My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
In 2000, the Government restored democratic, citywide government to London. They established the Greater London Authority with a directly elected mayor and Assembly to provide strong, accountable leadership for the capital—leadership which had been noticeably absent since the Conservative Government so mistakenly abolished the GLC 14 years earlier.
This was a change that Londoners themselves wanted. Londoners in every borough voted overwhelmingly in favour of establishing the mayor and Assembly in the referendum of 1998. The creation of the GLA fulfilled the Government’s commitment to put Londoners back in charge of the way in which their city was run. Just as we delivered a Parliament in Scotland and an Assembly in Wales, so we introduced a new structure of London government that has helped London’s resurgence in the age of globalisation. These reforms have provided a firm foundation for London’s unprecedented economic success in recent years, but they also keep faith with the heritage and stature of the city.
London is a truly global city and has never been more vibrant and more successful. Its economy is larger than that of many European countries. It drives the national economy. It accounts for 40 per cent of the UK’s export growth and 18 per cent of our GDP. Its financial and business service sectors are increasingly challenging New York for the title of the world’s financial capital.
But of course London is so much more. In a world where new cities are being planned on an extravagant scale and historic cities are facing enormous challenges, it is perhaps the most exciting, diverse and vibrant city on the planet. It is the home of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. That is why London is growing so fast. Its population has increased by more than 700,000 in the past 15 years and it is forecast to grow by a further 1.1 million over the next 20 years. That is a million more people who will need homes, jobs, schools, public services and green spaces, and another million people who will add to the pressures on London’s transport systems, natural resources and waste services. The cause for most optimism, however, is that London has the momentum of success. Earlier this month, the Times, in drawing comparisons between New York and London, observed:
“New York has the nostalgia, London the future. New York defines the metropolitan, London the cosmopolitan”.
But, equally crucially, history is littered with cities which took their success for granted. London must have strong leadership which is not only capable of meeting the challenge of growth and success but is also capable of defeating the profound and historic inequalities which mean that, even now, three of the five most deprived local authority areas in England are in London, and London, paradoxically, has the highest unemployment of any region in the UK.
The devolution of power from central government to London, in which many in your Lordships’ House were involved through the passage of the Greater London Authority Bill in 1999, transferred power from Whitehall to City Hall. That has been central to London’s success. Almost seven years on, the strong mayoral model has given the capital a powerful voice on the national and international stage and has played a crucial role in winning the 2012 Olympics for London. Londoners are clear that the creation of the mayor and Assembly has led directly to improved strategic services and a better quality of life for all those who live and work in the capital. Of course, not everyone agrees with the mayor’s decisions, but that is the nature of democracy. Londoners are clear about what the mayor is responsible for and know who to hold to account for the effective leadership of London.
The congestion charge, for example, has reduced congestion in central London by more than 20 per cent and generated extra income to improve public transport across the capital. The number of people using London’s buses has risen by more than a third, thanks to service improvements. That, in itself, is part of a multi-billion pound programme of investment in public transport in the capital. Significantly, police numbers have increased substantially, crime is down and there is now a neighbourhood policing team in every ward in London.
What has been put in place has been shown to work. But, as the London Plan made clear in 2004, continuing economic success brings with it significant challenges. First, there is the challenge of strategic capacity: accommodating growth and making the best possible use of available land. Secondly, there is the challenge of housing, not just to meet today’s pressures, but also to plan for growth in the longer term—720,000 new households, in sustainable communities in the capital.
It is a truism to say that we need to achieve a step change in the supply of housing and build more new homes, especially affordable housing that offers Londoners the opportunity of a home at a price within their means. That challenge sits with the wider challenge, of course, of building the homes that people need across the wider south-east, so that young people are not priced out of the housing market for life. Rich parents, able to provide a deposit, are no substitute for an affordable housing policy.
Evidently, more also needs to be done to tackle poverty and deprivation through investment and regeneration, to reduce the glaring inequalities in wealth, health and opportunity, which often co-exist within and between neighbouring areas of the capital. Therefore, we have to improve the planning process to ensure the best use of scarce land resources in the capital. That means ensuring that the London Plan is delivered; that London gets the key developments it needs to maintain and enhance its economy; and that London acts more sustainably and responsibly in using scarce resources and disposing of its waste.
Finally, there are new, global challenges. First and foremost is the threat of climate change. We need to work together to reduce carbon emissions and move towards a low-carbon economy. We need to build on London’s already fast-growing reputation at the vanguard of efforts to combat climate change and as a leading international city in this area. To meet present and future challenges, the Government reviewed the powers of the GLA in 2005. Devolution has given power back to Londoners, made the city’s strategic services more democratically accountable, and created a strong relationship between Londoners and the mayor and the Assembly.
However, now is the right time to devolve more to London, ensuring that the right powers exist at the right level of governance, giving the mayor a stronger voice and complementing that by strengthening the Assembly’s role and raising its profile. We consulted extensively on the proposals for additional powers. We considered carefully more than 300 responses to the consultation and we did so with an open mind about what the final package of additional powers should include. We came forward with that strong, balanced package of additional powers for the mayor and the Assembly, most of which is set out in the Bill. The Bill and other legislation, such as the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill currently before the other place, will ensure that the right decisions are taken at citywide and local level and the GLA and London boroughs each have the appropriate set of powers to get the job done.
I turn now to the part of the Bill that deals with greater democratic accountability. The Bill makes important changes which will strengthen the visibility and vital role of the Assembly to complement the mayor’s enhanced powers. We are strengthening the contribution that the Assembly makes to the mayor’s policy framework. The mayor will be subject to a new duty to have regard to responses by the Assembly and functional bodies to consultation on drafts or revisions of his strategies. He will have to respond in writing to the Assembly. He will have to set out which of its comments he accepts for implementation of the strategy and, where he does not, he will have to explain why not.
We are also strengthening the Assembly’s scrutiny role. The Assembly will hold not-binding confirmation hearings with preferred candidates for key appointments that the mayor intends to make. We are making sensible changes to the arrangements for appointing GLA staff. The mayor and the Assembly will jointly appoint the authority’s three statutory posts. The head of paid service will appoint most other GLA staff, putting the authority on a similar footing to local authorities generally.
We are also providing discrete budgets for the mayor and the Assembly as part of the wider consolidated budget for the authority and the functional bodies. That change will make the Assembly’s expenditure more transparent, and will give the Assembly more assurance and control over its own resources. It will, for example, be able to set its own budget, subject to specific constraints, by amending by a two-thirds majority the Assembly final draft budget proposed by the mayor.
To improve the lives of ordinary Londoners, we need decent affordable homes. In terms of quality of life in the capital, that is probably the greatest challenge. Providing that, as the Barker reports on housing and land use proved, means that the planning system too has to work to its full strength and potential. Boroughs presently have, and will continue to have, a critical role to play in both housing and planning in London, but we also have to strengthen the mayor’s capacity to identify and promote consistent policies that recognise that, while the boroughs retain their vital independence, both those services have implications which are London-wide because Londoners move. They move because they want better jobs; they want to work closer to their jobs; they want a different choice of schools; or they want to be near to their families. Housing policies in one borough inevitably impact on another. Inner-London housing policies have a direct effect on outer-London boroughs and across the south-east.
The changes in housing are significant. We all know that London faces serious housing pressures due to rising demand and rising house prices. The lowest 25 per cent of house prices in London are still over eight and a half times the lowest quartile earnings. I am pleased to say that there is a great deal of consensus about the action needed to tackle those pressures: we need more market housing and, crucially, more affordable housing—shared ownership, low-cost home ownership or social housing for rent. Therefore, we need both public sector housing investment decisions and the planning system to work effectively together to deliver that. That is more likely to be achieved by future arrangements whereby the mayor will take over the role of the Regional Housing Board.
The Bill puts the mayor’s housing strategy on a statutory footing. He will draw up the housing strategy for London and will therefore be able to link it fully with his planning and transport strategies. The mayor will make spending recommendations in his strategy, including a broad outline for funding for new, affordable housing supply in London. The Housing Corporation will put together an affordable housing programme for the capital. In doing so, it will be required to have regard to the mayor’s housing strategy, ensuring the programme best delivers in line with those priorities. Those changes will enable the mayor, rather than central government, to set the strategic and coherent vision for housing in London; to decide London’s key housing priorities across the capital; and to encourage the boroughs and other stakeholders to act strategically in tackling the housing pressures. Most importantly, it will encourage the delivery of more housing, including affordable housing.
Some concerns have been expressed about how the mayor’s new housing powers will impact on the role of the boroughs. I reassure noble Lords that the boroughs will continue to lead on housing in their own areas. The mayor will not take over the boroughs’ legitimate lead role in housing, but boroughs’ local housing strategies will need to be in general conformity with the mayor’s strategy. It is not a new concept. Borough development documents must already be in general conformity with the London Plan; that is, they must not include an inconsistency or omission that causes significant harm to the implementation of the London Plan. The same principle should apply to housing. Local housing strategies should not include or omit policies which could seriously undermine the implementation of the London housing strategy. That is a sensible provision, ensuring that the whole of London moves in the same broad direction in tackling housing pressures. Again, however, it also gives the boroughs continuing and significant local discretion to develop specific housing policies to meet local needs. While it is surely right that London is able to decide its own housing priorities within a national framework, this reform also gives the opportunity for the mayor to provide real vision in tackling London’s housing challenges on a city-wide basis.
I shall now outline the provisions strengthening the mayor’s planning role. I shall be clear why we are proposing change; I assure noble Lords that it is not about punishing boroughs for some failure, or undermining their crucial role in representing their communities. Change is needed to ensure that we have a planning system in London fit for the eventualities of the 21st century, reflecting the unique governance arrangements in the capital. As noble Lords know, the mayor is responsible for preparing the London Plan, which sets out the key strategic policies for the future direction of the development of London. It seeks to promote London, to maintain and enhance its world status, but much of its success or otherwise is determined through individual decisions on planning applications. The mayor cannot currently directly ensure the policies in his London Plan are implemented. In future, boroughs will, as now, lead in deciding these applications but their focus is rightly local. Some planning applications, however, raise issues of wider importance that need a capital-wide, regional perspective in deciding their outcome. The changes we propose will achieve this in a balanced and proportionate way. I am delighted that they have the broad support of London First and the CBI, representing London’s business community.
We should remember that this involvement in planning decisions is not new. Since 2000, the mayor has had the power to step in and turn down large-scale, strategic developments that would go against the London Plan. Fears have been expressed that the mayor interferes in too many cases. Not so. In reality, the mayor only sees around 300 of London’s most strategically important planning applications each year; 90,000 applications are made to boroughs and he sees one in 300. Of these, he has, on average, directed refusal of three a year, which is one in 30,000. These include applications which would have resulted in the loss of green belt or which failed to deliver adequate affordable housing. It has hardly been a heavy-handed or disproportionate use of power.
The mayor should be able to ensure boroughs take forward his London Plan policies in their own local plans in a timely manner. He should also have a positive power to ensure that key applications reflect strategic, as well as local, priorities so that Londoners get the development they need, such as affordable housing and waste facilities. Our proposals will achieve these objectives in a responsible and effective way that fully respects the important role of the London boroughs.
The detail on how the new power will work in practice will be set out in a revised Mayor of London order, which we published in draft form on 9 January to help inform the scrutiny of the Bill in the other place. Ministers in the other place made clear the importance of achieving the right thresholds which trigger potential interventions, and the right process. In the other place, we also made clear the Government’s willingness to listen to achieve this. We published the draft order only after discussions on the proposals, in particular with London councils representing the interests of the London boroughs and London First, representing private sector interests in London.
We fully understand the crucial importance of ensuring the right balance in the mayor’s role between protecting against development which could harm strategic policies and allowing development to go ahead. We have already listened, and I can tell noble Lords that we have decided to change our original proposals in some respects. We have listened to the arguments expressed in the other place and agree that the new power should not apply to the vast majority of thresholds set out in parts 3 and 4 of the schedule to the draft order. These relate to proposed developments that are in conflict with development plan policies in some way, but are of a scale that is not in itself strategically important. On consideration, we agree with those who have argued that the mayor’s approach to these developments should be whether they cause such harm that they should be refused rather than be allowed.
In practice, this means, for example, that the mayor will continue to be able to direct refusal of applications for development on playing fields or in green belt, but he could not take over those applications and decide to approve them. This important change means that the mayor’s new power will focus on the most important applications which, by their scale or critical importance, raise issues that go to the heart of implementing the London Plan. Those are set out in parts 1 and 2 of the schedule to the draft order. They include large scale housing schemes and waste treatment facilities.
One important point is that this will be a two-stage process. The thresholds in the draft order simply identify applications as being of potential strategic importance which must be referred to the mayor for his views. Those thresholds are defined, as now, by height and volume, but this does not mean that each application which meets those thresholds is genuinely strategic; far from it. This is determined by the test set out in Article 8 of the draft order, applied by the mayor only when the borough has made a draft decision on the application. To justify taking over an application, the mayor must demonstrate that the test is satisfied. He must show that a development is of such a nature and scale that there would be a significant impact on the implementation of the London Plan.
Noble Lords will know that we consulted extensively on a series of different possible tests and criteria, and are committed to consulting further on the draft order once Parliament has concluded its scrutiny of the Bill. We remain open to responses and ideas on how the content of the order might be improved; for example, whether there is a convincing case in favour of a change or additions to the test. I know that noble Lords will want to know that it is also critical that the mayor uses his new powers in an open and transparent way. Of course, the mayor will act as an individual decision maker and cannot act in the same way as planning committees, but we are already providing for the mayor to publish reasons for his decisions so that the public can see how he has reached them.
We will also ensure that, where the borough or applicant wishes to, the mayor will hear oral representations from them on the proposal in public. He will also be able to hear representations from other people if he chooses. This will obviously not be in the form of a public inquiry, but goes further than the requirements on boroughs, which are not obliged to allow people to speak at planning committees. There are even additional safeguards to further strengthen his powers in an open, fair and effective way, by ensuring that, where practicable, provisions from the Local Government Act 1972 on access to reports and other documentation will now apply to the mayor’s planning functions. I hope it is clear that we are listening and are proposing a balanced package of proposals. We will continue to listen to views about the detail of the draft order. We are willing to make changes where appropriate, and we will consult further this year before the order is finished.
