Monday, 30 April 2007.
The Committee met at half-past three.
[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (BARONESS FOOKES) in the Chair.]
Greater London Authority Bill
I remind Members of the Grand Committee that if a Division is called in the Chamber, we will immediately adjourn and resume after 10 minutes. There has been a slight error in the grouping of amendments. Amendment No. 18, which is presently grouped with Amendment No. 12, should actually be in the group beginning with Amendment No. 14. If your Lordships are content, I suggest that we consider it in that group.
Clause 1 [Payments on ceasing to hold office as Mayor or Assembly member]:
On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?
I have taken no part in the previous proceedings on this Bill, and your Lordships will be relieved to hear that I do not propose to take any part in later stages. However, my eye was caught by the provisions of Clause 1, and I find myself astonished that both Houses of Parliament appear to be settling down to pass without comment a provision that enables the Mayor and Members of the London Assembly to decide on their own severance remuneration when even Members of your Lordships' House have their remuneration or recompense, such as it is, settled by an independent body.
In an age when the public increasingly want the transparency and assurance of public finance being administered independently, it seems to me quite extraordinarily out of touch with our times that this clause should be put in the Bill without even contention. I did not want that to happen, and I make the comment, as an independent Conservative Back-Bench voice—I am not voicing my party's policy—that this is entirely wrong. If we were able to divide, I would be precipitating a Division at the end of this discussion, were I not satisfied, as I do not expect to be, by what the Minister is about to tell us.
It is always a pleasure to welcome the noble Lord, however fleetingly, to the debate. I hope that I can reassure him. As he pointed out, Clause 1 enables the Mayor of London and the London Assembly to set up and administer schemes that allow elected Members of the authority to receive a payment when they cease to hold office. Such a scheme can be established only if the Mayor and the Assembly act together to agree to establish it.
Far from being out of touch, this clause brings the GLA into line with other similar bodies. It is also a question of fairness and prudence, as I hope to show. There is currently no provision to allow the GLA to provide a payment to an elected Member who ceases to hold office, although it can provide pension arrangements when elected Members leave. This change, therefore, brings the GLA into line, first, with the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, and, secondly, with the 2005 recommendation from the Senior Salaries Review Body, which proposed that a severance scheme should be introduced for the Mayor and Assembly Members. This is not something that we have invented or that the GLA has pushed for in a cavalier fashion.
If the GLA chooses to set up a scheme, that scheme must be funded from its existing resources, and it will guarantee a transparent process. Therefore, the GLA will have to look prudently at what this will mean for finances, because it should not increase the council tax; we would not want to see that. This is fair and we hope very much that it is respected as the GLA grows and matures; it is a reflection of that growth. As I said, the change is made very properly, in relation to Scotland and Wales, and on the advice of the SSRB.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask her to elucidate? She says that this must be funded from existing resources—here, I declare an interest as a council tax payer in Greater London—and that costs will not fall on the council tax payer. What existing resources does she have in mind?
I cannot extrapolate from what I have said, because this will depend on the sort of scheme that the GLA chooses to establish. However, the precedent of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly might be useful, as they have used the level of resettlement grant payment. The figure has been calculated as a percentage of annual salary determined by age and length of service. We have some parameters there. Clearly, the result will depend on whether the GLA chooses to do this, but I reiterate that we do not expect or want to see any increase in council tax.
I start by declaring the interest that I declared on Second Reading, which is a particularly large one in this connection: I am a serving Member of the London Assembly who, by choice, is not proposing to stand again. As a result, I may become entitled to a payment under whatever scheme is put in place. I well accept that there are distinctions between the different histories of Members and the ways in which different Members may lose office. The Mayor and the Assembly may well wish to consider that point when the time comes.
I know that my noble friend Lord Tope will want to declare the same interest and, so that it is all on the record, I will do it for him.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to the severance being settled by the GLA. That is no different from what happens with the remuneration for Assembly Members and, indeed, for the Mayor. Historically, the Assembly and Mayor have followed recommendations made by the Senior Salaries Review Body. The recommendations are therefore made by a third party, but the decisions are matters for the GLA, and the arrangements for the severance scheme will be no different.
As the Minister explained, this was a recommendation by the SSRB, which assessed the jobs of Assembly Members and—less surprisingly, perhaps—the Mayor as being full time. Your Lordships may want to consider issues relating to the position of local authority cabinet members, whose jobs are increasingly becoming full time. Perhaps this provision is leading the way on that, but it certainly has not sprung from any action taken by the GLA. As my noble friend Lord Tope whispered to me a minute ago, it would be much more comfortable if the scheme were simply imposed on us, rather than our having to take the decisions. I hope that that has fleshed out the position a little.
Perhaps I, too, should declare an interest, on the off-chance that the Mayor and the Assembly should make this payment retrospective to cover former Members who lost their position.
First, I believe that the proposal is consistent with what applies for a number of other public bodies, certainly in local government, where payments are determined by the local authority on the basis, usually, of independent advice. That seems to be the basis on which this should be done.
My second point goes back to my personal experience. When people hold an office on the basis that it is full time and remunerated as such, the loss of office, particularly when it is unexpected and unplanned for, will have a dramatic effect on them. In most other areas of life, there are arrangements for that to be managed, and I would have thought that that was behind the Senior Salary Review Body's recommendations.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 [Consultation]:
moved Amendment No. 1:
“1: Clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out “or any of the functional bodies” and insert “, any of the functional bodies or such body representative of the London borough councils”
The noble Baroness said: This amendment is unfinished business as regards the previous Greater London Authority Act and I pick it up on that basis. One should make it clear whether one is speaking about the current Mayor or the system. There are difficult crossovers, where either the impact of the current Mayor or that of the system itself has made the tabling of amendments necessary. I should make it clear that I am talking here about the system, not the current Mayor. However, it seems to me an appropriate starting point for our wider consideration of the Bill and, in particular, the role of the London boroughs in the government of the capital. Our approach to the Bill is to oppose provisions that centralise too much influence with the Mayor and, as here, to balance as far as possible the power of the boroughs.
It is striking that the boroughs are not included among the primary bodies that the Mayor must consult. This amendment would rectify that position. It would include the body that represents the boroughs—namely, London Councils—and thus put it on an equal footing with the London Assembly as regards consultation. That is an important principle. It would be wrong for the Mayor not to take into account the views of the body of local authorities, London Councils, when devising or consulting on his strategies.
There are a number of reasons why we believe this to be the case. First, with equal democratic legitimacy, the boroughs would add an extra level of scrutiny to the Mayor's strategies. More pertinently, the councils themselves will be charged with carrying out the Mayor's strategies and ensuring that his duties are met. Therefore, to cut them out of the primary consultation process for those very strategies appears unjust. My honourable friends in another place, as well as many others outside Westminster, have raised legitimate concerns about the range of some of the Mayor's strategies elsewhere in the Bill. An easy way for the Government to allay some of these fears would be to ensure that the London boroughs had an explicit stake in the consultation process before these strategies are published.
This amendment would help to entrench the Government's original vision of the Mayor as someone who should perform only a strategic role. It would not add any powers to London Councils but would give that body a voice. We hope that the Government will respond favourably to this suggestion. The Minister in another place argued that this was an unnecessary change as such consultation ought to take place in any event. If that is the case, there can be no possible argument against formalising the relationship. I beg to move.
It is important that the Mayor should have regard to the views of London Councils—I wish that that body was still called the ALG, because that would have made this debate a great deal easier. The Mayor should have particular regard to the views of each London council. I distinguish them from London Councils, which cannot always represent all views and, indeed, is likely on some occasions to represent a majority view. What is important is the breadth of the consultation and what is meant in this clause by “have regard to” views. I do not know whether the Minister can assist me; I am not sure what more is meant by "have regard to" than is inherent in good consultation. However, that is not the central point of this amendment.
Individual borough councils are consulted on strategies—or should be—under the original Act. The Section 42 list includes “each London borough council”. I recall a debate in 1998 or 1999 about whether the Association of London Government, as it then called itself, should be included separately in that list-the converse, perhaps, of this debate. So the boroughs are consulted.
Most important are the provisions in the new section headed “Consultation: supplementary provision”. Those provisions are not the whole of it, by any means; they merely supplement Section 42. Subsections (2), (4), (5) and (6) spell out what the Mayor has to do in responding to comments made through a consultation process. He has to give reasons why comments are accepted or rejected, or, presumably—although it does not say so—why they are partly accepted or rejected. I see that feedback as important part of the process.
I do not suppose that London Councils, the organisation, would sit back during this period, but I think that the individual boroughs have a particular status in that part of the forest. This clause, in particular, would strengthen the role of the Assembly and its scrutiny powers by requiring the Mayor to spell out precisely why he does or does not accept comments made by the Assembly in contributing to the making of a strategy.
I more or less agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. However, if one adds the boroughs to the consultation, it raises the question of whom else one might add to the consultation. I should just say that I am chief executive of London First, which is a business organisation. I believe that the London business community would be another obvious stakeholder to consult.
I wonder why the provision includes the “functional bodies”, as it would seem a little odd if the Mayor did not have regard to his own functional bodies when developing strategies. I wholly endorse the view that he should have regard to the Assembly, as critiquing the strategies is core to its role. I also support the important point about transparency over why certain points in the consultation have or have not been taken on board, which is referred to in a later amendment. That is a more important provision than the one that we are currently considering.
I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss consultation, because it is so important. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness for making the distinction between the Mayor as a person and the Mayor as an office.
We all agree about the importance of public bodies engaging in proper, meaningful consultation as they develop their strategies. That is a crucial role in the process of making policy. I am very grateful that the noble Baronesses, Lady Hanham and Lady Valentine, have drawn attention to the strengthening that we have offered in Clause 2. The GLA Act obviously placed a very wide range of duties on the Mayor in terms of consultation. Clause 2 takes the argument and opportunity for the GLA significantly further by these additional powers.
The provision strengthens the requirement on the Mayor to have an explicit regard to consultation processes. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked me about that. The key is the explicit “have regard to”. That is tied in with the requirement on the Mayor to write to the Assembly in responding to any recommendation that it makes explaining his reasons for not accepting it. That is an incredibly valuable power and I am glad that the GLA has welcomed it.
At the moment the Mayor must carry out two stages of consultation on his strategies. That is deliberately so, because a proper distinction has been made between the GLA family, which he consults at the first stage—the Assembly and functional bodies that he consults on drafts for or revisions to strategies—before moving on to consult more widely at the second stage. He is specifically required to consult the London boroughs during the second stage. This is where the consultation carries more force, given the breadth of experience in delivery offered by the London boroughs. We think that the two-stage process works well by allowing the Mayor to take full account of views within the family, as it were, before consulting outside.
The amendment would require the Mayor to have regard to comments made by any representative body of the London boroughs, such as London Councils, when he consults on his strategies. For the reasons I have just given, we cannot accept it. Such bodies make an important contribution to the development of strategies at the second stage, after the Mayor has consulted the Assembly and the functional bodies. Taking fully into account the responses made in consultation is an important new requirement in the sense that the Mayor has to respond explicitly and transparently; indeed, he has a firm track record of adjusting his proposals in response.
My final argument has already been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, who said that, if one allows the London councils to have a role at the primary stage, one would need to ask who else might legitimately come forward speaking for London interests and say, “Why not us?”. The body so ably represented by the noble Baroness is London First, but that would not be the end of it. We would be opening up the first stage to another raft of potential consultees and thus diluting the distinction that we want to make between the GLA family in the first instance and the second stage of consultation. So, with regret, I have to resist the amendment.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but I remain as perplexed as I was when I read the proceedings of the other place. London Councils is the body that represents the democratically elected local authorities. London First, great as that organisation is—I used to be on its board—does a completely different job; it does not represent elected bodies. London Councils does, and every single action taken by the Mayor has an impact on local authorities. He is going to impact either on their strategies or on how they carry out their duties. That represents an impact on aspects of the daily life of London that the Mayor does not implement, because the London councils, in their plurality, do.
This is a unique situation. The Assembly is elected but does not have representatives from every council in London. Given how the constituencies fall, there may not necessarily be one Assembly Member for each borough. That is why this is so important. I appreciate that at the second stage the London boroughs are consulted, but at the first stage, which represents the first understanding of the policy and strategies, it seems perfectly appropriate that the body which represents the London boroughs and which has on it representatives from each of them should be involved in the consultation and be able to give the Mayor its view. Indeed, it should be in the same position; that is, it should be able to require a written response to its representations.
I hope that the Minister will rethink this point in the light of my remarks, because London Councils is now an important and serious body of representatives of local government and the Mayor cannot replicate it in other ways. The consultation policy should be formulated so that London Councils becomes an authorised consultee at the outset. I do not know whether I am going to move the Minister now, but in view of my own argument—with which I am becoming more and more compelled even as I speak—I am bound to say that it is likely that I shall return to this matter at a later stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 2:
“2: Clause 2, page 2, line 31, at end insert—
"(2A) After section 42A of the GLA Act 1999 insert—
"42B Consultation strategy
The Mayor shall produce and publish a consultation strategy containing information about the procedures in respect of all matters upon which he is required to consult under this Act, including (a) procedure for consultation,
(b) persons or bodies to be consulted,
(c) arrangements for publicity,
(d) arrangements for provision of copies of any strategy and amendments thereto,
(e) arrangements for conducting public participation in respect of new strategies or amendment thereto,
(f) arrangements to permit reasonable timetable for consultation,
(g) arrangements in respect of responses to consultation including provision of written statements."."
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 2 would establish a document outlining the procedures that the Mayor should follow in all future consultations. It is no secret that there has been widespread dissatisfaction about recent consultations. His favourite form of consultation—I am talking about this Mayor—appears to be to talk to the bathroom mirror. That was most colourfully demonstrated by the polling for the extension of the congestion charge. In that regard, I declare an interest as a member of the council of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, to which the charge was extended. I leave that on record for the rest of our proceedings.
