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Monday, February 1, 1999 Published at 19:39 GMT

UK Politics

Lord Archer answers your questions

Lord Archer replies to questions sent in by users of BBC News Online.

Are you going to run for mayor of London? Tony Mylott

"It would be foolish of me to pretend I'm not going to stand"
I've spent the last 19 months working very hard learning about how London is governed, building a large team to prepare for this, because I think it's very important that whoever has the privilege of doing the job is prepared to do it, and to do it properly.

It would be foolish of me to pretend I'm not going to stand.

From the London Forum Website: "First, let me assure you that the Greater London Forum is not a party political body. We are not seeking support for a particular agenda." So, you don't represent any political party then? Who do you think the Labour candidate should be? Robbie Allen

I representative the Conservative Party and I'm proud to do so"
Most certainly I do but the London Forum doesn't. I represent the Conservative Party and I'm proud to do so. The London Forum has on its body, it has a team of around eight, including two members of the Labour Party. So I couldn't pretend it was a Conservative body.

It's not for me to decide, that will be for the Labour people and voters to decide. Looking at opinion polls of people in London, it looks as if it's almost certain to be Ken Livingstone.

Why not give vouchers or electronic credits when motorists go into London and have paid a toll. These would be redeemable against public transport journey fares (only), thus encouraging motorists to use these more environmentally friendly modes of transport. Bruce Sinclair

There are many ideas that have come out in my research in the last 18 months. I'm against congestion charges, I'm against putting another tax on Londoners - they have enough taxes as they are.

Lord Archer answers your questions about transport
In my research pamphlet I prove London is losing £12bn a year of its own money while we have 14 of the 20 boroughs in Britain that are in most in the most trouble. And we have a Tube system that is as dreadful as ours while the bus system needs dealing with, they should give us back the money before they start telling people we should have congestion charges.

The second problem with congestion charges is quite simply that at the moment the Bill does not give money to the mayor, the Bill gives money back to the Treasury and the Treasury will decide how much of that goes to the mayor. Well blow that for a laugh!

I shall not, if I was lucky enough to be mayor, expect Londoners to pay another tax for Gordon Brown to spend it on what he wishes. To hell with that.

What do you plan to do about the shortage of taxis in central London at night if you are elected as mayor? Would you consider opening the underground system 24 hours a day? Do you think the elected mayor of London will have any real power to drive through significant improvements in transport in the capital or will they be constrained by the government and automobile industry lobby groups? If the mayor is unable to improve the transport situation, do you think there is much point in having a mayor? Vincent Casey

There are 19,900 taxis in London at the moment which the general secretary of taxi drivers tells me is pretty well up to full complement. The problem is that a tenth of them, around 2,000, are in the outer boroughs, 90% of them are in the inner boroughs.

They work their own hours and they make the decision often what hours they should work. It's not for the mayor to tell them when they should work.

I am worried and I am looking at the fact that the young, in particular, are telling me they can't get home at night. That we are not a 24-hour city, that New York, for example, is a 24-hour city. I am looking into the implications and the practicalities of that.

Yes, I do think the mayor will have the power and if he can't there's no point in having a mayor at all.

Like many Londoners, I am very concerned about public transport in London. Noting your proposals for an improved bus network, I would like to know what measures you would seek to implement to improve the Tube network. Simon G Shields, London

If the new mayor is given charge of transport in the metropolis, what measures does Lord Archer intend to take in order to give London a proper functioning affordable transport system? Tony Corley

The problem with the Tube system is that it needs a vast amount of money. The mayor's budget is only £4.5bn, the Jubilee Line alone has so far cost £2.8bn and it is rumoured it will end up around £3.2bn and be nine months late.

It would be dishonest of anyone to say I can solve the Tube problem. It can't be done that easily. It needs a vast amount of money, it needs government backing and private backing as well.

If it does not have private backing and government backing, the mayor will look like he's made a bad mistake. And I would make it very clear, on the record now, without those you can only tinker with it and it's a Tube system which needs billions spent on it.