I now come to the remaining elements. Decent housing is fundamental to healthy lives. The Bill enhances the mayor’s role in improving the health of Londoners with a new focus on health inequalities. Levels of health in London may not be worse than the rest of the country, but there are stark differences in the health and life expectancy of Londoners. The health gaps in London, which have always scarred historic London, reflect levels of deprivation and unemployment and standards of housing as well as lifestyle and behaviour. While the mayor is not responsible for health policy or the delivery of health services, which remain with the Department of Health and the NHS in London respectively, he is responsible, directly or indirectly, for some of the major determinants of Londoners’ health that are outside the responsibility of the NHS. The Bill therefore requires the mayor, working closely with the health adviser to the GLA and the NHS in London, to prepare a new health inequalities strategy to lead the drive to reduce London’s stark health inequalities and improve levels of health in London’s most disadvantaged communities.
There is also provision to strengthen the mayor’s role in London’s cultural life in one specific aspect. We will devolve the Government’s responsibilities for funding and governance of the Museum of London to the mayor. The City of London’s role in respect of the museum is not affected, and the board will be directly accountable to the mayor and the Corporation of London.
The mayor will also acquire new powers of appointment to a number of cultural and sporting bodies in London: the London regional council of Arts Council England, the English Sports Council’s London regional sports board and Museums, Libraries and Archives London. These new powers do not require statutory provision, but the Bill will require the mayor to make his appointments promptly.
Finally, I turn to the important provisions on climate change and waste. The mayor already has a strong environmental role. Indeed, promoting the improvement of the environment is one of the principal purposes of the GLA. The mayor prepares strategies on municipal waste management, noise, biodiversity and air quality. The present mayor has already shown leadership in this area. He set up the London Climate Change Agency in partnership with the private sector, and it has placed London at the vanguard of work globally to tackle climate change. Last month, he published a climate change action plan that detailed how London can contribute to tackling the scourge of climate change.
Noble Lords will be aware of the draft Climate Change Bill that was published by the Government earlier this month. It is the first of its kind in the world, makes the UK the first country to set a long-term legal framework to reduce emissions over the next 45 years and beyond and provides the means to achieve that. The Bill will be subject to extensive consultation and debate. We aim to introduce a final Bill later in the year.
Our cities are particularly vulnerable because, as urban heat islands, they reflect the intensified effects of climate change. London has a major contribution to make towards delivery of the long-term national framework which the Climate Change Bill will put in place and towards meeting the goals that we all share, of tackling climate change and improving the use of energy.
The Bill provides the means for the mayor, through innovative legislation, to lead the work in London to combat climate change, building on the GLA’s well earned reputation for being at the forefront internationally on work to reduce harmful emissions. It will ensure a London-wide programme of action to lower emissions of carbon dioxide and ensure that London adapts to the unavoidable effects of climate change.
The Bill places a duty on the mayor and the Assembly to address climate change. The mayor is further required to prepare two strategies: one on climate change mitigation and energy, making clear how he will promote a reduction in emissions from sources such as surface transport and the efficient production and use of energy, and the other covering adaptation to climate change containing his policies and proposals for adaptation to the effects, actual and expected, of climate change. These provisions will help to establish London as an important model for carbon management for other major world cities.
The Bill also contains important measures to strengthen the mayor’s role in managing London’s waste within current delivery structures. It strengthens the requirement on London’s waste authorities to deliver their waste functions in general conformity with the mayor’s municipal waste management strategy. It also makes changes to ensure that waste authorities inform the mayor in advance of all tenders for waste contracts. These provisions, together with other, non-statutory changes announced last July as part of the outcome of the GLA review, will encourage the mayor and the boroughs to work co-operatively to improve performance on waste disposal and minimisation and recycling.
As New York magazine stated recently:
“If Paris was the capital of the nineteenth century and New York of the twentieth, London is shaping up to be the capital of the 21st.”
The Government restored democratic, city-wide government to London. We have given the capital strong leadership, given London back its voice and allowed Londoners to decide the best way forward. The mayor and the Assembly have been a success and have got to grips with many of the capital’s deep-seated problems.
The Bill sets out a series of sensible, incremental reforms to the powers of the mayor and the Assembly following the review of the GLA’s powers and functions. It was a comprehensive review that engaged Londoners fully in the debate. It is interesting to reflect that what London is asking for is no more than many mayors of global cities already have. Many city leaders have strong powers on planning and housing, for example. We are seeking to put the powers of the Mayor of London on a similar footing.
I am glad that so many measures in this Bill have already been warmly welcomed. Devolving more power from central government to London—from Whitehall to City Hall—is supported by Londoners, London councillors and London businesses. I recognise that some specific proposals in the Bill and the accompanying secondary legislation will raise questions. We are listening to those concerns. However, I am confident the Bill provides the basis for consensus on the right way forward for London and that, with further work on the secondary legislation, we will be able to build agreement on the right set of reforms to build on the GLA’s success, give further devolution to London and enable the mayor and the Assembly to get on with the job of delivering more for Londoners. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Andrews.)
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill. Her introduction took some time, but it was comprehensive. She made some announcements about the direction in which it will proceed in this House. I assume that some of that will require amendments from the Government. We will see them as we come along.
In some ways, it seems no time at all since the Greater London Authority was set up, although it was some seven years ago. In other ways, it seems like a lifetime since the mayor imposed his standards on London. Some Londoners have welcomed that, but others watch his latest wheezes warily and understand that when he consults them he does not often pay the slightest notice to what they say. As predicted when the original Act was passed, the Assembly does not have the firm controlling hand on anything that the mayor does. The expectation that the cost of the Greater London Authority would be severely limited was a ghastly joke.
The cost of the precept levied by the mayor is now well over £350 in Band D. It amounts to over one-third of the total council tax in my borough, which has held its own tax rate for the third year running, so the GLA has not proved to be a cheap addition to London government. The new Bill is now set to extend the mayor’s power and influence, most controversially by devolving responsibilities of central government, particularly in housing and planning, to the mayor. The Minister will not be surprised that there are significant areas in the Bill about which we have considerable reservations. Those are the areas that I shall concentrate on today.
The interrelationship between the mayor and the Assembly has been the one of the most difficult aspects of the 1999 Act, and it threatens to be so again, unless the Government can engage in serious and reasoned discussion of the provisions laid before the House today. We support the Assembly’s increased powers of scrutiny, which are essential if it is to improve its ability to mark the mayor’s footsteps. We all recognise that the Assembly has done what it can, given the powers it has, but we do not believe that even this Bill gives it what it requires to make sure that the mayor is properly accountable to London. In particular, we do not believe that the appointment of senior staff should pass from the elected members to the head of the paid service. We support the Assembly having its own budget, but we will be moving amendments to ensure that the mayor cannot manipulate the amount it receives, and in relation to the system of floors and ceilings—which could potentially mean that he was able to deal with it adversely—the means by which the budget can be increased and decreased.
We will also be seeking to ensure that the Assembly has greater control over the mayor's budget. It can currently make amendments only if they are agreed by a two-thirds majority. We consider that that should be done by a simple majority, as the voting system by which members are elected gives no party a majority on the Assembly. We would wish to see the two-thirds majority for the Assembly lowered to a simple majority across the board. The mayor argues that his mandate comes from the electorate of London, but the same is equally true of the Assembly. The same electorate must have faith in the Assembly's ability to act as a check and balance on the mayor, particularly when he has to all intents a divine power and responsibility—one man alone.
With its current inadequate powers, the Assembly cannot effectively hold the mayor to account. Even the most cursory glance at the Bill reveals that its proposed new powers do not come close to matching those granted to the mayor. The intention to give the mayor strategic powers over housing and planning has already caused understandable concern to the boroughs, which consider that any powers devolved from the Government should be passed to them. Housing decisions should be taken where there is the greatest understanding of local needs. Many councils are already exceeding their housing targets, and there is evidence that most boroughs are responding well to overall policy. It is well known that the mayor favours tower blocks, for example, to resolve housing issues, and that many boroughs do not. So, even with that small issue there is potential for considerable disagreement. I note what the Minister has said tonight about the fact that the boroughs would have to conform to the mayor’s housing strategy, but I think that we will want to delve more deeply into what that means and what the inference in that is.
It would be a matter of serious concern if the mayor controlled both the regional housing pot and overall housing strategy. It could mean that some boroughs could benefit unfairly over others with similar housing difficulties. Boroughs could struggle to deliver local strategies if the mayor’s spending priorities change or he simply does not make adequate resources available. What safeguards will the Government put forward to see that the mayor’s spending recommendations adequately provide for boroughs’ strategic responsibilities? What opportunity will there be for boroughs to appeal if given insufficient funding?
The Bill will introduce an enhanced strategic role for the mayor in planning matters. We strongly echo the observations of Nick Raynsford in another place. I think his words must have been listened to, judging by what the Minister said today. But we will have to find out and define what the word “strategic” means. Even though the Minister has indicated today that many of the fears that have come about from this change of planning role may indeed not be so dreadful because it may turn back on itself. We need to discuss that matter in detail. Therefore I am not welcoming it with open arms until we have had a chance to talk it through in Committee.
We need to understand what the extent of the mayor's remit will now be. Clearly an automatic size threshold is inappropriate. I think that the Minister has now recognised that. The legislation, as drafted, would allow the mayor to intervene in many more instances than is currently the case and to use his power in relation to applications that could be dealt with more appropriately and competently by local authorities.
The Minister referred to the thresholds. This is one of the areas where the City of London in particular has strong concerns. I know that at least one of my noble friends will want to speak later on about that. We will certainly be seeking to ensure that the Government do not give any more powers to the mayor to intervene with planning applications, other than under the most limited circumstances; that if he has to make decisions he makes them transparently, and, perhaps more in line with the procedures which have to be adopted by local planning committees than the Minister has indicated—although I welcome her recognition that transparency over planning decisions has not been very apparent over the past few years, even where he was just turning them down. If he is going to make more decisions they must be made in public and in a way that they can be affected or challenged.
Clause 33 of the Bill determines the fate of Section 106 payments. The Minister did not refer to those today. They will be affected by any development that the mayor has called in or has any role in granting. The provision adds only further incentive for the mayor to take over planning cases. We are concerned that the clause will allow and encourage the mayor to siphon off money from planning applications to use for his own purposes. Very often, developments, particularly those on a large scale, are acceptable to the local community only in return for investment of more practical benefit. It is therefore completely inappropriate that the mayor should be able to take Section 106 funds and use them for projects of his own choosing, and potentially he could be using them in a completely different part of London from where the money was derived.
Increased interference from these expanded planning powers, if they stay expanded and we do not manage to get them changed, could have further unwelcome side effects. Already the mayor has been involved in more than 1,500 applications across London. Many are fairly minor. It is not surprising that this system is less efficient than boroughs reviewing their own applications. The Government seem to favour a faster process but in fact the boroughs work faster than the mayor on many occasions.
There is also a real possibility that under the provisions of the Bill developers might decide to tailor their new developments towards the mayor, especially if they anticipate local or resident antipathy and particularly with any larger proposals. In fact, there is a danger that if referrals to the mayor become commonplace, developers will have to pay very little regard indeed to local opposition. That is something we really will need to tease out.
The Minister referred to waste. While I know that there are no proposals in the Bill for a strategic waste authority, amendments were moved in the Commons to set up a strategic authority. We would resist any proposals if they were to be brought forward in this House and we would fully support the Government in this regard. I understand they are still opposed to such strategic waste authorities. An overarching scheme would mitigate against the current adequate arrangements for the collection of waste and its disposal. Most boroughs are already seeing an improvement in their recycling rates. There is little to suggest that that will not continue, or that a single authority would help that situation. What is certain is that the establishment of an overarching authority would lead to further costs to the taxpayer. We would urge the Government to hold their ground in opposition to this proposal if it comes before this House.
More positively, there are other parts of the Bill that we broadly welcome; for example, Part 4 which deals with health. We agree that it is appropriate for the mayor to prepare a strategy to reduce the city’s health inequalities and that the regional director for public health should act as health adviser and be subject to summons in public.
We will look carefully at the proposals on climate change and the powers that will be given to the mayor. I am bound to say that London seems a very little place in the whole of the world to have its own climate policy, but I suppose if it extends further than pricing 4X4s out of London, it may have some effect.
In truth, however, more of this Bill disappoints than brings hope. It is a missed opportunity to bring the mayor properly to account, to impose effective constraints on his powers, to review his current powers, and consequently to increase public confidence in the office. Despite what the Minister has said, the Bill will lead to the centralisation of many powers currently in the hands of the London boroughs. This is not in the interests of the residents of London; nor will it stimulate the more efficient provision of services. The office was created to perform a strategic role. It was not universally popular, and is still not universally popular, but it should remain only in a strategic role.
The Bill gives further powers to the mayor under the guise of increasing accountability to Londoners in the provision of services that do little more than weaken the authorities that have the greatest local democratic legitimacy and a greater understanding of their area. It takes away powers from the very people whose political credibility depends entirely on the efficient running of those services. It also gives powers to the mayor, over whom there are still inadequate processes for holding to account, between elections.
Despite the Minister’s reassuring words today, we will seek, in the next weeks, to increase the transparency of the mayor’s decision-making process, particularly in relation to planning powers, to give the Assembly a real role in overseeing and holding the mayor to account for his budget and strategies, and to limit the powers to intervene in both housing and planning matters. We want the Bill to define fully how the mayor must consult Londoners, especially given the charade of the recent extension of the congestion charge, which has left residents in my part of London wholly cynical about any consultation process. Are the Government, who were so recently censured in the Greenpeace case for inadequate consultation, satisfied that the mayor demonstrated proper regard for the opinion of Londoners? Here, at the end of my contribution, I declare my interest as an elected member of a local authority.
We need to find ways of achieving real accountability to the London electorate; for example, by holding a recall referendum on the mayor’s continuance in power, and by giving the Assembly a greater ability to amend the mayor’s strategies. I have no doubt that noble Lords who follow will raise many other matters. My colleagues and I look forward to the debates to come.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for presenting the Bill and for updating the House on the Government’s thinking on the issues. The constitution of the Greater London Authority, composed of the mayor and the London Assembly, is a specialist subject. I declare my interest as an Assembly Member. I am deputy chair of the Assembly, and Brian Coleman, my chairman, is keeping a close eye on me below the Bar. I speak partly as an Assembly Member, but very much as a member of the Liberal Democrats, in which capacity I make clear my support for devolution, of which this is another step, from central government to London’s own strategic tier. The profile of the Greater London Authority—at any rate, the profile of the current mayor—is known to far more people than the anoraks. I will struggle today, and no doubt at later stages of the Bill, to retain the distinction between the office and the current office holder. One must do that. We are, however, also entitled to be informed by the experience of the past seven years. The constitutional arrangements should also be of interest to more people than the anoraks. The lessons on how a strong leader functions—I use the term “leader” semi-technically and refer to the office, not the incumbent—and what checks and balances are required will be considered in debates on another Bill very shortly.