Although a staggering proportion of local residents objected to the expansion of the congestion charge, the Mayor paid not the slightest heed. It is unacceptable to us that the Mayor can gain political capital by announcing that there will be formal consultation but subsequently turning an apparently completely deaf ear to the views expressed. The accusation that the Mayor pays lip-service to the idea of consultation but that the outcome has no bearing on his final decision is hard to shake off. It must be in the Mayor's interest that such accusations can be refuted. It is essential for the office of Mayor that the public can have confidence in the process behind decision-making; and it must be in the public interest that Londoners have the opportunity to voice their opinions and know that they will be listened to and not patronised.
It is against that background we propose that a consultation strategy should be produced. Various other strategies are coming up in the Bill, so this would just add one more. The strategy would set down clearly and indisputably the procedure for any future consultation. It would specify the individuals or bodies that ought to be consulted and the transparency of such consultation as well as the time frames, publicity and the right to participation. Those are all vital considerations that the Mayor should not be allowed to sidestep. The Government's position cannot seriously be to endorse rushed or poorly publicised consultations or ones with no realistic opportunity for participation, or to encourage a situation where a clearly relevant body is unnecessarily omitted.
We are not imposing restrictions; it would be the Mayor himself who would produce the strategy. That would have the advantage not only of ensuring that each consultation was procedurally correct and, importantly, consistent but, as the strategy would have to be published, the process of consultation as envisaged by the Mayor would be openly understood at all stages and open to challenge.
Published participation is an important part of any political process, especially with a Mayor who carries out policies that are not terribly popular. It is only right that it should be properly structured. I beg to move.
This is a perfectly innocuous, if pointless, amendment. However it is not assisted by the extraordinary terms in which the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has moved it. First, any sensible public body should have a consultation strategy, which would contain the elements set out in the amendment. From that point of view, the amendment is innocuous. I suggest that it is probably pointless because any sensible public body would have such a strategy. I should not be at all surprised—although I cannot for the moment recall—if the Mayor has adopted a consultation strategy at some time; he has probably adopted several.
However, I find the arguments with which the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, moved the amendment spurious. What she described is good practice, but her argument was that she did not like the outcome of the consultation on the extension of the congestion charge zone.
I have no particular interest in this, but personally I think that the Mayor was misguided in his decision to extend the congestion charge. I think that there should have been a separate charge just for the residents for Kensington and Chelsea, because otherwise they are being subsidised to drive through other parts of London. I never saw the point of that, as some of them are extremely wealthy.
To suggest, however, that the mere presence of a consultation strategy will mean that a Mayor—any Mayor—is going to agree with the views expressed is clearly wrong. The purpose of consultation is to extend to the public, or to those being consulted, an opportunity to comment. It is incumbent on the person consulting to listen and consider those views. Ultimately, though, it is the responsibility of—in this case—the Mayor to make a judgment in the light of the views that have been expressed and of the view of the public interest that that person takes. That may sometimes mean going against the heavily expressed views from a particular area, because there is seen to be a wider benefit. A consultation strategy will not ensure that that does not happen; indeed, it should not do so. The whole purpose of electing people to hold office in public life is for them to exercise their judgment and subsequently to be held accountable for that judgment. Of course they should consult and of course they should listen and take note, but that does not mean that, because a majority of views expressed go against a particular policy, that policy should automatically be reversed.
I, too, made a note, as the noble Baroness was speaking, that what cannot be anticipated by any consultation strategy is the outcome. To that extent, I share some of the noble Lord's views.
Of course there should be a strategy, or maybe several strategies. The noble Lord said jokingly that there may be a series of them, but in fact different policy strategies require different forms of consultation and different exercises. I did not think in time to look this up, but I believe that there are Cabinet Office guidelines on this subject, which I suppose provide for a minimum of what is good consultation and how one deals with it. The Minister may be able to tell us about that.
Having said that, I do not want to be entirely hostile to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. I share a lot of her concerns. The Minister in the Commons said in Committee that he was,
“sure that the Mayor carefully considers all responses”.—[Official Report, Commons Greater London Authority Bill Committee, 18/1/07; col. 326.]
I have heard the Mayor say so many times. I will share with the Committee the fact that I have said as the Chair of the Assembly, in order to get it on the record, that it is a great pity that the minutes do not record the Mayor's facial expression as he is making such comments. It would take quite a lot of psychological analysis to go down that route, and I will not do so. However, the fact that he has to say that he takes account of the responses does not mean that he agrees with them all—he cannot agree with them all. I wish that I could think of a way of strengthening the amendment in order to ensure a more robust process, but the rules—or guidelines, at any rate—are already there, and it would be hard to show that they were not followed.
I support my noble friend Lady Hanham, particularly with regard to Amendments No. 1 and 2. I thank my noble friend for the thorough and interesting opening to this part of the debate, and I await with interest the Minister's response to the question she has raised.
I do not think that, so far, the consultation process has been fair. The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that the authority publishes consultation responses, the analysis of those responses and any reasons why representations that have been received have been disregarded.
The new amendments are straightforward. They are about openness, transparency, and providing additional checks and balances. Although this would not stop the Mayor proceeding with his strategies, such as the congestion charge extension, it would make clear the reasons why he had rejected second representations. It would also make clearer the opposition to his proposals, as in the case of the most recent congestion charge extension, and would provide much more public awareness of it. Requiring the Mayor to make publicly available the analysis, the responses and the reasons why he should act is another significant check and balance, which is required when we are talking about giving the Mayor additional powers. It would therefore be entirely appropriate to introduce additional checks and balances to ensure that his powers are exercised sensibly.
As I said, the amendment is simple, straightforward and clear. It would make publicly available much more information about consultation and the Mayor's reasons for accepting or rejecting responses to his proposals. Surely the Minister agrees that it is completely illogical that the Mayor and the Greater London Authority will be able to do things differently from any other local authority in England.
Like my noble friend Lord Harris, I have no objection to the Mayor having certain powers. We have all been in public life and local authority life for many, many years. Over the years, I have, as a chairman and a leader, had to give the outcome of consultations. Sometimes they were received well and sometimes they were not, but that is the name of the game. It would be new to me if the words used in the amendment assuaged feelings about an outcome with which we disagreed, because when people fully participate in a consultation and express a view, they rarely accept that the logic of what they have said has been considered carefully but rejected. Indeed, they often feel—the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, used this phrase more than once—completely ignored. Someone may listen to another, opposing point of view but stick to his original point of view. He has not been moved. That does not mean that the other's point of view has been ignored. The painful fact is that you win some, you lose some; so I will be interested to hear the Minister's view of the amendment and whether it would eventually strengthen the general view that there should be the widest possible consultation.
It is right that there should be a strategy and an understanding. It is also right that the Mayor should accept responsibility for explaining in public and in consultation what moves the policy, but we will get nowhere by using a form of words that would make the Mayor bound to do certain things. The Mayor, of course, has powers, and provided that what he is asked to do within those powers is democratic and sensible, I have no objection to them.
I have no interest to declare as a former GLA member or anything of that sort. I am, however, a Londoner, and have taken a considerable interest in the Bill because I am interested in the governance of London. However, Clause 2 is a very comprehensive rule, and provides for much greater scrutiny by the Assembly.
I am not in favour of having extra bits written into legislation if it is not necessary. We have enough legislation already, as many people think—I certainly think so. To write in this redundant wording when we already have Clause 2 is not something that we should countenance as a Committee.
I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me. She referred to the rules. I think that the rules she was referring to are the existing arrangements for the public to access what the Mayor is consulting on in London. As I said, I am a council tax payer and I have little knowledge about local government in London—apart from housing, to which I shall come later as the Bill progresses.
I was involved in a discussion with a residents' association in Westminster for three months. I did much of the work on the half of the residents' association and I found the process of consultation with the GLA extremely difficult to understand. There was no master document. My son and I spent hours trawling the internet to find out how to make representations on particular issues. The information was not there unless you dug deep into the detail and looked at individual documents produced by the GLA on planning policy. Although the amendment may seem redundant to some of my noble friends, if it would provide for a single document that would set out clearly and simply for the public what are the powers of the Mayor in consulting about the issues set out in paragraphs (e) to (g), I am very much in favour of it. As someone who tried to use the system and work out what were the rights for a council tax payer in London to make representations and be consulted, if they are as difficult as I suggest, something should be done.
Like the previous two speakers, I have interests to declare. My noble friend has already declared my interest as a Member of the London Assembly. Through that, I am also a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. Entirely unrelated to that, I am also a London borough councillor.
I have much sympathy with the wording of the amendment. It is a statement of good practice. It is a useful statement. I would hope and expect that every consultation would provide that information before it began. I fear that, all too often, that does not happen. As my noble friend said, I am less sure that we could have one strategy that covers every consultation in whatever circumstances. Rather, we should have a statement of good practice at the start of each consultation.
I am a little more concerned about some of the things that have been said in this short debate that seemed fundamentally to misunderstand the purpose of consultation. Consultation is not and is never intended to be a referendum. It may well be—it often is—that the greater number of responses comes from people against the proposal being consulted on. That is the nature of life. That does not necessarily mean that the decision taker has to abide by the weight of response. The purpose of consultation is to enable the decision-taker or takers to make better-informed decisions and weigh up all the pros and cons.
I do not want to go too far with this particular example, but I and my party happened to oppose the extension to the congestion charge. However, in considering that, the Mayor should have taken into account the interests of London as a whole, not just a particular area. The point of consultation is that it should better inform decision-takers. It should not be a referendum. The other point is that the word consultation is sometimes used too loosely to mean communication.
In any consultation we should be clear what is up with options for change, for variation or even for rejection and what is not. I am not sure whether it is legally possible for the Mayor to have done this in the example we were using, but let me use it as an example. The Mayor was clearly minded, rightly or wrongly, to extend the congestion charge. It would probably have been better if he had made that absolutely clear to start with and if he had had a consultation not on whether he should do it, but on how he should do it, and the details of how it should work. Whether that was legally possible is, in a way, irrelevant to the argument I am making.
My purpose is that, when consulting, people should be clear about the purpose of the consultation and what options are up for change, and what is simply communicating, quite properly, what you intend to do because that is what you have been elected to do.
This has been a very interesting debate. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Harris for opening it so widely and forensically and for the views expressed around the Committee.
A distinction is to be drawn about what we want from good consultation and good communication processes. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, made a very helpful point. So much of what has been said could be achieved by improved processes and improved communication strategies. That might address the point raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. But that is not what this amendment is about or what it would achieve. There are clearly issues that we hope the Mayor will listen to closely, and it will be fascinating as the ways of the Greater London Assembly are unveiled before us in Committee. Clearly, there are ways of doing things and it is very interesting to know, for example, that there are internal communication and consultation strategies.
The amendment would require the Mayor to prepare a consultation strategy, which would include, among other things, his procedures for consultation, persons to be consulted and arrangements for publicity and public participation. That is extremely prescriptive without being able to guarantee—setting aside the debate that we have just had on outcomes—that the processes would be better. That is why I think we have to resist it.
I take the point made by my noble friend Lady Turner. We do not lightly put bits of legislation into force, either because they are redundant because they are achieved by other means, or because we feel like it. If I had said that we can just add another strategy to the many strategies we are adding in, I think that the noble Baroness would have looked askance at me. Obviously, we want everything that goes into the Bill to serve its precise purpose.
Although the amendment has provoked a very useful debate, it would do nothing more than add to the bureaucratic burden. It has the capacity to be time-consuming and costly, and I do not think that it will bring about any improved processes. It certainly would not guarantee any more favourable outcomes in terms of any expectations that anyone might have.
I can see that one of the recurring debates that we will have is about the congestion charge and who will listen to whom. My sense is that when the Mayor decided to go ahead with the western extension of the congestion charge following public consultation, the exact nature of the zone and treatment of discounts were significantly modified in the light of consultation responses. So I do not think we can take that as read. Indeed, I could and probably would give different examples at different times of our debate. Also, I do not think it is true that the Mayor ignores the views of consultees, not least because he has already published summaries of public consultation processes on a voluntary basis for several statutory strategies.
May I ask a simple question? If an ordinary mortal citizen of London faced some complication and wanted to know what the role of the Mayor was in terms of consultation and which bodies had to be consulted, where would he look? Is there a rule book somewhere? Is there something published which he could find or which is made available whereby he would know exactly what actions he should take and how to proceed?
They could do worse than start with the Greater London Authority Act 1999, which is available in public libraries. I take the point the noble Lord makes, but I do not think that will be solved by the amendment. Clearly there are issues around how to access information about how to take part in a consultation process. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, said that much of what is being proposed might serve well as the preamble to any consultation process or paper; such a preamble could give this information. That is a matter for the Mayor.
May I press my noble friend a little further? She said that people should refer to the Act. The kind of people I am talking about have probably never handled an Act in all their lives; they probably do not even know what one looks like, and would not know where to find it. They would not know that you could get it in a public library, and if they went to a library they would probably have difficulty getting access to it. They would probably have to go to HMSO, although they probably would not know what that was anyhow. The point is whether a simple source of information is available. That was what happened during our argument with the GLA; no one knew what the rules were and how to proceed.
I was not at all being flippant when I said they should refer to the Act. I accept the difficulties there are in accessing legislation, and I do not have a complete answer for that. My instinct would have been to suggest that the Mayor's office should be rung and discussions had directly with his staff who are there to inform the public about access. We know that the Mayor is open and that he takes the process of democratic engagement very seriously—and I would have thought that was a place to start. I will write to the noble Lord, because he is making an important point.
A question was asked about the nature of consultation and what guidance there may be on it. Cabinet Office guidance is issued on consultation processes. Although those are essentially government processes, the guidance creates a framework of expectation about what should go into making a thorough and meaningful consultation. That is a useful framework in itself.
I reiterate that I appreciate the opportunity to have this debate, but I am afraid we cannot accept the noble Baroness's amendment.
