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Commons Chamber

Volume 301: debated on Monday 24 November 1997

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House Of Commons

Monday 24 November 1997

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Asylum Seekers

1.

If he will discuss with the Commission of the European Union the processing of applications for asylum status of refugees within member states. [15751]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

The Government regularly discuss the handling of claims for asylum at a number of European Union forums on which the Commission is represented. In addition, United Kingdom and Commission officials have had preliminary discussions about the United Kingdom's presidency's planned work programme on immigration and asylum.

Does the Minister believe that the present position is satisfactory, given that a coachload of gypsies can be taken, at their request, from Dover to seek asylum status in London, whose boroughs are already overburdened with such applications? Is it not time to re-examine the whole procedure at European level? Is article 11 of the Dublin convention—whereby a country to which a refugee first applies for asylum status can pass the applicant on to another country, like the United Kingdom, which is already under enough pressure in that regard—appropriate?

The position is far from satisfactory, but we inherited it from the Conservative party. A number of local authorities have had an enormous burden placed on them as a result of the withdrawal of benefits, without much thought, by the previous Home Secretary. We have said that we wish completely to re-examine that problem. We also need to look at the operation of the Dublin convention, which we also inherited. It is proving complex and difficult to make progress on that. There are now provisions that the state concerned must accept responsibility for a case before the refugee can be returned, which makes matters enormously difficult. Article 11 is complicated by other articles in the convention. Basically, the situation that we inherited from the previous Government is a bit of a mess.

Will my hon. Friend hold urgent talks with his colleagues on the continent about the absurd situation that has arisen in relation to ferries, whereby staff are being threatened if they do not urgently take on board people who do not have permission to land in the United Kingdom? That is bizarre and should be remedied as quickly as possible.

They are not being threatened by us. Some ferry companies have expressed concerns about instructions that they are receiving at Calais from the local French authorities. I understand that Stena, P and O, and other ferry companies are negotiating with the local authorities in France on that point.

Why should not Kent county council be fully reimbursed for the cost of looking after bogus asylum seekers and their families? Rather than council tax payers in my constituency having to fork out, why should not ferry companies have to bear the burden of asylum seekers who are subsequently sent home?

I have sympathy for Kent, but I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would admit that the previous Government created the problem. We have been placed in the position of having to pay £140 a week to Kent county council for each adult asylum seeker because benefits were withdrawn. We are reviewing the whole problem, which was created by the previous Government. Although the hon. Gentleman did not serve in that Government, the problem is the responsibility of many of his colleagues on the Conservative Benches.

Electoral Registration System

2.

If he will make a statement on the effectiveness of the electoral registration system. [15752]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. George Howarth)

The House will be aware that my hon. Friend has a distinguished record in the House on raising electoral register issues— [Interruption.].

Order. The Minister is replying to Mr. Barnes, who is right behind him.

The 1997 electoral register for the United Kingdom had the highest ever number of parliamentary electors registered to vote—44.2 million. We shall examine options for improving the effectiveness of the registration system still further in the coming months and shall consult the other parties in the House on that process.

Is not this stakeholder idea a good notion, because there could be equal stakeholding in electoral registers for everyone? Millions of people are missing from the electoral registers, disabled people find it difficult to get to polling stations and the homeless face legal impediments to being on the register. Could we have an up-to-date, modern register? That is another good idea—modernisation. We could have it for electoral stakeholders.

My hon. Friend is known as one of the great modernisers in the House. He raises some interesting ideas, several of which I intend to pursue and one or two of which I do not. If he waits with some patience, he will find out in due course which falls into which category.

I share the view of the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), but would the Minister also look at the converse of that point? It seems that, all too often, names are left on registers when people have moved from an area, even years ago. Will he look at the possibility of ensuring that electoral registration officers act together in dealing with that matter, which ought to be solved with the introduction of information technology?

The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. Given the modern databases and computer technology that are available to electoral registration officers, the sort of phenomena that he has described should not happen. Certainly, such considerations will be taken into account during the review that we shall undertake. Hopefully, the practices that are involved in electoral registration can be improved as a result of some of the suggestions that we shall examine.

Sentencing (Consistency)

3.

The Government are committed to implementing an effective sentencing system and consistency in sentencing. I therefore intend to include provisions in the crime and disorder Bill to require the Court of Appeal to consider producing sentencing guidelines when appropriate cases come before it and to review existing guidelines. The provisions will establish a sentencing advisory panel which will offer advice to the Court of Appeal. There will be a statutory duty on the panel to consult those who represent interested bodies, such as victims and the police. Further details of those provisions are set out in a note which I am placing in the Library.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of my early-day motion calling for the reform of rape law? In the context of that and on behalf of the many victims of rape, their families and the support services, I should like to know whether reform of sentencing will include rape sentences. Has my right hon. Friend any plans to reform the Crown Prosecution Service, which is causing many problems for victims and the police force? Can there be a prohibition on the circulation in prisons of the sexual history of victims, because that is causing distress to all concerned and is a completely disgusting practice?

There are already sentencing guidelines. It is one area in which they already exist, following a decision by the Court of Appeal in the Billam case. The problem in rape cases is not so much the sentencing practice of the courts but of securing effective convictions. We are greatly concerned about the way in which women victims and other witnesses in rape cases can sometimes be subjected to the most appalling cross-examination by defendants. For that reason, the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) has announced that we have established a full review of those practices and of whether laws of evidence ought to be changed. We hope to announce the results of that review very quickly. That will deal with the issue of whether a victim's previous sexual history should be adducible in evidence to the extent to which it is today.

My hon. Friend asked also about the reform of the Crown Prosecution Service. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General announced in May our determination to press ahead with major reforms of the CPS with the appointment of chief crown prosecutors for each of the police force areas in England and Wales— there are 42—and by establishing a full inquiry into other aspects of the CPS under Sir Iain Glidewell.

Is the Home Secretary aware that mandatory minimum sentences of three years for third-time burglars are popular with the public? May I therefore ask him when and how he proposes to implement that sentencing change?

Our position is exactly that of the previous Government. They willed the end, but failed to will the means. It was made absolutely clear in chapter 13 of the White Paper on sentencing, as it was on Royal Assent at the end of March this year, that decisions on implementing that part of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 depended on resources for which the previous Government had not made provision.

Does the Home Secretary agree that sentences should reflect not only the nature of the crime, but the means and conditions of the offender? For example, in any two motoring cases, one offender might be rich and the other poor and to give them exactly the same sentence would be unfair. Should not the Home Secretary and the courts take into account not only, as I have said, the offender and the crime, but the particular social and economic conditions in that region?

Courts have to take into account a range of factors in coming to a decision on sentence, but the most important factor is the gravity of the crime and the degree of harm or damage caused to the victim. I understand what my hon. Friend says, but sentencing should be capable of greater categorisation and greater use of science. The means of offenders should, of course, be taken into account, but I remain concerned that, when living standards have risen in the past 10 years and unemployment has fallen, the use of the fine has dramatically fallen—half as many fines are issued today as were issued 10 years ago. There is no good reason for that.

While I welcome the Secretary of State's announcements about sentencing, does he recognise that sentencing policy is only as effective as the prison and probation system to which it directs people, and that an overpressed Prison Service cannot work miracles or provide effective rehabilitation? In sentencing, should we not bear in mind what is faced by prison officers in their daily work, not least Friday's 19-hour ordeal involving a prison officer in my constituency at Castington? Will the Secretary of State pay tribute to the courage of those involved in bringing that to an end?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of what happened at Castington, where a prison officer was taken hostage. I know a good deal about that circumstance. I join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the great courage of that prison officer in enduring that hostage situation, and to the skill and professionalism of the other prison officers in bringing the hostage situation to a satisfactory and peaceful conclusion, without making any. concessions to the prisoners concerned.

On the right hon. Gentleman's wider question about prison and probation, of course we have to ensure that all punishment systems work effectively. That is one of many reasons why we are conducting a review of whether the Prison Service and the probation service could and should work much more closely.

Drug-Related Crime

4.

What estimates he has made concerning the amount of drug-related crime. [15771]

My hon. Friend may be aware that research by the Home Office shows that there is a strong relationship between drugs and crime—indeed, the figures show a much higher relationship than we expected. However, the results of that research are not yet complete. We hope to publish them early in the new year.

I thank the Minister for his reply and congratulate the Government on the appointment of Mr. Hellawell as the anti-drugs co-ordinator—I do not like to call him a tsar because he is no royal; he is certainly not of that ilk. He is to visit Scotland, where drug-related crime is to the fore—police reckon that 70 per cent. of all thefts are drug related. Will the Minister guarantee that Mr. Hellawell will be given full authority to cross all the borders and break down all the barriers to ensure that crime does not pay and that we eradicate the crime of drug taking?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He will be aware that the Scotland figures also apply in England and in some parts of Wales. I join him in congratulating Keith Hellawell and his deputy Mike Trace and assure my hon. Friend that the United Kingdom anti-drugs co-ordinator's writ runs throughout Government. Every year, £500 million of Government money is spent on dealing with the problem. We want to be sure that every pound of that £500 million is spent in the right place, either in treatment or in criminal justice interventions, to ensure that every part of Government works towards eradicating the evil of drugs.

May I help the Minister by telling him that, on best estimates, 40 per cent. of all burglaries are committed by drug addicts, who steal to get money to fund their drug habits? Does he agree that the way that the trend is going means that that statistic can only get worse? Does he further agree that it is important to make our streets an area of zero tolerance on drugs and ensure that our prisons are drugs free? Too many prisoners go into prison as drug addicts, stay as drug addicts and then come out as drug addicts. It is a vicious circle which must be broken.

The hon. Gentleman raised three points. First, the most recent British crime survey showed that the incidence of drug taking is not rising, but has levelled off. However, we do not want to be complacent about it. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman's figure of 40 per cent. possibly underestimates the relationship between various sorts of acquisitive crime and drug taking; it may be even higher than he suggested.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government take very seriously the problem of drugs in prisons. At this very moment, officials at the Prison Service are reviewing all the statistics on drug abuse because we are not sure that they are sufficiently accurate to enable us to take proper action to eradicate the problem in prisons. Let it not be misunderstood—we are very serious about the problem, whether in prisons, on the streets, in clubs or elsewhere. The Government will not tolerate drug abuse and those who fuel it.

What work will be done looking at the problems of young people, especially very young people, and drugs-related crime? Will the drugs tsar be looking at that? Is my hon. Friend aware of the problems on the Blackthorn estate in my constituency where there is a large drugs problem; indeed, there was rioting there earlier this year? Will he or one of his hon. Friends visit the area to talk to people about the problems they face and the real loss in quality of life on that estate?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already visited the area, but I am sure that one of us will be willing to come again if there is a particular problem. My hon. Friend will be aware that we shall shortly introduce measures in the crime and disorder Bill relating to drugs testing and treatment. She may also be aware that the drugs prevention initiative, which is funded by the Home Office, is implementing a number of different and interesting measures, which we are currently assessing. We are keen that community-based initiatives to eradicate drugs on estates and in the wider community should be assessed and evaluated and the best practice possible introduced to deal with the problems.

The link between drugs and crime is indeed a serious matter, and those who fuel drug abuse are committing serious offences. Will those convicted of offences involving the supply of drugs, who are serving sentences of between three months and four years, be eligible for early release under the Government's tagging scheme?

The hon. Gentleman will already be aware that we have introduced section 2 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, which covers the point he raised. He should be under no illusion that we shall deal just as seriously with such problems as the previous Government did. Quite frankly, the problems escalated during the previous Government's period in office, so we shall not take any lessons from Conservative Members. However, we are prepared to work with the Opposition on those issues. If the hon. Gentleman has any serious points to make, we shall listen to them. It is a serious problem, and we take it seriously.

Mr Lakhinder Reel

5.

If he will review the investigation by the Metropolitan police of the case of the death of Mr. Lakhinder (Ricky) Reel. [15781]

I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that that is an operational matter for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. From what I have been told, however, it appears that the investigation conducted so far by the Metropolitan police service has been thorough and sensitive. The Metropolitan police have promised to follow up any further information that may arise. The Met are also awaiting receipt of the coroner's report. There are no grounds for me to act further at this time.

I appreciate the nature of the reply, in view of the coroner's inquest. I am also grateful for the facilities that were provided last Friday for me to meet the investigating officer, with the family present. May I ask the Home Secretary, as the police authority for London, to examine with the Commissioner three policing procedural matters? The first matter is the liaison arrangements between investigating officers in cases in which the police station nearest the home of the missing person is different from the station that is nearest to the location where the person was last sighted; the second is the communication strategy between investigating officers and the family of a missing person; and the third is the impact of major investigations on outer London policing divisions, which have recently suffered personnel losses because of the funding formula for policing in London.

My hon. Friend raises three important issues, which are worthy of consideration, and I am sure that the Commissioner will examine each of them. We have to be careful, however, not to read general points into a specific investigation until we have full information. I reiterate that it is not appropriate to comment further on the detail of the case until the coroner's report has been received.

Police Officers (Beat Patrol Duties)

6.

What proposals he has for increasing the number of police officers allocated to beat patrol duties. [15782]

Ministers have no direct control over police numbers or their deployment. Under legislation passed by the previous Government in 1994, it is for the individual chief constable or chief officer to determine the number of police officers in their force. However, we are working with police to reduce administrative burdens and to enable chief constables to put more officers on the beat and back into the community.

Does the Minister agree with Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, who was quoted in a recent article in the New Statesman as saying

"I don't buy your notion that bobbies on the beat are anachronistic. If it reduces the fear of crime, I have to find ways to satisfy that"?
Does the Minister agree that—despite the answer that he has already given—it is the Government's responsibility to try to reassure the public that they will see police officers, and that police officers seen on the beat help to deter criminals and reassure the public, which is a crucial part of policing?

What the public want is to see police officers in their community, getting involved in tackling the problems of crime and disorder that have been allowed to grow in recent years. The Metropolitan police, like other police forces across the country, are suffering from the disadvantage of reduced police numbers and the previous Government's failure to keep their promises.