It was suggested to me that I should start my contribution today by saying, “As I was saying”. It is certainly true that I was one of those who argued in 1999 against the strong mayoral model. So, too, did the then honourable Member for Brent East. Mayor Livingstone takes a different view. I believed then, and I believe now, that the council-leader model is a healthy one. As a close observer, I am interested to note that, as the GLA has continued to develop, many members of the mayor’s own political group who were on the Assembly have been appointed by him to an executive or quasi-executive role. There are lessons to be learnt about how that is sometimes required.
I accept that the Bill does not change the executive/scrutiny split. I am an enthusiast for good scrutiny; it can be very powerful, although too often, as I have learnt, it is dependent on the media, who inevitably by nature tend to reduce much of what the scrutiny arm does to the lowest common denominator. During the Bill’s passage, we on these Benches will be asking questions about the balance of the relationship between the two arms of the GLA. Others may say that that amounts to seeking an executive role for the scrutiny body. That is not where I am coming from. The basis for that argument is very much public confusion about what the Assembly can do, a point that echoes something that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has said. My colleagues and I are frequently asked, “Why don’t you stop him?”. It is entirely counter-intuitive to the electorate that, having elected 25 Assembly Members on the same day as they elected the mayor, the Assembly Members do not have a right to say no.
Scrutiny is not, and should not be, opposition, although the Executive may characterise it as such. It has not been unknown for the current Executive to reveal in a press release that the scrutiny arm opposes their proposals even before we have been able to ask questions, which is substantially our function. In brief, a check is needed as well as a balance. We welcome the Bill’s strengthening of the Assembly’s position and the Government’s recognition of the dangers inherent in the Executive setting the budget for the scrutiny arm. I acknowledge that the current mayor has been generous in this regard. The Bill has several pages of formulae for the scrutiny budget, which are only a little less complicated than a Fair Isle knitting pattern. However, I put to the Government the Assembly’s view that, in giving it the power to increase its own budget up to a ceiling, the mayor should be precluded from reducing it to below a floor related to his own budget. Most importantly—this would be consistent with every other institution I can think of—the Assembly budget should be decided by a simple majority of its own members. If a mayor needs to persuade only one-third of the Assembly to oppose the majority of the Assembly, he will have a completely inappropriate power.
I talk of the scrutiny budget, but that is a tiny part of the whole. The current budget of the whole GLA group—the police and fire services, transport and the London Development Agency, as well as the Greater London Authority itself—is now knocking £11 billion. The mayor sets the whole of that. The precept is the most discussed part of the budget, but it all comes from the taxpayer in some form and from the fare payer, so no wonder the “council tax payer cum national taxpayer cum fare payer cum Londoner” finds it difficult to understand that the Assembly can block the mayor’s budget by only a two-thirds majority. To put it another way, the mayor needs to command only one-third of the Assembly to support his budget.
In the context of power being best exercised at the lowest appropriate level, we on these Benches welcome most of the extensions of mayoral powers. No doubt we will debate how far the detail of any strategy should bind others, although any mayor should regard his greatest power as being how far he can influence people. Perhaps we will also debate whether the Assembly can amend a budget. It has long been a view in some academic circles that this is where a two-thirds majority in the Assembly might be better applied.
On the extension of powers, my noble friends will deal with climate change and energy, and the continuing role of the Government Office for London, which, as is well known, has grown since 1999. On housing, I will confine myself simply to saying that broadly we support the Government’s proposals. I know that there will be comments on the mayor’s bid to run a single waste authority, which for good reasons signally failed to gather much support in the Commons, and on planning what constitutes a strategic application, in which the mayor should have a role and what that role should be.
Many noble Lords will have received a briefing from Mr Livingstone in which he says:
“Proposed changes to planning will lead to a better balance between strategic and local planning considerations in London, and will significantly reduce the current dependence on a time-consuming appeals system”.
I find it hard not to read this as meaning that the current mayor believes that he would be more likely than the boroughs to get it right—whatever that is—and that his taking over decisions would mean more consents.
Whether or not the mayor is given additional planning powers, as has been said, it is important that his powers are exercised in an open and transparent manner. Who is consulted and how representations are heard are hugely important matters to developers and affected communities. A single person determining an application needs to be particularly energetic to ensure confidence. The procedure here is not a matter of mere bureaucracy. Communities need reassurance that they really have a stakeholder role and that it is not a meaningless phrase that the Section 106 arrangements should essentially be local arrangements.
We talk of mayoral interventions. What we cannot know—I think that the noble Baroness alluded to this—is how far applicants anticipate encountering problems with the mayor and temper their applications accordingly before even submitting them. I very much welcome the Minister’s comments on this issue. I may not welcome them quite enough, but they are significant, and I thank her for that.
As the Minister says, London is certainly shaping up to be the capital of the 21st century, but the GLA is still a work in progress. There is much that is good about its work so far. At this stage, it is inevitable that we, as always, look at what concerns us, and how we as Londoners have experienced that work. I will not take your Lordships’ time today to address every aspect of this largely welcome Bill. I am sure that the bumpiest ride will be with regard to the various planning clauses, on which concerns were so great that they were the basis for opposition in the Commons at Third Reading and have clearly led to much consideration behind the scenes since then. I suspect that the other bumpy ride will be over any changes to the budget process.
I look forward to examining how the rest of the Bill will operate and what other changes to the Greater London Authority might help it operate more effectively and in a manner that Londoners would support. In other words, I look forward very much to scrutinising this Bill and in this House, if not always in City Hall, dealing with issues on the basis of a simple majority.
My Lords, I relish the opportunity to speak about governance of the capital, a recurring theme in the symphony of London over the past quarter-century. As far back as the early 1990s, the business community identified the need for an executive mayor for the capital. London First, the business body of which I am chief executive, lobbied hard for London devolution. They say, “Be careful what you wish for”.
Prior to 2000, the UK’s premier city had no strategy for managing its own success, no long-term investment plan and no political leadership. There was no policy for deciding whether or how to encourage economic growth following the big bang and no plan to cater for the explosive increase in transport demand. There was not absolute support for every detail in the original Greater London Authority Act, nor has there been absolute support for every policy or flight of fancy of the current mayor since 2000.
However, at least if we do not like what is happening in our city, we know who to call. London’s economy has strengthened: we have seen off the challenge from Paris or Frankfurt and we now rival New York for pre-eminence in financial services. But London’s complexion is far from flawless. Our transport system is bursting at the seams, we have the lowest employment levels in the country and around a fifth of London adults would qualify for special help in reading and writing were they to start secondary school today. An expected 1 million more people will live in London in the next 20 years, which is like everyone in Birmingham packing their bags and moving to the capital. Housing supply is not keeping up. Demand outstripping supply forces prices up, which takes even so-called affordable homes beyond the means of those on average incomes.
These are serious challenges and we need to know that someone, armed with the necessary authority and funding, has the responsibility for tackling them. In this regard, I count the Greater London Authority as at least a qualified success. Without the powers bestowed on the GLA we would not have a strategic London plan, a flagship transport authority with a five-year investment programme or the introduction of the congestion charge in central London; neither would we have the 2012 Olympic Games or an increase of 10,000 in police and community support officers.
I am pleased, therefore, that we are debating an extension of these powers. In the animated Wallace and Gromit film “The Wrong Trousers” the focus was on the trousers not on the wearer. For today’s debate we must separate the personality, Mr Livingstone, from the trousers, which may be difficult for some of those on my right and, indeed, for some on my left, given that the office of mayor has largely been shaped by the current incumbent.
In fairness, his achievements, style and policies this time around have made life under Ken less scary. I and others feel more comfortable about the extension of mayoral powers, so long as they do not extend to foreign policy. If Ken is listening: South America is an interesting continent—I have been there myself—but there are plenty of challenges to occupy us in London without trying to address those in Caracas.
Joking aside, it is entirely appropriate for the Government to assess London’s government structures and entirely rational to take devolution another step forward. Already the Further Education and Training Bill has confirmed that responsibility for skills training will pass to a capital-specific body, the London Skills and Employment Board. Stronger powers for the mayor need to be balanced by effective scrutiny by the Assembly. I support a strong executive mayor, even when he pursues what I regard as misguided policies, such as the western extension of the congestion zone and the west London tram. But the obligation placed on the mayor in this Bill to explain why he has rejected Assembly recommendations is a welcome measure that should increase the debate and transparency around decision-making without slowing things down.
The new GLA Bill clears up anomalies in the day-to-day operation of the original Act. Importantly, by extending planning and housing powers, the mayor can deliver the strategic plans formulated over the past six-and-a-half years to address London’s growing demand for commercial and residential property. It moves the mayor from back-seat commentator to front-seat co-driver.
One helpful aspect of the GLA has been its intelligence function. The improved forecasting of London’s demographic and economic changes has provided the backdrop for the London Plan, which sets out London’s planning, economic, environmental and transport policies a decade or so ahead. That is important for London and for the UK as a whole. The latest forecasts show that over the next 20 years the population is set to increase by 1 million, with up to 900,000 extra jobs. It represents a huge challenge to the planning system to build enough homes, shops, offices and infrastructure to support this growth.
The competition is moving fast; Asia is moving fast. In the medium term, it is the greatest threat to London’s success. We need to learn to embrace change. In Shanghai, plans today are skyscrapers tomorrow. I do not advocate such an undemocratic, command-economy approach, but our processes should not sit at the opposite end of this spectrum. We cannot afford to construct heated arguments while others construct air-conditioned buildings.
It is not enough for the London Plan to set out where development should take place; it has to be translated into approval of actual development proposals. When the GLA was a babe in arms, the Government were nervous of giving the mayor a positive power to approve planning applications. They did not want to recreate the turf wars which characterised the relationship between the boroughs and the GLC, so they settled for a negative power for the mayor to direct refusal of applications for major schemes. This power has caused surprisingly little friction, a tribute to the professionalism of planning teams in both the GLA and most London boroughs. In the main, the power has been used to negotiate revisions to proposals rather than to direct refusals. Nevertheless it is right to be cautious about transferring power from the boroughs. The Bill and the process enshrined in the draft Mayor of London order represent the outcome of months of intense discussion between the major players involved in London’s planning processes. There is wide agreement that the balance is now about right. The proposed new powers will apply to only a very few cases. The boroughs will still consider applications, consult the local community and reach a view on them, but it is right that in exceptional cases the mayor should be able to ensure that proposals of London-wide importance are considered in the interests of London as a whole rather than on the basis of purely local concerns.
London needs to increase its housing supply to accommodate an increasing population and provide homes that people working in the capital can afford. This depends primarily on improving the operation of the planning system, including improving the effectiveness of borough planning departments in securing appropriate development. All housing is needed. Simple market forces mean that a greater supply delivers greater affordability overall, and the mayor should have a role in ensuring that London has the housing supply it needs.
There has been much debate behind the scenes about whether, if a borough is already fulfilling its housing targets or where only one borough is affected, the mayor should not have the power to intervene. This would overcomplicate the test for whether the mayor can take over an application, achieving nothing more than delay and money for lawyers. The test is already defined as being about strategic importance and significant impact. Adding more dimensions and complications would be counterproductive and smacks of a failure to embrace the fundamental concept. But I recognise that this is a new system and I would welcome a commitment from the Government to review it after a couple of years of operation.
Of course there must be proper consultation with those affected, and their concerns must be taken into account. The new process must be transparent but equally there is a high price to pay for a system which makes it easier to hold up development than to approve it: runaway house prices as supply fails to match demand and the highest office rents in the world. Let us be clear: when London fails to win corporate headquarters they go not to Manchester or Birmingham but elsewhere in the world.
Other measures beyond planning legislation are needed to ensure that development keeps pace with demand. Since the introduction of the uniform business rate in 1990, local authorities gain no financial benefit from new commercial development. I welcome the proposal from Sir Michael Lyons that local authorities should be able to keep more of the rate income from new development and use it to provide the investment needed for successful regeneration. It is important that local authorities and developers in London learn to work better together to achieve the huge development required to support its growth. This Lyons proposal would better align interests and is a step in the right direction. But Lyons’s recommendations will achieve nothing if they gather dust on the shelf, and I look forward to government action to implement them.
In summary, I treasure a vision of a UK proud of London and a London that recognises its responsibilities towards the rest of the UK. The capital plays a unique role in the UK economy and its challenges are unique. The Government took a bold step—some would say a gamble—when they created a unique form of government for the capital. Very few would argue that, all things considered, the gamble has not paid off. Re-evaluating the structures after seven years is a sensible move, and incremental devolution has proved successful. Arguably, the original Act bit off only as much as it could chew. To continue the analogy, there is now an appetite for greater devolution. London should have the ability to tackle its own challenges.
I hope, therefore, that this is only the second and not the last GLA Bill, and that in the near future we will have another opportunity to review progress and take yet another step towards truly devolved London government. Just to give several years’ warning of what I will be looking for in that next phase: first, more levers to tackle unemployment, and, secondly, more fiscal autonomy for London to determine its own spending priorities.
My Lords, I am sure strong views will be expressed on a number of aspects of the Bill, but I should like to concentrate my remarks on the housing and planning proposals. I should begin by declaring an interest. I am a member of the board of Circle Anglia, which is a combined group of housing associations across London and the south-east, and I chair Circle 33, which is one of the largest registered social landlords in that group. Together we have 30,000 properties and we are likely to double that figure in the next three years. We are experiencing phenomenal growth through a combination of local authority stock transfer, merger with smaller registered social landlords and Housing Corporation funding for new build and regeneration. We are a large housing association, but certainly not the largest in London.
The reason I say this is to illustrate the changing shape of social housing provision in London. The old model of social housing purely being provided by local authorities is breaking down. There is now an increasing occurrence of affordable housing for rent, shared ownership or purchase being provided by large housing associations whose organisation and management often overrides local authority boundaries and accountability. In London we now have large housing associations using economies of scale to maximise the available stock of good quality housing for current and future tenants. They also have more freedom to innovate. That is why I am pleased to report that my housing association is leading a consortium which hopes to tackle the scandalous decline in MoD accommodation in return for access to land to build more affordable homes. I hope that noble Lords welcome experiments like that. And although it is a subject of continuing controversy, housing associations can currently access significant funding from the Housing Corporation to improve and increase the housing stock, which is not currently available to local authorities.