This is a fascinating discussion. Clause 2 on consultation, under the heading “The Mayor's strategies”, refers to the consultation that the Mayor must undertake with the Assembly over the functional bodies. There is no question that this consultation should take place with anyone else. There is no suggestion there that there should be a consultation process for discussing and conducting a consultation with—good gracious—members of the public, the electors who are affected. There is nothing in the clause that widens the process out to the public.
I used the congestion charge as an example simply because it still rankles, firmly and squarely, in my borough. Yes, modifications were made, but they were marginal and simply stopped people being trapped in a no-man's-land. So there were reasons behind that.
Is it not the case that consultation on changes to the congestion charge zone are a statutory process that is laid down in the Greater London Authority Act 1999, to which reference has been made? Is it not also the case that there have been a number of legal cases about whether or not consultation has taken place properly? I refer the noble Baroness to the case of Agricultural, Horticultural and Forestry Industry Training Board v Aylesbury Mushrooms in 1972, heard by Lord Justice Donaldson, which set out clearly that,
“the essence of consultation is the communication of a genuine invitation, extended with a receptive mind, to give advice”,
or to a case that both of us probably remember more directly: R v Secretary of State for Social Services ex parte Association of Metropolitan Authorities in 1986, where Lord Justice Webster said,
“in any context, the essence of consultation is the communication of a genuine invitation to give advice and a genuine consideration of that advice”.
If there is a feeling that the statutory processes were not followed, or that the consultation was improper, is there not already a process in place?
I think that I was about to advance a stirring argument on the fact that the consultation measures in this Bill relate only to the Mayor and the Assembly. We think that they should be broadened and that proper procedures should be put in place for consultation with the wider public. The public should know what those procedures are and be able to identify them somewhere on the Mayor's website. Indeed, I was interested in the account of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, of his experience of trying to access anything to do with finding out about the strategies of the Greater London Authority. The validity of consultation is accepted by the public if they know what it is about, what is happening, and why. I cited the introduction of the congestion charge as an example of how things should not be done, whatever the outcome. It would therefore be extremely helpful to have a proper strategy—we have so many others that we may as well have one more. I shall continue to press the amendment, although probably not today. For the purposes of this stage, I shall withdraw it.
Before the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment, perhaps I may make one or two comments. In relation to the question of requiring the Mayor to consult with the general public, I should like to put on the record the fact that, under Section 42 of the Greater London Assembly Act 1999, the Mayor should, before he implements a major area of policy, consult the Assembly and the functional bodies first, and in consulting more widely—including the London boroughs—he must also consult any other body that he considers appropriate. It is inconceivable that that would not mean Londoners and the general public.
Further, I am sure that the noble Baroness will be delighted to know that when we come to debate the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, we will consider a new duty on best-value authorities—they will include the GLA, Transport for London and the London Development Agency—to encourage greater public participation in the exercise of their functions. That will include consultation with the public where appropriate.
This is an important debate and I share entirely with the noble Baroness and all noble Lords who have spoken the wish to ensure that the process is as open and effective as possible. There may be further opportunities to strengthen areas of that process, particularly in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill.
I thank the Minister for that response. It now depends on whether we think the process ought to be strengthened in this Bill. However, we are not going to achieve that this afternoon so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 3:
“3: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Consultation (No. 2)
(1) Section 32 of the GLA Act 1999 (consultation) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (1) insert—
"(1A) The Mayor shall notify the Chair of the Assembly of every consultation to be undertaken under subsection (1) before its commencement."
(3) After subsection (4) insert
"(4A) The Authority shall, after undertaking any consultation under subsection (1) and before implementing any proposal, publish a statement identifying which of the responses to its consultation are accepted in whole or in part for implementation and setting out the reasons why any responses so submitted are not accepted or not accepted in full."."
The noble Baroness said: The amendment is on the same subject of consultation. Before I speak to it, perhaps I may express very considerable sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I too was going to mention the website, which, in the 21st century, is the way that most people not only look up information, but are expected to do so. I do not always find that entirely helpful because I rather like the printed page rather than having to spend a long time following the trail through a website. I shall also say to the noble Lord as an expression of my sympathy that if there is anything that my noble friend or I can do to assist with his particular problem, such as by tabling a question for the Mayor at Mayor's question time, then—as Assembly Members would say to any Londoner—we would be happy to do so.
Amendment No. 3, which is grouped with Amendment No. 71, provides for notification to be given to the Chair of the Assembly of any consultation to be undertaken before it starts and, most important, for the publication of a statement setting out the response to the responses to the consultation.
The first point is so that the Assembly can keep track of matters. I concede that in the case of formal, major consultations there has not so far been a problem. With a future, theoretical Mayor, who we have to keep in mind in these discussions, there could be a problem. The amendment would assist the Assembly in planning its business so that no consultation is sprung on it. Subsection (3) is to provide for feedback. Increasingly, I realise how important it is that there is an organised method of a consultor recording how and why a decision was taken and what the response is to consultees. That cannot always be done on an individual basis, but it is important for public authorities to set out extremely clearly and accessibly, taking that point, why they take a decision.
This is proposed as a new clause after Clause 2. It is not intended to diminish consultation undertaken under the new provisions, which are very specific about the Assembly's role, or to suggest that Section 42 of the 1999 Act is in any way diminished. Taking the points that have just been made on the previous amendment, if I thought that Clause 2 in any way diminished Section 42, I would be very concerned indeed.
No doubt in a moment the noble Baroness will speak to her Amendment No. 71, which requires that mayoral strategies be subject to the Assembly's approval. While again I have sympathy with the notion, from this side we have pretty much accepted that this Bill does not fundamentally change the structure of the GLA and the executive/scrutiny split. For the Assembly to be able to veto strategies—there have been occasions when I have wished that we could—it would probably need a more thorough revision of the 1999 Act. Over the years, it has been suggested, particularly by academics, that the Assembly might be given the opportunity to veto mayoral strategies on the basis of a two-thirds majority and that that would be in practice rather more useful than the two-thirds majority that is required to block the budget. Many members of the public think that the Assembly has the power to block the Mayor, but that is not the case. My main concern about Amendment No. 71 is that, whatever we end up with, the lines of accountability and the responsibility for decisions should not be blurred. I wish the noble Baroness luck with her amendment. I beg to move.
I thank the noble Baroness for her wishes for luck with my amendment, which arrived in a rather funny place where I would not necessarily have wanted—there was a bit of confusion over it.
It seems to us that any strategy that the Mayor puts forward has to have some approval from someone. He is quite on his own up there, and it makes sense that, if you have an Assembly that you can consult and make sure that it thinks that something is a good idea, that should be what happens. Even if it happens in the breach at the moment, perhaps it ought to happen with a bit more authority.
This has been another very interesting debate. To reiterate, Clause 2 strengthens further the requirements on the Mayor to respond to consultation on his strategies. In future, he will be subject to an explicit duty to have regard to any comments from the Assembly and the functional bodies in response to consultation. He must also respond in writing to the Assembly to any recommendation that it makes, explaining his reasons. We believe very strongly—I sense that the Committee does, too—that this change will sharpen up the Assembly's contribution to policy development, and sharpen and deepen its influence. It will, for example, be much more transparent where the Mayor agrees with the Assembly's view and where, and why, he does not. The Assembly itself has said:
“This will strengthen the Assembly's role in the development of the Mayor's strategies, by introducing a greater degree of transparency into the process by which the Mayor considers the Assembly's comments and makes decisions on the contents of his strategies”.
These are sensible, incremental changes. I was very grateful for the way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, explained the importance of the distinction in the mayoral role model between the scrutiny function of the Assembly and the executive arm—the Mayor—and why the Mayor should have the final say over the content of his strategies.
Do Amendments Nos. 3 and 71 improve the processes? I reluctantly conclude that they do not. I shall discuss Amendment No. 71 first. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that it would not only blur the clear lines of responsibility that were laid down in the Act and that work well, but overturn the settlement between the Assembly and the Mayor. We believe very strongly that preparation and the revision of strategies is clearly an executive function in the GLA model, and is rightly the responsibility of the mayor. The Assembly's primary and legitimate role should be to scrutinise content and implementation, while also being able to recommend to the Mayor how they might be improved. That is why we have strengthened the Assembly's powers in this regard; namely, to expect answers when its recommendations have not been accepted.
Amendment No. 71 would completely overturn the requirement on the Assembly to approve mayoral strategies. The Mayor would have to seek Assembly approval. The very least that the amendment would do would be to add confusion and uncertainty about the Mayor's policies about what would survive and what would be in the interests of London. It would be much more difficult for an elected Mayor to implement his manifesto commitments, which Londoners have elected him to deliver. I am therefore afraid that we resist the amendment.
We also resist Amendment No. 3, which would require the Mayor to notify the Chair of the Assembly of any consultation that he intends to undertake on the use of the authority's general power. It would also require the Mayor to publish a statement about the responses to consultation before implementing any proposals. I understood the noble Baroness to say that there was no problem with the large, formal consultations and that she was more concerned about the smaller, more informal ones. That, however, is exactly where the problem lies. The amendment would create a cumbersome, bureaucratic and costly procedure that would not improve the authority's efficiency. The Mayor is already required to consult bodies or persons whom he considers appropriate before exercising the GLA's general power. Quite rightly, however, this is not necessarily a formal process. It might be a meeting with interested parties or a series of phone calls. We have entered into very difficult definitions here. Requiring the Mayor to notify the Assembly each time he does so and, even more onerously, requiring him to produce a written statement setting out each response that he accepts and each response that he does not is impractical and unworkable.
The noble Baroness raised the question of what is good practice in this field and what is an exceptional request. This goes well beyond accepted good practice, because when the Secretary of State responds to a consultation, he is required to publish a summary of responses to each formal consultation. I understand that that is also the standard practice of the Mayor. To require him to publish a statement on all responses to all types of consultation on his general power is excessive. Sensible changes are made by Clause 2 in making the whole process stronger. It delivers what the Assembly and the Mayor want; it bolsters the Assembly's contribution. I do not think that the amendments add anything, and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
The note that I wrote to introduce Amendment No. 3 said, “What is a consultation?”. I entirely agree with the Minister that one needs to identify what are formal consultations and what are just taking soundings and floating ideas and so on. I absolutely accept that. I did not mean informal or smaller consultations; I am sorry that I was not clear. When I said that there has not been a problem so far, that was in terms of the Assembly having good notice of what was coming down the track. That relates to subsection (2) of the amendment. Subsection (3) of the amendment is almost a coda to Amendment No. 2, which we debated, and is not intended to add to the bureaucratic burden, because the last thing that one would want is for a Mayor not to be throwing out ideas and listening to people. Any Mayor has to be clear about what is a formal consultation and not get people alarmed that he might take steps that he is not going to consult on properly. We had the debate mostly on the previous amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 4:
4: Before Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
“Mayor: limit on number of terms
In section 21(1) of the GLA Act 1999 (disqualification from being the Mayor or an Assembly member) before paragraph (a) insert
“(za) he has previously been elected or been the Mayor twice;”.”
The noble Baroness said: This is where we enter back into the principles rather than the personalities, and I say that very clearly because again this is an area of unfinished business from the previous Greater London Authority discussions and the previous Bill. The purpose of the amendment is to set a maximum of two terms of office for the Mayor of London. That is an established model, which is widely used for equivalent positions in other parts of the world—for example, the mayor of New York, who is always cited as one of the examples for the Mayor of London. It is also used more generally by many other constitutions and is certainly something that we ought to consider mirroring here.
Our national situation elucidates some of the main arguments in favour of a two-term limit. I am sure that no one in this Committee would credibly argue that third-term Governments have particular success. Both parties would probably agree that you get tired towards the end. Two years on, the Government still regularly refer to the parochial achievement of having won three successive elections whenever they are on the defensive. That in itself presents an argument in favour of the amendment. Success should be measured in terms of actual government. It is a sad but undeniable fact that after two terms the incumbent often runs out of fresh ideas or motivation. The Administration can stall through a lack of direction or become complacent under a leader who is beginning not to have good ideas.
We are to some extent creating a cult of personality with the Mayor of London, whoever that might be. There is an extreme possibility that a Mayor could end up almost in the role of dictator by being elected time after time and with very little opposition from the Assembly to what he is doing. As we have heard, the Assembly has power of scrutiny; it does not have sufficient power to hold the Mayor to account on all occasions. We will also propose in an amendment in a later sitting that there should be a power of recall in the Bill so that voters have the right to recall the Mayor at a later stage.
Our only reason for preferring our amendment to Amendment No. 37, which was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is that this is a matter of fundamental significance, which we feel should be reflected earlier in the Bill. A two-term limit will become an even more important safeguard after the Bill is enacted, given the increased powers that the Bill gives to the Mayor's office. Some form of restriction is necessary to temper the office and to ensure that it is accountable, and not only between elections. The Mayor should have a limited amount of time to do what he wants to do. We believe that that time is eight years. I beg to move.
I support Amendment No. 37 in the name of my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lady Scott of Needham Market. My noble friend Lady Hamwee began by saying that we must constantly remind ourselves that we are talking about the office and not the office holder. That is certainly the case here, although it is rather difficult when there has only ever been one holder of that office and when all the experience that we have of it is based on that experience. Incidentally, I do not seek to argue with the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, about where this should be in the Bill. Indeed, I believe that we are both seeking to achieve exactly the same objective and establish exactly the same principle. I can do no better than to quote the present incumbent of the office, in his previous incarnation as the honourable Member for Brent East, when he responded to the Government's original White Paper, which proposed the establishment of a strategic authority for London. He said:
“The government should also reconsider its decision not to have term limits for the mayor. So much of the American experience of directly elected mayors shows it gets progressively more difficult to defeat a well-dug-in incumbent who has been able to establish extensive systems of patronage. As recent experience in Paris also shows”—
he was speaking in 1998—
“corruption tends to flourish the longer an incumbent is able to hold onto power.
