Friend makes a much better point than the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). There are indeed serious anomalies in the system at the moment. We shall certainly wish to look at that, in conjunction with the general review of the licence fee in a few years' time, to which we are committed. We were committed to that review by the previous Government and we shall be following it through.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the information that was given to me by his Minister for Arts to the effect that his party has no plans whatever to consider concessionary television licences—having given the impression in opposition that they would—until at least 2002? Is he not letting pensioners down flat?

No, because we made no commitment whatever on concessionary licences before the election.



What plans he has to help improve the quality of training for British athletes. [13431]

We are committed to improving the quality of training both through the development of a British academy of sport, which will provide our athletes with the best training facilities possible, and the English Sports Council's world-class performance programme, which provides lottery support to our elite athletes.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. There is a great deal of anticipation about the establishment of a British academy of sport. When can we expect an announcement from him about the location and establishment of that facility?

Bearing in mind recent U-turns on the sporting front, will the Minister confirm the report in yesterday's papers that cricket, rugby and football will be included in the British academy of sport? In the light of recent events, can he tell the House whether the leading lights of those sporting organisations were financial contributors to the Labour party?

Those sports were never going to be excluded. There has been considerable misunderstanding over the question. [Interruption.] I shall tell the House why. The concept was very good; unfortunately, the design brief did not get very many points. Ministers previously said: "Yes, we are going to have an academy of sport. Now tell us what sort of an academy we are going to have." Since the election, we have been ensuring that we know exactly what sort of academy we will have. It will mainly be directed at the Olympic sports and at those for which there are national and world championships.

There has never been any question of the team sports, such as football, rugby and cricket, being excluded, but their needs are so particular that they should have separate academies. We are working actively to achieve that. The academy for sport and its skills in sports medicine and science will be available to all sports, including the team sports. If the right hon. Gentleman can contain himself a little longer—I know the process has been drawn out, but the wait is worth it because the decision is undoubtedly the most important that we face in British sport—the announcement will be made on Friday.

As far as I am aware, there is no question of Labour party funding—more' s the pity.

Children's Radio


What representations he has received on proposals for a children's radio channel; and if he will make a statement. [13432]

We have received representations from nine organisations and individuals in support of the award of an independent national radio licence for the provision of a children's radio service.

I thank the Minister for that answer and for the reply that I received earlier by letter. Do the Government recognise the many benefits, both educational and in general, that children receive from radio broadcasting for them?

Having been brought up on "Children's Hour", Uncle Mac and "Dick Barton, Special Agent", I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend that high-quality broadcasting, both radio and television, is important for children. It plays a major part in education, widens a child's horizons and sparks a child's imagination. Above all, it is fun.

Is the Minister aware that the BBC's children's television programme budget has been cut by £5 million since last year? Does he worry about the increased number of cartoons shown on television? Has not the time come for him to examine that issue as well as the question of a children's radio station?

The BBC charter requires the BBC to produce a large amount of high-quality, original programming and last year it produced 1,500 hours of children's programming of very high quality. I presume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Broadcasting Standards Council's report. Both he and I need to study that report in some detail, because some of the original headlines were not borne out by the detail of the report. Indeed, in the Evening Standard today, the BBC puts a robust case and points out that only one cartoon show is on at prime time each day this week, with none at all on Wednesday.

Sport (Disabled People)


What assistance his Department is giving to sport for disabled people. [13433]

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware that I take a close personal interest in that subject. We are determined to promote sport for people with disabilities. It is our aim to maximise opportunity for all people, no matter what their ability.

For the year 1997-98, the English Sports Council is providing disabled sports organisations with just under £590,000. That includes £40,000 to the British Deaf Sports Council, £195,000 to Disability Sport England and £111,500 to the English Sports Association for People with Learning Disabilities. Some £1.3 million also goes to our elite athletes with disabilities.

I am sure that the whole House supports that work. However, should not the Minister listen to what disabled people say themselves? Perhaps he should read the letter from the chairman of the British Paraplegic Shooting Association, backed up by the chief executive of the British Olympic Association, which pleaded with the Home Secretary to allow disabled sportsmen and sportswomen in wheelchairs to continue with their sport of firing pistols. The Minister should listen to those people and not dictate what they should do.

I do, indeed, listen, and since I became Minister for Sport, I have opened the special Olympic games at Portsmouth, the world blind sailing championships at Weymouth and the British disabled water-skiing facility at Heron lake. I have attended disabled rugby, volleyball, cricket, football, skiing and archery. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is making the point that I should listen to sportsmen and sportswomen with disabilities, and I have been listening to a particularly large number of them.

The Government's policy on shooting is absolutely clear. When we come to the Olympic and Commonwealth games, some arrangements will have to be made for those sports to be included, but I am afraid that Government policy cannot be overwhelmed by the interests of sportsmen and women.

Radio Licences


The Radio Authority has statutory responsibility for the advertising, award and regulation of all independent radio licences acting within the terms of the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996. Since its creation, the authority has almost doubled the number of independent radio licences issued. The authority has a continuing forward programme for the advertisement and award of new licences.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the Radio Authority on the way in which it has handled its difficult task of awarding licences? Does he agree that, once the frequencies become available, they must be publicised as widely as possible to allow as many community groups as possible the opportunity to bid, rather than just leaving it to the big guns who know when the information will be published?

I agree with my hon. Friend on both counts. The authority takes steps to advertise in local newspapers, to contact local authorities and to write to all hon. Members in the area affected by a forthcoming franchise. I hope that the authority will see what more it can do, but it is mindful of its responsibilities.

In view of Labour's commitment to open government, does the Secretary of State agree that it would be helpful to all concerned if any future applicant for a radio licence were required to state in public at the time of the application whether he was a financial donor of the Labour party?

I am not sure that I would make any such requirement specific to any political party.

Tourism (Welfare-To-Work Programme)


If he will make a statement on the employment opportunities the tourist industry will be able to offer under the welfare-to-work programme. [13435]

Tourism, with its enormous potential for employment generation, is well placed to play a key role in the new deal/welfare-to-work programme. Almost 50 leading employers and trade bodies in tourism, hospitality and leisure have already indicated strong interest in the programme.

What steps are the Government taking to encourage the active participation of the industry in the welfare-to-work programme?

The Government are preparing to take a number of steps, including a conference on 24 November, organised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and involving the Department for Education and Employment and the British Hospitality Association, to consider these matters. Almost 50 employers and trade bodies have expressed an interest in working with the Department to achieve that objective.

National Lottery


I published my proposals to reform the lottery in the White Paper "The People's Lottery" in July. They will make the lottery work better and increase the number of people who will benefit from the good causes that it supports. Some of the proposals require legislation and I expect to introduce the lottery reform Bill before Christmas.

Has the Secretary of State seen the comments from Lord Rothschild who. like others, is complaining about the increase in ministerial interference and diktat and the reduction in sums available for heritage, sport, the arts and charities? Lord Rothschild estimated that £200 million less will be available for heritage as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals. Is he aware of the growing anger at his disregard for the principles of additionality and the arm's-length arrangements? Is he aware that, increasingly, his proposals are being described not as a people's lottery but as a Chancellor of the Exchequer's lottery through which Ministers' pet projects can be funded through the back pocket?

I will make three brief points in response to the right hon. Lady's six. First, we stand firmly behind the principle of additionality. In September 1994, the previous Prime Minister said:

"The money raised by the Lottery will not replace public expenditure."
If the right hon. Lady does not think that that is good enough, I would remind her of her own definition. In July 1996, she said:
"Lottery funds are not intended to substitute for funds which would have otherwise been provided by conventional public expenditure."
We agree, and there is no intention in the people's lottery proposals to do anything other than stand by those definitions of additionality.

Secondly, each of the existing distributary bodies will receive exactly the amount that they originally anticipated receiving when the lottery began: £1.8 billion during the seven-year lottery franchise. Thirdly, the right hon. Lady is ignoring the benefits that will come from the new proposals for £1 billion of additional spending on health and education-related projects, which the people of this country supported when they voted on 1 May.

The right hon. Gentleman will have to go after me. After all, he is only a little Liberal.

When the reform takes place, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the distribution of lottery money throughout the country is different from what it has been in the few years of its existence? It is well known that in the east midlands and certain counties, such as Derbyshire, the distribution has been woefully weak, and we want to ensure that in future those who participate in the lottery in our part of the world get a fair crack of the whip. If we can get rid of that dome and find some more money, so much the better.

My hon. Friend will know that one of our proposals is that the distributary bodies should draw up a strategic plan for the deployment of their resources; as part of that, we shall look to them to ensure a fair distribution across the whole country.