This broader mix of housing providers can bring benefits, but it is also in danger of leaving a democratic vacuum. It is an issue that housing associations are trying to address through increased tenant participation at the local level, and we are working hard to find new ways of involving tenants in shaping their services. Clearly these initiatives can play an important role in supplementing the continuing crucial role of local authorities in responding to local housing needs. However, the scale of the housing challenge that we face across London needs a broader democratic mandate. That is why I welcome the new powers in the Bill to enable the mayor to set a London-wide housing strategy based on a thorough assessment of housing need across the city, with practical powers to specify the numbers, type and locations of houses to be built.
It is impossible to overestimate the scale of the problem the mayor will inherit, which will need more than mere number-crunching to transform the housing crisis in the city. It has already been estimated that nearly 1 million extra people will move to London in the next 10 years. That is exacerbated by the year-on-year rise in single households, which put extra pressure on the existing stock. Meanwhile, we already have 62,000 families living in unsuitable temporary accommodation, and Shelter estimates that one in seven children is growing up in substandard or overcrowded accommodation. This is blighting the lives of a large number of our future generation, for whom poor housing also leads to poor health and to poor educational achievement.
To be fair, the Government have been bold in providing additional funding for housing on an unprecedented scale, but they will need to be bolder still. While they remain on course to meet the decent homes target for all existing social housing by 2010, Shelter has estimated that an additional 20,000 new units of social housing a year nationally need to be built to meet the growing housing need. The majority of those units will be concentrated in the south-east. I hope the Chancellor will address this issue in the Comprehensive Spending Review. He should do so with renewed confidence that the mayor and the GLA will be empowered to use any additional resources allocated to London effectively and efficiently.
I referred to the need for the Government to be bold, but there is an even bigger obligation in this Act for the Mayor and the GLA to be bold and imaginative in addressing our housing challenge. In particular they need to galvanise the wasted resources in the private sector. We already know the extra pressures caused by the accumulation of land banks for speculative gain. While the planning-gain legislation is a useful weapon, the Mayor will need a clear strategy to free up pockets of brownfield land for development. At the same time, we know we have an estimated 100,000 empty residential properties already in London. Again, some of those have been purchased purely for speculative gain, rather than for use—as I heard it described on the radio yesterday, buy-to-sit rather than buy-to-let. The new powers in the Housing Act could tackle those empty properties, but the Act will need to be imposed more systematically to make a real difference.
Lastly, the Mayor has the opportunity to be innovative in accessing the empty space in commercial premises and above shops, which could be converted into residential accommodation and help regenerate neighbourhoods. I do not pretend that these interventions will be easy, but we need to utilise every appropriate space within the confines of London before we can justify expansion. We need to maintain a high-level dialogue with the people of London to give a democratic mandate to the use of that space.
There is one further reason why, for me, the new powers for the Mayor are so important. Last week saw the publication of the report by John Hills into the future of social housing in England. He identified a crucial challenge: currently, more than half of those of working age living in social housing are without paid work. That is twice the national rate, and is not merely a feature of the disadvantage that may have qualified them for social housing in the first place. He identifies a range of possible explanations for that, such as a fear of losing benefits, the possibility of the location of social housing being in the wrong place to access work, the constraints on mobility and the downward impact of esteem in some neighbourhoods. He makes a strong thesis of a link between social housing and a lack of economic activity.
Some of his solutions can only be achieved by Government at a national level, but others could easily be achieved by a strategic London-wide authority that already has responsibility for delivering economic success across the capital. The new housing powers complement the existing economic powers, which can deliver better economic outcomes for those in social housing. For example, we could be talking about generating more local employment at a neighbourhood level, or about freeing up the mobility scheme to allow tenants to transfer jobs more easily for job-related reasons. We could be providing more integrated housing and employment support for young people, such as the foyer schemes that have been so successful. I hope the Mayor will champion innovation such as this, and will help to achieve our aspiration of thriving mixed economies and mixed communities across London.
Getting our housing strategy right remains a big challenge, and the Government have to play a part. There will need to be different solutions for different parts of the country. For us here in London, though, the best solutions lie on the one hand in improving community engagement, and on the other hand in an authority able to take a broad view of the housing needs of Londoners and deliver the extra homes we need. The Bill delivers that framework, and I am confident that the Mayor will use his powers wisely. I look forward to the continuing debate on the details of the Bill in the coming weeks.
My Lords, serious questions need to be raised concerning the contents of the Bill. My main concerns centre on the crucial issues of housing, planning, waste and the role of the Greater London Authority under the new system.
On the issue of housing, the responsibilities of the existing London Housing Board will transfer to the mayor, and he will be responsible for publishing a London housing strategy and housing investment plan. The mayor will have responsibility for addressing the demand for affordable housing in the capital. With regard to planning, the mayor will have the power not only to direct changes for local borough plans but also to privatise particular projects he feels are of most benefit to meet the requirements of his London Plan. The Bill will also create a new London-wide waste management programme, apparently aimed at improving efficiency in the boroughs and increasing recycling throughout London. We will also see the creation of a London waste and recycling fund.
These changes will concentrate too much power in the hands of the mayor, and one of my main criticisms of the Bill is that the large increase in powers to the mayoral office is not matched by equal increases in accountability. That is not fair, and it is unacceptable.
It may be argued that there can be benefits from considering local issues within the wider perspective of London as a whole. However, there is a real danger that local and community issues will be overlooked in favour of more strategic overall plans, which will result in local people feeling ostracised from the decision-making process. A survey published in September 2006 by London Councils provided evidence to suggest that Londoners themselves have much more faith in their local councils over matters such as housing and planning, and are not happy with increased powers for the mayor.
I live in the London Borough of Croydon and my company has its head office in Bromley. Both those local councils are well managed and efficient. Therefore, I do not see any need for the decision-making process regarding housing and planning to be moved from our elected local councillors to the Greater London Authority. I may add that under the new system the role of the Assembly will give it the authority to set its own budget, and it will publish an annual report on its workings. Alongside this, the Assembly will hold hearings to validate the mayor’s choices for key appointments. These proposals need further examination and reconsideration.
The explanations and definitions in the Bill are also poor. The word “strategic” in relation to the mayor’s powers over planning is an example. There is little explanation of how the Government determine “strategic”—thus, the emphasis lies completely with the mayor in how this should be defined and played out in practice. There is a distinct lack of transparency built into the Bill. Instead of definite requirements for planning written into the Bill, the onus is on the mayor to live up to his claims that there will be transparency in his dealings.
Attempts to standardise services throughout the capital—for example, in waste management or housing—will undermine much of the progress made by certain boroughs in these fields in recent years. A “one size fits all” approach will stifle any innovative approach boroughs may have to the individual problems they face; it is not the way to increase standards overall. Instead, a considered and local approach with community consultation is much more likely to have the positive effects desired. Overall, the dramatic transfer of power to the mayoral office is not justified. It is felt that a body dominated by the mayor, run from City Hall, will not be responsive to local issues.
I have very strong connections with the City of London and have a branch of my company in the Royal Exchange. The City Corporation feels that the current proposals are in danger of damaging the City’s international competitiveness by making the whole process more complicated and less responsive. The financial organisations that make the City of London a successful international marketplace require a structure that works efficiently. The proposed added layer of bureaucracy will be a hindrance and not cost-effective.
In my opinion, the Bill is not acceptable in its present form. Several appropriate amendments will be tabled for discussion in its later stages.
My Lords, I realise that I lack the detailed understanding, knowledge and experience of the government of London demonstrated by many of the speakers in tonight’s debate. However, I wish to speak for two reasons. First, in the mid-1990s, I helped draft a document called the London Pride Prospectus. It was produced by the London Pride Partnership, a body called into being by the Secretary of State for the Environment at the time to give major stakeholders in London—politicians, business, NGOs, the unions—something to do in the absence of even the vestige of government at a London level. It was a splendid document, though I say it myself, but it sank without trace. Interestingly, one of the few things that all those who were involved in its production could agree upon was that it should have had a strong chapter about the need for a London tier of government—the one thing on which the Government would not allow us to comment.
Secondly, I have spent a lot of time over the past decade involved in discussions about regional government in the rest of England, outside London. Although I share the criticisms of my noble friend Lady Hamwee about the structure of government in London, I feel that Londoners and politicians in London are fortunate in having a degree of devolved power, however limited, and wish that they had rather more.
From reading the Bill and the debates on it in another place, it is clear that the governance of London is moving progressively further away from the remainder of England. London already has an elected mayor and elected politicians who can hold him to account. The Bill slightly strengthens this process and their powers.
This situation is very different from the position in the English regions. The failed referendum on a modest proposal for devolution in the north-west has led the Government to shut up shop on regional devolution. Instead, they are conducting a review on what they charmingly call sub-national economic development and regeneration in England. One of the principal options which I believe is being considered is the development of the city region, based on what would be the dominant local authority in that region. The problem with that approach is that city regions outside London, unlike London itself, are not actually regions. Large parts of the country would not, by any stretch of the imagination, fall within such a region, north Yorkshire being an obvious example.
The other problem which this approach—and, indeed, the Bill—fail to resolve is how to bring in to a democratic structure the functions of the government regional officers. They exercise considerable power yet are completely unaccountable to politicians in the regions they serve. I hope that before long—possibly under a new Prime Minister, although I am not holding my breath—we will be able to persuade the Government to revisit the question of regional government across England as a whole.
In the mean time, we have this Bill. On the face of it, it covers a number of the principal public policy challenges facing London, including housing, planning, health and climate change, where powers are being reallocated. But the powers in the Bill are often inadequate or they are being reallocated in the wrong direction. For the powers of the Government Office for London, very little changes. It is surely anomalous to have devolved government in London yet a raft of fairly random functions still the responsibility of the relevant Secretaries of State rather than the London-wide political institutions.
The role of the Government Office for London lacks all logic. The home page of its website explains that among its principal roles is,
“making London’s case in Whitehall”.
Surely the only people who can make London’s case effectively in Whitehall are elected politicians, not civil servants, who can never have the same amount of clout. I can see no reason why GOL’s responsibilities, whether ensuring the delivery of Every Child Matters or attempting to tackle crime reduction, would not be better exercised by the GLA.
In some respects, the Bill makes the muddle worse. It contains a provision to create a public health adviser to the GLA who,
“is in the employment of the Civil Service of the State in the post of Regional Director of Public Health for London”.
As I understand it, this person is responsible to the Secretary of State for Health for carrying out public health policy across London and to the mayor solely in terms of health inequalities strategy. How can this person serve two masters? In particular, what happens if there is a dispute between the mayor and the Secretary of State for Health on the health inequalities strategy? Under the Bill, the Secretary of State can give the mayor a direction to change his strategy and the mayor must obey. Where is the poor old health adviser in these circumstances? He or she has presumably to acquiesce to the Secretary of State’s will, even though he or she will advise the mayor to adopt the strategy to which the Secretary of State has taken exception. Such a circumstance is by no means impossible to imagine, particularly if the national Government are led by a different political party than the one to which the mayor belongs. If it does happen, the health adviser is in an impossible position. He or she has been put in that position because the Government are not prepared to relinquish control of policy—in this case, reducing health inequalities—to the GLA. In any event, even if the mayor and the Government are not at loggerheads, what can the mayor do to implement his health equality strategy? All the troops who budget for implementation rest with the adviser, wearing his other hat as regional director of public health in London. They and their responsibilities should be transferred across to the GLA.
Although that may seem a rather ludicrous example, it is a common pattern. The mayor is given a budget to draw up strategies because he is legally obliged to do so but no money to carry them out. I am not saying that developing and promoting a strategy is necessarily a waste of time; the role of the mayor in occupying the bully pulpit of politics can be very effective as far as it goes; but it does not go far enough. The inevitable response to huge strategy documents is to ask where the beef is. The answer all too often is that it remains with Whitehall. Noble Lords will be aware that more than 60 per cent of government expenditure in London is not controlled by the GLA and this Bill does nothing to change this position. In some respects it makes the disparity between the roles of the GLA and the resources available to the mayor even greater.
To take one example from the Bill, the mayor is required to draw up an adaptation to climate change strategy for London. The strategy is to contain an assessment of the consequences of climate change for greater London and proposals and policies for adaptation so far as they relate to greater London. It is generally accepted that the most serious consequence for London of climate change is the possibility—or rather the near certainty—of significant rises in sea levels. The consequences without very dramatic and expensive preventive action are over a long period that central London simply becomes uninhabitable. So the Bill requires the mayor to consider this—which presumably he does, and he sees that this is a long-term problem facing the capital. What is he enabled to do under the Bill? He is allowed to produce a strategy document. Unless he proposes to evacuate the capital—and even if he does—there is a big price tag attached to protecting London from inundation. How is that to be met? As I understand it, the mayor will be as powerful as King Canute; he will be able to wave his adaptation strategy document at the rising tide but that, frankly, will be it. He should surely have powers to raise funds from Londoners to implement his climate change policy.
A major effect of the Bill has been to set London boroughs and the mayor at loggerheads about actual or possible transfers of powers—and I, like other noble Lords, have had a number of representations from the two sides on this point—between the two levels of government in London, mainly with powers being transferred away from the boroughs to the mayor. I believe that that is the wrong and largely irrelevant battleground. This Bill should have made it easier for the institutions of London government to exercise real authority on those areas of public policy that are crucial to the long-term prosperity of the capital. It has, in my view, signally failed to rise to the challenge.
My Lords, I give a broad welcome to this Bill, although I have some criticisms, which will come out later on. I say at the outset that London is a great and exciting city. There are problems and I hope that the Bill goes some way to dealing with those problems.
I shall deal first with two comments made in earlier speeches this evening. The congestion charge, including the western extension, is a great success and a model that other cities in the world will follow. When the technology is there, it will be a model for dealing with traffic congestion on the busy roads up and down the country, not just in our cities. Of course, some people are critical, but if the alternative is to sit in a traffic jam for hours, frankly I would rather pay a little bit extra for the price of the road space that I am using.
As for scrutiny, it is important that the people making decisions—in this case, the mayor—should be held to account. I leave it to other noble Lords who know more about the inner workings of the GLA to comment in detail on that.
I shall deal with three issues: housing, planning and above all waste. With housing, there is a stark contrast between the affluence on the surface in London, with house prices shooting up, and the serious housing difficulties facing too many poor Londoners. That contrast becomes starker every day as one sees the rush for houses with house prices shooting up and other people desperately badly housed. According to some figures that I have had from Shelter, there are at present some 65,000 families in temporary accommodation in London and 150,000 families living in overcrowded accommodation. That is far too many people for a city that is so affluent that in some firms in the City 1,000 people get a Christmas bonus of £1 million.
My Lords, 1,000 people in a firm in the City got a bonus of £1 million last Christmas. That sits pretty badly with the people who are badly housed or living in temporary accommodation.