If you are not made London mayor, what are you/can you do to progress the excellent proposals you recently put forward for taking more traffic out of London and developing more sites on the outskirts of London for park-and-ride schemes? Andrew Robertson of Godalming, Surrey

In the case of my park-and-ride scheme if I do not become the mayor it will be up to who does become the mayor to decide whether they want to do it.

It is my policy, it is my idea. There are others at the moment who are copying it. I would much rather have the job in order to carry it out.

Historically, different boroughs in London have widely differing constituencies. How, if at all, will you work with both sets of interests? Do you intend to stick to Conservative principles, or do you want to seek compromise? John Telegdy

"The vital thing for the mayor is to represent Londoners"
The vital thing for the mayor is to represent Londoners. If he feels the person who is living in Downing Street is doing the right thing, whatever his party, he should say so. If he feels he or she is doing the wrong thing he should say so. He should stand up for Londoners. There should be no compromise here. He will be the mayor of London.

As a British person living in the US I thought a time difference between here and UK was bad enough. In the US time differences are kept to the minimum as between New York and LA - only three hours- and then it makes business and contact easier with more time. I cannot see what sense there is a more division within the U.K. There is enough division in all parts of the world as it is within contriving more. There are more useful things for you to do, Lord Archer. D V P Davies

There was up until 1888 a division in the United Kingdom. I think it is intolerable that Londoners and people in London, who the mayor would be representing, have to get up in the dark and have to go home sometimes at 3.30 in the afternoon in the dark to please the Scottish people.

Lord Archer expresses his views on Scotland
The Scots now have their own Parliament. I'm not asking for a change, I'm asking that we stay on summertime and the Scottish make their own decision. Why should Londoners suffer? We should make our decision, they should make theirs.

They are welcome to do what we do, why do we have to do what they do?

What do you think of the idea of an independent Scotland? Jane Banks Lamb Gallatin, TN USA

Absolutely hate it. I believe in the United Kingdom. My party has always believed in the United Kingdom. The idea of Scotland being independent, I find abhorrent.

Do you enjoy the act of writing (rather than the period afterwards when you can justifiably bask in the glow of a successful sales record)? Steve Matthews

"I can't pretend I like it"
It's very hard work, it requires the most demanding discipline. I work from 6 to 8 in the morning, 10 to 12, 2 to 4, 6 to 8, when I'm writing, it's very demanding. A book normally takes me two years or 2,000 hours. I can't pretend I like it - that's not a word I would use. As Dorothy Parker so wisely said, I enjoy having written a book.

How do propose to address the feelings of contempt that many young people have over the current legal status of cannabis ? Oliver Harvey

I am against drugs, but then I'm against cigarettes, so you're not going to expect me to suddenly say it would be a good thing to have cannabis as well, and I'm bound to say I haven't yet seen a reason for changing the law on this.

Do you think there should be a limit as to how much you are allowed to spend promoting yourself as a candidate for mayor - and what should it be? Ashley Lumsden

Yes, there certainly should be and there is going to be, Lord Neill is going to decide what that figure should be. I've no idea [what it should be].

What is your opinion on the statement: "The function of the Liberal Democrats is to actively oppose the government rather than collaborate with it"? Gary Jordan University of Derby

"A funny old co-operation"
I think its a bit farcical when you've got a situation where one minute Paddy Ashdown is cuddling Tony Blair behind closed doors in some committee and then he's standing in the House slagging him off. It's a funny old co-operation but there you are.

If elected mayor of London, will the incumbency prevent you from writing novels or will it generate more ideas? Christopher Wu, Taiwan

"I would stop writing"
I would stop writing. I've said all along that I consider the job of mayor as a 19 hours a day, 364 days a year job and I do not consider there would be time to do another serious job. If anyone wants to stand for mayor they should realise it's the big and exciting job that requires every bit of energy and time you have. I would stop writing.

What are the key merits by which your achievements as mayor of London will be measured? Trafford Clarke

I fear the only merit almost will be traffic and transport. The only merit will be whether you have dealt with the congestion problem. There are many problems in London, but I am made conscious daily by people that that is the one they want solved.

