Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I laugh at the noble Lord's suggestion that I would not have the courage to say to the Deputy Prime Minister what I believe to be right. I shall not put that point to the Deputy Prime Minister because I do not believe it to be valid. That is a point to which I shall return at some length in my summing-up.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: My Lords, I apologise to the Minister. I have heard her speak from the Dispatch Box ever since she came to this House and I would not suggest for one moment that she lacked courage. As many are in this House, I am full of admiration for the standard she displays at the Dispatch Box. But that does not stop me saying, "Get out and tell the Deputy Prime Minister if you disagree with him". Ask him, "Why do we not put two questions on the paper?".

In relation to the figure of 700, I wonder how many people in this House actually knew that there was to be a referendum on 7th May. It may be that everybody can raise their hands and say "Yes, of course I knew about it". But I was stopped in the street the other day by a man who said to me, "Jeffrey, will Tony Blair allow you to be the mayor of London?" I had to explain to him that it had absolutely nothing to do with the Prime Minister. Only last night someone said to me, "I am a livery man and I hear you want to be Lord Mayor of London". The point of those two stories is that we have a huge education job to do between now and 7th May and whenever someone stands as mayor of this great city.

I turn to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. She said, niggardly and gained laughter--rightly so--that one or two people had already started campaigning for the job. I hope they have. We are asking someone to govern a city of 8 million people and 32 boroughs, not including the City, and 74 constituencies. I say, without any fear, that I have visited the Mayor of Moscow, the Mayor of Jerusalem, the Mayor of Paris and the Mayor of New York. Even before one knows what the White Paper says, it may be wise to go to cities where mayors have

15 Dec 1997 : Column 420

governed great areas. I do not agree when the noble Baroness says that it would place too much responsibility in one hand.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Perhaps he will accept that my point was not merely about the merits or otherwise of a direct election. My specific question to the Minister related to starting election expenses. As the noble Lord said, some people may well have started campaigning for the position.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: My Lords, I accept that totally. It will fascinate the noble Baroness to know that I have thought of that as well. I approached the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, and asked if I was doing anything wrong in visiting the mayors of Moscow, Paris and New York. He assured me that I was not. The only reason he gave me that assurance is that he does not have the authority to do otherwise.

People are taking this important post seriously. If they are not, we will have a mayor and an authority in two years' time who will sit down and say, "Now we have got the job, what do we have to do?". It may be wiser that whoever considers that they may be in for the post--whether they be individuals or in parties--should arrive on the day with some idea of what they want to do and of the organisation that is needed.

I totally agree with those on the Liberal Benches about time. I hope the Minister will allow more time to vote on 7th May than is normally given in an election of this kind. The Deputy Prime Minister has said that this is a very important election and that he considers it to be a change even in the way we work our system in this country. So why do we not spend a lot of time making sure that people know, first, what they are voting for and, secondly, give them enough time? The point was made very well by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. For those who travel into London early in the morning and travel back, it is important that we do not close the polls before they return or do not open them before they have started out for work. We must not disqualify people from being able to say "Yes" or "No" to whether they want a mayor.

Perhaps I may conclude on the problems of proportional representation. I feel strongly on this matter. If we are to have a system of alternate votes or possibly a list system the whole idea may be thrown into disarray. We are discussing today whether we have a mayor. We must take very seriously indeed how that mayor and how that Greater London authority will be elected. I hope the Minister will be able to say to the House that nothing has been decided, that the Government are still listening and are still thinking, and that we shall not have double ideas on how the mayor should be elected and then have the Greater London authority elected in a totally different way.

I conclude as I began. I welcome the Bill. I congratulate the Government on having brought it forward. But I must say to them that I look forward to seeing the White Paper on 23rd March because I feel one will have a more robust attitude to that than one has to the Bill.

15 Dec 1997 : Column 421

5.2 p.m.

Lord Levene of Portsoken: My Lords, I claim no exemption from the trepidation which grips each newcomer to your Lordships' House at the time of their first speech. Such trepidation is, nonetheless, softened by the great honour which I deeply sense in becoming a Member of this House, together with the warmth of the welcome, both from your Lordships and from the extremely helpful and courteous staff.

In terms of experience, I hope that the unusual privilege for one who did not start out in the Civil Service of having served for a period of six years as a Permanent Secretary, followed by a five-year stint advising the last Prime Minister, will have proved a good apprenticeship and source of understanding for some of the work with which your Lordships have to deal.