Does my hon. Friend agree that what is required is not greater resources but more effective use of existing resources? May I draw his attention to the success of Northumbria police, for example, in shifting large numbers of police officers out of bureaucracy—there by also ending a few scams—and back on to the streets? May I draw his attention also to the safer cities programme—it was officially launched today in my constituency—which is reintroducing police officers into some of the most crime-ridden parts of Sunderland? In the 1980s, police effectively abandoned those areas.

My hon. Friend raises some important points. Northumbria has shown the way in some of its approaches to dealing with crime, one of which has been getting police officers back into direct police work. Another one is the way in which Northumbria has worked in partnership with local authorities to tackle and prevent crime. Great gains can be made, which is why we are including a requirement in the crime and disorder Bill for a partnership between police and local authorities in ensuring that we mobilise all the strengths of the community to tackle and prevent crime.

Does the Minister agree that tackling crime is a matter of both management and resources? Does he agree that, when budgets are squeezed, patrol duties are the most vulnerable part of police activity? Does he agree that patrol cuts are a result of the previous Government's lamentable failure to match their promises with action by putting policemen back on to forces? Will he give an assurance that, after next year's police settlement, there will be more officers—not less— on the beat?

My only quibble is that the hon. Gentleman should have said "fewer" police officers rather than "less". There was a failure by the previous Government, and it is a matter both of resources and deployment. We want police officers deployed to tackle the problems of crime and disorder experienced by the community. The Audit Commission did draw the conclusion to which the hon. Gentleman draws attention, but it also said that patrolling must be purposeful; it is not just a question of police officers standing at the end of the street or patrolling without purpose—there must be targeted activity aimed at the prevention of crime and disorder.

If this is an exercise in reassuring communities that they can feel safe, why is there not a substantial increase in the number of special constables who have always been supported by the general public and who, I understand, are cheap and effective in comparison to full-time policemen? Is it not the case that they allow us to concentrate our resources during peak periods of the week when crime is rife?

Again, my hon. Friend makes a good point. We want not only to reassure communities but to tackle the crime and disorder that is causing them problems. It is a question of being effective, not only of providing reassurance.

My hon. Friend's question gives me the opportunity to say that we value the work of the special constabulary very highly. Early next year, we shall be actively promoting the recruitment of special constables in the special constables week. I hope that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members will support that initiative and encourage people to join the specials.

In spite of what the Minister says, in a written answer to me only three weeks ago, he confirmed that there are now 2,322 more police constables in post than there were in May 1992. Is it not clear that, unless police budgets are protected from the 1 per cent. increase in inflation caused by the Government since May this year, there will be fewer, not more, police constables on the streets? Is not the Government's continuing silence on the question of police funding a clear sign that fighting crime is a low priority for new Labour, just as it was for old Labour?

That was a pathetic attempt. There will be a statement on police finances next week, I believe, which follows the pattern established by the previous Government of when to inform the House of the intended finances for next year.

I notice that the hon. Gentleman cites the number of constables rather than the number of police officers—he is very selective. The number of police officers in England and Wales fell from 127,627 in March 1992 to 127,158 at the end of March 1997. Let me do the arithmetic for the hon. Gentleman: that means a cut of 469 officers, or 1,469 fewer than were promised by the previous Government in the 1992 election—another broken promise.

Crime Victims (Support)

7.

If he will make a statement on the Government's plans to give greater support for victims of crime. [15783]

We are firmly committed to helping victims of crime and to taking action to redress the balance of the criminal justice system in favour of the victim. We shall ensure that all criminal justice agencies give a high priority to treating victims with sensitivity and respect, that they listen to their views and that they continue to improve the services that they provide to victims. Within six weeks of taking office, we increased Victim Support's grant by £1 million a year.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Is she aware of the excellent restorative justice scheme operated by Thames Valley police, whereby offenders are confronted with the victims of crime? It has had quite startling results in reducing reoffending. What proposals do the Government have for extending the scheme to other areas of the country?

I pay tribute to the work done in the Thames Valley area on restorative justice. That theme is also being taken up in other initiatives across the country. I have seen some good examples, such as the courses run by the Greater Manchester probation service, aimed at making offenders realise the effect on their victims of what they have done and at promoting reparation and restorative justice. We expect to highlight the approach in our forthcoming White Paper on youth justice.

Does the Minister agree that the most distressing experience for victims is when the police have to tell them that they do not have the resources or the manpower to pursue the criminals? Will she give the commitment that my right hon. Friend the previous Prime Minister gave, that there will be more bobbies on the beat, or are the Government going back on that?

A commitment was given, but the promise was broken, as has just been pointed out. My hon. Friends have spoken of initiatives that are being taken in particular police forces. We need to build on those initiatives so that communities can feel safer than they did under the previous Government.

My hon. Friend will be aware that one in four victims of violent crime are likely to have been victims of domestic violence. Many more such victims are too scared to report the fact to the police. Does my hon. Friend agree that they are not always treated as sympathetically as they could be, not so much by police officers as by some of the other statutory agencies? What plans does she have to develop inter-agency working, involving housing bodies, the Benefits Agency, the police and others, to ensure that victims get the support that they need?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, although I believe that a lot of progress has been made by the police and other authorities towards being more sensitive and aware of the issues. I am also glad that the Home Office and the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Women's Issues are addressing the problem of domestic violence with considerable urgency.

Does the hon. Lady accept that all hon. Members are pleased that the Government are continuing the record of the previous Government in increasing the grant to Victim Support? Does she agree that victims of burglary would greatly appreciate the knowledge that repeat burglars will be locked up for a considerable time? As the Home Secretary always mis-states the previous Government's position and then hides behind it, may I ask the hon. Lady a different question? If the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes the resources available, would she be in favour in principle of mandatory minimum sentences for repeat burglars?

We made it clear in opposition that we were in favour in principle. The right hon. Gentleman is mis-stating the situation under the previous Government, because resources were not made available. That was clear from the Home Office press release at the time.

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, rather than supporting Victim Support, as he suggests, the previous Government froze the grant.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways of supporting victims is through the criminal injuries compensation scheme? Does she also agree that the previous Government made a terrible mess of that, having their first attempt thrown out by the courts? Does she further agree that various aspects of the scheme need to be looked at? The eligibility rules for victims of domestic violence have not been reviewed for nearly 30 years. Some 200 families of victims of murder or manslaughter slipped through the net because of the hiatus caused by the previous Government's mess-up when they tried to review the scheme.

My hon. Friend is right. The previous Government made a tremendous mess of the scheme. We soundly criticised them at the time.

Travellers

8.

What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the present laws relating to the occupying of land by groups of travellers. [15784]

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 gives two sets of powers—one to the police and one to local authorities—to deal with problems as and when they arise. The police can remove trespassers in justified circumstances. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions is looking at the powers given to local authorities and is conducting a review. He hopes to publish guidelines in the spring which will make it easier for local authorities to deal with the situation.

I thank the Minister for that reply; I am encouraged by what he said. Is he aware that at least 100 people descended on my constituency of Tewkesbury this summer? It took a full two weeks to clear them from the land, during which time there was great mayhem in the town, which is trying to regenerate itself. Will the Minister assure my constituents and the House that he will carefully monitor the situation?

I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I understand that the problem to which he refers occurred as a result of a wedding among some travelling people; there was a similar incident a few years ago in my constituency. Such incidents cause difficulties and the hon. Gentleman is right to make that point. We are keeping the matter under review and, as I said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions will publish helpful guidelines in the spring.

The present law is not working, so the need for the review is extremely urgent. Areas such as mine suffer not from new age travellers but from old age travellers, who give rise to considerable cost and considerable nuisance. The previous Government removed the obligation to provide sites and, in doing so, made the problem a lot worse. Will my hon. Friend ensure that we reimpose and strengthen the obligation to provide sites, preferably on a regional basis? We can link that to tougher enforcement powers.

I hope that, in referring to old age travellers, my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) was not referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

This is, however, a serious subject. If my hon. Friend needs reassurance, he can have it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions recognises the problem, and that is why he is conducting a review. He will consult local authorities and we hope that the end of that process will be very helpful.

Will the Minister urge local authorities, at both district and county level, police forces, the Home Office and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to co-operate in the exchange of intelligence so that local areas know when a group of new age travellers are about to descend? The provision of sites, such as happened under the old law, will not assist, because new age travellers are not interested in static sites; they want to go where they please.

New age travellers are a nuisance. In my constituency, there have been two large encampments and a huge number of sheep were killed as a result of their activities. They even had the nerve to say, during the court case to decide whether the local authority could remove them, that their dogs did not kill the sheep because their dogs were vegetarian. Will the Minister ensure that local authorities take a grip of the law? The law is there; it just needs using.

The hon. and learned Gentleman may or may not be right; we need to wait for the outcome of the review. Clearly, the dogs were new age dogs. It is important that, when intelligence can be shared between local authorities, the police and any other agencies concerned, it should be. I suspect that the difficulty is that the intelligence the hon. and learned Gentleman describes may not exist in a form in which it can be easily shared. Where it does, we would encourage those concerned to share it.

Human Rights

9.

What measures he intends to introduce to safeguard the rights of British citizens under the European convention on human rights. [15785]

We introduced the Human Rights Bill in another place last month and published a White Paper at the same time. The Bill gives further effect in domestic law to the rights and freedoms set out in the convention and will significantly improve the ability of people in the United Kingdom to have access to their convention rights before our own courts.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his welcome reply. May I clarify with him the position of British citizens who are already bringing cases to the Strasbourg Court and are thereby locking themselves into a lengthy and expensive procedure? Will British citizens be able to transfer their cases into the British legal system when the incorporation of the European convention on human rights into our law is complete?

We thought about that issue carefully in preparing the Bill. However, we decided that it would not be practicable to allow for cases to be brought retrospectively in the British courts. For that reason, the Bill provides for a right of action in the British courts that will come into force at the same time as the Bill.

Does the Home Secretary accept that one effect of incorporating the European convention on human rights into our law will be the politicisation of the judiciary? If he does not, will he explain his position to the Lord Chancellor who, in 1996, wrote an article expressing those very dangers?

I do not accept that for a moment. I am interested to learn that the hon. Gentleman disagrees with the shadow Lord Chancellor. It was Lord Kingsland, the shadow Lord Chancellor, who said on the radio on the day we published the Bill:

"One thing you could say in favour of the Bill is that it domesticates the powers of the institutions of the Convention with the result that our own judges are now making these decisions instead of the judges in Strasbourg."
The Conservative party needs to get its act together on this, as on so many other issues. Of course we are not remotely politicising the British judiciary; indeed, we have constructed the Bill carefully to ensure that there remains a clear separation between the role of the judiciary and the role of Parliament.

Do prisoners have any rights under the European convention? In particular, does Myra Hindley have any way of challenging my right hon. Friend's decision to keep her in prison until she dies, while other people convicted of heinous, revolting and repulsive crimes may be released early?

Any individual, whether or not he or she is a British citizen, who is resident or in Britain has a right under the European convention at the moment and subsequently upon incorporation. Myra Hindley has such rights. Indeed, she is seeking to exercise her rights under British law by bringing an action for judicial review of my predecessor's and now my decision in respect of the whole life tariff which he set and which I confirmed last week.

What the Lord Chancellor actually said about the incorporation of the European convention on human rights into British law was that it offers

"immense scope for political and philosophical disagreement"
between the House and the courts. I have a simple question for the Home Secretary: does he agree?

The Lord Chancellor made it absolutely clear that he accepts—and, indeed, he was one of the architects of the scheme—the arrangements which we have laid down in the Human Rights Bill to separate the role of the judiciary from the role of the House. One of the important parts of the scheme of incorporation that we have adopted—views have moved on since the Lord Chancellor made that point—was to ensure that the sovereignty of Parliament was absolutely protected. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there will be no provision in the Human Rights Bill by which the courts will be able to override and render void a Bill or an Act of Parliament.

Criminal Justice System

10.

What plans his Department has to ensure equal treatment for people with communication or learning difficulties under the criminal justice system. [15786]

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, on 13 June we announced an urgent, wide-ranging examination of the way in which vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, including those with communication or learning difficulties, are treated by the criminal justice system, with the aim of assisting them to give their best evidence in court.

There is existing protection for suspects in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the accompanying codes of practice which provide safeguards for people in police detention, including suspects who may be considered vulnerable and in need of additional protection.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is she aware of the campaign being run by Community Caremagazine to highlight the failings in the criminal justice system in respect of disabled people? Will she ensure that the interdepartmental working group that is looking into these matters takes a close look at the guidance and training that are available for judges and others involved in the criminal justice system to ensure that ignorance does not represent a barrier to people with learning and communication difficulties obtaining their right to justice?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The interdepartmental working group is aware of the campaign to which the hon. Gentleman referred and will look into the issues that he raised.

This is a very important point. All levels of the criminal justice system should be brought into the review. I would welcome an early end to the review so that people from all levels can get the justice and respect that they deserve but on occasions are missing.

I agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I have come across examples in my constituency which very much reinforce that point of view. The group is aiming to report to us by the end of the year. We certainly intend wherever possible to improve the situation.

Crime (Young People)

11.

The Government's plans to tackle youth crime were set out in three consultative documents which were issued this autumn. The main features include proposals to speed up the youth courts, replace cautions with a new final warning scheme, introduce new community-based sentences, strengthen arrangements for custodial punishment for young people and establish a youth justice board for England and Wales with local youth offending teams. Many of those features will be contained in the forthcoming crime and disorder Bill. I intend shortly to publish a White Paper which will reinforce the proposals and look to future reforms of the youth court system.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is already widespread agreement that one of the most effective proposals in his consultation documents is the reparation order, which will force young people to face the consequences—and, indeed, the victims—of their actions and give victims the chance to come face to face with the perpetrators of the crimes from which they have suffered? Does he think that the principle of reparation can be allowed further to permeate the youth justice system, as it is far more likely to be effective than traditional forms of punishment? Does he believe that child mentoring will also play an important part in preventing youth crime?

