I advise the Committee that if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume 10 minutes thereafter.
Clause 31 [Mayor to determine certain applications for planning permission]:
92: Clause 31, page 34, line 43, at end insert “other than for the purposes of section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990”
The noble Baroness said: The amendment is grouped with Amendments Nos. 97 to 99 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. The group also refers to Clauses 32 to 35 standing part, making it particularly odd that we start with Amendment No. 92. It is a consequential amendment, if one can start with a consequence. It opens up the issue of Section 106 on planning applications under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
Under Clause 32, Section 106 matters—planning obligations—become a matter for the Mayor if he takes over an application. My opposition to Clause 32 and the other clauses dealing with planning obligations follows in part from my opposition to Clause 31 and concerns about the order on issues with which the Mayor can concern himself, which we debated yesterday. It also comes from my view that the value of Section 106 is to the local community, and not just in straight cash terms. A community saddled with a development which it may not particularly welcome will see benefits which should strictly be related directly to the development, but can usefully extend to the community by ensuring infrastructure. The nexus between the application, the local authority and the community is particularly important.
The Mayor argues that the local authority will remain the lead authority and negotiate the Section 106 agreement. I notice that his briefing did not suggest that Clauses 32 or 33(2) should be amended. The benefit of the obligation can fall to the Greater London Authority. I am sure that the Minister can reassure us about money not going into some general pot. I do not think that it would, although there is a fear that that might be the case and the Mayor would grant a planning application, take the cash and use it for purposes unconnected with the particular development. I look forward to what the Minister has to say on that.
Local authorities working in co-operation have shown that they can do so on Section 106 as well as other matters with a cross-boundary application. The most notable example is on the applications for the Olympics and Paralympics Games sites. It is unnecessary for the Mayor to step in if the argument is that local authorities cannot work together and that they need somebody above them. I beg to move.
I have three amendments which follow on from Amendment No. 92 tabled by the noble Baroness. At the outset, I should say that the whole issue of planning obligations being negotiated by the Mayor is fraught and I very much support what the noble Baroness said. Amendments Nos. 97 and 98 relate to planning obligations and raise a drafting query. A planning obligation is an obligation created by an owner of land, either unilaterally or by entering into an agreement with the local planning authority.
Clause 32 refers to,
“the function of agreeing a planning obligation”.
Local planning authorities have no such function. They may agree to enter into a planning obligation. Alternatively, they may grant planning permission, having regard to a planning obligation whether or not they themselves have entered into it. Clause 32 is therefore misconceived in thinking that there is a particular power to agreeing a planning obligation. We have proposed removing these subsections for that reason.
Amendment No. 99 is more significant. It supports what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has said and seeks to prevent planning obligation payments being made to the Mayor in any event. It would delete the proposals that payments under a planning obligation can be made to the Mayor of London, which we would see as inappropriate, given that the Mayor should be playing only a strategic role. We do not believe that the Greater London Authority should be able to benefit in any way from planning obligations. Since I wish to move my amendments, I would like to say that the Mayor should not have any role in the planning obligations.
There is a good deal of anxiety on the part of the City planning authority about the potential misuse of sums of money that might become available under Section 106 agreements. City developments often are very large and, consequentially, very large sums are due to be allocated under Section 106. It is naturally apprehensive that these may be put to uses that benefit perhaps the Mayor’s political ambitions rather than things that will directly benefit the area concerned. In the City, Section 106 payments have been used to provide local community facilities and environmental improvements, such as enhanced street furniture and things that will undoubtedly increase the attractiveness of the City for investment and the people who work there. If there was any thought that the money would be diverted to other uses—
I forgive my noble friend. My glasses, which are very sophisticated, occasionally make noises like that. If the City planning authority thought that the money would be diverted, I think that there would be considerable anxiety. So I very much endorse the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lady Hanham. We need reassurance on this and I wait with interest to hear the Minister.
I intervene briefly to oppose the view that is being taken on the other side of the Committee. My view is that the Mayor of London should have the maximum possible influence on these agreements, which are in the public interest. I am not satisfied that some local authorities in London are capable of understanding the possible benefits that are attainable if these agreements are properly drawn up.
I support what my noble friend has just said. According to the briefing that I received from the Mayor of London, there is considerable support for the planning changes. He says that a recent MORI poll shows that Londoners support the proposals for the Mayor to approve major planning applications. A huge 83 per cent supported the Mayor’s target that 50 per cent of all new homes should be affordable for people on low and moderate incomes. I certainly support that view. We talked about this yesterday. The amendment tends to undermine the objective of the Bill, which is to give the Mayor the powers to conduct a London-wide strategy. That should be welcomed.
I thank noble Lords for a useful debate, which enables me to explore a little about why planning obligations are important and why the clause is important.
Amendments Nos. 92, 97, 98 and 99 all relate to removing scope for mayoral involvement in planning obligations. I do not think it will surprise Members of the Committee to hear me say that I cannot accept any of those amendments. To do so would effectively leave the Mayor unable to grant planning permission for applications that he is responsible for deciding. That would not be in the interests of applicants or the proper planning of key development proposals in London. I will come to the drafting point that the noble Baroness raised in a little while.
Noble Lords are well aware that there is a close and direct relationship between planning applications and planning obligations. Planning obligations are crucial to mitigating the impacts of individual development proposals, and without the mitigation provided through the obligation, in certain cases, the development would not be granted planning permission in the first place. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, pointed out the great local benefits that can come from planning obligations. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, pointed to the environmental benefits. That is absolutely the case. It is therefore right and necessary that where the Mayor becomes responsible for determining a planning application, he also becomes responsible for agreeing any obligation related to it. That is what Clause 32 provides and what Amendments Nos. 92 and 97 would undermine.
The noble Baroness raised a drafting question about Clause 32 and the word “agree”. As I understand it, where the authority requires the obligation as a condition of the permission, it can require agreement or giving a unilateral undertaking. The wording of Clause 32 achieves that. I will ask officials to write to the noble Baroness to unpack some of that language so that there is no confusion.
Amendment No. 98 would remove the requirement for the Mayor to consult the relevant London borough before agreeing any planning obligation. That is consequential to Amendment No. 97 and I cannot accept that amendment, and it would hardly stand in isolation anyway. That is for some very good reasons. Many of the impacts, even on very large schemes, are still local in nature, and there can be no doubt that boroughs are best placed to advise on those issues and how and whether they might be mitigated through planning obligations. Therefore, it is right and proper that the Mayor should consult the borough before agreeing any planning obligation.
Clause 33 provides for the Greater London Authority to receive sums of money under the terms of a Section 106 agreement, and for the Mayor to enforce the terms of such an agreement and to recover costs associated with any such enforcement action. Concerns have been raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Hanham, and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, about what that will mean. The concern has been expressed that the Mayor will seek to divert all the Section 106 moneys for his own schemes, ignoring local issues. However, I can put noble Lords’ minds to rest that this is simply not true. Current policy on planning obligations in England, as set out in circular 05/2005, requires fair, open and reasonable negotiation of planning obligations so that the obligations allow developments to go ahead which might otherwise have been refused.
The circular states, among other factors, that planning obligations are to be sought only where they meet all the following policy tests: they must be relevant to planning; necessary to make the proposed development acceptable in planning terms; directly related to the proposed development; fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the proposed development and reasonable in all other respects.
In approaching the negotiation of obligations and who should be the recipient of Section 106 moneys, the Mayor, in common with the boroughs, will need to comply with these requirements and the relevant policies set out in the development plan—both his London Plan and the borough’s UDP or local development framework. I believe that there is enough security in those conditions to convince the Committee that Section 106 moneys are safe in that respect.
It may be helpful if I explain the purpose and importance of the other clauses which deal with issues related to the Mayor and planning obligations. Clause 34 expressly requires the Mayor to consult the local planning authority before exercising any enforcement power in relation to a Section 106 agreement agreed by him. The clause also amends Section 106B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to provide that where the Mayor fails to give notice of his decision in response to an application to modify or discharge a planning obligation or refuses such an application, the applicant shall have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State. The clause also provides for the Mayor to be treated as the local planning authority in relation to appeals concerning planning obligations. These powers are necessary to ensure the effective operation of the planning obligations system where the Mayor is involved as a decision-maker.
Finally, Clause 35 contains technical provisions relating to planning contributions under Section 46 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Section 46 of this Act empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations which will enable planning contributions to be made in relation to the development or use of land in the area of a local planning authority. The LPA could be required by such regulations to set out in a document which developments and uses it will seek contributions for, where it will not seek a contribution, the purposes to which receipts from contributions may be put, either in whole or in part, and the criteria for determining the value of the contribution.