Bearing in mind the fact that the previous Government presided over a decline in the vote money for the Secretary of State's Department and that he has not arrested that decline, how does he propose to deal with the revenue difficulties of many companies, such as the Gate theatre in London, and the Greenwich theatre, to which Ms Polly Toynbee drew attention today—never mind the Royal Opera house? Does he believe that his proposals for changing lottery rules will in any way deal with the decline of many companies throughout the country that have so far not been assisted by the lottery?

Yes, because the proposals in the White Paper specifically suggest that we should move away from the exclusive concentration on capital spending, on bricks and mortar, and start to give more support from lottery funds to people and activities; that will be the start of resolving some of the problems that the right hon. Gentleman identified.

The Secretary of State will be aware that national lottery funding is to be used for the British academy of sport. Any hon. Member who listened to the Minister for Sport's reply could have drawn the reasonable inference that there was to be an announcement of the winner this Friday, but that will clearly not happen. It should be made clear that the announcement on Friday will be of the criteria by which national lottery bids could be judged.

Given that the Government announced on 21 July that a winner would be announced by September, is it not time that a grip was got on the whole project and that we had a clear timetable for the announcement of a winner for the British academy of sport? Many people have invested a lot of time, effort and energy. In the Heyfords, for example, we believe that we are a winner, and we have the support of the British Olympic community, but it is very frustrating not knowing where we stand. Can we have clear criteria and a clear timetable against which everyone can bid?

It is precisely because inadequate energy and effort were put in by the previous Government that we have had to spend all of the past six months trying to get a grip on this issue. On Friday, we will be announcing a clear set of details and a framework for the academy. There are three possible locations, which will be invited to submit final proposals within one or two weeks to accord with the framework that we will put in place on Friday, and a decision will then be made rapidly.

Sport (Television Coverage)


What plans he has to protect live coverage of key sporting events on terrestrial television. [13437]

As we promised before the election, we are considering the nature and extent of the list of major domestic and international sporting events that must be available for live coverage on terrestrial television. I have recently consulted all interested parties on the principles that ought to apply to such a list. The results of that consultation have been received and I shall shortly be appointing an advisory group to advise me further.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does he recognise that many people will feel that it is wrong that major sporting events, which belong to the nation, such as one-day international cricket or Premier League football, are denied to ordinary people who do not have access to Mr. Murdoch's satellite television at the exorbitant charge of £22 a month? Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to ensure that those events are given proper consideration in his review? Will he also recognise that the definition of terrestrial television should not include Channel 5 because many parts of the country, including my constituency, do not receive it?

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point on Channel 5. He also has to recognise that, in determining this issue, we need to achieve a proper balance between the need for sporting organisations to get the best possible value from the matches and games that they are putting on and the right of ordinary people who cannot afford and do not want to afford subscription television to see major national events. It is getting that balance right that the review is all about.

Minister Without Portfolio (Millennium Experience)

The Minister was asked

Transport Infrastructure

What plans he has to secure the provision of an adequate transport infrastructure for the millennium experience. [13454]

In addition to the road improvements under way, there will be an excellent public transport network offering visitors a variety of ways to travel to the millennium experience, including new river boat services and the new Jubilee line extension. These developments will be an important legacy for our investment and I am sure that they will be welcomed by the whole House.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He may be aware from reports in today's press that public interest in the millennium exhibition is extremely high and that there are concerns that there may be some problems with congestion. What steps is he taking to ensure that visitors to the exhibition spend the maximum amount of time enjoying themselves at the exhibits and the minimum amount in queues to get in?

Our single most important objective is to ensure that when people come to Greenwich—we are expecting 12 million visitors in 2000—they have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, full of excitement and enjoyment, without delay or frustration in travelling to and moving around the millennium dome. That is why the New Millennium Experience Company has developed an operational plan that, through pre-booking of tickets, will guarantee access to attractions in the dome, ensure minimal queuing for the attractions and—[Interruption.]

It will leave ample capacity in terms of the transport infrastructure that I have described.

I am sure that the House will join me in welcoming the Minister to the Front Bench. How delighted we are that he has come to answer questions, albeit for only five minutes. He may not be aware that I was given this question by his parliamentary private secretary; sadly, I got no supplementary.

What definite proposals are there for improving river transport? That is a serious matter for the whole of London in the future, and not just the millennium. What definite proposals are there for money from the public side and also private money to be put into transport down to Greenwich?

We expect 1 million people to travel by boat from central London using new pier and river services and park-and-sail sites to the east of the site. Decisions on temporary park-and-sail facilities are expected in December. Five applications with Greenwich, Barking and the London Docklands development corporation have already been lodged. I am very pleased to say that the New Millennium Experience Company and the Cross-River Partnership, working closely together, are making sure that we bring about this increased use of the Thames as part of the Deputy Prime Minister's Thames 2000 initiative.

May I add to the pressure on the Minister to ensure that river transport not only is provided for the millennium but becomes part of the infrastructure of London transport for visitors, commuters and residents alike, integrated with the other public transport systems and at a price that ordinary people can afford?

That is exactly what the Deputy Prime Minister has in mind. I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend is making considerable progress in developing river services and the new millennium pier at the Greenwich peninsula, as well as investing in other piers along the Thames back from the Greenwich peninsula. I stress that they will be a permanent, important legacy for the Thames for the entirety of London. That will not be the only important legacy, but it will be a very significant one flowing from our investment in the millennium experience.

It is usual to welcome a Minister on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. It is unusual to have to wait six months to do it. At the rate of answering one question every six months, we can be sure that the Minister will not outstay his welcome.

Given that the most popular visitor attraction in London attracts no more than 2.5 million visitors a year, does the Minister have any basis for believing that 12 million visitors will be drawn to the millennium dome, other than the assertion in a letter from Jennifer Page, which mysteriously makes an appearance in the Financial Times today?

The right hon. Gentleman is not correct. The British museum attracts 6 million visitors every year. The estimate of 12 million visits to the millennium experience is based on industry projections and poll findings. An NOP poll a year ago, when the future of the project was highly uncertain, showed that a third of the population were interested in visiting. A Gallup poll for The Daily Telegraph in August predicted more than 10 million United Kingdom visitors. That is, of course, together with travel industry projections that put the expected number of overseas visitors at almost 2.5 million. I do not believe that there will be any shortage of visitors to the millennium experience—something which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming strongly.

Lord Chancellor

The Parliamentary Secretary was asked

Morley Magistrates Court


What representations he has received in respect of proposals to close the magistrates court in Morley. [13459]

No representations have been received by the Lord Chancellor's Department in respect of proposals to close Morley magistrates court. Magistrates courts are provided by the local paying authority for the use of magistrates courts committees. Decisions concerning the future of any magistrates court are for the relevant MCC to determine, in consultation with the local paying authority.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Nevertheless, I am sure that he will understand the concern of those Morley magistrates who have met me when he has read the report of Her Majesty's inspectors recommending that Leeds MCC consider the use of the outer courthouses and the response to it. Will he ensure that, in considering such issues, committees take account of the latest position, the investment that has gone into courts and the social consequences of any suggestion that such courts should be closed? Closure would have serious consequences, both for those who serve in the courts in Morley and for those who have to answer charges there.

I am sure that the magistrates courts committee will take that into account. I understand that, in the light of the Court Service inspectorate report of March 1997, the Leeds magistrates court committee decided at its meeting of 17 October 1997 to conduct a review of its outer courthouse premises at Morley, Pudsey and Wetherby. I assure my hon. Friend that no decisions have been taken at this stage of the review and no plans have been formulated on the outer courthouses.

I understand that the committee has recently written to the local paying authority, Leeds city council, and the local benches about additional accommodation and facilities which might be made available to the MMC at Morley and Pudsey.

Immigration Adjudicators


What plans he has to increase the training given to immigration adjudicators. [13460]

Although training is primarily a matter for the chief adjudicator, we have substantially increased the money available for judicial training from —47,000 spent last year to —220,000 planned to be spent this year.

All new adjudicators receive two days' induction training, followed by a period of sitting in and mentoring by established adjudicators. Every adjudicator receives at least a day's training each year and attends a two-day conference at least every other year. They all have back-up from a research and information team.

Given that the immigration appellate system is judicial, not administrative, and that many immigration adjudicators are becoming extremely frustrated at what they see as an over-use, possibly an abuse, of judicial review—25 per cent. of all judicial reviews are now immigration related—is it not time that the Minister considered whether he should curb, restrict or in some way remove the rights of parties to seek judicial review of such decisions?

