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Orders Of The Day

Volume 301: debated on Wednesday 19 November 1997

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Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill

Considered in Committee.

[SIR ALAN HASELHURST in the Chair]

Ordered,

That the Bill be considered in the following order, Clause 1, Schedule, Clauses 2 to 13, new Clauses, new Schedules.— [Mr. Raynsford.]

Clause 1

Referendum

4.43 pm

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 7, at beginning insert

'Subject to subsection (1A) below,'.

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 13, in page 1, line 7, leave out

'7th May 1998 or such later'
and insert 'such'. No. 14, in page 1, line 8, after 'prescribe', insert
'(being a date not earlier than one month after the publication of the Government's bill for the establishment of that Authority)'.
No. 4, in page 1, line 10, at end insert—
'(1A) The referendum shall not be held until a period of two months has elapsed after the publication of the Government's proposals, save that the details of the electoral arrangements may be published at a later date.'.

I shall also speak to amendment No. 4. The other two amendments have been tabled by those on the Conservative Front Bench.

Two issues to do with the Bill's preparation and the timetable are matters of procedure. There is nothing novel about them—Ministers have heard me make the point before—but we Liberal Democrats think that they are of constitutional and practical importance.

It is important that the House gets its procedures in the right order. I understand that the Government, having only recently come to office, are trying to get this part of the constitution agenda through as quickly as possible—which I welcome—but they are not proceeding in a logical order. They put out a Green Paper, set a target date for the conclusion of the consultation period—the end of October—and collected in the conclusions. I had hoped that the Minister would beaver a little harder. I asked him to supply me with a list of all the responses and publications by today so that we would know what was involved. The answer was that they would be ready by 1 December. That is not the most useful date, as it does not enable us to have the material for today's debate. I regret that.

Not long ago, the Minister said that there were more than 1,000 responses. As I have told him, that is not very many. During the general election campaign I surveyed my constituents and received 6,000 responses. I do not think that people in Southwark, North and Bermondsey, although very good at communicating, are unrepresentative.

Following the conclusion of the consultation period, we should have had the Government's response so that we would have knowledge of the White Paper and the proposals—not a Green Paper, in draft. If we are legislating to put on to the statute book a provision for a referendum—either on a specific date, 7 May, or another date—we need to know on what the people will be asked to vote. Ministers may say, "They will vote on this question or that question," but we know that people will vote on what is behind the questions—for example, what does an assembly mean, what does an authority mean, what does a mayor mean and what will they do?

Ministers should not take the House for granted—it is not a matter in which the public are generally interested—and say, "We want a blank cheque. We want the power to hold a referendum before we know what we are asking people to vote on." The same point was made about the Welsh and Scottish legislation. I made an offer to the Government, and I do not understand why they did not accept it. I said that, if they published the responses to the consultation in November and then produced, even at the beginning of February, a White Paper, we would co-operate in getting a short Bill through this House and the other place in a matter of weeks. After all, as Ministers have said, the Bill deals with a limited number of points. It should have been done in that order and I regret the fact that we are now being asked to give the Government a blank cheque on the referendum.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in his speech. Is he not being a little tender with the Minister, for reasons that I cannot begin to imagine? Only today during Question Time we had lectures from the Government about open government, transparency and sharing with the people. During the modernisation debates we have heard about pre-legislative openness and the Government's desire to consult openly before legislation is introduced. Is not the Minister's behaviour quite extraordinary in the light of what his colleagues have been telling us just this afternoon about open government and the cracklings that we have heard about modernisation?

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to the band of London Members, following his move from somewhere further north and west. One can exaggerate matters, and I think that he has exaggerated a little. I should be happy to be firmer, harsher or angrier with Ministers—

Indeed, I am happy to be less tender with Ministers when the need arises, but I also believe that debates in Committee, albeit a Committee of the whole House, should be about trying to win the argument. I am hopeful, although with little reason to be so, that the Minister may respond positively and accept some amendments. That is the test.

This is the Bill's Committee stage. In good Committees, the Government will say, "Yes, that's a good idea; we agree with you." Next week, at the end of the Bill's consideration in Committee, if Ministers say, "No, we can't possibly do that or that, and that's a bad idea," they will be showing not only a lack of generosity of mind and spirit but a lack of willingness to reach the most agreeable solution. I shall be extremely disappointed, as will voters, if the Government produce a consultative Green Paper and then a White Paper and a Bill that they will not consider amending.

If Ministers hear good arguments, I hope that they will put away the briefs from civil servants in the Box—who, it has been confirmed, can communicate only with Ministers and their parliamentary private secretaries—and accept them.

The Bill deals with a matter that is both constitutional and practical. Amendment No. 4 suggests that the referendum should not be held until two months after the Government have published their proposals. Our stance is different from that of the Conservatives, who propose that, if necessary, the date could be moved from 7 May 1998. We do not argue about the date; we are quite happy that the referendum should be held on 7 May 1998, which is the logical time to hold it, because we do not want to delay London's annual voting cycle.

Even if Ministers do not accept our first argument—that, constitutionally, the order of events is the wrong way round—I hope that they will say that at least two months will elapse before firm proposals are made. As Ministers will see in our amendments, the only matter that Liberal Democrats believe should be reserved and not placed on the table is the nature of the electoral system. If we are to have an electoral system that commands widespread support, we may have to put our heads together on that matter—as was done in Scotland, where agreement was reached.

The objective is to establish a Londonwide government that will have permanent security and not be a Greater London council mark II, established by a Labour Government and thrown out by a different Government. On the previous occasion, paradoxically, the GLC was abolished by a later version of the same party. The Inner London education authority also was abolished by the Tories.

They were flexible in some things, but inflexible when someone with a view they did not like took power, especially if they were across the river from here.

If there is to be a proper and informed vote in the referendum, people will have to read, consider and debate the proposals. That process cannot occur overnight or in a week. We think that, at the absolute minimum, two months will be required between publication of a White Paper and the vote. If we are not to move the date from 7 May, we must have the White Paper by the beginning of March. I cannot imagine why it should not be possible to have the White Paper by then. The experience of the Welsh referendum shows that, if time is not provided, we could be asking for trouble.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I would not want to get in the way of his making a cosy deal on proportional representation with his friends in the Labour party. He suggests that we are dealing with practical rather than constitutional matters. The use of referendums is quite unusual under our constitutional system. If we are about to set a pattern, we should not use a referendum as a blank cheque. If we are to consult the people, the people have a right to know what they are being consulted on before they vote.

By definition, I do not share the hon. Gentleman's politics, but I agree with the point he has made, which is important. This is a constitutional innovation for the mainland of the United Kingdom. We have had only one United Kingdomwide referendum—that on Europe. Paradoxically and a bit nonsensically, it was held after we had gone in. It should have been held before we went in. There have been referendums in Northern Ireland and, of course, the two recent referendums in Scotland and in Wales.

Regional government in England, which my colleagues and I strongly support, appears to be extremely popular in London and less popular elsewhere, although there is a strong view about it in the part of the world from which the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) originally comes. We ought to ask people for their opinions. Even if opinion polls in London say that 80 per cent. of people want a democratically elected Londonwide authority, we should test that finding. As regular referendums on constitutional issues are a constitutional novelty, we must be absolutely sure that people know what they are being asked to decide.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Conservative party's establishing the Greater London council and then seeking to abolish it is nothing new? The London county council was created by Lord Salisbury, who then tried to abolish it 10 years later, making a speech in another place in which he claimed, although it was run by the dear old Liberals at the time, that there was no experiment so revolutionary or socialistic that it was not being practised at county hall. It seems to me that nothing changes.

To be completely honest, I did not know that Lord Salisbury tried to abolish the LCC 10 years after it was established, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information. It strikes me that many of the best ideas are painted as socialistic and revolutionary. I am proud to represent Bermondsey.

In the 1920s, when Bermondsey was run by a Labour council—the old Bermondsey borough—it had revolutionary and socialistic ideas such as public baths and slipper baths which were free to the public. The Daily Mail and other newspapers of the day said that it was a disgrace and a waste of taxpayers' money. There was a solarium to try to deal with tuberculosis, which was regarded as a scandalous abuse of public finances. I share the hon. Gentleman's view that perfectly reasonable and sensible ideas are often presented as loony by certain organs of the press, although later they become the majority view and are hugely appreciated.

I campaigned in the Welsh referendum. As my name suggests, I have more than a little Welsh blood and I am very proud of that. Those of us who supported the yes campaign nearly lost the referendum, partly because there had been no agreement on the core elements of the proposals. There was no agreement, for example, that Cardiff was the only and obvious place for the Assembly always to meet.

I was campaigning in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik). People said that the Assembly would always be in south Wales. My family comes from Snowdonia, in north-west Wales. A local farmer there told me, "It would do no good for us." There was no agreement about it. There was no agreement about the cost and whether it was money well spent. Nor was there agreement on whether the quango issue would be addressed properly.

Above all, people felt that they had been given the proposal so recently that they had not had a chance to test it. That is no good; when it happens, many people do not vote. If the proposals are produced late, people either do not vote or get the sense that the Government are pushing things through.

One of our concerns about the new Administration, whose constitutional agenda we generally welcome, is the danger of their being too authoritarian. I do not say that because I do not accept what the Minister says about the consultation paper being honest. As I have said to him publicly and privately, I accept his and his colleagues' good faith. I want to ensure that we get the best form of Londonwide government. It is in all our interests—the Minister's electors, my electors and the electors of Members representing London constituencies and beyond.

I hope that we will not try to bounce the electorate into anything. In later debates, we shall discuss the question and the form of the assembly. Amendment No. 2 is about not bouncing people by giving them information too late. My hon. Friends and I hope that the Government will accept that, at least as a minimum, there is a clear two-month space between publication of the proposals and the referendum, which we on these Benches hope will be on 7 May.

5 pm

I shall speak to amendments Nos. 13 and 14. As they take a very different form from amendment No. 2, we request that you, Sir Alan, exercise your discretion at the end of the debate to allow a separate Division on amendment No. 14.

For once, the Conservative party agrees with the Labour party—not on the many things on which the Labour party has changed its mind in recent weeks, but on the need for reform of London government. It is one of the Conservative party's proudest achievements in 18 successful years of power that we put in place the right conditions to enable all 7 million Londoners to turn their city into the greatest capital city on earth.

The Committee will know that London is one of the world's leading financial centres. We have an economy the size of Russia or Saudi Arabia. London is home to more of Europe's largest companies than any other European Union city. It is the leading site for foreign exchange dealing, international bank lending and equity trading. It has more foreign banks than any other city and more United States banks than New York city. Many right hon. and hon. Members present will be aware of the expertise, skill and mastery the City displays on a daily basis. From the stock exchange to the London international financial futures exchange to Lloyd's, we have a watertight case to call London the world centre of financial excellence.

London is also the world's centre of artistic excellence. As the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said yesterday:
"London's leisure industries are at the heart of what makes it a world-class city. They make a major contribution to the economy of London and to the quality of life of Londoners as well as the millions of visitors."
Our universities are world class, from King's college and the London School of Economics to University college and Imperial college. All have global reputations as centres of academic excellence.

The Conservatives believe that the time is right to modernise and reform our capital city's system of government. The time is right to ensure that London's government is reshaped and ready for the challenges of the 21st century. We want to build on the tremendous success and prosperity in our city which flourished during our time in government, and make the best even better.

The Bill will give each and every one of London's 5 million voters the chance to vote in six months' time in a referendum on the Government's plans for their Greater London authority. I welcome the Government's generosity in sharing their less than detailed deliberations on the proposals—the 65 questions—with us, the House and the people of London in the Green Paper "New Leadership for London". I welcome the fact that the Government have given us all a taste of what may be to come.

Despite the intimation that a White Paper will be published in the spring, we on the Conservative Benches would rather have welcomed the publication of a Bill setting out solid, detailed proposals well before the referendum in May, before London goes to the polls, before its voters are asked to give their opinion on what may or may not happen to their city's government in the next millennium. So, too, would the people of London—my constituents in particular.

The Greater London authority proposal comes in two parts. It is a Siamese twin of a proposal with a directly elected mayor moulded to a directly elected assembly. The package is to be offered hand in hand to Londoners, linked as inextricably as cheese and wine or, if the subject is not too sensitive for the Labour party, as Benson and Hedges.

We shall explain later our widely supported objection to grouping those two substantial and significant proposals in a single, 24-word question, putting them to the electorate on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. That is unsatisfactory. Asking Londoners to make their decision about reform before the Government have put the meat on the bones of their policy is equally unsatisfactory. They will be asked before there are any serious, detailed proposals on the table and before they know what the planned changes will mean for them.

Does my hon. Friend agree that more concerns emerged on Second Reading? The Government say that they want a mayor for London with power and strength, but during the debate the Minister said that they also want a London authority that will shackle him and tie him down. That tiny glimpse is one reason Londoners need to understand the details.

My hon. Friend is right. One of the interesting features of the Second Reading debate is that more speeches were made against the detail of the proposals than for them. That is why we should have the last word in detail before Londoners go to the referendum.

What was the Second Reading majority?

Why are the Government asking Londoners to decide on something that the Government have not been able to decide on? Why are they asking the views of Londoners when they have only a hazy view themselves? Why are they putting the option of reform to Londoners when they do not know the details themselves? So far, the details are wrapped up in a 61-question consultation document.

The Government are saying, "We want you to say yes, but we do not quite know what the question is. We want you to say yes, but we do not yet know what we want you to say yes to." It sounds like the new Labour version of "Blind Date": "My girl friend has agreed to marry me, but I do not know who she is yet. All the Government say I should do is cross my fingers and hope for the best." Londoners are being asked to express their views before the Bill setting up the Greater London authority has been published. They will have to make up their minds before the Bill has been debated and examined in this place or anywhere else around the capital.

Once upon a time, the Labour party contended that pre-legislative referendums, such as that proposed for London, were the wrong way to proceed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) reminded the House last week that the Secretary of State for Wales once said that the trouble with pre-legislative referendums was that there were so many questions that could not be answered. He was right, and boyo he should know.

Without the legislation having passed through its parliamentary stages, no one can know exactly what the Government have in store for London. No one can know what plans they have for the capital's future. No one can know what the Government are up to. How can the public know what they are supposed to be deciding on? How can people be sure that the details of the Government's proposals are right for them and for London? How can they be sure that they are not being deceived? The position is very unsatisfactory. It reflects poorly on a Government that came to office on a platform of openness and freedom of information and on their confidence in Londoners to take decisions for themselves. Above all, it reflects poorly on the Government's idea of what they think democracy for London is all about.

Within 200 days, the public will be asked what they think of the idea of a directly elected mayor and assembly.

Things are not even as clear as that—the schedule refers only to an elected mayor, which is why we have tabled an amendment. This is the most fraudulent blank cheque proposed in recent times by any legislature for municipal politics.

My hon. Friend is right. The Bill refers to a

"Greater London authority, made up of an elected mayor",
who could be elected by the assembly. It is all very vague, and we hope to put it right later on.

How can the public know what they are supposed to be deciding? How can they be sure that the details of the Government's proposals will be right for them and for London? It is all a poor reflection on a Government who came to office on a platform of openness and freedom of information.

Within 200 days, the public are going to be asked what they think of the idea of a directly elected mayor and assembly, yet they will have little idea of what powers either will have, once those powers are laid down by Parliament—the only body that can decide on them. With the referendum only a few months away, we have still not even seen the White Paper.

On Second Reading, the Minister gave a commitment to publish one in the spring. The Oxford Dictionary says that spring is from 20 March to 21 June: I hope that today the Minister will be a little more precise. At the moment we have only a Green Paper containing a few principles and a series of questions, each one of which is linked to others. How can anyone be expected to form a view on a set of principles? However undemocratic and extraordinary that may seem to us and to voters across the city, that is exactly what the Government are asking Londoners to do.

On Second Reading, the Minister said that he had received some 1,200 responses in the Department during the consultation period that ended last month—hardly a ringing endorsement of the proposals, hardly a mandate from the people of London with which to launch such a major reform. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said that his constituency alone had produced 6,000 responses. My party has received many more—

Well, if we can get more than 6,000, I should have thought the Minister can, too.

What details does the Green Paper give away? The Greater London authority will be inclusive, small, effective, influential, audible, strategic, democratic, efficient and consensual. That sounds to me suspiciously like the noble aims that led to the old GLC. What Londoners want to know and have the right to know is the devil in the detail. The Government are asking them to say yes in a referendum based on principle alone.

A range of issues need to be faced up to in clear and precise terms, but the legislation will not be available by the date of the referendum to tell us what those details are. The Committee deserves better; so do the people of London; so does everyone with an interest in London's future, from the City to the boroughs to the man on the Clapham omnibus.

The Government have given away no details of the timetable for the advice that they want on the electoral arrangements for Greater London—matters covered by clause 8. It is all very well saying that the Secretary of State has powers to set a timetable to require the Local Government Commission for England to provide its report on the arrangements, but there is no mention of the precise timetable that the Secretary of State intends to follow. Why not? When does the Secretary of State intend to act? When does the Minister expect the final report to be issued? What about the interim report? The Bill does not say, the Minister does not say, and nobody knows the answer.

Does not the Minister think that Londoners should know about something so important now? Who has a vote—and where—is fundamental to the shape, the impact and the consequences that the Government's reforms will have. Nor will the Government let on anything about the method of election that will be used to elect the assembly. Will the details be in the White Paper? If we do not have the electoral report there could be some difficulty here. The Government have not said whether there will be multi-seat constituencies, single-seat constituencies or even a single Londonwide constituency. The only way to resolve these matters is to publish the Bill before the referendum.

Why is the Minister asking Londoners to express a view before he does?

5.15 pm

Then there is the cost of the proposals. The Government will not say how the GLA will be paid for. Will the detail be in the White Paper? Will there be a levy on the borough councils, or directly on council tax payers; or will fares rise for those who use London's transport system; or will the money come from the uniform business rate? The Minister has not told us because he does not yet know himself.

Then there is the question of elected representatives and the bodies that will report to the GLA. Elected members will be in the majority in the myriad new organisations that will come from it. Will the details of this be in the White Paper or the Bill? What local knowledge and expertise will these representatives be expected to have? Will they simply be the choice of their respective parties? Will they be accountable directly to Londoners or just to the assembly? The Minister has not told us because he does not know yet.

Conservative Members believe that referendums should be held once the electorate have been given the full facts about a proposal, putting them in the best possible position to judge its merits or lack of them—

I therefore look forward to publication of the Bill and the Minister's acceptance of our amendment. He seems to think that a White Paper can be as detailed as a Bill: it cannot be. That is why we want a separate vote on our amendments. The electorate must be aware of the pros and cons and aware that Parliament has done its job of scrutinising the legislation. Good intentions are not enough: good intentions can change. Good intentions do not necessarily make good law. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, look at what happened in the Welsh referendum. The relevant legislation might be amended by Parliament when the House eventually has the chance to consider it.

Some minutes ago the Minister, from a sedentary position, urged me to remember the size of the Government's majority on Second Reading, thereby displaying a degree of arrogance that shows he is not listening to the voters. May I take it that he is not prepared to accept a perfectly good amendment? Is he saying that the White Paper will be the last word? Of course he cannot say that, because the House may quite possibly amend a proposal that appears in the White Paper as the legislation goes through.