This clause provides a technical amendment to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to allow those regulations to provide for the making of a planning contribution where the Mayor is the local planning authority in relation to a particular application.
I hope that I have convinced the Committee of the very practical importance of providing for the Mayor to be responsible for planning obligations relating to planning applications he decides. I cannot accept these amendments. I hope that, given the grounds I mentioned, Members of the Committee will feel able to withdraw them.
What happens if the local authority and the Mayor do not agree about the value of or necessity for a planning obligation? Where does the final decision lie? I envisage plenty of situations in which a local planning authority does not like the application that has been put forward in any terms at all and would turn it down if it was given the opportunity. The application would need to make a very significant contribution to the local area for the local authority’s purposes. It is not always a question of money only; plenty of conditions come about through Section 106 that directly ameliorate an application. If the local authority believes that it would probably get a great deal more out of the applicants than does the Mayor, where does a final decision lie? The Mayor could approve an application that absolutely does not carry sufficient weight in Section 106 terms. Would the local authority have a right to appeal to anybody about that before the application was approved by the Mayor?
As I understand it, there is a lot of scope for negotiation between the Mayor and the boroughs on the sort of benefit that is wanted. As we have said, this must so far as possible be a local issue and of local benefit. To some extent, this depends a little on what decision is being taken and what stage the decision is at. As I understand it, if there is disagreement, the Mayor is responsible at the end of the day if he is the decision-taker with regard to the application. I am not entirely sure that I can go further at this point without being able to explain the context in which that might be the case, and I would prefer to write to the noble Baroness about this and about the rights of appeal, and so on. I began to explain from my notes the process that the Mayor must go through and the conditions that surround and contain those decisions, but I will write to the noble Baroness.
I would be grateful if the Minister could write to me, because this is one of the reasons why these clauses on the Mayor taking responsibility for planning applications become even more contentious. It is very important that there is a process. This should end up being about what the local authority thinks the Section 106 agreement should be, and this should be what the Mayor implements. Otherwise, one runs into the sort of problem described by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, whereby the Mayor has his own Section 106 agreement and there is concern that the money will go elsewhere.
I will certainly do that. I refer again to the planning conditions set out in the circular, which lay down the proper process for ensuring that conditions are satisfied in different ways. This is obviously an area where there is a lot of negotiation and where the conditions have to be adhered to.
Picking up that last exchange, I share the noble Baroness’s concern. Section 2D says that,
“the function of agreeing a planning obligation”,
“a function of the Mayor”.
New Section 2D(4) requires the Mayor to,
“consult the local planning authority”.
The obligation to consult suggests that he has to do no more than consult. I do not suggest that he should not listen to the local planning authority or not be required to have proper regard to what the local planning authority has to say, but the decision is clearly the Mayor’s. It is a little rough on the local planning authority that the new section ends with the obligation being,
“enforceable by the local planning authority”,
as the local planning authority may be stuck with enforcing something that it has not wanted in the first place.
Picking up a point that the noble Baroness made earlier, when the Mayor does take a different view from that of the borough or the city planning authority, should the Mayor be obliged to spell out precisely why he does not accept that advice? Perhaps we could consider this on Report.
That would be good consultation practice. We discussed consultation in a different context at an earlier stage of the Bill. We would certainly like the Mayor to have to do what the noble Lord suggests every time he consults. It struck me when listening to the Minister reading out the circular that it provides for the applicant and whichever planning authority is involved in a particular situation to disagree, and if the applicant wants to agree something different, it might be possible for the applicant to do so. I am not sure where that thought is taking me, but it is buzzing around in my head as a minor worry in a part of the forest somewhere here.
Before I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, perhaps I may comment on the remarks made by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness opposite; that, because some local authorities do not conduct their affairs and deal with planning matters in the way that they, and possibly I, would like to see, the Mayor should deal with such issues. It is often helpful in such situations for those considering the matter to reverse the political roles and to think of a Mayor of a political complexion which is not so attractive to them. In other words, I will put it very bluntly, say that one has a Conservative mayor and a Labour local authority. Does that still apply for those who are saying that the mayor—any mayor—should have the rights proposed? One has to stand back and think how this would work with everyone’s worst fears as to who is holding that office.
What the noble Baroness says is perfectly acceptable if we are arguing about the office and the authority, and not the named individual and the political complexion. If it is just the process, what she says is eminently right. Also, it is perfectly possible to envisage the scenario that has been mentioned. However, we have all been around the local government circuit for some time and in this place. We must recognise not just that you win some and you lose some but that sometimes you get into a bind and you cannot ever see yourself winning. But there is the hope that one day you will be in your tormentor’s position. So far as I am concerned, we are now looking at the powers of the Mayor. The provisions in the Bill are perfectly acceptable to me. They may not be acceptable to people in the current political divisions, but that is the way it is, and I am very pleased.
Does the noble Lord agree that decisions made by the Mayor under the Bill will not last merely for a four-year term and may then be overturned, but that they will last for generations? What is approved will be seen for 50 years. That is very different.
I would not disagree, but we are not just talking about ephemeral timescales. The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, fits this issue very well. If one simply takes away the personality aspect, which is there—we do not enhance our perceptions of people’s intelligence if we say that it does not play any part—then, as far as I am concerned, the Mayor, and of course the Mayor’s office, staff and structure, would need to think very carefully if he very quickly got into a situation where he always wanted his view ultimately to prevail. That would cause a grave reaction, not just in local government but in national government. If the Mayor always won in a dispute on what was right or wrong for Greater London, whatever the effect on a local borough, that would be a very bad political judgment.
That is right. From the Liberal Democrat standpoint and the clear implications of the examples used so far in Committee of two other political parties, I am giving a pretty objective point of view. But it is inevitable that in arguing from a briefing from the current Mayor, there are implications in that as well. I shall mention an example used in this debate: that of housing and the MORI poll, the results of which surprise me not a jot. People are desperately concerned about housing in London; it is the major issue in the capital. If they are asked a question which suggests that there may be a way through the horror of the lack of affordable housing, they will say “Yes”. One has to be careful about the conclusions one draws from any given poll.
I have moved away a little from the subject matter of the amendment, but some of my comments are pertinent to the debate generally about the future balance of powers within London. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Before calling the next amendment, perhaps I may remind your Lordships as gently as I can that while any amendment can and very often is debated ahead of its numerical sequence by way of grouping, no amendment can be moved until it is actually called.
[Amendments Nos. 92A to 93B not moved.]
94: Clause 31, page 36, line 11, at end insert—
“(7A) The following persons shall be given an opportunity to be heard by the Mayor of London before he determines an application by virtue of section 2A or this section—
(a) the applicant;(b) the local planning authority who received the application;(c) the member of the Assembly whose constituency covers the land subject to the application;(d) no fewer than one councillor of a London borough or the Common Council whose ward covers the land subject to the application;(e) no fewer than one representative of local, amenity or environmental interests as the Mayor of London considers appropriate;(f) Transport for London;(g) any other person, including public bodies or statutory undertakers, as the Mayor of London considers appropriate.”
The noble Baroness said: While it is plain that we are not great believers in the Mayor playing this strategic role in planning, if it is to happen, he has got to know how to play it properly and in the same way as a local authority would have to; that is, in the open and at a hearing which can be attended by the public, thus providing the opportunity for representations to be made by all those required to come before him. In these amendments, we seek to give the planning process so far as the Mayor is concerned greater transparency so as to foster confidence among the public in mayoral decision-making.
Amendment No. 94 would enshrine the right of interested parties to a hearing by the Mayor before he makes a decision. The list includes in particular the applicant and the local authority, but also makes provision for local representatives at Assembly and council level, as well as TfL and resident representatives with strong views about the application. It is important that there is both a fair hearing and the perception of a fair hearing. It is hard to argue that it should not be an explicit right of the applicant and the local authority receiving the application to present their side of the story to the Mayor in public. Perhaps the Government may be tempted to do so for logistical reasons, but if the Mayor deems that a planning application is important enough for him to determine, it must be the case that that determination should be based on a proper evaluation of all the circumstances.
The purpose of Amendment No. 96 is to protect the openness of planning meetings themselves. I refer to planning meetings because under these amendments, and I believe even under the draft order, the Mayor will have to hold open hearings in such a way that it is apparent to applicants, local authorities and members of the public that he is considering his decision in public. The amendment follows the principle behind an amendment put forward by my honourable friends in another place, but it fleshes out the detail in response to the debates that took place several months ago.
At Second Reading, the Minister promised that the provisions of the Local Government Act 1972 on access to information would be applied, but the present draft of the Mayor of London order does not actually go that far. This amendment would add the very important obligation that meetings should be held in public.