As I have said before to the hon. Gentleman, a review of those matters is being undertaken by Ministers across Departments and, as a result, I hope that we will be able to bring forward proposals that meet his concerns.

I hope that my hon. Friend will bear it in mind that such issues must be looked at in a broad and tolerant way because we are dealing with people's lives. Two doctors in my constituency have been refused permission to bring in their mother on the basis that ladies aged 67 are not capable of work. I feel therefore that perhaps a little enlightenment in some of those Departments would not go amiss.

The Lord Chancellor's Department's responsibilities relate to appeals. The enlightenment necessary in that context should be such as to ensure that such appeals are dealt with speedily, fairly and in a satisfactory manner.

Legal Aid


What recent representations he has received regarding the availability of legal aid. [13461]

I regularly receive representations from right hon. and hon. Members and the public about the availability of legal aid. Since my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor's announcement on 18 October about the changes we propose to the rules on availability of legal aid for money claims, my officials have met the chairman of the Bar, the president of the Law Society, insurers and other professional and consumer interest groups.

As the Government's proposals are likely to result in a substantial increase in business for the insurance industry, will the Minister tell the House with which insurance companies he has had discussions about those proposals and how many of them were financial contributors to the Labour party?

A number of discussions have taken place with a variety of insurance companies. We are interested in ensuring the widest possible availability of insurance at the best possible price for the users.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the legal profession has made recent representations in favour of a conditional legal aid fund rather than the Lord Chancellor's preferred option of conditional fees arrangements? Will he confirm that the crucial difference is that a legal aid fund would pay for disbursements in a case along the way, such as court fees and expert fees, much more than the insurance premium mentioned under the conditional fees arrangement? Does my hon. Friend agree that many poor litigants would be unable to find those sums of money to fund their cases in the future?

These are matters on which we are consulting. We are receiving representations from the Bar and the Law Society, as well as the views of insurance companies, on the affordability of the proposals. We will take all those matters into account to ensure that no one is unfairly excluded from the courts.

When the Minister was in private practice and he first scrutinised the papers of a case and considered its merits, did he ever advise a client—other than those involved in personal injuries case—that he had a better than 75 per cent. chance of success?

Of course, in those days I was not required to make such an assessment of a case; therefore, I never did. However, if the hon. Gentleman is referring to the proposal made by my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor that a case should attract a 75 per cent. chance of success before it should be granted legal aid, I can say only that it has been necessary to reach that test because of the failure of lawyers, over a long period, to satisfy adequately the existing test, which is essentially a 50 per cent. chance of success. We firmly believe that there is absolutely no reason why the taxpayer should have to support litigation that someone would not take forward privately.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the widespread concern about Government proposals on changes to legal aid, especially about whether poorer litigants will be able to afford the up-front costs of insurance and various medical fees for reports in medical negligence cases? Recent remarks by my hon. Friend seem to suggest that he thinks that solicitors will simply absorb those costs, but is that likely, given that many practices are not in a position to cross-subsidise legal aid or contingency work with lucrative private work?

I have said that one of the solutions to the problem which my hon. Friend set out is that lawyers themselves could absorb those up-front costs. Most lawyers are in private practice and most businesses are required to expend a certain amount of capital-in this context, we are talking about time and some disbursements-before being able to achieve a return on their investment. I have suggested that that is one of the options, although, as I have already said, there are clearly others available.

The Labour party policy document "Access to Justice", which was published just before the election, stated that conditional fees were not expected to make a significant improvement to access to justice and that they were little more than a gimmick designed to mask the state of the legal aid scheme. Was the Labour party wrong then, or is the Minister wrong now?

We have had the benefit of academic research into the use of conditional fees. That research demonstrates that, in the approximately 28,000 cases so far agreed under conditional fees, there has been a remarkable success rate. We are happy to base our policy on the results of that academic research.

Magistrates Courts


If he will make a statement on progress in respect of the rationalisation of the magistrates courts. [13462]

My hon. Friend will be aware that, on 29 October, I made a statement to the House setting out in some detail the Government's plans for the future structure of the magistrates courts service.

Does my hon. Friend agree that closures can be very controversial and sometimes very injurious to local communities? Does he understand that long distances can be involved, that taxis are expensive and that bus services are sometimes hopelessly unreliable? Would he be prepared to meet a group of magistrates to discuss such matters?

I would certainly be willing to discuss such questions with any group of magistrates whom my hon. Friend cared to bring to the Department.

I wholly endorse what the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) just said. Is the Minister aware that the Gloucestershire magistrates courts committee is consulting on the closure of Stow-on-the-Wold magistrates court? That so-called consultation is not an open exercise; it consists of consultation among the staff of the various magistrates courts, the Crown Prosecution Service and other officials, but it does not involve members of the public. Will the Minister urgently investigate that situation? Surely it is the public who use the justice system of this country and who will be inconvenienced by the closure of the court who ought to be consulted first, and not afterwards.

I should be delighted to ensure that those local questions are thoroughly investigated, but I emphasise that they are local matters for decision by local magistrates courts committees. The matter only reaches the desk of my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor in the event of the local paying authority appealing against the decision made locally by the magistrates courts committee.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that was the policy followed under the previous Administration? In my present constituency and my previous constituency, under the previous Administration more than 75 per cent. of our magistrates courts closed, but, at the same time, we saw no improvement whatsoever in the quality of those magistrates courts that remained. Will my hon. Friend give me and the House an assurance that, under his policy, while there will be rationalisation of magistrates courts, there will also be an improvement in existing magistrates courts to serve the best interests not only of the accused, but of victims and witnesses?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's question. I mentioned in the statement to which I recently referred that it was important that we streamlined and integrated the functions of the various agencies responsible for our criminal justice system. I anticipate, in the light of the statement that I made to the House, that that will be achieved.

Accommodation (Palace Of Westminster)


If he will report on progress in the refurbishment of the Lord Chancellor's accommodation within the Palace of Westminster, indicating the latest estimated cost. [13463]

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his concern about the need to refurbish my 9 by 4 office in the House of Commons—hitherto, he has not been noted for his concern for the welfare of Labour Members of Parliament. I am, however, delighted to discover that he is now participating in the art of constructive, helpful opposition.

For the sake of completeness, I should mention also that it has been suggested to me that this question is the product not of kindness but of incompetence, and that the hon. Gentleman is actually referring to the official residence provided by the House authorities to the Lord Chancellor. If that is so, I can assure him that the refurbishment has commenced and is expected to be substantially completed by January next year. The estimated cost remains at £650,000.

That is a most offensive answer. We know that old Labour still survives on the Government Benches; that cavalier attitude to £650,000 of public expenditure on the Lord Chancellor's accommodation betrays that fact.

My question on the Order Paper relates not to the Minister's accommodation but to the Lord Chancellor's—

I have not finished yet. Given that the Minister's right hon. and noble Friend wishes to dispense with the traditional attire of his office and to hand over power to the judges, perhaps the only sense in which the Lord Chancellor remains traditional is that, like all socialists, he is anxious to spend as much of other people's money as he possibly can.

The hon. Gentleman got his question wrong the first time. He will know that the Lord Chancellor is the Speaker of the House of Lords, and the official residence is provided for his use in precisely the same way as Speaker's House is provided for the Speaker of this House. It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that both Departments should be properly conserved as part of the historic building programme undertaken over a 10-year period by the House authorities. Speaker's House has been maintained to a high standard, in keeping with the conservation policy, and the Lord Chancellor's official residence should match that standard.


3.32 pm

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the crisis with Iraq.

Saddam Hussein is once more defying the clearly expressed will of the United Nations and of the international community by refusing to allow the United Nations special commission, UNSCOM, to carry out weapons inspections. It is essential for the region and the rest of the world that UNSCOM be allowed to carry out its work. We know that Saddam Hussein still has the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction. UNSCOM is crucial to ensuring that they are all destroyed.

It is clear that Saddam Hussein has misjudged the will of the United Nations. Security Council unanimity was demonstrated in the presidential statement issued the day the threat was made. The Government are determined to stand against Saddam Hussein. He is a dictator who has demonstrated a total lack of interest in the welfare of the Iraqi people. He has shown by his past actions that he is a threat to regional peace and regional security.

The Government are closely consulting other members of the Security Council to explore to the full diplomatic means of resolving the situation. We remain hopeful that Saddam Hussein will realise that co-operation with UNSCOM is the only way for Iraq to progress towards a lifting of sanctions.