I disagree with my hon. Friend in one respect only: in suggesting that reparation is not a traditional form of punishment. Reparation is the most effective and traditional form of punishment, by which one forces the offender to say sorry and repair the damage which he or she has caused. One of the problems with the youth justice system is that it effectively ignores the interests of both the victim and the wider public, and detaches the system to some high level of abstraction, where even the offender is simply a spectator in an endless and often useless process. We are determined to tackle that.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that prison institutions for young people are rather like an old school tie: a costly way of confirming a young person's identity for life? Although those who have committed the most grievous offences will need to be imprisoned, will he build—[Interruption.] New Labour is so hard-hearted. I am urging the Home Secretary to assume more enlightened colours rather than subscribe to the harsh face of new Labour.

Rather than shunting on troubled and troublesome young people, will the right hon. Gentleman urge education, social services and health departments to work with his agencies to reduce the number of young people in prison institutions?

No one wants to see young people gratuitously put in prison, but they are there because they have committed a series of crimes and have to be put away. The major problem that we face of the large number of 16, 17 and 18-year-olds who are sent to prison or young offenders institutions arises as a result of the wholesale failure of the youth justice system to deal effectively with those young offenders at an earlier age. The system is so soft for so long before, to compensate, it becomes over-harsh.

A major part of my reforms is designed to cut delays in dealing with young offenders, especially very young offenders. It is designed to ensure that the system is consistent, and that, when it gives a final warning, it really is a final warning. Where the courts come to the view that 12 to 14-year-olds have offended so badly that the need for protection of the public and their own protection requires them to be locked up, not in prison but in secure accommodation, the provision exists to enable that to happen.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the reconviction rate for young people who enter young offender institutions under the age of 17 is 88 percent? Does he therefore agree that putting more and more young people inside for longer and longer is not necessarily the answer to rising levels of juvenile crime?

My hon. Friend is right, but the depressing fact is that the reconviction rate for such offenders after any kind of punishment—custodial or non-custodial—is far too high. It is also true, and it has emerged from a number of inspectors' reports, that that average—which she quoted correctly—disguises large variations in performance between different young offenders institutions. With the same resources, some are remarkably successful in ensuring that young offenders lead more successful lives when they get out and some are less successful. As with the effective schools programme, the challenge today is to ensure that the resources available to those institutions are used more effectively, to establish more constructive regimes and to ensure that there is a path back into work for young offenders. That is why it is important to link work with young offenders with the welfare-to-work programme.

Will young people—16 to 18-year-olds—be covered by the tagging proposals that he announced to the House last week? Perhaps the Home Secretary might also care to answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) about whether tagging will cover those guilty of drug offences, because his frantic briefing did not quite make it to the Under-Secretary, his hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth). [Interruption.] Indeed, it seems to be continuing.

The answer to the first question, as I made clear last week, is that the tagging arrangements will be rolled out first to individuals in prison establishments. On the second question, I made it clear in the statement on Thursday that risk assessments will be made of any offender with a nominal sentence of between three months and four years. Such offenders will not be released under the tagging arrangements unless the governor of the prison judges that it will be safe to do so.

Closed Circuit Television

12.

If he will make a statement on the introduction of CCTV cameras into smaller towns and public places; and if he will make a statement. [15788]

I strongly support the use of closed circuit television—CCTV. I can announce today that the Government will support CCTV in the next financial year with a further CCTV challenge competition. In total, £9 million will be spent on CCTV in 1998–99. Although a large proportion of that expenditure was already committed by the previous Administration, I expect to be able to spend at least £1 million on new schemes. Full details will be issued in bidding guidance soon, but I intend to give priority to imaginative and innovative schemes that expand the boundaries of CCTV use.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that CCTV helps police and local authority strategies to combat crime? Does he accept that, under the former Government, the small, former urban authorities, of which there are four in my constituency—Ossett, Horbury, Normanton and Stanley—were left out and let down? Can he assure me those smaller authorities will now be considered by a Labour Government?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the success of CCTV, especially when linked to other approaches to reducing and preventing crime. In the bidding process, we will look for innovative schemes, not necessarily those in major town and city centres. In places where there is a critical mass of CCTV, it is possible to link smaller towns or out-of-town areas to the same monitoring system and that is often extremely valuable.

I welcome the Minister's announcement that he will follow our support for CCTV. Does he agree that the £1 million that he intends to add to the spending that the previous Government announced is pitiable? If CCTV is to be useful, it must be a national scheme, in Conservative as well as in Labour areas, and £1 million will go nowhere.

It is interesting that Opposition Members wish to spend money now that they are in opposition and not in government. Immediately before the election, the previous Government spent money that they did not have. Some £8 million of next year's finances was allocated by the Ministers who left office in May and that has left us with limited flexibility, but we will do the best with what we have.

Racially Motivated Crime

14.

What proposals he has to curb the incidence of racially motivated violence. [15790]

The lives of far too many people have been damaged or destroyed by racial violence and harassment. Labour promised in its manifesto to crack down on mindless racist thuggery, and we will do so. The crime and disorder Bill will create new offences of racial violence and harassment; it will send out a clear message that racist crime is unacceptable.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. The figures published this morning were extremely disturbing, especially as they included only reported crimes of racial violence, and the problem is in fact much bigger. Will my hon. Friend welcome the comments of the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) in the policing for London debate about continuing with a bipartisan approach to racially motivated violence, but agree that the right hon. Gentleman will be judged by his actions in the way in which he votes on the provisions concerning racial violence in the crime and disorder Bill, rather than by his words, because words are easy?

I agree. I hope that the new offences will have broad support in the House. I noted that the new Leader of the Opposition dissociated himself from comments about multiculturalism by the noble Lord Tebbit some weeks ago. I hope that that is a sign of a new attitude in the Tory party.

Britain is a multicultural society, and in many ways a successful one, but we still have problems of racist violence to resolve, and I invite the Conservatives to join the Liberal Democrats and the Government in backing a multicultural Britain to be proud of and in sending a clear message to all racists that if they have not yet learnt the lesson that this is a multicultural society in which we will crack down on racism, some of them will learn it from behind bars.

Jobs Summit

3.30 pm

With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement about the special European Council on employment in Luxembourg on 21 November, which I attended with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. The Council conclusions have been placed in the Library.

Unemployment in Europe represents not only personal tragedy on a huge scale but a tremendous waste of economic talent and potential. At the Amsterdam European Council in June, jobs were given the top priority that they should always have had. We agreed a new treaty framework for action on employment: the employment chapter.

The aim was a co-ordinated strategy to promote a skilled, trained and adaptable work force and flexible labour markets responsive to economic change. At Luxembourg, the first time that the European Council has met just to discuss jobs, we decided how to put that Amsterdam aim into effect.

Let me make it clear at the outset that we are not creating new European Union competences or, indeed, new European Union spending programmes, although we have agreed some useful redeployment of existing resources. We can agree at European level the broad lines of a practical approach to job creation. We can commit ourselves to finding and following best practice wherever appropriate. We therefore sought and agreed a set of common, practical objectives to be enshrined in non-binding guidelines for national employment policies.

At the heart of Europe's new approach is the need to create the right macro-economic framework and to move more rapidly on the structural reform of labour markets. Removing barriers to the completion of the single market remains crucial, but the role of small firms in creating jobs is now recognised as central, as is the need to create a simpler regulatory and administrative environment for business. Those are all ideas which we have promoted and to which we can subscribe whole-heartedly.

There were three points at the heart of our discussions. First, we need an adaptable and skilled work force responsive to economic change. The emphasis must be on education, skills, technology, and an active employment service. We need flexibility, in the sense not of hire and fire management, but of businesses and employees being able to respond to new and changing economic conditions.

Secondly, we need entrepreneurship, especially in small businesses. That is where many of the new jobs that we need must come from, and we must nurture the sector.

Thirdly, we must tackle structural unemployment. That cannot be lowered simply by demand management. We want neither laissez-faire nor old-style state intervention, but targeted measures specifically directed at the long-term and young unemployed.

Under adaptability, the Council endorsed the idea of modernising work organisation, including flexible working arrangements to help companies to be both productive and competitive. In an important step forward, it also agreed to examine any new regulations, to make sure that they reduce barriers to employment and help labour markets adapt to structural economic changes. That was a particular initiative of ours.

Under entrepreneurship, the focus was the vital role of small and medium-sized enterprises. It was agreed that member states should make starting and running businesses easier by reducing the overhead costs and administrative burdens, in particular those of taking on extra staff. More widely, it was agreed that taxation and benefit systems should be made more employment-friendly; for example, by reducing the tax burden on both labour and other non-wage labour costs, where they are at levels that hinder job creation. Some countries are keen to consider the reduction of VAT on labour-intensive services not exposed to cross-border competition.

To tackle structural unemployment, the Council agreed an approach based on employability. There should be specific commitments to improve the ability of individuals to get and retain jobs, with special emphasis on youth and long-term unemployment. In particular, all member states undertook to offer a fresh start, in terms of training or similar measures, to all young people unemployed for six months, and to all adults unemployed for 12 months. A specific target of 20 per cent. was set for the number of unemployed in total benefiting from active measures to improve their employability. There was also extra emphasis on ensuring that young people do not leave the school system too early and inadequately equipped for the jobs market.

The Council also emphasised the importance of equal opportunities. In particular, there should be commitments aimed at tackling gender inequality, making it easier for parents to reconcile work and family life, and addressing the problems of the disabled in the workplace.

The guidelines setting out those practical objectives and commitments in more detail will be adopted by the end of the year. It will then be for member states to prepare national action plans on how they intend converting them into action. The plans will be subject to scrutiny by other partners. Each member state will be able to apply them in accordance with national circumstances but will be expected to address all the objectives in one way or another. We will review progress first at the Cardiff European Council in June.

The Luxembourg Council also welcomed extra mobilisation of the resources of the European investment bank to improve economic performance. One billion ecu from the bank's reserves will be used over three years to finance new initiatives to help high-tech small and medium-sized businesses: 125 million ecu of that has already been earmarked for a new European technology facility. The EIB is also starting to lend in the health, education and environment sectors, and is stepping up its support for trans-European network projects.

In addition, the European Council agreed in principle to redeploy 450 million ecu from the existing European budget over three years to help job creation, again particularly supporting innovative and job-creating small and medium-sized enterprises.

Those financial measures will be helpful, but, of course, they play only a supporting role: reform of labour and product markets is the real key to improving Europe's employment performance.

The jobs summit marks Europe's commitment to a new approach to create jobs and security for the future—not the old-fashioned free-for-all resulting in widespread social exclusion, nor loading more costs and regulations onto business, but a third way: investing in people, in their skills, in small businesses, and setting a stable long-term framework for business and industry to plan for the future and create jobs. Education and training are the keys. The so-called European social model is being refocused, based on a modern approach of reform, flexibility and investment in people. We aim to involve both sides of industry fully in that approach.

We will use the UK presidency next year to ensure that this is carried through in order to make a real difference to employment, employability and social inclusion. Luxembourg agreed an approach for the long term. Effective follow-up is vital and will happen.

At Amsterdam, we showed how a united British Government with a clear direction in Europe could make Britain's voice heard. At Luxembourg, we showed how a constructive British approach could result in a new direction on tackling unemployment; an approach based on competitiveness, employability and reform, combining job creation with a fair and cohesive society.

We recognised at a European level the terrible personal damage which occurs each time an individual who is willing and anxious to find work is still unable to do so through no fault of his or her own. That is why this Labour Government are working for a Europe that is working for jobs. This approach is right for Britain, right for Europe and right for the people of Europe.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. The Opposition welcome the concept of a European summit focused wholly on jobs, and we welcome the recognition that Europe should aim for flexible labour markets responsive to economic change.

Did the Prime Minister describe the achievements of the British people over the past 18 years, which have led to an unemployment rate way below the European average? Does he agree that there is a huge amount to be learned from the UK experience over the past 18 years, and that those who opposed the measures that we took must now be regretting it?

We agree with the sentiments expressed at the summit and with many of the objectives. However, does the Prime Minister understand that we are entitled to be a little suspicious of a summit which both the British and French Governments claim as a triumph, when they arrived with completely different agendas? Can he give more evidence that other countries will adopt more flexible labour market policies? What specific measures does he expect them to adopt? Can he give any evidence that he is committed to flexible labour market policies, given the contrast between the guidelines to which he signed up and the policies that he is pursuing at home?

The Prime Minister talked about reducing barriers to employment, and we all agree with that. How can we square that with what the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry said last week, when advocating the minimum wage at its most onerous? Only last Thursday, the Minister said
"There will be no sectoral, regional or company derogations and it will be available from day one of employment."—[Official Report, 20 November 1997; Vol. 301, c. 441.]
Which will the Prime Minister choose—Government policy or the European guidelines?

The Prime Minister talked about entrepreneurship, and we all agree with that. How does he square that with signing up to the social chapter, making him unable to stop new burdens being imposed on small businesses by extending works councils to them? Which will he choose—the policy or the guidelines? The summit guidelines talked about
"making the taxation system more employment friendly"
and we all agree with that. Does the Prime Minister realise that companies now have to pay higher contributions because of the new tax on their pension funds imposed by the Chancellor? Which will he choose—the policy or the guidelines?

The summit guidelines finished with a call to
"promote the integration of people with disabilities into working life"
and I particularly welcome that sentiment. However, are not the Government trying to cut benefits for disabled people, which often give them the help that they need to be independent and to go to work? Which will the Prime Minister choose—his policy or the European guidelines?

How convinced is the Prime Minister that other countries will follow the spirit of the guidelines when there is precious little evidence that he himself will do so?

The presidency conclusions call for clear objectives for each country. Can the Prime Minister tell us what the objectives for Britain will be? Will he endorse the target set by the Minister for employment that the current trend rate of decline in unemployment should improve further?