If you could make one change to higher education in the UK that affects the lives of the student population for the better, what would it be? Adrian Cole, Nottingham University and Weston-Super-Mare

I'm not flunking and I will answer the question, but the mayor is not charge of education. The mayor will not have any power over education, will have no power over health.

I'm very distressed the Labour Party decided they would demand charges from students when they did not put it in their manifesto.

Why do you think there so much confusion about your past history such as your education? Iain Thomson

Some people like to make money making it up. I did study at Oxford, education and I also got an athletics blue which I'm immensely proud of and I ran for my country in 1966.

What do you think of the Millennium Dome? Mario Dunn

I think we've got to get behind it. I think we've got to support it. It's there, its going to happen. It's going to be a very big thing at the millennium and I want to see it a success so I support it.

Why do you intend to stand for London mayor despite allegations concerning insider dealing? Joe Thornton

Those allegations were cleared completely by Margaret Beckett, the then Labour secretary of state for trade, as that person could find out very easily by checking in Hansard.

What is your honest opinion of Ken Livingstone? Who would you like to see win the World Snooker Championships this year? Iwan Sion Gareth

Lord Archer on Ken Livingstone and Jimmy White
I don't agree with his views but I have great admiration for the courage with which he speaks his views and stands by them. At a personal level, I find him very good company.

I must say I'm sentimental about Jimmy White. I think everybody would like to see Jimmy win it. He's a very super guy, a very nice guy and he's a great player. He's the greatest player - I suppose you might add Ronnie O'Sullivan - who has never won it.

You have voiced your concerns about the government's lack of a coherent plan for the House of Lords. With the tabling of the House of Lords Bill this month, Mr Blair has announced the setting up of a Royal Commission to advise on the future make-up of the House. He has also said he will surrender his prerogative to select peers and set up an Appointments Commission to fulfil this role. Does this go far enough to allay your concerns, or do you still see trouble on the horizon? Ian Hylton Hong Kong

"I'm for getting rid of hereditary peers"
There's going to be a lot of trouble on the horizon because hereditary peers will I think kick up a fuss in the House. I'm for getting rid of hereditary peers but I would have allowed those that were there to finish their careers and got rid of them completely. But we are going to have a lot of trouble.

I'm not willing to judge the Royal Commission before I've seen what Lord Wakeham's done, he's a very intelligent man, I'm sure he'll put together a very strong committee and I'll read the results of his deliberations with great interest.

And as they have to be done quickly, this is not one which can be done in two or three years, they've got to have everything finished by December. We should have some progress on this.

If you become mayor will you still, like Mr Livingstone, use the bus to get around the capital? Mark Eaves

"I use the bus a lot"
I already do. I use the bus a lot because I find it very convenient to go from where I live to the centre of London and I use the tubes as well.

If you mean as mayor, if I had to go to certain functions. It would be incredibly insulting to use one's time dotting in and out of different routes if you could get their quicker by either walking or some other form of transport. Yes, when it's sensible I will.

Do you think Britain should join the euro or would we be better off linked to the dollar? Tony Bellows

Like my present attitude to the euro is very clearly let's join if we see it's good for Britain. At the moment I wish to see if it pans out.

What do you think of Weston-Super-Mare? To what extent has writing acted as a solace/therapeutic balance to the world of politics? Do you see politics losing the right/left divide and converging on the centre, or do you think with unsettled times ahead, a return to extremes is inevitable? Mark Sinclair

"I hope we don't return to extremes"
Weston-Super-Mare is the city which I grew up. I was born in London and have lived in London all my working life, but as a town where I was brought up I have great affection for it.

It's very nice to have more interests than just politics. I love the theatre, I have two art galleries, I write books. I'm very privileged in that way to do more than one thing. It's a balance which makes one's life worth living. I do have this wonderful balance between the tough life of politics, it's a tough life writing, but I do love the arts side of my life.

I hope we don't return to extremes. I'm what you might call centre-right but I've always disliked the right wing as much as I've disliked the left wing.

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