I thank the Minister for his statement. Is he aware that everyone in the House hopes that there will be a satisfactory diplomatic solution and that we are all hoping and praying that that will be the case? Is he further aware, however, that the full responsibility for the crisis certainly lies with the Iraqi dictator, and only with the Iraqi dictator?

Was not the Iraqi dictator responsible for the war against Iran started in 1980, which went on for so long? Was he not responsible for the invasion of Kuwait, and for acts of outright butchery inside Iraq, including the gassing of Kurds in 1988? We are indeed dealing with a notorious criminal, a murderous tyrant.

If the international community were to climb down now, what would be the next act by the Iraqi dictator? Is not the lesson to be learnt time and again that if democracies are dealing with such a criminal and murderous dictator, the only way for those democracies to act effectively is to stand firm, not to give in—no appeasement? I hope that that policy will be pursued.

My hon. Friend sets out clearly the indictment sheet against Saddam Hussein. There is a long history of terrible crimes against his own people and other people in the region. My hon. Friend is also right in saying that the United Nations and the British Government are determined to support UNSCOM and to ensure that UNSCOM is able to carry out its work. Without that support, there is a threat to others in the region; we are talking about weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical weapons, and it is crucial that we understand the scale of the threat from Saddam Hussein.

The position taken by the United Nations is not negotiable. We want Saddam Hussein to withdraw the threat to UNSCOM. That is the only position that is acceptable to us.

May I assure the Minister that he has the full support of Her Majesty's Opposition in the response that he has just given? Does he agree that the actions of Saddam Hussein amount to a naked challenge to the authority of the United Nations and therefore to the world community? Does he agree with Sandy Berger, the national security adviser to President Clinton, that Richard Butler, the Australian head of the inspection team, is a total professional, running the inspection operation in an entirely apolitical way?

Will the Minister confirm that the quarrel of the United Nations is with Saddam Hussein, not with the people of Iraq, who suffer most grievously of all from his tyranny? Will he also confirm that if diplomatic means are not successful in resolving this very difficult situation, other methods, including the use of force, have not been ruled out?

Finally, will the Minister give the House an undertaking that he will not allow his handling of the matter to be in any way influenced by his past? Does he now accept that if his support for the peace tax campaign to entitle people to withhold that part of their income tax devoted to defence had succeeded, Britain would not have been able to play any part in upholding international law and order?

I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's support for the United Kingdom Government and the position taken by the United Nations. I also share his assessment of the work of Butler and his colleagues, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right in saying that that work is apolitical and on behalf of the United Nations. It is important that the principle of United Nations bodies being open to people of all nationalities is preserved, which is why the United Nations has taken the position that it has adopted.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is also right in saying that this is a naked challenge to the authority of the United Nations by Saddam Hussein. It is Saddam Hussein who has put at risk the living standards and the lives of the people of Iraq. We have condemned, and will continue to condemn, all those actions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware that the United Nations resolutions allow Saddam Hussein to use oil revenues for humanitarian purposes, and we have had the greatest difficulty in persuading Saddam Hussein to do so.

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also asked whether we would rule out any options in our response. From the very first moment when Saddam Hussein uttered his threat, we have made it clear that no option is ruled out. That is still the United Kingdom Government's position.

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for all the earlier comments that he made. I suspect that, when he looks at his response to my important statement to the House, he will regret his cheap final comments.

May I plead with my hon. Friends to be extremely cautious before endorsing American unilateral actions? I visited Baghdad three years after the war and, like every other visitor, I was taken on the first morning to Amariya, to the bomb shelter hit by a cruise missile, where charred bodies were sketched into the walls. Far from weakening the Tikriti group and Saddam Hussein, such an attack strengthens Saddam Hussein's position.

Earlier this month, I spent a 17-day holiday—paid for by me, incidentally—in Iran. Those who lost a million people in that nine-year war do not think that it is right for the Americans to start launching cruise missiles on their neighbour. Would it not be much better at least to hear what Tariq Aziz has to say and to realise that we are dealing with desperate people who feel that they have nothing to lose in order to end the sanctions that are creating such misery? Those who have been round a children's hospital in Baghdad, as I have, and seen infants expiring in their presence—this is no exaggeration—take a different view of the effect of sanctions.

I never doubt my hon. Friend's sincerity, but he needs to look at the tactical and strategic options before the world community. If we allow Saddam Hussein to defy the United Nations and the world community, we offer him a green light to terrorism against his own people and others in the region. We must stand firm, because that is the principle which the history of the 20th century has taught us.

Is the Minister aware that both sides of the House recognise that, in seeking a successful outcome without hostilities through every available diplomatic means, it is essential that the international community speaks as one and betrays neither disunity nor lack of resolve? However, military action by Iraq against a plane or personnel engaged in performing a UN mandate would be intolerable and, in extremis, that must be met by firm but proportionate force. Will the Minister assure the House that if British military assets are committed in that way, the matter will be reported to the House at the earliest opportunity?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments on behalf of the Liberal Democrat party. We share his concerns about the nature of the regime in Iraq and the need to take concerted action. He will recall that the presidential statement made 10 days ago was a unanimous presidential statement from the Security Council. We are working with our colleagues to ensure that we maintain diplomatic unanimity in our response to Saddam Hussein. I repeat that the crucial point for us all is that Saddam Hussein must understand the message that we are not in a negotiating position; there are no compromises; he must accept that UNSCOM can do its work. That is in the interests of the Iraqi people and the people of the region. We cannot allow that dictator to continue to develop weapons of mass destruction.

In considering the options that lie before the Government, will the Minister take into account the fact that independent sources suggest that more than half a million children under five have died in Iraq as a direct result of the sanctions? Those people have no power whatever to topple President Saddam Hussein, who, in the course of his life, has received enormous support from successive British and American Governments, notably during the Iran-Iraq war.

Will my hon. Friend also give consideration to the fact that the French, the Chinese and the Russians, who are all permanent members of the Security Council, have indicated that they could not authorise the use of force without an explicit Security Council resolution, and that the secretary-general of the Arab League, representing important interests in the area, has come out strongly against the use of force? Other means must be found to deal with the situation.

Let me correct my right hon. Friend's assertion in two respects. First, in relation to the statement issued by the Security Council on UNSCOM, there was no division among the permanent members of the Security Council: there was unanimity across the Security Council for the presidential statement. If we try to create false divisions, the only person who will gain any advantage from that is Saddam Hussein.

Secondly, the United Nations resolutions have throughout provided the opportunity for Saddam Hussein to sell oil in order to improve the well-being of the people of Iraq. The simple fact is that he has not taken those opportunities. Do not blame the United Nations; do not blame the British Government; blame Saddam Hussein. He would prefer to spend money on weapons of mass destruction rather than on the people of Iraq. We understand the scale of his values and the nature of his priorities. That is why world opinion must be solidly against him.

I support the Minister's statement. Can he assure us that his Department, which recognises the value of diplomacy in a crisis such as the present one, also recognises the importance of other means, to which he alluded, to underpin that diplomacy? May we, therefore, take it for granted that his Department will be making representations during the current defence review, to ensure that the Ministry of Defence in the United Kingdom has adequate military means to underpin our diplomacy wherever that may be necessary, to contain threats to peace and to contain dictators such as Saddam Hussein, who are engaged on programmes for the development and construction of weapons of mass destruction?

On the hon. Gentleman's second question relating to our military capacity, the answer is yes. Those views will be expressed clearly during the review of Britain's military capacity. On his first question, we have said on many occasions since the presidential statement was issued from the United Nations that we do not rule out any option, and we are very clear in our language.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his strong words on the issue. Will he remind the shadow Foreign Secretary that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a member of the previous Government, who helped to arm Saddam Hussein, and that many of the components for the weapons of mass destruction were supplied to him during that time?

We have all been to Iraq and seen the situation there. The sanctions apply to the north and the south. There are people who are short of food and medicines in both the north and the south. Unfortunately, as my hon. Friend knows, throughout the period of the UN sanctions, those sanctions have been busted, with the complicity of the people on the borders, who should have been checking that the sanctions were adhered to.

I hope that my hon. Friend will continue in his decisive and robust assessment of the situation, and that if military action becomes necessary, we shall be party to it.

My hon. Friend has a long history of interest in Iraq and the problems facing the people of Iraq. She makes a powerful case for looking at the history of northern and southern Iraq, and at what has happened to the Kurds in the north and to the marsh Arabs in the south, both of which communities have been victims of Saddam Hussein. It is worth putting it on the record that both communities are victims of the dictatorship of their own leadership.

