There will probably be a Division in the Chamber. If so, the noble Lord speaking will cease and we will adjourn for 10 minutes during the vote.
27: Before Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—
(1) Schedule 6 to the GLA Act 1999 (procedure for determining the Authority’s consolidated budget requirement) is amended as follows.
(2) Omit paragraph 8(4).”
The noble Baroness said: The amendment also stands in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. It would alter the majority of Assembly Members required for the Mayor to get his budget from one third to a simple majority. I proposed “one third” because the Mayor’s proposed budget each year will be rejected only if two thirds of the Assembly vote against it and if two thirds agree an alternative budget. He needs, therefore, only a one-third majority backing.
At Second Reading I said that we were entitled to be informed by the experience of the past seven years, and that does not always mean personalising arguments. The system in issue, the votes that people exercise, the effect of those votes and the powers of those for whom people are asked to vote should be readily understandable if we want greater engagement with the political process generally. My seven years’ experience is that the public do not readily understand that the Assembly cannot block the Mayor’s budget when over half of its Members vote against it.
The Government’s argument seems to be that the GLA is based on the model of a strong executive Mayor and that the “two thirds”—or, as I would put it, “one third”—requirement is “entirely appropriate”. In what way is it appropriate other than that it was invented here?
Of course the current Mayor likes the arrangement; it is very handy. At the most recent budget meeting of the Assembly earlier this year, as each of the component parts of the budget—for the GLA and the four functional bodies—met with a vote of nine for and 16 against, the Mayor shouted “carried” from the public gallery. The Government might have been a little more comfortable if the current incumbent had shown greater subtlety, but he made the point very clearly.
I appreciate, too, that the Government are keen on continuing to promote the strong mayor model, but that is not a universal view. Members of the Committee perhaps read comments by “Robocop”, Mayor Mallon of Middlesbrough, earlier this week, criticising the strong mayoral model, but I do not need to pray him in aid of this argument. It is not necessary to have this voting arrangement on the budget to achieve the strong mayoral model in London. The Mayor has all the executive powers. Even if 50 per cent plus one Assembly Members—a simple majority—voted against the budget, they would still have to agree an alternative, which would not be easy.
The largest proportion of the GLA budget, including all the functional bodies, is made up of grant from central government and from fares in the form of Transport for London’s income through the fare box. The Assembly is very limited in what it could alter in practice.
The design of the Greater London Authority should build on the PR system of election. One of its benefits is that Members have to look for ways of working together, which is generally a matter of finding common-sense solutions. I do not think that this arrangement for the GLA budget assists or reflects that.
At the point where the Assembly could bite and where this new system of government could be shown to be effective, the Government drew back. We now have a system that pleases few people, with the notable exception of the current Mayor. The fact that the current Mayor is such a notable exception in his view should sound a warning bell to us all. I beg to move.
It will not surprise the Committee to hear that we, too, support the amendment. Schedule 6 to the 1999 Act begins:
“It shall be the duty of the Mayor and the Assembly … to prepare and approve for each financial year … a consolidated budget for the Authority”.
As the schedule progresses it becomes apparent that the Assembly can influence the budget only with a two-thirds majority. The amendment seeks to lower that bar, and we throw ourselves wholeheartedly behind it.
The Assembly is set up as a scrutinising body, yet the budget for the whole authority can be covered by a minority, with potentially well over 60 per cent of the Assembly against it. It is staggering that a matter of such importance for the whole of London, which affects all the authority’s functions, can be forced through by an individual faced with such ineffective scrutiny. I support everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said on that.
The proposal would give the Assembly the power only to amend not to prepare the budget, which would remain the brainchild of the Mayor.
The arguments in favour of the amendment seem to rest on the basis that the current Mayor of London is not a subtle person. The fact that he correctly pointed out that the Assembly had not amended his budget somehow proves the case argued by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. But both speakers have glossed over the fact that this is a fundamental recasting of the relationship between the Mayor and the Assembly and of the nature of the Greater London Authority.
No doubt all sorts of models could be devised for the structure of Greater London governance. I sat in numerous meetings with some of the people in this Room in the mid-1990s, when we discussed different governance models. However, the Greater London Authority Act set up a particular structure. To change one part of it without recasting the rest is a dangerous way of proceeding. If it is really the belief that you need to have a different governance model, then let us review every aspect of it rather than simply changing one element at a time or, as will happen during the Bill’s progress, making a series of piecemeal changes which change some elements of the structure but not all of it.
There are very strong arguments for saying that the existing model, which says that the Mayor of London is a strong figure, is right for our capital city. Given that the Mayor of London has limited powers compared with mayors of similar cities overseas, it is important that he can exercise them fairly decisively and clearly.
There also seems to be confusion between the role of scrutiny and the role of decision, which surprises me because both noble Lords who have spoken so far are highly experienced in precisely that distinction. My experience, although admittedly I was on the London Assembly for only four years, is that its scrutiny of a number of aspects of the budget was extremely detailed and effective. It highlighted issues that needed attention, and they were, by and large, attended to. However, that is a different process from one of decision. To say that the Assembly by a simple majority is to determine the budget is to transfer the bulk of the Mayor of London’s power to the Assembly.
Will the Committee consider the implications of the proposal? You would have a Mayor, directly elected by the people of London, clearly visible and expected to carry out certain functions, who could not, without the support of the majority of the Assembly for those actions, guarantee that he would be able to take at least some of them forward. That would be less of a problem and have fewer consequences if there were a different system for electing the Assembly or if the Assembly was of a different type. As far as I can see, nothing in the amendments suggests that the Assembly election system should be changed. Indeed, I should be very surprised to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggest a move away from a system of proportional representation for the Assembly. Yet only if there were a parallel system of election could you really argue that this was an appropriate way in which to determine the functions.
My objections to this amendment are, first, that the change should not be made without a fundamental review of how the entire GLA structure operates, and, secondly and perhaps more importantly, that London deserves strong leadership and governance, neither of which it will get through this proposal.
London First has always supported the strong mayoral model. Anything that seeks to confuse his role as the leader, accountable for his decisions, is a backwards step. In that sense, I entirely support what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said. However, it is arguable whether this rule that there must be a two-thirds majority of the Assembly on the budget achieves what we seek. We all agree that the Assembly needs to be in a position to carry out effective scrutiny; I am not entirely clear that the rule enables the Assembly to hold the Mayor to account on whether he is spending his money wisely and well, as I would want it to be able to do, but not to decide how he spends his money. For example, he has probably spent too much money on buses, and it would have been good if someone had held him to account for that.
The other aspect of the current model that I dislike is that it has the unintended consequence of getting the Mayor to align with minority parties to get his budget through. That seems an unintended consequence on anybody’s part.
The conclusion that I reluctantly draw is that the current situation is the best that we can have, but I am concerned about financial accountability.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, is correct in so far as we probably ought to change the whole system, but we are where we are with the GLA. This is a new Bill, with certain provisions that we are entitled to look at, and that undoubtedly includes the budget.
I had barely joined this House when the first GLA Bill was introduced, but I recall that there was an expectation that the Mayor’s precept would be remarkably low. Many spoke about whether he would be able to raise sufficient money from his budget at the level considered. The Bill went through on that basis. By extraordinary chance, the Mayor has managed to double—double—his precept since he came into power. Neither the Assembly nor the London electorate has been unable to stop him doing that. There is no doubt that he has found ways of ensuring that he can get from the London taxpayer a great deal more money than was ever envisaged.
There has to be some check on what the Mayor can do. Everybody foresaw such problems from the outset. The scrutiny role of the Assembly should include a holding power, particularly in relation to the budget and precept, and some way of tugging the Mayor back; otherwise, nothing will stop the precept from increasing, and it cannot keep going up at the current rate.
I am grateful to the Committee for that short discussion, which is the start of a very important debate. It represents a debate that we will have in different forms about the Assembly settlement, which will work itself out as the Bill is discussed. This is probably the most important amendment in this group; it reflects some robust, yet relatively simple, political realities, to which my noble friend Lord Harris referred. As emphasised, inevitably it would undermine the GLA model of governance: a strong mayoral executive and an Assembly holding the Mayor to account through effective scrutiny.
I shall run through the changes that Members of the Committee would like to discuss. Obviously, the key change that we have introduced, which is very simple but important, deals with the procedure for determining the authority’s consolidated budget requirement. Clause 12 will give the Assembly, for the first time, its own component budget. That should not be underestimated, as it marks our commitment to giving the Assembly greater financial autonomy and a clearer focus on its scrutiny role. The Assembly has welcomed that, but it has opened up the debate about its powers to amend the budget.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that people did not understand the work of the Assembly, and we need to think about that. By giving the Assembly its own budget, that process will become more transparent and clearer. Under our revisions, which I want to run through briefly, Clause 12 provides for separate component budget requirements. The Mayor and Assembly budgets now make up six budgets rather than the four functional budgets that we had previously. Together they make up the consolidated budget requirement for the GLA group.
Clause 13 revises the procedures for determining the GLA consolidated budget simply to incorporate the new Mayor and Assembly budgets into the process. It is worth thinking about the process because part of my argument will rest on how these different stages offer different opportunities for checks and balances.
The Mayor must now prepare a first draft consolidated GLA budget after preparing six draft component budgets. He has to consult the Assembly before preparing both the Mayor and Assembly draft component budgets. He must present the draft consolidated budget to the Assembly on or before 1 February in the financial year preceding the one to which the draft consolidated budget relates. The Assembly must approve the first draft and the six draft component budgets it comprises, with or without amendment, by a simple majority.
I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, that that is where the first stage of accountability kicks in. The simple majority will enable the Assembly to influence what is happening at that early stage. But the Assembly’s power to increase its own draft component budget by amendment has been limited by the Bill so that its annual percentage increase must not be more than the annual percentage increase in the Mayor’s component budget. We will talk about that in later amendments. For example, if the Mayor proposes a 3 per cent increase in his own budget compared with the previous year, against a 2 per cent increase in the Assembly budget, the Assembly may increase its own budget by up to 1 per cent. That calculation is set out in Clause 13(5).
Similarly, if the Mayor proposes to decrease his own budget by 1 per cent, the Assembly may not amend its own budget such that the decrease, compared to the previous year, is less than 1 per cent. That does not mean that the Assembly’s budget could never increase by more than the Mayor’s, year on year, but the Mayor would need to propose such an increase. Those arrangements would ensure that the Assembly could not award itself excessive increases in its budget, and that is reasonable.
The Mayor, informed by the Assembly’s considerations, must then prepare a final draft of the proposed consolidated budget, which it must approve, with or without amendment, before the last day of February in the financial year preceding that to which the budget relates.
Two contextual points were implied by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. First, the Assembly does not have an option to reject the final draft budget. As my noble friend Lord Harris said, Schedule 6 to the Greater London Authority Act makes it clear that the Assembly must approve the final draft budget, either as it stands or by amending it by a two-thirds majority. Secondly, the Assembly has the power, if it so chooses, to amend the component budgets and, in so doing, amend the consolidated budgets. That is another check. There is nothing to stop that. The fact that the Assembly has not done that does not mean that it cannot do so. Therefore, by implication, that amends the consolidated budget.
I am not as familiar with the workings of the GLA as I am with those of Essex County Council. The noble Baroness said that the first draft must be passed by the Assembly. What if it does not pass the first draft? She said that it has to pass the later drafts. What if the Assembly rejected the first draft?
After consultation, the Assembly can propose alterations to the first draft by a simple majority, but the Mayor is not required to accept them. However he is required—rather as he will now be required to respond to consultations on the strategy—to say why he does not accept them.
I would not dispute that. The noble Baroness may wish to take advantage of an invitation to talk through with us some of those consultations before Report.
The Assembly’s ability to amend its budget is limited, and we will deal with that in later amendments. Why have we done it this way? We can all agree that it is right, timely and proper to give the Assembly its own budget. Its consolidated budget represents £11 billion of expenditure on strategic services: public transport, the police, fire and emergency services, economic development and regeneration, and the budget for City Hall. The budget process has worked well. It has been predictable and has delivered for London, particularly on policing and transport. The Bill involves as little disruption and change as possible.
In order to deal with unusual one-off payments, such as the Olympic precept, the authority’s chief finance officer may direct that specified amounts are left out of the budget requirement calculations for the purpose of determining that limit. We will come on to that in a later amendment.
As part of this complicated set of provisions, reflected in the amendments, a parallel set of “virtual” arrangements in Clause 14 makes similar provisions for subsidy calculations.
I listened to the arguments on the amendments but I cannot agree with them, because there are built-in checks and balances. First, the Assembly keeps its existing power to amend the first draft budget by simple majority, which allows it to give the Mayor a clear and early signal of concern, disagreement and controversy and enables him to change his later drafts. Secondly, it has the power to amend by a two-thirds majority, which ensures that, under the strong mayoral model, there is consensus on the budget. The challenge for the political parties in the Assembly—this is where we come to the realpolitik—is to work together to maximise its influence over the preparation of the budget. That is the democratic way of doing it, and I believe that it is better for the reputation of the Assembly if it galvanises its forces rather than our making arrangements for that to happen by guaranteeing a simple majority. With this new power over the budget, it will be able to focus on doing that. It would go down far better with Londoners if the Assembly were seen to have the courage of its convictions. I do not think it is necessary to have a PR system to build coalitions.
Two short quotations support the case. First, the GLA’s own website shows that the Assembly has made a distinct contribution to this process. It states:
“The London Assembly has saved Londoners more than £125 million by reining in the Mayor’s budget”.
That is confirmation of the positive power. Secondly, in the other place, the opposition spokesman Michael Gove said:
“Far from being an ineffectual scrutiny body, the GLA—
I think he meant the Assembly—
“can be a powerful one, if it can command the votes required”.—[Official Report, Commons, Greater London Authority Bill Committee, 9/1/07; col. 60.]
I think that that is a rallying cry. Referring to the strong mayoral model, Robert Neill MP said:
“We do not have a problem with that model”.—[Official Report, Commons, Greater London Authority Bill Committee, 9/1/07; col. 71.]
I am therefore not clear why noble Lords are trying to change the model, which the amendment would do. It would enable a narrow majority of Assembly Members to decide London’s strategic budget, it would overturn a successful model and, as my noble friend said, it would introduce real confusion between the scrutiny and executive functions. I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, said about the benefits of that model and the certainty that it brings. It would create the risk that the Assembly would routinely take on the executive function of setting the budget and it would be a recipe for confusion.
There is one other, strong argument. Such a change would not stop at London; it would have implications for other local authorities run on the mayoral model. The two-thirds rule also applies to mayor-in-cabinet and mayor-in-council management models up and down the country. We need to think very seriously about the implications of introducing such a change.