In a city that changes as rapidly as London it is hard to believe that a mayor who has served two terms will have the freshness of approach that is required to stay abreast of such a dynamic city. I therefore recommend that no mayor should serve more than two terms”.
Incidentally, he went on to say in the next sentence:
“If I am lucky enough to be elected as London's first mayor and bearing in mind I have already served 5 years as leader of the GLC, I would not seek to serve more than one term”.
I recently read that he has an ambition still to be Mayor in 2016, so presumably he has changed his view on at least part of this submission.
The important point is that we are talking about a mayoral system—a presidential system. Although it is not universal, it is certainly quite normal throughout the world—it is certainly quite normal throughout Europe and the United States—to have term limits.
The normal limit is two terms, although those terms may be of differing lengths. That is particularly because, whatever the power is, it is vested exclusively in one person. If that power extends and is held for too long, as indeed Mr Livingstone said in 1998, the tendency to corrupt—I do not mean financially—and to become tired is that much greater.
Therefore, I strongly propose that we should have a term limit for the Mayor and, indeed, for any other executive office held by an individual, as is often the case. I should point out too that it is very much in accordance with the Nolan principles that there should be a term limit for such public appointments for exactly the same reasons. I hope that the Government will now do as the then honourable Member for Brent East suggested back in 1998 and give very serious consideration to a term limit—we suggest two terms—for the Mayor of London.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, quite properly made enormous efforts to depersonalise this amendment. However, I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I refer to it as the Greg Dyke amendment because we seem to have an attempted agreement between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties, which are clearly faced with a situation in which they are not confident that they could defeat the current incumbent. While no doubt they would argue that this is not about the current office holder but rather the office, I suspect that the opposite is true.
Having said that, I wish to address the principle of the amendment. I am not sure that it is correct that mayors of New York are limited to two terms. I can think of a number who have served more than two terms but the arrangements may have changed since then so I am not sure whether that is accurate. However, I am conscious that there are no such precedents in this country as regards elected office. That is a very important point. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred to the Nolan principles with regard to public bodies. However, those principles apply to people holding responsibilities by virtue of appointment and patronage. That is the distinction. In this case, if there is patronage, it is the patronage of the electorate. I wonder about the arrogance of saying to the people of London that they cannot choose to re-elect somebody for a third term if that is what they wish to do.
The points made about people becoming stale and less responsive may or may not have been directed at the present incumbent. However, they imply that winning a third term is probably more difficult than winning a second and that winning a fourth term is certainly more difficult than winning a third. But the point is that the people of London should decide whether they want a Mayor to serve for three consecutive terms, or for a third term having served two terms earlier. I wonder whether the parties opposite are suggesting not so much that there should be term limits for the Mayor of London but that the same should apply to elected councillors, London Assembly members or Members of Parliament. If we go down this road, we shall change very much the nature of the relationship between the electorate and the people they elect. The principle is very simple—that the electorate should be allowed to make their own judgment whether they want to have the same elected representative in that office as the one they have twice chosen previously.
I have a lot of sympathy with the proposed amendment. There is a danger that the Mayor will become tired. If he wins the next election, there is an even greater danger that we shall then face an election just before the Olympics and that he will automatically get a shoe in at that point. That seems to me an unfortunate combination of circumstances. On the other hand, applying this measure to the current Mayor would be entirely inappropriate, particularly as we are about a year ahead of the elections for the GLA. It is an interesting proposal. I am not worried about precedent because the previous GLA Act was all about setting new rules and stretching the envelope. As I say, it is an interesting idea but one that would be entirely inappropriately applied to the current Mayor.
The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, referred to Mayors becoming tired. Well, MPs become tired, Prime Ministers become tired, councillors become tired, all elected people become tired. I want to know why should this apply to the Mayor. Why should it not apply to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham? Is she not a member of a local authority who has been repeatedly re-elected? Forgive me if I am wrong, but why should she have the right to remain in office and not Mr Livingstone? I think there is something very personal about this; in fact, it is a rather nasty little amendment. It smacks of, “If you can’t get rid of them at the ballot box, get rid of them through the legislation”. We should not go down this route. However, I should like the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, to tell us what is so special about the Mayor. I believe that she referred to the cult of personality.
Did I not hear a reference to personality? I am sure that, when I read it, Hansard will correct me if I am wrong. Local authority leaders can develop a cult of personality. They can develop a reputation in their local communities that is no different from that of the Mayor, as, indeed, can Members of Parliament or Prime Ministers on occasion. I ask again, what is special about the Mayor?
I am getting to my feet because of something that my noble friend just said. He asked: why, why, why? If I was Ken Livingstone, I would say, “I have been here before”. When he was the leader of the GLC in the early 1980s and was an irritant in the side of the then Government, they did not even say that he should have no more than two terms; they just abolished the GLC and the other metropolitan authorities. This may be democratic and it may be akin to progress, but I cannot help feeling that, irrespective of whether someone has served them ill or well, the people of London ought to have the opportunity to decide whether that person should serve further terms.
As my noble friends said, there is ample precedent of the matter not applying in all other democratic bodies, especially those involved in national and local government. It has always been left to the party concerned. We have all had experience of colleagues being deeply distressed when they have been deselected. They are deselected by their party caucus or ward. They cannot understand it because they had done a good job. Painful as it may be, it is decided that they should step aside for somebody else who is anxious to become a councillor. Or it may be decided that their time is up. However, that decision is taken democratically by the people who are as close as possible to the action.
If this measure becomes law, the decision will be democratic but, frankly, we are meddling here with a fundamental point. If the current Mayor or any other is seen to serve the people well, it should be left to the electorate to decide whether to elect him for a third or even fourth term. That should not be prohibited by law.
I, too, oppose the amendment. We should stop following what we believe is American practice. We do not have a presidential system in this country and I hope that we never will. As a number of colleagues pointed out, this is not in line with practice in local government or in public office generally. I see no virtue at all in the proposal and I hope that the Government will not feel at all attracted to it.
I am slightly provoked by those last comments. In fact, with an executive Mayor in whom all power resides, a presidential system is exactly what we have. That is one of the concerns that we on these Benches have always had. All executive authority, as far as the powers of the GLA go, is vested in the Mayor, while the Assembly has the ability to scrutinise. Of course, that is not simply an American model; many European countries also have term limits.
My only interest in this is as someone who lives in London, at least occasionally during the week. It always strikes me that, contrary to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, it does not become harder for an incumbent to win. The weight of the machinery—including that magnificent publication, the Londoner, a sort of Ken Livingstone propaganda machine that is doled out to us all—influences and affects the democratic process adversely, because the power of incumbency is enormous. We have to be honest about what we have: a presidential system in London. If the Government have their way, we will have the same system throughout England, so we must take heed of the lessons we learn from what is happening in London, because soon we will have it everywhere else.
I was going to talk about the system of local government in the United States. It has been said often that, if we limited the term for the Mayor, we should do so for council leaders. In the United States, there are state governors—you can only have one term as Governor of Virginia—but local government is exactly the same as here. There is no limit to it. We go back to the point—and I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, has just said—about vesting all this power in one person. That is what happens in the United States, and it is what is happening here with the Mayor. That is why we are talking about limiting terms as they are limited in the United States. It is nothing whatever to do with local government.
On the question of the American parallels, I can say that there are none. New York, where they have a fixed term, is one example, but I read here that Chicago does not. We had better be careful about drawing these parallels. I did not mean to start my argument at that point, but that was probably where I had to go.
I take issue with the idea that somehow after two terms, let alone three, you run out of steam. I can only refute that; we have an example of a third-term Government who are boiling over with new ideas and energy. As for what Ken Livingstone may have said some years in the past, let us hope that none of us are quoted on what we said 10 years ago.
In this eloquent debate, the most important point has been exposed by many noble Lords. If we were to accept Amendments Nos. 4 and 37, that would have fundamental implications for the post of Mayor. It would set a precedent, and not only for the relationship between the electorate and everyone who is elected. It would raise a fundamental question about the best way of getting rid of people in office. Ultimately, it has to be for the London electorate to decide who should be Mayor; they must have a choice over whether to re-elect an incumbent. Yes, incumbents have an additional benefit, but they also have longer track records that can be held up to the light. When we see the charismatic Conservative candidate who eventually emerges, we look forward to seeing how he challenges that record, although it may be some time before we have that pleasure.
We must be careful not to look to the Bill to do something so radical and create such an upheaval. Obviously, fundamental changes in the GLA constitution can be made only when there is a clear and overwhelming case and when there is a consensus. No one would want to move on the grounds of political expediency on such an important matter. The White Paper in 1998 made it clear that there should be no limit on the number of terms of office that either the Mayor or the Assembly Members could serve, and that is in common with other categories of elected office across the country. I found it slightly surprising that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, put this amendment forward; in Committee in the other place, the Front-Bench Conservative spokesman clearly expressed his opposition to term limits.
Nevertheless, this has been an interesting and, in some ways, entertaining debate, and I look forward to the noble Lords not proceeding with their amendments.
I shall respond first to the noble Lord, Lord Harris and help with the situation in New York. In fact the mayor of New York is now limited to two terms, I accept; otherwise I suspect Mayor Giuliani might still be mayor—but that is another issue. Incidentally, the city councillors in New York are also limited to two terms. There is much debate in New York about whether that term limit should be removed, and considerable public opposition to the removal of that limit.
The Conservative amendment is moved because of the present incumbent, but on our part that is not the case; our amendment has the same intention as the one we moved at the time of the original Bill. At that time Mr Livingstone agreed with us. We have always believed, and still do, that there should be a term limit for the Mayor of London. If the amendment were to be accepted, there might then be a question about when it was implemented—I accept that to bring it in with less than a year to go before the election is capable of misinterpretation, as we have heard today—but the principle remains the same.
The suggestion that we cannot change this because it was not in the original Act flies in the face of the precedent quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about the American Constitution, which the Americans changed. President Roosevelt was the only president to hold office three times; Mayor Livingstone might well be the only Mayor of London to do so. With the Bill we have an opportunity to change the system.
Several noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked: what is the difference? As my noble friend said, the crucial difference is between a parliamentary system where power is shared—although perhaps sometimes more in theory than in practice—with a Cabinet Government, with a Parliament or with a local authority with a number of councillors, and a presidential system that puts executive power in the hands of one person. That is why we are moving an amendment to this effect. It is outside the purpose of the Bill to apply to all elected mayors, but London was the first place in this country to have a directly elected Mayor with executive powers. Personally I would extend a term limit to all other elected mayors for exactly that reason.
With the ending of the committee system in local government and the creation of cabinet members, is it not true that cabinet members in many local authorities effectively have quasi-executive power within those local authorities, and their positions are very similar?
In most cases they have shared executive power. Again, it is a shared executive of up to 10 members. It is not personal power. That may change when the local government Bill is enacted, but we can deal with that when we get to that Bill. The principle is the difference between a presidential and a parliamentary system, and most UK local government still has a parliamentary system. When and if that changes, this is one of the implications that we will have to deal with. London was the first place to have an elected Mayor, and we have a Bill that enables us to deal with this issue. Whether the Government and legislators choose to follow that precedent is a matter for elsewhere and for another time. This is an opportunity that I believe quite strongly that we should take. When I speak to colleagues, not particularly in America but on the Continent, they are surprised that we have a Mayor of London with no term limit at all. That does not mean that we have to follow what others do, but we have to learn and think carefully about the reasons why others do as they do. That is why we tabled the amendment. As I did not move the lead amendment, I cannot withdraw it. I will leave that to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for saying almost exactly what I was going to say. It is an extremely difficult debate to have without being accused—as we were by the noble Lord, Lord Harris—of having other alternatives behind this. That is exactly what I expect from him, in his usual kindly way, as he smiles over his glasses, but it is not true.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, there has been no opportunity to revisit this since the Greater London Authority Bill became an Act. In the light of thinking about it further—I suppose in fact in thinking of the lack of control that there is in the system on the Mayor—we believe there is nothing else in our local government where there is one person who is all-powerful. There is no one but the electorate, once every four years, who can stop the Mayor in this system or can do anything to stop the policies. The Assembly can scrutinise, as we have now put aside the amendment that the Assembly should have to approve strategies. There is not even that power. The Assembly has a scrutiny role. There is nothing between elections that anyone can do. If you had a Mayor who had even more ambition than the current Mayor, no one could stop him. The Government could not stop him, and the Assembly could not stop him. There is no control at all on the Mayor. There should be a limitation on the amount of time for which he holds power; that should be the way that things develop.
Reflecting on what the noble Baroness said, I think that the thing that concentrates the Mayor’s mind and behaviour is the prospect of re-election. He has to behave sensibly. He is there at the mercy of the electorate. Surely, there is not any more powerful sanction than that.
Any other person in local government in this country is subject to scrutiny, controls, rules, and standing orders. The Mayor is the only position in this country that is like this. Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and thinking about it carefully, we still take the view that this should be a two-term job. I cannot do anything more with this today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 [Confirmation hearings etc for certain appointments by the Mayor]:
moved Amendment No. 5:
The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are also in this group, and the noble Baroness has tabled Amendment No. 6 in this group. This group of amendments takes us to confirmation hearings, which are dealt with substantially in the schedule, although these amendments are to the main part of the Bill and deal with the offices to which the new arrangements will apply.
It has been said to me that a lot of people are waiting to see the Assembly playing silly buggers with this new power, and I said that I would repeat that, not only as a challenge to Hansard but to refute it before the accusation is made. The Assembly will put standing orders and protocols into place, as it has in connection with all its other responsibilities. The Assembly, of which I have had experience—that personalises the debate—is entirely capable of exercising common sense. It has plenty else to do with its time, and I do not see any Assembly wishing to spend all its time holding confirmation hearings. I was interested to see the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, turn to her officials. I do not know whether she is taking any advice on the term “silly buggers”. Perhaps she is. The bodies to which the Mayor makes appointments—existing bodies, as well as the new ones, fall within this—will be able to exercise considerable responsibility. Some of these bodies have enormous budgets, so this is a very serious matter.