Can the Prime Minister explain some of the language used in the presidency conclusions? What has he agreed to in signing up to the idea of bringing an end to unfair tax competition? What does this mean for British companies? What has he agreed to in signing up to the creation of an expert working party to guard against the economic effects of industrial change? What has he agreed to in signing up to a six-monthly meeting of social partners and Heads of Government before European Council meetings? Does he expect that to lift burdens on business?

The Prime Minister says that new regulations will be examined to make sure they help labour markets adapt. What about looking at all the old regulations across the continent which have kept millions out of work?

The Prime Minister talks of national plans being subject to scrutiny by other partners. Does that mean that other countries will be able to interfere in our employment policies, or does he optimistically assume that it will only be us interfering in theirs?

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the idea of this summit originated with the French Government's worries that economic and monetary union could make their serious jobs problems even worse? Can he confirm that there is a widespread fear in Europe that a single currency could bring more unemployment in the next few years? Does he believe that all the advocates of a single currency in the near future are also committed to the essential corollary of making labour markets more flexible?

In summary, we agree with the objective of ending the old ways of state intervention, corporatism and over-burdensome regulation for companies, but does the Prime Minister realise that many people will find it hard to understand how that fits with signing the social chapter, compulsory union recognition, adopting the employment chapter and bringing in the minimum wage, all of which are more likely to destroy jobs than to create them?

All I can say is, thank goodness the right hon. Gentleman was not negotiating for us at the employment summit. He and his colleagues still have absolutely no idea why they lost the general election. They have no idea why one of their former hon. Friends is now sitting on the Government side. They have totally lost touch with mainstream, one-nation values, which people believe now reside in the Labour party, not the Conservative party.

I shall deal with the points that the right hon. Gentleman made. First, he said that he supported the summit. Before the election, the Conservatives opposed the new employment chapter under which the summit was held. They opposed the very idea of this summit, which was not a French idea: actually, it was a British idea which came from the Government.

Secondly, if the right hon. Gentleman examines the figures, he will see that we have problems with long-term and youth unemployment. They are being addressed by the new deal for the young and long-term unemployed, which was also opposed by the Conservative party. We inherited a situation in which 20 per cent. of non-pensioner households with people of working age were without work. That it is precisely why it is important that we are not complacent about this problem from Britain's perspective, but realise that we still have a lot to do.

Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman said that no specific proposals were made. There are specific proposals, not just in the guidelines for the long-term and youth unemployed, but in the 1 billion ecu programme for small and medium-sized enterprises and the 400 million ecu programme for specific job and skills programmes for the unemployed.

Fourthly, the right hon. Gentleman gave us the usual litany about the social chapter and asked how it can be squared with the guidelines. It can be squared very easily. Most people in Europe—indeed, most sensible people in the world—do not believe that there is anything inconsistent in having a highly effective, efficient work force and treating people with minimum standards of fairness. Unlike the Conservative party, they do not have a problem with that. The social chapter has two parts so far: the first allows companies that operate Europewide to consult their work force, and the second gives unpaid, parental leave to people who have just had a birth in the family. Why it is thought those measures are so terrible and will hamper British industry, I do not know. As far as I am aware, business is perfectly happy with them.

As for disability benefit cuts, it was the former Government who undermined disability benefit provision, not us.

On unfair tax competition, the right hon. Gentleman has again got it wrong. Discussion has been going on for a long time—under the previous Administration as well as ours—to try to prevent specific benefits from being given to non-resident companies in the tax treatment of those companies in particular countries. British companies are victims of that problem, rather than perpetrators, so it is in our interest to be part of those discussions. All that is being suggested is that a Europewide code of conduct should be drawn up: it is not a proposal for legislation.

It is not the same thing—it is different.

Finally, on the national action plans that each country is supposed to draw up, we have been at the forefront because the whole purpose of what we are trying to achieve is to refocus attention in Europe away from some of the older methods of assisting job creation and on to the things that will make people more employable in today's labour markets, in particular education in skills and technology and help for small businesses. That is precisely the agenda of the Government here at home. It helps us if that is the agenda abroad as well. I must point out to the Leader of the Opposition and his hon. Friends that there is a tremendous opportunity for Britain to get that agenda accepted at the moment, but it will be accepted only if it is advanced constructively and sensibly.

One of the omissions from the jobs summit was the job-creation significance of north American and far eastern investment in Europe's regional development areas. Therefore, was there a special study at the summit of the Irish Republic's tremendous success in 1996, when it won more new green-field, inward investment projects than all the United Kingdom's assisted areas put together, by an emphasis on the quality of its labour force and environment and not on low wages and deregulated labour markets?

My hon. Friend will know that we have received a lot of inward investment here and we continue to do so. However, he is entirely right in that we do not want people to come here for reasons of low wages and, by and large, that is not why they are coming. They want to come here. If we can show that we have an educated and skilled work force that is adaptable to the forces of economic change and if we can make the improvements in our education and welfare systems that the Government are undertaking, we can attract more inward investment to this country and not less.

While welcoming the involvement of the European investment bank in new lending and the emphasis on small business, labour market flexibility and a genuine internal market, may I ask when we will get the comparable statistics of which the statement speaks, so that we can compare properly unemployment figures in our and neighbouring countries, bearing in mind what the previous Government did to the employment figures?

Does the Prime Minister recognise that regional funds will continue to be vital to the older industrial areas, such as the coal mining and textile areas in Britain, if we are to create jobs there and that the amount of increased investment that we will need in education and training is beyond anything that has been committed so far?

Finally, does the right hon. Gentleman fully support the wording in the presidential statement, for which 1 presume he is also responsible, that proceeding to the third stage of economic and monetary union will indeed be conducive to stability, growth and employment?

In relation to the figures given and to comparable figures, the national action plans should provide some basis for proper comparison, although I agree that there is a longer-term problem in that statistics are compiled in different ways in the individual countries. There is a separate European initiative to bring those statistics into line with one another, which is on-going, as they say. In due course, we should get a better series of comparable statistics than those we have.

On industrial restructuring, there is a very different approach here, which is to accept that there will be restructuring in Europe. Obviously there can be a debate about how far monetary union will be conducive to economic stability, but the one thing that people are sure about is that with a single currency in Europe there will undoubtedly be enormous transparency of costs. That will of itself force an enormous amount of restructuring. The approach set out here is not to try to ward off that restructuring, but instead to cope with it by bringing new investment into the areas where it is taking place and ensuring that we have the measures in place for the long-term unemployed in particular, who will require retraining in the longer term.

As for education and investment, I do not want to go over what we say at every Question Time on Wednesday, but we are putting a substantial additional sum of money into our schools next year with the school repairs programme of £1.3 billion. If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for pointing it out once again, that is more money than the Liberal Democrats asked for before the election.

Did any of the Prime Minister's European colleagues offer so much as a scintilla of regret that we were not joining the single currency in 1999?

I have to say that it was not a subject discussed by us at the meeting.

To what does the Prime Minister attribute the fall in British unemployment?

Yes. It is correct that British unemployment has come down, though I have to say that there are still other countries in Europe that are committed to the social chapter. Indeed, they have a minimum wage and have lower unemployment rates than in Britain. We have always said that we must focus on those households with people of non-pensioner age which have nobody working. That is why I say that we still have a long way to go in this country, which is why we have introduced the new deal for the unemployed.

If the Prime Minister supports one of the aims of the jobs summit, which is to encourage previously excluded groups to go back to work, why are the Government introducing cuts in child benefit to single mothers, proposed by the Conservatives when they were in government? Because they affect single mothers who are out of work, as well as those who are in work, they will tend to act as a disincentive to their returning to work.

I do not think that Conservative Members are in a position to put those questions to us, as they were the ones who introduced the benefit cuts. If my hon. Friend looks at the Budget proposals put forward by the Chancellor in July, she will see that single parents are given specific additional help with child care to help them find work. Measures are being put in place to take people off benefit and into work. However, it is extremely important that we keep within the tough spending guidelines that we have set, because they are right. Whatever irresponsibility may have occurred on the part of the previous Government, it does not occur here.

If the Prime Minister thinks that the minimum wage has nothing to do with unemployment figures, to what does he attribute the high youth unemployment in France and particularly in Spain, where it is nearly 40 per cent? Does he think that the minimum wage has nothing whatever to do with unemployment?

If one looks at France, for example, a criticism that we have made is that if the minimum wage is applied in full, even to young people in training, it can cause problems for young people. That is why we have said that that will not happen here. There are many countries with lower unemployment rates than Britain that have minimum wages. Austria, the Netherlands and the United States of America all have minimum wages but lower unemployment rates than Britain. It is important to introduce a minimum wage sensibly and make it part of a general system of reform, so that this country does not end up, as we did under the previous Government, spending £3 billion a year through family credit subsidising low pay. That is not a sensible use of public resources. It is far better to introduce a proper minimum wage and ensure that people are paid at the proper rate for the job.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in view of what has been happening in the Asian economies in the past few months and particularly the past few days, we want to hear no lectures of the kind that we heard constantly from the last Government about using undiluted market forces to resolve the problems of the economy and particularly jobs? Many areas of Britain—some 20 or 30 in total— used to have old smokestack industries that were closed by the Tory Government, who are still downsizing the Tory party. Even if there were an economic upturn over and above what is happening today, there is a legacy in each of those areas: the last five or six years of pit closures meant that hardly a single miner had another job to go to, and the social fabric is in decay. We need to deal with those issues, not by means of a European job summit but through old-fashioned intervention from this Labour Government to make sure that those areas and pit villages, where as many as 40 per cent. of people are unemployed, have a chance to work again.

I agree with my hon. Friend. Inevitably, no matter how well the economy is doing in general terms, some areas will be left behind by industrial restructuring and change. That is why the jobs summit focused specifically, as a separate item almost, on those who will be long-term unemployed and who cannot get back into work simply because of the general upturn in economic circumstances. Of course, that is why we have the welfare to work new deal programme here. It is precisely to help to tackle some of those pockets of structural long-term and youth unemployment. It is precisely by investing in their skills and through additional resources to improve the education system that we shall give those people a better chance and a better opportunity.

That is what I would call the third way. It is not old-style intervention, but it is intervention and a recognition that markets fail. We should live in a market economy and we want a dynamic market economy, but in some areas the market will fail. One of the things that mark out the Government from their predecessor is that we recognise that, and are prepared to intervene where that is necessary.

Was there any consideration at the summit of the issue of structural funds? They have been extremely important in areas such as mine, which benefits from objective 1 and objective 5b in the creation of employment. What is the Government's attitude to the continuation of structural funds and will the Prime Minister guarantee that this matter will at least be discussed in Cardiff in June?

Yes, I can give the hon. Lady that assurance. Paragraph 34 of the European Council's conclusions deals with structural funds. In essence, it says that it is important that we reform those structural funds; that will be necessary as part of the process of enlargement and to make sure that the money goes to the areas in which it is really needed. It is also important to recognise that it made a clear commitment in principle to continuing the basis of structural funds for the future.

In welcoming the Prime Minister's statement, may I ask whether he agrees that, both in philosophy and in specific direction, the summit is tied in very much in accord with the Government's policies? Will he ask his Ministers at European level and specifically at Government level to take into account the question of flexibility of seasonal employment, which is a major issue in my constituency and in many others?

I think that people recognise that seasonal employment, particularly in areas such as the one that my hon. Friend represents, is a particular subject which needs care and attention. Of course he is right to say that the measures that we have outlined at the European summit chime in very much with the Government's priorities both in terms of the new deal for the long-term and young unemployed, and in the treatment of small businesses. This Government have cut corporation tax and taxation on small businesses to their lowest ever level. That is precisely the right direction for Europe to go as well.

The Prime Minister has rightly emphasised the importance of reducing the cost burden on business, and particularly on small and medium-sized businesses. Will he remind the House how he thinks that that objective will be served by, for example, the Chancellor's recent measures on pensions, which are bound to increase the cost burden on businesses? The minimum wage, if it is to have the effect that the Prime Minister and the Government want to claim in social terms, must surely also have the effect of increasing business costs.

As I have just said, it was this Government who cut corporation tax for business and particularly for small businesses. In July, we took the measures that were necessary to bring the structural budget deficit under control. We did that because the worst thing that could happen for business and in particular for small businesses is to go through an economic cycle of boom and bust as has happened many times in the past. I know from the conversations that I had with small businesses at the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s, that the worst thing that happened to them was that they were plunged from a boom into a deeper recession than they had ever known. Many of them went out of business. Stability for them and prudence in public finances—prudent monetary policy—are absolutely essential.

As for the minimum wage, I think that many small businesses will welcome the fact that they will compete on the basis of some minimum standards of fairness. Of course it must be set at a proper and sensible level, but if it is set at that level we shall find, as people in the United States and elsewhere find, that it is of assistance to businesses, not a burden on them.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and the sensible measures that were agreed at the jobs summit in Luxembourg, but does he agree that it is a matter of regret that the Opposition have expressed their continuing opposition to improvements in the social dialogue between employers and employees in the European Union?

Yes, I agree with that entirely. Raucous scorn greets any mention of discussing things with the social partners—with employers and unions. I should have thought that it was perfectly sensible that, before a European summit on jobs, we discuss with both sides of industry how this programme should be carried through. Why that is going to be detrimental to the interests of the European economy, I do not know. What is surely important is that, if we are making structural change in Europe, we try to take both sides of industry with us, that we listen to their concerns about some of the costs and burdens that they face, and that we consider how we might remove them. Our meeting with employers and unions before the summit was constructive and we will meet them again before our summit in Cardiff.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what the minimum wage rate is in the United States and the reasons why the Clinton Administration have kept it so low that it is almost irrelevant?

No, I do not believe that that is true at all. Indeed, before the last presidential election, there was agreement even between the republicans and the democrats to raise the minimum wage. If the hon. Gentleman considers the recent work that has come out of the United States, he will find that most people believe that having some form of minimum wage assists the way in which the labour market functions. I am sorry to say to Conservative Members that they will be left behind on this issue as they have been on many others.