As I said, transparency in decision-making is essential. It simply must be a statutory requirement that the public have the right to a hearing, as well as for the procedure to be open. That is why we believe that the hearings, or meetings—whatever we want to call them—should be held in public, and further that the Mayor should be compelled to give public justification for his final decision.
Amendment No. 102 proposes a code of conduct for the Mayor to follow when exercising any of his planning functions. It, too, is motivated by the principles of transparency, scrutiny and consistency of decision-making. These are well known in local authorities and follow a procedure that is well understood. Public and residents have access to all that decision-making, so it is essential that applications for which the Mayor is responsible are similarly enshrined in legislation. I beg to move.
One of the problems with housing debates is that they bring out the sharp divisions that exist between us politically. I see the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, in his place, which makes me think of the occasions over the past 20-odd years on which I have agreed with him about many issues that have come before Parliament. But when it comes to a matter like this, we are divided in our understanding of what is important in particular communities. It is unfortunate, although perhaps in part I have myself provoked some of those divisions.
I want to comment on something that happened during the course of our debates yesterday. There is often a sense of, “Should we be dealing with specific cases or applications when considering legislation of this nature?”. Sometimes we used to have that in the Commons; people would frown on constituency speeches in the context of general legislation. I have always thought that the only way you can test whether legislation is going to work is by producing concrete examples. That is why the Westminster experience is absolutely critical to the whole debate. We would do well to reflect on what has happened in Westminster when considering this area of the Bill.
I agree completely with Amendment No. 94, just moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. Indeed, I would say to my noble friend at the Dispatch Box that I hope we take it on board. My noble friend may say that this provision is effectively already in the legislation, but I like to see things laid down in cold print so that people understand clearly what is happening, who is to be consulted, and what will be the product of that consultation. I am even marginally sympathetic to Amendment No. 96, but perhaps that is something we could return to on Report. However, I can see no possible reason why we should not accept Amendment No. 94 which deals with what I regard to be the very legitimate concerns of those who may be wondering what we are doing here.
I should like to add something to the amendment, under subsection (c), which states,
“the member of the Assembly whose constituency covers the land subject to the application”.
Going back to the Bowater application, Members of the Committee may recall that yesterday I drew attention to the problem of affordable housing provision made available offsite, perhaps half a mile or a mile away, but where local authority Members are not even aware of what is happening. That is because a Section 106 agreement is too general. The detail is in the minds of the planning officers in the authority. They know exactly what is going to happen, but what happens if the councillors in the ward where the provision is to be made are not aware of it? It is not that I object in principle to social and affordable housing provision being made all over Westminster. As I said yesterday, I am in favour of a balance in every community, but local councillors should know what is happening. The reason is this: if we are going to drive more affordable housing onsite as against offsite, you need the pressure from within the communities that are being asked to receive offsite those applications to help the authority argue the case for the affordable housing to be onsite.
Perhaps I could correct something that I said yesterday. I referred to a flat costing £87 million. Actually, I was wrong:
“London flat goes for a record £100 m”.
I quote from an article:
“If you’re struggling to get your foot on the property ladder spare a thought for a poor soul who is so far up it he needs an oxygen tank just to breathe. The world’s most expensive flat has just been sold in London for £100 million according to reports. Sheikh Hamad, the foreign minister of the Gulf State of Qatar, is behind the purchase of the penthouse home in the most exclusive block in the world—One Hyde Park. The apartment is one of 86 luxury flats being built on the edge of Hyde Park opposite Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge”.
The article goes on to tell the reader how wonderful the flats are.
My case is very simple. The people in areas that are receiving offsite provision should be part of the lobby on the authority to drive the authority into making sure that the affordable and social housing provision is onsite. It takes us back to where we were yesterday, when the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, said:
“When I saw the overall recommendation of the director of Shelter about what the percentage of affordable housing should be in such planning applications”—
I hope the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, is listening to me.
I will continue:
“I could not see how Westminster would be able to achieve it. I knew the district valuer’s views on land values in Westminster and the implications that they would have for how much affordable housing could be afforded and where it would go”.—[Official Report, 8/5/07; col. GC156.]
The reason we have such high land values in parts of Westminster is that we are driving the affordable and social housing offsite into other areas. We are creating more and more exclusivity in certain zoned parts of Belgravia, Knightsbridge and SW1 generally, with the effect that prices are going up and up. If you want to stabilise those prices, you should more equitably distribute affordable and social housing throughout the whole of the community. That is what we should be doing. That is why I have argued repeatedly that the Mayor has to have those powers, otherwise you end up with authorities such as Westminster coming up with the kind of drivel-ridden Section 106 agreement that Westminster City Council drew up over the Bowater development.
I say to my noble friends that if we are going to go down the Amendment No. 94 route, as I hope we are, where it talks about,
“the member of the Assembly whose constituency covers the land subject to the application”,
there is consultation with members in areas where offsite affordable and social housing provision is to be made available. That way we will develop the argument for driving affordable and social housing onsite, where it should be and should have been in the Bowater application.
Perhaps I may intervene on this one. As the leader of a local authority, this is something for the Local Government Bill that is coming up rather than for this legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has rather gone on about one particular planning application, and I do not think that one planning application makes the whole process for London.
There is no doubt that although I am the leader of a large council, I do not always get all the information about what is happening in my area. I represent a large constituency in Essex, and I do not get informed about all the planning applications that are happening in that patch. We ought to put it into the Local Government Bill that local authority members ought to be informed. I am trying to find mechanisms for doing that in Essex, and it means having a team of officers looking at all the information to supply to members. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said yesterday that local members did not know much detail about the planning application. There ought to be some mechanism whereby local authority members are involved. If you are not involved in planning, and you are busy looking after elderly people, you sometimes do not know about the planning applications in your patch. The noble Lord has a valid point that local authority members, certainly those for large London boroughs and large counties, do not always know what is going on in their patch. It might be different for smaller authorities. There ought to be some statutory requirement to allow elected members for that patch to know what is going on in their area.
I have no quarrel with the strategic intent of Clauses 31 to 35, as I think that I suggested yesterday. My concern is about the practical implications and how these would work in practice. For now, I shall focus on slowing down the process. Perhaps I may suggest that, rather than substantial redrafting of Clauses 31 to 35, the Government undertake to review how they have worked in practice in, say, two years’ time. The danger of substantial redrafting is that one lays oneself open to legal challenge on some of the proposed wording.
I have a specific point which relates to Amendment No. 94 and the hearings. Clearly, one wants to take account of the views expressed on all sides, but I am extremely concerned about a two-tier planning system. If the boroughs are taking hearings, will the Mayor also take hearings? Is it absolutely necessary to take them as hearings? Can they be tackled as written representations or be heard by an officer rather than the Mayor? My concern with Amendment No. 94 is one of slowing processes down, which I do not think any of us wish to do under Clauses 31 to 35. We would be very concerned if this amendment had that by-product.
While supporting the general principle of Amendment No. 94, perhaps for any future amendments I may ask the noble Baroness to remember the London-wide members of the planning authority. Paragraph (c) refers only to constituency members, which is a detail on the principle. The noble Baroness made some very important points and makes the correct distinction between hearing representations and the process of arriving at the decision, which is behind much of what she said. The hearing of representations process should be open to the public. Webcasts, new technology and so on is not the same as articulating in public how one arrives at a decision. It is precisely because of the “Here is what I decided in the shower this morning” scenario that the processes are really important and need to be explicit.
The noble Baroness also raised the important matter of a code of conduct. There is a lot of interest in how the Mayor will deal with applications in particular from functional bodies, which, as it were, are his own creatures. Local authorities have processes for dealing with their own applications. I believe that the Government share the view that the Mayor should not take over applications on which he has made a public statement, which he might have done as chair of a functional body, or about any application. I hope that the Minister will confirm that and will explain what would happen not just if the mayor takes over the application, but also where he retains a power to direct refusal, because, although the issue might not be quite as sharp, it exists.
I have heard the comment that it will be interesting to see whether any mayor—I am personalising this, but it could probably apply to any person—or his or her advisers would be able to resist commenting on particularly interesting applications. I am not aware of a mechanism to prevent a mayor taking over an application when his or her office has commented and who would police this. Perhaps the Minister can assist us. As we are all aware, the difficulty is that the holder of the office of Mayor of London does not have another politician to whom to delegate a planning decision if the Deputy Mayor is caught up in a debate. We are in the odd situation in which the current Mayor delegates to the Chief Executive of the Greater London Authority decisions on applications for the Olympic Games sites. I would be interested to hear from the Government what ought to happen when a Mayor is “conflicted out”.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, was kind enough to introduce me back into the debate for the remarks I made yesterday. I do not propose to detain the Committee for more than a moment, but if we are to have this ping-pong, it seems appropriate that it should be two-sided rather than one. The noble Lord was my constituent—indeed, an excellent one—and I am delighted to say that he continues to take an interest in the affairs of Westminster.