At any rate, the Bill provides, before the Secretary of State makes a further order, that these officers are chairs and deputy chairs. I doubt that any Mayor would be so crass as to appoint as chair or deputy chair an individual who is clearly within his own pocket. However, a Mayor might well appoint someone who has expertise in a subject but who is not terribly strong and is possibly a little naïve and without the political nous that these positions require, and who would be unlikely to be able to resist a cabal among other board members. It could be quite difficult to point to why the appointment of a slightly naïve chair was not desirable. I should make it clear that I am not referring to any current or past office holder. Questioning prospective board members more widely might well bring issues into the public arena, which is what these confirmation hearings are about. The Assembly will make recommendations, but that is as far as it goes. It is the potentially public nature of the event that will be all important.
Would the Assembly want to question all candidates? Frankly, as I have said, I do not see it: the Assembly has plenty of other work. If it did go ahead and question all candidates for all board positions, the hearings would very quickly lose the attention of the public and the media. As I have learnt in the past seven years, we are more dependent on the media than I wanted to think when I was first elected. I do believe, however, that the Assembly should have the right to question more widely.
The Government say that they want the process to “bed down”—that is the term that is used. It would be much less controversial if, at this stage, the Government allowed for a range of appointments to come within this procedure, rather than make an order to extend the range after encountering difficulty. So far as I can see, the Government have not yet in Parliament given any reason, other than that of bedding down, why they are not willing to extend this to appointees who, they must accept, could outvote the chair.
I was interested to see that London First broadly supports the principle of confirmatory hearings extending to all board members. I do not know whether I am stealing the thunder of the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, if I quote from its briefing, but it says that that will be a useful tool for establishing in public the basis of an individual’s appointment and whether they are appropriately qualified. London First expressed concern about the delay that there might be in establishing a new board at the time of a new mayoralty. That is a fair point.
However, in balancing the concerns, I come down very firmly on allowing the Assembly to judge the reasonable way to proceed. Amendment No. 5, as the other amendments do in slightly different ways, broadens the scope of this provision. I beg to move.
I must advise your Lordships that if this amendment is agreed to, I will be unable to call Amendments Nos. 6 to 8 because of pre-emption.
Amendment No. 6 is part of the group. Therefore, I would particularly like to speak to this point. Amendment No. 6 extends the number of offices to which the confirmatory hearings apply. We will have fuller debates on health strategy later and on the role of the health adviser and his or her deputies. That is part of consideration of the Bill.
The amendment would include the health adviser and the deputy health adviser on the list of individuals whose confirmation is required by the Assembly. As will become clear from our forthcoming debates, the position of health adviser could potentially have great influence over the health service in London. Sweeping changes that impact on all Londoners could be made under the health inequalities strategy. In those circumstances, we do not believe that the health adviser should have an automatic appointment from within the Civil Service—and we propose another amendment to that effect later—nor do we believe that the appointment should be without scrutiny approval. Therefore, we propose Amendment No. 6.
I should probably speak for London First myself, but I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. She has more or less summarised our views on this. I just want to say that in the interests of transparency it is entirely appropriate that confirmatory hearings should be for the full board. I am more worried about time being consumed, particularly with a new Mayor coming in, and whether it is really necessary to interview the entire board. What we seek is possibly some way of selecting, say, three people from the board, which could include the chair, to hold hearings, with something that makes this a slightly less onerous-sounding amendment.
Amendment No. 5 is perfectly sensible, but I am not sure that it is necessary. I have long felt that it is an important role to give the Assembly more and appropriate powers in respect of some of the activities of the Mayor and the functional bodies. This would be an area where it would be useful for the qualifications and experience of individuals appointed to certain offices to be exposed and perhaps challenged and questioned by members of the Assembly.
Therefore, I have no particular problems with Amendment No. 5; my only question is whether it is really necessary, given the power at Clause 4(1)(5) enabling the Secretary of State to extend the section by specifying further offices. It is really a question of whether that should be done by extending the list at this stage or whether the Secretary of State should be given that option at a later stage. Certainly, the principle of enabling the Assembly to question potential appointees is valuable.
I do not want to start another debate about the American experience. However, without ever getting to a point similar to where Congress votes on some presidential nominees, some nominees may decide that they are perhaps not as suited as they perhaps thought they were for the offices concerned and decide to withdraw. I suspect that we might see that process without ever getting to the stage where the Assembly had to take a view on some of the individuals concerned.
Again, this has been a very interesting debate. The Government believe that the new confirmation hearings will provide an important and potentially very exciting new role for the Assembly. As my noble friend Lord Harris has just picked up, this is a key area where an extension of the role of the Assembly could work very well. They would enable the Assembly to undertake thorough and public scrutiny of the key appointments the Mayor is required to make—the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, stressed the importance of the public nature of the confirmation hearings and the potential role of the media—to establish the scrutiny and to scrutinise the suitability of a candidate for the appointment, and, most importantly, to challenge an appointment if necessary before the Mayor takes his final decision.
The list of offices to which confirmation hearings apply are set out at Clause 4. The process for undertaking the hearings, which I expect we will discuss further in a moment, are set out in Schedule 1. That creates a robust framework for the Assembly to really make a success of this new role. That is the key point for the Government. They believe that these provisions provide the right framework and balance of discretion and prescription to ensure the success of the confirmation hearings process.
The amendments tabled by noble Lords opposite, in contrast, cut directly across what we see as the key principle that underpins the new process—that confirmation hearings apply to the key appointments the Mayor is required to make, and that this is the right place to start. The Government, therefore, wish to resist the amendments. I should like to explain in perhaps a little detail why that is so.
Amendments Nos. 5 to 8 would extend the list of offices to which confirmation hearings would apply. Amendment No. 5 extends the list to include any statutory appointment the Mayor makes. Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 would include the GLA’s health adviser and deputy health adviser and the Mayor’s appointments to the Board of Governors of the Museum of London respectively. Amendment No. 8 seeks to include mayoral appointments to the London regional council of Arts Council England, the English Sports Council, London regional sports boards and Archives, Libraries and Museums London. For technical reasons, Amendment No. 8 does not achieve that, but we understand where that amendment is coming from.
The amendments would extend the number of offices to which confirmation hearings can apply to well over 100 in total. I fully appreciate the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that this would not necessarily mean the Assembly undertaking over 100 confirmation hearings and that it would be able to pick and choose which prospective appointments would benefit most from a confirmation hearing being held. We cannot agree that that would be a better approach than what is outlined in the Bill.
Surely, the most sensible introduction for the Assembly to this new role is to focus on those appointments which have the greatest influence over delivery. Particularly with regard to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about media interest, it would be a disappointment if these confirmation hearings were not to attract considerable interest and attention and therefore to focus on the greatest influence over delivery and the appointment of chairs and deputy chairs of the functional bodies; that is, to the boards of Transport for London, the London Development Agency, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and the Metropolitan Police Authority. Extending the scope of the Assembly’s role to any mayoral appointment risks spreading the net too widely before the Assembly has been able to make a real success of this new role.
The question was asked whether it is more than encouraging the Assembly to allow this to bed down. There are some complicating factors in enabling confirmation hearings to apply to all mayoral appointments. For some organisations, such as the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Museum of London, the Mayor appoints only a proportion of board members. These amendments would apply the confirmation hearing process to some of the board members but not to others. Other mayoral appointments are subject to the approval of the Secretary of State; for example, members of the new London Skills and Employment Board. We do not believe that confirmation hearings would be appropriate given that line of accountability.
Confirmation hearings should apply to the most important appointments the Mayor is required to make. These appointments are set out in the Bill. This is a new and potentially very important and exciting role for the Assembly. We would like to see the process bed down and for the Assembly to make a success of its new role before considering the case for increasing the number of mayoral appointments, to which confirmation hearings apply.
As my noble friend Lord Harris pointed out, Clause 4 includes provision for the Secretary of State by order to specify further offices which may be subject to confirmation hearings. That provides sufficient flexibility to amend the list of offices in the future, should that be required. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords will feel able to withdraw the amendments.
Amendment No. 6 was specifically designed for the health appointments. The noble Baroness actually made the point for me. We very much feel that the status of a health appointment should be raised because of relationships. I know from my own local government side, with the local government Bills coming up and the relationships between local government and health, how they might co-operate to save money and make the health service better. It is the same in London. Therefore, the status of the health appointments should be raised, so the noble Baroness has made my point for me. She has said that they are important posts. These are very important posts, and that is why they should be included in the Bill.
I shall quickly respond to the noble Lord by saying that the question of the health adviser is about formalising an arrangement that already exists. The health adviser is actually a member of the Civil Service. So we feel that it would not be appropriate for confirmation hearings to apply to a position in that way.
To personalise this to myself for a moment, I have to say that as an existing Assembly member, I feel a little slighted. If the Government have confidence in the Assembly undertaking the process with regard to chairs and deputy chairs, then it should have confidence in the Assembly to undertake the process more widely, or deciding not to.
Although I stumbled over it, I did say in introducing my amendments that I thought it might be more difficult, politically speaking, for the Secretary of State to take a decision to extend the category after there has been some sort of problem, rather than dealing with it as a matter of principle before there has been a difficulty.
I make it clear that the Government see this very much as a positive development and are very committed to the idea of the Assembly making a success of it. It would be most unfair to suggest that in achieving a situation where the key positions—the chairs of the functional bodies—are subject to confirmational hearings with the Assembly as an initiative in this Bill. It is unfair to suggest that the Government do not see this as anything other than a really positive and important scrutinising role for the Assembly.
I do not at all disagree that this is an important and welcome extension of the Assembly's role. What I am saying is that I do not think that the Assembly should have to prove itself, which is, more or less, if I may say so, what I am hearing from the Government.
I will leave that point there, but the noble Baroness has talked about key appointments. That is the other area where I have a problem. I do not believe that only the Chair and the Deputy Chair are key. The bodies have enormous spending power—some of them have very big budgets—and power to affect the lives of Londoners. Although not all of them have conducted their affairs quite as openly as I might have liked, from time to time votes are taken on the boards at the moment.
The Transport for London board had a vote—it might have been just the one—over the Thames Gateway Bridge, but it was a narrow decision; I think that there was only one vote in it. In that situation, surely every board member is important. The noble Baroness put into category 2, if I can put it that way, the skills board. The skills board really will have a lot of influence and, I hope, will be very important to London.
Although I was with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, until the last moment, the point about the civil servant seemed to be the only good argument that I have heard about the attempt to round out the process. The noble Baroness clearly wants to come back on that point. I hope that she is not feeling personally attacked.
I am interested in how I can convince the noble Baroness that this is a very positive step. I am reminded that the power of the Secretary of State in the Bill is a power to extend. That is an important point. It is a power to extend, rather than anything else, so I see that as positive.
I appreciate that it is a power to extend. Clearly, we are not going to make more progress on this today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 6 to 8 not moved.]
On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?
I have been listening to this debate with great interest. Some of it takes me back to my local government days, which are more years ago than I can remember, before I lost my seat.
I have one question, which I hope will not be regarded as entirely frivolous. In new Section 68(3) we have “chairman”, “chairman” and “chairman” until we come to the cultural strategy group, where the Bill refers to a chair. I am not one of those who takes all references to a chair of a meeting as an example of furniturism, although I have heard that said, but I am inquisitive why that particular post is referred to as the chair when all the rest refer to the chairman. I have always taken the view that it is open to the holder of the office to decide how he or she wishes to be referred to. Was it thought at one stage that this particular cultural strategy group would always have a lady chairman? If so, that seems jolly unfair on the men because there are some very good cultural men about. I do not count myself as one of them, but I would be interested to know why this particular one is referred to as a “chair”.
Would it not be appropriate to move an amendment at a later stage to make this reference the same as the others; that is, a “chairman”? As is always the case, it will then be for the holder of the office to decide whether to be called a “chair”.
As a former member of the Select Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments, I can just imagine the number of statutory instruments that that would require. However, consistency is always to be aimed for, so the noble Lord makes an important point.
My noble friend has asked me to remind the Committee of the number of times we voted on the terms “chair” and “chairman” during the passage of the original Bill. That was not in the context of the functional bodies, but of the chair or chairman of the Assembly. I agree with the noble Lord to this extent: in practice, the most sensible and courteous approach is to allow the office holder to indicate their preferred term of reference. The one that I would always rule out for myself is “Madam Chairperson”.
I do not want to lengthen the debate, but it is a matter of a lack of consistency. I hope that the Minister will take this away with the possibility of moving an amendment on Report to achieve consistency. I do not know whether any statutory instruments will be necessary. I always work on the basis of the statutory Interpretation Act which says firmly that the masculine shall embrace the feminine. That is a very good aphorism. Perhaps I may leave the thought with her.
Clause 4 agreed to.
Schedule 1 [Confirmation hearings etc: Schedule 4A to the GLA Act 1999]:
moved Amendment No. 9:
The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to remove the Mayor’s power to appoint himself without Assembly oversight. Under the Bill, most proposed appointments by the Mayor must pass through confirmation hearings held by the Assembly, as we have just talked about, but extraordinarily, as the Bill stands, there is no such requirement when the Mayor wishes to appoint himself to a position. The amendment seeks nothing more nefarious than to subject the Mayor to the same process as all other appointees. It has already become a familiar refrain, both at Second Reading and in our opening exchanges this afternoon, that the Mayor faces precious little scrutiny by the Assembly. That position is only exacerbated by the Bill. This is another striking illustration of the complete lack of accountability for the Mayor’s actions. We debated that earlier. Leaving aside for now the complaint that the confirmation hearings themselves do not give the Assembly much real influence, it is remarkable that the Government are proposing to allow the Mayor not only to take up a new post without any form of approval but to make this very similar appointment himself without any formal safeguard. I beg to move.
Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 apply confirmation hearings to those offices specified in Clause 4 to which the Mayor appoints himself. Paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 prevents the Assembly holding confirmation hearings for offices to which the Mayor appoints himself. I disagree with the noble Lord; the Assembly already has ample time to question the Mayor, for example, at the 10 Assembly meetings held each year that he is required to attend. It is unnecessary to add to the frequent meetings between the Mayor and the Assembly. There is also the risk of a confirmation hearing involving the Mayor becoming overtly political and about the person rather than the office, with all sides adopting entrenched party political positions. The purpose of the hearings is to establish the calibre of the candidate and their suitability for the office in question. With regard to the debate that we have just had, naivety is very much something that the confirmation hearings would identify. The purpose of the hearings could be lost in the welter of predictable political exchanges. Therefore, we resist Amendments Nos. 9 and 10.
The Mayor is elected by the people of London, and I agree that the confirmation processes would not therefore be the same. However, say he wanted to appoint himself to something that the Assembly felt needed a different approach because of the dual nature. Surely there should be some ability for the Assembly to question that, whereas there is no ability for the Assembly to question the appointment of the Mayor in any position, as it stands, even if the Mayor goes to all the meetings.
When we are talking about the confirmation hearings for the chairs and the deputy chairs of the functional bodies, it would be helpful to remember that the Assembly already has powers to summon the Mayor to appear to give evidence in his capacity as chairman of a functional body. Although the noble Lord envisages a confirmation hearing, perhaps that power could be used to have the kind of exchange that he is thinking about. Maybe that would satisfy his perceived need for the amendments. I see no reason why the Assembly cannot use that power.
If the question really is the ability to question, not to prohibit, we are halfway there. In other words, if the ability to appoint is given, of course it should be possible to question the fact that appointments are made by the Mayor to put himself on this, that and the other. Whether there is the power of prohibition is another matter.
We just wanted to explore these areas. We had a long discussion about scrutiny and confirmation of appointments and so on. I am sure that we will come back to this area later. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 10 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 11:
11: Schedule 1, page 53, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) A copy of the candidate’s application must be attached to the notification.”
The noble Baroness said: The amendment would add a further requirement in the Mayor’s notification to the Assembly of a candidate, that of providing a copy of the candidate’s application. Paragraph 3 of the schedule lists the limited amount of information required: the candidate’s name, address, the office and the reasons for the proposed appointment. The last requirement in the list sounds fine, but it could be quite glib. The Mayor could give very little information about the basis for the appointment. He could say that the candidate was a jolly good chap who had done well in the past. In order to make the confirmation hearing a sensible process, the Assembly needs information on which to base its questions. The application therefore seems a convenient way of providing it. It should give all the necessary background information and would be an easy thing to provide; it would not add to the bureaucratic burden, about which we talk so much and keep saying we shall try to avoid.
Perhaps I may explain the amendment by way of setting out a comparable situation which arose last autumn. In September, the Mayor’s office consulted the Assembly chair about a proposed appointment to the board of the London Development Agency. There is currently a limited requirement for some consultation on such an appointment. The Mayor’s office required a response within 12 days. No meeting had been arranged during the period in which the appointment could be considered. As the then deputy chair and the chair of a relevant committee, I wrote to the Mayor’s office seeking information about the individual. I also googled that individual and got quite a bit of information from the website, but frankly that is not the way one should find out about these things: it was more about experience rather than the criteria for the job. The Mayor’s office agreed that the Assembly could have an extra week in which to respond.
The Assembly was informed that no one from the London Development Agency took part in the interviews, that there were 80 candidates but only two were interviewed, and that no further information on the nominee would be forthcoming other than an assurance that the LDA worked closely with the GLA in drawing up the application pack. The Assembly responded by saying that it was in no position to give an informed response to the consultation. My letter to the Mayor stated:
“The following questions, which were not directly answered, remain:
1. What particular skills does the proposed appointee have that make her, relative to others, particularly qualified for this position?
2. Noting that the LDA is branded as the ‘Mayor’s Agency for business and jobs’, what skills and expertise does the proposed appointee have in relation to these matters?
3. What particular skills and experience does the proposed appointee have in relation to giving direction to and maintaining oversight of Chief and senior officers in a large organisation, with a large budget, that operates within a political framework?”.
I went on to say that:
“We do not wish to imply any negative comment on the overall competency, skills and experience of the individual involved—we are simply in no position to say whether she would be an effective member of the LDA Board”.
It might be said that all that information would come out during a confirmation hearing, but it would be much more sensible and efficient to have to hand the basic information before the hearing begins in order to allow questions to be designed to meet the circumstances and to enable the candidate to give of his or her best instead of the rather scatter-gun approach that must be taken if one starts without adequate information. I seek the Government’s understanding that in proposing to add this requirement, there is nothing sinister or bureaucratic about it. It would be a straightforward way of assisting the Assembly to do a good job. I beg to move.
On a point relating to the specific example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I am not quite sure where it is relevant in the Bill or the Act, but the London business organisations were also consulted about whether they regarded the person in question as being appropriate. We did not know the person in question - if it is the person whom I think it is - and we were surprised that we have not be invited to encourage people to apply for the specific post. There must be something in the Act that says that business organisations are to be consulted afterwards.
Amendment No. 11 requires the Mayor to include a copy of the candidate’s application in the notification that it gives the Assembly under Schedule 1(3), as we have just heard. The paragraph currently requires the Mayor to provide the Assembly with only the candidate's name and address, the office to which the Mayor proposes to appoint the candidate and the Mayor's reasons for wanting to make the appointment. I understand the concern of the noble Baroness and the commendable intention behind the amendment to provide the Assembly with sufficient information about the candidate in order fully to scrutinise the proposed appointment effectively. However, on balance, we resist the amendment.
I shall explain why for practical purposes. It is of course vital that the Assembly has sufficient information about the office in question and the candidate whom the Mayor proposes to appoint in order fully to scrutinise the role, but we do not agree that requiring the Mayor to provide the Assembly with a copy of the candidate’s application is the best way to achieve that objective. An application form may include personal information that the candidate may not want to be disclosed - especially given what we hope will be the extremely public nature of these confirmation hearings. Paragraph 6(4) enables the Assembly to request that the candidate produces any document in his or her possession. It should be for the candidate to decide whether to provide the Assembly with their application, if the Assembly requests it.
Given that they want to be appointed to the post in question, I would expect any candidate to be keen to comply as far as possible with any request made by the Assembly for information. Equally, the Assembly should be able to draw its own conclusions, should the candidate refuse such a request for information. I do not want to comment on the individual example given, but I remind the Committee that we are talking about a public hearing. From my point of view, this is a key representational test for any candidate. The information that they choose to share and the information that the Assembly chooses to request will form part of the assessment that the Assembly will want to make of the candidate. Withholding that information will no doubt be taken into account.
I fully understand the concerns of the noble Baroness, but I hope that, having made those points, she will consider withdrawing the amendment.
This is beginning to sound like the mess that was made of medical appointments: no one is allowed to know everything about the candidates or why they have been selected. I presume that, under the provision, the Mayor goes through some kind of selection process for which he must presumably have an application form or a CV. Hopefully, a number of candidates will apply. If the candidates know that if they are successful, that application form will be given to the Assembly, as it ought to be, surely that would be sufficient. In due time, if the candidate was successful, some of that information should be available to the Assembly. To ask an adjudicating body not to have that information before it starts and to rely on having to ask the candidate for it seems to me to be making the way to appoint people by ways as bizarre as the medical route.
Perhaps the noble Baroness is misrepresenting the situation as it is envisaged. In truth, the Assembly will be able to be very clear about the information that it requests from candidates, and I am sure that candidates will furnish it extremely fully with the information that it requires. The Assembly is surely strong enough and robust enough to draw its own conclusions about the quality of the information that it receives. If there are omissions, conclusions may be drawn from them. We are asking candidates to make themselves available for scrutiny. Part of that is about providing adequate information for the Assembly. The powers set out in the Bill are pretty adequate for achieving that.
I find it hard to think what personal information there might be in an application for a public appointment, but if there is personal information that it would be inappropriate to put into the public domain, we might consider the mechanism of redacting, or even blanking out, certain information. I do not know whether the Minister can give any examples, but I cannot think of anything that might be inappropriate for the appointments about which we are talking.
I do not know whether it would be entirely fair on someone who might be a candidate or a nominee for the chair of Transport for London if their home address, landline and mobile phone numbers were made available to the regular users of bus and tube systems. I am not sure whether that would be entirely appropriate. Enormously heavy weather is being made of this. Clearly, a fair amount of information must be made available to the Assembly about the qualifications of candidates, but to suggest that the application form is necessarily the vehicle for it is slightly over the top.
It is not up to me to define what a candidate would see as personal information. I very much want to make the point that the Assembly can request the information that it would like to receive from the candidates. If they have it in their possession, they can make it available.
I sometimes think that we may be on to something when the noble Lord, Lord Harris, gets going. The address is already required in Schedule 1(3)(2)(b), so it is already catered for.
[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 6.13 to 6.23 pm.]
That is certainly the case. It is necessary for the Assembly to be provided with the candidate’s application form for information purposes. It was simply a convenient way of bringing all the desirable information together. If the Government would regard this as a point of principle and not leave it as a matter for a request which might be turned down—I shall come to that in a moment—perhaps there might be a meeting of minds at a later stage.
As regards the entitlement to request a candidate to produce documents—it is documents that we are talking about—leaving the Assembly to draw its own conclusions if the candidate does not do so, that seems to me to be both a rather tortuous way of going about things and not a good basis on which the Assembly can make a recommendation to the Mayor. For the Assembly to hold a confirmation hearing and end up by saying to the Mayor, “We did not get the information that we needed, so we do not think you should go ahead and appoint this person”, does not seem to me to be appropriate.
I thank the noble Baroness for giving way again. I make it clear that the Mayor must give reasons why the candidate is the best for the post. We fully expect that those reasons will be full and robust. It is important to have that on the record.
Indeed. We might come to something of the sort a little later. I have made the case. I am sad that I do not seem to have persuaded the Government. I will go away and think about what has been said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 12:
The noble Baroness said: I will have to leave after this amendment to attend the debate in the Chamber. There seems to have been a collapse of business at one end and an overemphasis on business at this end.
The Bill provides that the Assembly can hold confirmation hearings into proposed mayoral appointments. In doing so, it gives the Assembly no real power to confirm or reject an appointment. Instead, all that the Assembly can do following a confirmation hearing is make a recommendation that the Mayor may either accept or reject. They are confirmation hearings in name only. The amendments will create the entirely logical position that the Mayor would require the approval of the Assembly for appointments by giving the Assembly the power to reject proposed appointments. The amendments do not unreasonably shift power away from the Mayor, who would still propose appointments and still be able to proceed with an appointment if the Assembly did not make a decision. This would create a satisfactory and balanced process where appointments could be approved without a hearing but could only be rejected following a request to attend a hearing. If the Bill does not give the Assembly proper scrutiny of the Mayor’s appointments, who else will have that power? By proposing a confirmation hearing scheme, the Government are clearly acknowledging that there ought to be such a process, but it is remarkable if the Government are not proposing any effective approval mechanism on the Mayor’s appointments. I beg to move.
I am slightly unclear about the point that has just been made about pre-emption, not because I do not understand it, but because I am not quite clear what the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has moved. This seems to me to go to the heart of what I suspect will be a series of debates that we will have during the course of the Committee and in due course in later stages of the Bill about the balance of power between the Assembly and the Mayor. Essentially, as I understand the amendments in this group, and Amendment No. 13, which is not grouped, they would give the Assembly a power by a majority vote not to approve a particular nominee. That may or may not be an admirable solution, but it is one that changes the nature of the mayoralty system.
The whole structure of the Greater London Authority Act has been devised as a “strong mayor model”—to use the academic jargon—of a fairly weak Assembly but with some powers. The amendments tabled at various stages shift from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority the powers of the Assembly, while this one introduces a new power for the Assembly with a simple majority. I suspect that they will raise some really big issues about how we see the relationship between the Mayor and the Assembly.
One could devise a perfectly acceptable mayoral model with a different balance between the Mayor and the Assembly. What you cannot do, without a radical look at every single aspect of the Greater London Authority Act, is change some aspects of it by giving the Assembly greater powers to act with a simple majority, as opposed to the enhanced majority which already exists for the budget.
I am sympathetic to the idea of having confirmation hearings with the possibility of the Assembly doing more than simply saying, “We do not recommend this appointment”, or, “We do recommend this appointment”. However, if it is to be consistent with the rest of the Greater London Authority Act, with a strong mayoral model, it should be on the basis of a qualified majority of perhaps two-thirds voting not to approve a particular nomination. If you go down the route of saying that there can be a vote by a simple majority, you are essentially undermining the power of the Mayor and his ability to act in the way envisaged in the rest of the legislation.
For those who say that confirmation hearings would have no relevance unless there is a power to reject, I would argue that the significance of the Assembly, even by a simple majority, recommending to the Mayor that an appointment should not proceed, will be very damaging to the authority of nominees. It is not something that I hope the Assembly would do lightly, but it is something where the nominee would want to consider very carefully his position. He may feel that the Assembly was acting on a party political spasm whereby two parties combine to create a majority, or whatever the numbers would require, and therefore that it was not relevant. However, it is clearly something that they would consider.
The power as currently envisaged in the Bill, whereby confirmation hearings would take place and the Assembly would either support the nomination or recommend to the Mayor that it should not be proceeded with, but the Mayor would still have the power to continue, puts a significant constraint on the power. It is a significant constraint on the individuals because they would be made to think again if the Assembly said, “You are not acceptable to us”, but it does not alter the fundamental constitutional relationship between the Mayor and the Assembly. If we agree these amendments, we will alter the fundamental constitutional arrangement, and that would require a rethink of the whole GLA Act.