With regard to my hon. Friend's point about the previous Administration and their responsibility for arming Saddam Hussein, I concur with her. It would be wrong to get into cheap party political point scoring. We have already had one example of that, which failed miserably, and I do not want to follow the example of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and lower the tone further.

The Minister said correctly that diplomatic channels are the best means of resolving the critical problem facing us. Will he confirm whether additional intermediaries are being used in the negotiation process with Saddam Hussein? Will the Minister advise the House of the attitude of the NATO alliance in the context of his assertion that no option will be ruled out? Will he also reassure hon. Members like me who represent constituencies where Tornados are based? The 12th squadron from Lossiemouth is currently engaged in surveillance and peacekeeping operations and is expected to return home by the end of the month. What reassurance can I provide to my constituents that they need not fear for the fate of their husbands and for all those working on Tornados?

It might be useful if I take this opportunity to reassure the hon. Lady and other hon. Members that we are not in a negotiating position. The Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, will report to the United Nations this afternoon about the mission that he sent to Baghdad. It was not a negotiating mission, but was intended simply to remind Saddam Hussein of the United Nations resolutions and the presidential statement, and to make it clear that there is only one option available: Saddam Hussein must comply with the United Nations resolutions. If he does not do that, I repeat that all options will be available to us and that we shall consider each and every one of those options in order to identify the best means of achieving the United Nations objectives.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, under international law, there is a right of unconditional access to the sites for purposes of weapons inspection? It would establish a disastrous precedent if Saddam Hussein or anyone else were able to pick and choose from which nations the members of the inspection team came or with which clauses of the relevant United Nations resolutions he wished to comply. Surely the credibility of the United Nations as a world organisation is at stake in this crisis.

My hon. Friend is right both on the legal points and in terms of the implications for the United Nations. However, I must add a further point. The UNSCOM task is to deal with weapons of mass destruction. We are talking about not only nice legal or procedural points regarding the United Nations but the well-being of people in that region. Would any hon. Member trust Saddam Hussein with chemical and biological weapons? I suspect that the answer is self-evident.

I welcome the Government's and the Minister's firm resolve to resist the activities of Saddam Hussein. I draw the Minister's attention to some remarks made in this building only last Friday night by the former Commander-in-Chief of United Kingdom forces during the Gulf war, Air Chief Marshal Sir Patrick Hine. He made the point that, during the Gulf war, it was difficult trying to fight while seeing on television endless speculation about military options. Will the Minister join me in asking the media to resist the temptation of setting out all the military options—there are only a relatively small number—so that our forces are not put at risk and the Government's policy is not undermined?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We must assess all the options. As to the military options—if we ever reach that situation—the assessments must be made in private and not in newspapers or in television studios. That is clearly in the best interests of any personnel who are engaged in military activities.

Is it not true that, if we had heeded the voice of those who opposed the war in 1991 and who tried to insist that we go down the sanctions route, Saddam Hussein would be today strutting round the streets of Kuwait? Is not the only way out of this dilemma to deal with him in the way that we have done in the past? It is the only language that that man understands. If we do not take action, Saddam Hussein will issue a threat against the developed world and it will be too late for us to meet it.

I agree with my hon. Friend's statements and the way in which he made them. Not only would Saddam Hussein be strutting round the streets of Kuwait, but I suspect that the dangers that he poses to other countries in the region would have materialised. We must get across the message that weapons of mass destruction know no boundaries or international obstacles. They could be used against any country in any circumstances.

I support the Minister's measured tones. I regret that some hon. Members may, on humanitarian grounds, give succour to one of the most despotic creatures that the world has known. He has massacred many of his family and his citizens. We should not relieve him of the responsibility for the death of children in his nation. May I plead that any statements of support should express support for the United Nations decision? At no time should we appear to be joining in just because of leadership from the United States. It is important that those who make decisions in the United Nations should stand together and not leave it to one or two countries to do the policeman's work for the world.

I am pleased to re-emphasise the need for United Nations unanimity and for us to work with our partners on such issues. We are working on behalf of the United Nations and the international community. I welcome the first part of the hon. Gentleman's comments. The humanitarian balance is often difficult to strike, but we know from the lessons of the 20th century that appeasement leads to more loss of life than does taking a firm stand on principle.

Does the Minister recognise that any analysis of the Gulf war or the Iran-Iraq war shows that one of the causes was the voracious appetite of arms salesmen around the world? Is he not concerned that the huge level of arms sales to Turkey over the past few years, the massive recent invasion of northern Iraq by Turkish armed forces and Turkish intentions in the region also pose a threat to peace? What is the Government's attitude towards the Turkish incursion in a neighbouring country?

The first part of my hon. Friend's question was about arms sales. One reason for publishing our criteria for arms sales in July was so that our decisions should be open, clear and accountable. I have no doubt that he welcomed those criteria.

We have said since May, when the first Turkish incursion in northern Iraq took place, that we are seriously concerned about the territorial integrity of Iraq. We have strongly advised Turkey that any action taken should be commensurate with any threat perceived by Turkey. Our position is clear.

Are not the people of Iraq faced with terrible conditions? On the one hand, they have Saddam Hussein's totalitarian dictatorship, which terrorises and exploits them. On the other hand, they have United Nations sanctions that bring about starvation, deprivation, lack of medical supplies in hospitals and the death of women and young children in droves. Have the United Nations or the Government applied themselves to resolving the terrible conundrum for the people of Iraq?

My hon. Friend's analysis is factually flawed. The United Nations resolutions provide Saddam Hussein with the opportunity to use oil revenues to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. My hon. Friend should address his question to the Iraqi dictator, who feels that it is in the interests of Iraq to spend money on weapons and military hardware rather than on the people of Iraq.

Points Of Order

3.59 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I tabled Question 28 to the Minister without Portfolio. Is it not unreasonable that we had only five minutes of his presence in the Chamber when it has taken us six months to get him here? During that five minutes, he managed to answer only one question. Would not democracy be better served by the Minister without Portfolio coming to this Chamber regularly, so that we could hold him accountable for his actions?

The time allocated to various Departments is not a matter for the Speaker; it is a matter which is arranged through the usual channels. I share, however, the hon. Gentleman's disappointment at not having his question called, although it was only the second question to the Minister without Portfolio. He will recall that on Question 27, to get a minority voice heard—I am sure that it is right that minority voices should be heard in the House—and to allow a Conservative Front Bencher to speak, I had to call four supplementaries. Often, that is where the time goes.

It is for the usual channels to determine the length of time for which Departments answer questions. I hope, however, that we can make better progress, because we are not making the progress that I would like to see at Question Times for all Departments.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is there not a point of principle for the House of Commons? Is not the implication of the reply to the private notice question by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office that force could be used? Even if a British force is not committed, we as a country are endorsing the use of force. Is it not, therefore, right for the House of Commons at least to have the opportunity to express a view on the background to a complex situation, which was set out in the questions and by my hon. Friend the Minister? Would you, Madam Speaker, therefore hear an application for a debate on the dangerous situation in Iraq under Standing Order No. 24?

I judged an application for a debate under Standing Order No. 24 earlier today and thought it right that, rather than have such a debate, which was also applied for last week, the Minister should be brought to the Dispatch Box today. He has given the House a very full explanation of the situation.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that last week, I raised with you the refusal by the President of the Board of Trade to answer a written question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). On that occasion, I undertook to give you further details of the situation about which I was complaining and which I was inviting you to rule out of order. I wrote to you and you kindly replied to me indicating that you did not think that it was a matter in which you would become involved.

You, Madam Speaker, will not, however, be surprised to know that I have undertaken further research into this important matter and into what I consider to be a neglect of the rights of right hon. and hon. Members. I put to you, in the hope of securing a different ruling, the fact of which right hon. and hon. Members will be conscious. On 19 March this year, the House agreed a resolution on ministerial accountability, the third paragraph of which specifically stated:
"Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest".
Those terms were reproduced in subsection 4 of the first paragraph of the ministerial code, which was republished—[Interruption.] It was republished, not least for hon. Members' benefit, in July 1997 with the enthusiastic endorsement of the Prime Minister. In those circumstances, the refusal by the President of the Board of Trade to tell us when she was working during the summer recess might be judged to be out of order. Can you guide me, Madam Speaker, on how I can obtain an answer from the right hon. Lady?

I do not need to take further points of order on the matter. Ministers are not accountable to the House for the hours they spend in their Departments. They are accountable at the Dispatch Box for policy decisions. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) seems to have got the bit between his teeth and to be very interested in procedure, as I am. He might like to apply for an Adjournment debate on a Wednesday or one evening, in which he may get the full answer he seeks.