Holding a referendum on a loose set of flimsy principles is like asking the people of London to sign a blank cheque. Not even the Minister, I dare say, would consider that sensible—yet it is what he is doing. The Government's approach is profoundly undemocratic. While it is right to consult the electorate on changes of such importance, the fact remains that that should be done when, and only when, all the questions have been answered inside and outside the House; when all the details are known; when the House has discussed the proposals and decided their final form; when the final blueprint is before the people of London.

The Government are saying, "Give me a yes and trust me to sort out the details later." That is precisely what the recently elected Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies) did when he was leader of Croydon council. I wrote to him asking what the proposed GLA would take away from Croydon council. He wrote back to me in September last year, as the then leader of the council, about his party's plans for a strategic authority:
"Local councils will not be losing powers to this new body".
He trusted his own party when it was in opposition—and now look what has happened: a year later, the Labour party's Green Paper on London government describes 14 diminutions of the boroughs' powers.

It sounds rather like a U-turn to me. That does not give me much faith in the Government's ability to stick to a policy and it cannot give the hon. Gentleman much faith in his party's ability to stick to a policy, but then he does not need me to tell him that.

Trust the Government. The electorate will wonder whether to trust them as they did on tuition fees. They will wonder whether they should trust them as they did on tobacco advertising. That is not much of a record to endear the Government's decision-making abilities and political judgments to London's 5 million voters.

I want to know as much as possible about the reforms. I have set out a series of unanswered questions that are likely to remain unanswered before polling day. When will the Government realise that it is not just my hon. Friends and I who want to know, but London's 5 million voters, 32 boroughs, many councillors and the Corporation of London? Other London Members of Parliament and those whose constituencies fall outside the London boundary but whose areas will be covered by bodies under GLA control, such as the proposed police authority, want to know, as do the 10 Members of the European Parliament and the Government office for London. Each and every one deserves to know precisely how the Government's reforms will affect them and how the creation of a London development agency will affect them, politically, financially and strategically.

When will the Government wake up to the fact that their failure to disclose detailed information on reforms before polling day is not something they can so readily ignore in the democratic society I thought we lived in. How can the Government so easily refuse to make available such vital and necessary information when what they are proposing has such fundamental repercussions for all concerned about London? Why do they have so little regard for democracy in our capital city?

Throughout debates on the Bill, I have been astonished by the Government's lack of confidence in their proposals. Not only do they want to push through the plan for a directly elected assembly, lumped in with a directly elected mayor, but they will not surrender the detail of their reforms. The Bill should be about choice. With the Government's proposals as they stand today, the Bill denies choice. It denies us all, inside and outside the House, the detail that we should have before voting on the Government's reforms for London. Londoners are to be asked to give unconditional support for the Government's reforms. They ask all of us who live in London to sign that blank cheque and forget about what could happen as a result.

Londoners must decide whether they want regional government or a strengthened borough council system which, without a shadow of a doubt, remains wedded to the capital's electorate. Where the Government simply want to change, to create more politicians and more bureaucrats, the Conservative party believes in power at the lowest level. I much regret that the Government will not give more information, as they should. As matters stand, the people of London will not have until after the referendum the details of those far-reaching proposals which, if implemented, will mean considerable changes in the government of their city.

London's 5 million voters deserve better. This is too important a matter for Conservative Members to fight for anything less. Those who live in the world's greatest capital city have the right to know about the devil in the detail before the referendum on 7 May. I urge the Committee to accept amendments Nos. 13 and 14.

In the spirit of answering questions, I hope that it will assist the Committee's consideration of this group of amendments if I say that I am ready to accept a separate Division on amendment No. 14.

I must confess at the outset that I have not yet quite reached the state of persuasion of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) that reform of the way in which London is governed is necessary. The clue to my reservations came in my hon. Friend's remarks, in which he rightly praised the extent of London's success, expressed in so many different ways. Whether we consider its success in commercial or cultural terms, the happy thought that we can all share is that London has been a phenomenal success, not least in the past 10 years. That must surely lead one to consider how that has come about without this much-vaunted additional level of bureaucracy that we are now discussing.

I say that simply to put in context my few remarks on the amendment. However, I am sure that, in due time, I may come to be persuaded that those extra levels of bureaucracy will somehow benefit Londoners in a way that is not yet clear to me—or, I suspect, to the majority of Londoners.

The Minister said that he had had 1,200 responses to the Green Paper. Out of 7 million people, that is not an overwhelming endorsement of the Green Paper. If I share with the Committee the information that one of those responses was from me, and it was not a glowing support for the Government's proposals, that will cast some doubt on the Government's proposals. When the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) not unreasonably asked for a bit of detail, nothing was forthcoming. When he gets that list, I hope that he will find my name on it; then perhaps he can ask me what I said to the Minister.

The right hon. Gentleman may not have seen my question on the Order Paper asking Ministers whether they would publish the list, and place it in the Library, by 17 November. I did that expressly so that we would have that information, including the right hon. Gentleman's submission. We shall get that information by 1 December and we shall be able to see the evidence in the Department, but that will not be much good to the Committee. I see no good reason—the right hon. Gentleman will agree—why we could not have that in good time, even in summary form and even if we had to go across the road to look at it.

Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Committee would not want me tediously to repeat what I said earlier when I intervened in the hon. Gentleman's excellent—if I may say so—speech.

I want to query the nature of the referendum process itself. I must confess—I am obviously in one of my mildly heretical moods this evening—that I am not yet desperately impressed by referendums as a means of political decision making. The Bill is a good example of why not. All here well understand that the nature of the questions asked very much determines the likely answer, and timing is crucial. The popularity of the Government or whomever is asking the question will colour the answer.

Given all that, it is obvious that, if I wanted—it is doubtful, but let us say I did—to vote for an assembly, and, following the questioning of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South, we were able to wring out the detail in time, and if that assembly were to be based on some form of proportional representation, which would no doubt be favoured by the Liberal Democrats, I would be in a dilemma. I would want to say yes to the assembly but, if I did not want an assembly based on proportional representation, how should I vote? Or, to follow the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir P. Beresford), supposing I wanted a powerful mayor, unshackled by some superficial or superfluous assembly, how should I vote? I am being given no option.

The referendum, which is being offered as some great consultation process, is nothing of the kind; it is a question formulated to get the answer required by those posing the question—the Government of the day. It is no more and no less than that. Therefore, before we endorse the referendum process in essence, principle and substance, we should be sure that we understand what the Government seek to do and how they intend to go about it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the case for a referendum in respect of Scotland and Wales rests on the fact that the House proposes to cede substantial powers elsewhere in the United Kingdom? The House has no powers to cede on behalf of Greater London. Is not this something of a cop-out by the Government, who, because they cannot make a decision themselves, want to put it to the people?

I am tempted to agree with my hon. Friend but I am prevented from doing so because I believe that the referendum process in Scotland and Wales was flawed in that important regard. When were the people of England ever asked what they thought about all this? After all, it is the people of England who are ceding political power and are paying for most of the process, yet they were never asked. What price a referendum in those circumstances? I concede that the same argument does not entirely apply to London.

May I correct my hon. Friend? Part of the Metropolitan police area lies outside London, so the changes in respect of the Metropolitan police will affect my constituency in Essex. My constituents will not have a vote either.

I think that I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am tempted to digress on one of my favourite hobby horses, which would be the definition of London, but I shall not, Sir Alan—

Order. The right hon. Gentleman anticipates me. If he looks at the selection list, he will see that I have tried to ensure that there can be discrete debates on a variety of subjects. I appreciate that there is some interlinking of argument, but it will assist the Committee if hon. Members try as hard as possible to stay within the bounds of the amendment, which is concerned with the date of the referendum and not with the content of the questions or any other matter.

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I am grateful for that guidance, Sir Alan, and I am sure that, even in their enthusiasm, my hon. Friends will not tempt me to digress any further than my natural inclinations would allow.

Those were my preliminary remarks; I now begin the substance of my speech. I want to agree both with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South and with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, because their remarks were key to the point at issue.

Let us suppose that we are going to have a referendum and that people are going to be asked to vote on those matters. It is not only not unreasonable but absolutely essential that people in their maturity are given the opportunity to study the proposals carefully and to discuss them and consult among themselves to determine what they think before being asked to vote.

The central question is whether the Government are prepared—or even able—to give us sufficient information in the form of a White Paper, a Bill or any other supporting document so that people can come to a mature judgment. That information must cover all the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South and possibly even more. It must cover the nature of the proposed assembly and answer the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley by covering in some detail the nature of the proposed relationship between the assembly and the mayor. Otherwise, we as voters will be unable to make a sensible judgment or vote in the referendum.

The matter goes further than that, because some of the responses from some of the elected London borough councils have consisted of a list of questions. They want to know what powers are to be taken away, what the financing will be like and whether they are being top-sliced. Initial indications from the standard spending assessments are that money is being moved out of London, but councils want to know whether more money will be taken from them along with their powers.

The Minister was not listening to my hon. Friend's valuable intervention, and he is not listening now. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will feel the need to ask his questions again and that he will succeed in catching the Minister's attention. Unless we get answers to those questions at the end of this part of the debate, we shall not know how we are going to vote on this issue or on others.

I thought that that was what we were here for—to discuss the matter and to elicit answers from the Minister. The Minister's failure to listen will make answering difficult, although all the evidence gathered today in this Parliament is that Ministers do not listen to what is being said here and, if they do, they still do not give us any answers. Perhaps new ground will be broken tonight, which will be an exciting moment for Parliament, but I shall not hold my breath.

Nevertheless, we must ensure as best we can that detailed answers to our questions are forthcoming now, so that we can make up our minds on the amendments. Subsequently, the Minister must give an absolute guarantee that sufficient detailed information of the sort requested by my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon, South and for Mole Valley and answers to their questions will be available in time for voters to give proper and mature consideration before being asked to vote in the referendum next May. Unless those answers are forthcoming, the Minister can draw his own conclusions about what we shall all be forced to do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) has quite rightly emphasised that the devil is in the detail. I realise that the Minister probably has some arguments in reserve that he will deploy when winding up. He will probably cite the lack of time, the fact that some of the details have to be settled with reference to other parties and the need for consultation—all the usual flannel with which his officials will brief him.

However, one question relates directly to the date: it is absolutely fundamental and, unless it is answered, all our discussions are almost valueless because they are taking place in a vacuum. That question is: what is the cost of what is being proposed? It is totally unjust for the people of this city to be invited to vote on a matter, of which they may or may not approve in principle, without their decision being related to what it will cost them.

The scheme has been talked up with descriptions of what powers will be given to the mayor and what benefits will accrue from having a mayor and assembly, but at the back of all that hype is colossal expenditure. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South listed various sources from which revenue might be derived, but even if every single one were milked for revenue, there would still not be enough at the disposal of the new bodies to meet the grandiose claims made for them.

It is said that they will deal with traffic congestion, get rid of pollution and impose a green regime across the inner city and there are many other wild ideas—often touted by the Evening Standard, which has behaved in an extraordinarily irresponsible manner in respect of this whole topic from start to finish. If there is to be any realism in the fulfilment of those pledges, a colossal sum of money will be involved. That sum has to be drawn from somewhere and it will be drawn from the people of London. We all understand the Chancellor's pledge that the overall level of taxation will not be raised, and we know that we can trust his word. Therefore, the money will have to be raised locally.

There will probably be some hypothecation—at least, we hope there will. Will there? Perhaps the Minister can answer that question—it would be original and inventive of him to do so. If Londoners are to be asked to contribute an enormous sum of money—which they will be, through various indirect taxes and a huge loading on their council tax—it would be useful for them to see in advance some indication of how that would be hypothecated.

Such things can easily be calculated, at least in general terms, and it would be possible to put them in good time—even sticking to the existing date—so that those who are to vote in the referendum can carry such considerations in the forefront of their mind. I hope that the Minister will assure the Committee that he is going to ensure that that happens.

I imagine that the Minister must now be feeling a little embarrassed, having told us on Second Reading that he had received 1,200 responses. I put out a regular newsletter to my constituents—33,000 households. I do not get 1,200 responses back, but I get a number of responses that approaches 1,000. A figure so low is a sign that one should consult the people about one's proposals—the people are waiting to read the proposals before making a significant contribution.

I have noticed the Minister nodding while my hon. Friends raised their points, as if to say, "Yes, I have the answer to that," "We know what we are going to do there," and "Don't worry, everything will be sorted out." If that is the case, what is the Minister scared of? Why does he not produce the Bill or his White Paper? Let us have the information so that the debate can be properly worked out.

Referendums are not usual in our constitutional system. We have had a series of them, but they might best be described as a means of getting the Government off the hook. Generally speaking, with the exception of the two referendums in Scotland and Wales, they have been held against a background of a known position. Previously, the only referendums we had experienced had been on small local issues such as whether or not the pubs should open in Wales.

On the issue of the referendums on Scotland and Wales—serious matters for the kingdom—does my hon. Friend accept that the no White Paper has yet been forthcoming on the detail? As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) rightly said, the devil is in the detail. What guarantee is there that the Government will produce serious detail about their proposals in time for a referendum on the date that is now proposed?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Nothing in the Bill would force the Government to do anything. They need not do a single thing from the time that the Bill becomes an Act until the time of the referendum. As my hon. Friends have said, it is important that, before we make such important decisions, the full facts must be known. After all, we shall be faced with a question at the referendum where it will be possible, no matter what one's view are and unless one is violently opposed to both a mayor and an assembly, to vote yes.

This may be the first of many referendums, so it is important to get the ground rules right. Before the people are asked to express a view in the referendum, we must ensure that the consultation is real and complete. We know that, at this referendum, substantial parts of the Metropolitan police area will be disenfranchised. Therefore, even if the full facts are known, some of the people who will be affected by policing decisions will not have an opportunity to vote.

The Government have a duty to explain. If they intend to use referendums as a constitutional device—if they are to become a regular feature—they should not be used as a cynical and sinister way of trying to increase the number of people who vote in local government elections. The Government should explain to the people exactly what they are being asked to endorse.

If we are to move forward in a process of "trust the people", those people have a right to complete disclosure. After all, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South said, the devil is in the detail. The Minister's position is now like that of the red queen in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland". The Government are saying, "Never mind about the evidence or what the people think, let us have a judgment now." The only answer given by Labour Members is to say that they had a large majority on Second Reading.

Is my hon. Friend as astonished as me to see so many Conservative Members present, anxious to debate these matters, while the Government Benches are virtually empty? Labour Members are not prepared to ask their Government for details about the financial consequences of the Bill. The Government are relying on the Lobby fodder who voted for the Bill on Second Reading. They have now been told to go home and not trouble this Committee.

That is an important point, which I was about to mention. We are in danger of treating the citizens of London like Labour Members of Parliament. The view seems to be, "We do not care what they think or what they do as long as they turn up." The public should receive more respect from the Chamber than the Government Chief Whip offers to his Back Benchers.

I could not help but hear what the hon. Gentleman said about the alleged lack of Labour Members in the Chamber. Can he explain why, on a matter as important as world climate change, only two Tory Members were present this morning? They had nothing to say about pollution in London or anywhere else and most Conservative Members stayed away. It may be that they had businesses to go to—I do not know. The world should be told.

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not allow himself to be led down that route. I should remind him that the amendments are tightly drawn. Some of the issues that he is covering now will be dealt with in later amendments.

5.45 pm

Of course, Mr. Lord. My only response to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is to say that we saw how he voted on Second Reading.

Before people reach a decision they have a right to full disclosure. They need to know what the mayor will do and what powers he will have. They need to know whether an elected assembly will take powers away from the boroughs. The Minister for Local Government and Housing has talked to the Local Government Association and explained that there will be a tight settlement. We know that money will go away from London. We need to know whether additional money will go away from London because of the cost of the new assembly.

May I ask my hon. Friend what information people will have before the referendum on the future of the City of London Corporation? I think that the public believe that this is all about electing a new Lord Mayor of London and something that will take over the corporation. It is of major financial importance to know whether revenues from property rates will accrue to the new organisation or stay as they are. Central to knowing what one is voting for is knowing how the new arrangements will interact with the City.

I must tell my hon. Friend that I am the bringer of bad news. Nothing in the Bill explains that. There is no duty on the Government to explain any of those important things before the people of London vote.

The people need to know whether powers will be taken from the boroughs. People within the London area come from distinct communities—that is where their roots are and where the power is. Before they are allowed to vote, that issue should be clear. We know that the strategic authority will have enormous powers on planning. The London boroughs will deal with only small considerations. Before people sign away the powers of the London boroughs, the consequences need to be explained in a White Paper or a draft Bill.

In reply to a question before the recess, the Minister for Transport in London suggested that the strategic authority might care to consider the finance of London Underground. I understand that that suggestion has been withdrawn, but most of the major decisions on London Underground will have been taken long before the assembly comes into being.

If we are to use referendums as part of our constitutional system, they should have legitimacy. If people are asked to take decisions without full knowledge, the legitimacy of the referendum is undermined. After all, on Second Reading many Labour Members seemed to think that the new strategic authority was to be a rebirth of the Greater London council. The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg) is shaking his head, but he should read the Second Reading debate. It is clear from that that a substantial proportion of Labour Members thought that the GLC was coming back.

We have the strange position in which Conservative Members are in general agreement with those on the Government Front Bench in that we both do not want to see the GLC come back. If Labour Members are so confused about the powers of the new strategic authority—they have had the benefit of reading their manifesto commitments—what chance does a member of the public have unless there is absolute disclosure? A system that treats the people as a rubber stamp treats them with cynical contempt.

I did not intend to participate at this stage of the debate, as there are more important substantive matters to come but, having listened to so much appalling twaddle and knowing the Conservatives' record, I have been provoked.

It will come as no surprise when I say that I have disagreements with my party on some of the details of its proposals for a new government for London. However, it is a bit much for the Conservatives to complain that the proposals are ill thought out, given the method of consultation used for the abolition of the previous London government, when 98 per cent. of the responses to the consultation were opposed to abolition, and, on the basis of 2 per cent. support, the Conservative Government went ahead.

I recall that the entire exercise was not even agreed by the Cabinet. When the late beloved leaderene decided that she wanted to abolish regional government in London, she was told by the then Secretary of State for the Environment, who went on to become Deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), that it was barmy and, after a study at the Department of the Environment, that it could not be done. His successor, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) gave the same advice in the month before Mrs. Thatcher, at a meeting drawing up the Tory manifesto, sidelined the Cabinet by putting the proposal in the manifesto, when the Cabinet had not agreed to it.

There was no discussion and no consultation. The only study done in the Department of the Environment said that the plan would not work and was barmy. Having won the election on that and being seized by a fit of manifestoitis, the Conservatives had no plans for abolition and no prospect of having any plans for the abolition of the council within the two years before the next Greater London council election. They needed emergency legislation to abolish the election. It was passed in the House and overturned in another place, and the Government were forced into a humiliating retreat. They knew that it would take them 18 months to work out how to do it. It was a nightmare.

The guilty men and women who voted for that nonsense back in 1983 are in no position to question the fact that Labour has had a consultation, and asked genuine questions of Londoners. We shall, however imperfectly, put a question—or two, if I have my way—to the people of London next year, and detailed legislation will then be introduced. That is a much more structured approach than the nonsense that we had before.