Can the Prime Minister tell us whether the jobs summit discussed the renewed challenge by the Boeing corporation to the European Airbus consortium? Is it possible for him to say when the Government will decide on the application by British Aerospace for launch aid on a new version of the A340? May I tell him that 2,800 of my constituents make the wings for Airbus aircraft, and hope that the application might go forward and that jobs are not exported abroad?

Of course the application for launch aid must be considered in the normal way and I would not want to comment on that at this stage. But our support for the Airbus project is well known and total. We believe that Britain has an important role to play in that, but, of course, all applications for launch aid must go through the normal business of determining whether they meet the criteria. We welcome those skilled jobs and the work by the British work force in relation to Airbus and of course we will do everything that we can to keep them.

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the process of artificial convergence to achieve the criteria for establishing a single currency within certain core countries in the European Union has benefited employment? Is it not true that, on the evidence, the opposite seems to be the case? This winter, the federal German republic will have unemployment of probably 5 million and Spain's unemployment rate is at 20 per cent. In this country, is it not true that an independent central bank has masterminded four out of the five interest rate increases that have taken place under this Administration?

No, I cannot agree with that. Interest rates have had to go up since the election. They should have gone up before the election. That was the clear and obvious advice because an incipient inflation problem was back in the system again. The last thing that we should do is repeat the mistakes at the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s, when, under Tory boom-and-bust policies, interest rates went to 15 per cent. and stayed there for almost a year. We have to avoid that. The best way of doing so and the best way for this country's future is to ensure that interest rate decisions are taken not on a political, short-term basis, but on a genuine assessment of the right monetary policy for this country.

In relation to convergence in the rest of Europe, of course other countries would dispute what the hon. Gentleman has said. All I can say is that, at present, their interest rate and inflation rate performance is low. Britain is in a different stage of the economic cycle and in a different position. That is one of the reasons for our position on monetary union, but each country has to decide what is in its best interest.

Did the jobs summit deal with the paradox of investment: it is required to create new jobs, but it can, on occasions, get rid of old jobs? It is needed for competitive purposes, but, unless it takes place within a framework of intervention, there will be problems about whether the investment delivers more jobs in the long run. [Interruption.]

What my hon. Friend has said is sensible, contrary to what Conservative Members think. It is important that we recognise that we need high levels of investment, which is precisely why we want a stable long-term economic strategy, both for this country and for Europe. Obviously, some of that investment—if it is in new technology, for example—can displace jobs. The answer is not to fail to put in the new technology; it is to focus, as the employment summit did, precisely on what is needed: reskilling, better education, lifelong learning and ensuring that when people do become unemployed they have the chance to get a fresh job. I should have thought that that was a sensible approach.

Can the Prime Minister say whether non-wage labour costs will increase under his Government?

We have made a specific commitment here to try to keep them as low as possible, and that is precisely what we will do.

Does my right hon. Friend share my feeling of dismay that when he comes to the House to make a statement about what this Government and other Governments in Europe are doing to create job opportunities for young unemployed people, the Opposition resort to howls of derision and jeers? Does he agree that every time an hon. Member crosses the Floor of the House from the Opposition side to our Benches, he leaves behind a Tory rump both leaner and meaner?

Does my right hon. Friend further agree that an economy the size of Europe has the potential to be as successful an engine for creating jobs as the economy of the United States of America, which, under President Clinton and with a minimum wage, has created so very many more jobs than have been created in Europe, with Europe not pulling together? Now that we are pulling together, will we see the benefits in Europe?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in his description of what happens with the Opposition. I find it extraordinary that they should disparage the idea of a European jobs summit that focuses on some of the issues of long-term youth unemployment. If they look at the figures, they will realise that it is not true that Britain is miles ahead of everyone else. There are countries with lower rates of long-term unemployment, with lower rates of youth unemployment and with lower overall rates of unemployment. It is true that the measures that we take will improve that position enormously, but it is also true that there is a long way that we need to go.

It is tremendously important that we are in Europe, able to play a constructive role and able to provide leadership and direction, not just for our own country, but for Europe. The single market is tremendously important for British business and British jobs. It is in our interests to be able to complete that single market and to be able to play a leading role and influence the rest of Europe in our own direction—but we cannot do that if the country is represented by people who simply continue shrilly and irrelevantly to shout against Europe rather than get in and make it work.

How can the Prime Minister boast in Luxembourg about ending burdensome regulation when he is sentencing British companies to compulsory new laws under the social chapter? Does his earlier answer suggest that neither of the existing directives nor any of the four proposed directives under the social chapter will impose any cost on British business?

What the directives do is allow a perfectly fair framework of employment regulations in this country.

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the unpaid parental leave directive, which gives people a bit of unpaid parental leave, will destroy British industry? The hon. Gentleman also refers to a directive that allows consultation with people in companies with 1,000 or more employees operating on a Europewide basis. Before the election, when the Conservative Government had opted out of the social chapter, British companies were joining it because they found it sensible to do so. I remember that, during the election campaign, the hon. Member and other Conservative Members said that if we signed the social chapter 500,000 jobs would leave Britain. That was nonsense. However, he and his hon. Friends continue to say that with all the certainty and conviction of mediaeval school men, which is precisely what they are becoming.

Will my right hon. Friend agree with me that the new Labour Government's attitude towards training and education will help to inspire employers to create the 50,000 new jobs expected in Kent's Thamesside, which includes my constituency?

Yes, that is absolutely right. By focusing on raising education standards, we raise the value of human capital, thereby raising the performance of the overall economy.

Does the Prime Minister accept that joining a European single currency will inevitably lead to high levels of regional unemployment? Was that discussed at the summit?

No, I do not accept that. It will depend on whether a single currency is successful. If it is successful, I do not believe that what the hon. Gentleman describes will occur.

British Board Of Film Classification

4.15 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 24, to debate an important matter that requires specific and urgent consideration, namely,

the conduct of the British Board of Film Classification.
I am most grateful for the opportunity to raise this issue, and for the support of the hon. Members for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner) and for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and of some Conservative Members.

Since 1984, the BBFC has had absolute power to determine which videos are or are not legal to watch in the United Kingdom, yet it is accountable to no one, other than furnishing the occasional opaque and bland report. Lately, its director, James Ferman, has passed a series of extremely violent and unpleasant videos, including one depicting people gaining sexual gratification from serious motor accidents. Certification for that film was given against the advice of the child psychologist whom the board itself had consulted.

It has been widely leaked that, as a consequence of the passing of such films, the Home Secretary is contemplating sensible measures to appoint a stronger chairman to replace Lord Harewood and to take action to make the organisation more accountable.

I ask for a debate today because it appears that Mr. Ferman and his cronies are using what may be their last few weeks of freedom to rush through certification of a series of films that a Customs official has described as "hard-core pornography", undermining Government action to prevent pornography.

This is not simply a matter of taste. Such films are widely used by paedophiles not only to cultivate their own tastes but to corrupt children. As I have one of the United Kingdom's best special investigation units in my local police force, I am very conscious of that fact. Once a video has been classified as acceptable, we have removed the statutory power to prevent it from being shown.

The British Board of Film Classification exists to protect vulnerable people, particularly children, from becoming victims of those who swallow a diet of mindless violence and filth. The board is manifestly failing in its duty. The Government need quickly to appoint a new chairman, and Parliament needs an urgent debate on the matter.

I have listened very carefully to what has been said, and I have to give my decision without stating a reason. I do not consider that the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24. I cannot, therefore, submit the application to the House.

Orders Of The Day

Greater London Authority(Referendum) Bill

4.18 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Today is the second day of the Bill's Committee stage, as you—

Order. If this is a point of order on the Committee stage, it is a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means.

It deals with the Bill's Report stage and Third Reading.

Today is the Bill's Committee stage. At last Thursday's business questions, the Leader of the House, in the conventional way, announced this week's business. She said that, this Wednesday, the Bill would have its Third Reading. No provision has been made for a Report stage. No one can know—not even the Government, in their arrogance, can presume—that no amendments will be agreed in Committee.

I therefore ask you, Madam Speaker, to make it absolutely clear that the House is entirely free to amend the Bill in Committee; that, if it is amended, there will be a Report stage; that time will have to be found for the Report stage; and that time will have be found to table amendments between the end of the Committee stage and the Report stage.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. Hon. Members must be given ample opportunity to table further amendments on Report, if we have a Report stage. That is the normal way to proceed, and it will be the way that we deal with this Bill.

Considered in Committee [Progress, 19 November.]

[SIR ALAN HASELHURST in the Chair]

Clause 1

Referendum

Amendment moved [19 November]: No. 15, page 1, line 9, leave out 'an elected assembly' and insert

'an assembly of leaders of London boroughs'.—[Mr. Ottaway.]

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following amendmenty: No. 16, page 1, line 10, leave out 'separately' and insert 'directly'.

No. 17, in schedule, page 6, line 4, leave out 'an' and insert 'a directly'.

No. 28, in schedule, page 6, line 4, leave out 'a separately elected assembly' and insert
'an assembly of leaders of London boroughs'.

Conservative Members wish to associate themselves with the comments by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).

The amendment would ensure that, in the referendum, we were voting for an assembly of borough leaders rather than for the directly elected assembly proposed by the Government. Our objections to the directly elected assembly are many, the first being that there would be no formal links between the boroughs and the authority. The Minister for London and Construction has several times said that there would be no such links. Those of us who remember the old Greater London council know that an anti-borough culture persisted throughout the life of that organisation, but it worked both ways—the boroughs were hostile to the GLC, too. None of us felt that that was conducive to the effective operation of local government.

Our second objection to a directly elected assembly is the resentment that the idea is currently creating among the boroughs. It is clear from the briefest scrutiny of the Green Paper that there will be an erosion of the boroughs' powers.

Having read the Green Paper, I calculate that there are no fewer than 15 points where the boroughs' powers will be eroded, despite the denials made before the election— and, indeed, since. There are, in fact, four main areas where those powers will be eroded—planning, transport, waste management and finance. Individually, they may be small items, but collectively, they add up to significant dangers for the boroughs, and represent an opportunity for two large secretariats to be established—one for the mayor and one for the assembly.

The Minister shakes his head, but if we have the sort of intrusion into the boroughs' powers outlined in the Green Paper, either we shall have a highly intelligent load of assemblymen who are capable of doing everything on their own without any secretarial back-up— if that is the case, we shall see pigs flying down Whitehall—or there will have to be a large secretariat.

Our third objection is that the proposals will result in rather oddball jobs for the assemblymen. These assemblymen will have no borough links, and that will mean nothing but trouble. Their only job will be to hang around city hall and veto the mayor. The only way that they can get into the headlines will be to cause trouble. After a while, they will realise that if they go on saying yes to the mayor, their insignificant lives will continue to be insignificant; but if they say no, on will go the television lights, out will come the notepaper and pads, and pencils will grind away. If the assemblymen have no borough links, the assembly will be nothing more than a talking shop, and it will lead to conflict, deadlock and indecision.

Let there be no doubt; the Conservatives want an assembly. It is wrong to suggest that our proposed assembly of borough leaders is not an assembly. We accept that if there is to be a mayor, it is essential to hold him to account. We believe that that will be best done through an assembly of borough leaders. We do not want a Greater London council mark II, or a slimmed-down version. We want an assembly of people with local knowledge at the heart of decision making—people who understand local issues and can represent them in London's authority. They work with their chief executive every day, solve borough problems, and deal with matters that affect people at a local level.

The great advantage is that an assembly of borough leaders would form a bridge between the mayor and the boroughs. A directly elected assembly would be a barrier between the mayor and the boroughs. That is at the heart of our objection.

An assembly of borough leaders would be more skilled, would have more talent, would be cheaper, would avoid the bureaucratic costs and secretariats that I have described, and, above all, would avoid the anti-borough culture that concerns us. It would strengthen links with the local community.

The Minister has given us a clue that he does not agree with our proposals. The leader in The Times on 30 July said
"Political power must be placed with the Mayor. The functions of the Greater London Authority should be two-fold: an open forum for the proper accountability of the chief executive and a facilitator of co-operation between the Mayor and the boroughs. That would be best achieved through an indirectly elected entity consisting of the 32 borough council leaders and the Corporation of London. This arrangement would ensure the unique mandate of the mayor and provide a direct link"—
a direct link—
"between the two most significant aspects of London's administration."
I could not put it better myself.

The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) said on an earlier amendment that we have had one or two lines from the Minister and his colleagues, but there has been no explanation why our proposal is not right. The majority of London councils are controlled by the Labour party. The Minister may not trust them to do a good job, but that situation will not continue for ever. Come the local elections next May, there will probably be a significant change in the composition of our proposed assembly. The Minister must convince the House why our proposal is not better than his.

Not surprisingly, the Minister could not resist responding to the editor of The Times. He said:
"In these circumstances we are absolutely convinced that the mayor must be held to account. This can be best done by an elected body with specific powers to scrutinise what the mayor proposes and does."
There again are the words "can be best done", without any explanation. Explaining why he does not think that our proposals will work and why the editor of The Times— and the editor of The Daily Telegraph, for that matter— is wrong, the Minister goes on
"Each leader would, quite rightly, see his or her first loyalty as fighting for his or her own patch rather than the wider interests of London as a whole."
That sums it up. The Minister cannot stand the thought of someone fighting for his or her own patch. It also confirms our long-held suspicion. Although the Minister said on Second Reading that he had an open mind on the electoral system to be used, he has already decided on one. First past the post would allow people to fight for their own patch.

The Minister is, in effect, saying that he wants to sever the constituency links so that people think strategically. He has, however, created a hurdle for himself, because no one will be able to fight for his or her own patch. Labour is not going that far, even in Scotland or Wales.

4.30 pm

What message does the Government's proposal send to voters? The Green Paper makes it clear that the proposed London transport authority will have a hands-on role with regard to roads. I come back to an example I gave the Minister on Second Reading. I believe that the Coulsdon bypass is important. I have written to the Minister for Transport in London, and she has replied. She told me, through her noble Friend the Minister for Roads, that I was one of about 150 people who had written in a similar vein. In fact, so many people have written that we are having a job lot meeting in a few days' time, when we can make our points together. I am fighting for that bypass on behalf of my constituents. In future, that job will be handed to the LTA. Who will fight for that road?