I declare retrospectively an interest of long ago. I made myself extremely unpopular with my constituents in the summer of 1978 when I was serving on the Finance Bill. An amendment was tabled proposing that Arabs should not be allowed to buy houses in London; and, notably, that they should not be allowed to buy them in the centre of London. As a Back-Bench Member of the Committee, I argued that that was wholly wrong; that we had always run a maritime and open society and that we were in danger of being retaliated against if we did not allow others to trade in this country—or, indeed, to live here—though they had the right to do so. I am conscious that in not supporting that Back-Bench amendment in 1978 I may be in some small part responsible for the upsurge in London house prices 30 years later.
The point has been made, rightly, that we should not in this Bill legislate for a particular man or for a particular council. We should be producing legislation that can be understood and interpreted, and followed and used, by all the councils in the land. I am in no sense being defensive about the issue. As I said yesterday, I have no brief from Westminster City Council and I hold no brief for it. It must resolve the dilemmas of running its planning policy in a central London area where Russians and Arabs appear to wish to live in significant quantities, and it has to cope with that as best it can.
Perhaps I may say in defence of the Government that they have seen fit to knight the leader of Westminster City Council, which is an unusual decision by any Government in the context of a local government leader of a party other than their own. Westminster has consistently been among the 24 best administered local authorities in the country under the Audit Commission.
This has been an important debate on an important set of issues. I entirely share the intention behind many of these amendments. We are all agreed that there must be openness and transparency in the way that the Mayor makes decisions on planning applications. While I cannot accept all these amendments, I hope that I can demonstrate that there is not a large gap between us.
I agree that it is crucial that the manner in which the Mayor makes decisions on planning applications is robust and transparent and is seen to be so by the public. It is good for him, it is good for the process and it is certainly good for London. That is the case, not least so that the Mayor, as a democratically elected decision maker, can be held accountable for his decisions. I turn first therefore to subsections (1) and (2) of Amendment No. 96. They would require the Mayor to exercise his powers to direct refusal, or to determine planning applications, in public meetings. While, as I have said, openness and transparency are important, the manner in which decisions are made is equally important because who is making the decision makes a difference.
These decisions will be made by a single person rather than a committee, as is the case with the local planning authority. That is where some elements of the provision become surreal, because a single decision-maker making a decision may simply sit in silence reading the papers and reports and considering the issues. There will not be a debate, other than perhaps an internal one, such as that which takes place in planning committees. To put it simply, there is nothing for an audience to see. That is why we consider that it would be wholly artificial to require the Mayor to take his or her decisions in public. However, we share common ground on some aspects of the amendment. We have previously agreed that any meetings at which the Mayor hears from the applicant, the relevant borough or other parties will be open to the public.
The amendment also seeks to apply to the Mayor the provisions of Part 5A of the Local Government Act 1972 on openness and access to information that apply to local planning authority decision-making. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, rightly said, I did say on Second Reading that we are committed to applying the relevant principles of the 1972 Act, and will do so through the Mayor of London order. I cannot give the precise details at the moment, as they are currently being drafted, but I will be in a position to say more on Report.
The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, asked what constitutes a hearing. When we talk about hearings, we do not mean court hearings or planning inquiries; we are saying simply that the Mayor must hear the representations from the applicants, the local authorities, and so on, which he chooses to allow. They do not imply cross-examination.
Amendment No. 94 proposes a list of individuals and organisations, to be set out in the Bill, which must be given an opportunity to be heard by the Mayor before he determines a planning application. Again, there is no substantive difference between us on the principle of the amendment, which I hope assures my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours; we differ on how best to achieve this. The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, spoke about delays in procedure and the need to be flexible. Let me be clear that we think it more appropriate to set out any detail in this area in secondary legislation rather than in the Bill. In doing so, noble Lords might recognise that we have gone further than the requirements that we place on local planning authorities, which are not required to hear representations from parties at planning committee meetings.
We also agree that it is necessary to be clear about who could be involved in decisions on applications decided by the Mayor. However, other than setting some basic minima, which might include hearing from the applicant and the relevant London borough, should they so wish, we do not think that it is necessary for the Secretary of State to dictate to the Mayor lists of people from whom he must hear. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, have already given us various candidates to be added to those lists. We must remember that the Mayor is not some unelected quango; he is directly elected and directly accountable for his own actions. He will therefore be well aware of the high level of scrutiny given to his exercise of his powers. It is not in his interests to follow secretive practices. Subject to setting the basic minima, it is right that the issue should be left to him. However, to ensure that there is clarity, we will require the Mayor to publish a document setting out those persons whom he will permit to appear before him and to be heard, and we have provided for this in Article 10 of the draft Mayor of London order. I suspect that there will be agreement in the Committee on this, which is why, in common with our proposal, the amendment provides discretion for the Mayor to choose to allow other parties to speak as he thinks is relevant and necessary.
For the same reasons, we do not think that it is necessary to set out detailed requirements for how the Mayor will exercise his powers through a code of conduct, as sought by Amendment No. 102. However, under Article 10 of the draft mayoral order, we require the Mayor to prepare a document setting out the procedures to be followed for considering oral representations. We also propose to require the Mayor to give at least 14 days’ notice of any hearing and to publish agendas and relevant reports and other documents at least seven days ahead of that meeting. In addition, we will publish a revision of Circular 1/2000, which deals with strategic planning in London and which will give clear guidance that reinforces many of the messages that I have set out today and previously. These are sensible safeguards.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made the general point about potential conflicts of interest, where there is some difference between parties. We do not expect a mayor who has a conflict of interest, or who has expressed his public support or, indeed, opposition for an application, to decide that application. That is the bottom line and fundamental to the clear principle of natural justice, which underpins the law of planning. However, I will read carefully what she said. In any case, many technical questions were raised.
Perhaps I may take the Minister back to Amendment No. 94. She said “we”. I presume that “we” means my noble friend. The brief probably says “Resist” and the civil servants will have made a recommendation that we should not proceed on this list of persons and/or organisations. Who is consulted as to whether we should resist this amendment? Were the boroughs or the Mayor of London consulted? Who is actually objecting to a list of that nature being drawn up? The list is very clear and sets out precisely those who at least would know they have a statutory right to have their case heard over any discretion or guide. My noble friend referred to a “note” or “guidelines” that the Mayor might be required to produce. Who actually is resisting this? Would my noble friend perhaps take the matter back to the department to consider whether it is possible to go down that route?
In my experience of dealing with legislation in this House, there is nearly always an argument about putting any list in a Bill. Lists can be exclusive, and there is constant pressure to add or subtract people, institutions or organisations. Having something in the Bill makes it, by definition, difficult to amend and more rigid. That is one reason why we specify in secondary legislation that there is a better opportunity to be more responsive and flexible.
I will repeat what we said because it deals with what the noble Lord wants to improve on. We will require the Mayor to publish a document setting out those persons he would permit to appear before him and be heard. We have provided for that in the draft order. That achieves a balance between us not dictating to the Mayor and ensuring that he is under genuine discipline to determine to whom he will listen. I think that that is the proper balance.
On the issue of decisions being made in public, perhaps I may put something into the Minister’s mind. Traditionally, applications are heard by local planning authorities, which have public agendas containing recommendations from planning officers. Those are known by everyone who attends the meeting—the applicant, members of the public and members of the committee. They can listen to a debate between members who may or may not accept the recommendations made by planning officers. One hopes—although it is not always the case—that their reasons, particularly for rejection, are clear in that debate; that the debate will be minuted; and, indeed, that the committee clerk will insist on the clear reason being part of the minute.
We have a very different situation here. Of course it is difficult to provide for an individual to take a decision at a particular point and not to have thought about the thing before. That is nonsense. Members of the planning committee going to a meeting will have considered the issue. I know that the Secretary of State will take a decision if he calls in an application. However, in the very unusual situation of an individual taking the decision, it seems to me that we must try to be imaginative about making the whole of the decision process as accessible as possible. That is the thought. I come to my question because I realise that I am not clear about the matter from the draft order or from what the Minister said. What will be the extent of the decision to be published by the Mayor? It is one thing when he refuses an application now; I think that it is qualitatively different when he may approve an application. Will he be required to issue a decision letter or decision notice setting out the reasoning in the same way as the Secretary of State normally does?