At the beginning of his speech, the hon. Gentleman said that he had difficulty with some of the details. There were few details; there are few details. From past debates with him, I suspect that, after the referendum, he will have further arguments about the legislation, but it will be too late. Would he not prefer to allow the public to see more details beforehand? That would follow the position that he has taken over many years.

Every opinion poll for the past 10 years has shown that. The specific nature of such a body will require long and detailed legislation that will take the best part of a year. There is no prospect of that legislation being squeezed into the timetable for this Session. Therefore, if we waited for a referendum to consult Londoners, the plans would probably be put back to 2000, and we would not get a mayor before the next election. However imperfect the arrangements may be, at least they give Londoners a chance to elect an assembly and a mayor who will be in office before the year 2000.

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall not give way to hear the same point made again. If the Government's plans are agreed to, Londoners will at least be consulted.

There are serious points on which my party is split, and important amendments to consider. I would have hoped that, instead of time-wasting, the Committee could debate serious matters. Dare I ask whether a filibuster is looming? That would merely take time away from the serious consideration of important issues.

How refreshing it is to have the authentic voice of the Labour party in London participating in this important debate. I would not dream of referring to the remarks of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) as appalling twaddle, but as usual his sense of history was rather colourful and not exactly scholastic.

It would be helpful for the Committee to focus more closely on amendments Nos. 13 and 14. Why are the Labour Government so keen that the referendum should be held on 7 May 1998? I suggest that they hope that the date will be useful for their election campaigns in the boroughs.

The record of Labour authorities in London is abysmal. The Government hope that there will be so much hype and such excitement about the issues of the referendum that their record will not come under the close scrutiny that it deserves. I can assure Ministers that, in my own borough of Hillingdon, it will. We have particular problems relating to planning, for example, which the electors will want to address, as they did in the Uxbridge by-election. That may not be the case in other boroughs.

With regard to the length of time between the publication of the White Paper—or, as we insist, the publication of the Bill—and the referendum, there is much of great constitutional significance. The Liberals, as ever, are acting as the sweepers to the Labour team. They are happy with a two-month period between the White Paper and the referendum date.

Those of us who have been in the House for a while recognise that the White Paper process is a serious one which does not affect this House alone. It is a process of pre-legislative consultation which should encompass public opinion as a whole, interested bodies, industry, commerce and the City of London. The consultation must be meaningful. In the light of the representations made, many of the original proposals submitted must be reconsidered.

We are led to believe by Government spokesmen that if we are lucky, we will get the White Paper in the spring. That hardly allows time for the definitive proposals, which will be published only with the legislation, to be produced.

I would go further and say that the people of London should not be required to have a referendum on the future governance of London until the Bill is through both Houses, but I shall not quibble; amendment No. 14 is satisfactory, allowing one month between the publication of the Bill and the referendum date. I would have hoped that in a spirit of good will, the Government would allow the stages in this House—the Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading of the Bill—to be completed.

The trouble is that the Government regard the entire exercise as an attempt to seek popular approval in a referendum for a model of government—a prototype—which will be appropriate for the European elections. That is not spelt out in precise terms; nothing is. The Green Paper is the vaguest Green Paper that I have ever read.

By rights the Government should by this stage have presented the House with infinitely clearer proposals. There is no expectation that even by the early spring, when the White Paper is due to be published, they will have formulated their ideas clearly. One might have imagined that they would have done so by the election. Instead, it was an exercise in sloganeering about how wonderful an elected mayor and assembly would be. There was no effort to analyse the policy and spell it out, either in the election campaign or in the Green Paper.

As there has been such a policy vacuum, the people of London should at the very least have a month to consider in careful detail the precise proposals for which the Government will seek the approval of the electorate in the referendum.

It is not right that the people of London should be the guinea pigs for constitutional change. I use the term "constitutional change" advisedly, because the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), admitted that the proposed assembly is a prototype for regional government for England as a whole. If it is so, the people of London need much more than the one month that we anticipate between the publication of the Bill and the date of the referendum to make up their minds. It will be an issue that transcends London itself, and the people of London will wish to judge, in reaching their conclusion on referendum day, whether they wish to set a precedent that could be used in the further modification of our traditional forms of government.

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The Government's proposal is a constitutional monstrosity. They are seeking approval for something which even by 7 May will be largely unclear. They are expecting the people of London to accept as an act of faith that all will be well even though they will probably receive no clear explanation of how the assembly is to work, how the mayor will be able to obtain approval of his budget from the assembly and how the necessary moneys will be raised. The people of London are being asked to accept the biggest constitutional blank cheque in municipal history.

I support amendments Nos. 13 and 14, from which two issues arise. The first—probably the more important and certainly the one on which many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have focused—concerns the fact that, at the point at which the electors of London will be asked to comment on the Government's entirely vague proposals for a mayor and an assembly, those proposals will not be before them in their full form, and certainly not in the form of a Bill.

The Government might, if they wished to comply with the spirit of amendment No. 14, produce a draft Bill. We understand that, on a number of issues, they intend—and it is an entirely laudable intention—to anticipate the introduction of legislation, and the more important the legislation, the more important it is that that should be done. Before a Bill is presented to the House for the first time, it should be the subject of a draft Bill that has been the focus of substantive consultation.

We are all aware of the numerous bodies in London and the numerous policy areas that will be affected by the Bill when it comes before us. With my constituency interests at heart, let me say that many of those interests relate not only to London but to London in its national context, and they too must be the subject of consultation.

It is entirely right, given the importance of the issues that are to be raised, that the Government should use the opportunity to present a draft Bill before proceeding to present a substantive Bill to the House in the 1998–99 Session. Surely it is entirely possible that the Government could proceed by publishing a draft Bill in the earlier part of 1998. Consistent with that, the Government could ask for a referendum, having acceded to the amendments, during 1998 without necessarily imperilling their timetable for the introduction of legislation and hence the introduction of a mayor and an assembly.

The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) is no longer in his place, but I would take issue with him that it is necessarily the case that to accept the amendments would be to delay the Government's timetable for the introduction of a mayor and an assembly.

As I have said, the first issue is whether the electors should have before them the proposals that will be set out in the Bill. Surely it is vital that they should. On Second Reading I referred to the apparent anomaly of the Labour party having sought a mandate in its manifesto for the introduction of a mayor and an assembly, only to throw it away.

My hon. Friend talks about full disclosure, but surely there needs to be substantial disclosure. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who, like most Labour Members, is not in his place, argued that the entire process would be put in jeopardy if it were delayed because of the introduction of a Bill. Surely an indication of what the Government propose to do in relation to powers, functions and finance will be necessary.

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. It is clear that the Green Paper does not raise 61 questions that will become matters of detail at a later stage, so it is not possible to vote on the basis of proposals in the Green Paper that represent a substantive understanding of what the mayor and the assembly are to be.

It is of considerable importance to many, not least to my hon. Friends, to understand what is to be the relationship between the mayor and the assembly, because that determines whether the assembly should be composed of separately elected individuals or those drawn from the London boroughs. What sort of scrutiny and powers is the assembly to have in relation to the mayor? The Green Paper merely tells us that there needs to be a mechanism for the resolution of conflict. Indeed there does, but what is to be the mechanism, how is it to work and what are to be the respective powers?

We are in the business of constitution making and, as we shall find in due course in relation to some of the documents published on Scottish and Welsh devolution, that is not about everyone agreeing all the time. There must be a clear understanding of respective powers and of how conflicts are to be resolved.

One of the key issues is the relationship between the proposed Greater London authority and the London development agency. We do not know now what stage will be reached in the publication of details about the development agency and its relationship with the Greater London authority. Littered throughout the Green Paper are references that imply that the GLA is to be construed as a body that is taking to itself responsibilities of central Government and exercising those in relation to London. Other parts of the Green Paper make explicit reference to the GLA as analogous to a county council.

It makes an enormous difference to voters to know which we are talking about. If we are talking about a body that is essentially decentralised and using central Government powers, it would seem that there is a stronger case for the involvement of the boroughs in ensuring that that approach is consistent with borough strategies and priorities. If we are talking about a body that is analogous to a county council and by extension will be drawing many powers to itself from the boroughs, that will involve a substantial degradation or diminution of borough responsibilities—a matter to which the boroughs might like to respond.

My hon. Friend may not be aware that I served on Westminster city council. I remember the appalling delays and difficulties that ensued because those involved in planning had a foot in both camps. The business community and others in London should be made well aware of the problems that will arise, unless wording is precise, as a result of delays in central London activities, especially the development of properties.

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The Green Paper is indeterminate as to whether the Greater London authority will issue planning guidance, in the manner of the Secretary of State, or create a structure plan, in the manner of a county council. To those of us concerned with land use issues, the manner in which the development, control and land use powers are to be determined, and the influence that the Greater London authority could exercise over those powers, is of the essence.

When it comes to voting on whether there should be a Greater London authority in the manner described, many people in the outer London boroughs will ask, "What powers will this body have in relation to the green belt and green space in London; and what influence can it have over development control in our borough?" The answer is not clear. It is not in the Green Paper.

At this stage one has to ask what the Government are trying to achieve by their timing of the referendum. The timing is, on the face of it, simply to reiterate the Government's intention to introduce a Bill to provide for a mayor and an assembly. They are, in effect, mandated to legislate for a mayor and an assembly, because that was in their manifesto, and it is the opening comment in the Green Paper.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood that, if Ministers are looking for a referendum to play its proper part constitutionally in relation to this issue, they have two options. They can legislate for a referendum to take place once a Bill has secured its passage through both Houses, so that the voters of London can, in a constitutional manner, act as a democratic legitimising body for the intentions of Parliament and so that Parliament can submit its determinations to the electorate to secure their agreement. That option is entirely preferable constitutionally.

Alternatively, if this is to be an advisory referendum, which I suspect is the Government's intention, the Government should seek the advice of the electorate substantively on the issues that arise from the manifesto. When Labour went to the polls on 1 May, it did so on the basis that it would introduce a mayor and an assembly for London, but not knowing what the mayor and the assembly would do.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government are trying to persuade the public at large in London that one of the assets of the Government's proposal is that the management, control and organisation of London would be more efficient? However, when he touched on planning, he touched on the very area on which I have severe doubts. People need to know what will be the relationships between the boroughs, the new Greater London authority and the mayor, the Government office for London, the regional development agency association and the Government. Should we not reflect on the fact that London is so important to this country that it is unlikely that there will be any final decision anyway, and that it will have to be taken by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions?

My hon. Friend makes his point very well. From my reading of the Green Paper, and from my knowledge of planning issues, it seems to me that it would be very difficult in relation to any major development and planning issue that arose in London to know how the Secretary of State, who remains a court of appeal in relation to the powers of the Greater London authority and the boroughs would exercise his powers if the Government office for London were absorbed into the Greater London authority.

I suspect that the Green Paper is moving towards a situation in which the Greater London authority is both analogous to a county council, as one would understand the term outside London, and would exercise many of the powers and responsibilities of the Government office. Yet outside London these are separate bodies, and for jolly good reasons.

I come now to the second issue arising from the amendments. Why 7 May 1998? What is important about that date? From the electoral administration point of view it is cheaper and easier to have the votes on the same day. I entirely take the point, as a saving of £2 million to £3 million could be achieved. However, when examined in rather more detail, it becomes a little more strange.

Are the issues to be determined in the two elections the same? In theory they are not, because the issues relating to the mayor and the assembly are issues for a considerable time ahead. The issues to be determined on that matter are the strategic governance of London from 2000 onwards, not the policy priorities now for London as exercised by the boroughs. There is an important difference between those issues, which suggests that they should be separated.

6.15 pm

How will the boroughs interact with the referendum? Existing councillors of London boroughs were elected in 1996 and therefore without a mandate in relation to the Government's proposals. I suspect that, although London boroughs will have their own views on the referendum, they will be unable to acquire a mandate—which they might seek to do—at the local government elections next May to influence the introduction of legislation. They would benefit from the Government making further and faster progress in presenting their proposals through a White Paper and a draft Bill, so that councillors and candidates can seek a mandate to change the governance of London.

At the moment, the boroughs will not interact with the referendum because they will be conducting their own campaign. Technically, the borough elections will be held without knowledge of whether the people of London support a mayor and an assembly.

Is not the most likely reason for selecting 7 May for the referendum that, without the election taking place on the same date, the turnout in the referendum would be totally derisory? It would be even worse than the Welsh referendum, and it would be patently clear that there was no democratic mandate for what the Government propose. This is the only way in which they can ensure at least a 30 per cent. turnout on the day.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has made that point, as he has saved me the trouble of having to do so, and he made it better than I would have done. I am sure that he is right.

I shall dwell not so much on the politically manipulative aspects of the Government's proposal as on the constitutional aspect. It seems highly undesirable in constitutional terms for the Government to invite the people of London to vote on the referendum issues, which relate to the governance of London after 2000, while the people of London should focus in the local government elections on the government of London and the policy issues that affect London from 1998 to 2002.

Does it not go a stage further than that? Will not the people of London elect their various borough councillors not knowing whether they will be stripped of power?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, the council candidates who will present themselves to the electorate in the run-up to 7 May 1998 will be unaware of the context in which the second half of their term will be conducted—with what powers, under what circumstances, and so on. From 1998 to 2000, they will know that they are exercising the current set of powers and be able to deal with the issues, but they will have said to the electorate, "Give us an opportunity to run this borough through to 2002." But for the subsequent years, 2000 to 2002, they may not have the power.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The money will have gone—indeed, I suspect that a great deal of it will have gone—into the coffers of the Greater London authority, perhaps substantially more than is currently spent by the London boroughs.

Let me return to the question of political manipulation. It seems to me that, in the run-up to the 7 May local elections next year, the decision to hold a referendum on the same day will have a political impact. It is a perfect device employed by the Government to avoid addressing some of the real issues. By that time—in this context, the presence in the Chamber of the Minister for Transport in London is helpful—the Government should have begun the process of telling the electorate what they meant by "an integrated transport strategy". It was clear that they had no idea what that meant when they secured office on 1 May.

The same applies to the questions that were presented in the Green Paper in relation to the government of London. It turned out that the Government's policy consisted of 60 questions—or however many were involved in the transport strategy document.

When we come to the elections next May, the Government will doubtless say, "Don't worry precisely what we mean by an integrated transport strategy in London now. You can vote for a Greater London authority." The Green Paper, which I consulted, makes it clear that there will be something even better: a genuine integrated transport strategy. I quote from the Green Paper. The heaping up of adjectives before the word "transport" knows no end.

It strikes me that the device that is being used—the holding of two elections on the same day—is intended to allow the Government to escape from the critical issues, and, in many instances, to escape the criticisms that will fall on Labour local authorities in such areas as Hackney and Islington by saying, "With one bound you, the electorate, will all be free. The critical issue is whether you vote for a Greater London authority. If you do, all your problems will disappear in the future, because the Green Paper says that the Greater London authority will be more effective" —and all the other adjectives that go along with whatever the GLA is supposed to do.

There will be a very undesirable conjunction on 7 May. I understand that, in practice, it is an administrative convenience, but I feel that administrative convenience should take second place to political need and constitutional desirability, and I consider it constitutionally desirable for the Government to proceed. I see no reason why such a timetable should be used, and no argument was presented for it on Second Reading.

It would be entirely consistent with the Government's timetable to introduce the mayor and assembly in 2000, and to bring in legislation in the parliamentary Session of 1998–99. It would be perfectly possible, in advance of that, to hold a referendum in, let us say, September 1998. It would be perfectly possible, in advance of that, to present a White Paper and a draft Bill. The Government would have to go a long way to convince Conservative Members that they were not competent to achieve that.

Such action would put things in their proper order. Perhaps, when we consider other issues in relation to the Bill, we shall suggest ways in which the Government's failure to spell out what they intend to achieve, and the way in which they will achieve it, can also be put in order.

If I understand the Government's position rightly, the commitment made by the Minister in response to the genuine unease that is felt about the problem means that they are saying that they will produce a White Paper in the spring. I do not know where the Minister made that commitment, but I understand that that is the nature of it.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) pointed out, the first question to be asked is what is meant by "the spring". The Minister should tell us exactly how much time he would expect to elapse between the publication of the White Paper and the referendum that he expects to take place on 7 May. Are we talking about four weeks, six weeks or two months? "Spring" is an extraordinarily elastic term, which allows the Government to do pretty much what they want. If the Minister is really talking about producing a White Paper at the very beginning of a local government campaign in London, I think that that would be a travesty of any proper consideration of the Government's proposals, separate from the existing governance of London.

There is a more important point that will have a resonance for hon. Members who are long enough in the tooth to have been in the House for some time. White Papers can be pretty white. White Papers can be pretty elementary, and pretty skeletal. I do not make that point in a party sense; I am talking about Parliament versus the Executive—the way in which the Executive treats Parliament.

When I was on the Back Benches under the last Government, I was shocked and scandalised—and said so in a debate—by a White Paper produced by my own Government proposing the privatisation of the railways. I felt that it left unanswered so many fundamental questions about—for instance—the way in which the privatisation would be carried out that it constituted an abuse of the procedures of the House.

I pose the same question to the Government now, not on a party basis but simply on the basis of how they hope to treat Parliament during this process. After all, the Government have said things about that, and they are doing things about it—for example, by modernising our procedures. They have raised hopes that they will proceed in a more composed way than Governments have proceeded in the past.

We need to know first what the Government mean by a White Paper. As I have said, a White Paper is pretty elementary, and I feel that the Government are left with far too much room in which to manoeuvre. The Minister has a problem—one with which we are all acquainted. If he had to produce a Bill, he would have to secure agreement from his colleagues on the Government committee that authorises the drafting of Bills. He knows well enough that he would not secure the agreement of his colleagues. They would say, "You have not got the referendum through, and we therefore do not know whether the legislation will be passed. How can we justify the expense of constructing a Bill, and all that goes with that—the time of the Parliamentary Counsel, for example?"[Interruption.]

Order. Far too many private conversations are going on, especially near the Chair. I am finding it difficult to follow the debate.

As I was saying, the time that the Parliamentary Counsel would need to devote the necessary attention to detail could not be justified. The Minister has a problem: he knows that he could not produce a Bill, even if he wanted to.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley). Why not produce a draft Bill? The whole point of producing a Bill is that it is a necessary intellectual exercise, in which those involved must go into the minutiae. As has been said repeatedly, the devil is in the detail. The point is well made: as Disraeli said, if you have a good point repeat it, repeat it, repeat it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cliché."] Disraeli had some rather good clichés.

I am saying that, if it is possible to embark on the intellectual exercise that is necessary to produce a Bill. that will resolve some of the points about which people are concerned. After all, the Government are producing a draft Budget next week or thereabouts. That process is normally shrouded in secrecy, as was pointed out by the previous Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke).

It is extraordinary that the Government should produce a draft Budget dealing with a subject that is renowned for secrecy, but should not produce a draft Bill dealing with a subject on which there should be consultation—on which, indeed, consultation is taking place. They have got themselves into an absurdly illogical position. That is one suggestion: the Government should commit themselves to producing at least a draft Bill, while not committing themselves to a final Bill. After all, the Minister knows that he cannot do that. I want to be helpful to the Minister. I hope that I am being helpful. Even if he cannot do that, he could, this evening, give some clothing to the White Paper proposals that he may produce. Can he tell us exactly what a White Paper would cover? My hon. Friends the Members for South Cambridgeshire and for Mole Valley (Sir P. Beresford) mentioned planning. Planning is a major consideration when a new body is being put into an existing arrangement in which there are several London boroughs, government of London organisations and, indeed, the Government themselves. Problems will occur because of the sheer complexity of the proposals, and it would be sensible to deal with those problems in detail now.