Orders Of The Day

Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

I must inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you give a ruling on a matter concerning the Bill that we are about to discuss? A similar matter also appeared in the Scottish and Welsh referendum Bills. Clause 1 relates to a question on Government proposals to be put in a referendum. As yet, we have no such proposals, as they are to be included in the White Paper. Is it appropriate that we should debate legislation on proposals before we know what those proposals are?

Presumably, the hon. Gentleman is attempting to defend his party's amendment.

I think that I know precisely what the hon. Gentleman has in mind. I remind him that the debate is perfectly in order; otherwise, we would not be continuing with it.

4.5 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Since the abolition of the Greater London council 11 years ago, London has been the only western capital without any form of democratically elected citywide government.

For 11 years, the people of London have had to put up with an eccentric administrative patchwork made up of secretive Cabinet committees, ad hoc arrangements and a plague of quangos. No one was responsible, so no one was to blame. No one was ever to blame.

"Who governs London?", the people asked, "Who is in charge?"—and answer came there none. No one represented London. The Minister in the previous Government supposedly representing London actually represented a rural Suffolk constituency. The whole set-up was amateurish—and it showed.

London, with its customary inventiveness, did its best to compensate. Public, private and voluntary sectors came together in a variety of partnerships. They published strategies and launched initiatives, but there is a limit to what can be done by busy people with other responsibilities.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I wanted to pick up his rather sneering reference to amateurishness and his implication that there is something wrong with local government in London. How does he square that with a recently published survey in which international business men who were asked which was the best city to visit, and do business in, voted for London way above all other cities? How does the Minister explain that, if London lacks the government for which he is about to argue?

Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman was not listening. He was keen to intervene, but not so keen to listen. My point is that the people of London—the private sector and the business community—all try to do their best despite the amateurish government framework. We know that the business community is committed to London and to our proposals. If the right hon. Gentleman reflected on the matter, he would realise that the Government speak for business in Britain, and his party is increasingly seen as an anti-business party.

Londoners were not convinced. They saw the result of years of strategic neglect: no one to speak up for London nationally and internationally, decaying infrastructure, traffic chaos, worsening air quality, unacceptable levels of crime and a growing division between the rich and poor. They saw what was wrong and demanded the opportunity to put things right. That is why they gave such massive support to the Labour party in the general election, delivering in London the highest swing to Labour in the entire country. That is why we have also received overwhelming public support for the proposals published in our Green Paper

I am sure that the Minister will agree that a whole series of factors could be attributed to the differential swing, including the fact that, in London, there was a large differential swing against the Labour party in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for one of his customary interventions in debates on London. I look forward to many more. I remind him, as one of the few survivors representing his party in London, that the swing was an overwhelming and decisive one, which took Labour into a large part of the capital city that had not previously been represented by Labour Members. Areas such as Wimbledon, Romford and Finchley now all benefit from Labour representation—and that is very good indeed for London.

No, I have given way twice. I ask the hon. Gentleman to linger a little. I will give way to him in due course.

Londoners saw what was wrong and demanded the opportunity to put things right. That is why we received overwhelming public support for the proposals published in our Green Paper, and that is why I believe that Londoners will endorse our proposals in a referendum on 7 May.

It is not only the residents of London who are calling out for a mayor and an assembly for the capital. The business community has put its considerable weight behind our proposals. It is not surprising because we share the same goals: a desire for soundly based and steady economic growth, involving and benefiting the whole community; improved living standards; and a better quality of life for all. That cannot be done in a political vacuum. There is a need for real leadership and proper accountability.

The business community recognises that if London is to continue to be a leading world city, it needs a champion—someone with the authority to speak up on its behalf at home and abroad. There is much that such a champion needs to do. London needs to compete with other world cities—such as New York, Tokyo and Paris—for its economic survival. It needs to compete for investment, for visitors, for prestige. If anyone thinks that a London Olympic bid would stand a chance of success without strong civic leadership driving it forward, they have only to look at the history of the past 11 years.

The hon. Gentleman rightly spoke about the importance of greater accountability to the people of London. How will that be achieved, as accountability to most people means accountability for money spent? There is no clear proposal for the assembly's tax, revenue or impost-raising powers—or, rather, for the budget to be raised by the mayor and approved by the assembly. Without that vital clarification, how on earth can accountability be achieved?

The hon. Gentleman questions accountability. I have always believed that it resulted from the democratic process, in which people stand for election because they believe that they have a contribution to make in terms of political and financial objectives. The people will ultimately judge their performance. That is the model which we are proposing. The Greater London authority will have powers concerning substantial sums of revenue that are currently discharged by other bodies—either central Government or other groupings. There will be a responsibility for finance, and democratic accountability will ensure that that finance is well used and prudently spent.

Only an elected city leader will have the necessary mandate to take on the kind of role required to ensure that London can advocate its case internationally and against increasing competition from other world cities. Only an elected city leader will have the necessary mandate to bring all of London together in support.

The Minister knows that this is one of the most controversial areas of the Government's proposals and that the leader in very nearly every European capital city is chosen from its assembly, not elected separately. Does he accept that there are very strong arguments—even if he might have been persuaded not to agree with them—that a directly elected mayor is a more dangerous political animal and less democratic than one chosen by a democratic assembly, as in this Parliament?

No, I do not. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman suggests that an indirect election is more democratic than a direct election. I have been studying very carefully patterns in other countries, including other European countries. One of the visits that I made was to talk to the mayor of Cologne, with whom I discussed why his city has decided to change its procedure from one of indirect election to direct election. If the hon. Gentleman studies trends throughout the world, he will see that that trend is growing because of concern about the line of direct accountability. London is one of the cities that will demonstrate the advantages of direct election.

I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question; he does not like the answer.

As there is a huge debate about the question of an elected mayor, is not there a case for a separate question in the referendum, so that people can vote on an elected authority for London, which will be strongly supported by all, and on a directly elected mayor who is less accountable if he or she is not answerable to an assembly?

As my hon. Friend has probably anticipated, I intend to cover that subject later in my speech. I hope that he will bear with me, because I will deal thoroughly with it later.

It is not just in the international arena that there is a role for the new authority. We need to improve the competitiveness of local businesses—whether small, medium or large—on which the London economy depends, and we need to tackle poverty and deprivation. Alongside the success stories, London has some of the highest unemployment and most deprived communities in Britain, cheek by jowl with some of the richest areas in Europe.

We need a new authority able to reach out to all London's communities and all London's diverse cultural and ethnic groups to help all participate in London's increasingly competitive economy. That is the basis for our proposal for a new Greater London authority and that is why the new authority will have a key role to play in ensuring that transport is improved and congestion tackled; in helping to regenerate the rundown parts of our city; in fighting crime; in promoting partnership of relevant interests to tackle these problems; and in making London a better place for Londoners.

We said in our manifesto:
"Londonwide responsibility for its own government is urgently required. We will make it happen."
Within just three months of taking office, we published a Green Paper setting out for consultation our proposals for a new Greater London authority. That consultation has generated more than 1,200 responses from all parts of the capital. All the responses are being read, and the views of Londoners and London organisations are being taken into account in working out our detailed proposals. We are studying the detail, but already it is clear that the consultation responses strongly support our proposals.

I thank the Minister for giving way; he has been generous with his time. He confidently asserted that the people and businesses of London want both an elected mayor and an elected assembly. If he is so confident of that, why will he not ask them separate questions?

The hon. Gentleman obviously was not listening when I replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) a moment ago. I said that I would cover the issue later in my speech and the hon. Gentleman might have had the courtesy to wait until I did so. I will cover it in detail and will give the hon. Gentleman an answer—not the one that he is looking for, but the one that he needs to hear.

The Bill is the next stage in keeping our promise to the people of London by giving them the chance to restore democratic citywide government to the capital and to have their say in a referendum on 7 May. I hope and believe that there will be an overwhelming endorsement of the Government's proposal.

The Bill is about providing for a referendum on proposals for a Greater London authority. It is not about the substance of the plans—they will be set out in a White Paper which we will publish in the spring. If the people vote yes to our proposals, legislation will be introduced next Session.

I understand that consultation on the referendum is primarily a matter for Londoners. I do not represent a London seat, but I represent an area policed by the Metropolitan police. The Minister is consulting Londoners, but I hope that he will also listen to those of us from outside London on policing. May we have an assurance that he will not try to bring my constituency and others into London at some stage in the future, because we would oppose that?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have no proposals to amend the boundaries of London and that, if he has responded to the consultation, his views will be taken into account in our consideration of all the responses.