I am grateful to everybody for this debate as we are discussing an extremely important aspect of the Bill. The Minister referred to the matter when she said that the Mayor is a single decision-maker. I do not refer to his being a single decision-maker as regards somebody putting up a chicken shed in their back garden but rather on an application to build something which may comprise an enormous tower block of considerable proportions that will affect an enormous number of people. In order to make that decision, he must be seen to have taken into account everything that anybody wants to say to him that might affect the ultimate decision.
I shall deal first with Amendment No. 94. I hear what the Minister says about not creating lists but that has been done in much legislation. The Government may have resisted that but a lot of legislation contains lists. I like my list and I like it better than the draft order, which simply states:
“The Mayor must prepare and publish a document setting out a list of any persons whom he will permit to appear before him”.
The Mayor cannot be placed in the position of permitting somebody to come before him. He should not be allowed to make the decision on that basis. There must be a cohort of people who are entitled to come and give their views on an application. They are contained in the list in Amendment No. 94. I would prefer to see that list in the legislation.
The Minister says that the provision will appear in secondary legislation. Presumably, it will be affirmative secondary legislation so that we shall have the chance to discuss it. However, as the Minister is very well aware—as are we—the number of changes that ever get made to secondary legislation is absolutely miniscule. Therefore, we must get this right in primary legislation.
As I say, I am attracted to my amendment, which will appear again at a later stage. I hope that we shall have the opportunity to consider further how we can get it included in the legislation.
I also hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, said about not holding things up. However, if this process is just to be seen as a developer’s “quick-me-up”, the whole thing ought to be stopped at this stage. I know that there is pressure from developers to quicken the planning process and that they face difficulties when they have to make applications to more than one borough. However, the process works perfectly well. Boroughs have to say what their views are on an application on many occasions. The process must not be seen as one which aims simply and solely to get developers’ plans up and running more quickly. It must be seen as so important that it is above and beyond the local boroughs dealing with it. If that is what the Government believe should happen, the process should be at that level—absolutely at the height of importance. It must not be just a case of a developer believing that something is important and wanting to get it moving. The process will have to ensure that people have the right to give their views. Those views should be seen to be taken into account extremely seriously. The question I have not asked the Minister, which is not yet clear in this clause, is whether there is, presumably, a right of appeal to the Secretary of State over the Mayor’s decision. If not, there will be by the time we have finished the Bill. There must be a right of appeal, as is currently in legislation on any planning application.
This is very important. It takes local authorities’ current powers to determine applications out of their hands and puts them into those of one person. Whether that person is advised by a whole host of town planning advisers or not, the decision ultimately rests on his shoulders. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, the trouble is that any planning permission will not melt away like the snows of winter: we are stuck with it for ever more. As the applications are likely to be of considerable size, decisions must be seen to be taken against a background of best possible practice. We are trying to ensure that we get a requirement in the Bill that the Mayor conform to best possible practice, that he is seen to be the one taking the decision and does not delegate it to an officer of the Greater London Authority. I am sure that he will have to talk to an officer, but he should have to make that decision himself in public, before those who wish to come and hear it. Again, I would expect that decision not to be issued by letter but in person. The Mayor must be up front with this, and be the person seen to be taking it—he is the only elected person, as the Minister has said—so that when the trial date comes, people know who is there and who has made the decision.
I have spelt out as clearly as I can the points behind these amendments. I have no doubt that that we will come back to them at the next stage.
I will reply quickly to two points. On the other constraints around the Mayor and the requirement upon him to be open, he must publish all relevant information seven days ahead of any meeting so that there is good notice of the content and purpose of the meeting. He must also publish sufficiently detailed reasons for his decision under the general development procedure order. There is already a requirement upon him to do that.
On the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, there is a right of appeal against any refusal he should make, governed by planning laws as all local planning authorities are. On the order and the notion of who will speak, we have in general gone further than local planning authorities. Local planning authorities can choose who they allow to speak; some do not allow anyone to come and speak at their planning committees. By doing what we are, we are going beyond that. As the noble Baroness concluded in her speech, however, the Mayor is directly elected. That is one reason why things are done slightly differently. I look forward to having this debate again on Report.
[Amendments Nos. 94A to 96 not moved.]
Clause 31 agreed to.
Clause 32 [Planning obligations]:
[Amendments Nos. 97 and 98 not moved.]
Clause 32 agreed to.
Clause 33 [Amendments of section 106 of TCPA]:
[Amendment No. 99 not moved.]
Clause 33 agreed to.
100: After Clause 33, insert the following new Clause—
“Other amendments of TCPA 1990
(1) TCPA 1990 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 12(3C) (preparation of unitary development plan) for “be in general conformity with” substitute “have regard to”.
(3) In section 13(1A) (public participation) for “is in general conformity with” substitute “has regard to”.
(4) In section 13(5A) for “is not in general conformity with” substitute “does not have regard to”.
(5) In section 15(2A) for “are in general conformity with” substitute “have regard to”.
(6) Omit section 21A (Greater London: conformity with spatial development strategy).
(7) Omit section 26(2)(bb).
(8) Omit section 74(1B) and (1C).
(9) Omit section 322B (local inquiries in London’s special provision as to costs in certain cases).”
The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment I speak also to Amendment No. 101, and do so on the clear understanding that these twin amendments would intentionally dilute the obligation on the development plan documents to follow the Mayor’s overall strategy for the city.
Amendment No. 100 would replace the words “be in general conformity with” the London Plan with, again, “having regard to”. We have had other debates on this over the other strategies. I am sure that the Minister’s answer will be similar to those, but it is worth repeating it again. It is important, in going through the Bill, that each of these strategies should be carefully considered.
Amendment No. 100 would alter the thrust of the relevant provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. It would give the boroughs vital and highly desirable freedom to deviate from the London Plan where appropriate. It would retain the requirement to have regard to the overall strategy, which would therefore rightly remain a factor in development plans, but would ensure that there was no over-arching strategy which could override any special or regional considerations for the borough.
While Amendment No. 100 relates to the old unitary development plans, the new clause in Amendment No. 101 would remove the obligation for new development plan documents under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to be in general conformity with the spatial development plan or London Plan. There is already an existing duty for these documents to have regard to the strategy under Section 19 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act. This position, deemed appropriate by the Government only three years ago, is more suitable and flexible. I beg to move.
As the noble Baroness has said, Amendments Nos. 100 and 101 principally relate to the requirement, for borough unitary development plans and local development documents respectively, to be in general conformity with the spatial development strategy. Simply put, they would amend the Town and Country Planning Acts in a manner that does not have much to do with the provisions of the Bill we have brought forward.
Amendment No. 100 was tabled in the other place but not discussed. The practical outcome of these amendments would be to diminish the requirement for boroughs to look beyond their borders and do their part in helping to meet the wider challenges faced by London for housing and other development. We had a major debate on that yesterday, covering both planning and housing. The noble Baroness will not be amazed that I cannot accept her changes.
I will explain why the principle of general conformity is so important. As I said earlier in Committee, we have a plan-led system in England and Wales with a hierarchy of development plans setting the framework of policies against which individual development proposals are considered. At the national level, the Government publish planning statements setting out key policies that must be taken into account at the regional and local level in preparing development plans.
The London Plan is the strategic plan for London, creating an overarching framework for development in the capital. The London boroughs are closely involved in its preparation and the requirement for general conformity is intended to ensure that unitary development plans and now local development frameworks at the local level take proper account of wider regional and national priorities. Again, I am going to repeat myself: general conformity does not mean that there must be slavish adherence to the London Plan. Planning Policy Statement 12, which sets out the Government’s policy on preparing local development frameworks, makes it absolutely clear that the test is of general conformity and not one of conformity. By that we mean that only where an inconsistency or omission in a borough plan would cause significant harm to the implementation of the London Plan would it be considered not to be in general conformity. The fact that a borough plan is inconsistent with one or more policies in the London Plan, either directly through the omission of a policy or proposal, does not mean that the plan itself is not in general conformity. The test is how significant the inconsistency is from the point of view of the delivery of the plan.
I want to make an important point here: it is not the Mayor who is the final arbiter of general conformity, it is the independent inspector who examines the borough’s draft plan. The Mayor can give his formal opinion to the examination of whether he considers the plan to be in general conformity, but it is the inspector who determines the issue. Outside this Bill, as an administrative change, we intend that the Mayor’s opinion on general conformity should be the starting point for the inspector’s consideration of local development frameworks, but again that does not affect the fact that general conformity, while it is an important principle, allows for local distinctiveness and difference.