On those grounds, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful for all the contributions on this amendment. None of them surprised me much, except, perhaps, the Minister’s explanation that the Assembly can amend component budgets. I am grateful for her offer of discussions outside the Committee on that. We would certainly like to discuss it with her because there is clearly some difficulty over the interpretation of the GLA Act. There has been some controversy about the ability of the Assembly to amend components—I had proposed to mention this in the next-but-one group of amendments. The Assembly has been advised that it must vote on the one amount at the end of the day, which has affected how the components are dealt with. If there is a vote against the whole budget because one part is not acceptable, as has happened, it is easily characterised as a vote against the parts that are acceptable. This has been particularly clear in the case of the police, who have had huge support in the Assembly. The Mayor has had huge support in the development of the police budget and its activities. It does not go down well with Assembly Members if they are characterised as voting against that when it is not the case.
Is not virtually all the net increase in the mayoral precept, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, was so concerned, accounted for by the increase in expenditure on policing, which, as the noble Baroness indicated, had widespread support in the Assembly?
A very considerable amount but not all of it. I am sure that the noble Lord would be the last to support any politician swept away by an argument about a large part of something, ignoring the bits around the edge that are often of considerable interest. For instance, he will be as familiar as I am with the issue of whether it is necessary to put an amount on the Transport for London budget which gives rise to a precept when there are arguments about whether that is what Londoners want. I do not dispute that a very large part of what has been raised by the precept and a large part of what is spent as a result of government grant is a matter for the MPA budget. I will talk to the Minister outside the Committee about that.
In saying that the Mayor is required to respond to the Assembly’s amendments to the first draft budget, I realise that I have supported the noble Baroness’s case more than I intended to. I should have added that the reasons given can be rather dismissive.
The Minister also said that there are implications for other authorities. This is not the place to argue about the comparative arrangements, but my understanding is that in boroughs with a strong leader model the council’s authority is completely different from that of the Assembly. What we have in London is sui generis.
The Minister also said that, because the Assembly will have its own budget—as it will after this Bill is enacted—that will assist the matter. I do not believe that that is an issue for this amendment. People see the Assembly as a check on the Mayor. They are not hugely concerned about the Assembly’s own budget, unless somebody accuses it of being profligate, which can happen, but that is not the heart of the issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, said that I based my argument on the current incumbent not being a subtle person. I do not row back from that comment, but it is not the basis of my argument. I had hoped that I had explained that a recasting of the arrangement—and I accept that it would be such—would still leave a strong Mayor, because he would have executive powers. Indeed, it would be a greater challenge to the Assembly than combining to defeat the budget, because the Assembly would require 50 per cent plus to agree an alternative budget. I have always thought that that was the hardest barrier to overcome.
The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, talked about how the Mayor spends his money. Another very considerable frustration is that the Assembly is not able to deal with the budget line by line. That explains why this amendment was tabled but it is not a part of it.
I am not surprised by the Minister’s response, but for today, at any rate, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 12 agreed to.
Clause 13 [Procedure for determining Authority’s consolidated budget requirement]:
28: Clause 13, page 13, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) In issuing a direction under sub-paragraph (9) above, the chief finance officer shall have regard to the separate respective statutory functions of the London Assembly and the London Transport Users’ Committee.”
The noble Lord said: As we enter a wider debate about the Assembly’s budget, Amendment No. 28 relates to a fairly small, specific point about the budget of the London Transport Users’ Committee. We tabled this amendment to urge that, when the budget is set, appropriate regard is given to the requirements of that committee.
London TravelWatch plays a fundamental role. Transport issues are very rarely far from the thoughts of Londoners. The speed and, in particular, the reliability of the capital’s transport network regularly preoccupy users. London TravelWatch is an invaluable watchdog: it tackles those concerns effectively and persuasively on top of its function of resolving customer service complaints.
It is essential to have an effective body for addressing problems related to security and safety on public transport. No one would want to deny it sufficient funds. My honourable friend in another place Michael Gove, who has already been mentioned today, raised the shocking examples of the murder of Tom ap Rhys Pryce and the 2005 Tube bombings. The recent publicity surrounding the sentencing of the so-called Kensal Green Gang has further illustrated the level of fear that London’s transport users have about the rise in violent crime.
For all those reasons, transport matters have been brought to the fore. London TravelWatch has become ever more active, and we believe that concern over travel safety and transport reliability will only increase. It is therefore essential that there is a mechanism to allow the people of London to voice their fears and complaints, knowing that they will be heard. We believe that the resources required to keep this service effective may well increase. This amendment would ensure that this important vehicle continues to receive the funding that it merits. It would be a great reassurance to know that it will continue.
As well as ensuring funding for the London Transport Users’ Committee, the amendment has an important second part. It seeks to ensure that London TravelWatch does not receive its resources at the expense of the Assembly and its important scrutiny function, which we have just discussed—not least on transport. It would be wrong not to have regard also to the Assembly’s needs.
I hope that the Government will accept this small amendment. Although transport is not one of the main areas of focus in the Bill, as I have said before, it affects Londoners every single day. If the Government accepted the amendment, they would show willingness to take fully into account the views of the public on important transport issues. Following the Minister’s rather lukewarm response to earlier debates about consultation, it would send out an unfavourable message if the Government resisted this sort of amendment, which would improve democratic participation in our capital. I beg to move.
I support the amendment. It concerns a matter discussed by the Assembly; its Members would unanimously support it.
I understand that the original intention was that London TravelWatch, as the London Transport Users’ Committee is now branded, should fall within the Assembly’s budget because, if you have to choose between executive and scrutiny, it falls within the scrutiny part of the picture. However, it has a very different role and, as the noble Lord said, if it reduced the Assembly’s scrutiny budget, that would be a problem. I am not wholly sure that I should like to see the Mayor setting the LTUC budget, so, if the principle of the amendment were accepted, I would want to see it followed by a further amendment dealing with how the budget is set. However, I understand the principle behind it.
The Minister in the Commons made the secondary point that the amendment was technically flawed. I can understand the words that he used—he mentioned the chief finance officer’s power of direction being intended to deal only with the Mayor’s aspect of the budget—but I cannot reconcile what he said with the amendment or where it comes within the Bill. If there is a technical flaw, I hope that the Minister will explain it.
I agree with what the noble Lord said about the importance of the function that London TravelWatch performs and how important safety is to all Londoners who use public transport, but I am afraid that I will have to disappoint him on the first part of his argument. I shall also try to address the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Members of the Committee have become a consolidated opposition, rather like the budget.
First, the noble Lord argued that we should ensure that the budget of the LTUC was adequate, protected, and so on, but it is not for the Government but the Assembly to do that. I am sure that the Mayor will listen to the suggestion that he sets that budget as well—a seventh component budget, perhaps. The second argument is that an increase could adversely affect the budgetary ceiling of the Assembly and how it might increase its budget. That is the argument that I can address, explaining why it is technically problematic. I do not believe that it is a significant issue.
Clause 13 inserts into Schedule 6 to the Greater London Authority Act 1999 new paragraph 5A(9), allowing the GLA’s chief finance officer to direct that specific amounts should be left out of the calculation for determining the ceiling beyond which the Assembly cannot amend its own budget. That is intended to deal with unusual, one-off, occasional items that would distort the Mayor’s budget. Obviously, the Olympic precept is the best example.
The London Transport Users’ Committee does not come into that category, for obvious reasons. Placing a duty on the chief finance officer to have regard to the functions of the Assembly and the LTUC in issuing a direction relating to the Mayor’s budget would have no bearing on its content. That is the explanation that I hope the noble Baroness was seeking.
In any event, I do not believe that one should be too exercised about this. Under Clause 12, the LTUC budget forms part of the Assembly’s component budget, but it is a small proportion of the overall budget—less than 20 per cent. Any changes in the LTUC’s budget requirement are unlikely to have a significant bearing on the overall budget for the Assembly.
In addition, if any of the LTUC’s statutory duties changed, we would need primary legislation. For example, if it were to take on additional functions, which would imply a bigger budget, primary legislation would be needed to accomplish that. In that case, it would be appropriate to consider funding issues at the same time as the legislation was debated.
For those reasons, disappointed though the noble Lord probably is, I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.
I was rather heartened by the Minister’s first comments because it seems that we all support this organisation and want to make certain that it is funded. I do not think the amendment would have been tabled were there not the fear that things might not work out properly. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, this is supported by all parties in the Assembly.
I am disappointed at the latter part of the Minister’s argument. I always find that, where there is a will to do something, there is usually a way to do it. I know that it is a small issue, but I repeat that it is very important to Londoners. I am disappointed with the arguments, but I note what the Minister has said. We shall probably come back to the matter. I shall read what she has said and think about it, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
29: Clause 13, page 13, line 12, at end insert—
“(5A) After paragraph 5A insert—
“Limit on Mayor’s powers to prepare draft budget for the Assembly5B (1) In exercising his powers to prepare a draft component budget for the Assembly under paragraph 2 above, the Mayor must not prepare a draft component budget for the Assembly that is less than the minimum draft component budget requirement for the Assembly.
(2) Find the minimum draft component budget requirement for the Assembly as follows.
(3) If NM is greater than OM (as calculated under paragraph 5A(5) above) the minimum draft component budget requirement for the Assembly is as if NM equals OM.
(4) If NM is less than OM (as calculated under paragraph 5A(5) above)—
(a) find the percentage by which NM is less than OM, and(b) reduce the amount of the component budget requirement for the Assembly for the previous financial year by the same percentage.The result is the minimum draft component budget requirement for the Assembly.
(5) If NM equals OM (as calculated under paragraph 5A(5) above) the minimum draft component budget requirement for the Assembly equals the amount of the component budget requirement for the Assembly for the previous year.
(6) Sub-paragraphs (9) to (11) of paragraph 5A above shall have effect for the purposes of this paragraph.”.”
The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 30 to 35. The amendments deal with the Assembly's budget. I put on record my appreciation that the Government have acknowledged the need for particular arrangements for the Assembly. They did so some time ago. The Government said that the Assembly would be able to set its own budget. The Mayor also said that that was quite right and that no Mayor should be able to meddle with the Assembly's budget.
I have acknowledged before now that the current Mayor has been generous in his allocation of staffing to the Assembly, but it is entirely possible that a future Mayor or the current Mayor in a less good mood—I do not want to personalise the issue—might constrain the Assembly's ability to scrutinise his actions and hold him to account. It is extremely important that the scrutiny arm should not be constrained through such a sledgehammer approach. The Government have included important protections for the Assembly's budget, but they are not enough. A separate component budget for the Assembly needs a little tweaking.
The Minister spoke earlier about the ability to vote on separate components. I had not taken that into account in these amendments. I hope that we will be able to relate that point to the Assembly's budget as well as the overall issue.
Amendment Nos. 29, 31 and 33 deal with the same issue but at different stages or under different circumstances. As the Minister said, the Bill sets a ceiling so that the Assembly budget cannot rise by a greater proportion than the Mayor's budget. For that purpose, the Mayor's budget is everything but the Assembly budget. I do not argue with that, but it does not address the issue of protection. The amendments would set a floor so that the Assembly budget is not subject to unlimited cuts if the new Mayor’s budget—that must be what “NM” means, and “OM” means old Mayor—is greater than the old Mayor’s budget—
We are all getting old. Perhaps we should have used “PM”, for previous Mayor. The minimum Assembly budget would reflect that change. If the new Mayor’s budget—I have lost my place thanks to the helpful intervention on the acronyms.
If the new Mayor’s budget is less than the older Mayor’s budget then the Assembly budget would be reduced in proportion. If they are the same, the Assembly budget would be the same.
Will the Committee consider the position not only on a single year but in the context of the cumulative effect of mayoral cuts or a standstill of the Assembly budget compared with an increased mayoral budget over a period of years? The amendments are not about Assembly profligacy. The Assembly is not profligate. It recently decided not to go for an extra post in the budget, which would have related to scrutinising new mayoral powers, because it is not likely to be needed as soon as was once thought. The amendments are about protecting the scrutiny function. As I have said, that is not the case so far in London.
Can the noble Baroness point to anywhere else within the system whereby budgets are protected in this way in local government? I had always thought that local authorities were free to cut budgets if they wanted to. She is seeking to establish a system that would protect in law the whole area of expenditure.
That is right because, as I said on a previous amendment, this arrangement is sui generis.
I have been struck by the fact that some local authorities have given almost no resource to the scrutiny function. For example, an overview and scrutiny committee may be supported by half an officer who spends the other half of his time supporting the executive.
I am not seeking to protect a part of the budget, other than proportionately to the Mayor’s budget. If the Mayor reduces his budget by 50 per cent, the Assembly’s budget would be reduced by that, but not more than that. The amendment would set a floor to ensure that the Assembly’s statutory duty of holding the Mayor or the Executive to account was not prejudiced by the Executive cutting the budget disproportionately. It should be there to support that function. I agree that the provision is not something that one has come across before, but one has not come across something like the GLA before. The whole thing is entirely new. I hope that that is of some help.
The Mayor has said that such an amendment would put the Assembly on a privileged footing compared with the functional bodies, but that is not an appropriate comparison. The functional bodies are an arm of the Executive. As I said, this is about delivering the scrutiny function. The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, is not in her place, but London First accepts and supports applying a floor as protection. Members of the Assembly, of all political parties, also support it.
In a letter to noble Lords following Second Reading, the Minister said that if a Mayor set an excessively low budget, the Assembly would readily muster two thirds to amend the Mayor's proposal, but that is not my understanding of what the Assembly can do. That takes me to Amendments Nos. 30, 32, and 34 in which I propose that the Assembly needs to be in full control of its own budget, subject to a ceiling, and that that must apply through all stages of the budget-making process.
We have returned to the matter of voting on separate components of the budget, which we may need to discuss further before Report. As the Assembly has understood it, it cannot effectively vote on the separate components. It has historically taken votes to show that it has, for instance, supported the police budget but not a transport budget. Still less can it vote on a line-by-line basis for particular projects. It has to vote at the very last stage for the total amount of the Mayor's budget. By making the Assembly budget a sixth component, without this amendment, the Assembly would not be able to vote separately on it. If, at the last stage, the Mayor put forward an Assembly budget that was unacceptable to the Assembly, its option would be to vote against the whole budget. There are often political reasons why that is not an acceptable way forward. In any event, it would be ineffective because it would change only the total amount of the Mayor's budget not the component parts. It would be up to the Mayor to reallocate. The other option would be to vote for the Mayor's budget because of the political perceptions.