Therefore, it is welcome that the mayor together with the GLA want to increase housing provision for poor families in the capital. As I understand it, the mayor’s target is 30,000 new homes per annum, which on the face of it seems quite modest. Of those, one-half should be affordable homes and 10,000 should be in the socially rented sector, the rest of affordable homes being for shared ownership. That, although those are modest figures, would I understand make an appreciable difference to helping poor people in London who are at the moment badly housed.
Some of the boroughs are less interested in social housing than others, while some of them have an excellent record. For the sake of all Londoners—and even the most affluent boroughs have poor people living in them who are badly housed—it is right that there should be an overall strategy and ability to deliver housing for London. I believe that this Bill will enable the mayor with the new powers to do far more for the badly housed people of London.
On planning, I welcome giving the mayor enhanced powers for what will be a small number of strategic planning decisions. Everything points to the fact that these will simply be decisions that are very significant and whose importance transcends the individual boroughs in which the sites are located. Provided that there is no bureaucracy of having to jump over two hurdles for planning permission and that there is proper transparency in the process of deciding on planning applications, that is probably a good thing. If it means that the mayor will have more influence on bringing forward land for affordable housing, that is so much the better.
Of course, we all have our individual concerns, and I shall indulge myself in talking about one of them. There may be particular sites about which one might be anxious. In my former parliamentary constituency of Battersea, there is the whole future of Battersea power station to think about. This is not an occasion to debate this in detail, but it is an important site, and I sincerely hope that a proper use will be found for this iconic building under its new owners, possibly including the Government’s proposed energy technologies institute. I understand that that has the full support of the mayor. I hope that the Minister will think about that one and see whether there is anything that can be done. Of course, the power station is much too large simply to house the energy technologies institute, but it could be a useful site for it and other uses would follow.
I turn to what is probably the key question that bothers me—that of waste. It is a key environmental issue that presents enormous challenges to the country as a whole and to local authorities that have responsibilities. For government, there is the need to take action to reduce the total amount of waste produced. One only has to buy things in some stores to see how much waste there is in the packaging, material and so on. It is important that that should be reduced. Having got that down—and there is some way to go yet—the real challenges are to increase the amount of waste recycled and reduce the amount going into landfill, as there will soon not be enough landfill in southern England to accommodate the waste from Londoners.
Bluntly, London is simply not doing well enough in dealing with waste. Some of the individual boroughs are; some are not. Let me give some figures. In 2005—the latest year for which I could get figures—London recycled 21 per cent of its household waste. This compares with 57 per cent in Hamburg, 43 per cent in Munich, 39 per cent in Milan and 39 per cent in Vienna. In north America, San Francisco recycled half its household waste and Seattle 58 per cent. These figures make London look as if it is not doing well enough. Other cities in the world may be doing worse than London but we ought to be doing better. We are conscious of the need to do something and understand what should be done but we are simply not doing it.
The national target for the UK is 25 per cent so we have some way to go. But the situation is even worse: 22 out of London’s 37 waste authorities, which may comprise individual boroughs or several boroughs acting together, failed to achieve their statutory household recycling targets for 2005-06. London boroughs and London waste authorities are among the lowest ranking of all English local authorities, and the majority have not met their statutory recycling targets. London is currently the worst performing English region for recycling: 22 out of the 37 waste authorities are in the bottom half in terms of performance and 18 are in the bottom quartile. Only one, Bexley, is in the upper quartile. That is a pretty poor record. Of the 15 London waste authorities that responded to a Government survey, only one was planning to meet its 2020 recycling target.
About two-thirds of London’s waste is buried in landfill and mostly exported to sites outside London; the latter is a fairly random process. London incinerates 18 per cent of its waste and this is set to double. London will then account for half of England’s share of incineration while managing only 15 per cent of the country’s municipal waste. That is not good enough.
London is the only major metropolitan region where waste disposal is not managed and co-ordinated at city level. So far as I have discovered, pretty well every major metropolitan region in the world has a co-ordinated overall strategy for waste disposal. Of course, the boroughs will still have to collect the waste but essentially we need a waste disposal strategy for the whole of London. Individual boroughs have lobbied against that. They want to keep things as they are and say that they can do better. However, I am not sure that they have demonstrated that up to now. The Bill is weak in this respect. It is going in the right direction but it could be strengthened. A vast incinerator is proposed in Belvedere for west London authorities to send their waste to. People in Belvedere do not want an incinerator there and I understand that the Mayor of London does not see that as the best way forward. That is just a one-off example.
What is the answer? It is a single waste disposal authority, which would achieve the right balance between local collection and strategic processing and disposal. A strategic waste disposal authority should be a body of the GLA clearly accountable to the mayor. At present accountability for waste disposal is unclear and some of the joint waste disposal authorities are hardly accountable; they operate much more like quangos. By moving this function under the mayor we would improve accountability, not lessen it. We would also achieve better co-ordination and promote proper investment in the recycling facilities that are necessary to improve London’s record in that regard.
Such an authority would also improve the transport of waste around London. Transport for London estimates that within London alone waste travels 44 million kilometres a year, accounts for 10 per cent of all freight movements in London and represents 290,000 tonnes of CO2—this at a time when we are supposed to be more environmentally conscious. If we had a strategic waste disposal authority for London, the transport of waste in London could be lessened. It cannot be abolished altogether and reduced to nothing, but it could certainly be lessened from the present figure, where individual waste authorities make their own decisions, search for sites where they can dispose of waste or occasionally recycle it. We can do better. Having thought hard about the counter suggestions from the London boroughs, I believe sincerely that a properly accountable strategic waste disposal authority for London under the mayor is the right way forward. I hope that the Government will give it serious consideration as we proceed with the next stages of the Bill.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this Second Reading debate. Unlike some of my noble friends, I have no experience of local government and my interest arises solely from the fact that I was born in London and have lived here all my life. My interest, therefore, is as someone who has always enjoyed living in London. I have watched it change over the years. I remember the years after the war when there was an extreme housing shortage caused by the bombing. We had rent controls at that time. They were later dispensed with but, had they not existed, poorer people simply could not have afforded anywhere to live.
London has changed enormously since those days. It is now very diverse, and in many ways—I am very glad to say—is an extremely tolerant city. As a number of speakers said, there has been a large increase in population. People are attracted to London and want to live here. The population is expected to grow still further—by more than 800,000 in the next decade.
The Bill seeks to devolve more powers from Whitehall to the mayor and to London. This should be generally welcomed. The increased population has resulted in certain pressures on the infrastructure that need a London-wide solution. One of these problems is housing. Some speakers, including my noble friend Lord Dubs, dealt with that in detail. London has a very urgent need for more housing, with more than 62,000 people living in temporary accommodation and more than 150,000 overcrowded households.
As we know, home ownership is unaffordable for many Londoners and getting on to the so-called housing ladder is an absolute nightmare for many younger people. The provision of social housing has been neglected under successive Governments. As we heard, the Bill requires the mayor to set out his assessment of housing need in the capital as the basis for a London-wide strategy. However, as I understand it, none of the statutory housing powers and duties that currently rests with local authorities is being transferred to the mayor. The provision of affordable housing cannot simply be left to the market. A London housing strategy would give housing in the capital a new focus and priority. This is urgent and essential. The workforce that London needs has a right to be housed at a decent level and at affordable rents.
I was born and raised on a very good LCC housing estate in south-east London. I very much regret that local councils no longer provide social housing as they used to do. Housing associations are not taking up the role that local councils once fulfilled, although, as we heard from one of my noble friends, they do a reasonable job. We have to expect that from the mayor, who will have these powers, which I know he welcomes. I had the opportunity to talk to him at a function last night and found that he was enthusiastic about the possibility of utilising powers allowed to him under the Bill, particularly on housing.
The Bill also devolves responsibilities from Whitehall to London, giving the mayor a stronger statutory role on health inequalities in the capital. There seem to be inequalities in health provision between different geographical areas and particularly in population groups. Minority-ethnic groups are apparently at the greatest risk of heart disease and stroke in areas of south-east and north-east London. This is another issue where a London-wide strategy might be useful. I know that the mayor is anxious to do something about that. He already has a role in public health.
The Bill also supports and expands the London Assembly’s scrutiny powers, which I am sure will be welcome. There are powers in relation to planning applications. I do not know very much about that, but I understand that there has been a draft Mayor of London order defining the scope of the powers. I understand that the Assembly is very anxious to ensure that these powers are exercised openly and transparently. I am sure that some of this will emerge in Committee.
One aspect of the Bill which has aroused some contention, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said, is waste management. The mayor favours the creation of a single waste-disposal authority responsible for processing and disposing of waste, with boroughs responsible for collection services. The mayor’s office claims that this approach secures the most appropriate balance between keeping local that which is best done locally—collection—and managing the city-wide aspects of strategic concern; that is, processing and disposal. The SWDA that is recommended would be a functional body of the Greater London Authority, accountable to the mayor and on a similar footing to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, one of the GLA’s four functional bodies, which I understand is regarded by everybody as very competent and worth while. I have received a detailed briefing from the mayor’s office in favour of the establishment of the SWDA, much of which has already been reported to us this evening by my noble friend Lord Dubs, who fully explained exactly what is involved in an SWDA. A very strong case is being made for the establishment of such a facility.
I gather that the Government’s view is that there is an urgent need for investment in new waste facilities in London to meet the challenge of EU targets. London councils, I believe, object to the establishment of an SWDA on grounds of cost, but the failure to meet EU targets could involve substantial costs as well as a continuation of something not very different from the present system, which itself will eventually result in higher costs. I gather that the Government are proposing a London waste and recycling forum to bring together stakeholders in London and to co-ordinate activities. The mayor’s view is that that is an inadequate response to London’s need to manage its waste as a single city rather than as a multitude of independent and unco-ordinated waste authorities. I also understand that the Assembly is not in favour of an SWDA but it favours a city-wide water strategy. No doubt we will be able to discuss those and other matters in Committee. Meanwhile, I welcome the Bill and its devolution of authority in London.
My Lords, this Bill takes me back to when I first entered your Lordships’ House. Coming here fresh from local government when the first GLA Bill was passed, I learnt all about the procedures of this House. I learnt a vast amount from my noble friend Lady Hamwee about understanding what the legislation was getting at. It was eye-opening to see how the legislation that we enacted here was passed down to local government. So this is the second time round for me, and I welcome it.
I shall focus on climate change. As the Minister rightly said, the climate change Bill that the Government will shortly introduce will be a first not just for this country but for the world. The few clauses that address climate change in this Bill are a precursor in some ways to the climate change Bill. It is therefore crucial to get the definitions and the terminology right and to set precedents that will make life easier not more difficult for the climate change Bill.
Some of our debates in Committee will be critical in ensuring that the balance is right between empowering the mayor to develop a strategy, and the communities and boroughs that may have to take action on it, and individuals who may need and want to take action themselves. Those processes should be clearly linked. The strategy may need to be wider in consideration than the Government have taken account of. We debated during the passage of the Energy Bill, for example, the need for information centres. The Carbon Trust, though making strides in this area, still is a long way off from an easy walk-in high street advice centre, which, many of us felt, individuals needed to get a grip on the sort of action that they could take.
There are other practical things. There is a general shortage of plumbers, particularly those who can install solar water-heating panels. While on the one hand we may be encouraging people to take all sorts of action on climate-change mitigation, many factors, including training in appropriate skills, may be prohibiting that happening.
Clause 40, which deals with the mayor’s mitigation and energy strategy, gives the Secretary of State a limited power to direct the mayor on that strategy. My noble friend Lord Newby raised the interesting question of adaptation, and he showed up some of the weaknesses in the Bill. It is strange that in the adaptation clause, the Secretary of State has virtually unlimited powers to direct the mayor. One of the areas that I will probe in Committee will be why there is such variation. Is it because the Government are nervous that the mayor will need to create that second Thames barrier near Gravesend? We will particularly want to explore that area in Committee.
We will also want to consider terminology. Clause 40 talks about minimising carbon dioxide emissions from transport and from other energy uses. Carbon dioxide forms the bulk of our greenhouse gas emissions, but I suspect the clause is limited to CO2 because the EU Emissions Trading Scheme covers only CO2 emissions. It might be limited because it is a shorthand way of saying “climate change”. Other important greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide are important components to consider. Although the consultation on the draft climate change Bill explicitly asks whether it ought to cover all greenhouse gases, we will need to consider that before the draft Bill comes before your Lordships’ House. There are a number of matters that it will be important to get right.
As someone who lives in London for four nights a week, I find it extraordinary that in my block of flats we still cannot recycle at all. It really pains me to put my rubbish out in one single collection bag. I would not underestimate the difficulties that there are, in my case as a county councillor, in devising a waste strategy between five districts and a county council, but I have done it and it works extremely well. I know that it is possible. The Bill is a little unambitious in that regard. The mayor is to devise a waste strategy, but why are the Government not thinking of a zero-waste strategy? We know that that is achievable; it is something to aim for. It would give the role a meaning beyond taking on another strategy layer.
Finally, there is one strategy that I envy London: the food strategy. The south-west has a food strategy, but it is aimed at producers from an economic point of view. The London food strategy is aimed far more at consumers. I doubt whether we shall debate it on the Bill, but it is one thing that London has got more right than other regions. Those of us from the regions have something to learn from London.
My Lords, it is always dangerous to claim that one was the first to say something, especially in your Lordships' House, but I might make a modest claim to be one of the first London Labour Party members to have floated the idea of a directly elected mayor in London. That was in 1991, when as chair of that august body of comrades, the Greater London Labour Party, I introduced to its annual conference a report called The Future of London’s Government. Among many other demands, it modestly suggested that the idea of a directly elected Mayor of London deserved to be given some consideration. I merely note that the hostility to such a notion of the current incumbent of the mayor’s office partly explains my tentativeness at the time. But here we are, looking again at how we can best support more coherence in the governance of our capital, and in support of many of the proposals by Ken Livingstone and the mayor’s office.
I feel that I have lived with the conversation about London’s governance for many years. My husband, John Carr, was a GLC and ILEA member, abolished along with the rest of them in 1986. It was a terribly unjust democratic act at the time, but we are not here to rake over old arguments—
My Lords, we are here to consider how to improve on the job done by the mayor, the GLA and the London boroughs, and whether London will be more effectively governed if some recalibration of the powers and responsibilities takes place.
I am a great enthusiast for London-wide government, just as I am for my democratically elected borough, although I do not like its political complexion at the moment. The size and functions of the boroughs work well in most respects. I spent many hours here during the passage of the first GLA Bill in 1999, and felt then that while the structure and balance between the mayor, the GLA and the London-wide functions set the direction for some sensible London-wide strategic planning and delivery, it did not go far enough in some key respects. I criticised my Government at the time, and it was predictable that we would revisit some of the serious issues that were not addressed then.