Before I deal with the referendum, I wish to restate briefly the key features of the authority. We promised in our manifesto that we would create a new Greater London authority, comprising a directly elected mayor and a separately elected assembly, who together will be responsible for key strategic issues that can best be tackled on a Londonwide basis. We will keep that promise. We believe that that structure will ensure strong and accountable leadership for London.

The mayor will provide firm leadership and set the strategic direction for London—the mayor will be able to get things done. At home and abroad, the mayor will represent London's interests and aspirations. However, checks and balances are important. The assembly is essential to provide a proper framework of accountability and to scrutinise the mayor's plans and strategies and their delivery. This is not a package from which we can pick and choose. A mayor alone, without an assembly, would wield too much power. An assembly alone, without a mayor, would not give London the focus and leadership that it so desperately needs.

The Minister may be right about the incompatibility of a mayor without an assembly, but it is equally possible that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) or my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) may be right. This is a matter of political debate which will be decided either by elections or by a referendum, but the people will not get an opportunity to decide unless there are two separate questions.

I made a mistake in giving way to the hon. Gentleman, who clearly failed to listen to my responses to his hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North. If he bears with me, I will reach that subject.

Does the Minister agree that the Government's action in holding a referendum distinguishes us clearly from the action of the previous Government, who abolished the Greater London council without asking the people of London for their views?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point.

Together, the mayor and assembly are the best deal for London. Unlike the half-considered—indeed half-baked—alternatives offered up by some, it will work. To those who argue for two, three or more questions—some would like to set Londoners a regular exam paper full of questions—I say this: as a responsible Government, we can put to the people of London only a proposition that will work.

Some of the ideas that the Opposition are putting forward simply would not work. We are not impressed by gimmickry or by political posturing. Designing a new form of government is a serious business—it is not a lucky dip or a pick-and-mix. A mayor without an assembly would be a concept seen nowhere in the world, and for good reason. Where would the checks and balances lie? Who would consider and review the mayor's plans? Who would monitor progress and scrutinise the activities of the mayor?

According to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), it should be a committee drawn from the leaders of the 32 London boroughs. Let me just remind him what London's newspaper, the Evening Standard, had to say about that proposition:
"It is implausible that"
the 32 borough leaders
"could … provide an effective balance to the mayoralty."
Of course, anyone with any practical experience of the processes of government would know exactly why. Every borough council leader would quite understandably use his or her influence to seek advantage for his or her borough. That is their rightful, current role.

Only an Opposition as hopelessly confused and out of touch with reality as the present one could suggest such a formula for calling the mayor to account, confusing as it does the local interest of each borough with the wider interest of London as a whole. This is, of course, the same party which used to claim that there was no need for citywide government and that the 32 London boroughs could provide an appropriate framework for the government of London. That was the Conservatives' argument until 1 May. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. We will have no truck with such ill-thought-out proposals.

The Minister is talking about having a strong mayor, fighting for London, yet he wants immediately to cripple him with an assembly that will not let him move. It is a recipe for conflict: between the boroughs and the assembly; the boroughs and the mayor; the assembly and the mayor; and all three and the Government. Nothing will happen.

The hon. Gentleman spoke for the previous Government before the general election, and he was wrong: he advocated the solution that I have just described, in which there would be no citywide authority, and opposed our proposals for such an authority. He should reflect on the fact that the people of London overwhelmingly rejected his party's view.

If the hon. Gentleman believes that the presence of an assembly will inhibit a strong mayor, let him visit cities throughout the world that enjoy the benefit of a framework of government with a mayor and an assembly. Let him go to New York, to see how that city has tackled the crime problem; to Barcelona, to see how that city has regenerated its fortunes; to any of the cities where effective mayors are working in an accountable framework with assemblies. He will see that his argument is complete nonsense.

Given that the proposed question is very much a like-it-or-lump-it question, does the Minister agree that there is a danger that it will fail to enthuse and engage the electorate in London in a genuine debate, and that, as a consequence, the turnout will be too low?

If the hon. Gentleman believes that, he is even more out of touch than the official Opposition party. Is he unaware of the extraordinary public interest in our proposals since they were published and of the amount of attention that is being given to who will be the first mayor of London? Can he, or any other Opposition Member, recall an occasion when a local government election, probably two years away, aroused so much interest that people were already queuing up to stand?

I have already given way to the hon. Gentlemen and their questions were inappropriate and ill thought out. I intend to make a bit more progress.

We intend to put a clear and simple proposition to the people of London, based on proposals that we can recommend to them with confidence, and to give them the chance to endorse or reject it—yes or no—in a referendum.

Let me remind all those Conservative Members who are trying to generate a synthetic protest under the banner of democracy that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) said, when the Tory Government took away from the people of London in 1986 the right to elect their own citywide government, there was no referendum: no question at all. The people of London were given no choice.

It is sheer cant for Conservative Members to complain at the nature of the choice being offered to the people of London. Had their party won the 1997 general election, there would not have been two questions, three questions or four questions: there would not have been a single question. They would have denied the people of London any question at all, and it is the grossest hypocrisy on their part to complain when the new Labour Government honour their manifesto pledge to give the people of London a clear choice on proposals for a new Greater London authority, comprising a directly elected mayor and a separately elected assembly.

The Minister keeps talking about a directly elected mayor and a directly elected assembly. Why does not the question to be posed in the referendum, as set out in the schedule to the Bill, say that specifically? Why does it leave out the word "directly"?

The question is one on which we have taken considerable advice, and we have tried to ensure that it is framed so as to be as comprehensible as possible to the widest range of Londoners. As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, there can be confusion with the framing of questions, and if the electorate are not clear there will not be a satisfactory outcome.

Let me remind the hon. Gentleman of the question that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) suggested was appropriate. He suggested that there should be two questions, although his party now seems, judging by its amendment, to want three or more. A couple of weeks ago, he said on the radio:
"There should be a simple first question: do you want a London-wide government elected by Londoners, yes or no? And there should be a simple second question: do you want that in a parliamentary style where they elect their leader or do you want directly to elect separately a mayor and an assembly?"
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that will produce a clear result, he is living in a different city, on a different planet.

We have sought to frame the question simply and clearly to ensure that there is no ambiguity and confusion. That is what we are proposing and if the hon. Gentleman reflects on the question in the schedule, he will realise that that is what we have achieved.

As with the referendums in Scotland and Wales, this Bill is relatively simple in legislative terms and I shall take a few moments to explain its provisions in more detail.

Clause 1 provides for a referendum to be held on 7 May 1998, or at a later date if so appointed by Order in Council, and for the question that is to be voted on—the form of which is set out in the schedule.

The provision for changing the date of the vote is there only for use in the event of unavoidable outside circumstances forcing a postponement. We recognise the advantage of the two happening on the same day. Through combining the referendum with local elections, we will deliver savings of between £2 million and £3 million to the public purse.

Clause 2 defines who will be entitled to vote in the referendum. It will be those eligible to vote in local government elections in any London borough and those entitled to vote in ward elections in the City of London by virtue of residency. It is reasonable that the people who live in London should be those who will determine the future government of their city.

Clause 3 provides for the appointment and functions of a chief counting officer for Greater London and of counting officers for each borough and the City of London.

Clause 4 sets out regulations governing the conduct of the poll. It provides for the poll to be combined with the local elections and for provision to be made by Order in Council, following affirmative resolution of both Houses, as to the conduct of the referendum and the combination of the polls.

Clause 5 enables the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, to pay grants to London boroughs and the City of London in respect of expenditure incurred in connection with the referendum.

Clause 6 excludes legal proceedings to question the results of the referendum as certified by the chief counting officer or a counting officer. Similar provision was made in previous referendum legislation. It is designed to prevent frivolous challenges and legal obstructionism.

Parts II and III of the Bill deal with expenditure and paving provisions. It is intended that there should be fast progress towards the creation of the new authority. The Bill therefore provides for initial work to be done on the electoral areas of the authority and for expenditure primarily on obtaining and preparing accommodation for the new authority. Those provisions will not be used until an affirmative vote has been achieved in the referendum, and significant expenditure will be incurred only after the Second Reading of the substantive Bill establishing the authority.

Clause 7 confers new functions on the Local Government Commission requiring it, at the direction of the Secretary of State, to prepare a report recommending electoral divisions into which Greater London should be divided for elections to the new authority.

Clauses 8 to 10 set out the framework within which the commission must operate. It enables the Secretary of State to give the commission directions on how it should carry out its functions under this part of the Bill. Clause 11 provides for payment to be made to the commission in respect of its functions under this part.

