Major unveils documentary celebration of the capital: London consultation exercise announced in 'back to basics' speech at Guildhall

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LONDONERS and commuters will get a chance to tell the Government about improvements they would like to see in the capital, in what John Major trumpeted yesterday as the biggest consultation exercise ever in the city.

A quarter of a million copies of a 50 page document 'celebrating' London have been ordered by the Department of the Environment for distribution free of charge from next week. It will contain a questionnaire to be returned post-free to John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, with appropriate suggestions.

The Prime Minister, in his speech to the Lord Mayor's Banquet at Guildhall, in the City of London, said that the document would emphasise the 'best aspects' of the capital. 'No other city has more to offer in terms of art, recreation, music, theatres, museums, parks and gardens - the list is endless,' he said. A DoE spokeswoman said the 20 chapters would include ones on transport and shopping. The document will avoid arguments about how the capital is governed.

On the economy, Mr Major said the recession was over, but had left scars. 'We are on our way to rebuilding prosperity. But we must also rebuild confidence and that feeling of security that is so important to individuals and to families.'

He said his talk of 'getting back to basics' was not nostalgia. He meant 'basic economic values like low inflation, free markets and a climate that encourages enterprise. An understanding that we compete or we decline.' He reemphasised the importance of 'basic social values'.

The Prime Minister said that it was 'most urgent' that the Gatt round of world trade talks was completed. 'Nothing will do more to increase world trade than a success in this round. And, conversely, nothing would do more damage to world confidence than a failure . . . Much of Europe is becoming uncompetitive,' he said, pointing out that in the 1980s in Europe, labour costs rose by 50 per cent, by 10 per cent in the US and not at all in Japan. Nine million more people would be at work in Europe - where there are 18 million unemployed - if it had done as well as other OECD countries.

Mr Major attacked calls in Europe to introduce a four-day week. He said the European Commission's White Paper on competitiveness in December 'needs to set out ways to make labour markets more flexible. Ways to improve skills and costs. Ways to create a climate for enterprise and to cut red tape . . . If we don't, then that 18 million unemployed will become 20 million. Then 25 million. Then 30 million. And the hopes and prospects for Europe will be smashed.'

Mr Major hailed export achievements in the last year. Government ministers had confirmed orders worth more than pounds 7.5bn. He announced that Sir Alastair Morton, head of the Channel tunnel consortium, had been appointed chairman of a working group to investigate 'blockages' preventing the private sector from investing in capital and infrastructure projects.

On education, the Prime Minister said that standards had slipped. He gave an example: 'In arithmetic, 13 year-olds were asked to multiply 9.2 by 2.5. In Korea and Taiwan 70 per cent got it right; in Western Europe 55 per cent; in England just 13 per cent.' The publication of tables on exam results and truancy would help raise standards in education, he said.

Moving to international relations, the Prime Minister said that in the aftermath of the Cold War he hoped the new democracies of Europe would soon qualify to be members of the European Union. The Nato alliance would be adapted at a summit in January.

Looking forward to the new session of Parliament, which starts this week, Mr Major said the new criminal justice Bill would strengthen the powers of the police and courts.

A 'substantial' Bill would cut red tape and bureaucracy. There would also be a Bill on teacher training that would increase the school-based element and encourage the entry of more graduates.