The Minister has said that to have a different arrangement for the sixth component would be inconsistent, but consistency does not always mean that the overall aim is achieved. The amendments would be consistent with the objectives of ensuring that the Assembly can set its own budget. Again, the amendments are supported by London First.
Amendment No. 35, the third limb of these mechanisms, builds on the government proposals and would enable the Assembly to allocate resources within its budget. Without that, I fear that the Mayor could make the decisions and, for example, alter the amount that is devoted to the Assembly’s scrutiny programme or given to the party groups. I do not suggest favouring or disfavouring particular groups, because that might well attract challenges, but it would allow the Mayor to control the allocation within the budget.
In the Commons the Minister said that this amendment was not necessary. He referred to Section 34 of the 1999 Act, which says that the powers of the authority can be exercised by the Mayor, the Assembly or both acting together. That does not seem to help us in this case. If the Government are relying on that, perhaps the Minister will explain it. I beg to move.
Our names are attached to most of the amendments in this group. As the debate has gone on, I have become more and more confused, and I hope that the Minister will clarify matters. I am pleased that things do not operate in Essex County Council in the way that they will operate in London.
I am going to depart from my notes because I want to clarify one or two points. We have talked about the Assembly having scrutiny powers, but it seems obvious that it should have the right kind of budget to carry out its scrutiny function. The Assembly is the right body to do that but it has to have some protection. As I understand it, there is no floor to the budget, as has been the subject of our discussion. The Assembly should be able to create a budget that is protected in some way, and I should like assurance on that point.
We have talked a lot about scrutiny. If we have a strong mayoral model, the Assembly must have a strong scrutiny function and powers to create its budget, but that does not seem to be the case. We seem to have got confused regarding agreeing budgets line by line, and so on. We are giving a lot of extra power to the Mayor so that he is a strong Mayor, but we need to give equivalent power to the Assembly so that it can carry out the scrutiny. The amendment seeks to clarify that.
This matter will clearly be the subject of debate not just in Committee but throughout the passage of this legislation. We need to understand it so that we know what amendments to put forward, or even to vote on, at later stages to ensure that the Assembly has enough scrutiny powers.
I am concerned that we are not considering the matter sufficiently. The Assembly is elected on the same day as the Mayor and therefore it has a political mandate. Even if its Members are not from the same political party as the Mayor or the majority are not from the same party, they are still elected on the same day. The people of London will have voted for them and I am sure that they will want to see the checks and balances created by the Mayor. It might be sensible to insist that they are all from the same party, as that might work, but I know that we cannot do that. The whole thing seems very confusing to me. I support the amendments and I hope that the Minister will clarify the queries relating to the Assembly’s budget.
A democratic body would ensure that enough money was available for the scrutiny function, but if I, as leader of Essex County Council, wanted to thwart that, I could. Here, we are suggesting that the Mayor might have the power to thwart the functioning of the Assembly, and we want to prevent that.
In local government we have a strong leader in a Cabinet model, but the county council has the power to pass the budget. As leader of Essex County Council, I propose a budget that has to be scrutinised and passed by the full council. The leader and the Cabinet have no power to implement that—all 75 members of Essex County Council have to debate and pass the budget. That does not happen in London although there is a strong Mayor model. I will be interested to see what happens in the forthcoming local government Bill. Will I, as leader of Essex County Council, have the power of veto over the county council? We will talk about that when we debate that legislation.
Let us have some more clarity; when we know where we are and how the Assembly can protect its budget, we can debate it properly. I am getting more and more confused about how the Assembly can function in London.
The amendments seem to constitute a major rewording of a whole chunk of the Bill. I gather from the briefing I have had from the Mayor’s Office that he supports the Bill as it stands, which gives the Assembly greater powers of scrutiny. However, parts of the amendments undermine to some degree the powers that the Mayor already has; we have had some discussion about that in the context of my noble friend Lord Harris’s contribution. There is a move here to transform the Assembly into a Greater London Council, which it is not. It is not the GLC but an Assembly with scrutiny powers. I can see no real reason for departing from the wording in the Bill. I would be grateful to know if the Minister can see any reason; I can see none except an attempt to undermine to some degree the powers that the Mayor already has. Although we may have different views of what the government of London ought to be, we are all agreed that we are where we are. We have a Mayor with substantial powers, and everybody seems to agree with that. Therefore, there is no reason to support the amendments.
This has been a lively debate. I will not follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, through the detailed way in which she presented her arguments. It is probably better that I do what I was invited to do by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and address some simple political realities. I am grateful for the contributions of my noble friends Lady Turner and Lord Campbell-Savours. They raised issues which are contextually germane to what we are proposing.
I believe that noble Lords have erected fears which are unfounded. The strategy they propose runs greater risks than does accepting what we are trying to do, not only by inventing a budget for the Assembly. The underlying fear is that the Mayor might, in the face of argument or criticism, reduce and diminish the power of the Assembly by cutting the budget. I am not convinced that there need be any additional statutory safeguards; the normal democratic processes are there to do just that. Creating an Assembly budget which then can be promoted and defended gives the Assembly a new and unique ability to do that.
Let me deal first with the Assembly component budget and the simple majority question. Amendments Nos. 30 and 32 specifically allow the Assembly to amend by simple majority only its own final draft budget. To pick up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, there is no basis in legislation, as I said earlier, for the Assembly to vote against the Mayor’s budget as a whole. It must approve the final draft, with or without amendment.
I have three arguments. The first is to do with inconsistency, and I do not think it is frivolous; the second is to do with the reputation and function of the Assembly; and the third is to do with the realpolitik of what it means to operate in a democratic environment. It does not make sense for the Assembly to be allowed to amend one part of the final budget through a simple majority vote while the rest of the consolidated budget requires a two-thirds majority for amendment, even if that part is about the Assembly’s own budget. That takes us to the question of reputation. It would send a curious and unconfident signal if the first thing the Assembly did on getting its own independent budget was to try to secure preferential treatment to ensure that it was more protected and easier to increase than budgets for GLA front-line services. The noble Baroness said that that would not be so, but I believe the perception of Londoners would be that neighbourhood police forces are less important and have less political salience than the administration of the Assembly or that the fire service counts for less than securing more staffing for Assembly Members. I would not feel comfortable sending that message.
The second risk, which is related to the first, concerns reputation and realpolitik. For the first time, Assembly Members will have a strong common interest in ensuring that the Assembly has the resources necessary to fulfil its functions. This is the point raised by the question of scrutiny. On the first day in Committee, we discussed how the scrutiny powers of the Assembly are enhanced by requiring the Mayor to explain to it in new ways why he had taken certain decisions. For the first time, the Assembly will have the resources necessary to fulfil its functions effectively and, together with the additional powers on confirmation hearings and staffing, it will be able to hold the Mayor to account on behalf of Londoners. This is a different state of affairs. It will be far easier for the Assembly to achieve a consensus on its own budget against a Mayor who proposes an excessively low budget than it is at the moment, when it has to try to reach consensus on policy issues. If it did not do that, I would think that there was something seriously wrong with the political organisation of the parties involved.
Amendments Nos. 21, 31 and 33 set the minimum amount. The same arguments apply in part. The amendments provide the Assembly with additional and preferential safeguards in its budget rather than ensuring that the existing arrangements, whereby it can amend its final draft budget by a two-thirds majority, work well. I find this a rather alarmist scenario. I do not say that it is typical of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, but the expectation that something cannot be achieved within the present arrangements is strange because the two-thirds rule provides a sufficient safeguard to enable the Assembly to amend an excessively low budget proposed by the Mayor. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, implied, rather than establishing a complex and arbitrary mechanism to guarantee a minimum budget, the Assembly should have confidence in itself and use its existing powers and the powers of persuasion between parties to command a majority that ensures a fair and equitable budget.
We are having architectural arguments about ceilings and floors. I do not think it is inconsistent to have a ceiling and no floor. A ceiling is important because it would look very odd to give the Assembly carte blanche to increase its own budget unacceptably, but a floor anticipates a profound lack of trust between the Assembly and the Mayor and a lack of self-confidence in the Assembly. It sends a seriously uncomfortable and probably inappropriate message that the Assembly budget is more worthy of extra protection than the budgets of front-line services. It is a very cumbersome and complicated way to protect the Assembly. It adds more layers of complexity to an already complex process.
I shall not repeat my response to the argument that, without a budgetary floor, the Assembly would suffer a death by 1,000 cuts. The noble Baroness’s amendment would not have its intended effect. The calculation it proposes would allow the Mayor to freeze the budget—a cut in real terms—and increase his own budget. That would not protect the Assembly from cumulative cuts.
Amendment No. 35 makes explicit that the Assembly can allocate money as it sees fit from within its own agreed budget. The amendment is not necessary, given the spirit and the letter of the law. It is clearly within the spirit of the Bill that the Assembly should decide how best to allocate its budget within the agreed total of that budget, regardless of whether or not it had amended the Mayor’s final draft proposal. Section 34 of the GLA Act 1999, which enables the Assembly to do anything that is incidental to the exercise of its functions, provides the legal basis for the Assembly to take such decisions.
The point raised by the noble Baroness in her amendment is covered. I hope that noble Lords will not press their amendments.
At Second Reading I referred to these clauses as being as complicated as a Fair Isle knitting pattern. I apologise to noble Lords that I have not made the process more like a stocking stitch. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked why, if there was no budgetary floor in Essex County Council, there should be one in London. Conversely, if it is wrong in London, it may be wrong in Essex also and we should look at changing the arrangements for Essex.
The noble Baroness was surprised at the proposition in the Bill that the draft component budgets could be amended. On two occasions she said that that was news to her. That would be an immeasurable power in discussions over scrutiny budgets. I would have thought that her group and the Conservative group in the authority would wish to look very closely at my noble friend’s undertaking. If I were a member of the GLA and that power were available to me, I would feel assured that I could obtain whatever money I needed for scrutiny.
The noble Lord is right; that is why I have readily accepted an invitation to discuss the matter with the Minister. However, there is some history to this issue, which has been of concern to the Assembly. I am not saying that the Assembly and its advisers have never thought about or looked at this matter, but I want to be absolutely sure about it. I believe that I am right to say that, whatever assurances the Minister may give from the Dispatch Box, although welcome, if they can be challenged afterwards on the basis of the wording of the legislation, they would, sadly, not count.
The position of Essex and all other local authorities is not the same as that of London. Even with a Cabinet model, there is a leader and a Cabinet drawn from the whole council and the council has control of the whole budget. That is not the case in London. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, characterised the amendment as rewording the Bill. That is not the intention; the intention is to provide additions. That may sound a tedious point, but it is important. Nor is the amendment aimed at undermining the structure and constitutional arrangements or at turning the Assembly into a GLC mark II. It aims to ensure that the Assembly is in control of that one bit of the budget. That is what the Government said, at the start of the process, they sought to achieve. Despite their length, these are intended to be technical amendments to achieve what the Government say they are trying to do.
The Minister talked about reducing the Mayor’s powers. The amendments would not do that, except to the extent that the Mayor would have a power, as we believe, to reduce the Assembly’s budget subject to a cap but not to a minimum, or a floor.
The Minister said that the Assembly should rely on the democratic processes already in place. I do not know about other noble Lords, but I would not fancy knocking on doors saying, “Vote for my party because the Mayor has been very mean to the Assembly”. Electors would, quite rightly, have other matters on their mind. It is up to us, as politicians, to ensure that the means are there.
Perhaps it comes from cynicism born of experience, but I do not see the realpolitik in the same way as the Minister does. She says that it would reflect on the political parties; I part company from her there.
Legislation should set up the structure which restricts elected politicians from doing, or allows them to do, whatever is intended. One should not rely on people showing the common sense that we, in 2007, think they should show in five years’ time, when provision can be achieved in legislation.
The noble Baroness talked about reputation. Given that there would be a ceiling—I am not challenging the ceiling on the Assembly’s budget—I part company with her there as well. I do not approach this in some Cassandra-like fashion, looking for a problem; instead, I seek to think through the “what ifs?” and find the protection.
There is a difference from the functional bodies which are part of the Mayor’s arm. I am glad that the Minister thinks it is not necessary to have a clause dealing with the allocation of resources—that is within the spirit of the amendment. Clause 34 provides:
“The Authority acting by the Mayor, by the Assembly, or by both jointly, may do anything”,
to facilitate its functions. That was where I had a problem. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Sitting suspended for a Division in the House from 5.03 to 5.16 pm.]
[Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 not moved.]
Clause 13 agreed to.
Clause 14 [Substitute calculations]:
[Amendments Nos. 32 to 34 not moved.]
Clause 14 agreed to.
Clause 15 agreed to.
[Amendment No. 35 not moved.]
Clause 16 agreed to.
36: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
“Directions by the Mayor
(1) Section 421 of the GLA Act 1999 (directions) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (2) insert—
“(3) In any direction given under this Act by the Mayor, the reference to a “direction” shall include the following—
(a) any guidance issued by the Mayor under this Act to any body as to the manner in which that body is to exercise its functions;(b) any general directions issued by the Mayor under this Act to any body as to the manner in which that body is to exercise its functions; and(c) any specific directions issued by the Mayor under this Act to any body as to the exercise of that body’s functions.(4) In this section and in section 404A above, any reference to “this Act” includes any provisions which, by virtue of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (as amended from time to time), have been or are inserted into any other Act of Parliament or statutory instrument.”.”
The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to Amendment No. 38. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has Amendment No. 73 in this group as well. The Mayor already has powers to issue directions to the London Development Agency and Transport for London; these are to be extended to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, to which the noble Baroness’s amendment refers. My amendment relates to directions to all the functional bodies. The principal amendment is Amendment No. 38, which would enable the Assembly to call in directions.
The amendment is not tantamount to a veto. It is proposed that, when the Mayor issues a direction, the Assembly should have an opportunity to require the Mayor to take account of any recommendations made by it within a period of three weeks and to justify why he does not—in other words, it creates a pause.
This is not new in local government—indeed, quite the contrary. In local authorities, the executive have to publish forward plans and there is a right to call in odd decisions, but neither applies in the case of the Greater London Authority. The amendments are about openness and about the Mayor justifying his proposals and that is what scrutiny should be about.
The point of difference between my noble friends and me and perhaps the Minister—but certainly between Assembly members and the Mayor—is whether scrutiny should always be in arrears or whether it can take place in advance of an action. I do not believe that scrutiny should be confined to occurring after an event. The Assembly could not block the Mayor but would simply ask him to explain himself.