Clause 12 provides for expenditure to be made in connection with the referendum and preparation for the authority. Finally, the schedule to the Bill sets out the form of the question on which London will vote. As I have stressed, in drafting the question we have taken expert advice, including focus group research. We believe that the question is as clear and fair as possible.

I am obliged to the Minister for giving way. He referred to part II of the Bill and the electoral commission. What the Bill does not mention is the method of election. How will the commission know on which basis it is drawing its conclusions?

As the hon. Gentleman will see from the relevant clause, the Secretary of State has powers to give direction to the boundary commission on the way in which it should approach its task. Those powers would not be used—I stress that—until there had been an affirmative vote in the referendum, by which stage the Government will have published their White Paper setting out their direct proposals. We will make clear our proposals for the election method and the constituencies. As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, we consulted very openly on that. The Green Paper set out a range of options and possibilities. We have had a lot of responses—varied responses, as I am sure he will understand—and we are analysing them. Until we have completed the analysis and reached firm conclusions, it would be inappropriate to respond further to his question.

Can the Minister therefore confirm that first past the post remains an option?

Yes. No decision has been reached on the form of election to be adopted. As I said, we have consulted and we are considering the responses. A decision will be reached and our conclusions set out in a White Paper to be published in March in good time, before the referendum in which the people of London will be asked to express their view on our proposals.

The Prime Minister pledged to reform our constitution and to clean up and modernise British politics, and we are moving fast. Since the general election, we have delivered referendums on devolution to Scotland and Wales. We have announced our attention to incorporate the European convention on human rights, and we will create regional development agencies to bring new economic life to our regions. The referendum with which the Bill is concerned will be an historic opportunity for Londoners to take control of their destiny, to right the wrongs of 1986 and to erase the insult done to the people of London by a Government who cared little for the capital, disregarded the wishes of its people and left it for 11 long years without leadership and without a voice. I commend the Bill to the House.

4.35 pm

I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill because it fails to provide for Londoners to be consulted on proposals for an Assembly and for a directly elected Mayor separately."
It is a great pleasure to follow the Minister, who was very briefly my Member of Parliament in Fulham until the electors intervened. He has moved to Greenwich, where in his election address he made the same promises of devotion to its electors as he did in Fulham. He takes great pleasure in campaigning for the millennium dome for Greenwich, so perhaps the electors of Fulham should be thankful for his move.

The great irony of the Government's approach to the legislation is that there is much in the principle of what is proposed that Conservative Members can support. We can support the principle of a directly elected mayor. We can support the principle of such a mayor not only acting as a voice for London but having a role in, for example, transport policy. We can support the principle of a referendum, because it is essential to know what the people of London want. Any system of local government must have the support of the public.

The fatal flaw concerns the fact that we are debating not the Second Reading of the Greater London authority Bill, although many of the Minister's introductory remarks were concerned with that, but the referendum Bill. The Government say that they want to know the views of London and that that is the purpose of this legislation, yet, when it comes to it, they are not prepared to allow the public to express a view on any question where the public may disagree with their position. They can express an opinion about the need for a mayor, but cannot express a separate opinion about the need for an assembly. I will come to that argument in a moment, but it is precisely the same as that advanced by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn)

In view of his remarks, may I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman apologises on behalf of his party to the people of London for denying them democratic government of their city for the past decade?

I do not apologise for that. There was overwhelming public support for the abolition of the Greater London council. Labour Members need to decide whether they support the Greater London authority, as set out in the Green Paper, or restoration of the GLC. I am not sure whether the Minister for Sport has been fired but he is currently residing on the Back Benches.

I have come to listen to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I should be certified.

I think that I heard the hon. Gentleman say that he was being certified.

Londoners are being asked to express a view before the Bill setting up the Greater London authority has been published, debated or scrutinised, let alone passed by Parliament. The Labour party once contended that such pre-legislative referendums were the wrong way of doing things.

The Secretary of State for Wales once said that the trouble with pre-legislation referendums is that there are so many questions that one cannot answer. He was right. Without the completed legislation, we do not know exactly what is proposed. The public do not know what they are supposed to be judging. The devil is in the detail and, without that detail, the public are unsighted and can be deceived.

London will be left in an entirely unsatisfactory position. The public will be asked what they think of the idea of a mayor and a directly elected assembly, but they will not know what powers either will have as laid down by Parliament, which is the only body that can decide them. At this stage, we do not even have a White Paper, merely a Green Paper which contains a series of principles and asks a lengthy set of questions.

I am happy to give way to the Labour party's candidate for the mayor of London.

I am certainly not a candidate. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he will join the Government in recommending to the people of London that they should support the referendum? Yes or no?

We have set out our position exactly in our amendment, and I am sorry that the hon. Lady has not read it—if she did, she would understand our position. It is very sad news to hear that the hon. Lady does not intend to stand as the Labour candidate for mayor because we would be greatly in favour of her candidature.

No. I will not give way again.

Let us consider the principles as set down by the Government. Doubtless Londoners will be reassured to know that the proposed Greater London authority will be strategic, democratic, inclusive, effective, small, audible, consensual, efficient and influential. That wish list leaves out only motherhood and apple pie. Doubtless, those were exactly the kind of good intentions that paved the way for the old Greater London council.

The House will want to know the answers to questions that go to the heart of the new authority, but it is being asked to approve a referendum based on the principles. Even someone who has been following the plans as closely as the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) cannot tell us what the legislation will specify about a range of issues. She cannot tell us because the Government cannot tell us.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) has already made clear, the Government cannot tell us what method will be used for the election of the mayor. [Interruption.] If I put the question, perhaps the Minister will be more ready with the answer. Will that election be made according to who is first past the post? Will it be judged on the second ballot system or the alternative vote system? We do not know, but all those methods are trailed in the Green Paper.

Given that the right hon. Gentleman appears to be unhappy about the proposition that there should be a vote on the principle before the full detail is covered in legislation, can he tell the House whether he voted with his Government in favour of the paving Bill to abolish the GLC before the detailed, substantive legislation was published?

I probably did and I have absolutely no regrets.

The Government must answer the questions about the legislation that they are introducing. They claim that they want as much agreement and support as possible, but once anyone takes any steps towards their position, they retreat to the old familiar party politics of the Labour party which we know so well.

The Government cannot tell us what method will be used to elect the assembly. They cannot even tell us whether it will consist of single-seat constituencies, multi-seat constituencies or even a single, London/wide constituency. They do not know. Once again, we must ask whether those elections will be decided according to the first-past-the-post system or the list system. The Green Paper states:
"electors vote not for an individual candidate but for a party which provides a list of candidates which are ranked in the order the party wishes".
We do not know the answer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) raised an important point about the cost of the new Greater London authority, but, once again, the Government could not say how it will be paid for. Speculation has centred on paragraph 4.21 and the idea that new taxes will be imposed. Again, the Government cannot tell us what those new taxes will be.

By any standards, we are faced with a long list of unanswered questions about the legislation—the Government have admitted as such by publishing a Green Paper with 61 unanswered questions about it.

It is called consultation.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman obviously has great difficulty in understanding that the Government should have consulted on their propositions before holding the referendum. The specific Act of Parliament is the only conclusive means of providing the necessary answers, but we will not have it, let alone the White Paper, before the referendum in May. The Minister said as much. There is no way that that Act will be ready then.

I should remind the Minister that the White Paper refers to the Government's proposals. I also remind him that we still work within a system according to which Parliament decides, not the Government—he might explain that to the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning.

The answer to the referendum could be affected directly by the answers that are eventually decided by Parliament, and it is clear that one question could lead to another. One such example is the proposal relating to the policing of London. The Government intend to set up a new police authority for the Metropolitan police. Everyone agrees that that is a profound change. The Home Secretary has been police authority since 1829 and, by definition, the system has lasted through a number of Labour Governments.

In the new proposed police authority, elected members will be in the majority, but they will not be the elected members of London's borough councils; they will be elected and selected from the new Greater London assembly. I suspect that before the public are expected to express a view on that, many people will want to know how local those elected representatives will be. If they were elected to the police authority according to a list system, they would simply be the choice of their respective parties. Many people might feel that no local link was provided under that new system. Many people may believe that members of an assembly elected according to a direct list or something like it would not have direct local links with the public. Presumably that link should be required. Given the importance that people attach to the Metropolitan police, and with the full facts before them, many people may vote against an assembly.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that matters are even worse than he has described since according to the Green Paper, elected members of the Greater London authority will serve on that proposed police authority, and my constituents, who would not be within the Greater London authority, would not have an input? Does he agree that that is worrying?