I support my noble friend Lord Harris. I do not support these amendments or, indeed, Amendment No. 13. I agree that the amendment changes the principle of the strong mayor model. It does, however, argue very strongly for some of the argument we have just had on previous amendments, which is that the process of confirmatory hearings needs to be thoroughly professional and transparent. I would like to put some emphasis on our earlier conversations.
I do not think that I can improve very much on what my noble friend Lord Harris has said. It is no secret that Amendments Nos. 12, 15, 16 and 19, which have the effect of requiring the consent of the Assembly before the Mayor is able to make an appointment, would overturn the present balance of power.
As my noble friend said, this is the beginning of a debate that we will have in relation to the budget, for example, and other aspects where we are considering what it means to have a strong mayoral model. While confirmation hearings are a very important addition to the Assembly’s scrutiny role, and certainly important in assessing the calibre and suitability of candidates, it is absolutely right that the Mayor, as the executive of the GLA, should retain the final say on the appointment. It is a confirmation hearing. Therefore, the Assembly needs to think about how to focus on what it is there to do, which is to scrutinise. We would not want to see any open conflict between the Mayor and the Assembly over who should be appointed by putting the nature of these appointments into the political arena.
Amendment No. 17 would enable the Assembly to proceed with a confirmation hearing where the candidate does not attend. We cannot accept this amendment, as it is wholly unnecessary. The Bill defines a confirmation hearing as a meeting at which the candidate is requested to appear to answer Assembly Members’ questions, but the Assembly is not required to hold a confirmation hearing before making a recommendation to the Mayor. It is of course free to meet without the candidate to discuss his or her nomination. Such a meeting would be an ordinary meeting or an ordinary committee of the Assembly; we see no reason to call it a confirmation hearing. We have before us a large issue and a smaller, more technical, issue. I am afraid that I have to resist both amendments.
I thank the Minister for that reply and for the contributions that have been made. There does not seem to be any power and muscle in the Bill; we are back to the Assembly as it is at the moment, a sort of toothless tiger. It can do all sorts of things: it can scrutinise till its head drops off but it will not be able to do anything about what it scrutinises. If the Assembly cannot make a decision on a confirmation hearing other than to say, “That was very nice, thank you very much, now go away”, there seems no point in having confirmation hearings at all.
The Assembly has to come to a conclusion about what these hearings are about and what and who they have been listening to. I hear what the Minister says but if the Assembly does not have the right to make a decision or at least to recommend a decision by a vote, confirmation hearings are absolutely purposeless.
I shall leave that for today, but I shall come back to it. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, this is the beginning of the development of the relationship between the Mayor and the Assembly that will result from the Bill. We will need to look at this again. I apologise for having to go to the Chamber and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 14:
The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 14, 18, 20, 21 and 22 are all intended to ensure that the procedure supports rather than thwarts the arrangements that will be put in place for confirmation hearings.
Under the Bill as drafted, the Mayor notifies the Assembly of a prospective appointment or appointee and the Assembly has to decide whether to hold a hearing. That will require the Assembly to meet, which requires notice of a meeting. Under the Local Government Act, which applies to Assembly meetings, five clear days’ notice has to be given. I have referred to the Assembly, but it could be the full Assembly or a committee of the Assembly. In either case—and I say this from experience, some of which has been quite bitter over the past seven years— ensuring that there will be a quorum available for a full Assembly meeting or for a committee if it is called at short notice is not as straightforward as those who do not know about these things might think.
We are already about a week into the three-week period. Then the Assembly decides to hold the hearing, for which it has to notify the candidate. To do that, it informs the head of paid service, who has to send a registered or recorded delivery letter giving at least a week’s notice. We are now probably beyond the second week of the three-week period.
Heaven forbid that the Assembly might want to seek some further information or a period to reflect on it. But what we have at the moment is a three-week period with all these constraints; everything which has to be done before the Assembly makes its recommendation to the Mayor. I absolutely accept that it would not be desirable to prolong this process any more than is absolutely necessary. That would not be fair to the candidate and it would simply not be good practice.
The amendments are designed to retain what I suspect the Government think is most important in all this. Amendment No. 21 seeks to shorten the first leg of this by allowing a single member to decide whether to hold a hearing. That might sound rather dramatic, but the Assembly’s practice has developed in a way which almost invariably seems to satisfy everybody, with conventions in place whereby decisions are frequently delegated to the Chair in consultation with the Deputy Chair and the leaders of all the political groups on the Assembly. That works well. If it did not work well in a particular instance, the Chair would be open to being questioned in public. I believe that the Standing Orders and the Act provide for this. At the extreme end, there could be a motion of no confidence in the Chair. Therefore, Amendment No. 21 seeks to change the restriction regarding what can be delegated to a single Member.
Amendment No. 18 would shorten the period of notice to a candidate. Again, we have practical experience in this regard because on a number of occasions the Assembly has, under the terms of the Act, summoned people to appear before it. The practice that has been developed is to seek a convenient date and as soon as possible to start discussions with the person you are summoning or requesting to appear. Again, there is plenty of experience of this. Therefore, reducing the period from one week to three days is not proposed with the expectation that something would be banged off in the post and the candidate would have to turn up in very short order without any practical notice.
Amendment No. 14 deals with a different situation. After a mayoral election, there is likely to be a raft of new amendments. Protocols will be put in place in the authority on how this will be dealt with, but a new mayor flexing his muscles might not be enthusiastic about prolonging a process. However, he might be very enthusiastic about making new appointments. To allow the Assembly to deal with new appointments in an ordered fashion and not try to get a whole lot done in such short order that the hearings are not held in a proper manner, I propose to extend the total period from three to six weeks; that is, six weeks within which the Assembly is to give its views to the Mayor.
Amendment No. 20 builds on something that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said. It concerns the answers that a candidate should give in response to questions. She expressed an expectation that a candidate would answer questions and that, if that were not the case, the Assembly could draw its own conclusions. The schedule does not require a candidate to answer questions. The additional words that I propose in Amendment No. 20 come straight from the existing Act and are used in connection with the questioning of certain office holders which the Assembly is currently entitled to undertake. It would require oral answers to be given at the hearing so far as that was reasonably practicable, and if that was not reasonably practicable it would require a written answer to be provided within a time limit.
I hope that the Minister will understand what lies behind all this. We in no way intend to subvert or alter the character of the Government’s proposal; we wish to assist the process to be more effective and to achieve the very interesting arrangements that the Government are proposing. I beg to move.
I fully appreciate what the noble Baroness is trying to do in the amendments, which seek, as she says, to improve the process. One cannot but have some sympathy with Amendment No. 14 in particular, because it seeks to extend the length of time in which the Assembly can make a recommendation to the Mayor from three weeks to six weeks following an election. It is understandable that the Assembly might wish to take longer to consider recommendations following a GLA election. We all know the upheaval that elections bring about. The trouble is that we must ensure—this is equally important—that confirmation hearings do not add undue delay. The noble Baroness said herself that it was not desirable to prolong processes. The point, however, is that these processes are about appointing candidates to senior posts, and there is a clear risk, should a vacancy arise during an election period, that a Mayor would reasonably wish to delay making an appointment until after the election; so there is already some delay built in. Extending the period in which the Assembly may make an appointment would add further delay.
We have been looking at the prospect of an extended vacancy right at the heart of the key service delivery organisations, such as TfL or the LDA. The noble Baroness took us through some of these processes, and it is interesting to hear how the Assembly works, but we see no strong reason why, immediately following an election, the Assembly could not convene a committee to undertake a confirmation hearing and make a recommendation. There may be better ways of doing this than the way proposed by the noble Baroness, which would lead to undue delay. We therefore cannot accept Amendment No. 14.
Amendment No. 18 would reduce the notice period given to the candidate before a confirmation hearing from one week to three working days. That strikes us as unreasonable in relation to general practice. It is a very short notice period. One week is a reasonable notice period, as it enables a candidate to prepare for a hearing. Three days is not long enough for a serious experience that can be rather formidable.
Amendment No. 20 would place a duty on the candidate to answer the Assembly’s questions at a confirmation hearing or, if this is impractical, to provide a written answer within three working days of the hearing. We consider this amendment to be unnecessary, because, irrespective of what the previous Act provides, the Assembly can surely draw its own conclusions in the event of a candidate refusing to answer certain questions or their inability to provide sufficiently robust answers. I would have thought that that was pretty central to any appointments procedure. We do not want to place unnecessary burdens on candidates, only to deter them. Therefore, we cannot accept Amendment No. 20.
I am, however, more sympathetic to Amendments Nos. 21 and 22, which would enable a single Member of the Assembly to decide whether a confirmation hearing should take place. The Bill currently provides for only the Assembly or an ordinary committee of the Assembly to undertake functions in relation to confirmation hearings. There is a good argument in favour of ensuring that a group of Assembly Members decide whether to hold a confirmation hearing, only because it could have such great media interest. It may be appropriate in such circumstances for a group of Assembly Members, rather than a single Member, to decide whether a confirmation hearing should take place. We accept the argument that, in certain circumstances, the Assembly may be best placed to delegate that decision to a single Assembly Member. We therefore welcome the opportunity to take away Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 and think about them further.
I am grateful for those comments, particularly the last ones. I am happy either to meet the Minister myself or for officers from the GLA to meet with her officials in order to discuss the fine-tuning. One cannot expect anyone from outside an organisation to understand the detailed requirements that we either have been lumbered with or, indeed, have lumbered ourselves with. The Minister began by talking about “undue delay”; I emphasise the word “undue”. My amendments are neither intended to have nor would have the consequence of creating undue delay. I say that because the word “delay” has the connotation of being undesirable whereas what it really means is that taking longer would be the desirable thing to do.
After a mayoral and Assembly election—there might be a by-election, but let us assume the normal term of four years—I am not sure how an Assembly would deal with a mayoral proposal that arrived on the desk at lunchtime the next day. Given that the election of the Mayor was declared at around one o’clock after the first election, just in time for the lunchtime news, and that three years ago we did not get out of the building until six or seven in the evening, by that hour the Mayor could have laid several proposals on the desk of the head of paid service. The Assembly is not required to hold its annual meeting, when appointments are made, for 10 days after the election, so there is already a problem built in. That is my instinctive concern about the comments of the noble Baroness. However, I do not want to prolong our discussion in Committee because there may be room for us to come closer together in the detail of what the Minister has indicated. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 15 to 22 not moved.]
Schedule 1 agreed to.
Clauses 5 and 6 agreed to.
Clause 7 [Staff appointed under section 67(2) of the GLA Act 1999]:
moved Amendment No. 23:
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 24 and to the whole of Clause 7. This clause concerns the appointment of staff to the Greater London Authority; that is, those staff who, apart from the 12 direct appointments the Mayor can make, implement the Mayor’s policies and put together strategies, as well as the Assembly staff. When the original Act was designed, two checks and balances were written into it. One was that staffing arrangements would be a matter for the Assembly. Staffing issues cover not only the terms and conditions for individual members of staff, but also the size of the establishment; that is, the number of posts in the authority. Putting on my current hat once more, given that we are governed by local government access to information provisions that allow access to meetings, the current practice is for the Assembly to hold committee meetings with agendas published in advance in the usual way, and for the views of staff, both as a result of direct individual staff consultation and as expressed through the union, to be reported. The committee meets in public and its meetings are webcast and minuted. I say all that because transparency is important in all this. The Assembly very much follows a local authority model where there is openness about how these things are arrived at.
No one has convinced me, or has even found an example that convinced me, of what is wrong with the current position. I have seen no example during the consultation on changes to the Act, or in discussion about it, nor from what I can see from reading Hansard for the debate in the Commons. The Minister in the Commons talked about anticipating potential tensions between the Mayor and the Assembly. He talked about this being potentially subject to the, “disagreements, rows, trade-offs and arguments that inevitably take place between them”.—[Official Report, Commons, Greater London Authority Bill Committee, 9/1/07; col. 36.] I am not sure that any of that is necessarily a bad thing in itself, but that is not really the point. After seven years, we are told that a change should take place to avoid a “potential” problem. I would not characterise this clause as being, “not a major change, and it will not cause problems or substantial difficulties in any quarter. It is a relatively sensible, not hugely interesting change that will improve support for the GLA staff”.—[Official Report, Commons, Greater London Authority Bill Committee, 9/1/07; col. 39.]
It has been put to me that terms and conditions of employment are really a matter for the officer head of an organisation, not for Members in this case or the board, if we were talking about a private company. Certainly, the Assembly has almost invariably followed the recommendations of officers as regards terms and conditions. This is completely off the top of my head, I did not bother to go back and look through our agendas, but examples that occur to me of matters that were discussed in public are, for example, when there was a change in the salary structure. That was not an easy process. Of course, a lot of work was undertaken before it came to committee, but it was right that staff heard that debate as well as being able to take part in an internal consultation.
Very recently, there was a discussion about maternity policy and the amount of statutory maternity pay paid to women opting for different periods of leave. Our debate brought out an aspect that required further officer work and clarification. We regularly consider publicly the numbers of staff employed from different minorities and the number of women employed, including at different grades, to see whether we are doing enough to assist different groups of staff to progress up the organisation. For instance, we have discussed the mechanisms to attract more candidates from certain communities, and I do not just mean “the BME community” as if it were one community, but all the communities within that.
There have been tensions, and one would expect that, because of the number of staff employed and because what they do is a politically contentious matter. It seems to be the view that only the 12 mayoral appointments are sensitive appointments, and as regards who is appointed that may be so, but the number of points is an issue. Everything that the GLA does is politically an issue. I have never heard of a row over the number of security staff, but there could be one on political grounds, because the number of security staff engaged directly reflects the activity that the politicians carry out within the building, such as the number of events sponsored by the Mayor.
For the first time last month the Assembly rejected or deferred a handful of proposed posts, but out of full-time equivalents totalling forty-two and a half the rejections were seven, and the deferrals, which were related to matters arising from the Bill—deferred until we see whether planning powers in particular are agreed, because there is no certainty that they will have an easy ride—were five; so there were seven and 5.5 out of 42.5. I can characterise the posts that were rejected as relating to mayoral promotion. The building was designed for 426 staff and is now carrying an establishment, not all of whom require desks, of about 770.