The Minister said that the 21-day period in Amendment No. 38 would gravely hinder the Mayor, leaving him unable to act quickly and decisively. But it is hard to think of a direction that might come out of the blue and mean that the 21-day period would be of such importance. For a direction to be issued, one would expect the functional body—the fire authority or the development agency—to have considered the issue, because it would be odd if the Mayor issued a direction without knowing that there was a conflict with the functional body. Therefore, it should not be the dramatic cliff-hanger that the Minister suggested. I understand that, so far, there has been an average of about five directions a year. Given that the whole constitution is about checks and balances, this would be a check not in the sense of a stop but of a pause. The Assembly considered this amendment as a proposal and agreed it nem con.
I do not think that I can, but I am not sure that I am required to. As I said on the last group of amendments, our job here is to think through the “what ifs?”, not to start from the point that the Assembly would be utterly difficult or would block the Mayor. This is not about blocking but about an explanation. It is not an answer to these amendments to say that the Assembly would have used this on a matter in the past. In a well functioning authority, this sort of thing would be such a last resort that one would not want to see it used. I take the noble Lord’s point that it might be helpful to have an example. However, the fact that my brain is not working fast enough should not undermine my amendment in the way that he might imply.
The first of my two amendments deals with what would be counted as a direction for this purpose. We are all accustomed to the different levels of diktats. In different levels of government, they are suggestions and guidance at one end and gentle encouragement at the other. The amendment would extend the term “directions” to include not only specific directions about particular decisions by the functional bodies but also general directions about how each body might act and guidance about the way it exercises its functions. I beg to move.
My Amendment No. 73 is in this group. It is very similar to those moved by the noble Baroness but it refers to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. Our amendment continues the arguments that have been used by the noble Baroness and I do not need to go into them in much detail. However, it again underlines the debate that we are having about increasing the Assembly's ability to scrutinise the Mayor's powers and introducing greater transparency into the decision-making process.
We do not object to the Mayor having the power to direct the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. It mirrors existing powers for Transport for London and the London Development Agency, and the amendment would not remove those powers. It would also respect the primacy of the Mayor in the event of an unresolved dispute. However, it would represent a significant shift in favour of openness and accountability. It would allow the Assembly to make recommendations to the Mayor either not to issue a direction to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority at all or to do so in ways in which he could review or change it. The Mayor could choose to ignore the Assembly’s suggestions but there would be an opportunity for some degree of scrutiny or consideration of the directions. It is desirable that there should be an opportunity to scrutinise these directions—even if they are limited in number—before they take effect rather than, as the noble Baroness has said, simply retrospectively. The Mayor is frightened of extra scrutiny, as any Mayor in London would be.
I am interested to hear what argument is advanced against this amendment and against those tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. As the noble Baroness said, many local authorities already have similar powers. The Mayor has used his power to issue directions to Transport for London and the London Development Agency only very sparingly; I think the noble Baroness said that he had done so five times. This power would therefore not be widely used. However, as the directions are not numerous, they presumably have some significance when issued. Given the nature of the cases, there would be some merit in having accountability, at least to the point that the Mayor is likely to have to justify openly why his direction is being made.
In moving the amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that it was not a veto. Amendments Nos. 38 and 73 both state:
“The Mayor shall have regard to any recommendation made by the Assembly under subsection (3) above”.
But subsection (3) in the amendment states:
“The Assembly may within 21 days … recommend that the proposed direction should not be issued”.
The amendment also states:
“The Mayor shall have regard to any recommendation”.
That seems to come very close to being a veto.
As usual, I am very grateful to my noble friend for picking up the most important point of the argument. It shows that this is, once again, a variation on the debate about the balance of power between the Mayor and the Assembly and the threat that it poses to the successful model that we have of a strong executive Mayor with an Assembly holding him to account. It will come as no surprise to the noble Baroness that I cannot accept the amendments.
Amendment No. 38 would require the Mayor to send to the Assembly any direction or guidance that he intends to issue. It would allow the Assembly to recommend to the Mayor within 21 days of receiving the proposed direction that he should not issue it, or should issue it with amendments. That sounds very much like a veto. It also imposes a duty on the Mayor to have regard to the Assembly’s recommendations and, within 21 days of receiving them, to prepare a statement setting out his reasons why any of the recommendations are not accepted.
Amendment No. 73 makes a similar provision in respect of any directions issued by the Mayor under the GLA Act to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. The Committee will be aware that the GLA Bill includes a provision at Clause 27 to give the Mayor a power of direction over the LFEPA. We shall come to that in due course.
Amendment No. 78 defines a direction given by the Mayor to include any general and specific directions—again, a much wider power—or guidance issued by the Mayor to any body on the exercise of its functions.
These directions may be few but they are among the most important levers available to the Mayor to ensure that priorities and objectives set out in his strategy are implemented. They are the levers of change; that is what makes them so important. It is only right that the Assembly should be able to scrutinise the Mayor’s decision to issue a direction, but the difference between giving a retrospective power with a requirement to explain and the power to withdraw the direction is serious.
The power to issue directions and guidance is part and parcel of the Mayor’s oversight of the functional bodies for which he is accountable, and it is crucial that the Mayor should be able to act quickly and decisively when necessary to issue directions and guidance to functional bodies about their performance and actions. Requiring the Mayor to wait up to 21 days for the Assembly to make its recommendations on his proposed direction would prevent him issuing urgent, or even timely, directions, and it could risk a hiatus of several weeks before the body receiving a mayoral direction became clear about what that direction included.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours for asking the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for examples. Disappointingly, she was not able to provide an example, but I can provide some of how it would harm the process. The current Mayor has already issued time-critical directions providing legal certainty to functional bodies that they can undertake particular urgent activities—for example, to TfL and the LDA in relation to Olympic preparations. It is possible that a future Mayor would want to act quickly and decisively through the use of directions immediately after being elected in order to implement his manifesto commitments—for example, in relation to public transport fares.
Furthermore, the introduction of a 21-day period for Assembly consideration would affect the Mayor’s ability to use his limited powers of direction over boroughs, which are often time-critical. In particular, the amendments would cut right across the Mayor’s current power to direct a borough to refuse a strategically important planning application—a matter that we are all looking forward to debating next week. As under the existing Mayor of London order 2000, the Mayor has only 14 days to issue a direction of refusal to the borough, so these amendments would effectively make this power of direction unworkable. Similarly, the Mayor has only a limited window of opportunity to issue a direction to boroughs in relation to their waste contracts, so Assembly scrutiny before the direction was issued could slow the process down and make it more difficult for the Mayor to intervene.
Finally, the Assembly already has ample opportunity and means through its existing scrutiny powers to scrutinise, retrospectively, any directions or guidance issued by the Mayor. Indeed, there are well established mechanisms that support that; it is the best form of effective scrutiny. However well intentioned, what the amendments present us with would fundamentally alter the balance of powers in the GLA—a balance that at the moment creates the opportunity for the Mayor to act decisively for the benefit of Londoners. It would fetter that discretion, and that would be to the detriment of London as a whole. I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
We are told that these amendments amount to a veto or blocking power because of the strength of the term “have regard to”. Next week, we will talk about the hierarchy of “have regard to”, “be in general conformity with” and “be in strict conformity with”. If those words amount to a veto, does that mean that the Assembly has a veto over the strategy under new Section 42A of the Act, under which the Mayor must consult the Assembly about his proposed strategies and “have regard to” any comments submitted by the Assembly? We debated that as a specific amendment. The Government cannot have one interpretation of “have regard to” under that clause and another under this amendment.
I thought that I had substantially dealt with the issue of the 21-day period before, but the Minister gave us examples, including the period of 21 days for the Olympics. I find it difficult to believe that 21 days at that stage in such a very long programme could be time-critical.
As for directions on planning and waste, I could say, “Quite”. We will say that next week. If one of the amendments were to find favour with the Government, we would be happy to look at the consequential amendments which would be needed to make the process work alongside the other arrangements that the Minister mentioned.
As we are in Grand Committee, I shall clearly not take the matter further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 37 and 38 not moved.]
39: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
“Ordinary electionsOrdinary elections
(1) Section 3 of the GLA 1999 Act (ordinary elections) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (2) at the end insert “, except that the poll due to be held on 3rd May 2012 shall be held on—
(a) 2nd May 2013, or(b) a later date (not later than 31st July 2013) which the Secretary of State may specify by order.”.”
The noble Lord said: The eyes of the world will be on London when the London Olympics take place in 2012. The Mayor, whoever he or she may be after the 2008 elections, is likely to follow a pattern, already established and typical in any mayoral system, of having a number of advisers who are part of a team. Should the incumbent lose after the elections in May 2012, shortly before the Olympics, this could disrupt preparation for the Games and that team would inevitably move on if there were a change in the person holding the mayoral post.
The need to run for re-election would be a damaging distraction for the incumbent from the energies that are needed to make a success of the Games. With the upheaval to the capital in the approach to the Olympics, a mayoral election would be an inconvenience, causing unhelpful disruption to London in addition to expected inconveniences associated with preparing for the Games.
All Greater London Authority members and political parties should be focused on working together to ensure that the London Olympics are the best possible advert for the city and the country. A divisive election campaign only months before the Games would be counter-productive to this objective.
The new clause is entirely outside party politics; the success of the Games will be important for the United Kingdom’s international reputation. With a partisan election, it is inevitable that the Mayor will be distracted with the election taking place just before the Olympics. There is the prospect of a great deal of distraction from the important attention that the Mayor should give the Olympic Games. I beg to move.
This is a very interesting proposal. I was a member of the GLC when the elections were deferred last time, and I am not sure that it did not create a lot of confusion. If it is a question of altering the date, perhaps it should be earlier rather than later. It is an interesting proposal but it needs to be given a lot more thought.
This is a very interesting proposal. In fact, it is so interesting that I think it was raised—and, at one stage, had a degree of government support—when it was first proposed that London should bid for the Olympics. It was recognised that the potential disruptive effect of a mayoral election a matter of weeks before the Olympics would not be entirely helpful to a successful event.
I am not sure that I support the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, about the coterie of advisers who will surround the Mayor in office at the time and the deleterious effect of some of them disappearing. I do not believe that that would be the critical factor. The critical factor will be that the ODA and LOCOG, which are already in place, will have permanent people acting for them and that will not necessarily be subject to a change of Mayor.
We should envisage what sort of mayoral campaign would take place immediately before the Olympic Games. It would be nice to imagine that there would be the sort of cross-party unity and lovefest that has been suggested, but I suspect that, given the pettiness that sometimes affects party politics, we might find one candidate arguing very strongly that the Olympic Games should have a different flavour or that there should be some major change in direction at a time when there will be a flat-out effort to ensure that everything is ready and that it really is the greatest Olympic Games of all time, as I am confident it will be.
It would be unhelpful to have an election a few weeks before the Games. I can see the attractions of the noble Baroness’s suggestion of bringing it forward or putting it back a year but, whatever change is made, it is important to indicate clearly that the normal cycle of elections would then revert to the one that started in 2000 and continued in 2004 and 2008. This would simply be a blip to recognise a unique event in the life of this city—the Olympic Games—and the fact that a distraction involving an election in that period would not be entirely helpful.
The suggestion clearly has more of a history than I anticipated, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, on raising such an interesting topic. I am not quite as cynical as my noble friend Lord Harris. I welcome the call that the noble Lord has made for all parties to work together over the Olympics. I am sure that we shall see that, because it will clearly be an opportunity to showcase and highlight London, and there will also be the regeneration work, as well as our heritage and cosmopolitan culture. It will be an extremely important event. However, I am afraid that it is not sufficiently exceptional to postpone the 2012 mayoral elections by a year to ensure continuity.
If I recall, the date of elections in London—admittedly, they were parliamentary elections—was changed because of foot and mouth disease, which I do not think most Londoners would regard as a major event. I appreciate that it was regarded as a major event in the countryside but, for most Londoners, it was probably something that passed them by. How can my noble friend suggest that the Olympic Games is a minor issue?
My noble friend is deeply unfair. I certainly did not say that the Olympic Games was a minor issue. It was the only example that I could think of, although there was also the foot and mouth outbreak. However, we can all put forward our own candidates; for example, 2012 is the Handel tercentenary and that would be a very good reason for postponing the elections but, again, it is hardly a sufficient argument for interfering in such an important part of the democratic process. It would undermine a fundamental constitutional principle in the original GLA Act that the Mayor’s political legitimacy is derived from direct regular elections held every four years. We had the beginnings of a discussion about that yesterday. While a potential change of Mayor in May 2012 might be a complicating factor, we cannot consider it as a major risk to the games.
In all seriousness, the proposal would also set a dubious precedent. The foot and mouth example followed from a genuine national emergency and there was no argument for different parts of the country voting on different days. On the basis of that argument, a case could be made for saying that other major sporting events should also trigger such a change, but that simply would not make sense.
There is one other argument. There would be increasing concerns about the political legitimacy of the Mayor—whoever is elected in 2008—towards the end of his five-year term in 2013, especially if he took forward new policies in areas not directly related to the Olympics. There would be a disjunction that would cause some confusion in the political environment and it might even lead to a loss of confidence in the Mayor. So, with regret, I must tell the noble Lord that we cannot accept his amendment and I hope that he finds it possible to withdraw it.
Before the noble Lord does so, perhaps between this stage and the next, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, will remind us what was done in that last year of the GLC. I think that there were some extravagant gestures then. The more I listen to the debate, the more worried I become, or possibly the more amused—I am not sure which. Elections have been moved for different reasons—the foot and mouth disease outbreak was one. They have been moved to occur on the same day as other elections, which happened with the Euro elections. Somewhere in my head there is another example, which I cannot quite grasp.
This will be an exceptional event; we shall never get the Olympic Games again—at least not for a very long time. The last time was 1948. We should be able to plan, and not leave it until the last minute. An awful lot of people of the few who have thought about this—the political chattering classes—expect that the Government will decide quite close to the event that they will have to postpone the election. That would be a bad thing. It is far better to be straight about it and plan for it now.
I apologise again to the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for intervening again before he responds. My noble friend’s suggestion that there will be a strange period in the fifth year when legitimacy will drain away is altered by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, has had the sense to bring the issue forward in advance of the elections in 2008, so that the people of London will know the terms on which they are electing a Mayor at that time. I expect that the people of London could easily judge that they had been asked to elect someone for a five-year term as opposed to a four-year term—or indeed, for three years, if an alternative was proposed.
The situation regarding the changing date for the GLC was slightly different; that was in the run-up to abolition, when the behaviour of politicians is slightly different from their behaviour just before an election that has been scheduled but is simply deferred.