I turn now to subsection (8) of the proposed new clause set out in Amendment No. 100, which certainly does relate to the provisions of this Bill. It would remove the existing power of the Mayor to direct a borough to refuse a planning application that was contrary to the London Plan. Not surprisingly, I cannot accept this either. The Mayor is responsible for ensuring that the strategic planning interests of London are taken into account in the policies and decisions of the London boroughs. The success or otherwise of many London Plan policies will depend on the decisions made on individual planning applications. The Mayor’s power to direct a borough to refuse a planning application if it is contrary to the London Plan has proved in the past to be an appropriate and useful tool, preventing development that goes against sound strategic planning in London. Again, as I said previously, it is to the credit of the Mayor that he has exercised this power with great care and restraint. Over six years, there have been 18 directions across London—an average of three a year. That is hardly a heavy-handed use of the power.
We are convinced that this power has proved itself and we propose to maintain it under the new arrangements in the Bill. Where the Mayor exercises his new power to take jurisdiction of an application, he will need to approach it with an open mind and subsequently could either approve or refuse it. However, as now, there will be occasions when, having followed the progress of an application and considered all the relevant issues, there is no doubt in the Mayor’s mind that the application in its current form should not be given planning permission. Maintaining the power to direct refusal without having to go through the process of taking over jurisdiction is a practical measure to ensure speed and avoid bureaucracy, and I am sure all noble Lords want that.
Subsection (9) is consequential on subsection (8). It would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to award costs against the Mayor or other parties for unreasonable behaviour on a planning appeal arising out of a mayoral direction to a borough to refuse an application. Following on from the fact that I cannot accept subsection (8), I cannot accept this subsection either. The ability to award costs is undoubtedly a powerful disincentive against unreasonable behaviour, whether on the part of the Mayor or any other party, and we need to retain it.
With that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will be persuaded that she can safely withdraw her amendment.
I am not at all surprised by the Minister’s response. It demonstrates the gulf between us over what the Mayor should be able to do with regard to overriding local boroughs, particularly in the controversial area of planning, an area about which most boroughs can feel very wound-up, to put it that way.
I hear what the Minister says. I am very conscious that we will probably break quite soon for a Statement in the House, but I shall just draw attention again to what I said when I spoke to Amendment No. 101. Amendment No. 100 would amend the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and all the documents and development plans that come out of it will gradually be phased out, although not very quickly. As I said earlier in our proceedings, I understand that only two local development frameworks have been fulfilled within the timescale. Many, many more will dance up the line at some stage, but the unitary development plans will be in place for a very considerable time. There is an existing duty for documents to have regard to the strategy, which seems merely to conform to my amendment.
We are not going to agree about this, and I shall withdraw the amendment today, although I do not promise not to return to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 101 not moved.]
Thank you. The Committee stands adjourned until we are recalled by the Annunciator, whoever he or she may be.
[The Sitting was suspended for a Statement in the House from 5.12 to 6 pm.]
Clauses 34 and 35 agreed to.
[Amendment No. 102 not moved.]
103: Before Clause 36, insert the following new Clause—
“Water and sewerage strategy
(1) In section 41 of the GLA Act 1999 (general duties of the Mayor in relation to his strategies) in subsection (1) after paragraph (ef) insert—
“(eg) the water and sewerage strategy prepared and published under section 361F below.”.(2) In Part 9 of the GLA Act 1999 (environmental functions) after section 361E insert—
“361F The water and sewerage strategy
(1) The Mayor shall prepare and publish a document to be known as “The water and sewerage strategy for London”.
(2) The water and sewerage strategy for London document shall contain—
(a) the Mayor’s assessment as to the consequences of actual and planned development of whatever nature upon the water and sewerage infrastructure within Greater London; and(b) the Mayor’s proposals and policies for ensuring the water and sewerage infrastructure is adequate for the development referred to in paragraph (a) above.(3) The Secretary of State may give to the Mayor guidance—
(a) about the content of the strategy; and(b) in relation to the preparation or revision of the strategy.(4) The guidance that may be given under subsection (3)(b) above includes—
(a) guidance specifying or describing the bodies, persons or organisations which the Mayor must consult; and(b) guidance as to the consequences of development to which the Mayor must have regard.(5) In preparing or revising the strategy the Mayor must have regard to any guidance given under subsection (3) above.”.”
The noble Baroness said: It is nice to be facing the Minister again; it is like old times. Amendment No. 103 proposes that the Mayor should prepare a water and sewerage strategy for London. It is in some senses surprising that the Bill, which gives the Mayor so many new powers and influence in almost every other field, does not give him any say in utilities, and particularly in water.
It is well known that there is an unusually high level of water usage in London compared to other parts of the country. London—particularly last year—frequently faces water shortages which do not always follow the national weather pattern. Therefore, it seems that this is one area that would benefit greatly from having a genuinely strategic overview.
There are many ways in which a strategy could benefit the city. It could impact particularly on future developments. We have previously had discussions about whether there was proper water planning for the new developments down in Thames Gateway and into Essex, and have said that all new developments should be required to be water-neutral if possible. It would be possible, with the help of a strategy, to ensure that new homes are fitted with highly water-efficient appliances, and it would oblige developers to offset the water their developments use by paying for water-saving equipment to be installed in existing houses. I think that means meters. Equally, more funding could be made available to mend leaking pipes. That is a terrible problem in London. Also much emphasis could be put on behavioural change by prioritising water reduction.
It would also appear that a water and sewerage strategy would complement well the Mayor’s new climate change and energy strategy. We appreciate the force of the argument that such a strategy could impact on residents outside the area of control in London, but we do not believe that that would be a negative impact. The same must be true of a number of the other strategies being put forward, not least on climate change and energy, where it is hard to see how the Mayor will be able to construct a plan that is truly related to London.
Most of the benefits of the proposed water and sewerage strategy would derive from heightened awareness and changes to future developments. Therefore, it will affect only the residents and developers of London, rather than all bill-paying customers of Thames Water, as was suggested by the Government in another place. This is one area where we believe a strategy for the Mayor would be welcome. I beg to move.
I support Amendment No. 103 and speak to Amendments Nos. 119 and 120 in the name of my noble friends. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, gave very good reasons why the Mayor should have a water strategy. I want to endorse that and to add another very good reason. Support for the Mayor to have a water strategy comes not only from all five parties represented on the London Assembly, but from the Mayor and, perhaps even more remarkably, in a joint letter written two weeks ago to the Secretary of State, signed by both the Mayor and the then chairman of the London Assembly. That is an almost unique event.
I will read that letter to the Secretary of State, as it is fairly brief:
“There is a strong case for the Mayor to have statutory strategic powers in relation to water issues in the capital, particularly in terms of London’s sustainability and the city’s response to the challenges of climate change. It is vitally important that links are made between water, waste, energy and buildings. Placing the water strategy on the same statutory basis as the London Plan and the Mayor’s environmental strategies would go some way to achieving this. We therefore ask you to re-think the Government’s position on this issue so that the GLA Bill includes provision for a statutory Mayoral water strategy by the time it completes its passage through the House of Lords”.
That letter was written and signed by both the Mayor and the chairman of the Assembly with the agreement of all the parties in the Assembly. That is nearly as powerful an argument in support of it as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. I hope therefore that the Government will give serious consideration to it and if they are not able to accept the amendment today that they will at least not close the door—I was going to say turn the tap off—on it and will give further thought to how such a unified position can be recognised as the Bill pursues its passage through the House.
Amendment No. 119 would give the London Assembly power to require the water and energy regulators to appear before it to be questioned and to give evidence. In fact, Ofwat has appeared before the Assembly and its committees, and it has given welcome and helpful written evidence as well, which is good. I hope that always, as is usually the case, people will appear voluntarily without the need for a statutory summons. For the reasons that the noble Baroness gave in moving her amendment, this is now such an important issue to Londoners and to London that it must be right that the representatives of London on the scrutiny body, the London Assembly, have the right to question and to take evidence from the regulators. This amendment would give the Assembly that statutory right, rather than having to rely, as we have thus far, on voluntary agreement to do so. Indeed, should there ever be such difficulties—I hope that will never happen—it might be quite important to be able to require the regulator to appear if he were unwilling to do so.
Amendment No. 120 requires the Mayor to include in his environment report the efficiency of suppliers of water and energy. We had some discussion earlier of lists, but Section 351(3) of the GLA Act lists 11 things which the Mayor is already required to include in his environment report, all of which are important. They include such things as noise and litter. The efficiency of suppliers of water in particular, but also energy, is now at least on a par in importance to Londoners and for London as litter and noise. They are important, and I am not suggesting that they should be taken out, but that this should be put in. The latter part of the amendment would require the Mayor to consult those suppliers before producing the environment report.
The three amendments in this group stand on their own merits and are not dependent one on the other. I hope that the Minister will be able to give at least a favourable response to all three amendments.