The Government should address the concerns of hon. Members and the citizens of London by spelling out this evening how the White Paper will be structured. Can the Minister give us more information about the chapters that it will contain and the headings that it will cover? Will it contain the detail that we would expect from a proper White Paper? That would assuage some of my doubts about the excessive room for manoeuvre that he has given himself, which we suspect will be exploited as usual by the spin doctors. The House will be given the minimum information that is consistent with parliamentary adequacy, and the people of London will not be given the detailed information they need to make a valid judgment on the Government's proposals.

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That lack of information is one of the reasons why the response to the consultation was so pathetic. Only 1,200 people responded, many of whom may be opposed to the proposals. As we know from an earlier intervention, one of those responses came from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), so perhaps there were 1,201 responses out of 7 million people in London, including 5 million electors.

Does that not suggest that the people of London are far too canny to want to be lumbered with this great expense? We are signing a blank cheque, and it may turn out that there is not enough interest in the proposal to go ahead with it. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that we should not allow the same to happen with this proposal for London as happened with the Welsh referendum? Only 20 or 25 per cent. of the people in Wales showed any interest, whereas the Government talk about the result as if it were a great victory for them.

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Minister has a problem. He is linking the referendum to the elections on 7 May, in the hope that it will boost the turnout and will conceal the fact that people are not as keen on his proposals as he wants them to be. He has an interest in having a real debate about the proposals. It is no good resting on a consultation process that yields 1,200 responses. If my calculations are correct, that is 0.0002 per cent. of the people and institutions of London.

Does my hon. Friend realise that that take-up is less than the average double glazing salesman gets?

I do not know whether 0.0002 per cent. is the proportion of London Labour Members present in the Chamber at the moment. I noticed that the hon. Members for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) briefly appeared, no doubt so that their names would appear in the debate, but suddenly vanished. They said that 2 per cent. was an unacceptable figure. The Minister would be delighted with 2 per cent., given that only 0.0002 per cent. responded to his overtures.

The Minister has a responsibility to the House to flesh out this evening the ground that he proposes to cover.

I am getting nice smiles from the Minister. My hon. Friends will want to intervene in his speech to find out what ground he will cover in the promised White Paper, when he intends to publish it and when we will have some clear-cut proposals that the people of London can debate.

I do not want to speak for long, but I believe that a fundamental issue is at stake. As this is a matter of such importance, it is extraordinary that people in Scotland, Wales and now in London are being asked to vote merely on the principle, and not on any details. It is odd that referendums come before legislation. These referendums have major constitutional implications. Expenditure matters will have to be considered, and powers will have to be shifted from one body to another.

The public are concerned about the honesty of politicians. I am a new Member, and I have noticed a great deal of dishonesty. The way in which the Government have behaved since they took office is not as the electorate might have expected. There have been betrayals. Many Labour supporters refer to the Government's U-turns as betrayals. They have made U-turns on tuition fees, cold weather payments and tobacco advertising.

The people of London will be asked to vote on a proposal about which they know very little. The last time they were in office, the Labour Government had their fingers burned, because they proposed legislation before the referendums and could not get their business through the House.

The name of the London authority also raises an issue of honesty. It is now to be the Greater London authority, whereas in the past it was the Greater London council. Are the Government frightened to go back to that august body, or is this change of name yet another smokescreen?

More particularly, I want to know exactly what the authority will do. Will it be yet another tier of bureaucracy? From my travels around my constituency and throughout the country, it is clear that people are tired of politicians and of government, yet the Government want to create further tiers of bureaucracy and more levels of government throughout the kingdom. These proposals have many more constitutional implications.

Where will the balance of power lie between existing London authorities and the new authority? What will be the division of power? What will the new mayor of this great authority do? Will he be powerful or not? Will he chair council meetings, and if so, which ones?

Who will serve on the authority? As I understand it, there will be some well-paid jobs in the assembly. I have heard that the lord mayor will be paid about £100,000. What will happen to the district councils if people flock to serve on the new authority? District authorities are established bodies which handle local issues, but they may be undermined.

My hon. Friend may like to ask for a small pause in our discussions, as there is no one on the Government Front Bench. The Liberal Democrats and the Government are arranging a stitch-up beyond the Bar.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but, as there is now someone on the Government Front Bench, I shall continue.

I cannot answer the questions that I have posed. It is up to the Government to explain to the House and to the people of London the role of the new authority and the mayor, and how that will affect the role of district authorities. If a £100,000 salary is to be paid, many people will be asking how they can become mayor of this great body.

As the Government get into further difficulties, they start to retreat into themselves. I advise them not to keep putting up smokescreens, because it is not doing them any good.

On a wider constitutional issue, the Government should explain to the people of London and to the House whether they are creating yet another region of Europe. There will be some sort of government in Scotland and Wales, and the Government have not yet published their plans for regional government in England. Will the Greater London authority be yet another of those regions? That would have important implications. These matters should be explained not in a White Paper, but in full legislation before the people of London are asked to vote on it.

I speak from experience as a councillor and as someone who is not a lover of referendums. In fact, I am not a lover of extra government, because I think that we should have the least possible government. If the Opposition's role is to give more power back to the individual, the less government we have the better. We should not take powers away from the individual and give them to central bodies.

One of the things I do to keep in touch with London, and with London opinion, is a little radio programme on Sunday mornings with the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who is no longer in his place. That is declared in the Register of Members' Interests. We invite people from London to telephone about matters that worry them. The radio programme enables us to find out much more about the views of Londoners than we are ever likely to discover through the referendum. People worry about law and order, but, of course, there are already strategic bodies such as the police and the fire service to deal with such matters. Therefore, the new authority need not become involved in that.

People worry about their dustbins being regularly emptied and about the cleanliness of their streets. Those functions are carried out fairly effectively, certainly in the Conservative boroughs in London, although I cannot say the same for Camden and Islington, where the streets are filthy and the rates are such that most people try to leave them. They certainly send their children to school outside those boroughs. People are worried about education in London, but I do not think that there will be any suggestion of the new body taking over council powers, because the councils will fight like hell to keep them.

It might be a good idea to take the power to control schools away from many London boroughs whose schools are atrocious. The rare exceptions are Wandsworth and Westminster. They run good schools, but, of course, they have Conservative administrations.

People worry about transport and roads.

Order. The hon. Lady is embarking on a Second Reading speech. The debate is tightly drawn and deals with the date of the referendum.

Thank you for reminding me of that, Mr. Lord.

Londoners have strong views, and offering them a blank cheque referendum will not let us know whether they want a detailed say. The referendum question will require just a yes or no and the Government owe it to the people of London to say that, if not enough of them vote in the referendum, they will not proceed beyond it. I should like to hear the Minister's view on that, because there has been little response.

We must take account of the serious difficulties that arise with another layer of government. That will be evident on planning issues. Such strategic matters should be reflected in the information that the Government give to people before the referendum. If it is not, people will be voting for a pig in a poke. If people are not told what the authority involves, they will not know whether they want it. The Minister must deal with some of those issues or we shall be debating nothing more than bread and circuses. We have had a blank cheque, a pig in a poke, bread and circuses and the devil in the detail. The new authority may be an abomination.

Before Londoners are asked to decide on the issue, they must know that if not enough of them take an interest in it in the first place the Government will take note of that. I am putting to the Minister the matters that Londoners are interested in enough to phone up about on a Sunday morning after breakfast and before they get down to cooking the lunch. I have used this opportunity to pass that information on. I know that my hon. Friends back me in calling for information, and I hope that the Minister will deal with these important matters.

I should like to deal in more detail with the point that I put to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles). The referendum is self-evidently to endorse Government proposals. What has been aired so far is not simply a replacement for the GLC. The City is in the middle of London. Financial services represent 23 per cent. of our national income and are crucial to our prosperity. London citizens need to know the proposals for the City corporation. That is fundamental in several key areas. Will the authority have tax powers, will it make the City uncompetitive, will it have planning powers and will it be relevant to the efficient operation of the most capitalist part of our economy?

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It is not good enough to seek a blank cheque. [Interruption.] Labour Members find that funny. It is a jolly good cliché, but if they damage the City of London they will find it difficult to get cheques out of anybody. The referendum is about the future of London and the most important part of our economy. If the Government wish properly to consult people, they must advise people of their proposals about that most important part of London. There is no reason why the proposals cannot be set out in detail in a draft Bill or a proper Bill with adequate time for digestion before the referendum. The referendum should not be held until these matters have been resolved.

The debate has been protracted and not entirely illuminating. I was frequently reminded of literary images of conversations among a group of dead souls who were endlessly repeating the same clichés—how they tripped off their tongues—and trying to reassure themselves that the world had not changed on 1 May. The world did change, and the Conservatives are in opposition. Labour is in government and we have positive proposals to give the people of London the right once again to determine who governs their city.

The Conservative party took away from the people of London the democratic right to elect their own citywide authority. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] I am getting on with it, and if Opposition Members will bear with me they will hear a few simple facts about their party's record when it was in power.

We take no lessons from Conservatives about the exercise of democracy. They did not believe in consulting Londoners before abolishing the GLC. They did not make proposals for draft Bills or other constitutional innovations to allow people an opportunity to test their proposals before they abolished the GLC. The Conservative party did not publish anything before producing a paving Bill which, using their majority, they rammed through the House. The people of London had no say. It is pure hypocrisy for Conservative Members to suggest that what we are doing is undemocratic.

Thank you, Mr. Lord. I have listened for approximately an hour and a half to a protracted debate with frequent Opposition interventions. They might have the courtesy to listen briefly to me before intervening.

The Government are committed to ensuring that the people of London have full information about our proposals before they vote in the referendum on whether they wish to have a new strategic Greater London authority comprising a directly elected mayor and a separately elected assembly. We have already demonstrated our commitment to full public consultation. Within three months of coming into office, we published a Green Paper. We circulated many copies of the summary version of it. There has been extensive media coverage and a substantial response to the Green Paper. We received more than 1,200 responses, and they are still coming in after the consultation closure date, which has meant that it has taken some time to analyse the responses to 61 questions.

I put it to Conservative Members and to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who first made the point, which many of them repeated, that putting out a newsletter—which probably asks the electorate whether they endorse the hon. Gentleman's actions in relation to a popular issue such as repairing council houses—will almost certainly elicit a good and positive response, but he will probably understand that the responses to 61 questions are not necessarily as simple as those to his question.

I do not intend to protract my comments, but, as an exercise in democracy, I am happy to tell the Minister that our surveys had four pages of questions—I concede that they were not all answered—and that that produced 5,000 or 6,000 answers, so I still think that the Government could have done a bit better in relation to responses from Londoners.

I am not going to enter a debate with the hon. Gentleman about the wordiness of Liberal Democrats' literature and the number of questions that they pose. I will say only that we have had a full and comprehensive response from a wide range of London organisations and individual Londoners. We are analysing those comments carefully because many valuable contributions have been made in the consultation. We take that seriously and we will pay good heed to it before we produce our final proposals.

The Minister makes the point about the previous Government's consultation, or lack of consultation as he alleges, but perhaps he will be able to help me, because my memory is not as good as his. I recall a White Paper on London, I think in 1994, which was published by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), when he was Secretary of State for the Environment, and which sought widespread consultation. Perhaps the Minister can tell the House now or at an early opportunity how many responses there were to that consultation.

The most striking thing about that consultation was that the then Government did not choose to ask the people of London whether there was a need for a strategic authority for London, despite which 30 per cent. of respondents said that they wanted a strategic authority for London. That showed Londoners' response to the bogus attempt at consultation by the previous Government.

We have said clearly that we are consulting the people of London and we will lay before them the full details of the Government's proposals in a White Paper. We will also ensure that every household in London receives a neutral and factual summary of the White Paper, setting out the proposals on which they will be asked to vote, as well as other initiatives, to ensure that everyone knows what the issues are.

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will come to that. He is terribly impatient. I assure him that I will give him the answer that he is looking for. We intend to publish the White Paper—[Interruption.] If Conservative Members could restrain themselves, they might be interested in this. We intend to publish the White Paper during or before the week commencing 23 March.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) asked whether the definition of spring was within that period. He made the point that spring technically begins on 21 March. Therefore, we intend to publish the White Paper at the earliest opportunity in the spring. That will allow six weeks for the issues to be considered fully by the people of London, before they vote in the referendum on 7 May.

The Minister is making a point of great importance in announcing that, some six weeks before the referendum day, the electorate of London—every household-will receive a copy of the White Paper. Will the Government facilitate the issue of literature to the contrary? For example, will the no campaign—if such a campaign materialises—have freepost facilities?

I have said that we will publish a factual and neutral summary of the proposals. There will be no public funding for either a yes campaign or a no campaign. The Government will set out the options and invite the people of London to make a choice. That is the right and proper course for the Government to follow.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) talked about the merits of publishing legislation and giving a period of perhaps a month for people to consider it before they voted in a referendum. Legislation is of necessity often very technical. The Bill to give effect to our proposals on London will inevitably involve many technical provisions. The idea that the electorate of London should have one month to absorb highly technical legislation, while the concept of giving people six weeks to digest a White Paper expressed in clear English is rejected, shows a curious sense of how to ensure the best possible public consultation.

Will the Minister give an undertaking that there will be no changes between publication of the White Paper and the First Reading of the Bill—that there will be no changes between the detail of the White Paper and that in the Bill?

Of course I cannot give that undertaking because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the first thing that will happen after the White Paper's publication is the referendum, and if it produced a no vote, there would clearly be a change in the Government's position. It is preposterous to suggest that we should give an undertaking that there will never be any change in our White Paper proposals.

We are holding the referendum on 7 May deliberately to gain the benefits from combining the poll with local government elections. That will result in a considerable saving in public expenditure, which I would have thought all hon. Members would welcome. Separating the referendum date from the local election day would probably result in additional public expenditure of some £2 million to £3 million and could reduce voter turnout. That is not in the interests of democracy or of economy, and the Government do not intend to propose that.

As for the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Croydon, South, I cannot believe that he is suggesting that the interests of democratic choice are best served by asking the people of London to scrutinise a Bill with 100 or more clauses.

The Minister wants the referendum to be held on the same day as local elections. Is that because he fears the possibility of a derisory turnout in the referendum, thus removing the mandate to act? I am mindful of course of the experience in Wales. To support what I have said, may I tell him that I was in Greenwich this morning discussing the matter? Not only had no one to whom I spoke heard of the Minister, but no one had heard of these proposals.

It was a mistake to give way to the hon. Gentleman, who has only just arrived in the Chamber and clearly did not listen when I spelled out the obvious financial advantages. Before he says anything more, I advise him that he does not appear to have honoured the normal parliamentary courtesy of giving a Member of Parliament notice that he is visiting his constituency.

We propose that Londoners will have the chance to scrutinise clear and comprehensive proposals in the White Paper. It will then be for Parliament to scrutinise legislation, taking account of the content of the White Paper and the verdict of the people of London. People who suggest that the referendum should take place after Parliament has completed consideration of a Bill support a strange constitutional concept that would make the House subordinate to a referendum. Our referendum will precede parliamentary consideration. This House will have the final say. That is right and proper, and in accordance with the constitution of this country.

I want to press the Minister on a couple of important points. He said that he will produce the White Paper in the early part of March. Is he giving an undertaking that the Government's preferred position on important matters—who pays, where the powers come from, the respective roles of the mayor and the strategic authority—will be explicitly laid out for the people of London?

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I must make it clear to the hon. Gentleman, who obviously has not been following the Government's statements, that the decisions will be spelled out in the White Paper. We are not yet in a position to do so, because we have not completed the analysis of the responses to the Green Paper. We are rightly carefully considering all those matters before we reach a decision. We will spell out in the White Paper our proposed framework for the new authority, including all the relevant considerations about how that authority will be constituted, what its powers will be, the relationship between the mayor and the assembly, how the assembly will be elected and all other considerations of which the public will need to be aware before reaching a decision in the referendum.

A few other considerations have been mentioned in the debate, the key ones being the source of the financing and the Government's suggestion that the new authority and mayor will be more efficient. Will the Minister explain how they will be more efficient?

The White Paper will spell out what the Green Paper showed—winding up the complex and undemocratic raft of quangos left by the previous Government and creating a more streamlined and coherent administration will achieve significant savings and ensure that the objective we have spelled out in the Green Paper is met. We do not envisage its resulting in an increase in public expenditure. That is not what we are interested in; we are interested in good, efficient administration that will ensure that Londoners themselves have a democratic say in how their city is governed. We want them to have the prospect of an efficient authority delivering the services that Londoners want.

The proposal favoured by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is close to our proposal. He wants a reasonable period for consideration of the White Paper proposals before the vote. We are not far apart. We believe that six weeks is adequate; he would like it to be two months. If it had been possible to complete all the work necessary within that time, we would have wanted to do so. However, we are working to a tight time scale and we want to provide a full opportunity to consider and discuss all the relevant issues with all the interested parties.

The hon. Gentleman obviously recognises the difficulties, because his amendment specifically exempts the electoral arrangements from the requirement of two months' notice. I hope that, having received that assurance, he will feel that he does not need to press his amendment.

The hon. Gentleman rightly raised a question about information on responses to the consultation. We have taken advice on that, and I am pleased to tell the House that the Government are now able to place in the Library a list of the responses by 21 November. We can do a little better than we had originally expected, to ensure that hon. Members have access to the list of organisations that have responded to the consultation.

In the light of those assurances, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment. I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), as it is neither practicable nor desirable.

As has been said, we are constitution—making. That is why we are on the Floor of the House and not upstairs in Committee. It is important to have this debate, although I did not expect a debate about whether we have a pre-legislative or a post-legislative referendum to be quite so extended. If I may make some observations about the style of participation, it is fair to say that the debate has been a little thin on Labour attendance, but equally a little thick on Conservative repetition. Conservative Members took 123 minutes to make two points over and over again.

I share with the Minister and the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) the view that it is a bit rich to hear from Conservative Members that there should be more time for consultation. Anyone who has been involved in local government, let alone the debate about the Greater London council—I served on the Standing Committee that debated the abolition of the GLC and the Inner London education authority—will remember that, first, there was not any real consultation, and secondly, when there was, the Conservative Government paid not a blind bit of notice to what anybody said.

I say seriously to the hon. Member for Brent, East that it would be wonderful if we had, for the first time in my political memory, a Government who, when they consulted, went by the results of the consultation. I do not refer to the issue that we are debating; the Minister knows that I share his view that the overwhelming majority of Londoners are in favour of Londonwide government. However, we are close to having a Government announcement about their views on the London health service. I sincerely hope that they have listened to the responses, that the consultation will mean something and that we do not have, with this Administration, consultation exercises that are then blithely ignored.

The hon. Member for Brent, East made a suggestion that the House will encourage. He said that the former Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, was advised by everyone that she should not abolish the GLC, but she took no notice. It would be great evidence of openness of government if we knew civil service advice before we voted on Government proposals. To take a topical example, I do not think that the chief medical officer is terribly keen on back-tracking on tobacco advertising. If, on government and regional government, we heard civil service advice as well as the Government's view, we would be better informed.