I certainly believe that the Olympic Games event is an exceptional case. If we were to hold an election in 2013, it would be just a one-off, and we could revert back to the four-year period. Having heard the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
40: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
After section 16 of the GLA Act 1999 (filling a vacancy) insert—
“16A Vacation of office following petition
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for or in connection with requiring the Mayor on receipt of a petition which complies with the provisions of the regulations to vacate office, in such circumstances as may be prescribed in the regulations.
(2) The provision which may be made by regulations under subsection (1) includes the provision—
(a) as to the form and content of petitions (including provision for petitions in electronic form);(b) as to the minimum number of electors entitled to vote for the Mayor under this Act who must support any petition presented to the Mayor during any period specified in the regulations;(c) for or in connection with requiring an officer of the GLA to publish the number of electors who must support any petition presented to the authority;(d) as to the way in which electors are to support a petition (including provision enabling electors to support petitions by telephone or by electronic means);(e) as to the action which may, or may not or must be taken by the Authority in connection with any petition;(f) as to the manner in which a petition is to be presented;(g) as to the verification of any petition;(h) as to the date on which, or the time by which, the Mayor must vacate office;(i) for or in connection with enabling the Secretary of State, in the event of any failure by the Authority to take any action permitted or required by virtue of the regulations, to take that action.(3) The number of electors mentioned in subsection (2)(b) is to be calculated at such times as may be provided by regulations under this section and (unless such regulations otherwise provide) is to be 10 per cent of the number of electors who voted for the Mayor at the election preceding the date of any petition.
(4) Nothing in subsection (2) or (3) affects the generality of the power under subsection (1).”.”
The noble Baroness said: The amendment would introduce a new clause to provide for the vacation of the office of Mayor following a petition. Earlier, we moved an amendment to limit the number of terms for the Mayor, but we are now moving on a bit. It is not an alternative to, but another of the ways of trying to ensure that the mayoral system in London has all the checks and balances that should be there.
Our rationale for limiting the time in office in the earlier amendment was founded on the lack of accountability that the Mayor faces in the four intervening years between each election, coupled with the powers that the Bill gives to this office.
The system we propose would lead to the vacation of the office if 10 per cent of the electorate signed a petition. Members of the Committee will be aware that there is an existing precedent for that mechanism in the United States. It was a power used most notably in California when the former Governor Gray Davis was recalled, thus allowing Arnold Schwarzenegger to be elected.
If the noble Lord will forgive me, technically we do not have a Motion in front of us until the noble Baroness has finished moving it. At that point, Members of the Committee can speak as often as they wish. But before we get to that point, it is not right.
The power has not been widely used in the United States, and it would not be used widely here either. But it could be used in extremis if the Mayor did something that was of such importance to the electorate, or perhaps an extreme action triggered off a great deal of annoyance, irritation and concern. We should ensure that enough of the electorate signed the petition, so that the power could not be employed realistically unless there were clear grounds for doing so. Knowing how reluctant people in this country are to sign petitions, it would take a lot for them to do so. We recognise that, but we believe that it would enable some control over our Mayor’s actions if it were deemed appropriate by the electorate. If that power were there, it would underline that the incumbent Mayor must have reason to continue to act in the public interest as far as possible.
The Minister may have identified flaws in the proposal for a two-term limit. We shall probably come back to that with a better term, but we believe that there is an argument to justify having further measures that could be used to control—since the Assembly cannot—what the Mayor does.
It is essential that the Mayor knows that he can be judged on his performance between elections so that the electorate would have a voice if it felt strongly enough. As the 1999 Act and the Bill stand, there is no recall of the vote, even under a petition. It would be sensible as GLA powers expand—each time a GLA Bill comes up, there is a bit more power in it. We hope that that restraint would be important to the electorate and the system under which the GLA operates. I beg to move.
That means 520,000 people. But the amendment says,
“10 per cent of the number of electors who voted for the Mayor”.
I should have thought that 10 per cent of those who voted for the Mayor comes to only a few thousand. In other words, a handful of people in London with a petition would be able to remove the elected Mayor. Surely that is not what the noble Baroness intends; perhaps she would like to modify her amendment before it is debated further.
I did make an error. The amendment refers to,
“the minimum number of electors entitled to vote”.
The noble Lord is correct; I did not say that. I shall stick to what is in the amendment, which is,
“10 per cent of the number of electors who voted”.
I cannot recall the number of votes, but I should think they were in the hundreds of thousands.
Perhaps I may intervene before the noble Baroness attempts to answer that. I am not particularly worried about the point that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has raised. The number of votes cast for candidates is declared and made public, so you divide that number by 10 and get 10 per cent. However, I am surprised that the amendment refers to setting a threshold at 10 per cent of those who voted for the Mayor. A 40 per cent turnout might mean that 2 million people voted. The amendment does not specify whether it is the first ballot vote for the Mayor or the second ballot vote; it simply talks about 10 per cent of those who vote for the Mayor. The number of people who cast their vote in the mayoral election might be a threshold but I argue that a 10 per cent threshold is rather low. In a tightly contested election, the losing candidate would have to persuade only slightly more than one-tenth of those who voted for him to sign a petition and the election would then be rerun. I am not sure that that would be in the interests of democracy in London.
Having said that, I think that there is some point to the noble Baroness’s proposition. She cannot have it every way but she must be able to have it at least one way during these discussions. She has argued that the Mayor is in a unique position and that therefore a limit should be imposed on his term in office, he should be fettered by the Assembly in a way that was not envisaged in the original Act, or, as in this proposal, that a recall by the electorate should be possible. Because of the Mayor’s powers and his unique personal role, I can see that there should be checks and balances, and it is a matter for this Committee and for any wider review of the Greater London Authority to consider whether those checks and balances are precise.
I assume that, in summing up, the noble Baroness will tell us, first, that she does not intend all these constraints on the Mayor to operate—that is, term limits, much more power for the Assembly and a power of recall—but, if she is arguing for a power of recall, I shall be very interested to hear her justification for the low threshold. It seems unacceptably low. If she had said, for example, that 25 per cent of the electorate should be required to sign a petition, I do not think that many of us would argue that that would be anything other than a substantial number which any wise Mayor would take seriously and recognise the need to renew his mandate. Again, particularly in the context of term limits, which we debated earlier, it is not at all apparent from the amendment whether a Mayor facing a recall petition could stand for re-election.
I shall do my best to distinguish between principle and detail because there are issues relating to both. The debate on this amendment is very similar to the discussion that we had on the two-term limit. Again, we can look at the American parallel but we should do so with a very large dose of salt. In some ways, I think that it is rather dangerous to make such parallels.
It is important that democratic legitimacy is built into the Mayor’s role and position, which ultimately derive from direct elections, and we should not do anything to dilute that. Indeed, his success in these elections, involving the whole London electorate, gives him his strong democratic mandate. We would be very unhappy about allowing a Mayor to be removed from office through a petition, as that would obviously undermine that principle.
The noble Baroness asked what could be done: she suggested that it should be possible to do something in situations of extremis between elections. Section 21 of the Greater London Authority Act provides for that. It states that a mayor can be disqualified if he is bankrupt, convicted of a criminal offence with imprisonment of not less than three months or disqualified for misconduct. Those are very powerful restraints on a mayor. However, being able to get rid of a mayor by a petition—particularly, as noble Lords have pointed out, through the action of such a small proportion of Londoners who are unhappy with him—would introduce enormous risk into the whole process.
Perhaps I may elucidate the figures that have been mentioned. The default threshold for the proposed petition is 10 per cent of the number of electors who voted for the Mayor. That is hardly a high hurdle: it would be 83,000 electors, based on the 2004 election results, out of a London electorate of 5.2 million. That figure stands comparison with the more than 90,000 Londoners who voted for the BNP in the last Assembly elections, so it is conceivable that a Mayor could be removed by extremists if the default threshold were adopted. This would be a dangerous precedent in terms of special interest groups, which, I believe, would campaign almost immediately to remove the Mayor through continuous petitions whenever they disagreed with a specific policy.
The other problem, alluded to by my noble friend, is that a mayor removed from office would be able to stand again at a subsequent ballot, so there would be a continuous revolving door—a time-consuming cycle of petition, by-election and petition—which could turn the whole thing into a farce.
Finally, I am slightly surprised that the Opposition want the Secretary of State to determine the exact arrangements for a petition. That would give us the worst of all worlds, with a very low threshold and serious powers given to the Secretary of State to determine the process. I cannot believe that the noble Baroness wants such a strong lever over the Mayor, especially when the Government and the Mayor could be of different political persuasions. Clearly, a whole range of dangers is involved.
This has been an important debate in terms of checks and balances, but we cannot accept the amendment and I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw it.
I accept the criticism that the amendment is flawed, and the discussion has sensibly brought that out, but I do not accept that the principle is flawed. Today, even in the areas that have been criticised, we have discussed, as we needed to do, the principle of whether the Mayor, who is elected and is a figure of authority with power, should be subject to an additional check and balance. We discussed whether that might be done by a percentage of the electorate or a percentage of the people who vote in the election, and I accept the criticism in that regard.
However, there is a principle here that we may need to flesh out again more satisfactorily. There should be a trigger mechanism for someone to obtain the required number of signatures if the Mayor causes immense chagrin to a proportion of the electorate through a policy initiative. I do not underestimate the difficulty that that would involve. Although the No. 10 website manages to attract a lot of names, people are generally extremely reluctant to sign anything, and I accept that there would have to be checks on that. But the principle behind this and my previous amendment concerning a limit on the term is that, during the passage of the Bill, we should be able to find a measure to ensure that the Mayor is subject to checks and balances from the electorate between elections.
I imagine that I shall return to this subject at the next stage but I accept the criticisms that have been made. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 17 agreed to.
41: Before Clause 18, insert the following new Clause—
“Membership of Transport for London
(1) Schedule 10 to the GLA Act 1999 (Transport for London) is amended as follows.
(2) For paragraph 2 substitute—
“2 (1) Transport for London shall consist of 15 members of whom—
(a) eight (“the Assembly representatives”) shall be the Assembly members appointed by the Mayor; and(b) the remainder (“the borough representatives”) shall be members of the London borough councils appointed by the Mayor on the nomination of the London borough councils acting jointly.(2) The Mayor shall exercise his power to appoint members under sub-paragraph (1)(a) above so as to ensure that, so far as practicable, the members for whose appointment he is responsible reflect the balance of parties for the time being prevailing among the members of the Assembly.
(3) The London borough councils shall exercise their power to nominate members under sub-paragraph (1)(b) above so as to ensure that, so far as practicable, the members for whose nomination they are responsible reflect the balance of parties for the time being prevailing among the members of those councils taken as a whole.
(4) It shall be the duty of the London borough councils to nominate the first members under sub-paragraph (1)(b) above in sufficient time before the reconstitution day so that the appointment of those members takes effect on that day.
(5) The Secretary of State may by order vary any of the numbers for the time being specified in sub-paragraph (1) above, but the number of the Assembly representatives must exceed by one the number of the borough representatives.
(6) Before making an order under sub-paragraph (5) above, the Secretary of State shall consult—
(a) the Mayor;(b) the Assembly;(c) Transport for London; and(d) every London borough council.”.”
The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to the Question whether Clause 18 shall stand part of the Bill, but I shall not move Amendment No. 41A, which was intended only as a probing amendment.
Amendment No. 41 relates to appointments to the board of Transport for London. To an extent, we welcome some of what the Government have sought to achieve in Clause 18. By removing the prohibition on holders of political office sitting on the board of Transport for London, the Bill will allow borough councillors on to the board. Given that councillors possess an extensive knowledge of, and play an important role in, local issues, we believe that this is an entirely sensible relaxation of the rules. However, this will remain a permissive power only, and we should like to see a specific provision included in Clause 18 that the Mayor must appoint borough representatives to the board of Transport for London, and that he must do so through London councils. It is essential that the boroughs play a part in the decision-making of TfL.
Of course, our preferred approach is to remove Clause 18 and replace it with the wording of Amendment No. 41. There must be a genuine balance of political representation on the board, and we want to give London councils the right to appoint seven of the 15 board members.
The proposed composition directly follows the model of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. Our concern is that the 1999 Act gave the Mayor almost unbridled power to appoint the individuals he wants—a position not addressed by Cause 18. The inevitable upshot of this model is that the board is simply a tool of the Mayor. There is nothing to prevent the Mayor filling the TfL board with colleagues who share his political views, as indeed is currently the case. It would be naive to imagine that this practice would not often be continued under future mayors of any political party.
Transport issues are unquestionably one of the authority's most important functions, as we said earlier. They affect almost all Londoners on a regular basis, and it is extraordinary that there is no accountability. There can be no real scrutiny of the Mayor's appointments, nor is there any democratic mandate behind them. There is no effective mechanism for the Assembly—or any other body—to remove tenure from any board members. Essentially and invariably, TfL simply acts at the whim of the Mayor.
There are clear advantages to the composition proposed in Amendment No. 41. I have already touched briefly on politics. The LFEPA model would give the board a greater ideological range, while also giving it at least a degree of political independence that is never likely to exist under the current system. A similar, and perhaps equally important, argument revolves around the geographical spread of the board members. By making up the board from representatives from both the boroughs and the Assembly, TfL will naturally have representation from all over the capital. That is important to provide exactly the sort of strategic viewpoint that the Mayor claims to love. But it would also mean that there was always a representative who had genuine and detailed knowledge of the local considerations. A broad geographical spread will allow TfL to make informed decisions on matters such as extensions of tube lines, the congestion charging zone, or buses, in a way that it cannot at the moment—nor, indeed, barely pretends to.
The LFEPA model has functioned well without complaint or controversy. We believe that it would be entirely appropriate to employ the same model for TfL. That move would be greatly welcomed by the London boroughs, and it would improve the body's accountability and decision-making. I beg to move.
The noble Lord raises an important point. Transport for London involves matters that come close to the responsibility of the boroughs, so it is different, in that sense, from the other functional bodies. The more localised things that TfL does can be quite contentious and can give rise to a good deal of correspondence.
We might be about to hear an answer that the Mayor, having the broad ability to appoint members of the board of TfL, can bring in experts. Excluding them from membership of the board does not mean excluding their expertise. It has struck me from observing TfL that many of the undoubtedly experts on the board have almost been acting more as consultants than board members. They have contributed a great deal but not necessarily as envisaged.
The noble Lord said that he would speak to the Question on whether the Clause 18 shall stand part. I am not sure whether he did, but, as I do not anticipate that this amendment will meet with favour, I would not like to see Clause 18 disappear from the Bill.