It is a great credit to Ken Livingstone, his administration and the GLA that, through the work and achievements of the past seven years, the case has been proved for the contents of the Bill. The winning of the Olympics, the strong voice for London as a world city, the championing of London’s diversity and needs, and the leadership provided by the mayor on 7/7 all go to make Londoners proud and have made the Bill possible.
I support the main thrust of the Bill. The House needs to consider whether the proposals do what is intended, whether they go far enough and whether the vital transparency and accountability are sufficient if the mayor is to be given extra powers.
I support the proposals in the Bill to grant the mayor additional powers on strategic planning decisions. However, I am concerned about them for two reasons. The first concerns the time it already takes to reach planning decisions, particularly for large-scale developments. That is already not good for business in London, and London will thrive only if business in London thrives. I need to be reassured that any new powers have to be exercised in an open and transparent way.
Secondly, along with my noble friend Lord Whitty, I will be keen to support reconsideration of the proposals on waste. Particularly given that the highly intelligent Minister my right honourable friend Mr Miliband was responsible, it is a bit of a mystery why the Government have chosen not to use the Bill as an opportunity to introduce a single waste-disposal authority for London. As has been said, London is the worst-performing English region for recycling of household and municipal waste, to its shame. Voluntary arrangements clearly have not worked, and I am not convinced, despite hearing the well put arguments of the leader of the GLA, that the uplift in performance that today’s environmental priorities require will come from five waste management schemes across the city. I hope that during the passage of the Bill we can find some resolution that allows both the boroughs and the mayor to move forward together with a London-wide strategy for waste.
As a passionate supporter of the growth of social businesses and of community and co-operative enterprises in London, I look forward to the increased support that this diverse sector will get as a result of the greater coherence and powers of the LDA and LSC, which could be a great driver for regeneration in the city.
I am very keen to support the production of the London energy strategy and welcome the establishment of the London Climate Change Agency and the encouragement given by the Bill in that respect. I pay tribute to the deputy mayor, Nicky Gavron, for her leadership in that area. She has been tireless and imaginative in her pursuit of a range of energy and climate-change issues. I think that I agree with the London Assembly in asking for consideration of the need for a statutory water strategy for London. I wonder why the Government have chosen not to include that in the Bill.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I am experiencing some déjà-vu; however, I am pleased that the Bill is significantly less weighty than the previous one and I look forward to working with noble Lords during its passage.
My Lords, as a long-standing and committed Londoner, I am glad to have the chance to speak on this Bill, given its aim to strengthen devolved powers in London. The main focus of my remarks will be the health provisions at Clauses 21 to 24. However, I should first declare an interest as the recently appointed part-time chairman of the new provider agency that NHS London has established. I should make clear to the House that the recent, slightly unsavoury, remarks by Front-Bench spokesman for health in the other place about that appointment have been shown to be quite unjustified after an investigation by the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health and by the Cabinet Office.
As a dyed-in-the-wool Londoner, I am only too well aware of the health challenges it faces. These are brought out very well in a document published earlier this month, The Case for Change, which represents the first stage of a review by Professor Sir Ara Darzi. It reveals that although on some health indicators such as coronary heart disease London performs reasonably well, it has major challenges in other areas. For example, smoking is more prevalent in London than is the case nationally, London has higher rates of childhood obesity and it faces specific health challenges, such as HIV, drug abuse and mental health problems. London has 57 per cent of England’s cases of HIV. One in four adult drug users lives in London and a million Londoners have had mental health problems. The shortage of affordable and good quality housing in London can also contribute to health problems among its population.
Health inequalities in London, both in terms of outcomes and service access, are significant. Just eight stops on the Jubilee Line take you from Westminster to Canning Town, where average life expectancy is seven years lower. Raising life expectancy for the bottom half of London boroughs to the current London average, which is pretty much near the national average, would save the lives of 1,300 Londoners every year. Infant mortality in Haringey is three times that in Richmond.
Professor Ara Darzi sets out a succinct and compelling case for change that would help to tackle some of those entrenched inequalities. His document shows that providing more acute hospitals is not the answer. London already has a relatively high number of those hospitals, compared with most parts of the country. What is needed is more concentrated specialist care and better use of our workforce and buildings. However, overwhelmingly what is needed in London is a much stronger base of community and primary care services and a much greater evenness in public health polices and services across the capital.
That is why it is timely for the Government to include in the Bill the provisions on health at Clauses 21 to 24, which provide for a health adviser and deputy health advisers to the GLA and a reduction in health inequalities. It is right that the GLA and the mayor have more responsibilities in this area, but it is important that they exercise them in a co-ordinated way with general public health policies and with NHS London, the body with strategic healthcare responsibilities in London. For too long, local government, particularly in relation to housing, has been something of a poor relation in tackling London’s health agenda. Some of that is down to the failure of the NHS to recognise the role that local government could play, together with the absence of a strong strategic presence for tackling health inequalities. The Bill provides a new opportunity for the GLA, the mayor and NHS London to work together for the benefit of Londoners’ health. The second and final instalment of Professor Ara Darzi’s review will appear in a few months’ time and will provide an invaluable analytical underpinning for aiding that kind of joint working.
Before I sit down, I want to say a few words about waste management. There is a strong link between waste reduction and management and health and well-being. Minimising the quantity of waste and improving its collection and disposal reduces the risk of disease and injury from waste. Less money spent on waste disposal means more money for other public services. The NHS, too, has to play its part constructively, particularly in terms of clinical waste disposal and in achieving more sustainable behaviour by its suppliers. It is a big consumer of goods and services from other suppliers. I hope that the new SHA, NHS London, will play a full and constructive part in taking forward this agenda, especially in the area of clinical waste and in getting suppliers to behave in a sustainable way, drawing on the expertise of bodies such as the Environment Agency.
Finally, I want to say a few words on the wider issue of waste management, speaking as a Londoner living in a borough—Southwark—which is in the dubious position of being 381st out of 393 English authorities in terms of recycling rates and which failed to meet its recycling target for 2005-06. I note in passing that the two boroughs that will be centre stage in the Olympics—Newham and Tower Hamlets—sit firmly at numbers 392 and 393. I recognise, as we have heard this evening, that the mayor’s proposal for a single waste management body did not find favour in the other place. However, in his briefing on the Bill, the mayor makes a respectable case for a more robust approach on waste management. As an experienced manager, I have to say that much of what he says makes a good deal of sense.
I do not expect my noble friend to answer today but I should be grateful if she would write to me about the somewhat worrying figures that the mayor has put forward for the long-term fines that London faces for inadequate waste management. I should like to know a bit more about why the Government disagree with the mayor’s analysis and figures and why they are convinced that leaving structures as they are will deliver the improvements in waste management that London needs. In particular, I should be very interested to know whether there has been a full and proper cost-benefit analysis of the different options available.
My Lords, I want to say a few words about Part 7 of the Bill, which deals with planning. Before doing so, I should declare my interests. The first is that, along with other noble Lords and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I am a joint president of what is now called London Councils but which used to be the Association of London Government. I am also a freeman of the City of London, and, last year, I moved with my wife back to live in London, where no doubt we will end our days—at least, I hope we will.
Part 7 gives the mayor extended powers to intervene in planning decisions, as a number of noble Lords have already recognised. I have heard no arguments that come close to persuading me that the increased planning powers are necessary or that the existing powers in the original 1999 Bill are inadequate to ensure that the mayor has sufficient control and involvement in major strategic issues. London Councils has made its view abundantly clear: it does not believe that these new powers are necessary or appropriate and I support its view on that. My noble friend on the Front Bench mentioned the words of Nick Raynsford who, after all, was the architect of the original Greater London Authority Bill and took it through another place. At the Report stage of this Bill, he said that the principles,
“will break the fundamental principle, on which the GLA legislation was based, that the Mayor should have a strategic role, and should not have powers to trample all over the boroughs in matters subject to local decision”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/2/07; col. 858.]
I hoped that someone of Mr Raynsford's experience and authority might be listened to. I am tempted to say that all these clauses should be dropped. However, realism suggests that that is not likely to happen—it might be a bridge too far. Even if I persuaded your Lordships that we should drop the clauses from the Bill, I would not anticipate that another place could be persuaded to accept that decision.
In this House, we have to make some changes to ameliorate the effects of Part 7. At this late stage in the evening, I want to concentrate on one point: the power given to the mayor by Clause 31(2) that he, not the local planning authority—for example, the London boroughs or the City corporation—
“may direct that he is to be the local planning authority for the purposes of determining the application”.
That applies, among other things, to any application which is “of potential strategic importance”. Other noble Lords have already asked what is meant by “strategic” in this context. It is to be defined by order; that is to say by statutory instrument.
I want to consider the effect of that on the City. The City of London has had an enviable reputation in managing its planning affairs with much sensitivity and much innovation and adventurousness. In my view, the City of London now represents some very fine infrastructure facilities which contribute to the wealth and prosperity of London. I do not need to go into the details of the importance of the City. It is now one of the important financial centres in the world, if not the most important. The impact of globalisation means that the City will have to work hard to maintain that pre-eminence. The City corporation, under the very able leadership of Michael Snyder, is fully seized of its vital role in creating and sustaining the infrastructure needed to support the financial services industry. An important part of that is to ensure the provision of really top-class buildings to attract and retain the firms that work in that industry. For that reason, the planning regime in London has, for many years, made different provision for the City from that applicable to the rest of London.
Under the existing Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order, the powers of the mayor in relation to planning in the City are fairly limited; in effect, a power to direct a refusal of planning applications in certain defined circumstances. The most important criteria on for that intervention by the mayor is the size of the building; that is to say, the height and floor space which is the subject of the planning application. The existing mayoral powers of intervention apply where a building is more than 75 metres high or where the total floor space is more than 30,000 square metres.
In Committee in another place, the Government issued a new draft Mayor of London order, intended, if approved in due course, to replace the existing order. The draft order reflects the proposed enhanced powers of Part 7 of the Bill, particularly the mayor’s power to direct that he is to be the planning authority for certain planning applications. The main point I wish to draw to the attention of the House is that, even now, seven years on, the order uses exactly the same criteria for these more extensive mayoral powers: the mayor can direct that he is the planning authority for any building over 75 metres high, or with a floor space over 30,000 square metres.
The City authorities contend that those limits are far too low. I very much welcome the words of the Minister this evening, reflecting what was said in another place, that the Government are prepared to listen to that complaint and recognise that those limits should perhaps be changed. The City would like to see not 75 metres, but 150 metres high and the floor space increased to at least 100,000 square metres—preferably 100,000 square metres of additional space. These figures are not reached arbitrarily, but are based on an analysis of the applications that have been referred to the mayor since 2000. More importantly, they reflect the Government’s expressed intention, emphasised by the Minister this evening, that the mayor should intervene in only a small number of the most strategically important planning applications.
To give the House an indication of what I am talking about, 75 metres high includes the Lloyd’s building at 95 metres, the Stock Exchange at 100 metres and the Barbican towers, which reach 123 metres. Nobody could ever now contend that a planning application to put up a building like that could possibly be of strategic importance for the whole of London. That is why the City authorities argue that the limit must now be raised. Buildings over 150 metres include the “Gherkin”, which everybody would recognise at 195 metres, the former NatWest Tower, which has been there a long time and is now called Tower 42, at 200 metres, and several others. In particular, there is what is known in the City as the eastern cluster of the new very high buildings: the Heron Tower at 238 metres, the “Cheese Grater” at 239 metres, and the new Bishopsgate Tower—not yet finished—will be over 300 metres. These are large buildings, but serve as an indication that if the mayor wanted to intervene on those kind of buildings, there would be very few of them.
I shall put my question to the Minister and then sit down. She said that she will listen to views. This order will require amendment in any case; the Government have indicated that other matters are not satisfactory and will therefore be amended. May we have a revised draft order before the Bill goes into Committee? Is the Minister prepared to consider—I would not expect a decision this evening—those higher figures which the City proposes? To quote Mr Snyder:
“We are in favour of a system that is genuinely strategic and delivers benefits to Londoners but the proposed powers are insufficiently targeted. The draft needs to include bigger thresholds for height and size and”—
I have not mentioned this—
“needs to drop its current catch-all provision”.
I would like to express that in somewhat blunter language of my own. The last thing the City wants is a flabby planning system which deters innovating developments or subjects the planning process to mayoral idiosyncrasies. I hope that the Minister can give me some satisfaction later this evening.
My Lords, all those skyscrapers mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, must confirm the forecast of extra transport demand mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine. They also confirm her view, which I share, that Transport for London, with the mayor as a kind of democratically accountable chief executive, is one of the real successes of the past few years. It is internationally recognised as such, particularly for the congestion charge, which I think should be made much wider—within the M25 would be really great. I do not think that the Government in Westminster are going to go for that in a hurry, but it would have a massive beneficial effect on people’s quality of life, provided that good public transport was available. The leadership that the mayor has shown is commendable.
I shall briefly mention two issues. The first is waste. I have spent a lot of time in the past few months visiting waste disposal places: one in Wandsworth and one in Oxford. I was struck by the differences between them. When you go in to the one in Wandsworth, which my noble friend Lord Dubs will know well from his time as a Member of Parliament there, you go in with a load of stuff you want to get rid of and there are six people with yellow jackets standing in a huddle, talking to each other and smoking. If it is raining, they are in the hut, and if it is not raining, they are out in the open. It is very nice for them. Everybody just dumps everything in the thing marked landfill. Well, it is not marked landfill, it is just where you go. You back up, and you tip all kinds of things there. You can see metal, televisions, printers, even quite nice furniture put in there.
Wandsworth, my Lords, just by Wandsworth Bridge. My noble friend does not know the West End of London—I am sorry about that. It probably happens in Edmonton as well, though. If you want to recycle anything, you have to wiggle through an unsigned place that is marked “no entry” and eventually you can find where to put whatever you want to recycle. Is it surprising, therefore, that the figure in the chart of percentages recycled is about 21 per cent?
Last time I went to Oxford, the figure was 51 per cent because the people actually help you. They say, “Put this there, put that there”. They will help you if it is heavy, and they clearly have an interest in what they are doing. I put this to the representatives from some of the London boroughs, who told me I was being thoroughly unfair. They said that waste from a country town or village like Oxford is different from waste from a town. I think that is total rubbish. It is nonsense as well. It is just not true. There are problems with people living in high-rise blocks of flats or even in small blocks of flats, but they can be dealt with. The argument against a strategic waste authority on the basis that the boroughs deal with it very well at the moment is not made at all.