I shall not be able to fight for the road, because I shall not be a member of the LTA. Local councillors will not be able to fight for it because they will have no link with the LTA. The assemblymen on the LTA will not be able to fight for the road, because they will not be allowed to fight for their own patch. The lobbying will be done by public relations firms, which means that it is the people with the most money who will win.

In that case, there will be no lobbying for the Coulsdon bypass. What is the point of an authority such as that proposed in the Bill? The Minister is saying to prospective assembly members, "Once you have been voted in, we do not want to hear from you, because there will be no fighting for your own patch and local views will not be welcome."

There is no doubt that our proposals for an assembly have considerable merit. They also have some support inside the London Labour party. One of the joys of being in opposition is the brown envelope that suddenly turns up. I have here an extract from a report of a meeting of the Greater London Labour party executive, which says:
"For the London executive, the discussion has been going on for a couple of years, for others, less. But we keep coming up with the wrong answer: No to a directly elected mayor. It appears that Londoners are a little dim. Ask them two separate questions ('Do you want an elected assembly?' and 'Do you want a directly elected mayor?') and they come over all faint. According to our leaders"—
I can only assume that that means Ministers—
"if we ask two questions we are likely to end up with a mayor but no assembly."
That is no surprise, but this is the first news we have had that it is the view of the Greater London Labour party executive.

The Minister may say that it is not. The report continues

"The Chair Jim Fitzpatrick MP manipulated the meeting shamelessly to avoid even indicative votes."
That is the way in which the Labour party has been considering the proposals. We know that there is deep-rooted support for a London assembly, and I urge the Committee to support the amendments.

I want to stick to the detail of amendments Nos. 16 and 17.

I believe that they have merit, in that they will clarify to the electorate and make certain in statute a phraseology that will be appropriate for the purpose of establishing a directly elected mayor and a directly elected assembly in separate elections. The manner of election could not then be altered by the White Paper, or by the Government changing their mind after the passage of the Bill.

We have heard from the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) his strong desire for an indirectly elected mayor drawn from the ranks of the assemblymen. If, as amendment No. 16 seeks, a directly elected mayor were written into the phraseology of the Bill, that could not happen.

There is a strong body of opinion within the Labour movement in London, particularly in municipal circles, for the mayoralty to be indirectly elected and drawn from the ranks of the assemblymen. In that way, the assembly would have much more control over who would be appointed to the job. He or she would be in essence one of them, sharing the same culture and the same roots in local government within the Labour movement in London.

It is also exceedingly important that the electorate should know that the assemblymen would be directly elected. In that respect, I take a slightly different view from my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), but not as regards objectives.

Like my hon. Friend and others on the Opposition Front Bench, I believe passionately in the importance of ensuring that borough opinion is represented on the assembly in the most effective manner possible. After all, Londoners identify with their boroughs. Traditionally, they draw most of their services from and elect their councillors for their boroughs, and, to a greater or lesser extent, there is a geographical, social and economic identity within a borough boundary.

In promoting the Bill, the Labour party seeks to move away from the traditional roots that are of the essence of our local democracy in London. We are led to believe that there may not even be constituencies, or, if there are, that they will be very large and not in any sense conterminous with the boroughs. They will be based on the prospective European Parliament constituencies within London, which encompass much greater areas.

I would argue that the assemblymen will require different personal qualities from those necessary for a borough leader. Assemblymen will be scrutineers. They will not need the talent, aptitude and background of executive action—the qualities necessary for an effective borough leader. The better they do their job on the assembly at the Middlesex Guildhall or wherever, the more time they will spend scrutinising the mayor's budget and challenging and testing his programmes, his policies and his projects for London.

It would be better if the assemblymen were directly responsible to the electors in their boroughs in exercising that scrutineering function. Furthermore, it would be much more appropriate if their term of office exactly coincided with that of the mayor—which could not happen if they were indirectly elected. In fact, halfway through the term of a particular borough representative on the London assembly, a borough leader could find himself out of office by virtue of a local borough election.

In respect of continuity and from a practical perspective, borough leaders are exceedingly busy people. Their primary duty is managing a very complicated municipal operation on behalf of their electors. Most of them also have other careers. They are not full-time, paid politicians, as are many right hon. and hon. Members, and certainly Members of the European Parliament. The additional burden of travelling large distances across London to attend assembly meetings will not always be either easy or possible to fit in with the borough leaders' primary responsibility to their borough councils and electors.

If borough leaders fulfil poorly their responsibilities as scrutineers of and checks on the executive power of the mayor, their borough electors should be able to replace them or place some sanction on them. If they are merely indirectly representative of their boroughs—borough leaders seconded from their primary purpose of fulfilling a role on the assembly—and fulfil the role badly, it will be much harder for their electors to exercise any sanction on them, especially if they fulfil their primary responsibility of running their own borough well.

I whole-heartedly support my hon. Friends' strong determination to make absolutely sure that the voice of the boroughs is heard because that is what matters to Londoners. The concerns of my electors in west London and people in Hillingdon are utterly different from those in the City or the east end.

Under the electoral arrangements proposed by the Opposition, there is no way of ensuring that local interests are represented directly on the assembly and have an effect on the policies being promulgated and enacted by the mayor. There is much greater likelihood of ensuring that local interests are represented if there is a directly elected assembly—especially if the representatives on the assembly come from the borough. I would suggest one directly elected representative for each borough.

That said, I support the aims of my hon. Friends' amendments. I also hope that the Government realise that specifically inserting the words "directly elected mayor" and "directly elected assembly" would ensure that there was no possibility of jiggery-pokery after the Bill is passed.

The Liberal Democrats will not be supporting amendment No. 15, for many of the reasons that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) has just described. He made a very powerful set of arguments for not supporting the idea of London borough leaders attempting to hold to account a directly elected mayor, as the Conservative party favours. I shall expand on that slightly.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) argued strongly for a role for borough leaders, and we on the Liberal Democrat Benches would not disagree. One of the concerns that we will have, especially in the detailed consideration of the Bill that will bring the authority into its final shape, will be the relationship between the boroughs and the new authority. The danger is that, if that relationship is not clear in the referendum, the credibility of the Government's advocacy of a mayor and an authority could be undermined.

We want to ensure that we have a regional authority which gives strategic direction and a clear strategic lead in London. We want that authority to work full time on behalf of Londoners, dealing with matters that are not about hoovering up powers from local government but about taking powers away from the House and Whitehall.

One of the lessons that we should be drawing from the experiences of the Greater London council is that, all too often, there were turf wars between the GLC and London borough councils about who had responsibility for taking matters forward. The hon. Member for Croydon, South highlighted some areas where that tension could recur under the proposed arrangements.

The solution is not simply borough leaders holding an elected mayor to account. It is the Liberal Democrats' view that that is a recipe for blurred accountability. A question mark would hang over such an indirectly elected assembly about its mandate from the people of London to stand up to a directly elected mayor. Such a directly elected mayor could legitimately question the authority of such an indirectly elected body.

We have seen how inadequate the joint boards of representatives from each London borough—which were set up in 1986 when the GLC was abolished—have been as a means of holding services across London to account. Creating a larger joint board of London borough leaders as a way of holding an elected mayor to account is inappropriate.

For those reasons, we do not support the amendments. However, we believe very strongly that they represent a view which needs to be reflected in debate on the referendum. I hope that Ministers will reflect on the points that have been made. Those made by the hon. Member for Croydon, South have some support in London, although we would argue that they do not have adequate support.

Let the people decide, and be able to express their view. The Minister should explain in more detail his reasons for advocating his position. Let us have a chance to campaign and advocate our position. It should not be for this place to decide the structure of government in London: it should be for the people of London to decide.

4.45 pm

I support amendment No. 15, for two reasons.

The Government are setting some precedents about the way in which they are proposing to establish regional government. The Minister was rightly rebuked by the Liberal Democrats on Second Reading for construing the Bill as a strengthening of local democracy. It is in practice no such thing, but the establishment of a regional tier of bureaucracy.

If that regional tier is established in the way the Government propose, with no direct relationship with the boroughs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) eloquently explained, emphasis on the supposed strategic overview will simply lend distance to the body, as distinct from the day-to-day concerns of boroughs, which are often the most important aspect of the scrutiny, and must be applied to the directly elected mayor.

It is clear that many aspects need to be applied to the scrutiny of the executive actions of the directly elected mayor in appointments, and so on. At the heart of that scrutiny is that done on behalf of the boroughs and the interests of many London communities. If such interests are not—by means of the amendment—represented directly on the authority, there will be tension between the authority and the boroughs, most likely represented by the borough leaders.

It is far preferable that we legislate now for a constitution that puts those principal tensions, interests and concerns together in an authority, where they can be properly resolved, than leave them to be determined in a non-constitutional manner, perhaps through disputes such as those between the GLC and London boroughs, to which the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) referred. It is better to bring such tensions inside the authority and ensure that the boroughs' interests will be positively represented.

Last week, the Opposition argued that the people of London should be given an opportunity to vote on whether they wanted a directly elected assembly. That was the proposition that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) put to the House. The amendments before us reveal that argument as humbug, because they would rule out the possibility of a directly elected assembly. Opposition Members should think more carefully about their intentions, instead of tabling amendments that show that they can only oppose, and have no coherent view of their own.

The amendments would give Londoners the opportunity to vote not whether they are in favour of a mayor plus a directly elected assembly, but whether they want a mayor plus an assembly made up of the leaders of the 32 London boroughs. We have made it clear that that is not an option for the Greater London authority. We promised an elected assembly in our manifesto, and that is what we shall deliver.

The leaders of the London boroughs do an excellent job in representing the interests of their areas. That is their rightful role and one which we expect them to play in relation to the GLA. An effective borough leader will be in regular contact with the GLA, and an effective mayor will be in regular contact with London borough leaders.

However, the GLA should not be governed by local interests. It must be able to take a strategic overview, for the benefit of London as a whole. That will not mean riding roughshod over borough interests, but it will mean weighing up different positions and reaching conclusions to the benefit of the whole of London. Only a mayor, working with a directly elected assembly, can do that job.

The assembly will have a vital role to play in the new GLA. It will monitor the activities of the mayor and work with the mayor to devise strategies for London's development. We propose that the assembly should be able to choose Londonwide issues and investigate them, producing reports and recommendations. Those are significant jobs.

Will the Minister bear in mind the fact that certain issues are of especial importance to particular boroughs? For example, my local borough, Hillingdon, has the greatest expanse of green belt and open space in the whole of London. I believe that it is therefore necessary that someone who is directly elected, or who represents Hillingdon—as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) would argue—should be on the assembly to ensure that the important local perspective is brought to bear on the mayor's policies. A regional government might have quite different interests.

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that individual London boroughs have different interests, and it is right and proper that they should present those interests. As I have said, I expect that borough leaders will be active in meeting the mayor and putting their case. I also expect the mayor to be in regular contact with the borough leaders.

However, the hon. Gentleman himself made the forceful point that borough leaders have a job to do already. They are part-timers, many with other jobs, and have much to do looking after their boroughs' interests. It is not realistic to suggest that they can perform in addition all the functions that will be required of the assembly, including monitoring mayoral activities, participating in the decision-making process, and sitting on investigative and scrutiny committees. It beggars belief that the borough leaders would be able to do justice to those jobs. The hon. Gentleman himself made that point, as did the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow).

We have made the case for a package involving a Greater London authority made up of an elected mayor and a separately elected assembly, composed of members elected to do a specific job. The amendments would create a lopsided authority, which would be unable to deliver what the people of London expect. I invite the hon. Member for Croydon, South to withdraw them. If he does not, I invite my hon. Friends and the Liberal Democrats to vote against the amendments.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that, after we have the elections currently planned for May 2000, we could end up with an independent mayor, a Conservative assembly and a Labour Government. If the Minister honestly believes that, in that situation, regular contact with the boroughs will take the place of monitoring, working with and making recommendations to the mayor, he has a naive view of how politics works. That will be a recipe for conflict and disaster.

The Minister shakes his head, but he only has to look at the conflict and disaster between a Labour Government and a Labour Greater London council, let alone ones of different complexions. He made the point, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), that the borough leaders would be too busy. My hon. Friend expressed genuine views—

In that case, both the Minister and my hon. Friend have to explain why the borough leaders want to be on the assembly. I challenge the Minister to show me a borough leader who does not want to be on the assembly, and then I will believe him.

The hon. Gentleman may go and ask the leader of the borough in the area that I represent. Councillor Len Duvall has no aspirations to be a member of the assembly by virtue of being the leader of a borough.

I am sure that we could find someone on Greenwich council who would like to do the job.

That is because councillors have little confidence that local interests of their borough will be safeguarded by a regional government for London. They believe that the members of the assembly will be remote from the concerns that are uppermost in the minds of the people of their boroughs.

My hon. Friend is right. Borough leaders are very interested in our proposals. If the Minister thinks that borough leaders are not interested, he is in for a busy year.

The hon. Gentleman has challenged me, and I can tell him that the Association of London Government, which represents the views of the London borough leaders, has actively supported the Government's proposals.

Can the Minister then explain why the majority of London boroughs want two questions? We have the support of at least half, probably more, of the London boroughs.

I shall read him the list. We have the support of Barnet, Brent, Bromley, Hackney, Harrow, Havering, Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston upon Thames, Lambeth, Redbridge, Richmond upon Thames, Sutton, Waltham Forest, Wandsworth, Bexley and Westminster. That is not yet a complete list, because more London boroughs have yet to be counted. For the Minister to say that the ALG supports the Government's view is inaccurate, and I have the evidence that it does not.

The London boroughs are deeply concerned by the proposals, and they want more involvement than the Government propose. I invite the House to support the amendments.

Question put, That the amendment be made—

The Committee divided: Ayes 116, Noes 297.