I am looking forward to the document that the Government say they will produce in the spring. I do not know whether we ever get entirely factually neutral documents, but if the Minister seriously wants it to be a neutral as possible, we will happily collaborate and willingly say that, although we may not support all the proposals, they at least honestly represent the Government's view. It is important that electors are not misled and that they are given information.

I was amused by the Conservatives' suggestion that there might be funding for the yes and no campaigns—the Tories have not yet decided whether they will be on the side of the yes or the no vote. Perhaps we will hear tonight whether the Conservatives, having originally been against London government, will now say that they are in favour of some form of London government. The Liberal Democrats may not like the exact proposals, but some democratic London government is better than none, so we will be on the side of the yes vote.

If the one or two London Conservative Members who are present decide to be on the side of the no vote, they will suffer in the ballot box in the local council elections. The prizes may well go to those on the side of the yes vote because it means being in favour of London government. Being in favour of democratic government is positive, whereas being against it is negative.

The hon. Members for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley)—the Conservative speeches were notable for the number of speakers who are not London Members—suggested that we should have a draft Bill. We are in favour of draft Bills, but I said that if we are to have the White Paper in March, we will not get a draft Bill in March. It will be a service to hon. Members if we can have a draft Bill after 7 May, but before we start the summer recess.

Establishing England's first proper regional government will not be easy, and the Bill creating that government will be long and complicated. As the Minister and colleagues who were Members when we abolished the GLC—under a Tory Administration—will know, there are many difficult issues. It would be helpful if we could first examine draft legislation.

The Minister made two concessions, for which I am grateful. He told us that, this week, we will be able to see the list of respondents. That represents progress. I did not quite understand—perhaps he will tell us—whether the documents or only the list will be placed in the Library this week. Nevertheless, that concession is certainly better than the original date of 1 December, because we will have the documents before the second day of the Bill's consideration in Committee.

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. The list will be in the Library, and copies of it will be available for inspection in the Department.

That is very welcome. It would have been better to receive the list before today, but I will not be churlish about it. We will have a chance to see the documents before the second day of the Bill's Committee stage. We will at least know who said what, including what the right hon. Member for Beckenham—

Yes—so that we know what the right hon. Member for somewhere near Beckenham submitted.

The Minister said that the Government are now committed to producing the White Paper in the same week as spring begins—spring does not always begin on the same day—which is a firm commitment and represents progress. The Liberal Democrats should have preferred to have two months between the White Paper and the vote, because we think that that would be better. I gather that, by definition, civil servants always say that such matters will take a long time.

The Liberal Democrats take a different view from that of the Conservative party. We are not arguing that it is possible to produce the Bill before we have the referendum—which would slow down the proposals. We do not think that that would be an appropriate sequence of events.

As only a matter of two weeks separates the Government's position from ours, we should move on to other aspects of the Bill. If the House wants to vote, it can do so once; but it will not be detained by a second vote. If you, Mr. Lord, are able and willing to select amendments Nos. 13 and 14, I will not press our amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 14, in page 1, line 8, after 'prescribe', insert

'(being a date not earlier than one month after the publication of the Government's bill for the establishment of that Authority)'.—[Mr. Ottaway.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 118, Noes 339.

Division No. 90]

[7.12 pm

AYES

Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelJackson, Robert (Wantage)
Arbuthnot, JamesJenkin, Bernard
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Johnson Smith,
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Baldry, TonyKey, Robert
Beggs, RoyKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Beresford, Sir PaulKirkbride, Miss Julie
Blunt, CrispinLansley, Andrew
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Leigh, Edward
Brady, GrahamLetwin, Oliver
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Browning, Mrs AngelaLidington, David
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Butterfill, JohnLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Cash, WilliamLoughton, Tim
Chapman, Sir SydneyLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas

(Chipping Barnet)

MacKay, Andrew
Chope, ChristopherMaclean, Rt Hon David
Clappison, JamesMcLoughlin, Patrick
Clarke, Rt Hon KennethMadel, Sir David

(Rushcliffe)

Maples, John
Clifton—Brown, GeoffreyMates, Michael
Cran, JamesMaude, Rt Hon Francis
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)May, Mrs Theresa
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterNicholls, Patrick
Evans, NigelNorman, Archie
Fabricant, MichaelOttaway, Richard
Fallon, MichaelPage, Richard
Forth, Rt Hon EricPickles, Eric
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanPrior, David
Fox, Dr LiamRandall, John
Fraser, ChristopherRedwood, Rt Hon John
Gale, RogerRobathan, Andrew
Garnier, EdwardRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gibb, NickRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gill, ChristopherRuffley, David
Gillan, Mrs CherylSt Aubyn, Nick
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir AlastairSayeed, Jonathan
Gorman, Mrs TeresaShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gray, JamesShepherd, Richard
Greenway, JohnSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Grieve, DominicSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnSpicer, Sir Michael
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamSpring, Richard
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieSwayne, Desmond
Hayes, JohnSyms, Robert
Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon DavidTapsell, Sir Peter
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasTaylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Horam, JohnTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelTaylor, Sir Teddy
Hunter, AndrewTemple-Morris, Peter

Townend, JohnWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Tredinnick, DavidWilkinson, John
Trimble, DavidWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Tyrie, AndrewWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield) Yeo, Tim
Viggers, PeterYeo, Tim
Walter, RobertYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Waterson, Nigel

Tellers for the Ayes:

Wells, Bowen

Mr. Oliver Heald and

Whittingdale, John

Mr. Stephen Day.

NOES

Abbott, Ms DianeClapham, Michael
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Ainger, NickClark, Dr Lynda
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)

(Edinburgh Pentlands)

Alexander, DouglasClark, Paul (Gillingham)
Allan, RichardClarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Allen, GrahamClarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Clelland, David
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Clwyd, Ann
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyCoaker, Vernon
Ashton, JoeCoffey, Ms Ann
Atherton, Ms CandyColeman, Iain
Atkins, CharlotteConnarty, Michael
Austin, JohnCorbett, Robin
Baker, NormanCorbyn, Jeremy
Ballard, Mrs JackieCorston, Ms Jean
Barnes, HarryCotter, Brian
Barron, KevinCousins, Jim
Battle, JohnCranston, Ross
Bayley, HughCrausby, David
Beard, NigelCryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Beith, Rt Hon A JCunliffe, Lawrence
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyDarling, Rt Hon Alistair
Bennett, Andrew FDarvill, Keith
Bermingham, GeraldDavey, Edward (Kingston)
Best, HaroldDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Blackman, LizDavidson, Ian
Blears, Ms HazelDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Blizzard, BobDean, Mrs Janet
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidDenham, John
Boateng, PaulDewar, Rt Hon Donald
Borrow, DavidDismore, Andrew
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Dobbin, Jim
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Donohoe, Brian H
Bradshaw, BenDoran, Frank
Brake, TomDowd, Jim
Brand, Dr PeterDrew, David
Breed, ColinDrown, Ms Julia
Brinton, Mrs HelenDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Edwards, Huw
Browne, DesmondEfford, Clive
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Ellman, Mrs Louise
Buck, Ms KarenField, Rt Hon Frank
Burden, RichardFitzsimons, Lorna
Burgon, ColinFlint, Caroline
Burnett, JohnFollett, Barbara
Burstow, PaulFoster, Don (Bath)
Butler, Mrs ChristineFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Byers, StephenFyfe, Maria
Cable, Dr VincentGalbraith, Sam
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Galloway, George
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Gapes, Mike
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Gardiner, Barry
Campbell—Savours, DaleGeorge, Andrew (St Ives)
Canavan, DennisGerrard, Neil
Caplin, IvorGibson, Dr Ian
Caton, MartinGilroy, Mrs Linda
Cawsey, IanGodman, Norman A
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Goggins, Paul
Chidgey, DavidGolding, Mrs Llin
Chisholm, MalcolmGordon, Mrs Eileen
Church, Ms JudithGorrie, Donald

Grant, BernieMaclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)McNamara, Kevin
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)MacShane, Denis
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Mactaggart, Fiona
Grogan, JohnMcWalter, Tony
Hain, PeterMcWilliam, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Marek, Dr John
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hancock, MikeMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Hanson, DavidMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms HarrietMarshall—Andrews, Robert
Harris, Dr EvanMartlew, Eric
Heal, Mrs SylviaMaxton, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Meale, Alan
Heppell, JohnMerron, Gillian
Hesford, StephenMichael, Alun
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hill, KeithMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hinchliffe, DavidMilburn, Alan
Hoey, KateMiller, Andrew
Home Robertson, JohnMitchell, Austin
Hood, JimmyMoonie, Dr Lewis
Hope, PhilMoore, Michael
Hopkins, KelvinMoran, Ms Margaret
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Morley, Elliot
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Mountford, Kali
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)Mudie, George
Humble, Mrs JoanMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hutton, JohnNaysmith, Dr Doug
Iddon, Dr BrianNorris, Dan
Illsley, EricO'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jamieson, DavidO'Hara, Eddie
Jenkins, BrianOlner, Bill
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)O'Neill, Martin
Johnson, Miss MelanieÖpik, Lembit

(Welwyn Hatfield)

Organ, Mrs Diana
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Osborne, Ms Sandra
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)Pearson, Ian
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Pendry, Tom
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Pickthall, Colin
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Pike, Peter L
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Plaskitt, James
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldPollard, Kerry
Keeble, Ms SallyPope, Greg
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Pound, Stephen
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)Powell, Sir Raymond
Keetch, PaulPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Kelly, Ms RuthPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Prescott, Rt Hon John
Kilfoyle, PeterPrimarolo, Dawn
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)Prosser, Gwyn
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)Purchase, Ken
Kirkwood, ArchyQuin, Ms Joyce
Leslie, ChristopherRadice, Giles
Levitt, TomRammell, Bill
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Rapson, Syd
Linton, MartinRaynsford, Nick
Livingstone, KenReed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Livsey, RichardRendel, David
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)Roche, Mrs Barbara
Lock, DavidRooker, Jeff
Love, AndrewRooney, Terry
McAllion, JohnRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
McAvoy, ThomasRowlands, Ted
McCabe, SteveRuane, Chris
McCafferty, Ms ChrisRuddock, Ms Joan
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Macdonald, CalumRussell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McDonnell, JohnRyan, Ms Joan
McGuire, Mrs AnneSalter, Martin
Mackinlay, AndrewSanders, Adrian

Savidge, MalcolmTipping, Paddy
Sawford, PhilTonge, Dr Jenny
Sedgemore, BrianTouhig, Don
Shaw, JonathanTrickett, Jon
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertTruswell, Paul
Shipley, Ms DebraTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Singh, MarshaTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Skinner, DennisTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Tyler, Paul
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)Vis, Dr Rudi
Smith, Miss GeraldineWallace, James

(Morecambe & Lunesdale)

Walley, Ms Joan
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Ward, Ms Claire
Smith, John (Glamorgan)Wareing, Robert N
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Watts, David
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)Webb, Steve
Snape, PeterWhite, Brian
Soley, CliveWhitehead, Dr Alan
Spellar, JohnWigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Squire, Ms RachelWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Starkey, Dr PhyllisWilliams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Steinberg, GerryWillis, Phil
Stewart, David (Inverness E)Winnick, David
Stoate, Dr HowardWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Strang, Rt Hon Dr GavinWise, Audrey
Stringer, GrahamWorthington, Tony
Stunell, AndrewWray, James
Sutcliffe, GerryWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs AnnWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)

(Dewsbury)

Tellers for the Noes:

Taylor, Matthew (Truro)

Mr. John McFall and

Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)

Mr. Jon Owen Jones.

Question accordingly negatived.

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, leave out from 'Authority' to end of line 10.

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 5, in page 1, line 11, leave out 'question' and insert 'questions'.

No. 18, in page 1, line 11, leave out 'question' and insert 'two questions'.

No. 12, in schedule, page 6, line 2, leave out from 'Paper' to end and add—
  • 'Q1. Are you in favour of regional government for London exercised by an elected Greater London Authority? Put a cross (X) in one box:
    • YES
    • NO
  • Q2. Are you in favour of the Greater London Authority made up of:
  • (A) an elected assembly with a mayor elected from the assembly; or
  • (B) an elected assembly and a separately elected mayor. Put a cross (X) in the box of your choice.'.
  • No. 19, in schedule, page 6, line 3, leave out from `paper' to end and add—
  • 'Q.1. Are you in favour of a directly elected mayor for Greater London?
    • Yes
    • No
  • Q.2. Are you in favour of a directly elected assembly for Greater London?
    • Yes
    • No'
  • We have reached what is probably the most important debate in Committee, as it deals with a fundamental matter—what the electorate in London will be asked in a referendum. The Liberal Democrats are strongly in favour of regional government, and we hope that it is approved by the electors in the English regions. We are happy that the referendum in London will take place on 7 May next year, and that democratically elected local government will be restored.

    I would go further, and say that the Greater London council was not securely established regional government, but developed from the old London county council. We are pleased that we stood on the same platform as the Government and supported regional government in London. We shall certainly continue pushing for regional government in London to be followed by regional government elsewhere in England.

    There will be not more but fewer bureaucrats, who will certainly have much more accountability than there is now or than there ever was under the Conservative Government, who handed over London government to people who were unseen and unknown, sitting in Government offices and running huge budgets. They were never elected, or able to be removed, by the people in whose name they acted and who paid their wages.

    As it happens, I voted to retain the Greater London council. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that the arguments for London are very different from those for the regions. Let us take the east midlands. People in Lincolnshire have no desire to be run by Leicester. Does he accept that the arguments for London are quite different from those for elsewhere in the country?

    7.30 pm

    I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. As I recollect, he was a member of the GLC some time ago in his pre-Lincolnshire life.

    London is different for two reasons: it is a capital city, and it has a history of regional government. My party has been absolutely clear that, although it believes that the powers exercised in his part of the world in, for example, the health service, which is controversial in Lincolnshire, by officials in the regional outpost of the NHS should be exercised by democratically elected people, none the less, regional government should not go ahead in Lincolnshire without the authority and approbation of the people—not least because it is one of those counties that does not naturally belong in a region as easily as some.

    This week there was a lobby for the north led by the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Gunnell). Perhaps people in the north want regional government more acutely and more urgently. There are the boundaries of the south-west, Cornwall and the north-east. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. London therefore rightfully comes first.

    The Liberal Democrats are proud that, before the election, my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) and the then right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) came to an agreement that there should be a programme of regional government. The Cook-Maclennan joint consultative committee was set up by the two party leaders—it was not easy in negotiation—and concluded:
    "Both parties endorse the establishment of an elected authority for London, with the consent of the people of London in a referendum, which would act as a powerful voice for the capital and work with the boroughs and other organisations in London."

    Then came the point on which the two parties differed. The Labour party also proposed an elected mayor for London. We acknowledge—and did so then—that there is a difference of view about one of the key aspects. For us, today's debate is about the package; what proposal will be put to the electorate in May next year.

    The Liberal Democrats are strong believers in real devolution from Whitehall to the regions. The issue for us is not about local government giving up powers. In my book, local government should hold the powers it has—although I have arguments about its structure. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) and others prompt me to say that the issue is about taking power from civil servants and central Government and giving it to elected people at a regional level.

    My hon. Friends and I are clear that, above all in London—the arguments are overwhelming—regional government needs to be fairly elected; for without that, it will not be seen to be clearly representative. If we end up with an electoral system or an elected assembly which could, for example, mean that the government of London was run by a minority political view, we risk the authority's abolition in a very short time.

    My hon. Friends and I are strong in the view—we are different from the Government in this respect—that the authority should have tax-varying powers. We do not back off from that; we think that that is proper. Tax raised from London taxpayers goes into a national kitty. It is allocated by central Government to the regions, and spent on services in the regions. We hope that, in time, taxes raised from Londoners for services given to Londoners should be decided by Londoners. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That does not necessarily mean—before Conservative Members say it does—a penny extra in taxes.

    It does not. The right hon. Gentleman must know that, as a matter of logic and honesty. If we give some of the central Government administration to regional government and give the power to collect money from the region, the total could be exactly the same. Indeed, the cost might go down. Perhaps regional government is more efficient than central Government.

    Will the hon. Gentleman clarify that? Liberal Democrat spokesmen have traditionally argued that a small local supplement on income tax would be necessary to fund regional government. In the case of London, are the Liberal Democrats flying in the face of all those previous statements and saying something quite new? What are we supposed to believe—what they say on the hustings or what they say in the House?

    The hon. Gentleman has reminded me that I promised him a copy of our proposals. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) will help by giving them to him now, so that he can read the full monty and not have to hear a summary from me. There is plenty of time to read them before the Committee sits again. I apologise for not giving him the proposals earlier.

    There are a variety of ways in which we can collect money for London, but we believe, as the Government argue—

    Order. Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. The amendments are nothing to do with collecting money or raising taxes. He must stick to the subject of the amendments that he has tabled.

    I was distracted, as you saw, Mr. Martin, by the intervention of the hon. Member for Ruislip—Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). I accept your rebuke, and return to the straight and narrow, as always.

    The central matter of the debate is whether we have a mayor elected from a London-wide assembly and accountable to it, or whether we have a directly elected mayor. Our amendments relate both to the clause and the schedule. We Liberal Democrats are not in favour of a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. We are in favour of posing the questions to the electorate, but we are not in favour of denying the electorate the right to give answers.

    The Government are proposing that, in theory, Parliament has a chance to alter their proposals. But the electorate have no choice other than the one that the Government give them. I know that Ministers will say—rightly—that they went to the electorate with a proposal for a London-wide authority comprising an assembly and a mayor. Their manifesto never said that there would not be two questions—it did not say that there would be, either. We argue that the choice of the make-up, style and balance of power in London should be left to the electorate and not determined by the Government—even if they get their proposal through Parliament.

    Conservatives propose a choice. They propose that the electorate will be asked either whether they want a directly elected mayor or whether they want a directly elected assembly.

    The hon. Gentleman says that their proposal does not say "or". Indeed, one could vote yes, yes, and there would be a directly elected mayor and an assembly. But one could also vote yes, no, as many Conservatives wish—we disagree—and have a mayor and nobody else. That is apart from the Conservatives' amendment that would create a cabal of local government leaders who would hold the directly elected mayor to account. We shall debate later whether local government leaders should do that job.

    The Liberal Democrats ask two simple questions. The first is the logical first question: "Do you want a democratic government for London—yes or no?" If the answer is yes, a second question would be: "What sort of government do you want?" We do not think that it is beyond the wit of Londoners to understand or answer that question.

    One choice is government on the Westminster model, in which the primus inter pares—the Prime Minister—is chosen from among the elected Members of Parliament. The Prime Minister is accountable to this place, and loses his or her authority if this place takes it away. That is the model proposed for the Scottish Parliament. The alternative has never been tried in this country—a separate election, so that, whatever the view of the assembly of the day, the directly elected mayor remains in office, at least potentially, for the whole term, irrespective of democratic support.

    We believe that there should be two questions. It could be argued that there should be more, but the essential difference is between those who want only one and those who want more than one.