In establishing Transport for London, a major concern was to ensure that the board was able to drive forward a strategic transport agenda for London. On that basis, the GLA Act specifically excluded the nomination of serving political representatives to the board, with the exception of the Mayor himself, should he choose to appoint himself to the board.
The GLA Act has served Transport for London well. Its board has been able to rise above competing local agendas to develop and implement a balanced strategy for the whole of London. But experience suggests that the blanket bar on political representation carries its own costs. It is important that the Mayor is able to nominate the best candidates to the board to represent the interests of those living and travelling in London.
Clause 18 does this by enabling the Mayor to appoint political representatives to the TfL board should he wish to do so. The Mayor will be able to appoint Members of either House, the European Parliament or the devolved Administrations and, crucially, Assembly Members and councillors from the London boroughs. For the first time, the Mayor will also be able to draw on their experience and skills.
Amendment No. 41, on the other hand, establishes a TfL board made up wholly of elected Assembly Members and borough representatives. I strongly resist this new clause. It fetters the discretion of the Mayor to appoint the best candidates to the TfL board and severely limits his capacity to ensure that board members can bring to bear experience in transport, finance and economics, national and local government, the management of organisations, or trade unions.
It also raises the danger that TfL would lose its wider strategic focus, which, as we have heard, is extremely important, being drawn down instead into vested local issues and interests. Such a position cannot be in the interests of Transport for London or Londoners and those travelling in or across London.
At the same time, Amendment No. 41 would remove the Mayor from the TfL board. He has significant powers over TfL, and his effective chairmanship of the organisation has served London well. It is wholly appropriate that he is able to chair, or can appoint the chairman should he wish, to provide political and strategic direction to the body.
I recognise that in proposing this new clause the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, are concerned, as they perceive it, at a lack of democratic accountability of TfL. But TfL is fully accountable for its actions to the London Assembly and, through it, to Londoners. The directly elected Mayor is its chairman. It is right that he should be able to decide the composition of the board and, should he wish, include elected representatives in its membership.
There are different models of membership for the functional bodies because the roles and functions of these bodies are different. The membership of TfL is defined by the GLA Act, and the Mayor is given more discretion in regard to the TfL board. That assists the Mayor in the delivery of executive transport powers, such as fare-setting and introducing and managing the central London congestion charge scheme, which has already been discussed in Committee.
There are sufficient safeguards on membership in the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Paragraphs 2 and 3 of Schedule 10 to the Act provide that members must have experience in either transport, finance and economics, national and local government, the management of organisations or the organisation of trade unions. The membership— this is very important—must represent interests in relation to the transport of women and those who require transport accessible to persons with mobility problems.
Given my comments, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
I thank the noble Baroness for that answer. No one denies that Transport for London must have a strategic role. As I have said, it is welcome that borough councils can be represented on it. I thought that the Government believed, as I do, that we lived in a world of more localism—that one has to have the strategic with the local. The Local Government Bill, which we shall consider soon, provides for much more local working. I shall not refer again to Essex, but we want more transport decisions to be taken locally rather than strategically. Local people must be involved if we are to make more popular decisions. Transport for London needs to be both strategic and local. I do not agree that the present position is right and I welcome the borough representation on Transport for London. I simply want a provision that ensures borough representation across the parties. That would work much better. Although I shall withdraw the amendments for now, I shall pursue them because Transport for London could be improved by increasing the number of local representatives from boroughs, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 18 [Membership of Transport for London: eligibility of holders of political office]:
[Amendment No. 41A not moved.]
Clause 18 agreed to.
Clause 19 [Remuneration and allowances]:
On Question, Whether Clause 19 shall stand part of the Bill?
I shall use this opportunity, not to talk about remuneration and allowances, with which I am satisfied, but to probe the Government’s intentions in relation to pedicabs, a matter that I raised at Second Reading. We drafted an amendment, but it was, unfortunately, rejected. It related to transport, but it did not relate to the type of transport referred to in the Long Title. I hope that my noble friend can give some idea of the Government’s thinking on these interesting machines.
As everyone in London knows, pedicab operators ply for hire. There is general agreement that they require some regulation to ensure safety, and they certainly need to be properly insured, but there is also agreement that there needs to be a fairly light touch. The Committee will probably be aware that this debate has been going on for six to 10 years. It is about time that these machines were brought under a common licensing arrangement. It should not apply only to London; there are similar problems in many other cities and towns.
A recent debate in Westminster Hall on this matter was raised by the MP for the Cities of London and Westminster. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Gillian Merron, responded that, although it was an interesting subject, she welcomed,
“the steps being taken by Transport for London, as the taxi licensing authority in London, to put in place measures to bring pedicabs into its existing taxi licensing regime”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/4/07; col. 259WH.]
I worry about that, because pedicabs are not taxis. First, they do not have motors; they are humanly and mechanically powered and travel much more slowly than taxis. They also address a very different market—the tourist market—and do not go too far for too long.
The amendment that I had intended to table defined a pedicab as a mechanically propelled vehicle that can ply for hire and take one or two passengers. Lighter-touch regulation is appropriate; quite a few local authorities in London seem to support that. They suggest that there should be licensing but that it should be light touch. Bromley wanted some form of regulation, focusing on safety, security and inspection of vehicles—that is all right—Westminster wanted some form of regulation because of concern about public safety; Croydon thought it was essentially a social service and that not much was required; and Southwark wanted a common-sense approach without going over the top.
That sums up this issue. The London Pedicab Operators’ Association wanted me to table the amendment, and I would have been pleased to had I been allowed. It would like some light regulation—even self-regulation, if that were necessary—to get things moving and provide credibility. It represents only about 30 per cent of pedicab operators; clearly, it would be much better if all operators were brought into the association.
I hope that my noble friend will be able to indicate that, if we cannot have an amendment in this Bill, perhaps in the next transport legislation the Government will look seriously at these issues and create a framework not just for London but for other towns. I live in Oxford, where pedicabs were operated briefly until the taxi drivers saw them off, rightly or wrongly. They all have a role to play. I hope that my noble friend will consider how this should be done to provide the necessary safety, security and insurance requirements for England and Wales, and possibly even Scotland if it wanted them. I beg to move.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on his ingenuity. I would not have thought that the clause could have sustained the arguments he has put forward. However, one has only to say “clause stand part”, without giving any indication of the basis, and almost any issue can be shoehorned in.
This is a serious problem. We tried to include similar provisions under the Road Safety Bill last year but were told that it was not appropriate there. If you cannot get these provisions into a Road Safety Bill, goodness knows where they can go. After all, pedicabs transport people from one place to another.
Westminster City Council is greatly exercised about this; there are a great number of pedicabs in central London and around the theatres. If we cannot get such a provision into this Bill—and I can see that there may be reasons why not—I urge the Minister to consider where primary legislation can be used to include these measures. If we are to try in every Bill that comes before us to find a loophole, it will be trying, apart from everything else, and will leave the potential problem, raised by the noble Lord, that pedicabs are not properly insured or licensed. They are a tourist attraction, and somebody will get hurt at some stage. That is an open question.
I, too, support the amendment. I declare a slight interest in that I live in Westminster. I have heard from councillors that there is also concern that pedicabs park on the footpath outside theatres and similar places. If there was a fire and people were trying to get out, they could be dangerously obstructed by these vehicles. I have been on buses in Oxford Street that have found it very difficult to pass these vehicles. There is definitely a case for doing something.
I declare an interest as a special adviser to the board of Transport for London. I might have been appointed to the board had it not been for the political restrictions discussed under the previous clause.
I have to praise my noble friend’s ingenuity in raising the issue in this fashion. He has, quite properly, highlighted an issue.
The issue does not just affect tourists. I could take noble Lords to a Sainsbury’s in Liverpool Road, Islington, where pedicabs queue outside to take people and their shopping home. There are real safety questions involving the roadworthiness of the vehicles, the trustworthiness or skills of the people who propel them, and how those people behave on the road or pavements. A proper system of regulation and registration would be appropriate. Before the regulation of minicabs in London, reservations were expressed about whether it could work. Yet, I do not think that many people now would say that that regulation has been anything other than highly beneficial. A few hard-line hackney carriage drivers might still say that it was the thin end of a particularly nasty wedge, but the public welcomed such regulation and would welcome the regulation of pedicabs.
Far be it from me to challenge the Clerks, but I am concerned that a Bill in which the Long Title includes the words,
“to make further provision with respect to the functional bodies”,
such as Transport for London, rules out such an issue. It also makes provision for the Greater London Authority and allows for new strategies to be promoted by the Mayor. That does not seem to stack up, so I congratulate the noble Lord on persisting by whatever means he can.
This is clearly an issue. I, too, pay tribute to the ingenuity of my noble friend for raising this matter. We have had an interesting debate and I hope that I can offer him reassurance. I welcome the opportunity to debate pedicabs, a topical issue that reflects the proliferation of such vehicles on the streets of London.
A range of views has been expressed about these vehicles. Some people, including my noble friend, enthuse about their contribution to London’s transport system. I can understand his affection for pedicabs, having heard in an earlier debate how he and his bride travelled from their wedding to their reception in one. That conjures up a pleasant image of a romantic pedicab experience. However, not everyone’s experience of them will be similar.
Other views have been expressed. Some taxi drivers think that pedicabs should be banned altogether. The Government’s view is that they would make a valuable contribution to wider transport provision, provided that they are properly regulated. It is a concern that they are not, at present, regulated in London or, as we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, in the boroughs.
The main issue identified by my noble friend is how to achieve proper regulation in the public interest and to ensure safety, particularly for passengers, pedestrians and other members of the public. I know that the principal operators share that objective. For example, the delightfully named pedicab operator Bugbugs met officials from the Department for Transport to explain that it wants an effective system of regulation.
I should make it clear that the issue of regulating pedicabs relates only to London. Pedicabs in the rest of England and Wales are already subject to licensing by local authorities, although my noble friend has highlighted concerns about that. Plans to license pedicabs in London are being developed, and it is welcome that Transport for London is taking this matter seriously, although I hear the criticism that it is taking a long time to develop those plans. TfL is the appropriate licensing authority for London and it is only right and proper that it should take responsibility for regulating pedicabs, which are very much a form of local transport within London. TfL has already consulted on proposals to license pedicabs and, in the light of that, is now finalising its policies.
Once achieved, the licensing system will provide a means of exercising comprehensive but proportionate control over pedicabs in London. The licensing system will address the important issues of safety and standards that are of concern to my noble friend. It will, for example, require insurance; it will subject riders to criminal record checks; it will involve safety checks on vehicles; and it will make the riders identifiable.
As part of the process of establishing a licensing system TfL seeks clarification from the courts that pedicabs can actually be licensed as taxis—or hackney carriages as they are termed in the legislation. This is taking time and is a main reason why the introduction of a licensing system has taken longer than all parties would have hoped. I cannot speculate on the likely outcome of the court's deliberations. TfL has powers to make the legislation needed to license and regulate pedicabs within the taxi-licensing regime. Indeed, it is now working on the necessary amendments to the London cab order to facilitate the licensing of pedicabs. However, given that there is some concern about this approach, as the noble Lord described, I welcome the fact that TfL is initiating discussions with representatives of the pedicab industry about the trade's proposal for a voluntary licensing scheme, ahead of the resolution of the legal issues. TfL is hopeful that a voluntary licensing scheme, if it proves possible, could become the basis for the enforceable licensing scheme that it is trying to achieve.
I hope that the noble Lord and the principal operators will find that encouraging, because I can see the possibility to discuss the concept of light-touch regulation. I hope he also appreciates that steps are being taken to establish a suitable licensing regime for pedicabs in London that seeks to ensure that pedicabs are appropriately insured. I know that the noble Lord is very concerned about that. Having said that, I support the clause.
Can the Minister help me? Do the Government not actually support taking the matter forward? If they do—they seem to from the tone of the Minister’s remarks—would it not be much more straightforward and save a lot of time, effort and money to clarify the legal issues in the Bill?
That is an interesting question. I have tried to be clear, although I may not have been clear enough. The Government welcome the fact that TfL is trying to take this forward, but it is a matter for TfL. We welcome the fact that TfL is discussing a voluntary scheme with the pedicab providers. We are speaking here about a hypothetical situation, which I think we should avoid, but we welcome those talks. If things are taking longer than TfL and the industry would like, there is obviously an opportunity through talks to come up with a speedier and more satisfactory solution for all involved. But the bottom line is that the Government want to see pedicabs regulated, in the interests of passengers, travellers and the industry.
The Minister said that TfL sought clarification of its powers through the courts. That was what I was pointing to. If there is an issue there—and unlike buses, these Bills do not come along very frequently, or in many groups, as we heard in the Road Transport Act—the Government could, without having to come off the fence regarding the detail of any scheme, ensure through the Bill that TfL had the powers to introduce a scheme and talk to the industry while ensuring that a legal backstop was available.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. Yes, I recall, as my noble friend said, coming down the east side of Trafalgar Square with my wife, who was wearing a wedding dress, wondering whether the brakes worked. That was when the potholes were larger than they were before Trafalgar Square was redone. On the whole, pedicabs are rather good. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised an interesting point. I, too, read the Long Title and wondered why my proposed amendment could not be considered. We could not include such a provision in last year’s Bill and there are rumours that there will a road safety Bill at some time in the future. In what kind of a Bill can such a provision be included?
Secondly, my understanding is that the issue being discussed in the court is simple: are pedicabs taxis? They do not look the same, they are not driven in the same way and I can envisage legal arguments about that. I would not bet on the outcome. Such arguments may continue for years, depending on who runs out of money first. My noble friend said that TfL and the industry were actively pursuing a voluntary scheme; that is terribly important and to be welcomed. It would be great if that were achieved and maybe one does not need legislation—but such a scheme would need to be enforced. I am not sure how a voluntary scheme could be enforced, considering the nature of some of the people who drive pedicabs but are not members of Bugbugs.
I hope that my noble friend will reflect on how we could bring forward legislation, if that is needed. However, in the mean time, I will not oppose the Motion that this clause stand part of the Bill.
Clause 19 agreed to.
Clause 20 agreed to.
Clause 21 [The Health Adviser and the Deputy Health Advisers]:
42: Clause 21, page 19, line 20, at end insert—
“( ) In section 61 of the GLA Act 1999 (power to require attendance at Assembly meetings), after subsection (2)(a) insert—
“(aa) the Health Adviser and any Deputy Health Adviser,”.”