One also has to look at the other end of the waste. Where does it go when it has ended up in the tips? We see it go past us down the river to the landfill site at Mucking, which is nearly full, I believe. Some of it goes by rail, which, as chairman of the Rail Freight Group, I am pleased to see. The rest goes by road. There is no consistency or co-ordination. It would be a great deal cheaper if the whole thing from beginning to end was done on a strategic basis, with a target to reduce the volume that is not recycled. If we say that London cannot do it, well Hamburg recycles 57 per cent and Copenhagen 54 per cent. Even Milan—some people’s view of Italy is that it is a bit rubbishy, although it is not—gets 39 per cent. In America, San Francisco recycles 50 per cent and Seattle 58 per cent. It can be done. I suspect that other towns and cities do a lot more than that. I would fully support an amendment that requires the mayor to develop and operate a waste disposal strategy. The time has come to do that.
My last issue is the vexed question of things called pedicabs, those lovely bicycles you see peddling around London with passengers in the back and sometimes a roof, sometimes with rear lights at nights and sometimes with flat batteries and rear lights. I have a personal liking for these things. Apart from cycling, they are very environmentally friendly. I got married in London about eight years ago up in Marylebone Road and came back to Westminster in a pedicab for the reception. It was safe; it was great fun; and I wondered why we do not see more of these. So I have been following their success or failure, not just in London but elsewhere, with a lot of interest.
The real problem is that they go a bit slowly, taxis do not like them, and there is a debate as to whether they are a taxi or a bicycle for hire. There must be a question of insurance because clearly if they are plying for hire they must have proper insurance. I hope that there is an opportunity to table an amendment or two in Committee to require them to have insurance, which probably means a licensing system. I do not think it needs to be a particularly heavy licensing system. I believe that the mayor is in favour of pedicabs, as he should be because they are very environmentally friendly, and that many people in London like them. If they cause the odd traffic jam late at night, so does everybody else. I do not think that you should single out pedicabs just because they are going much the same speed as a traffic jam in some places. So it is important that they should be licensed.
I would like to see framework legislation that could be applied much wider than London. Pedicabs started in Oxford where I live, and the local taxis got rid of them pretty quickly. That was a bit unfair because again they had been popular. There is a future in having properly registered pedicabs—people want that and the operators welcome such ideas—which are fully insured, fully registered, with probably criminal record checks on the drivers and so on, and making sure that they have basic safety things like brakes and lights, which I am sure they all do, but it would be a good thing if they did have them. Then I think they would be a good part of the London scene, particularly when the weather is a bit warmer.
My Lords, as has been said before, “everything that can be said has been said but not by everybody”, and I intend to make my ha’pennyworth. I begin by congratulating the Minister and her advisers. As has been said more than once, there has been a long period of consultation and an attempt seriously to take it on board. Seven years after the major step to bring back London-wide government, she and her colleagues have brought before us their best effort at what they believe will help to solve the problems. Of course they will not succeed in persuading everybody, but they deserve our congratulations on it, and I give them now.
Those of us who have attended local government and housing debates are the repertory company. We perform from time to time to the best of our ability. But, as an old hand, it is very good to welcome newcomers to our assembly. I was delighted to listen first of all to the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, and then to my noble friend Lady Jones, who each, from their distinctive personal experience—and that is what we need in this place—were able to excite me about the possibilities in this particular sphere.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, is a friend—Lord Jenkin of Roding. I repeat that because I made a mistake in pronunciation once before. I saw the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, grit his teeth when I said “Jenkins”, and I apologise once again. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and I continue to have a great interest in what is now called London Councils. I am no longer as actively involved in local government as many of the speakers here tonight, but I was a councillor in the London borough of Enfield 45 or 46 years ago. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, reported with pride that he is a freeman of the City of London. In two weeks, I will have the great honour of being invited to accept the freedom of the London borough of Enfield.
More, more, my Lords. It is a great honour for someone who works in a voluntary capacity to be recognised in a community. The problem for any speaker in this debate is to try to reconcile the views of bodies with which one has been associated or to which one is sympathetic. I mentioned London Councils and the London borough of Enfield. I was also the Member of Parliament for Edmonton for a number a years, and have been here for a long time. I certainly supported the recreation of the Greater London Authority. One can guess from the time that I mentioned that I was here before the GLC was formed; in other words, before the London County Council ceased to have its overall strategic responsibilities. I was here when the GLC was murdered in 1986 and mourned. I was here when London did not have the kind of body which the GLA grew into later.
There is no doubt that the changes in London have been quite dramatic. I remember welcoming the Minister for London—a chap called Bob Mellish—when I was leader of the council in Enfield in 1965. He brought along Baroness Evelyn Dennington, the chairman of the housing committee on the GLC. They urged us to subscribe to the view that a strategy was needed for building housing in London to tackle the enormous problem of housing need. Bob Mellish gave us a challenge when he said, “We’ve estimated that this borough could build 1,000 units a year”. At the time, we were building 500 or 600 units. I am pleased to say that, although we lost power in 1968, by 1970 we had produced 1,000 new units as a result of our planning. I make that point to show that, in housing, one needs power, drive and inspiration. Bob Mellish and Evelyn Dennington energised us and others.
As a Member of Parliament—several of us on both sides of the Chamber have had the same experience—there is nothing more depressing than listening to people who are depressed and in serious difficulty, and when the solution is not to have better housing but simply to have housing to start with. More than once, I left my surgery and sat in my car and cried at the fact that I could not respond to what I knew was a human need. Marriages, jobs and children’s education all depended on having a good place in which to live. I was therefore delighted to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, talk about the possibilities that are emerging. I am invited here to give a general view. You do not win them all; you win some, and you are grateful. I have seen Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” more than once. Between the acts, an interlocutor explains that he is on the New York dockside. He tells people that if they are illegal immigrants, life does not treat them right, and that those who live on the dockside learn to settle for half. No one gets all that they want.
There is a danger that the office and the personality of the mayor sometimes run into each other. I have had my ups and downs with Ken Livingstone over the years, but I believe that when the history of the past seven years is written, he will be seen to have done a good job. There are people who will never believe that he could do a good job, but I believe that he has, and he needs our support.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said that Nick Raynsford does not want the changes in planning because he does not wish to see the mayor trampling over the London boroughs. As a defender of the London boroughs, neither would I. I believe that neither the whole House nor the London Assembly would stand for that. One must have a sense of proportion and sensitivity in these matters. Given the seven years bedding down of the GLA, we have reached a stage where we have a responsibility to give it a new breath of life in order for it to carry on what it is doing.
The briefing from London First states:
“London First supports greater devolution to the Mayor and strong strategic leadership”.
I settle for that. It is not one of the statutory bodies, but it has an important part to play. As we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, it has an understanding of what business expects from a London-wide authority.
On waste disposal or a waste authority, the mayor has to recognise that there is a time when these things are seen by everyone to be the solution. Now is not that time because there is too much opposition. I believe that the Government have gone as far as they can to create a helpful framework. I will certainly look forward to taking part in the debates as far as I can. London government and the people of London deserve the very best, and nothing less.
My Lords, with one major reservation, to which my noble friend Lady Thornton has already referred, I very much welcome this Bill. Many veterans of this debate will recall that I was the Minister who brought through the hefty GLA Bill in 1999. It was at the time the second-longest non-financial Bill that we had ever had: the longest Bill—the Government of India Bill—was never implemented. The Bill was also remarkable for the huge number of amendments which were brought to this House at relatively late stages. I would hope that we do not go through that same process on this Bill. I am glad to see that the Government concur with that.
During those debates we had a lot of discussion about constitutional issues, which was quite bizarre because the Liberal Democrats wanted an assembly without a mayor and the Conservatives wanted a mayor without a directly-elected assembly. What scraped through therefore was an uneasy position, which has largely but not entirely worked. The tweaking in this Bill of the constitutional relationship between the mayor and the Assembly is needed and we will no doubt debate that later.
In addition during those debates, there were suggestions from all sides of the House that more strategic powers should be put to the authority—whether it be the mayor or the Assembly— particularly for spatial development, environment and planning. I can tell noble Lords now that I had some sympathy with those arguments, although my colleagues in Government did not entirely, and there are two reasons for that.
The good reason for approaching it with caution at that stage was that we were creating a new entity, something that had not been tried before. We were not recreating the old GLC and therefore we were right to be cautious. The bad reason was that it was already clear by that time who the leading candidates for mayor were going to be. There was some anxiety on the Labour Benches, although not for me, that the current mayor was going to run away with the Labour nomination—the reality proved to be slightly more complicated. The frontrunner on the Conservative Benches at the time was the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, who was also an active participant in these debates. All those anxieties probably prevented us going as far as we should in relation to some of the strategic responsibilities of the mayor. Nevertheless, as other noble Lords have said, we have seen that by and large the GLA has been a success, particularly in those areas which clearly require a strategic approach, such as transport. I therefore think it is time to revisit the strategic powers and that this Bill has probably got it right.
I particularly welcome the commitment in relation to the climate change strategy. It is true that we may need to look at the wording, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, but it is an opportunity for London to take the lead in the climate change strategy through the action plan the mayor produced the other week to give us the lead. I hope that London can lead the way, particularly in areas such as distributed energy which are so vital to solving our energy problems. Here I declare an interest as a member of the London Climate Change Agency and, of course, as part of the Environment Agency.
I also welcome the planning powers, and I do not really accept the criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, on these. The original two-tier structure for planning powers was a bit too narrow and bureaucratic in the original Act. That does not mean I necessarily agree with the reported predilection of the mayor for extremely high buildings, but if we are to look at the thresholds again, the figures proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, on behalf of the City are too high and that in many parts of London no very important strategic buildings would ever reach those thresholds. We therefore need to ensure that the mayor does have wider powers in relation to strategic planning issues.
On housing, in 1999 I was not convinced by arguments that the GLA should have housing powers, but I am now. We do not want to make the GLA a housing authority, but the fact is that noble Lords will have heard me bewail before the problems of housing policy in London. All parts of the housing market in London—owner occupation, private rented and social housing—are dysfunctional. There is a severe shortage of housing at the affordable end in all of those markets and the city is crying out for a strategic approach. The failure of social housing, which reflects housing stretch and the pressure of population resulting in the atomisation of families and other stresses particularly affecting low income families, is a real problem. Yet the current targets for new developments to provide affordable housing are not being met in a lot of London boroughs. Some are very low, such as Wandsworth at only 12 per cent. There is also circumvention of the requirements even in those boroughs which are trying to enforce the affordable housing quotas.
I largely agree with what my noble friend Lady Jones said about the problems of housing in London, although I have said previously that I am not sure that the drive for local authorities to unload their housing stock through stock transfer and the creation of elbow- length management organisations has necessarily improved the situation. Indeed, I am aware of a number of situations where that has made the position worse. The key issue is not who provides the social housing, but how much of it we have and what is its quality and affordability. One of the problems of housing in London at the moment is that the only people who can come in as new residents of central London are either extremely poor and therefore entitled to have their rent met by housing benefit in either private or social accommodation or they are extremely rich and therefore can afford the high prices for owner-occupied housing.
One of the glories of London is that although it has rich and poor neighbourhoods, in rich neighbourhoods there has always been housing for the poor provided by social landlords and local authorities, while in poor areas there are always properties which benefit the rich. If we polarise our mixed societies within London both in terms of tenure and income, we will have a real social problem in the city. It is right, therefore, that, to tackle these developments and this shortage of housing, the mayor takes on some of the powers that currently rest in London and, in part, in the regional government office and exerts on the boroughs the kind of drive that my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton said was exhibited by Bob Mellish all those years ago, so that they deliver their housing targets.
Noble Lords have touched on another area where the Bill does not go anywhere near far enough in giving the mayor powers: waste disposal. I have had a number of indications of support, not only in this House but from London business, the waste disposal industry itself, the Environment Agency, of which I am a member, and many others in London. It is only really the London boroughs themselves that oppose such a move. I find that bizarre, because, as my noble friend Lord Dubs and others have pointed out, there has been a serious failure by the London boroughs to deliver on the disposal and processing side of their responsibilities.
I favour a strategic authority, a far more substantial body and process than the forum proposed by the Government, for three or four main reasons. First, the present structure is completely anomalous. We have a number of joint authorities that are rather shadowy and a number of single authorities that do not have the economies of scale they could achieve with waste disposal. We have waste moving across London in vast quantities, and a large chunk of London’s waste is being dumped one way or another on the neighbouring counties.
Secondly, the system is a failure. Not only is London bottom of the league, it used to be fourth from bottom, so it is getting worse in relative terms. The majority of London boroughs are in the bottom quartile on recycling, and three of the bottom five authorities are in London. Only one London authority, Bexley, is in the top quartile. We have a bad record, which, in relative terms, is getting worse. Many authorities are not going to meet their target—including, if I might say so, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The boroughs have not done a good job here.
Thirdly, we need a substantial amount of investment in infrastructure and a novel use of transportation in this area. A central strategic authority would be able to procure that, identify the sites and make maximum use of new technology, including energy from waste, about which my noble friend Lord Rooker was waxing lyrical at Question Time. I totally agree with what he said. That ought to be a function of a strategic waste authority.
For all those reasons we need the waste provisions within the Bill to be substantially strengthened. The arguments of the boroughs against that do not add up. They argue that we should not have a two-tier structure, but in at least half of London we have a two-tier structure anyway, and we are talking about the disposal and processing side, not the collection side. The other argument seems to be that if we go through the process of reorganisation, we will miss our targets for 2010. We are going to miss those targets anyway, and the real problem is that we are going to lumber ourselves with a creaking machine for waste disposal within London that will lead us to a chronic failure to meet the targets in 2013 and 2020.
I propose either to bring forward or to support amendments that would strengthen the provisions on waste in the Bill. For the most part, however, I wish the Bill good speed and certainly a faster process, with fewer government or other amendments, than the process in 1999, which so many of us in this Chamber remember with not quite affection.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate, with contributions from a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds, including the repertory company of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and the nuptials of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley—about which the least said, the better, I suspect. Mayor Livingstone has been compared to Wallace and Gromit and King Canute. Those are probably the friendliest epithets I have heard levelled against the mayor for some time, and I am sure he appreciates just how benign the level of debate is in this place.
On these Benches we have always supported the concept of democratic London-wide government. We have always had, and continue to have, reservations about the mayoral model that was chosen, but the Minister will be pleased to know that we will not be challenging the Executive/scrutiny split and re-running those old battles; on the whole, we accept those. The fact that we will be dealing with amendments in Grand Committee, where we cannot divide, shows that we have moved a long way towards accepting the status quo right across the Chamber.
