Blair plan for elected city bosses

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Political Editor

The introduction of directly elected city mayors and a radical overhaul of Prime Minister's Question Time are at the centre of a sweeping new agenda for political reform which Tony Blair, the Labour leader, intends to unveil between now and the general election.

Mr Blair revealed in an interview with the Independent that he favours replacing the twice-weekly Commons Question Time, including the "absurd" ritual under which questions are put, as part of a big shake-up of "antiquated and out-of-touch" parliamentary procedures.

He disclosed for the first time that he warmed to the idea that Labour should bring in powerful, directly elected mayors for big cities, including London, to restore public interest in town hall politics and act as a "modern symbol of local government".

Mr Blair said he had written to the Commons Select Committee on procedure, proposing the introduction of a half-hour, once-a-week, new-style Prime Minister's Question time.

Although a supporter of televising the Commons, he believes the concentration on "personally abusive exchanges" has helped bring politics into disrepute. Mr Blair envisages running the new half-hour session, possibly on Wednesdays, for a trial period which, if successful, would lead to an end of the present Tuesday and Thursday 15-minute sessions.

The Labour leader, who said he was "worried about the calibre of people going into politics at every level", said Labour's proposal to follow European and US practice over city mayors could play a vital role in the "revival of local government". Mr Blair is seeking ideas for a mayoral system from leading councillors.

Mr Blair said he did not want to shut down current discussion of the proposal - once advocated and later dropped by Michael Heseltine, though since floated in a Labour policy document. But he added: "I think we need to have a modern symbol of local goverment."

He acknowledged that the idea of directly elected mayors would meet opposition from some Labour councillors, and insisted no decisions had been made. Under Mr Blair's Commons plans, the cumbersome convention by which each question has to be preceded by one about how the Prime Minister spent his day would be abolished as part of a range of changes to parliamentary procedures.

He said he wanted to see many more special standing committees, of the kind he had suggested that John Major should consider with the present Asylum and Immigration Bill.