Division No. 92]

[4.57 pm

AYES

Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Browning, Mrs Angela
Amess, DavidBruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Arbuthnot, JamesBums, Simon
Beresford, Sir PaulCash, William
Blunt, CrispinChapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, TimChope, Christopher
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaClappison, James
Brady, GrahamClark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Brazier, JulianClarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter

Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyMalins, Humfrey
Cormack, Sir PatrickMaples, John
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Duncan, AlanMawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Duncan Smith, IainMay, Mrs Theresa
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterMoss, Malcolm
Evans, NigelNicholls, Patrick
Fabricant, MichaelOttaway, Richard
Fallon, MichaelPage, Richard
Flight, HowardPaice, James
Forth, Rt Hon EricPaterson, Owen
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanPickles, Eric
Fraser, ChristopherPrior, David
Garnier, EdwardRandall, John
Gibb, NickRedwood, Rt Hon John
Gill, ChristopherRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gillan, Mrs CherylRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir AlastairRuffley, David
Gray, JamesSt Aubyn, Nick
Green, DamianSayeed, Jonathan
Greenway, JohnShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Grieve, DominicShepherd, Richard
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamSoames, Nicholas
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Hammond, PhilipStreeter, Gary
Hawkins, NickSwayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Hayes, JohnTapsell, Sir Peter
Heald, OliverTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Horam, JohnTaylor, Sir Teddy
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelTredinnick, David
Hunter, AndrewTrend, Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Tyrie, Andrew
Johnson Smith,Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Viggers, Peter
Walter, Robert
Key, RobertWaterson, Nigel
Kirkbride, Miss JulieWhitney, Sir Raymond
Lansley, AndrewWhittingdale, John
Leigh, EdwardWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Letwin, OliverWilkinson, John
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Willetts, David
Lidington, DavidWilshire, David
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Loughton, TimYeo, Tim
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
MacKay, Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David

Tellers for the Ayes:

McLoughlin, Patrick

Mr. James Cran and

Madel, Sir David

Mr. Stephen Day.

NOES

Abbott, Ms DianeBoateng, Paul
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Ainger, NickBradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Brake, Tom
Alexander, DouglasBrinton, Mrs Helen
Allen, GrahamBrown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Buck, Ms Karen
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Burden, Richard
Armstrong, Ms HilaryBurgon, Colin
Atkins, CharlotteBurstow, Paul
Austin, JohnButler, Mrs Christine
Ballard, Mrs JackieByers, Stephen
Banks, TonyCampbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Barnes, HarryCampbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Barron, KevinCampbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Bayley, HughCampbell-Savours, Dale
Beard, NigelCann, Jamie
Begg, Miss AnneCaplin, Ivor
Beith, Rt Hon A JCasale, Roger
Benn, Rt Hon TonyCawsey, Ian
Bennett, Andrew FChapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Benton, JoeChaytor, David
Bermingham, GeraldClapham, Michael

Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Hinchliffe, David
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Hoey, Kate
Home Robertson, John
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Hoon, Geoffrey
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Hope, Phil
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Hopkins, Kelvin
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Clelland, DavidHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clwyd, AnnHoyle, Lindsay
Coaker, VernonHughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Coleman, IainHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Colman, TonyHughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Connarty, MichaelHumble, Mrs Joan
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hurst, Alan
Cooper, YvetteHutton, John
Corbett, RobinIllsley, Eric
Cousins, JimJackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Cox, TomJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Crausby, DavidJamieson, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Jenkins, Brian
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Cunliffe, LawrenceJohnson, Miss Melanie
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)

(Welwyn Hatfield)

Dafis, CynogJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Dalyell, TamJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairJones, Ms Jenny
Darvill, Keith

(Wolverh'ton SW)

Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davidson, IanKeeble, Ms Sally
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Dean, Mrs JanetKeen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Denham, JohnKelly, Ms Ruth
Dismore, AndrewKemp, Fraser
Dobbin, JimKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Dobson, Rt Hon FrankKidney, David
Donohoe, Brian HKilfoyle, Peter
Doran, FrankKirkwood, Archy
Dowd, JimLadyman, Dr Stephen
Drew, DavidLaxton, Bob
Drown, Ms JuliaLepper, David
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethLeslie, Christopher
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Levitt, Tom
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Efford, CliveLiddell, Mrs Helen
Ellman, Mrs LouiseLinton, Martin
Ennis, JeffLivingstone, Ken
Fatchett, DerekLock, David
Field, Rt Hon FrankMcAllion, John
Fitzpatrick, JimMcAvoy, Thomas
Fitzsimons, LornaMcCabe, Steve
Flint, CarolineMcFall, John
Foster, Rt Hon DerekMclsaac, Shona
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)Mackinlay, Andrew
Galloway, GeorgeMcNulty, Tony
Gardiner, BarryMacShane, Denis
Gerrard, NeilMactaggart, Fiona
Gibson, Dr IanMcWalter, Tony
Godsiff, RogerMahon, Mrs Alice
Golding, Mrs LlinMandelson, Peter
Gordon, Mrs EileenMarek, Dr John
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Grocott, BruceMarshall-Andrews, Robert
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Martlew, Eric
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Maxton, John
Hanson, DavidMeale, Alan
Harman, Rt Hon Ms HarrietMerron, Gillian
Heal, Mrs SylviaMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Healey, JohnMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Milbum, Alan
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Miller, Andrew
Hepburn, StephenMoonie, Dr Lewis
Heppell, JohnMorgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hesford, StephenMountford, Kali
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMullin, Chris
Hill, KeithMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)

Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Soley, Clive
Norris, DanSouthworth, Ms Helen
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Spellar, John
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Olner, BillStevenson, George
Osborne, Ms SandraStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Palmer, Dr NickStinchcombe, Paul
Pearson, IanStoate, Dr Howard
Pendry, TomStraw, Rt Hon Jack
Perham, Ms LindaStringer, Graham
Pickthall, ColinStuart, Ms Gisela
Pike, Peter LStunell, Andrew
Plaskitt, JamesSutcliffe, Gerry
Pollard, KerryTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pond, Chris
Pound, StephenTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Powell, Sir RaymondTaylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Timms, Stephen
Primarolo, DawnTipping, Paddy
Prosser, GwynTodd, Mark
Purchase, KenTouhig, Don
Quin, Ms JoyceTrickett, Jon
Quinn, LawrieTruswell, Paul
Rapson, SydTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Raynsford, NickTurner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Rendel, DavidTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)Tyler, Paul
Roche, Mrs BarbaraVis, Dr Rudi
Rogers, AllanWallace, James
Rooker, JeffWalley, Ms Joan
Rooney, TerryWard, Ms Claire
Rowlands, TedWareing, Robert N
Roy, FrankWatts, David
Ruddock, Ms JoanWebb, Steve
Russell, Bob (Colchester)White, Brian
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Whitehead, Dr Alan
Ryan, Ms JoanWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Salter, Martin

(Swansea W)

Sanders, AdrianWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Savidge, MalcolmWillis, Phil
Sawford, PhilWills, Michael
Sedgemore, BrianWinnick, David
Shaw, JonathanWise, Audrey
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWood, Mike
Singh, MarshaWray, James
Skinner, DennisWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)Wyatt, Derek
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)

Tellers for the Noes:

Smith, John (Glamorgan)

Mr. Greg Pope and

Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)

Mr. Clive Betts.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The debate so far has been unsatisfactory because the Government have refused to move on any of their propositions and, in particular, on allowing two questions in the referendum. Outside the Government, there are very few people who support having only one question.

The Minister often accuses me of never quoting the London Evening Standard. I am happy to break that record by quoting this evening's edition, which contains an article with the unpromising—for the Minister— headline:
"Blair faces revolt over London mayor".
The article states
"Tony Blair today faced a grassroots revolt from his party activists over the Government's plans for a 'Voice of London' directly-elected mayor and assembly to run the capital.
Mr. Blair was hit by criticism of his one-question referendum next May. Many Labour branches and trade unions urge a rethink to allow at least two questions to establish if Londoners want both an assembly and a figurehead mayor brought in from outside its ranks … The submissions made to the Government about its plans also include a demand—from Mr. Raynsford's own Greenwich constituency local government committee—for the new assembly to be given tax-raising powers. Another from Ms Jackson's Hampstead and Highgate expresses 'considerable unease about the … role of the mayor' and calls for separate questions."
There is a consensus that there are two issues. [Interruption.] I can establish it in even greater detail if the House wishes. Should we have a directly elected mayor and should we have a directly elected assembly? The Conservative party's view is clear. We support a directly elected mayor, but we do not favour a directly elected assembly, and therefore want two questions in the referendum. In that, we are supported by a host of newspapers which, for some reason, the Minister never wishes me to quote against him, such as The Times and The Daily Telegraph.

The Liberal Democrats take a different view on the policy but we are at one in wanting more than one question. Some Labour Back Benchers also take a different view on the policy. It is significant that in this debate we have heard only one Back-Bench speech from a Labour Member. Even with the Minister's renowned optimism in claiming support, he could not claim that the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) was exactly coming out in support of his line.

In an earlier debate, the hon. Member for Brent, East told us that he
"went to what was called a consultation meeting of the Greater London Labour party"
at which
"Nine out of the 10 speeches opposed the principle of a separately elected mayor".
The hon. Gentleman continued:
"If we are prepared to trust Londoners, we would have a debate in which Ministers could marshall 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.'"
He added
"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."—[Official Report, 19 November 1997; Vol. 301, c. 403.]
Even with the Minister's sunny disposition, he may find it a wee bit difficult to claim that that was a declaration of undying support for his cause.

5.15 pm

Even more significantly, there are others who support the Government's proposals—though not many, to judge from tonight's speeches. The Guardian came out in favour of them. However, in a now famous—or should it be infamous—omission, the Minister did not quote its statement that while it certainly was in favour of what he was saying he should make the argument in a campaign. The point is that not only opponents but supporters of the Government's position want two questions.

The matter reveals an amazing lack of confidence. In its manifesto, the Labour party said that the purpose of its referendum was to confirm public demand. How can public demand be confirmed if the public are not allowed to express their view? The Government hope that support for a mayor will pull through the more unpopular idea of an elected assembly. Whether I am right or wrong, I believe that that proposition should be put to the test. It is the Government who have decided to hold the referendum, so they should follow the logic of their decision and allow two questions. Let London and Londoners decide, because that is the way that they wish to do it. As it stands, clause 1 is unsatisfactory and I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against it.

First, Sir Alan, I apologise for not using your new title when I spoke last Wednesday. Your elevation had temporarily escaped me.

Like the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), we believe that clause 1 should be deleted. That would allow the Bill to proceed, but we could perfectly properly go back to the matter on Report to get a first clause in proper form. We hope that the House will shortly vote to delete the clause, but I wish to amplify the reasons that I gave last week and expand on the references made by the Conservative spokesman.

Last Wednesday, under some pressure from the Opposition, the Minister conceded—for which we were grateful—that the responses to the consultation should be made available. Diligent as ever, my team went and knocked on the door of the library in Marsham street at the appointed hour of 1 pm on Friday afternoon. They were admitted and, in the four hours available to them before the library closed, they went through the responses. As a result, the world now knows the weight of the Labour party opposition to the Government's submission. I have photocopies of the relevant documents which gave rise to today's story in the Evening Standard.

It is clear from the first published analysis of the replies to the Government's consultative Green Paper on London Government that the Government's views and those of many London Labour Members of Parliament are poles apart. There is now clear evidence of widespread Labour opposition to a directly elected mayor, as well as support for a referendum with more than one question.

As we heard last Wednesday, the Government have not listened to the views of their Back Benchers, the Opposition or people outside. Perhaps the extent to which those views are in the public domain will mean that they will be taken seriously into account. I hope that they will, because if Labour Back Benchers are unhappy, they should be in a position to influence the Government.

The Minister is suggesting either that Labour Back Benchers are not unhappy or that they are in no position to influence the Government. I would put money on the latter.

I wish to cite the evidence which, to me, is unambiguous. I will start with the Minister's own constituency. The Greenwich Labour party local government committee wrote on 18 October 1997

:
"Our Committee discussed the consultation paper … Votes were taken on a number of issues which arose during the discussion, and I was asked to pass to you our views on these issues."
Interestingly, the letter was not addressed to the Minister, but to "The London Debate"—a cover-all title. It may have been embarrassing for the committee to write to its constituency Member of Parliament on this issue.

The third item on the agenda of the Greenwich committee was:
"The assembly should have tax-raising powers".
The first item was
"The principle of 'equal opportunities' should be paramount in the new structure, and this should in particular apply to candidates for mayor and for the assembly."
No one is arguing about that. The second item was
"There should be a limit on the time any one person should hold the office of mayor."
There is no great dispute about that.

The Greenwich local government committee argued specifically for tax-varying powers and suggested that the authority should have some responsibility for health in London—a suggestion which the Government have studiously ignored. My party would wish to go further than the Greenwich committee.

The Islington, South and Finsbury constituency Labour party—the constituency of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport—asked for:
"Strategic overview of health provision, and community care and long-term care"—
something for which my party has long argued. It added:
"The Mayor/Chair/Leader should be elected from amongst its membership."
It cannot be clearer than that. The constituency party also felt that the GLA
"should have the power to precept."
I shall return to that matter.

The London Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform produced a well-argued letter, saying:

"Strong feelings of disquiet were expressed that Londoners have not been consulted at all about whether they want a directly, and separately, elected Mayor for London.
A directly elected Mayor, and separately from the assembly that s/he will represent, makes it highly likely that there will differences in the policy that they want to enact … We should be very wary of introducing such a system here."
The letter argues that Londoners have not had an opportunity to indicate how they want the devolved powers to be implemented:
"Even with a longer consultation period the Green Paper does not ask for input regarding the mayor and whether a separate election is desirable".
The Belsize and Adelaide branch of the Hampstead and Highgate Labour party—the constituency of the Minister for Transport in London, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson)—produced a relatively long submission, which said:
"We appreciate that a referendum on whether to have a London Authority with a directly elected mayor was promised in the election manifesto. It would therefore be wrong to go back on this.
However, our own discussions have shown that many of those who support a Greater London Authority do not wish to go so far outside the British tradition as to support the idea of a directly elected mayor—which does have some dangers of landing us—
this is reminiscent of the speech by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) the other day—
"with inexperienced and unsuitable mayors promoted by skilled advertising campaigns."
What a surprise. The submission continued:
"This outcome is not exactly unknown in America!"
It went on to make the case for a two-question referendum.