My view is that this is not at all a straightforward matter for the head of paid service. Once the Mayor has got his budget, what is the head of paid service to do when presented with proposals for extra posts except, in a fairly gentle manner, to query whether the building can accommodate them and so on? The head of paid service cannot be as robust as is needed in that situation.
That is mainly about the clause itself, but my Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 are specific safeguards which, if the clause remains, the Assembly considers should be applied. That is the unanimous view of the Assembly across all the political groups, and they speak for themselves. I believe that in practice a requirement for consultation would be carried out, but it would be appropriate for it to be in the Bill. There are then some procedural matters about notice to enable the Assembly to carry out its scrutiny role, a role that is different from this one.
I appreciate that I have spoken in fairly robust terms, which is quite uncharacteristic of the way that staffing matters have been dealt with in what I will describe, having heard the term used of another Foster building, as “up the Fosterista”. I beg to move.
We support these amendments particularly enthusiastically, because the appointment of senior staff is one of the very few areas where the Assembly has any influence at all, and the Government now propose to take that power away. I endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said: so far the Government have failed to offer any satisfactory justification for weakening the Assembly’s scrutiny powers. The existing position, as she said, seems to be working very well and without complaint. In another place the Minister was unable to offer a single example of the current powers being abused in any way. There is not a single incident mentioned when the process has had unwelcome consequences, and the Government could not reveal any representation made by any professional body that this was an area of the law that needed review. Perhaps, now that three and a half months have elapsed since that debate first took place, the Minister will be able to give us some examples today.
The current position gave the Assembly a vital role in staff appointments. It was able to determine the overall complement, and to take an active role in various key appointments. Obviously it was not involved in all appointments, as has been suggested in the past, but the changes proposed in the Bill do not do the Assembly any favours at all, and it is fatuous to argue that they do.
The real benefit of the existing position was that the staffing discussions took place, as the noble Baroness has said, transparently, on a cross-party basis and not hidden from the public gaze. Full reports made to the Assembly are in the public domain. It seems that now the Mayor will be able to make these same decisions in private without scrutiny. This is a retrograde step, and we therefore support the amendments put forward by the noble Baroness.
I seem to have lost my more robust colleagues, so it is left to me alone to fight off this barrage. I shall briefly reiterate what the present Act allows for. Section 67 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 provides for the appointment of three categories of employees of the authority and allows them to be appointed to the authority in different ways. First, as noble Lords know, the Mayor can appoint two political advisers. Those are personal appointments made by him alone; they do not need to be advertised or subject to competition and they can extend beyond the term of office for which a Mayor is elected. Secondly, he is able to appoint not more than 10 other members of staff; those posts are open to competition, and appointments are made on merit. Thirdly, the Assembly now appoints all other staff for the authority after consultation with the Mayor, and those appointments are made in similar terms to the appointment of local authority offices under local government legislation.
I reassure noble Lords that we are not making these changes with the Bill out of perversity, nor to somehow diminish or cripple the powers of the GLA. We are doing this for rational reasons, of which I hope I can persuade the Committee.
Clause 7 amends Section 67 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to provide for those staff who are currently appointed by the Assembly to be appointed in future by the authority’s head of paid service. He is the most senior GLA official. He must consult the Mayor and the Assembly before making appointments. He must have regard to available resources and the priorities of the authority in making them. The clause also amends Section 70 of the 1999 Act to allow the head of paid service to set the terms and conditions of the staff he appoints, again after consultation with the Mayor and Assembly. The appointments and terms and conditions of the existing staff have effect as if they had been appointed or set by the head of paid service.
Clauses 8 to 10 amend the 1999 Act to enable the Mayor and the Assembly, acting jointly, to appoint the authority’s three statutory posts—the head of paid service, the monitoring office and the chief finance officer—and to set their terms and conditions. Holders of those posts cannot also be members of the authority staff. Clauses 8 to 10 also provide that any appointment or terms and conditions of existing holders of these posts have effect as if they were made under the provisions, as amended by Clause 8. That clause also allows the head of paid service to delegate any of his staffing functions to a member or staff of the authority other than to staff appointed by the Mayor.
The arguments that noble Lords have put forward are three: that “The system isn’t broke, it works well, don’t try to fix it, it doesn’t need it”; that the Assembly has important levers in controlling the number and grading of staff and expenditure on staff by having this power; and, implicitly, that it keeps the Mayor under control. We are not making these changes because we think the Assembly has failed to carry out its functions effectively. They are no more than a timely, straightforward and sensible change. The organisation, which has been there since 1999, is maturing and developing, and it needs a clearer set of administrative arrangements that are fit for purpose and appropriate for its tasks. This is a sign of the Assembly growing up. It provides a clear separation between the administrative function of appointing staff and the Assembly’s core functions of scrutiny. It is those core functions that we are seeking to build up with the Bill.
My experience, not least in the voluntary sector, is that organisations grow, and that as they mature, they must change. They must take on different functions, and they separate functions so that they become more appropriate. Clarifying and separating the functions in this way is a sign of credit to the organisation, in focusing on what it is there to do and can do best. The change gives the Assembly an opportunity to move forward; it gives it extra space, and I hope it gives it extra energy, in the sense of focus.
I hear what noble Lords said about the exchanges in the other place, but there is a serious argument here about taking these appointments out of the political arena. They inevitably become part of the political discourse. This change makes for a more objective and more appropriate system, and I am surprised it is not more welcome.
There are two anomalies in the present system; one is internal, the other comparative. The changes get rid of the first by focusing the staff appointments role at the official level. That takes away the anomaly of most GLA staff working to support the Mayor, yet relying on the Assembly for terms and conditions. It brings the GLA into line with other organisations in terms of good organisational practice, particularly local authorities; it is as simple as that. We would not expect the trustees of a voluntary body—and I think that is a proper analogy—to make staff appointments. We would not expect local councillors to appoint the staff of a local authority. We would expect authorities’ overview and scrutiny committees to maintain oversight, just as the Assembly does. I was searching for a comparison, and I think this is correct: we would not expect a Select Committee of this House or the other place to appoint parliamentary staff.
The argument that “it ain’t broke” is right, and we are not proposing this change because we think it is; on the contrary, the current system has provided a steady hand on the staffing tiller, but it has also presided, as the noble Baroness said, over a significant growth in staff numbers as the authority has settled into its role. It is possible that there will be less scope for similar rates of growth in the future, and there is therefore an argument that we should move this out of the political arena to a more orthodox way of appointing GLA staff.
The noble Baroness put forward a robust argument that the Assembly’s control of the staffing is a vital way of keeping control, as it were, of the organisation and even of the Mayor’s ambitions. But the Assembly retains that power; what else is that power other than its ability to continue to debate, scrutinise and influence the GLA budget and the corporate plan? Those are the key mechanisms for determining the GLA’s overall staffing position. It ensures a more strategic role for the Assembly.
The head of paid service will have to consult the Assembly and of course the Mayor, and, in relation to the Assembly’s own staff, there will be for the first time a discrete Assembly budget. I hope the head of paid service, when he reads our proceedings in Committee, is not too disappointed by the expectation that somehow he will not be able to stand up to the Mayor. There were great compliments paid in the other place to the existing office-holder about his overall competence and ability. I have no doubt that he will be able to do the job extremely effectively, and I hope he will not be too dismayed by what the noble Baroness has said. These changes help to put the staffing role on a more strategic footing. I am not being disingenuous here—I genuinely think they help the Assembly to concentrate on its strategic role.
I turn to the amendments, which I am afraid I have to resist. I was a bit unclear at first what noble Lords opposite intended with Amendment No. 23. I am clearer now, and I am grateful to the noble Baronesses for that. The amendment enables the head of paid service to determine any matter affecting the establishment of the authority following consultation with the Mayor and the Assembly. In fact, the Bill already gives the head of paid service this power in similar terms. New Section 67(2) allows him to appoint such staff as he considers necessary for the GLA to do its job. I assure noble Lords that we expect the head of paid service, in exercising his new power of appointment, to be responsible for all matters relating to the GLA establishment, including the total numbers of posts and the terms and conditions and grading of post holders, but he will have to consult the Mayor and the Assembly before deciding the overall staffing provision, set out in the authority’s corporate plan, and so on. Amendment No. 23 is unnecessary.
Amendment No. 24 requires the head of paid service to give the Assembly a minimum of 28 days’ written notice before each decision he makes about the number of grades, numbers or function of posts or terms of employment. The Mayor and the Assembly can offer comments within that 28-day period, and on making a determination the head of paid service must make a written statement explaining why he has not accepted any of those comments. These are wholly impractical arrangements.
The noble Baroness has already explained some of the ways in which the processes of the GLA are somewhat protracted, but this would introduce even more delays and bureaucracy into the system. The amendments would lengthen the period for appointing the authority’s staff, and, crucially, would put the GLA at a real disadvantage when it came to recruiting new talent. The London job market is hugely competitive. If we introduced a delay of 28 days, I dread to think of the number of good people who would have drifted away or found other jobs—because people apply for more than one job at a time, as we know. Organisations need to act quickly, and adding a month to the process of identifying and filling posts would not help the head of paid service to recruit the staff he needs. He already has to consult the Mayor and the Assembly. I would expect him to do that sensibly and pragmatically, and we should not place on his shoulders these additional onerous requirements.
I know that is a disappointing response for the noble Baroness, but it is a sincere one, and I hope that on that basis she will feel able to withdraw her amendments.
I might say that the robust Members on the Minister’s side have disappeared because they knew they would not be able to resist my arguments, but that is not very likely. The Minister’s argument—that this is to assist the Assembly to spread its wings, concentrate on scrutiny and so on—is very seductive, but I am not actually seduced by it. If the Assembly needed the space it would have said so, rather than expressing its concerns, as it did, over these arrangements. There are a number of points where I am referring to the total number of posts, while the Minister is referring to individual appointments. The number of staff is a political matter. The GLA is not the same as other bodies, for reasons we debated earlier today, so it was a deliberate check that was designed.
The head of paid service, as other officers do, has the unenviable task of having to support and sometimes act as a go-between between the Mayor and the Assembly, and he has a responsibility facing both ways. He has to achieve a balance in the work he does. As on other occasions, I am making absolutely no comment about the current post-holder, who, much as many of us might wish to see him there for a long time, will not be there for ever.
The Minister seems to have said, and she might be able to confirm this now, that the new subsection (2), which she quotes in Clause 7(1), is about the overall establishment—the overall number of posts—and not just about individual appointments. I think I see nods coming from that direction.
“Yes”, Hansard will record. That is helpful, thank you.
Amendment No. 24 was one of those points that was answered as if it were about individual posts. It is not. It is intended to be—and I apologise if this is not clear from the drafting—about the establishment, not about individual posts, which might assist the Minister to look at it a little favourably.
moved Amendment No. 25:
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 26 and to Clause 8. This need not detain us for as long and I hope it will give the Minister an opportunity to explain the need for the clause, which concerns the mechanisms for the appointment of the head of paid service. If I were a conspiracy theorist, which I am not, I could construct a scenario in which the Mayor might use a veto over the appointment of a particular candidate and by those means eventually get a head of paid service who would either do the Mayor’s bidding or not be very strong. It is therefore appropriate to ask the Minister to justify the clause.
In particular, I refer to the issue of delegation which the head of paid service can undertake. Amendment No. 26 would provide for the unanimous view of the Assembly. The Committee will not need to be reminded that a number of the Assembly are of the Mayor’s party. None could be described as biddable, but they would tend to support the Mayor as a sort of default mode. They are also responsible for the role of the Assembly and, along with all other Assembly Members, they agree that if the head of paid service is given these new powers, he should exercise them personally and not be able to delegate the power to create or delete posts from the establishment. I beg to move.
We have just had a long and detailed debate about the current staffing arrangements in the GLA, so I shall not go over that ground again. Clause 7 provides for the head of paid service to appoint the majority of the GLA’s staff and set their terms and conditions following consultation with the Mayor and the Assembly. Clause 8 allows the head of paid service to delegate any of his staffing functions to a member of staff of the authority other than to staff appointed by the Mayor. These are sensible changes which separate the administrative function of appointing staff and the Assembly’s primary role of scrutinising the Mayor.
Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 would place restrictions on the head of paid service in relation to his staffing role. The problem is that they are unworkable. Amendment No. 25 would prohibit the head of paid service from delegating his staffing function. This would have the unfortunate and impractical effect of requiring the head of paid service himself to appoint GLA staff. That would not be the best use of his time, but that is the effect of the amendment. I can assure noble Lords that any delegation by the head of paid service in terms of appointments means a delegation of action, not of responsibility or accountability. He will remain responsible, but he would delegate the actions necessary to allow decisions to take effect. The head of paid service will remain responsible for overall GLA staffing provision irrespective of him delegating specific staff appointment responsibilities to other GLA officers.
Amendment No. 26 would prohibit the Mayor from delegating the duty set out in Amendment No. 24, to give the Assembly 28 days’ written notice before he takes decisions on staff appointments. I believe it is reasonable to allow the head of paid service to be responsible for the administrative functions of the authority and to free up the Assembly’s time. If the head of paid service is to take on this role, one that is analogous with what happens in other local authorities, it seems only sensible that he is able to delegate the function of making appointments while remaining responsible and accountable for the overall GLA establishment.
I hope that this explanation is of help to the noble Baroness. If not, or if I have missed something, I will be happy to write to her in more detail.
Again, this is a matter of distinguishing between the size of the establishment and the making of individual appointments. One would not expect the head of paid service to carry out every interview, but delegating decisions about the number of posts is a different matter. Those dedicated Members of the Committee who have stayed to this point may be relieved to hear that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]
Clause 8 agreed to.
Clauses 9 to 11 agreed to.