I support Amendment No. 103 but not Amendment No. 119. I declare an interest as a member of the board of the Environment Agency and as a former member of the board of Ofwat. Amendment No. 103 seems very sensible, and apparently it has, uniquely in this debate, the support of all institutions in London and all political parties in London. From the interface between water strategy and environmental duties, particularly the new climate change duties, it seems obvious that water should form a part of the Mayor’s strategic responsibilities. It is of course true that the Thames Water region and the Thames Water company stretch beyond London. The final version of any such amendment would have to pay some recognition to the fact that a strategy which related to the supply of water would also have to liaise with bodies outside the GLA area. Nevertheless, it is an important part of the Mayor’s environmental duties.
I oppose Amendment No. 119, but not because I do not think that Ofwat and Ofgem should appear before the committee. They should, but on a voluntary basis as has always been the case in the past. To make an independent regulator clearly subject to a requirement to appear before a scrutiny body of a local authority—perhaps a big local authority or a regional authority—distorts the role of the regulator. I do not therefore support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tope.
I am glad to be able to contribute to this Committee and I apologise for the delay in the proceedings. There is no doubt that all three amendments, as the noble Lord said, stand on their own. I have to say that they are very seductive. The letter of 26 April was brief and to the point. As the noble Lord said, it was signed by two important people. A reply, which is somewhat lengthier than the original letter, has been sent. I suspect that the gist of what I will say is in the reply. It does not completely close the door, but we certainly do not feel that we can accept the amendments.
As the noble Baroness said, Amendment No. 103 would give the Mayor a duty to produce and keep under review a water and sewerage strategy that includes proposals and policies for making sure that the water and sewerage infrastructure is able to cope with the “actual and planned” developments. I fully note what the noble Baroness said about planned developments. This would, in effect, purport to make the Mayor another water regulator in an already fully-regulated area. The water sector in England has three core regulators: namely, Ofwat in relation to economic regulation; the Drinking Water Inspectorate looks after water quality; and the Environment Agency is responsible for water resources and the environment in its widest sense.
In terms of development, the Environment Agency is already a statutory consultee on the sewerage infrastructure, and water and sewerage companies are consulted at local level when new developments are being considered. Water companies also have a fairly new statutory duty to produce 25-year water resource management plans that make provision for future developments. Development issues relating to water and sewerage are already very much under consideration by the regulators and the companies themselves. Having been in the ODPM and partly responsible at one time for the four growth areas and then the three, I well understand the reasons for that. I understand the approach of the fairly large-scale construction in the wider south-east where the infrastructure is more than the roads; it is also the social infrastructure. The utility infrastructure is crucial, and to keep water as neutral as possible is very important. These developments do not take place without the planning and knowledge of water resources, but we are looking at the four major growth areas of the south-east over a 25-year period with the water resource management plans produced by the companies. This is an important, ongoing issue, which has not been parked away and forgotten about.
The regulation of water is far more complicated than the other utilities. As has been indicated, it is based on water areas, which are based on the river catchment boundaries rather than political or administrative boundaries. It is a constant reminder of my former constituency and the people of Wales where most of the water is in the Severn Trent area and is not relevant to the Assembly. That is the way it has to be because of the geography. Any policies or proposals that meant an increase in expenditure in London by the four regional monopolies operating in the area would have an impact on water bills outside the London area, right across the south-east of England. So it is well beyond the Mayor’s jurisdiction. I am not saying that that is the sole reason, but it is an important factor which has to be taken into account.
We understand that the Mayor intends to produce a non-statutory water action framework for London, which could usefully add to the debate on water resources and efficiency. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said in opening, that could be useful in opening the debate on the activities—I am putting this as politely as I can—of Thames Water. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has already reaffirmed in his reply to the letter that he will take the Mayor’s water action framework into account in the run-up to the next price review for the water sector.
I turn to Amendment No. 119. The case has been made for me by my noble friend Lord Whitty. This amendment would give the Assembly new powers to require the water regulators to appear. For water this would include Ofwat, the Environment Agency, the Secretary of State because of his responsibility for drinking water quality through the Drinking Water Inspectorate, and Ofgem to cover the energy aspects. Currently the Assembly has powers to summon certain categories of people to give evidence at its meetings, but they are persons with whom the Assembly has direct relationships such as contractors and those in receipt of financial grants. The new proposal is very wide-ranging and would set a precedent that significantly widens the power of the Assembly.
The Assembly does not have a direct relationship with the regulators, and while I fully accept that it is an important body, the regulators are accountable to Parliament, not to local or regional government. That is the way it ought to remain. Because of the monopoly positions brought about by various privatisations, the regulators have been set up through careful legislation under both Administrations, and they are answerable to Parliament on a broad and regular basis. Indeed, this House recently established an ad hoc Select Committee on regulators. Ofwat, Ofgem and some of the water and energy representatives have submitted evidence and appeared before that committee to inform its inquiry into economic regulation. We think that Ofgem and Ofwat’s parliamentary accountability is sufficient and that it would not serve any useful purpose to replicate that on a statutory basis.
Amendment No. 120 would require the Mayor to report in his State of the Environment Report on the efficiency of the supplies of water and energy services in the Greater London area. At this point we are unclear about what value the new reporting requirement would add. The Mayor is already required to report on water quality, emissions into water, ground-water levels, energy consumption, emissions of greenhouse gases and any other matters related to Greater London which he considers appropriate. This requirement ensures that the Mayor will report on fundamental energy and water issues relating to London. It is a crucial factor because it gives him the opportunity to comment, for example, on the leakage record of Thames Water, a matter of ongoing concern over quite a period of time. The amendment would in effect duplicate the work carried out by the economic regulators for these sectors. Extensive reports on the efficiency of water companies and the operation of the energy wholesale and supply markets are already produced by Ofwat and Ofgem respectively. We believe that the interests of London water and energy consumers are already defended by Ofwat, the Consumer Council for Water, Ofgem and, pending the creation of a new consumer body to replace it, EnergyWatch. The Secretary of State has also directed the Consumer Council for Water to maintain a statutory regional committee in the Thames area. We believe that this amendment would simply create additional bureaucracy and waste public funds without bringing any clear benefit for water and energy customers in London.
I do not want it to be thought that these amendments are being dismissed without proper consideration; these are important issues. I want to repeat that the cornerstone of utility regulation since privatisation has been the principle of independent economic regulation to provide the stability necessary to create investment.
There have been huge investments in the utilities infrastructure since privatisation, running to billions of pounds. While input from the Mayor and the Assembly is useful as part of a wider debate, political interventions have to be kept to the absolute minimum. That is why Parliament is the right place to monitor the independent regulators and to scrutinise the policy of decisions relating to energy and water. I am sorry to arrive in the Committee and provide what will be a damp squib, but it is no good trying to sugar coat it.
I thank the Minister for his reply. With reference to Amendment No. 119, the requirement to appear before the Assembly, it was an expected reply, but the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in his slip of the tongue when speaking against that amendment, illustrated part of the problem. He described the GLA as local government; then he recognised that in fact it is not local government. That is reminiscent of when he had to take the original Bill through the House eight years ago and was careful to point out to us time and again that the GLA was not going to be local government, certainly not as we know it. It could not be regional government, because we do not have that in England. I seem to remember that he settled for “a unique form of government”, so we have unique government in London.
The GLA is the best or the nearest we have to devolved government in England, for the time being at least. I recognise that the amendment breaches a principle to which the Government held firm for the past seven or eight years, and I expected no answer other than the one that I got. Sooner or later, a central government or even Parliament will have to recognise that if we are truly to have devolved government in England—in this case the London Assembly—and if devolution is to mean anything, the devolved body will have to have the ability to require people to appear before it other than those who are part of what we now call the GLA family, in other words those for whom it has a legal responsibility. The issue has to be grasped sooner or later. I would have thought that a Bill giving at least limited greater powers to the devolved authority, as I shall call it, was a good opportunity to do that. Whether this is the amendment on which to base that may well be a subject for further debate, but the issue of principle has to be faced.
I leave a thought with the Minister and with all noble Lords. None of us questions accountability to Parliament, but there is a difference between accountability, which is right, and answerability. If London’s government are to fulfil their function effectively, many of these bodies, including in this case the regulators, need at least to be answerable if not accountable to the devolved body.
I will not pursue the argument much longer on Amendment No. 120. I accepted that the phrase, “may contain information about any other matters” is a catch-all, and it could well include the efficiency or otherwise of the water suppliers, but in the eight years since we passed the original Act, issues of water supply and water leakage have become even more prominent. Listing it as the 12th item and thereby making it a requirement rather than something that the Mayor can include if he wishes would give it the importance the issue deserves and occupies in the minds of Londoners, especially if we have another summer like the one last year.