    The debate is simple. To their credit, the Conservatives have tabled proposals for two questions. We have also put forward two questions—different from the Conservatives' questions. The Government propose one question. The principle of two questions—"Are you in favour of a London government?" and "Are you in favour of a directly elected mayor or a non-directly elected mayor form of government?" —is more important than the exact drafting of our amendment or any other. I ask hon. Members to vote for our amendment, without necessarily signing up to the specific wording. We need to establish the principle of two questions.

    Let me just finish. I undertake to the right hon. Gentleman, who desperately wants to intervene again, that I am happy to negotiate with hon. Members from both sides to find the best wording for two questions that could establish whether people want London government and what sort of government they want.

    That is detail, which can be sorted out before next Monday, when we conclude the Committee stage, between Committee and Report, or even between the consideration in this House and consideration in the other place. If we at least agree tonight that there should be two questions, we shall have made great progress, reflecting the differences of view in London, which will not otherwise be expressed.

    The hon. Gentleman has made the Committee a characteristically generous offer, which I am sure we all want to consider. Will he extend his generosity to an undertaking that it would be essential for the negotiating process that he envisages to provide for the questions—two or more, however many there may be—to allow Londoners to express a view on whether they want a mayor without an assembly, or an assembly without a mayor? That key option is missing from his formulation. If I want a mayor and no assembly, I cannot support his amendment.

    That is a valid point. Some Conservatives have taken that position. I would rather have discussions that left that as an option. I am in favour of opening the options to the voters, not closing them. That must be the way forward. We are trying to achieve a system that Londoners say they want. I am happy to have a debate about the best form of government, on radio, on television or in the streets and boroughs of London.

    No proposal ever made by women and men is perfect. No Government get it right all the time. I accept that many Labour Members believe that their proposal is the best available, although some have a different view.

    That is true.

    I know the pressure that Labour Members are under, but I ask them to vote for the amendment, not because they sign up to the words in detail, regarding them as unamendable, but on the basis that it would start a process of considering the options for more than one question. If we do that, we can start trying to find the best form of government. Even if some hon. Members do not want any form of London government, at least we have to give people the choice.

    I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern to let Londoners have the biggest say. What level of turnout would he consider necessary to make the vote valid? We have already heard—

    Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman wants to get into that, because it has nothing to do with the amendments. There are other amendments on that. Perhaps the hon. Lady could intervene in those debates.

    I was with you that time, Mr. Martin. I was about to tell the hon. Lady that amendments on that were coming up later, and we could debate the matter then, if she was patient. Some of my hon. Friends are particularly ready for that debate, which may come on Monday, so we have time to prepare ourselves.

    I sense that the mood of the House is not to spin matters out, but to put arguments in an orderly way. We may be able to conclude this debate and that on the schedule by the end of play today, so I shall not detain the House.

    7.45 pm

    One option is an assembly elected by the people under a fair process. That assembly would then elect its leader—the mayor—and the mayor would then choose the cabinet. That is what we want—just like the House of Commons. The alternative is a system that gives huge powers to the mayor, who has no necessary and direct accountability to the assembly.

    I have given the hon. Member for Ruislip—Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) one of my happily not extremely rare copies of our response, submitted in time to the Government, available to the wider public from Friday in Marsham street—sorry, from Eland house; that is a nicer building. It is also available to other hon. Members if they want it. It is called "Home Rule for London".

    We set out clearly there our view that a cabinet headed by a mayor who is an assembly member provides the most responsive form of government—more responsive than a directly elected mayor. We are not saying that the idea of a directly elected mayor has no merit, but there are risks. If one of my hon. Friends catches your eye later, Mr. Martin, I hope that we shall be able to elaborate on some of the risks.

    Israel changed its voting system not many years ago. The Prime Minister is now directly elected, not elected by the Knesset. That is a model.

    The hon. Gentleman gives a characteristically succinct view. I have never heard the Israeli electoral system commended for giving stable government.

    It is a proportional system, with such a low threshold that the parties splinter all over the place. Many of us do not argue for that.

    A few places in the world, including the United States, have directly elected mayors. The mayor of New York was re-elected recently. However, not only is it not common in Britain—it is also very rare in Europe. Ministers try to hide the fact, but very few places in Europe have directly elected mayors.

    So nothing, other than the fact that it is an untried model. We believe that one reason why the rest of Europe has not gone down that road is that it gives too much power to one person and too little to the general body.

    The powers of the mayor can be qualified. We propose that, if 90 per cent. of the assembly thought that the mayor had gone mad or was corrupt, they could vote him or her out. We also propose that, if 10 per cent. of the electorate of London thought that the mayor had clearly gone off the rails, they should be able to vote that mayor out. If the Government win the day and there is a directly elected mayor, we shall be keen to ensure a power of recall to deal with such problems.

    There are also ways of unblocking logjams. If the assembly did not agree on a budget and the mayor took a different view, we propose that the mayor could call an election.

    But these are not comfortable systems; they are systems that require the overturning of a huge constitutional boulder. It is surely more democratic that a whole load of us should be collectively responsible, and act collectively as people whom the electorate can influence. We are a collective assembly of elected representatives accountable to the people we serve.

    I recall that there was not much interest in the GLC until the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) managed to liven it up a bit. The advantage of a directly elected mayor is that it would generate at least some interest in the process. The hon. Gentleman seems to be talking about a re-created GLC which would result only in one huge yawn from most of the people of London.

    No one is suggesting a re-created GLC—but I do not accept the point about a lack of interest anyway. There was plenty of interest in the last general election, just as there would be in a contest between two philosophies of how to run a capital city, led by groups of people with leaders putting differing views. If the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats each put their views, under declared leaders, just as the electorate warmed to that in sufficient numbers at the general election—between 70 and 75 per cent. voted in it—they would do the same in London.

    There is, however, a danger to which the hon. Gentleman did not allude and which even the hon. Member for Brent, East may not now wish to defend. It should certainly not be permitted to change the leader the day after the election. If the Prime Minister leads his party into an election, the electorate requires a guarantee that he will be sitting in the biggest chair at the Cabinet table the next day.

    The alternative is equally dangerous—I say that as one of the people who has featured on this problematic road. If a mayor is to be directly elected, most of the debate will concern not policy issues or the structure of local government but who the mayor will be. Will it be Jeffrey Archer; will it be Ken Livingstone; will it be Richard Branson or one of the Spice Girls? [HON. MEMBERS: "Or Simon Hughes?"] Or me.

    Yet that is not the most important question. The most important question is: what will the elected person do? What will his policies be? So the electorate should be given the chance to decide whether they want an election dominated by a personality contest or one dominated by debates on the issues. If we fight the election in teams—that does not rule out independents taking part—we will get an election about politics and policies, not about personalities.

    We are asking the Committee to vote to allow the electorate of London to decide whether it wants the leadership to be accountable to the assembly or to be divorced from that accountability. The latter would be dangerous and novel, not to mention unwise. We have hitherto been relatively well served by our parliamentary system, and by the prime ministerial system of democracy. We think that that system should be tried, to begin with, in London too.

    As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has said, this is one of the most important questions of these debates. There was a great deal in his remarks with which I fundamentally disagreed—on regional government, tax-raising powers and proportional representation—but luckily, as all that was out of order, I need not detain the House by responding to it. Fortunately, the one part of his speech that was in order was also the part that I agreed with—the need for two questions in the referendum.

    The fact is that, outside the ranks of the Government, very few support the proposition that there be just one question for the people of London. There is a consensus around the idea that there are two issues—possibly more, but at least two. They are: should we have a directly elected mayor; and should we have a directly elected assembly? My party supports a directly elected mayor, as I said on Second Reading and before, but we are not in favour of a directly elected assembly.

    We want two questions, in which view we are supported by a range of people and newspapers. The Times, speaking of the Minister's paper, said:
    Two distinct issues require two different questions".
    The Daily Telegraph takes a similar view. The Liberal Democrats adopt a view different from ours as regards the policy, but they argue strongly for two questions. I venture to suggest that some Labour Back Benchers have also argued for two questions. In due course, the Committee will be fascinated to hear what the hon. Member for Brent, East has to say. It would have been fascinating to hear what the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) had to say—had he been here.

    There are others who support the Government's proposals but who also want a two-question referendum. Consider The Guardian's editorial, which the Minister—even on his own admission, I think—so misleadingly quoted on Second Reading. He broke his quotation in mid-sentence, thereby entirely changing the meaning. The quotation goes:
    "Mr. Raynsford dismisses the Conservative suggestion that the mayor could answer to the current 33 London boroughs as a recipe for disaster. Any mayor could simply buy off the boroughs by chucking goodies their way, bringing US-style pork barrel politics to the capital. The Minister is right" —
    at that point, the Minister broke off in mid-sentence, though the rest of it reads—
    "but he should make that argument in a campaign".
    The editorial continues:
    "The Government's package deal allows no room for those who want a mayor but no assembly or those who want an assembly but no mayor. We subscribe to neither view, but to deny them any expression on the ballot seems peculiar. After all, the whole point of a referendum is to allow all the people their say."
    That is what the Minister chose to use to support his case.

    It is not just opponents of the Government's position who want two questions: it is also their supporters. This all reveals an amazing lack of confidence in the Minister's and the Government's case. They do not seem sure enough of their own proposition to put it to the public in London. The Labour manifesto said that the purpose of the referendum was "to confirm public demand". How is that possible if the public are not allowed to express their views?

    The Government know that there is public support for a mayor, but not nearly so much support for an assembly—

    I hope that the Minister will accept our suggestion, and allow the public to decide. Why will he not allow the public to decide?

    The right hon. Gentleman claims that there is evidence of support for a mayor but not for an assembly. Perhaps he could give the House that evidence. Perhaps he will tell us where that evidence is in terms of public opinion, not selective newspaper quotations.

    These are newspapers such as The Times and The Daily Telegraph. [Interruption.]

    8 pm

    The Minister is getting terribly excited and going red in the face. He is blustering. Anyone would think that he was super-sensitive on the issue. Why is the Minister so sensitive and blustering? Why is he going so red in the face? Why is he smiling in that extraordinary way which indicates that he is on the defensive? Is it that the Minister knows perfectly well that he has a lousy case, which, so far, he has not done very well in defending, and he knows that he must defend it again?

    Is it not extraordinary that the Minister should talk about public opinion? I thought that the whole purpose of the referendum was that it should be a sounding of public opinion. Otherwise, we need not have one. The Minister can go away and look at his opinion polls and his crystal ball, consult his colleagues, and get on with it. I thought that the referendum was the consultation process with the electorate.

    My hon. Friend misunderstands the Government's purpose. The purpose of their referendum is not to find out what the public think. What the Government want is some sort of rubber stamp on the proposal that they are making. That is the whole point. That is why the Minister gets so indignant. That is why he is so sensitive. That is why he goes so red every time the issue comes up. It is the most revealing display that I have seen since the Deputy Prime Minister lost his temper on a particular issue.

    My right hon. Friend is being quite unkind to the Minister. The Minister is a sensitive man. I suspect that he secretly agrees with my right hon. Friend, but there are others in the Government preventing him from following his natural inclinations.

    I had better leave the Minister to compose himself, because at some stage he will have to respond to the debate.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way for the Minister to help himself, since he wants the evidence, would be to have the two questions?

    That is rather what I have been saying. That is the whole point of what I am saying, and what others have been saying as well. What I find so extraordinary about the Minister's attitude is that it is not always firm opponents of the Minister who are saying this. The Guardian is on the Minister's side. It is one of the few papers which thinks that the Minister is right. But leave that to one side; he has some supporters. But The Guardian is then asking why the Minister does not put it to the public. That remains the question. Why does not he put it to the public?

    Some hon. Members see this in terms of there being public support for a mayor but not for an assembly; and there is even less support for what some Labour Members want, which is a return, step by step, to the GLC. Conservative Members favour a directly elected mayor, but we would have an assembly made up of borough leaders. We favour that, because a mayor would have to work with the boroughs. There is no question about that.

    We reject the argument that that will simply lead to conflict. Our fundamental belief is that the structure suggested by the Minister has conflict built into it at every stage—and not only conflict, but layer after layer of local government. That lies at the heart of why we propose a two-question referendum.

    It is important that we remember what the Government are proposing. They propose a directly elected mayor and a directly elected assembly, a regional development agency for London and a government office for London; and then we get to the stage of 32 borough leaders. Another piece of legislation coming in on the side, which the Minister might care to talk about at some stage, is the innovation Bill, which I understand will be introduced in another place, which will allow a directly elected mayor for boroughs as well. For the sake of argument, there could be a borough directly elected mayor.

    One does not have to be a reader of The Times or a paid-up member of the Conservative party to think that that process is getting out of hand. But even if the Minister fundamentally disagrees with what I say, I should have thought that it was common ground that there is a case to be debated. What we find so offensive is that the Minister and the Government simply will not answer that case. They simply will not approach that case and take it to the public.

    If ever there was inbuilt conflict, it is in the system that the Government propose. As the Minister knows, already, in the question that the Government are asking, they have revealed some of their internal uncertainty. At one stage, earlier in October, the question on the ballot paper was going to be: "Are you in favour of the Government's proposals for a greater London authority made up of an elected assembly and a separately elected mayor?"

    When the Bill is published, the order is reversed, and the mayor comes before the assembly. I would have loved to be at the Cabinet Committee which decided that order. With any other Government, I concede that it would be a matter of no consequence, but with this Government one can just see the spin doctors debating which should come first. Obviously, their aim is that the popular idea of the mayor should take the assembly with it.

    It takes no great powers of forecast to know what the next step will be if we have an elected assembly. The assembly will want more powers. There is no question about that. Whenever the Minister reveals what powers the assembly will have—we should remind him that it is not the White Paper that sets that down, but, as has been said, the Act of Parliament—those elected members will want greater and greater power. They will not be satisfied with an advisory role. They will argue that they are democratically elected, and will have an absolute and complete right to that.

    Anyone who has been in government knows that, if powers go to the assembly, they will not be given up by the Government. The one thing that I did learn during 10 years in government is that getting powers out of Departments is extraordinarily difficult. Government will devolve powers from other organisations, but when it comes to themselves, there is turf battle after turf battle. Therefore, the powers will come from the boroughs. That is the fundamental importance of the Bill.

    That is the issue that stands behind the Opposition's demand for two questions. Londoners should be able to say whether they want to put their future more and more in the hands of an intermediate regional assembly, or to strengthen the borough council system which is closest to the public. We should be aiming not for a new elected assembly but for a mayor working with the boroughs. But when it comes to it, what is striking about the debate is the Government's lack of confidence in their arguments. They talk about reaching agreement and about consensus, but they are not interested in either.

    The Opposition's amendment simply divides into two the single question that the Government propose. If I may say so gently to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, that has the advantage of clarity over the slightly elongated and prolonged question in the Liberal Democrats' amendment—certainly over the second question. As I have made clear, there are several things, such as regional government, with which we simply do not agree. We do, however, support the principle of having two questions.

    As they stand, the Bill and the referendum will not give the public the right to have their say on the structure of local government in London. They are being denied a choice, and told that they cannot express a view. We believe that Londoners should be given the opportunity to judge for themselves whether London needs both a mayor and a directly elected assembly. That is why we shall support any amendment that gives them that choice, and asks Londoners two questions in the referendum.

    I suppose that I should start by declaring an interest, although I am not certain that I shall eventually have an interest—or whether I shall be allowed to have an interest—in the post under consideration. Being endorsed by the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) has not helped in any way, but my recollection of his diaries is that there will be a few good meals and the odd glass of good wine going around if he is interested in becoming my campaign manager.

    I also have to say that I cannot support my party in the Lobby tonight because I have not heard a convincing argument to satisfy me and enable me to do so. I would, in the more liberal times that prevailed in my party before the election, have joined the Liberal Democrats in the Lobby in support of their amendment, which comes closest to my own views; but, as Labour Members know, shortly before the election, the standing orders of the Labour party were changed so that to vote against a Labour Government is now an offence against those standing orders and leads to withdrawal of the Whip and debarment from further candidature. One might think that an overreaction, given that we have the largest majority since 1935, but it might indicate that we did not expect to win so well.

    I would have been prepared to be persuaded on the question before us if I had heard any convincing argument about why we need a separately elected mayor—why we are going to turn our backs on the best part of 1,000 years of painfully slowly constructed parliamentary tradition and run maniacally in the direction of a presidential system—but I have been unpersuaded of the case throughout, despite listening carefully in my office to the debate on Second Reading.

    I did not vote against the Bill's Second Reading because it would have been madness to throw the whole Bill out and end up with nothing, but because I had not quite grasped the Government's argument I read Hansard twice—the whole debate, every speech. I have to say that that was a hardship: it took several hours. I wanted to pin down the Government's detailed arguments in favour of a separately elected mayor and against the Liberal amendment, so I went through the debate and extracted all those arguments. Throughout the debate, Ministers said, "I am coming to that point shortly," so they will be glad to learn that I have analysed their argument, sentence by sentence.

    The longest speech in support of a separately elected mayor and against the amendment came from my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London. She said:
    "London needs the strategic leadership that can be provided only by a mayor who is directly elected by and speaks for the people, and who is capable of bringing all of London together. It also needs an assembly capable of scrutinising, questioning and holding the mayor to democratic account, creating a proper balance of accountability, but also capable of advising the mayor and contributing ideas and expertise in regular dialogue."
    I can see nothing in that statement that cannot be fulfilled by the leader of a group, whether that person is called a mayor or a leader, in a normal parliamentary system. I agree with Ministers that an independently elected mayor without any assembly or check would be a nightmare and open the way for the most appalling abuse of power, so I do not find myself at all attracted by the Conservative amendment.

    My hon. Friend the Minister reached the crunch point when she said:
    "The two proposals are inseparable."
    She did not say why. She continued:
    "Neither on its own would provide the mix of leadership and accountability that London needs. That was stressed in almost all the contributions of Labour Members."— [Official Report, 10 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 671.]
    Thus stirred by my hon. Friend's words, I went back and read all of the Labour Members' contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) said:
    "We can have a hung Parliament or a hung council; we cannot have a hung president"—
    that depends on how unpopular he gets with the public—
    "or a hung mayor—at least not in the electoral sense."
    He went on:
    "An assembly without a mayor, as the Liberal Democrats advocate, is a recipe for inertia."—[Official Report, 10 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 603.]
    That is one sentence in support of the Government's position.

    8.15 pm

    We then come to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), who said:
    "I do not see the creation of an elected mayor and a Greater London assembly as a recipe for conflict, and most of the points made on that have been clichés."
    Tell that to the American people who watched Clinton and Congress locked in mortal combat over a Budget; tell it to the hundreds of thousands of American civil servants who did not get paid, from the Defence Secretary to the park keepers at collecting tills at the gates of the national parks. Such deadlock is an endemic feature of the American system—it happened three times in California between the governor and the assembly and I am certain that it has happened on many other occasions. That system is a recipe for deadlock and simply saying that it will not be will not make it not so.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East went on to state:
    "Similarly, we are told that a mayor will open things up to corruption. Why should that be the case any more than it is the case with the leader of a council in whom so much is vested?"—[Official Report, 10 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 618.]
    I will tell him why. There is corruption—albeit not on the scale seen in America, which dwarfs anything we have here—but corruption is minimised because the leader of a council is like the Prime Minister in that his own party is scrutinising him every bit as much as the opposition. As leader of the Greater London council I never had any doubt that there were another 91 members of the council watching my every move. Labour members watched with the greatest dedication and concentration because, if they could catch me with my hand in the till, one of them might get my job. That is a powerful discipline. A separately elected mayor who is able to remain at a distance from the assembly and who receives a salary rumoured to be £100,000 will not suffer the same scrutiny from members of the assembly who are trying to get by on a loss of earnings allowance.

