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6.50 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): I am most grateful to have this opportunity to address the House for the first time. I want first to congratulate the hon. Members for Wimbledon (Mr. Casale) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) on their maiden speeches. We look forward to many similar performances and may have to indulge the occasional rally from the hon. Member for Wimbledon.

Having heard two maiden speeches from Members elected on 1 May, hon. Members might consider that I am acting with unseemly haste in making mine. In my defence, the long gap between my election and the return of the House after the long summer recess has given me a somewhat uncharacteristic impatience. Having been variously described in the by-election campaign as a Dickensian mill owner, a scaled-up version of a garden gnome, a bearded non-entity, Forrest Gump and the missing link, I feel that I am under no illusions as to what Westminster politics is all about.

I am immensely proud to represent the people of Uxbridge, but my feelings are mixed with sadness. I am sure that hon. Members of all parties will want to join me in paying tribute to my predecessor, the late Sir Michael Shersby. He was a most respected Member of Parliament. He surprised the pundits 25 years ago by winning a by-election against the prevailing political tide. From that moment on, until his untimely death in May, he served all his constituents in a faultless manner.

Sir Michael was immensely respected in Uxbridge and known for his sense of devotion and fairness. He was well thought of by hon. Members of all parties. On the day of his death there was a tangible sense of loss throughout the Uxbridge constituency. I had the privilege of serving him as constituency chairman and election agent on 1 May,

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and as I embark on my career here I miss his kind guiding hand and words of wisdom. The House, Uxbridge, and the country that he loved so much, are the poorer today.

I share the great pride in my constituency that Sir Michael always had. For me, as for him, it is and always has been home. Yesterday, as I stood at the war memorial in Uxbridge listening to the last post being sounded by a lone Royal Air Force bugler, I was once more reminded of the close links between our town and the RAF. Next year is the 80th anniversary of the establishment of RAF Uxbridge. Much of the Battle of Britain was conducted from the bunker at RAF Uxbridge, and there Sir Winston Churchill first spoke of "the few".

RAF Uxbridge is home to the Central Band and the Queen's Colour Squadron of the RAF Regiment, both units being renowned around the world. The service men and women are an integral part of the local economy. This year is the bicentenary of the formation of the Uxbridge Yeomanry. I am pleased that it is once more back in town as the Middlesex Yeomanry.

The Uxbridge Yeomanry was often called on for escort duty on royal journeys. In 1834, it escorted the sovereign on part of his journey between Windsor and Moor Park. Having successfully completed the first half of the duty, the Yeomen were liberally entertained while awaiting the return leg. In high spirits, they set off, got lost, and took the king into a ploughed field. I can assure the House that today the Yeomanry is a professional body of men and women.

The constituency is of course made up of more than Uxbridge town. It is a collection of communities: Ickenham, Cowley, Hillingdon, Colham, Yiewsley and West Drayton. Once villages, they retain today a great deal of their individual characters; but as London's boundaries have advanced, the distinctions have become slightly less well marked. Although essentially in suburbia, or metroland, many of us still consider that we live in Middlesex, rather than west London, but we are of course in Greater London, and Uxbridge football club currently holds the London Football Association challenge cup. Labour Members will no doubt be pleased to know that I am a Reds supporter.

We are a forward-looking area. We have the immensely successful and world-renowned Brunel university and science park in the constituency, as well as many fine schools. All but one of the secondary schools are grant maintained, and I believe that they are living proof of the success of the GM system.

The environment is precious to us and over the years many people have chosen to live in the constituency because of its open spaces and the sense of being in neither country nor city. We have several nature reserves. Muntjac deer graze within half a mile of Uxbridge town centre, and we have important colonies of both great crested newts and glow-worms, and much interesting bird life. Hon. Members will no doubt discover with time that wildlife and conservation hold a special interest for me, and I hope that they will also find in me as stout a defender of the green belt as my predecessor was.

I apologise to the House for indulging myself in extolling the constituency's merits, especially as I appreciate the fact that many hon. Members had the pleasure of visiting the constituency back in those balmy days in July. I thank them all for their great interest.

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I want to thank the Prime Minister, in particular, for sparing some of his valuable time to visit both Uxbridge and Yiewsley. For many of us, his personal appearance was a great morale boost. Speaking personally, I can honestly say that his visit was the icing on the cake and made the summer all the sweeter. I am a little worried, however, that other constituencies might feel somewhat jealous if we in Uxbridge alone have this great honour, so I strongly urge the Prime Minister to visit Beckenham and Winchester, so as not to be seen to have treated Uxbridge with undue favouritism.

London's importance and significance are beyond question. That is why Conservative Members recognise the need for London to have its own voice. We think that that should be through a directly elected mayor, who would be responsible for cross-London issues, such as transport, traffic and environmental matters. The mayor could work with all the London borough council leaders, using their collective experience in formulating Londonwide policy; they would have the experience and knowledge of what would work on the ground and could act as an advisory board to the mayor.

The problem with the Bill is that it lumps together the election of a mayor with that of an assembly, denying Londoners the chance to vote in favour of one without the other. The issues should be properly debated. It is legitimate to support various different permutations regarding the future of London government.

If democratic legitimacy is to be conferred on the future government structure, a two-question referendum is the proper way forward.

The Government recognised that need for two separate questions in the devolution referendum in Scotland. If they saw the need for two questions in Scotland, why not give the people of London that choice? Creating an assembly and a mayor offers the prospect of institutionalised conflict between the two, as well as clashes with the boroughs. The one question proposed in the Bill will prevent that view from being advanced without rejecting the entire package that is on offer. The Bill does not allow a choice to be made between either a mayor or an assembly, or having both.