There are a number of benchmarks against which we will measure the Bill’s value. First, does it really devolve power from Whitehall down to City Hall? Secondly, are the powers devolved to the most appropriate levels in London? Thirdly, are all decision-making bodies truly accountable to citizens of the city?
I agree with my noble friend Lord Newby that it is difficult for the Government to continue to justify the level of spending and decision-making by the Government Office for London. This is an arm of Whitehall—it is not devolutionary in any sense. The Government may be able to justify the presence of Government offices in other regions where there is no genuine regional executive body, but this does not apply in London. Can the Minister tell us why the Government consider it necessary for GOL to have more staff and a higher budget now than it did before the mayor and the Assembly were established? Can she explain why GOL has a remit in transport issues when we have Transport for London and why the whole alphabet soup of organisations and partnerships dedicated to sustainable communities and neighbourhood renewal is managed from the Government Office for London and not from City Hall?
If the mayor is to have extended powers, we wish to see them devolved from central government, rather than taken up from the boroughs, except where there is a clear case for a London-wide perspective. The noble Baroness is of course aware that there is much concern that the planning powers proposed in the Bill will result in the mayor taking an unhealthy interest in individual planning applications which really ought to be determined at borough level.
Many noble Lords have referred to the fact that it is important to determine exactly what is meant by “strategic”. That should be defined during the passage of the Bill; we do not want the mayor’s approach to “strategic” to be like something from Alice, where a word means exactly what someone chooses it to mean, nothing more and nothing less. It would be very easy for a strategic London-wide plan to be framed in such a way as to tie the hands of boroughs on individual planning applications as well as having interference by the mayor on individual applications. Similar concerns will arise over the role of boroughs in providing affordable housing. The exact degree of individual council discretion needs to be explained and discussed as the Bill goes through its stages.
This leads to my third point about accountability. Using planning as an example again, it is crucial that citizens know exactly who has decided the application in their neighbourhood—the council, the mayor through one of his powers or the Secretary of State through the appeals mechanism. If true accountability is to exist, a number of things need to be in place. The Bill, along with its predecessor, needs to be akin to a written constitution for London, setting out roles and responsibilities of all bodies with a role in London governance. Without that, we run the danger of organisations engaging in mission creep and the creation of large and bureaucratic functions. Not only is that costly, it makes it very difficult for citizens to know exactly who has made the decision on their behalf. That, in the end, is the essence of the democratic process—knowing who is exercising power and having the ability to remove them if they fail to exercise that power in line with the wishes of the electorate.
The democratic process has to operate in a way which gives voters an effective choice. We on these Benches have always had concerns that the mayoral model, in which all executive power is concentrated in the hands of one person, will seldom result in that person being the first choice of the majority of the electorate. We are discussing the mayoral model rather than the current incumbent, but the danger is that if a majority of those have not voted for the mayor, they feel alienated not just from the mayor but from the political process. The problem is exacerbated in that the London mayor can serve unlimited terms of office. Democracies the world over have recognised the dangers in that, and have one-term, two-term or three-term limits for executive appointments. Given the mayoral power over appointments to a whole range of bodies, it is not difficult to see how, over time, the whole machinery of government can be unhealthily dominated by one person. The process of confirmatory hearings proposed in the Bill is welcome but will not overcome all the dangers inherent in the system.
Finally, there is the question of scrutiny, which plays an essential part in providing the transparency that is essential for democracy to work. For scrutiny to function it must be independent and that independence must include its finances. It still concerns us that the Assembly is still not sufficiently financially protected from the mayor and we shall seek a strengthening of the Bill in that regard. It will always be the case that any incumbent mayor will tend to see scrutiny and opposition as the same thing and seek to blunt the teeth of both.
We welcome the chance to develop London governance in the light of the first seven years’ experience and we welcome the wide consultation that took place before the Bill was published. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, to a certain extent the Bill will provide an opportunity to rehearse some issues that will emerge when the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill comes to this House in the summer in that the so-called strong mayoral model will now be extended to the rest of the country under the terms of that Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, said that one benefit was that we know who to call, and she may well be right; but we also have to know that they are going to pick up the phone and that if they pick it up they are going to listen.
We support devolution from Whitehall to City Hall but we will use the passage of the Bill to seek assurances that devolution, however welcome, must not come at the expense of scrutiny, transparency and democratic principle.
My Lords, it has been a very good debate and I am very grateful for all the contributions from noble Lords. It has made me rather nostalgic for the fact that I was not involved in the previous Bill, length notwithstanding. The only promise that I can make this evening with any certainty is that we will try very hard to limit the number of amendments, on the Government’s side at least.
It has been wonderful listening to the collective experience of so many committed and passionate Londoners around the House tonight. That bodes extremely well for the debates that we shall have as the Bill goes through. I think that the mayor will appreciate being compared more to Wallace and Gromit than to Stalin, but we shall see. The division of the office from the person holding it was a point referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Graham, who gave a beautiful and moving speech, which took us through the history of London housing and London itself.
This has not been my specialist subject until now, unlike the majority of noble Lords in the Chamber, but I look forward to developing those skills as we go through the Bill. To reiterate briefly, the debate that we are having has already elucidated some of the differences in perspective. I would not say that there were any cataclysmic differences between us but there are differences in emphasis and perspective, which cluster around things like the role of the mayor. It has been very helpful to me to have such a clear map put in front of us as to where we will have our debates as we go through the Bill, and certainly there will be things that we agree on. There has been a great deal of agreement around the House about the importance of the strategic power and strengthening it in some ways—and clearly we will have a major debate on things like waste.
The changes that we have proposed are incremental and consistent with the direction of travel that has been taken since 1999, and we are taking forward the Government’s commitment to devolve the right powers to the right level of government in London. I look forward to having that debate with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, especially on the devolution of powers from central government to the regional tier in areas as diverse as housing and the Museum of London.
In health, we are consolidating and building on current responsibilities whereas in climate change we are taking on some new roles—and extremely interesting they will be, too.
My noble friend Lord Graham spoke of power, drive and inspiration, and London’s housing needs all of that. I hope that we will provide that in the powers we are bringing in. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, expressed fears about the future of the boroughs. I make it absolutely clear that the boroughs will retain their central, critical roles in delivering housing, planning and waste services. They will continue to deliver specific housing policies to meet local needs, to decide the overwhelming majority of planning applications and to collect and dispose of London’s waste. Those well managed boroughs of which the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, spoke have nothing to fear from the Bill. Their ability to deliver services for London will not be interfered with in that sense.
However, the Greater London Authority Act is the building block for the current structure and the starting point for the additional powers. Many noble Lords spoke with great passion about the need for the strong mayoral model and what it has delivered. My noble friend Lady Jones spoke powerfully about that. The model works; it is a proven success. The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, went through some of the things we would not have if it were not for the strong mayoral model and pointed to what the precept has delivered, the vast majority of which has been allocated to putting more police into London’s neighbourhoods, which is very important. Indeed, some noble Lords called for more powers for the mayor. As far as I could see, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, did just that. My noble friend Lady Jones called on him to be bold. I detected a frisson in the Chamber as she spoke. But balancing that and alongside that, we are strengthening the Assembly’s role and providing it with more powers of scrutiny, more powers to ask questions and demand answers and more freedom to decide its own affairs. That will address some of the issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, raised about the need to reduce confusion and to illuminate what the Assembly does and can do. The additional powers of scrutiny and confirmation will bring greater accountability and transparency. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, also asked for that. In many cases we are merely formalising what has hitherto been done informally and are making very pragmatic changes—for example, in health—but ones that are very much needed if London is to keep its competitive edge. The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, spoke very powerfully about that.
I shall go through a few of the issues raised and answer a few of the questions asked. However, I promise to write to noble Lords if I do not manage to answer them all. I spoke a little about the notion of the strong mayor. Many noble Lords spoke in graphic terms of the need for a stronger housing responsibility for the mayor. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked me specifically about control of the regional housing pot allocations. The Bill does not give the mayor any more power over regional housing pot funding. It is given directly to the London boroughs and is in place in all the regions. The measure simply codifies the existing arrangements. The mayor makes recommendations to the Secretary of State, who makes the final decisions. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked why we did not give control of housing policy directly to London boroughs. It is important that pan-London housing issues are properly tackled and that can be done only by means of a strategy that looks across London. Examples of that were given tonight. For example, my noble friend Lady Turner spoke of the need to invest in social housing. One needs a pan-London strategy for social housing. I agree with noble Lords who said that we need social housing. It is critical for London and it is a very high priority for the mayor as well. With housing comes jobs. My noble friends Lady Jones and Lady Turner correctly linked it with employment and job opportunities. That is a classic example of where you need co-ordinated, joined-up, strategic, intelligent decision-making powers.
Noble Lords addressed the absolutely critical planning elements of the Bill. In the other place Mr Raynsford challenged the Government on some very serious issues. We listened, which is why I was able to tell the House tonight that we have dropped parts three and four of the order. We will continue to listen; in fact, we have been listening quite a lot. We have changed our original proposal that the mayor should decide whether to take over an application at the start and amended it to ensure that the mayor will make his decisions on applications in an open and transparent manner. Many noble Lords spoke of the need for greater transparency; now the mayor will be required to hear in public any oral representations from boroughs and applicants. We will continue to listen to the debate as the Bill goes through the House to ensure, particularly on transparency, that we are all quite sure that the maximum has been obtained. I am sure that the mayor would want that himself. Transparency is extremely important to us.
Questions were raised about the extent of the mayor’s powers, and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked what “strategic” meant. That will be an important part of our Committee debate. That term is not defined strictly in the Bill, and I do not believe that it is necessary to define it in the Bill. An application will potentially be of strategic importance if it is caught by one of the thresholds set out in the schedule to the draft Mayor of London order. It will be of strategic importance not only if it is caught by the thresholds but if it satisfies either of the tests in the order. The majority of the thresholds defining applications as of potential strategic importance will be the same as those in the current Mayor of London order, which are very well understood. However, I have heard the concerns expressed by noble Lords on some of the thresholds, including those in relation to the City. We are committed to getting those right and will consider whether changes are justified. We are in constant dialogue with the City and are well aware of its concerns. The noble Lord has put those on the record this evening and I am glad to be able to respond to them. We believe, as I said, that the mayor will not interfere in many applications at all, only in those which raise issues of genuine strategic importance. The track record suggests that we can have that confidence.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, who pointed out that many of the problems are implicit in the planning process itself. I think that some of the changes we have made in that process—making it speedier and more transparent—will make a difference. However, I agree that we need to be very watchful of that. Before I leave that point, I should also look at the question on Section 106 raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. She suggested that the mayor might take all the Section 106 moneys for his own schemes and ignore local issues—putting it crudely, I think that that was what she was saying. That will not happen because the current planning obligations set out in our policy circular 05/2005 require fair, open and reasonable negotiation of planning obligations so that they allow a development to go ahead which might otherwise have been refused. I think it is right that, when the mayor takes over an application, he becomes responsible for the planning obligations, but he also has to observe and comply with the requirements. I believe that we can be confident about that. He has to comply with the relevant policies, for example, in the development plan, the London Plan, the UDP or the local development framework.
There has been a great deal of debate tonight about waste disposal. There are different opinions on that issue around the House and I can see that we will have a very lively debate on it. I was particularly glad that my noble friend Lord Warner spoke of the NHS’s relationship to this issue. We must think more about that. However, noble Lords painted a rather bleak picture. That is one of the reasons why we have not supported the notion of a single waste authority in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for example, said that London is the only major metropolitan area without a co-ordinating waste strategy. In fact, the mayor has responsibility for developing a waste strategy for London. The Bill strengthens that and the requirement on the London boroughs to work in general conformity with that strategy. The noble Lord also said that London’s performance on waste was poor. He was not the only one. My noble friend Lord Whitty spoke powerfully about that record. In fact, there have been conspicuous improvements. London’s recycling rate has more than doubled since 2001. Urban boroughs such as Lambeth exceeded their targets in 2005-06, and Bexley recycled over 35 per cent of waste. Recent figures show that London is closer to its 2009-10 landfill allocations than any other region.
We face a major challenge. We face tough EU targets to reduce the amount of waste that we send to landfill, and boroughs are responding. Restructuring at this point would delay the urgent work that boroughs are undertaking to meet targets, and it is the wrong time to restructure when people are focusing on what they have to do. Splitting responsibility between two entirely separate political bodies would not work. It would be a recipe for conflict and stagnation. It would also cut across the principle of devolution.
My noble friend Lord Warner challenged us to produce our breakdown of cost on waste figures and so on, and I will write to him on that. I will also write to my noble friend Lord Berkeley about pedicabs and insurance. We are in active correspondence about that issue already. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is right to say that what we debate on climate change in this Bill will anticipate much of the climate change Bill. There are some interesting questions about definitions, which will be an interesting part of our debate in the remaining stages.
I happily defend the Government Office for London. It is an excellent body with an important role to play. I cannot understand the cynicism expressed this evening. In fact, the recent review of the Government Office Network by the Treasury and the Department for Communities and Local Government has confirmed the importance of its role. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, that staff numbers have fallen by a quarter since October 2004. There are 265 staff now, compared to 376 previously, and more reductions are planned. Some £2.5 billion in grants to the Greater London Authority and Transport for London are being paid through the GOL on behalf of central government, compared to £330 million of funding that it directly spends and £340 million of funding for programmes on behalf of DCLG. The funding package is not quite as simplistic as might have been thought.
The GLA is delivering improved services for London. Noble Lords do not have to take my word for it; they might be happier taking the word of the Audit Commission. In its audit and inspection letter for 2005-06, it found that the GLA is making good progress and performing well on the use of resources. It said:
“The past year has been one of considerable progress against the Mayor’s priorities. Establishing the London Climate Change Agency is a key step towards tackling climate change, the Mayor’s biggest single priority. Crime is at a five-year low. Local policing is now a reality in every ward in London. Investment in public transport is at its highest for sixty years”.
All those noble Lords who had a role in the passage of the GLA Bill in 1999 should congratulate themselves on having created such a wonderful body for London. It is delivering for Londoners, but we do not want to stop there. It is certainly not about reducing or knocking the powers of the boroughs. We need to take more of a regional perspective, especially in the areas identified in the Bill: housing, planning and waste management. We need to up the pace and bring drive and energy, particularly to housing and affordable housing, and to make sure that we have the right infrastructure.
This Bill is good for London, and I commend it to the House.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.