    Next, I read the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck). She said:
    "It will be the different, but complementary, roles of the mayor and the Greater London authority that will deliver those aims;"—
    achieving our policies for London—
    "and it is because those roles are so complementary that it is necessary that we put a single, simple question to Londoners."
    Unfortunately, her contribution in support of the Government was undermined when she went on to say:
    "Without a single voice for London, we cannot tackle those problems effectively."—[Official Report, 10 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 637–38.]
    We are not getting a single voice for London—we are getting two competing voices, locked into an institutionalised conflict. To round off matters, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) rose and said that he had seen such a system at work. He said:
    "Such a system of checks and balances works; I have seen it working in Seattle, one of the most prosperous and fastest-expanding but civilised cities on this earth."—[Official Report, 10 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 652–531
    I had the good fortune to go to Seattle for my holiday this year. No one would deny that it is a wonderful city, but there is the small matter of billions of dollars of investment from Asia—money out of Hong Kong—helping to boost the local economy. Nothing in Seattle's prosperity is inherently dependent on the structure of its government; it is especially well located for development on the Pacific rim.

    That was it—in an entire day's debate, that was the entire Back-Bench support for the Government's proposition. Pretty weedy, is it not? I do not want to undermine my own Front Benchers, so I have to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill)—my dear old friend—supported the Government in an earlier debate. I remember clearly that he also uttered one sentence in support of the concept: when I questioned him on why we should not apply it nationally and have a directly elected Prime Minister, he replied:
    "it is horses for courses."—[Official Report, 6 June 1997; Vol. 295, c. 726.]
    When we marshal the arguments that the Labour party has mobilised behind a separately elected mayor—one sentence from my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, two from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East, one from my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North, one from my hon. Friend the Member for Putney and one earlier this summer from my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham—it is not exactly overwhelming; it makes six sentences in support.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recalling earlier and distinguished contributions by the hon. Member for Streatham, but I feel slightly hurt than in his careful analysis of the Second Reading debate he has omitted my observation, in an intervention, about the benefits of an elected mayor.

    I pointed out that, in the United States, the evidence is that elections for mayors have, almost without exception, high turnouts—normally over 50 per cent. —which is noticeable in a country that is notorious for low turnouts in elections of all descriptions; and it is higher than those for most local elections in this country. The public's involvement in local politics and the consequent democratic renewal is a powerful argument for an elected mayor, and my hon. Friend should take it into account.

    I take it into account, but I hope that my hon. Friend will excuse me if I demolish it. There is a better turnout for the election of American mayors because they have real powers. American mayors run the police force and the health service in their local areas. That is a major job. In terms of their spending impact on the general public, mayors spend more than the governor or the President. If we created an assembly for London without a mayor and we gave it those major powers, I bet our turnouts would be much higher. People would say the members of the assembly were responsible for tackling crime in London. If the assembly were given the power, it would get the turnout.

    The average American I have bumped into is never deeply consumed by the structures of government, and I have never been involved in any great debates on my holidays there about the wonders of the American structure of government. The Americans get involved in mayoral elections because mayors have real power. We have a low turnout in Britain because councils are now bound hand and foot by central Government. Councils are given budgets and left to decide what to cut, and that is why interest in local elections is declining.

    The turnout for the American presidential election, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is normally about 50 per cent. I argue that that is because all the personality, all the money and all the personal campaigning do not persuade people about policies and real commitments. When it is merely a question of failed individuals fighting each other, the election becomes a turn-off not a turn-on.

    I find myself agreeing with the hon. Gentleman's comments. Anything that increases the personality conflicts in politics will alienate the British public. They are sick and tired of the slanging match that sets up individuals against each other—cut off from parties, programmes and principles. A politician who says only, "Vote for me, because I am better than he is, and he is a crook," will not engage the enthusiasm of the British people.

    The turnout was 44 per cent., which is not dramatically worse than the figures for mayoral elections. Mind you, Andrew McIntosh had a wonderful personality.

    The Minister for London and Construction is the man responsible for steering this great constitutional change through the House. I thought that I could rely on him, with his sharp and dry mind, to focus on the real arguments. Certainly his Second Reading speech contained some interesting points. In answer to an intervention from the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir P. Beresford) he said:

    "go to New York, to see how that city has tackled the crime problem". —[Official Report, 10 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 592.]
    The crime rate has gone down in New York because the mayor has hired 7,000 new police officers. The crime rate could be brought down in London if another 7,000 police officers were hired. I hope that that comment from the Minister means that he will give the new, powerful mayor the power to raise taxes to hire extra police officers to make an impact. That is the logic of his argument.

    Earlier in the Minister's speech, I found the kernel of the Government's ideological support for their position. The Minister managed to get it down to two sentences—new Labour, very concise. We must remember that the Minister had built up to this point and all the way through his speech he kept saying that he was coming to it. He said:
    "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."—[Official Report, 10 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 590.]
    Is that the Government's justification for their proposal? I am prepared to give way to the Minister if he cares to intervene with some more reasons, but I fear that that is it—because that was what was in our manifesto. The Minister obviously thinks that it is an important point because it was repeated word for word in his article in The House Magazine this week, but we have been sold on a gimmick. Such gimmickry has dominated so much of the politics of the Labour party in the past few years. An idea hatches in Millbank tower, is passed up through the spin doctors, goes down well with a focus group in Chipping Sodbury, and suddenly we are all committed to the damn thing.

    There has been no debate in the Labour party. I went to what was called a consultation meeting of the Greater London Labour party, at which we discussed the proposal that appears in the Liberal Democrats' amendment. The Greater London Labour party assembled in conference and split into working groups to discuss whether we should have a separately elected mayor. The most crowded working group was the one that discussed the relationship between the mayor and the assembly. Nine out of the 10 speeches opposed the principle of a separately elected mayor, but we were told, "You have got to have it because it was in the manifesto."

    No one can mobilise any more arguments for it than the Minister can. The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) referred to Labour's new legions as the terracotta army. That is unfair, because when you get close you can hear them all mumbling, "Its in the manifesto, it's in the manifesto." It's being in the manifesto does not justify a major constitutional change. I would like some more substance before we launch into a new method of government for which we have no background and which, looking at America, does not seem to be more effective.

    As I have said, the Minister repeated his arguments in his article "A New Mayor for a New Millennium", but the reality is that the case has not been made. Recently, an opinion poll showed, for the first time, that a majority of Londoners were more in favour of a mayor than of an assembly. A head of steam is building up, engineered by the media, but the argument did not persuade the Greater London Labour party delegates who sat and discussed it. We sat in the working group and we proposed a vote on the matter. We were told that we could not have a vote, but demand was overwhelming. The result was nine to one against a separately elected mayor.

    When the working party reported to the conference, we were forbidden to have a vote. That is not very democratic, when people are being consulted. Why could we not have a vote? Because those in charge knew that the Labour party leadership would face the embarrassment of the Greater London Labour party rejecting its proposal by nine to one. It is an absolute scandal that policy can be created like that. The policy has not arisen as a result of any detailed consultation with Labour party members in the House or in London.

    Before the election, my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson)—he is a dear friend and I love him deeply—had to come along and browbeat the London Labour Members of Parliament and then went off to browbeat the London borough leaders who were meeting in caucus. He said that we had to go along with the policy because the leader wanted it and we did not want a big upset before the election. The party has gone along with the policy because we do not want to rock the boat, but before we vote for a system that no one has been able to persuade us will work, we should rock the boat.

    I shall rock the boat a little more and say that we should trust Londoners. The Liberal Democrats' proposal would give Londoners a clear choice. If we were prepared to trust Londoners, we would have a debate in which Ministers could marshal their arguments and we could challenge them. If Ministers could persuade Londoners, Ministers would get their way, but they do not trust Londoners, which is why they will not be given a choice. Londoners will be told, "Take it or leave it." That is insulting to Londoners. We have just had a referendum in Scotland and we allowed the people to have two votes to decide about tax policy, but Londoners can have only one option.

    Londoners are told that they cannot have the assembly without the mayor. Why not? Is it because we are frightened that we might re-create the GLC? Is that the fear of Ministers as much as it is the fear of the Conservatives? I am not ashamed of the role of the GLC. The record of county hall under the GLC and the London county council shows huge achievements for London. I do not expect everyone to agree with that, but we should not deny Londoners the chance to decide what system of government they want. I am deeply ashamed of the way my party has proceeded tonight, because it is an offence to Londoners and an insult to their intelligence.

    I do not believe for one minute that those who argue for a presidential system have demonstrated any real basis for proceeding with it. They do not have the right to expect the support of the House and they will not get my support until they can marshal much better arguments than the half dozen scrappy, monotonously repetitive sentences that they have been able to marshall so far.

    8.30 pm

    It is a great pleasure to follow that speech from the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), not least because he tackled some serious questions and managed to do so in an amusing way. The truth of his comments about the inability of the House and the people of London to address an important constitutional change will make Labour Members feel deeply ashamed when they read Hansard in years to come.

    The debate is encapsulated in a couple of sentences spoken by the Minister for Transport in London, on Second Reading. She said:

    "This Government were elected on a manifesto promise to bring back democratic government to our capital. With the approval of the people of London, that is what we shall undoubtedly do."—[Official Report, 10 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 670.]
    The hard truth is that that is exactly what the people of London will not get an opportunity to decide, because it has already been decided, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) observed, by the terracotta army saying, "It is in the manifesto."

    Why cannot we have two questions? I believe that there is a case for a mayor for London, who could act as a catalyst, as do mayors in other cities. I do not believe that a strategic authority is necessary. The difference between the Minister and me is that I am prepared to argue the point in public and I am prepared to allow the people of London to decide—to pass judgment on whether I am right or the Minister is right.

    The hon. Member for Brent, East said that Scotland could cope with two questions, so why cannot the people of London cope with two questions? We have had an opportunity to have a good look at the Labour manifesto. If the hon. Gentleman consults it again, he will see that Scotland and in London are dealt with on exactly the same basis. There is no suggestion in the manifesto that there will be two questions for Scotland and only one question on a Greater London authority.

    We were promised on Second Reading that we would be given cogent arguments to demonstrate why it would be impossible to have a mayor without a strategic authority. None came. All we got was the strange mantra, "We won the election. We have a big majority. Our Back Benchers will support us, because if they do not, they will be thrown out of the parliamentary party and deselected. Therefore, we are right."

    A large majority does not remove the obligation to explain and to justify one's actions. The mere fact that there are more Labour Members than Opposition Members does not release the Minister from giving us a reason for the Government's position.

    We are faced with three propositions: a proposition from Conservative Members that we should have a directly elected mayor; a proposition from the Liberal Democrats that we should have a strategic authority, from which a mayor might be elected; and a proposition from Labour Members that we should have both.

    I do not suggest that we are right and everyone else is wrong; I suggest that we have an arguable case that deserves to be put to the people of London. Why be so hesitant? If the Government are so convinced by the arguments and so sure that our proposition will not work, let the people of London decide. It is not such a difficult issue.

    Ultimately, Parliament decides in a democratic society. If we start to have referendums regularly—I am not entirely against the idea of referendums and I am attracted by some of what I have seen in the United States, in circumstances where there is a series of propositions to be decided—we must give the public a right to arrive at a judgment. If we do not ask a clear question, we will not get a clear result. The process is worthless unless the people have a right to decide.

    People can vote yes in the referendum if they are in favour of a mayor, if they are in favour of a strategic authority or if they are in favour of both. They can vote no only if they are opposed to all three propositions.

    We heard quotations from the Minister about the views of Londoners and about opinion polls and focus groups. He told us that the Government had looked into the matter carefully. We are used to seeing sham polls during election campaigns, suggesting that certain candidates have more support than others. It is likely that the polling organisations have begun to examine in detail the questions that they ask.

    We know that the Minister has given much thought to the questions. He said on Second Reading, in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman):
    "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 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."—[Official Report, 10 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 593.]
    The phrase "not…a satisfactory outcome" is rather ominous and sinister. The Minister is saying, in effect, that the Government are prepared to put a question to Londoners provided that Londoners say yes, but the Government are not prepared to put a question that allows the possibility of Londoners saying no.

    We have some experience of that. Some will recall that, shortly before the last election, the late Sir James Goldsmith approached one of the polling organisations—I think it was MORI, but I stand to be corrected—because he wanted to put down a question to be asked in an opinion poll that would have given a false reading of the support that he was receiving. The polling organisation rightly refused, because its integrity was on the line.

    The question before us would not pass muster through a respectable polling organisation. Two propositions are put in a single question. That is no way to find out from the London public what they want. The Minister says that the majority of people support his ideas. Let him put that to the ultimate test-a referendum that should give him two resounding yes votes. Unless he is prepared to do that, there remains a great air of mistrust over the entire debate.

    It was a pleasure earlier this evening to listen to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who made a powerful case against a directly elected mayor. It is a shame that the Labour party's illiberal standing orders do not allow him to join us, the Liberal Democrats, in the Lobby when the Division takes place. The hon. Gentleman would be welcome there.

    I shall explain why we, the Liberal Democrats, wish to argue for a two-question referendum so as to allow the people of London to choose the form of government that will govern them. I shall explain why we believe that we should trust the people of London to make that choice.

    The hon. Member for Brent, East said that the arguments for a directly elected mayor are very weak. The arguments for a one-question referendum are even weaker. The Government have justified offering only a one-question referendum—a take-it-or-leave-it referendum—by saying that they have a mandate as a result of the general election. They have elaborated on that on Second Reading and on other occasions. They say that the Labour party's election manifesto was a package and that it has to be presented as a whole. That is the package of the mayor, the assembly and the referendum.

    Let us examine that argument. Elsewhere in the Labour party's manifesto, there are other packages. How are the Government matching up in putting those into practice? They will tell us that they had a mandate to ban tobacco advertising. That was to apply, for example, to cricket, darts and formula one motor racing. The Government have unpacked that mandate and promise and broken them. It seems that they felt fairly happy in doing so.

    Why cannot the Government unpackage the London proposals? Why cannot they revisit the Labour party's manifesto and say that the mandate is flexible? The Government should take care when they rely on the mandate argument. Indeed, mandate arguments are often flawed; they are devices behind which Governments can hide. Parties that believe that a majority in the House gives them a mandate for detailed policy proposals are, in my view, guilty of arrogance.

    I accept that a mandate was achieved for the principle of democratic governance for London. My colleagues and I put that to the electorate and together we certainly achieved a large majority for the proposal. That was not in any way a mandate for a directly elected mayor.

    It is surprising that the Government have not learned from their lessons when in Opposition. The previous Government abolished the Greater London council on the basis of one line in the Conservative party's manifesto in the 1983 general election. There are many other examples of the previous Government driving incredibly unpopular policies through the House on the basis that they had a mandate.

    We all know that, when voters go into polling booths, the vast majority of them have not read every word or sentence in our parties' manifestos. It is dangerous and arrogant to suggest that a vote on one day gives a party when in Government a mandate to implement all of its policies with every i and every t. It is a question of trust. If the Government showed that they were prepared to put trust in the people, they would legitimise the principle of democratic government in London to a far greater extent.

    The history of government in London shows how unstable it has been. There have been many structures of government over the past 100 years. We started with the London county council. We heard earlier, in an intervention from the hon. Member for Brent, East, that, 10 years after the then Tory Government created the LCC, they were trying to get rid of it. Eventually, it was abolished, to be replaced by the GLC, which in turn was abolished. It is important that, in introducing a new London government, we ensure that it has much greater legitimacy than its predecessors so that we do not continue chopping and changing and reinventing the wheel every two or three decades.

    The only way in which we shall achieve full legitimacy for the new London government is by giving the voters a choice. That choice will strengthen the future London government so that another Government presiding in this place 20 or 30 years down the line will not feel so able to abolish or reform London government or to gerrymander the results of elections for that government.

    I do not understand why the Government lack confidence in these matters.

    If that is so, they should accept the Liberal Democrat amendment.

    Surely the point of a referendum is to introduce a much more detailed mandate on a policy proposal. Why not let the voters come to decisions on all aspects of the Government's policy proposals and not merely on the package as a whole? Let the Government unpack their proposals and give the people of London a proper chance to register their voice. What would the people decide if the options were open to them? The answer is that we do not know.

    On the basis of the amendments, three potential options would be open to the people. We do not know for which they would opt but we on the Liberal Democrat Benches believe that they would not support the Government's current proposal. They would not back the proposed US-style system of a separately elected mayor and assembly. I feel that, as the details of the Government's proposals are more widely known, support for them will decrease.

    The problem with a directly elected mayor is that one person can never represent the range of views that are contained in a city such as London—a city with such a varied range of cultures, such a wide variety of socio-economic groups, and, indeed, voting patterns. With debate, with choice, I believe that people would see that problem.

    A separately elected mayor with a separate mandate from that of the assembly can never be fully accountable to it. He or she would always be able to point to his or her separate mandate and ignore the views of the assembly. Vast powers would be placed in the hands of one person, who could be held to account only every four years. Such a concentration of power causes genuine concern as the details of the Government's proposals are more widely debated. That is why one question is not enough. A take-it-or-leave-it question is characteristic of eastern Europe before the wall came down—a sort of Albanian referendum, or, as the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) argued earlier, a rubber stamp referendum. It does not offer choice.

    8.45 pm

    It is even more astonishing that, after widespread consultation, the Government are still sticking to their one-question proposal. We have not yet had the chance to read the replies to the consultation; we shall do so with great interest. When we have spoken informally to people who replied to the consultation, they have expressed concerns about the mayor, as have many London local authorities and London-wide organisations, for example London Youth Matters. They believe that an all-powerful mayor would leave them stranded from the democratic process, because they might not have access to his or her office, where all the power would be concentrated.

    The Green Paper gives some idea of how powerful the mayor will be. We are told that the mayor will set the strategic objective for London; that he or she will have certain powers of appointment; that he or she will speak up for London, increase competitiveness, attract investment and push forward major civic projects. We are told in particular that he or she will propose budgetary and strategic plans. The fact that huge financial power will be in one individual's hands sets a very worrying precedent.

    The Spice Girls might not have been quite so popular over the past few months—

    The Spice Girls. I believe that my hon. Friend had not heard of the Spice Girls until very recently.

    If the Spice Girls suddenly became more popular, perhaps Baby Spice or Mel B would stand for election. The huge budget for the whole of our capital could be decided and plans could be put forward by Mel B, and the assembly would not have the power to ensure that she spent the money wisely. Surely it makes much more sense that the assembly has power over the budget.

    I hope that the Government will think again and allow a two-question referendum in the form that we propose. If they have enough faith in their arguments, they will, and Londoners will respect them for it. However, if the Government continue to distrust the people of London to choose the form of government most appropriate for them, they risk setting up a constitutional structure of conflict and insecurity, one that may not stand the test of time and one that could potentially be a disaster.