The Green Paper proposes an entirely new structure for the government of London. The Bill as it stands offers Londoners an all-or-nothing choice. It is only right, therefore, that two questions should be put on the ballot paper. That would give Londoners a real choice over their future. Surely it is not too much to ask.

6.59 pm

Mr. Stephen Twigg (Enfield, Southgate): It is a great pleasure to speak after the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). As he said, many of us--I imagine almost all the Labour Members here--had the pleasure of visiting what is now his constituency during the by-election campaign in July. I have a particular pleasure in congratulating him on his maiden speech because I also represent a constituency where many people feel that they are a part of Middlesex, and also which is at the end of the Piccadilly line although I am at the other end. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his speech. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound), who gave

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a characteristically witty maiden speech, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Casale) on a thoughtful and intelligent maiden speech.

The manifesto on which the Labour party won the election on 1 May included an ambitious programme of democratic and constitutional reform. As my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) said, this is the next stage of a long and comprehensive programme of change--a programme that is designed to modernise our democracy and to rebuild a sense of faith and trust in the political process, to challenge the secrecy and lack of accountability that have for too long characterised British democracy. That is why we are committed to devolution, to incorporating the European convention on human rights into British law, to freedom of information, to study electoral reform and to reform the Houses of Parliament. Where we are proposing measures of great constitutional significance, we are proposing to put those measures to the people in a referendum. As has been said, we have had the referendums in Scotland and Wales. We shall have a referendum on proposals for voting reform for the election of the House and today we are discussing the proposed referendum for the Greater London assembly and mayor.

Like most hon. Members who have spoken, I have particular pleasure in supporting the Bill because I am a Londoner. I was born and bred in outer London, in the constituency that I have the privilege to represent; I have also lived and served as an elected Labour councillor in inner London. From both perspectives, I see the strong case for the change that the Government propose to introduce.

One of my earliest political memories is of the campaign against the abolition of the Greater London council. It has been instructive in preparing for this speech to look at the Second Reading debate 13 years ago and contrast the actions of the then Conservative Government--like our Government, they had a large majority--with those of the present Government.

Today, we have had more than 1,000 responses to a Government Green Paper--responses which are overwhelmingly positive about what is being proposed. In 1984, there were 800 responses, of which 95 per cent. were hostile to what was being proposed by the then Conservative Government. In 1984, we had a Government with a three-figure majority relying solely on the fact that they had a manifesto commitment to put through the changes that they wanted to make in Greater London. Today, we have a Government with a three-figure majority who are proposing to put their manifesto pledge to the people in a referendum next May. If we are to believe the opinion polls, we have a Government whose proposals for Greater London are supported by 80 per cent. of Londoners. The 1984 proposals were rejected by 74 per cent. in the opinion polls at the time.

The shadow Defence Secretary, who has been mentioned in the debate--the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young)--was then a Minister at the Department of the Environment. On 4 December 1984, he said:

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    We scarcely had a disastrous election result on 1 May.

I welcome the presence in the Chamber of the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who spoke on the same subject and sounded a note of caution when he said:

    "I suspect that the Government"--

the then Conservative Government--

    "with their very big majority, may succeed in laying the body politic of the Greater London Council to rest, but I fear that its spectre will rise to haunt us."--[Official Report, 10 December 1984; Vol. 69, c. 857.]

The spectre that is rising today, so ably predicted by the hon. Gentleman 13 years ago, is the spectre of the desire of the overwhelming majority of the people of London to have a democratic voice for our capital city.

I welcome the fact that the Conservative party is slowly coming round to our point of view on this issue. The party is now in favour of the mayor, but not of the assembly. It is halfway there. I welcome the conversion on the proposal for a mayor. Unlike the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), I think that a directly elected mayor is an exciting democratic innovation. We can have someone who will be an ambassador and a champion for the people of Greater London, providing real leadership for our capital city and making a difference to people's lives in London.

I want a mayor who can get things done and who will have real power, but that mayor has to be accountable--accountable to a strategic assembly. That is why the Government's proposals have to be treated as a package and why the Opposition are wrong to propose a mayor alone and to propose that we have two separate referendum questions. Conservative policy is shifting even on the matter of referendums, however, in the direction of the Government Benches. In June, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who was then speaking from the Conservative Front Bench, advocated a total of four referendum questions. Today, we hear that the Conservative party is in favour of two questions. Perhaps by Christmas they will have accepted the Government's approach--that a single question should be put to the people of London.

I recognise from the contribution of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that there are those who are genuinely concerned and who are putting a genuine case for two questions. In response I must ask, "Why those two questions?" We have already seen confusion on the Liberal Democrat Benches today. The original amendment, which has not been selected, advocated three referendum questions. The Liberal Democrats now advocate two. A number of important issues need to be addressed. The Government have issued a Green Paper that has 61 different questions for consultation. We can separate out many issues, such as the question of revenue-raising powers, which the hon. Gentleman, among others, mentioned, the question about policing raised by other Opposition Members and questions about the electoral system--both for the mayor and the assembly. Many different questions could be addressed in a referendum.

The very nature of the manifesto commitment that we put to the people, including the people of Greater London, was of a package with a mayor and an assembly working together. If there is not a mayor, the assembly will be very different. By definition, the sort of package outlined in

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the Green Paper rests on the idea that there is a separation of powers between a mayor and an assembly. The nature of the mayor and of the assembly on which we have consulted the people and organisations of Greater London is one in which the two exist side by side.

In a previous debate in June, Labour Members were accused of manifesto-itis. I do not think that it is manifesto-itis for us to contend that the best way of implementing the commitment that we gave the people of London on 1 May is to have a single question. We will have a referendum on the principle of what the Government propose, and Parliament will have the opportunity after that to deliberate on the detail. That is the best way forward.

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