The Brent Labour party—which covers not only the constituency of the hon. Member for Brent, East, but that of the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng)—said:
"We further believe that if the implementation of the government's proposals is to ensure democracy, accountability and probity then the Mayor should be part of the Assembly and must carry a majority in the Assembly on the same principle as the Leader of a local council or indeed the Prime Minister in Parliament."
The submission which followed the famous meeting of the Greater London Labour party regional council—about which we heard the other day—confirmed the report given to us by the hon. Member for Brent, East.
"The discussion was wide-ranging and not directed systematically to the questions in the Green Paper. The indicative votes taken at the end rejected the concept of a directly elected mayor."
It omits to state that the majority was nine to one against.

That is not correct. I was there all day and there were no votes.

The submission deals with the consultation conference on 12 October 1997, and refers to

"Workshop 1—The Mayor and Assembly."
The submission says that there were "indicative votes."[Interruption.] I was not at the conference, Sir Alan, but a conference without a vote seems a bit funny. If a vote was taken, I believe that the majority was nine to one. The Labour party can sort out whether there was a vote, but the conclusion was that there was overwhelming support for a full-time post. However, it says clearly that the
"indicative votes taken at the end rejected the concept of a directly elected Mayor."
The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) will no doubt say that this is fiction. If so, that gives even more cause for concern, as it would seem that the Labour party cannot even record its own meetings accurately. Incidentally, the London regional conference is a rare event these days—the previous conference was held in 1995.

The London Labour Mayors' Association, founded in 1920, is an august body, and there are a lot of London Labour mayors these days. The association was explicit:
"The Government's proposal for an elected Mayor with executive powers is not considered acceptable because
It would lead to the setting-up of two bureaucracies—one to serve the Mayor and one to serve the GLA. It would lead to public clashes on policies between the Mayor and the GLA and its Leader. It could lead to the installation of a too-powerful political figure. It would create an ambiguity with the present Lord Mayor of London".
Lesser bodies have also contributed. The Cambridge and Coombe Labour party is a branch of the Richmond Park constituency Labour party—not the strongest Labour party in London. It said:
"We have reservations about the idea of a directly elected Mayor, as this is not in keeping with British political traditions. However, we note that a Mayor elected by the Assembly, or by the boroughs, is not given as an option."
Well, what a surprise.

The Kingston and Surbiton constituency Labour party—again, not the biggest Labour party, but it is none-the-less relevant—asked, first, for a vote on tax-raising powers and, secondly, for a
"strong executive but answerable to and controlled ultimately by the assembly."
The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who is in the Chamber, always clearly expresses the views of his local members and voters. His constituency Labour party said:
"Most members present thought that the assembly and the mayor should not be separately elected. One member thought the mayor should be elected from those elected to the assembly."
The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) argued strongly the other day for a directly elected mayor. That is not what the Shaftesbury branch of Battersea Labour party believes. It is the only branch that submitted a response: no other branch bothered.

It may be tacit consent, or there may not be much interest in the proposals. If we go by the silent majority, we are all in trouble. The Shaftesbury branch's submission is explicit. It says:

"We are against a directly-elected Mayor. Instead, the Major should be an elected member of the elected assembly and should be chosen by that assembly."
5.30 pm

The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Ms Perham), who is a new representative, addressed the constituency party meeting, but I do not know what views she expressed. Someone was tasked—to use the new word—with giving the constituency party's comments and views in writing. The letter said:
"The mayor should not be elected separately. The mayor should not be separate from the Assembly. This would avoid conflict between the mayor and the Assembly. The mayor should be a member of the assembly, elected as a member of the assembly and elected as mayor by the assembly. The power should be vested in the Assembly not in the mayor."
It is all pretty clear.

I will make one last local party contribution and then throw a few wind-up bonus balls into the equation. I have saved a good one till last. It is a submission from my own borough—the Alleyn ward Labour party in the new Dulwich and West Norwood constituency, which is the seat of the now famous Minister for Public Health. The letter says:
"We have some doubts about the proposal for a separately elected mayor"—
not many doubts, but some doubts—
"It is not clear that the process of candidate selection by political parties, and election campaign, is suitable to produce one person with the right range of executive and strategic skills. It may be preferable to give powers to the Assembly to appoint a Leader and Chief Executive."
If I had begun the debate having not already been persuaded of the demerits of this proposal, the evidence would be weighing up against me, and I would feel under some pressure.

I can clarify the position of the Greater London Labour party executive, because we have the minutes of the meeting. The House will be interested to know that the chair of the Greater London Labour party, Jim Fitzpatrick

"bowed to pressure from delegates and agreed that workshops could submit resolutions to the closing plenary if they had strong views."
The minutes go on to say that
"when the workshop chair allowed an indicative vote on the question of a separately elected mayor",
they voted eight to one in favour.
"Some delegates passed resolutions to the chair but she declined to put them to the vote and when we got to the final plenary, Jim Fitzpatrick refused to put the views of the workshops to the vote on the grounds that they were not in the form of resolutions."

Well, well, well. I do not imagine that Nye Bevan or Herbert Morrison would have been pleased: they would not have been happy people. I knew that there was a danger in taking minutes, and an even greater danger in leaving them on the photocopier. They show that people are not happy.

There is an important point. Political parties in London work the constituencies. The evidence is now clear that all three political parties in London, and their members who have expressed views, are united.

I look forward to hearing about them. There is a strong ground-floor view in local and regional Labour parties, that we should not have the system that the Government propose, and it is shared by a Member of the European Parliament. Even if the Government do not believe that is the overwhelming view, they should at least accept that there may be another argument and that another question could be included. The Government could campaign against it: they could go into battle. The Labour party could be a pluralist party and allow the Tooting, Battersea, Hampstead and Highgate, Greenwich and Dulwich and West Norwood branches to argue their case, and the mass ranks of the Government could argue theirs. Let there be a debate; let there be an argument. Let pluralism survive. At the moment, the Government seem to be practising top-down politics 10 Downing street knows best; the non-democratic tendency.

I do not mind terribly which decision the voters make, as long as they have a choice. I would happily and warmly endorse the result. We will argue our case, and as democrats we will abide by the result. But please let us have a debate not just in the House. The Government obtained a majority of seats, although they were not supported by a majority of the electorate.

They got a majority in London by 0.5 per cent., but it is not only London Members who vote on these matters, as we shall see when we have a Division. If the Government relied only on hon. Members from relevant parts of the country, they would often have been in trouble in the past. All hon. Members vote. The Government did not obtain a majority of the popular vote at the last election they did not get a majority of those who voted, let alone those who did not vote. Let us not artificially distort the result.

The Member of the European Parliament for Central London is Stan Newens, a long-standing and experienced voice of the Labour party. He fully supports the need for a strategic authority, but says:
"I am fully in favour of an elected authority which chooses its own Mayor, but I do not agree with a directly elected Mayor which may well lead to division between the Mayor's office and the majority of Members of the Authority."
His views are significant, because he is elected by more votes than any hon. Member here as Members of the European Parliament represent larger electorates.

Wider and further away from grass roots activists are the submissions of the Southern and Eastern Regional Council of the Trades Union Congress, which makes the same point. It says in its letter:
"We have argued that, for reasons of democracy, accountability and effective government, the Mayor should be the leader of the majority group in the Assembly and therefore, he/she should not be separately elected."
Clause 1 will, in effect, confirm the Government's objective of a separately elected mayor and a separately elected assembly. We shall debate later what should be on the ballot paper. Before the Government steamroller their view through, they should take account of the views of non-political organisations, such as the London Voluntary Service Council, and of their political friends and allies.

If we want the Greater London authority to have authority, and if we want the form of London government that most Londoners want, we should listen to the submissions from both sides. I accept that the Minister will cite submissions that put another view from those that I have cited, but we should allow both cases to be put. I hope that either the House will vote to delete the clause so that it can be rewritten or, if Labour Members are not brave enough to do that, they will abstain.

The hon. Gentleman cannot abstain, because he is a Parliamentary Private Secretary, so he is tied by the apron strings. As his electorate know, he is unable to do anything without losing office. Other Labour Members—I call them Labour friends and colleagues— have democratic roots. I hope that they will be really brave and that if they do not vote that the clause should not stand part they will at least sit on their backsides and abstain. That way the Government and the House will realise that the Bill before us has not yet got the question and the proposal right for the Londonwide government that we all want and hope will happen soon.

I shall try to be brief, but since the House of Commons has had to face the constitutional monstrosity of a pre-legislative referendum Bill of this type and since clause 1 is at the heart of that proposed legislation, I urge hon. Members to think carefully about whether, because of Labour Members' mute behaviour, we may have no Report stage and no chance to reconsider what is at the heart of this legislation—as I have said many times, the House of Commons is being asked to approve the biggest municipal blank cheque in history.

As the Minister confirmed, the electors of London will have only six weeks in which to consider the final draft proposals—the White Paper. They will not have a debate on the Bill before they are called to vote in the referendum on 7 May. At best, they will have about six weeks, which will anyway be taken up with campaigns for the borough elections, which will consume most of the attention and the energies of the party activists—those are the elections which are of primary interest to the people of London.

That we should be laying down a format for a referendum before we have seen the White Paper or even debated it, and before we know the contents of the Bill, is wholly inappropriate. We do not know the voting system. We do not know whether it will be first past the post, although I think we can confidently say that it is excluded because the Government are hellbent on adopting alien and strange electoral systems that our electors comprehend very little. We do not know what the constituency basis will be, but we are pretty certain that it will not be a borough basis. That was made absolutely plain by our last debate on the subject. It will probably be a regional or Euro-constituency basis and there may even be Londonwide lists.

Our electors will have little control over the candidates that emerge from the top of those lists with a chance of election. Our electors will have no idea about the tax-raising powers. Some generalised outlines will probably be vouchsafed in the White Paper, but, without adequate scrutiny in this place and the chance of a proper debate on the legislation to enact those revenue-raising powers, the people of London will have no chance properly to make up their minds. I am sure that they will do it on the basis of folk memory—quite rightly so. Their folk memory is that the Greater London council arrogated to itself more and more powers and responsibilities and an increasingly large burden fell on the ratepayers of London as a consequence. Fortunately, I am certain that mat is the precedent that they will recall—once bitten, twice shy. Nevertheless, they should have more than six weeks of rushed consideration in the middle of a borough election campaign to consider the implications of the funding of this Greater London authority before they are called on to cast their vote on it in a referendum.

I doubt whether the electors will have any chance significantly to assess the system for the selection of the mayoral candidates. Will they be selected by Londonwide primaries or by party caucuses? Will particularly charismatic or rich individuals be in prime place? How will the funding be organised? Will they be able to bankroll their own campaigns? How will the television time be allocated? All those questions are germane. Will there be cash limits for the parties if there are party labels on the candidates, as we presume?

All those things needed to be spelled out in greater detail in the debate on clause 1. They should have been challenged, candidly, and examined more critically by Labour Members. We heard why they were not from the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who has more experience of Londonwide government than probably any other Labour Member. He is subject to the gagging order, although he does not take any notice of it. He is subject to the order relating to voting to which I referred late in the debate last Wednesday and that order has significant implications for the independence of hon. Members.

To be candid, this is a disreputable legislative exercise to which Labour Members are knowingly party. They are doing Londoners as a whole the greatest disservice. Before such a monumental change in the governance of London is instituted, before giving legislative powers to put such a referendum in place, we should know exactly what Londoners will be likely to have to vote for. Furthermore, they are entitled to two questions because they are a discriminating electorate. They may want the mayor and not the assembly, or vice versa. This is a virtually fraudulent exercise in so-called constitutional democracy and it has been exposed as such. It needs to be further exposed in debate on Report and, if we cannot do so, I hope that down the corridor their lordships can

5.45 pm

I shall be brief. The chronology which we are pursuing in these affairs relating to London is a debate last June, consultation which ended on 24 October, the referendum Bill which we are discussing, the White Paper which the Minister promised us for the week of 23 March, the referendum itself in May and, if the vote is in the affirmative, the Greater London Authority Bill thereafter and the elections in 2000. That chronology makes matters difficult for the Opposition and for Londoners, but it also makes matters a little difficult for the Government.

In our debate on 19 November, the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) dissected the Second Reading speeches on the referendum questions in support of the Minister by Back Benchers. In particular, he examined their speeches on behalf of the principle of the Bill. I think that I could neutrally claim that he did not think much of them. No Labour Member other than the hon. Member for Brent, East spoke when we discussed the referendum questions last Wednesday night, so we, let alone the hon. Gentleman, are in no position to dissect them. Perhaps, given their performance on Second Reading, they were prudent to maintain their silence.

The Minister was a little cheeky, given their silence, to argue that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) was using selective quotations, since by definition he was unable to quote them at all. Consequently, we are left only with the Minister as the voice for why the combined Greater London authority proposal is the right solution. Last Wednesday, he said:
"We shall make sure that the package that we put to Londoners is one that works".—[Official Report, 19 November 1997; Vol. 301, c. 416.]
Given the immense leap in the dark that we are making, I admired his confidence, but it is reasonable for us to ask him to be a little more forthcoming on why he has that confidence. His principal rationale to date has been the manifesto and the election result, but no manifesto and no election result can by themselves protect a Government— and thus Londoners—from folly. His justification that the Government are carrying out their manifesto pledges is itself not proof against the Government deciding, as they follow the curious reverse chronology that I outlined, that they made a mistake and were wrong in their original thinking.

The Minister owes the Committee a rather fuller account of why the Government have such particular confidence that this formulation is the right one.