    I urge Ministers to use the referendum to get a real mandate for democratic government for London and give the new authority real and lasting legitimacy.

    The debate has surely illustrated—better than anything that one could have anticipated—the hazards of referendums as a mechanism for policy making. To those who are sceptical about referendums, that comes as no surprise but, even to the enthusiasts, for this way of seeking political decisions, it should have become pretty obvious by now that, at least, it is unsatisfactory, and, at worst, it can be very dangerous. We need only glance at the amendment paper and note the wording of the proposals that have been set before the Committee to gather very quickly that all this has the potential to go very wrong.

    The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) made a very generous offer earlier, but, on reflection, I am not sure how it can be followed through. I think that the hon. Gentleman was saying that, although his wording might not be ideal, if we could go along with it—or something like it—we could all chat among ourselves afterwards and, in some way, return to the matter later. I doubt that that is the case in procedural terms, but it shows that, even after giving all the thought that I suspect the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends gave to the matter, and even after they came up with the rather convoluted formula that is offered to us in the amendment, the hon. Gentleman—albeit in a spirit of flexibility—is saying, "Well, if that does not ask quite the right question, I would be prepared to talk about something that does." In fact, as the hon. Gentleman conceded to me at the time, his question fails to offer a key option to the people of London—an option that must surely be available to them.

    I agree that a variety of options are available. What we must do first is escape from the idea that there is only one option. Once we have broken out of that cell, we must consider what options are serious runners. I would say that the option presented by the Tories—the option of having only a mayor—is worth considering.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but, in my current greedy mood, I will press him and see whether I can carry him a little further down that road. He conceded what to many of us is a very important point. The whole argument revolves around that point, does it not? Let us put aside for a moment the question whether we think any of this is a good idea—whether it is necessary, or whether, as one of my hon. Friends suggested earlier, there should be an option on the referendum voting form called "None of the above".

    I pose that as semi-serious suggestion. Why are we forced to say one thing or the other? Many people may want to turn out and cast their vote rather than staying at home and saying, "I do not want any of this, thank you very much. I do not think it is necessary." Those people may think—as the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) said so eloquently—that it could be damaging, or that it would not work. That may be a question that people would want to consider; but there are others, are there not?

    The difficulty underlying the proposals revolves around the inadequacy of the process of asking questions involving very complicated issues in a simple form. Among the issues that we are considering, or asking the electorate to consider, is not just the question whether there should be an executive mayor, never mind whether he emerges in the assembly or is directly elected; not just whether there should be an assembly sitting, as it were, on top of the boroughs; but, crucially, the relationship that would exist between that mayor and that assembly: how they would interrelate, how they would react to one another and the precise relationship of the checks and balances involved. Those are crucial questions.

    Will the hon. Gentleman give us the benefit of the experience of his party? I know that it has recently posed two totally different questions in the form of a single question, and has put that question to its membership—or what membership it can identify. I understand that that is quite a problem.

    It may or may not surprise the hon. Lady—who does not yet know me all that well—that I was not greatly in favour of that exercise either. The point that I was trying to make is that it is surely unreasonable to ask people to make a decision on such important matters without going fairly deeply into the way in which the institutions concerned are expected to work. It is not good enough to ask, "Do you want a mayor?", without giving people some idea of the proposed relationship between the mayor and the boroughs, the mayor and the assembly, the assembly and the boroughs or any permutation of those.

    As I pose those questions, it becomes obvious that it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to reduce those matters to the formulation that is perforce required in the referendum. That is my point. I have not even dealt with the other crucial permutations. The electoral system is a subject very dear to the hearts of Liberal Democrats. Many people may like the idea of an assembly, but only if it is under the traditional, single-Member, first-past-the-post system. They may be familiar with that system and want to identify directly with their assembly member, as they do with their Member of Parliament.

    My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The Labour Government's draft proposals would do away with that close, democratic, territorial connection. Many Conservative Members, including me, would be quite happy with a directly elected assembly containing assemblymen who represent our boroughs. My constituents want someone whom they can identify as fighting for them and their interests. If they cannot have that, why on earth should they vote for what my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) called a pig in a poke?

    My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Let us be fair to the Labour party. It is consistent in its view of representatives. Its Members of Parliament—I think that we now call them the terracotta army—are expected to do nothing in the House, and to have little or no relationship with their electorate. We shall be told next week that it expects its Members of the European Parliament to have no relationship with their voters. It would be consistent for Labour to argue that members of the assembly should have as little relationship with their electorate as Labour Members or Members of the European Parliament have with theirs under the Labour party's other proposals. Funnily enough, I do not condemn the Labour party for that, because at least it is consistent.

    When talking about those options to our voters, we are in danger of making an awful lot of assumptions about the formulations. We should not simply ask them, "Do you want an assembly?", without telling them about the relationships between the mayor and the boroughs or the assembly, or what electoral system will be used. Even if we had complete clarity on those issues beforehand, there would not be a sufficient range of options in the questions to allow people legitimately to exercise a choice. Knowledge, clarity and awareness are wonderful, but if people cannot exercise their judgment on the basis of that information through the mechanism of the questions in the referendum, the whole exercise is bogus.

    I have not even come to one of the most crucial problems: our old friend the question of money. Unless we ask people, as we asked the people of Scotland, whether they are prepared to pay extra taxation to finance the authority, or to give the mayor or the assembly the power to raise taxes to spend, the whole exercise will be seriously undermined.

    The hon. Member for Brent, East would surely find that argument attractive. He and I may agree on the matter. People may like the idea of a mayor, and may want a mayor or an assembly to exercise widespread powers. If he is expected to undertake Londonwide projects and to do good things for London and its people, surely it is not unreasonable to ask the electorate whether they want the mayor or the assembly to have powers to raise extra taxes to make those aspirations a reality. That seems a reasonable proposition.

    The hon. Gentleman rightly nods and smiles. We are not to have any of that. Not only will the people of London not be offered proper choices, options and related questions on which to exercise their judgment, but some questions will be missing. Sadly, they are missing from the options that are offered by my hon. Friends but, on this occasion, I shall forgive them for that.

    Perhaps we must look for the least worst that is on offer. I strongly prefer the questions that my right hon. and hon. Friends have tabled, because at least they offer clarity and choice that will take people some way down the track. I would prefer to see a wider range of questions, but I pay tribute to my right hon. and hon. Friends for at least giving the crucial option that was missing from the original formulation offered by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. He has generously offered a return to the matter and has said that we could try to get together and reformulate it in some way.

    That is an attractive offer on which we can perhaps build, because there must be something useful to be had from this exercise. Surely we can use the debate in Committee to find an agreement that is much broader than the narrow, laser-like focus that the Government are trying to force us into.

    9 pm

    A Conservative Member has said that part of the Bill is a bit like a blind date. That was a good analogy. I am prepared to make a blind offer to the hon. Gentleman, and Ministers may know the answer to my question. I would be happy for the two questions to have the two preferred options from the consultation paper. That would at least offer people an alternative. There is no need to get stuck on specifics, because there are ways of getting the two preferred options in front of the electorate, and on Friday we shall know what they are.

    That is a helpful suggestion. It seems that everybody except the Government is trying to be positive and helpful. We have become rather used to that over the past few months, but I hope that we shall not be expected to swallow it indefinitely and that, sooner or later, hon. Members other than the hon. Member for Brent, East will be prepared to speak up for their constituents.

    I hope that the hon. Gentleman's comments will be widely studied, because they have given a unique insight into the way that the Government works, not least in the light of what was said in the Chamber earlier today—much blow-hard nonsense about open government, modernisation and pre-legislative consultation. The debate illustrates the opposite—closed minds, single-minded determination to drive through a narrow set of proposals, and the brushing aside of all helpful and constructive suggestions that were made in the Chamber or by people outside in the process of consultation.

    There has been no sign whatever of flexibility or open-mindedness. Sadly, if that remains the basis of consultations on the exercise, there is a risk that the institutions that the Government are determined to foist on the people of London will be much weaker and much more narrowly based, and will have a lesser chance of success. That will be a tragedy, because, even in view of my clear reservations about the necessity for any of this, if we must have the proposed institutional arrangement for London, we all desperately want it to be well thought out and to work for the benefit of London's people. Those must be our joint and several aspirations.

    If the Minister continues down his present track, there is a risk that he will lack the support of me and my colleagues, that of the Liberal Democrats and the London boroughs and perhaps, as we have heard, of important elements in his party. The Minister and his colleague snigger as if to dismiss—

    The junior Minister says that she was laughing. She laughed just at the point where I referred to the vivid account by the hon. Member for Brent, East of the Labour party's internal workings. If that does not confirm better than anything else his fears about the way in which his party is working, I do not know what does.

    I leave that for Labour Members to work out, except to say that it is now on the record that his concerns, which he expressed with great sincerity, have been brushed off with artificial giggling and laughing by the Government Front-Bench team. That sums up perhaps better than anything the attitude with which Ministers came into the debate, which contrasts vividly with the attitudes of Opposition Members, both Conservative and Liberal Democrat, throughout the debate. I regret that. This is a sad day for London and for the legislation.

    I hope that, even at this stage, the Minister will think that Opposition Members' comments are worth contemplating, will reflect carefully on what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has suggested as a possible way forward, and will at last realise that the proposals will be materially improved if he allows that crucial flexibility that is suggested by the amendments.

    We have been privileged to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). Many of us suspected that there was a gagging order on Labour Members in this debate. Now we know that it is more serious than that, and I will write to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges to find out whether the Labour party's standing orders accord with the procedures, as we know them, of the House. Labour Members are being intimidated into not expressing a particular view, and sanctions can be imposed on them that could prejudice their political careers and so preclude their taking part impartially and fair-mindedly in debates. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has spoken as he has.

    There is a facile tendency, which many hon. Members have exposed, to believe that, if the capital city has a directly elected mayor, somehow, he will be a Dick Whittington figure and the capital's streets will again be paved with gold. It could be—we hope that it will if the people of London decide that we should have a directly elected mayor—that he will be a positive force to encourage investment and industrial and commercial regeneration of our capital city, which is already vibrant and buoyant, thanks to a successfully managed economy. However, the crucial effectiveness of his role will depend on his relationship with the assembly, because the authority is a single entity in the Government's eyes and it is the authority for which the Government are seeking approval in the question that Londoners will have to answer on 7 May.

    It is noteworthy that the Government are asking a question that requests approval of their proposal for a Greater London authority, whereas the shadow Secretary of State and other Conservative Members are putting two essentially open questions of principle to the electorate. We ask:
    "Are you in favour of a directly elected mayor for Greater London?"
    We are asking whether they believe that the concept of a directly elected mayor is, of itself, beneficial for our capital city. Likewise, we ask:
    "Are you in favour of a directly elected assembly for Greater London?"
    All that the Government propose is that the electorate should accept hook, line and sinker the Government's proposals, which, as we have heard, remain almost entirely unclear.

    Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I should have preferred a third and crucial question—the question uppermost in most Londoners' minds—to be posed: "Do you wish the assembly to have revenue—raising powers?" However, my hon. Friends are wise to ask the question, "Do you wish for a directly elected assembly?" as the electorate will understand that such an authority implicitly must have revenue-raising powers.

    Although the Green Paper is almost entirely in interrogative mode and begs many more questions than it answers, at least one thing is plain—that the mayor will set a budget. I can well comprehend why the Government do not wish to ask two questions in the referendum. If Londoners know anything, it is that an assembly will accrete powers to itself and will have ambitions. Its members, especially if they have no territorial or constituency responsibilities, will feel no compunction about asking for more revenue, because they will be directly responsible to no one—or only to the upper hierarchy of the Labour party, as we were told by the hon. Member for Brent, East. There will be no built-in mechanism for economy, cost control or effective scrutiny. The mechanism that is so essential to budgetary management is wholly absent from the Government's proposals.

    No one knows how the assembly will provide revenues for the mayor or what will happen if the mayor has over-arching ambitions—and he may have, as the post seems to be attracting some of the biggest egos in the country. It is a recipe for conflict, confusion and, ultimately, expensive chaos. It would have been so much better if the Government had had the honesty to recognise that what was provided for the electors in Scotland in their referendum should, at the very least, be provided for the electors in Greater London—two questions. The electors may want the mayor but not the assembly, or vice versa. They should have that choice.

    My hon. Friends have said that one of the jobs of the mayor will be to promote London as the capital city and to attract investment to it. I presume that, with the sort of person that we are likely to get as mayor of our capital city—a big ego and big expectations—that will involve travelling abroad, which will cost money. There are clearly revenue implications. Would my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip—Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who, as an outer-London Member, has great knowledge of London, be prepared to speculate on the cost of selling London abroad?

    Order. Perhaps hon. Members could talk about the amendments rather than going wide of them.

    It is tempting to speculate, but I will stick to the amendments.

    We are also considering the Liberal Democrat amendment which would include among the questions asked:
    "Q1. Are you in favour of regional government for London"?
    Londoners are proud because they are the residents of our capital city. The do not consider it to be a region—it is the heart of the nation. It is where the decisions are made that govern the United Kingdom. They will think that the amendment is condescending in the extreme.

    In the eyes of the Government and of prospective candidates, the post of mayor attracts such interest because of the capital city's special nature. As my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said, the post will attract globe trotters. It will also, appropriately, require much hospitality to be shown to visiting delegations.

    Although I appreciate the good will of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) in suggesting that there should be consultation, I do not think that his formulation is the right one. The consultations should be based on amendment Nos 18 and 19, which have been tabled by the shadow Secretary of State and other Conservative Members.

    To ask the London electorate in a pre-legislative referendum,
    "Are you in favour of the government's proposals",
    when those proposals are not yet clear—they cannot be clear until the legislation has been passed by the House and the other place—is asking those electors to sign a blank cheque. They should be asked to approve clear and specific questions. Ideally perhaps, they should be asked three questions, but two questions, as proposed by Conservative Members, would be entirely satisfactory.

    9.15 pm

    A Committee stage is an opportunity to give short speeches. I take issue with the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and think that, in this place, if one can reduce an argument to one or two sentences, it is all to the good. After two and a quarter hours of debate, I shall endeavour to make such a speech.

    I was wrong, 12 years ago, when I was allowed, under the Conservative party's standing orders, to rebel over the future of the Greater London Council. I felt passionately about the issue, having worked as a young man in the GLC, having served on the GLC and having served as a borough councillor. I felt that what my party did then was wrong, because I felt that we were denying a voice to London. A landmark in my effortless rise in the Tory party was that, on many occasions, I rebelled on that issue.

    I know now that I was wrong about the issue. Among the public in Greater London, there simply was not sufficient interest in the GLC. When the GLC was under Conservative control—let alone Labour control—it was, like the Department of Trade and Industry, an organisation in search of a role. That was the problem faced by the hon. Member for Brent, East—who had to develop all sorts of alternative roles and life styles for the GLC, which thereby lost the confidence of Londoners. The GLC had run out of time, and I was wrong to stand up for its future. I was right, however, to say that London needed a voice.

    The Conservative party has now come up with the right solution, because there is a limit to Londoners' enthusiasm for another tier of government. Hon. Members may dismiss a mayoralty as a personality cult, but local government in London requires a mayoral election. It will generate real enthusiasm and regenerate interest in the problem. There is not enough business to do to sustain borough councils, a new assembly, a mayor and a Government—the whole lot.

    I may be entirely wrong in saying that there is insufficient enthusiasm. Perhaps there is a role for an assembly, and perhaps all the arguments that we have heard will ensure that an assembly clips a mayor's powers. Ultimately, however—after two and a half hours of debate—I do not think that the Government can deny the choice of the people of London. The people will decide—trust them. Trust them to decide whether to have a mayor and an assembly, a mayor alone, or perhaps only an assembly. Why deny the people their choice?

    As has been said, if the House fiddles around with and finesses this matter past the people of London, the desired referendum outcome will be won, because people want a voice for London.

    However, it will not be a lasting outcome and in another 10 or 20 years' time we shall have to return to the issue. Let us do the job properly now, have a referendum with a real choice and let the people of London decide.

    Once again, we have had a long debate, in the course of which we have heard a great deal of posturing from the Opposition about the nature of democratic choice as exercised through a referendum. Let me remind the Opposition that had they been in power, there would be no referendum. There would be no debate tonight about whether there should be one vote, two votes, three votes or more; there would be no votes because the Conservatives made it clear in their election manifesto that they saw no need for a mayor or an assembly or any change in London government. They were complacent and backward-looking. They totally failed to read the mood of the public in London and realise how London had been damaged by the abolition of the GLC and the lack of a strategic authority; justifiably, they paid a serious price in the election.

    Now, of course, the Opposition have changed their minds. They realised that they were left behind and they have started to adapt their policies. They accept that there may be a case for a mayor, but they have not yet come around to agreeing the need for an assembly. That is why we are hearing so much posturing from the Opposition who are simply trying to justify their partial conversion on the road to London, not Damascus.

    The Minister refers to posturing by the Conservative party. Can he refer me to any Back-Bench speech that has supported his position?

    Can the right hon. Gentleman refer to any speech by a Back-Bench Labour Member other than that by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone)? That is a pretty thin argument. The right hon. Gentleman has to refer to only one person to try to imply something. That is absolutely in character. The right hon. Gentleman loves to use selective quotations and to massage the figures to support his case. He gave us a good example of that earlier when talking about newspapers. It was pretty rich. He gave the impression that all the press were in favour of his proposition.

    The right hon. Gentleman has an interest in a newspaper that is published in the Birmingham area. Could he imagine a debate about the future of Birmingham in which he did not refer to the views of the local newspaper? Today, however, he managed to give the impression that all the media and the press were on his side, yet he conveniently forgot to mention at any point the views of London's newspaper, the Evening Standard. He did not do so because he knows perfectly well that the Evening Standard has rubbished his party's position.

    The Evening Standard made it quite clear that the Conservative proposition for a mayor with an assembly made up of the borough leaders would not work and was impractical and that there should be a single vote based on the Government's proposal. The Evening Standard is right and, as so often, the right hon. Gentleman is wrong.

    I very much welcome the opportunity to discuss the amendments, as they go to the heart of our proposals for a Greater London authority. Londoners will be given the opportunity to vote on a clear proposal—whether or not to establish a Greater London authority made up of an elected mayor and an elected assembly. We shall make sure that the package that we put to Londoners is one that works and enables the new authority to get on with the real business at hand—addressing Londoners' needs and aspirations.

    The mayor and the assembly are not separable. An authority without a directly elected mayor would be a very different organisation—one not qualified to give London the clear leadership that it needs. A mayor without an elected assembly to hold him or her to account would be too powerful and unaccountable. No one really believes that a part-time forum of borough leaders would ever have the time or the capacity to constitute an adequate check or balance. Frankly, the people of London should not be conned by the proposition from the Conservative party, which was opposed to any elected body to represent the interests of London.

    Just say, for the sake of argument, that the hon. Gentleman is right. Why cannot he have the courage to put the proposition to the public of London?

    I remind the right hon. Gentleman of what I said a moment ago. We are putting a proposition to the people of London which his party would never have put to them. There would have been no questions if his party had won the election—not one vote, not two votes, not three votes, not four votes, but no votes. The Conservative party took away from Londoners the right to have their own strategic authority. It allowed Londoners no say. It is sheer hypocrisy to try to make such a fuss.