The noble Baroness said: I hope that this might prove to be a gentle forerunner to our debates on Part 4. Earlier, we sought to insert a provision whereby the Assembly could call before it both the health adviser and any deputy health adviser. This amendment advances that proposal. The Assembly can already summon staff, members of functional bodies and even the Mayor to appear before it. We seek to add the health adviser and his deputies to that list.
The health adviser’s function is to advise Assembly members on matters of public health, yet the Bill does not require him to attend the Assembly in any formal manner. At Second Reading, we welcomed the initiative that the health adviser would be subject to summons in public and we wish to know why it is not intended that the Assembly should have the power to summon those advisers to its meetings. Given the wide-ranging remit proposed in Part 4, it seems entirely appropriate that the Assembly should have such powers. I beg to move.
I can see no reason why it should not be permitted that the health adviser and the deputy health advisers be summoned by the Assembly in the same way as other people who are appointed. The only reason that I can conceive is because it is envisaged in the Bill that that person may be a civil servant. We are about to consider an amendment that suggests that that person should not be a civil servant. I fail to understand why that is sufficient reason not to permit such an individual to be summoned.
I support both noble Lords. I am aware that the Government are sensitive about their toes being trodden on and feel that the Assembly should not step in when an individual is answerable to the Government. Given that the health adviser’s remit will be to give advice to the Mayor, the Assembly would wish to be able to ask questions. If the Government are worried that that needs clarification, I am sure that that could be done quite easily. One can have a debate about whether it should be possible to have greater and more open dialogue between London and central government, but that need not be an issue with regard to this provision.
I hope I can offer noble Lords some reassurance. The regional director for public health in London, in her current, informal capacity as health adviser to the GLA, provides the Mayor and the Assembly with expert advice on the patterns and causes of ill health in London and on proposals for action to improve health and narrow the health inequalities between Londoners. This dual role ensures that the Mayor and the Assembly can access expert advice from the person responsible for public health in London and provides a strong link between the GLA’s work on health and the work of the strategic health authority and Department of Health.
The role of health adviser to the GLA was established in 2000, and is widely regarded as working well. However, the role is currently on an informal basis. We are making the role statutory simply to formalise the current arrangements and ensure that the successful co-ordination of work to improve the health of Londoners continues irrespective of changes in the political cycle or who is elected as Mayor or as an Assembly Member.
Amendment No. 42 enables the Assembly to require the attendance of the health adviser and any deputy health advisers at Assembly meetings. We will resist this amendment. In her current, informal capacity, the health adviser meets regularly with the Mayor and the Assembly. She provides advice on public health issues and detailed briefing to Assembly scrutiny committees. She has also worked with the NHS in London to ensure that the most appropriate people are invited to give evidence to the Assembly.
Clause 21 ensures that the health adviser advises the Greater London Authority—that is, the Mayor and the Assembly—which picks up the point that was being made. We find it inconceivable that, in her capacity as adviser to the Assembly, the health adviser would not wish voluntarily to continue to attend Assembly meetings when invited to do so. We therefore see no need to compel the health adviser to do so.
My noble friend Lord Harris picked up the fact that the regional director of public health for London is a civil servant, accountable to the Department of Health and the strategic health authority. As such, she is accountable to Ministers and, through them, to Parliament. The Government have made it clear many times that it would be wrong to overturn the current constitutional arrangements by requiring civil servants to attend Assembly meetings. That said, given the health adviser’s unique role, we would expect her to continue to work closely with the Assembly and continue to attend Assembly meetings when appropriate. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.
I am not sure if that is a sufficient reason why the provision of a requirement to attend should not be included in the Bill. The fact that a particular post holder—the public health director for London—is accountable to the strategic health authority and, through that, to Ministers does not seem to alter the fact that it would be helpful for the transparency of work on public health if that person might, on occasions, be required to attend Assembly meetings. The fact that the current post holder voluntarily agrees to do so does not help if, in future, the post holder decides that that is not something he wants to do. The Government could take that away and look at it again.
New Section 309A uses the term “officer”. It states:
“There shall be an officer to be known as the Health Adviser to the Greater London Authority”.
Can the Minister clarify, either today or later, whether the officer is a member of the staff of the authority under Section 61 of the Act?
I listened carefully to what the Minister said. Is the over-riding consideration that the Government simply do not want civil servants to be required to attend the Assembly, irrespective of the merits of this case? If it is, then we have to go back to the essential principle behind it. Is it right in principle that civil servants should not be required to attend Assembly meetings and that we should use the structure of the unelected strategic health authority, accountability to Ministers and accountability to Parliament through the Public Accounts Committee and the Health Select Committee? This amendment bears further consideration within the department because if I am wrong and it is not just the principle of civil servants going before the Assembly and is more to do with the merits of the case, the departmental officials should re-examine this before we get to the next stage of the Bill.
I thank noble Lords for giving me the opportunity to clarify the points that I am trying to make. The bottom line is that we are talking about the constitutional question of whether civil servants should be required to attend the Assembly. I was also putting forward the argument that because the health adviser advises the Assembly in spite of having a Civil Service position, the Assembly should not suffer. The role of the health adviser is to advise the Assembly, not just the Mayor. A Memorandum of Understanding between the health adviser and the Mayor clearly sets out the methods of communication and the level and speed of advice that is expected. There is a detailed process for working together. I hope I have answered the fundamental point and that the other points I have made reassure noble Lords that the role of the health adviser is positive for the Assembly as well as the Mayor.
I am fascinated that my amendment has triggered this important debate because it will move us seamlessly on to the following amendments about why the health adviser has to be the regional director for health. I am much encouraged by the points that were made, and I shall certainly return to this matter at the next stage. It seems inconceivable that someone who is required to produce a strategy that will be put out to London should not, if necessary, be called in to the Assembly, if that is what Assembly Members need.
43: Clause 21, page 19, line 25, leave out from beginning to end of line 13 on page 22 and insert—
“309A The Health Adviser
The person who is the Health Adviser shall be appointed by the Mayor in accordance with the provisions of section 47 of this Act and be an employee of the Authority.
309B The Deputy Health Advisers
(1) There shall also be one or more officers to be known as Deputy Health Advisers to the Greater London Authority (“Deputy Health Advisers”).
(2) Any of the Deputy Health Advisers may exercise functions of the Health Adviser at any time when he is authorised to do so by virtue of an authorisation given by the Health Adviser under subsection (5) of section 309A above.
(3) Any exercise of a function by a Deputy Health Adviser by virtue only of such an authorisation must be in accordance with the authorisation and any conditions imposed by the Health Adviser under that subsection.
(4) A Deputy Health Adviser shall also have such other functions as may be conferred or imposed on him by or under this Act.
309C Deputy Health Advisers: appointment
The persons who are Deputy Health Advisers shall be appointed by the Mayor in accordance with section 67 of this Act and be employees of the Authority.”
The noble Baroness said: The motivation behind Amendments Nos. 43 and 45 is to explore further the appointment and status of the health adviser. We broadly welcome the new emphasis the Bill places on matters of public health and on tackling problems within the provision of the health service. I ought to declare my interest as chairman of an acute hospital trust in London. It is clear that, as a result of Part 4, the health adviser and, to a lesser extent, the deputies could have a great deal of influence on the health service for Londoners. As the Bill stands, the holder of the office will provide advice to the Greater London Authority on anything deemed by the health adviser to be a major public health issue and will also play a considerable role in the preparation of the health inequalities strategy. With this in mind, it is essential that we establish the Government’s vision for the health adviser and assess the level of accountability for that office.
Amendment No. 43 inserts new provisions into the Act making it clear that the health adviser and/or the deputies will be appointed by the Mayor and will be employees of the authority, which would enable them to be answerable to the authority. The purpose of Amendment No. 45, which is a probing amendment, is to assess whether it is appropriate that the health adviser is automatically the person who occupies the post of regional director of public health for London. We are not convinced that the health adviser should necessarily even be a civil servant from the department. There are plenty of people who work for the health service who would be capable of doing a job such as this. The aim of this amendment is essentially to investigate the potential accountability of the holder of an office with far-reaching influence over the people of London. We welcome the creation—are we all right?
We will welcome you to the end. I had better come to an end here. While welcoming the creation of a health adviser, we also question whether the Government have settled on the appropriate individual—the post holder, not the person—and method of selection. I have no criticism of the person, but it is a question of the office. I beg to move.
I assume the error was made by whoever typed up the written notes: “6” and “4” can look similar.
My other questions are to the Government. New Sections 309B and 309C require that the health adviser and the deputy health adviser are senior civil servants. I assume it is left as a matter of common sense that the health adviser who is appointed will be more senior in the Civil Service than the deputy health adviser, otherwise there could be a very strange position. It does not seem entirely likely.
I was intrigued by new Section 390A(5), which requires the health adviser to authorise the deputy health adviser. I accept that that can be general authorisation rather than specific authorisation, but is that the normal way of expressing that, or is there something particular in there? If it is particular, one might want to think further about it.
I have some sympathy with what I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, is trying to do, but I am not sure whether her amendment succeeds in doing it. As I understand it, she wants to have a situation in which the health adviser might be the public health director, but might not be. My understanding of her amendment—again I may not understand it properly, or it may not be quite what was intended—is that essentially the health adviser will be an officer under Section 47 and an employee of the authority. That would preclude the possibility that the person is the public health director for London.
The amendment will not achieve the objective she wants—which is, as I understand it, that the Mayor will have a flexibility. He may appoint the public health director for London, who would be a civil servant, or some individual who would be a highly regarded expert in the field, who for these purposes would become an employee of the authority.
I should like to see whether my interpretation of the noble Baroness’s amendment is correct and to understand a little more. While there is an enormous value in the current arrangement, whereby the public health director for London acts as health adviser to the GLA, is there is any reason why that should be the arrangement for all time? Also, are there many other civil servants whose precise role and nature is defined so precisely, given that the roles of civil servants change quite frequently, and we have not had this post for many years in this form.
I am interested to know why the new clauses are drafted in such precise terms, saying that it must be this post or its successor’s, and whether the amendment would achieve the flexibility that the noble Baroness wants.
I missed what may have been the most important part of my note. I wanted to take the opportunity to put on record my appreciation of the work that Sue Atkinson, who has quite recently retired, has done. It would be entirely right to recognise that, as she made a considerable contribution and has probably done a lot to ensure that that area of the Mayor’s and GLA’s work can be expanded as is proposed in the Bill.
I am not having a good day today. People are quietly picking holes in my amendments and how they are drafted. However, it is worth saying that the amendment requires exactly the interpretation that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, suggested. We do not see why it has to be the regional director; we believe that the Mayor should be able to have the choice either to have the regional director or someone else who is not within the Civil Service but who is in the health service, either as a director or deputy director. That should be optional—and if that is not clear in my amendment, that is what it should be.
Amendment No. 43 provides for the health adviser to be an employee of the GLA, and to be appointed by the Mayor, rather than being the regional director of public health for London. I strongly resist this amendment. The regional director for public health, as the person with strategic responsibility for public health in London, is clearly the most appropriate person to be the health adviser to the Mayor and Assembly. She is uniquely placed to work across a range of organisations, ensuring that they all pull in the same direction to improve the health of all Londoners and reduce the shocking levels of health inequalities between them.
The Mayor, of course, has a crucial role to play, and is directly or indirectly responsible for many aspects of London life which influence Londoners’ health, from transport to public safety. Equally, other aspects of public health, such as improving the quality of health services delivered to Londoners, immunisation, and resilience planning in respect of health services, are clearly the responsibility of the NHS. It is therefore right that the health adviser, as London’s regional director of public health, remains accountable to the Department of Health and the strategic health authority, not to the Mayor.
The current health adviser arrangement ensures that the Mayor and Assembly are provided with expert advice from the person responsible for public health in London and that there is a formal link between the GLA, the strategic health authority and the Department of Health. The GLA surely wants the most senior public health official in London advising it. The adviser, by definition, advises the Mayor and Assembly. She does not take decisions on their behalf. The current adviser has proved that she does not need to be accountable to the Mayor in order to provide advice on fulfilling his legal obligations with regard to health and health inequalities. These informal arrangements have been in place since 2000, and most people would agree that they work well.
Amendment No. 45 loosens the requirement that the health adviser is the regional director for public health by suggesting instead that the health adviser may be the regional director. We resist this amendment for similar reasons. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, picked up a couple of technical points. I think I need to write to her about them. My noble friend Lord Harris has been answered by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. I think I have picked up the points that have been raised, and I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister for that reply. I see that there may be some advantages in having this dual role for the regional director, but I am still not persuaded that that person has to be the adviser. Indeed, I can see some very good reasons why he might not need to be and for the Assembly to have even more independent advice. This amendment may not be perfect, but by the time we reach the next stage, it will be. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
44: Clause 21, page 19, line 36, leave out from “health” to end of line 38
The noble Baroness said: The awesome number of amendments in this group is entirely due to the fact that an awesome number of health inequalities are mentioned in the Bill. My amendments would change the words “health inequalities” to “public health”. I shall expand on that a little.
The changes to Clause 22 are important. We broadly welcome the Mayor being required to provide a health strategy for London, but it needs to be of a different kind—or certainly wider than that envisaged by the clause. The Minister in the other place defined “health inequalities” as,
“inequalities in respect of life expectancy of general state of health”—
as a result of—
“general health determinants”—[Official Report, Commons, Greater London Authority Bill Committee, 11/1/07; col. 119.]
General health determinants include housing, transport services, employment prospects, ease or difficulty of access to public services and lifestyle or behaviour aspects.
Although those are very important, it is not clear that they would also encompass the important organisational aspects of public health, such as the prevention and spread of infection, the protection of the public from epidemics such as avian flu, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and other health problems of diabetes, obesity, and so on. The protection of the public from epidemics is an extremely important part of the role of public health bodies, and it is important to have policies that bring co-ordination from the health service and other public bodies in the face of disasters, whether they are London-wide or confined to a smaller area.
Serious infection was the basis of public health policy—that is where it all first started. It would seem a great mistake to jettison any of that, even by implication. Serious public health matters are currently managed by various organisations—particularly the strategic health authorities—but they should be incorporated into a London-wide public health strategy. Health inequalities will focus on the disparity between health outcomes in various parts of London and on the matters that the Minister in the other place described. This information is gathered by all local authorities in a number of ways for a number of reasons. Some local authorities try to take action. Some of the issues are extremely intangible and very difficult to deal with so they are not immediately practical issues, which public health is. For that reason, I want to see the words “health inequalities” changed. I do not have a problem with health inequalities being an aspect of the health strategy, but I do not think they can be the only aspect of it. The role of whoever is the health adviser—we shall come back to that—must encompass the wider public health aspect of the job. If not, London will get advice from somewhere. It is essential that the combined role takes account of all aspects of public health.