More unusually, however, I have also been a member of the Court of Common Council of the Corporation of London for the past 14 years, 13 of them as an alderman. I can thereby take some comfort in the familiarity which I find in your Lordships' House, in terms of both its layout and proceedings, with those found in Guildhall. There are those who contend that the practices of Guildhall may even pre-date those of Westminster. Indeed, if there is one element of good house training I can particularly claim to bring to Westminster from Guildhall, it is an extremely good hat-doffing technique.

But, just as your Lordships would readily claim that in this House the obsolete nature of the introduction ceremony is purely incidental to our main work here, the same applies in the City, too. Beyond the pomp and circumstance, the Lord Mayor and the Corporation have a serious, time-consuming and increasingly important task, which is to help to market the City as an international financial centre, to enhance its attractiveness to inward investors, to maintain an orderly and efficient planning process and property market, and to ensure that the training needs of the City are properly met.

The City is an exceptional place. It is primarily a place where business is done rather than where people live, which is reflected in the great disparity between its residential population of 5,000 or so and its working population of almost a quarter of a million every day.

The attitude of the Lord Mayor and the Corporation towards the proposed new mayor and assembly is straightforward. The relationship would work perfectly satisfactorily, as in the past, first with the LCC and subsequently with the GLC. It will, of course, be very important to ensure that the delineation of responsibilities between the two mayors and the two authorities is clear and that the job of preserving and enhancing the City of London as the world's leading international financial centre, which is central to the Corporation's role on behalf of the City's business community, is maintained.

To this end the Lord Mayor and the Corporation take a pro-active role in inward investment and export promotion, marketing the City worldwide through trade missions and the Corporation' specialist departments. The Corporation was a founder member of the London

15 Dec 1997 : Column 422

First Centre which, together with the Westminster City Council and the London Docklands Development Corporation, works for the encouragement of inward investment.

The co-ordination of the critical task of promoting the London financial services industry overseas is now undertaken by British Invisibles, which is shortly to be merged with the Corporation's own CEENET organisation, and this combined group will be under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. The new combined group is working hard to ensure that all the promotional activities which are organised for the industry overseas are carefully co-ordinated.

But the Corporation's primary role must be to work on behalf of the City and the immediate surrounding areas where there should be a reservoir of local talent for the City and its service industries. In reality those areas are some of the most deprived to be found in the United Kingdom, as I saw in Tower Hamlets when I was working to resurrect Canary Wharf. For that reason, the Corporation took a lead in the establishment of the City Fringe Partnership with the London boroughs of Camden, Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets; it is also a member of the Pool of London Partnership which aims to improve the area around the Tower of London, Tower Hamlets and north Southwark.

The Corporation is involved too in the Cross River Partnership which links the Corporation with the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark, the City of Westminster and other groups, which are working on harnessing the potential of the river as part of the Deputy Prime Minister's Thames 2000 Initiative.

At the last general election no party stood on a platform of abolition of the Corporation, and the Corporation is happily now recognised as an efficient local authority for the business City, a good neighbour to other London boroughs and a fine ambassador for London as a world financial centre.

Much has been heard recently about the need for the City to revise its franchise. What is not generally understood is that the Corporation has wished for many years to modernise its franchise and that following the election it put forward proposals, which have been discussed very constructively with the Government, to bring us into a format suitable for the 21st century.

The Lord Mayor and the Corporation are ready and willing to work in harmony with a new mayor and assembly. The Lord Mayor is committed to continue to play a constructive and co-operative role in terms of the future governance of London and to play his unique role as a spokesman and ambassador for the City of London. If I am fortunate enough to be elected to succeed him at the end of next year, then it is certainly my intention to continue in the same way. I am most grateful to your Lordships for your courtesy, patience and kind attention.

5.10 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, as I follow the noble Lord, Lord Levene, it is my pleasure to congratulate him on his speech. We were indeed privileged to have a maiden speech on this subject by someone who has been so deeply involved in London

15 Dec 1997 : Column 423

and the City and who is able to speak with such authority. I know that we shall hear a great deal more from him as time goes by.

I was quite shocked by some of the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. She described London as being in a pathetic state. She went on to say that for too long nothing had been done. A further comment was that the citizens of London had done their best to fill the vacuum. That sounds almost like a Blitz mentality. I do not believe that London is in a desperate mess. It is good to have a voice for London and I am pleased that we are returning to that arrangement. But London has not been surviving and deteriorating non-stop since 1986. I was a member of the GLC at that time until the flag was lowered. I was there that night. What the noble Baroness said over-estimated the situation.