I shall give the Committee a definition of public health. It is,
“the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organised efforts and informed choices of society, organisations, public and private, communities and individuals”.
It is the protection of those communities. I beg to move.
I shall speak about these amendments in general because there is a whole heap of them. I half support what my noble friend said, in so far as I was persuaded by the Minister’s remark that the right person is the regional director of public health for London. It was a well argued case, and I can see the sense in it. However, that case is for public health and supports my noble friend’s amendments.
I find the phrase “health inequality” very unsatisfactory. First, it is emotive, and, secondly, if I am being the devil’s advocate, when I read that one of the things the strategy must do is to,
“specify priorities for reducing those inequalities”,
I could say that that could be done by lowering the standard of those who are doing well down to the standard of those who are doing badly. To reduce the inequality is not necessarily to help the people at the bottom end to move up. I do not like the wording.
There are various other things. We have to be a bit careful because going back to GLC days, it was the policy of London regional government to take over the National Health Service, and I believe that the same principle follows with the GLA and that the Mayor would love to have the power to run the NHS in London. I have always bitterly opposed such a takeover because the National Health Service is such a huge concern already and to attempt to lump it in with regional government would be a disaster. The National Health Service is well run, but it is extremely complicated. My noble friend made the point that the Mayor should have a strategy. I agree with her definition of public health. The moment that everything else is involved, we run the risk that the Mayor will want to take over and micromanage health treatments on a day-to-day basis. That would be very bureaucratic, unsatisfactory and terribly costly for London council tax payers, who pay all the costs. We have to consider things very carefully.
This series of amendments goes a long way to help. One amendment deals with changing “reduction of health inequalities” to dealing with the “health of persons” in Greater London. That is what we are all concerned about—whereas the inequalities are very difficult to deal with. You could spend many years and vast amounts of money trying to decide what they were, whereas the director of public health already has a very clear image. On the other side of public health, when you are really considering something that is going to sweep in—some pandemic or epidemic that may hit London—there is a strong case for a strategy to deal with those situations. On the whole, these amendments are good and the Government should look again at the wording of this clause, as it is not satisfactory.
Good. This has prompted a debate about public health. We need to be clear that we are talking about aspects of public health that are a subset of the whole wide range of what public health encompasses, over which the Mayor has influence. We are talking about a subset of public health, which includes areas in which health determinants come under the influence of the Mayor.
The noble Baroness has been talking about public health in the widest possible sense. It is right that we should be looking at how the Mayor’s health inequality strategy dovetails with a London-wide effort, which plays into the role of the health adviser and why that adviser should be accountable to the strategic health authority and the Department of Health. The strategic health authority in London has responsibility for all the other aspects of health separate to those that we are talking about, which the Mayor has influence over. It is important that all of those are knitted together into a strategy that reaps real benefits for Londoners. That is the approach that is being built on here in the Bill.
After this Committee, we should discuss how the mechanics of that will work in reality. As we have heard, tribute has been paid to the health adviser and the system has worked well, and we have the opportunity outside the Committee to work through the issues that the noble Baroness has raised.
We believe strongly that the Bill’s focus on tackling health inequalities is justified, because broadening the remit of the strategy would dilute the focus on health inequalities, which urgently need addressing in London. Respondents to the consultation on the development of new powers supported action to address health inequalities being prioritised through the GLA. The current Mayor also supports the focus on health inequalities, and I am sure that he would share my view that such inequalities are unacceptable in London as a world city. The health inequalities strategy will provide the necessary impetus to tackling health inequalities by giving that work equal status with other mayoral strategies.
For those reasons I strongly resist Amendments Nos. 47 and 48, which would rename the Mayor’s “health inequalities” strategy the “public health” strategy. The term public health is too broad and potentially covers a range of aspects outside the remit of the GLA. For the same reasons, I resist the related Amendments Nos. 51 to 53, which seek to change the specifications for the strategy in similar terms.
I could go on about the consequential amendments, but I shall turn to Amendment No. 70, which would remove the duty on the Mayor to have regard to health inequalities in relation to mayoral strategies and to include in his strategies policies and proposals best calculated to promote a reduction of health inequalities. I come back to my point that we are focusing on the aspects of mayoral influence that affect public health in the widest possible sense. These concentrate on health inequalities.
Amendment No. 60 simplifies the consultation process on the Mayor’s health inequalities strategy. Clause 22 requires the Mayor to consult the health adviser and bodies in London’s health sector about what he should include in the strategy. In doing so, it requires him to publish a final draft. We believe that it is unnecessary to require the Mayor to publish a final draft of the strategy in order to consult about what should be included in it. We are therefore removing new Sections 309G(6) and 309G(7) to make the consultation requirements more straightforward.
I urge the noble Baroness to consider withdrawing her amendment and having a meeting to discuss what we have highlighted in this debate.
Is the Minister at all concerned, as I am, that the list of determinants might mean that the Mayor feels that he can call on his powers, which she has said he will have, to interfere with whatever other boroughs are doing? One of the concerns of boroughs in London is that they might find that they cannot do as good a health job as they are doing with their own social services and health departments because he would be interfering and saying what they should be doing. It is all very well to give him influence—everyone is very happy for him to have influence—but I would want to be sure that he does not have powers to supersede or overrule what local boroughs think is right.
As I understand it—I may need to correct myself—the mayoral powers are set out in the 1999 Act. We want to produce a strategy that would influence the other strategies that the Mayor is involved with. I am aware that others may perceive a level of interference, but we want to build on custom and practice that has arisen since 2000 to make the most of the successes that the health adviser has under her belt and to ensure that the original power to promote health improvement under the 1999 Act is more clearly crystallised around the specific drivers that we have talked about for health inequality.
Health inequalities are very wide, and I know that we have had lots of discussions in our borough about them. My noble friend Lady Gardner has triggered an anxiety in my mind that boroughs will have to work in conformity with a lot of the other strategies, and it depends on how this strategy is constructed. The Mayor has influence over transport, housing and education, all of which are included in the health inequalities strategy, but he will not be able to deliver—the boroughs will have to. I wonder what that level will be.
Government Amendment No. 60 would remove the provision that ensures that the Mayor produces a final draft. Does he have to produce any draft at all before he gets to the final draft? If there has been nothing for the Assembly to look at before it gets to the full consultation document, there is no possibility of amending it before it goes to consultation if the final draft—if it is the only one—is removed.
The noble Baroness has picked up the key question. The idea of producing a final draft could have been perceived as a contradiction in the way in which the consultation was planned. On the health inequalities strategy, it is envisaged that the Mayor will seek to achieve results by influence and persuasion; he has no powers of implementation. It is, as the noble Baroness has said, about local delivery. Under our amendment, a final draft for the purposes of initial discussion would be produced and would be available before the Assembly considers it. I hope that that clarifies the position.
I hear what the Minister says. I presume that this amendment will not reappear now that it has been moved by the Government and will presumably be accepted. It is a pity, because we have not really discussed at any length the Government’s intention for that consultation. That is my fault.
I thank the Minister for her reply. The discussions she has offered will be helpful; it will be useful to see how these strategies are working. I have no doubt that what is being suggested is as it should be, but it would be very nice to see how the Mayor will do it. If I need to table the amendment again so that we can discuss it again, perhaps we can do it in a way which will be helpful as much as begging the questions. For today, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 45 and 46 not moved.]
Clause 21 agreed to.
Clause 22 [The health inequalities strategy]:
[Amendments Nos. 47 to 53 not moved.]
53A: Clause 22, page 23, line 14, at end insert—
“(h) a London Borough Council,(i) the Common Council.”
The noble Baroness said: The amendment would make the London boroughs and the City relevant bodies under proposed new Section 309E(5). This is a gently probing amendment; I do not want to cast myself among those who would like to see more mayoral control of the boroughs. However, it is an opportunity to ask how the Government see the borough role in this arrangement.
The amendment is tabled at the request of three organisations dealing with visual impairment—the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, the RNIB and the London visual impairment forum. They sent me a six-page briefing, which I shall not share with the Committee at this stage. It makes important points about access to care services and the role of local authorities, particularly rehabilitation and the need for properly trained staff in adequate numbers. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, will speak in more detail on the matter; she has far more experience than I do in this area of health. I beg to move.
I, too, have been sent the six-page briefing and I will also spare the Committee most of it. In any case, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, gave a good idea of what it is about. She has huge experience of local government and London, and I have neither. I apologise for coming to the Committee late but I was in a meeting. I wish that I had heard the whole debate on Amendment No. 44.
I know how important it is to have the right treatment and equipment at the appropriate time in the rehabilitation of someone with a locomotor—from my point of view—or sensory impairment. That is essential if they are to be successfully rehabilitated and able to stay as healthy and mobile as possible, achieve their maximum potential and make a contribution to the community.
My noble friend Lord Low is very sorry that he cannot be here. He is in Australia. He very much approves of this amendment and says that he backs it. He agrees that there is a severe shortage of rehabilitation officers.
The briefing is interesting. It states that 94 per cent of local authorities in England do not employ staff who carry out holistic assessments of individual need on the visually impaired. They are much disadvantaged. The majority of rehabilitation workers are qualified to undertake a specialist assessment of needs arising from a person's vision loss but they have neither the training nor the experience to carry out a more detailed assessment of other needs, such as those resulting from physical or mental health problems.
Other visually impaired people may be assessed by a generic care manager with experience of physical or mental health problems but extremely limited knowledge of needs arising from visual impairment. You do not get the whole rehabilitation picture. It is well known that the hurdle to accessing social care has been raised. The terms “critical” and “substantial” apply to people with very severe disabilities or needs.
The Government are keen to encourage local authorities and health providers to work together. I appreciate what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said and I heard a little of the previous debate, but I hope that we hear something encouraging from the Minister.
I should like to respond very warmly to the debate that we have just had. The Government would like to think about this amendment. The noble Baroness seeks to add London borough councils and the Common Council to the list of relevant bodies and persons. In the light of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, which will require upper-tier local authorities, such as London boroughs and primary care trusts, to produce joint strategic means assessments of the health and social care needs of their local population, we agree that it would be sensible to include local London boroughs and the Common Council in the list of relevant bodies and persons. This is because they are likely to have a role in implementing the health inequality strategy.
However, the list of relevant bodies and persons, except for the authority and functional bodies, is also referred to later on for the purposes of consultation on the preparation or revision of the strategy. The authority and functional bodies are exempted from the list for the purposes of such consultation as they are already named as consultees under Section 42 of the Act. If the boroughs and Common Council were to be included in the list of relevant bodies, like the authority and functional bodies they would need to be exempted for the purposes of consultation, as they too are listed as consultees in Section 42.
We would like to consider the amendment further because there are some drafting problems. I hope that the Committee will give us that opportunity.
I am obviously grateful for that. There are more than just drafting issues involved. I hesitated about tabling the amendment, because it raises the issue of what the Mayor can direct the boroughs to do. That takes us into a whole other area of debate, quite apart from the matters with which these organisations are particularly concerned. I am grateful to them for raising the question of what the relationship is expected to be, because that is not wholly clear.
Of course, the forthcoming local government Bill will impact on this issue, so we need to consider it in the round. I had thought of it far more widely than as a matter of consultation and not just as a drafting concern. However, clearly we will return to this matter in some form and in some place. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 54 and 55 not moved.]
56: Clause 22, page 23, line 46, leave out from “health” to end of line 47
The noble Baroness said: The amendment relates to the general health determinants that are used to judge health inequalities. We are concerned with the possible discriminatory effect of the wording,
“and any other matters of personal behaviour or lifestyle”.
There is certain justification for the other determinants and the wording, but this one could be misinterpreted and it might be helpful to have an explanation from the Minister. I beg to move.
We will resist the amendment. As we have just heard, the amendment would remove,
“other matters of personal behaviour or lifestyle”,
from the description of “general health determinants” in relation to the health inequalities strategy. The specific listing of “general health determinants” such as the use of,
“tobacco, alcohol or other substances that are … harmful to health”,
is left in.
This amendment should be resisted, as retaining this sweep-up provision at the end of the definition would serve to ensure that other aspects of personal behaviour, such as physical activity, would not be excluded without the inclusion of an all-encompassing list.
You can look at this issue from two perspectives. If you try to have an inclusive list, you can leave important issues out and that can become a problem. It is not an uncommon approach. With that in mind, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
I would like to be assured that the words in subsection (5)(d),
“that are determinants of life expectancy or the state of health … other than genetic or biological factors”,
apply to the list in paragraphs (a) to (d). As drafted, it could be regarded as applying only to “other matters”. That was why I reacted against the reference to the phrase,
“matters of personal behaviour or lifestyle”.
That phrase needs to be conditioned in this way; otherwise it is unacceptably wide.
We may need to return to this because it sounds as though this clause needs amending. The trouble is that the drafting conjures up a lot of possibilities. This health strategy must not become an interference in people's lives. We need to make sure that that provision is amended.
By all means, but I am not the one who matters; at the end of the day, this legislation is for everybody not just for me. If I do not understand it and the Government have to explain it to me, they will have to explain it to the world. The world will misunderstand it. That is why I object to this drafting. We may be able to find a happier way of describing it that also encompasses the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which we can then use to amend the clause at a later stage. I would feel extremely uncomfortable if the clause were left in the Bill as it is. If we can agree to have a discussion about it, I will beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
57: Clause 22, page 24, leave out lines 5 to 7
The noble Baroness said: Proposed new Section 309G would require the Mayor to have regard to guidance from the Secretary of State as to matters he should take into account in preparing or advising the health inequalities strategy. The amendment would delete that provision, largely with the intention of probing exactly what it is expected the Secretary of State's guidance might say.
The Bill appears to be moving dangerously in the direction of government interference. Initially, it gives the Mayor the power to direct a citywide strategy. Then it places a senior civil servant within the department in a position of influence, and now we face the prospect of the Mayor having to “take into account” the guidance of the Secretary of State. I think that I can hear the Minister's reply, but I beg to move.
As we have just heard, Amendment No. 57 removes the duty on the Mayor to have regard to any guidance from the Secretary of State about the matters to take into account when preparing or revising the strategy.
Secretary of State guidance is a standard requirement across all statutory strategies in the 1999 Act, so it would be inconsistent to remove the requirement in relation to the health inequalities strategy. The duty on the Mayor to have regard to such guidance gives the Secretary of State the opportunity to provide early input to the strategy where appropriate. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
60: Clause 22, page 24, leave out lines 30 to 36
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 61 to 67 not moved.]
Clause 22, as amended, agreed to.