The London boroughs have taken on many responsibilities and a good many of them were far better passed on to the boroughs. I have spoken before in your Lordships' House about my own constituency where there was a dreadful nightclub, full of people with drugs and knives who broke up the area. No matter how much we attempted to prevent the club being re-licensed, the GLC always did so. However, when the local borough took responsibility for it, it knew how bad the situation was and rapidly a solution was found. So there are issues that are far better dealt with locally by people who know about them.

However, there are other important issues. It is important to have a strategic authority. We want to see better control of traffic, routes and roads throughout London. I hope that the Government will introduce a power to control minicabs in the capital. When the present Government were in opposition they strongly supported that suggestion, but nothing has yet been done about it. It constitutes quite a danger to the public because London is the only part of the United Kingdom where there is no control or protection for those who use minicabs.

I shall not go on about the noble Baroness's references to stratagems, devices and there being no democratic mandate at the present time. That is quite an exaggeration. Every local authority in London has a democratic mandate and they do what they do because they were elected for their area. The old GLC was a vast bureaucracy which began to meddle in all kinds of things which had nothing to do with regional government.

When the time came to disperse the assets of the GLC I was appalled to discover that it owned not hundreds, but thousands of properties that it did not even know it owned. It had owned them for so long and had acquired them for such a variety of purposes, that it had totally overlooked the fact that the properties were even in the ownership of the GLC. Some of the properties had not had rent collected for them for many years. There was no liaison between departments. The surveyor's department never spoke to the legal department and they never sent copies of correspondence to one another. If one tried to help in a particular case one found oneself up against an impossible barrier between the

15 Dec 1997 : Column 424

departments. So when the strategic authority arrives it is important that it comes in a practical, strategic and small way and not as a vast bureaucracy which does not benefit anyone.

We also need to be sure that we do not get the "big brother" effect. When I was an area housing chairman I remember a decision was taken to build garages in a certain area. I went to visit the people concerned and I was told by the residents, "We love our gardens and we do not want garages. We have not got cars". But the GLC said, "We have decided you have got to have garages and we are going to build them." I said that I was not prepared to support that and that we must delay it. The GLC said that it was not possible to rescind a decision that had been made. I thought that I would not rescind it, but defer it. The people should be allowed to live out their lives with their gardens and when people live there who want garages then they can be built. That was a typical situation. If a person bought their house and changed the front door, as the officers of the GLC drove past they would remark how deplorable it was that someone should have a different front door. Fortunately, I believe that all that kind of thing has now gone with the demise of the GLC, but we want to be very sure that it does not come back again.

The noble Lord, Lord Archer, referred to 1,200 replies. That is quite a large number to have been studied in detail in just five days between the closing date for the responses and the date on which this Bill was published. I cannot believe that in those five days every one of those consultations was carefully considered.

I am not really in favour of a mayor for London because I do not like the word "mayor". I am for someone in that position of authority, but I would like to see him or her called "governor" or something different. The noble Lord, Lord Levene, may be distressed to discover that the title of Lord Mayor of London either gradually vanishes or becomes unimportant because the new London mayor has taken over that role. London has over 30 mayors and two Lord Mayors now. Their roles are all threatened by the title "Mayor for London". I believe that we should be looking for different names such as "governor" so that this conflict does not exist. I do not want a local authority to feel threatened, as can be the case now.

I was also disturbed by the statement of the noble Baroness,


    "We have very clear views".

She went on to say that those views would be put to the public. At the moment certainly the public have no knowledge of what those views are. Many suggestions were put forward in the Green Paper, but no conclusions. I am not sure whether the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was supporting the measure because she sounded slightly ambivalent. I do not believe that the National Health Service should be involved with London government. It is good to have a partnership between health and the social services and the different authorities, but I do not believe that the health service should suffer the interference of a mayor for London or a strategic authority for London. I am in fact concerned

15 Dec 1997 : Column 425

about the new proposals as regards the National Health Service. I think of the parallel situation with the Bank of England. The Government are pushing all responsibility onto the GPs so that when things go wrong they can be blamed in the same way as the Government can blame the Bank of England if it gets something wrong.

The noble Lord, Lord Archer, said that no one is standing for the authority and I do not suggest that I am. But I look around the Chamber and see many people who were members of the Greater London Council. I would not rule out standing myself. Indeed, seeing the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, I recall his history as chief whip on the LCC. There is a need for representation of the older population of London.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page