I, too, thank the Minister for his reply, which was not totally unexpected. However, in terms of the Bill, it was quite surprising because practically every other major area of development is now governed by strategies from the Mayor. He is dabbling his fingers in everywhere, from housing to planning to climate change—why not water, which is probably one of the most important issues for people in London? It is only by the grace of God that it rained so much—I really mean that—in the autumn and we got all the reservoirs full, so London does not have a hosepipe ban. I did not notice any very great amount of commentary at the time about where the extra water was going to come from, if the situation had remained as it was last summer, to deal with all the new developments on the edges around London.
A major reason why it would be useful to have the Mayor involved in the strategy would be to put pressure on him to be open and honest with Londoners about the situation. We all know about pipes floating in their own water underground; we often seen them cascading and bursting through the road. We know that it is a huge problem. The water companies say that they will invest, but also that nobody really wants it and people are afraid of having their roads dug up. The Mayor having a strategy to ensure that parts of London must be put right under his watch would be enormously helpful. We are looking at London and the south-east of England as the main recipients of the necessary development of a million houses over the next decade or so. Plans must be in place, in conjunction with the Mayor of London.
I hear what the Minister says. We will probably be facing each other again on this. For today, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
103A: Before Clause 36, insert the following new Clause—
“The London Waste and Recycling Forum and Fund
(1) There shall be a body corporate to be known as the London Waste and Recycling Forum and Fund (in this section and Schedule (The London Waste and Recycling Forum and Fund) referred to as “the Forum”).
(2) The Forum shall have the following functions—
(a) to advise the Mayor of London and London local authorities on matters of strategic importance related to waste minimisation, recycling, waste collection, waste treatment and waste disposal in and for Greater London,(b) to administer a fund to be known as the London Waste and Recycling Fund (in this section and Schedule (The London Waste and Recycling Forum and Fund) referred to as “the Fund”) the primary purpose of which is to improve and enhance the waste minimisation, recycling, waste collection, waste treatment and waste disposal performance of London local authorities.(3) Schedule (The London Waste and Recycling Forum and Fund) makes provision in relation to the Forum and the Fund.
(4) The Secretary of State may, with the consent of Treasury, pay the Forum a grant to be used for the Fund and such other monies as he determines appropriate for the exercise of its functions.
(5) For the purposes of this section and Schedule (The London Waste and Recycling Forum and Fund), “London local authority” means—
(a) a London borough;(b) the Common Council of the City of London;(c) a joint waste disposal authority established under section 10 of the Local Government Act 1985 (c. 51) (joint arrangements for waste disposal functions) which is constituted of London boroughs.”
The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to Amendment No. 120C. The Public Bill Office has pointed out that these amendments would be better drafted as amendments to the Greater London Authority Act 1999. I give notice that that is what we will do next time, rather than re-tabling them as they are.
When the Government announced their final proposals for additional powers for the Mayor and Assembly in July 2006, they decided against creating a single waste authority—we have no disagreement with that—but also that there should be a London-wide waste and recycling forum. The Government policy statement said that this was,
“to bring stakeholders together to deliver improved performance on waste minimisation and recycling, promote collaborative action and link waste with other London priorities around climate change, transport and employment”.
There is not a lot of punctuation in that and it is all in inverted commas; somebody must have written it somewhere. The forum would also administer a fund of £25 million from April 2008. The fund would consist of £19 million diverted from local authority waste funding, currently provided through the waste performance and efficiency grant, and £6 million from the Greater London Authority.
Much of the debate in the other place on waste in this Bill focused on amendments which sought to create a single waste authority—we will come to that in a minute—in the form of a functional body of the Greater London Authority controlled by the Mayor. Today, we have a slightly different proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, which will nevertheless create a single waste authority for London. However, all this debate on a single waste authority has obscured the fact that it is now almost 10 months since the Government announced that the London waste and recycling forum would be created. There is no sign of this new body or any indication of how it is to be set up, nor has there been any word on what is happening about the new fund which the forum would administer.
When taken with Amendment No. 120C, the amendment would ensure that the fund and forum actually happen. London Councils, the representative body of the 32 London boroughs and the City of London, has briefed us on this. It is keen to see the forum. There is great frustration at London Councils that nothing has happened, and great concern that as time ticks away, it will become difficult to start spending the fund when the money becomes available in April 2008.
There are four reasons why I propose a specific statutory provision. First, if there is to be a forum and fund, it makes sense to have an incorporated body of some sort which is publicly accountable. The Government have not made clear how they will do this. By creating a clear legal status for the forum, they avoid having an unincorporated body taking decisions on grant funding of projects. Secondly, the amendments would ensure that boroughs have a majority of members on the body which determines the allocation of the fund. This money would largely have otherwise gone directly to the boroughs, so they should have the major say in the operation of the forum and fund. Thirdly, they would ensure the creation and continuity of a London-wide body to consider strategic issues related to waste and to administer a London waste and recycling fund, but would do so in a way which keeps the waste collection and disposal functions in borough-led bodies. Fourthly, they would ensure that there are explicit powers to enable operation of the fund and for the Government to support the fund. This means there is no doubt about the status of the money.
The Government have made it clear that they think there should be some kind of strategic overview body in London but that this should not have actual disposal functions. My amendments seek to place this on a statutory footing. I beg to move.
My name is on these two amendments, and I have little to add to what the noble Baroness said. The sooner such a forum—which I know is in the Government’s mind—is in operation, the better. The Mayor says in his briefing to noble Lords that the concept of a forum is neither new nor ambitious. That may be the case, but let us have an organisation which the parties are committed to, both personally and through the legislation, that requires them to make it work. When we debate the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I shall comment on what I think the Mayor’s role can be. The London Recycling Fund, which operated between 2002 and 2006, may not have been as big as everybody wanted, but it had an effect. It supported new infrastructure. As we all know, seed money can often make things happen. Relatively small amounts of money can have an effect.
These amendments are intended to be positive and helpful. They seek to include in the legislation a body that I know has been discussed. In the absence of the parties across London and the Government agreeing a more ambitious—to use the Mayor’s term—move, and as that agreement seems not to be on the agenda, this would be a helpful move forward, whatever we end up with in the legislation.
I always try to get the good news in first; I am happy to take this amendment away and consider it before the next stage. I shall have a look at it with the interested parties to see whether we can reach a solution to meet the noble Baroness’s concerns, but not necessarily through the statutory route. I fully appreciate the delay that has occurred but we shall not be dismissive about the matter.
This fund was announced last July as part of the Government’s package on the review of London’s waste governance. As the noble Baroness said, the aim of the forum is to bring stakeholders together to deliver improved performance on waste minimisation and recycling, promote collaborative action and link waste with other London priorities around climate change, transport and employment. We also announced a London Waste and Recycling Fund to be administered by the forum in support of its work. The size of the contribution to the fund is subject to the Comprehensive Spending Review, but based on current figures, it is expected to be about £19 million in 2008-09. Nobody will be surprised at that figure. The two linked amendments would create a corporate body called the London waste and recycling forum and fund. Its functions would be similar to those proposed by the Government. The main difference is that it would have a statutory basis setting out its functions.
This brief debate is important. We are not convinced of the benefits that a statutory footing for the forum and fund would bring and we have some particular concerns about parts of the amendment. However, I shall not go into that as it would be nitpicking. We agree with the principle. We believe that a non-statutory forum would comprise a lighter touch and be more flexible. When I was on the Back Benches I never believed Ministers who said that if you put a measure in primary legislation it is much less flexible, but it is actually true. In this case, it is important that the interested parties of the London boroughs, the GLA and the Mayor get to discuss things in detail. Hopefully, they can do that quite quickly, and if we can bring something back at the next stage of the Bill, we will seek to do so.
I am not giving a commitment to place the forum and fund on a statutory basis, but the issue needs to be pushed forward a bit faster than it has been hitherto. Maybe the amendment and the Government’s response can facilitate discussions in the very near future. I do not know when the next stage of the Bill will be, but these things have to be discussed, and if something is to be put in the Bill it will have to go through the government machine and parliamentary counsel. If we miss the deadline, we miss the opportunity. I understand that there is some good will and the initial approaches have already been made. If discussions can be opened up, that will be to the good. So, on that basis, the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for his reply, which is typical of him; when he sees a problem he sets about doing something about it. I will happily withdraw the amendment on the basis that I understand that discussions with London councils will be quickly initiated. It seems odd that I have had to move an amendment today to ginger up discussions that should have been taking place over the past nine months. On the basis that I know the Minister does what he says he will do, I will withdraw the amendment. I hope that by the time we get to the next stage either I will have news that I do not need to table an amendment, or if I table it there will be an appropriate government amendment to make sure that what is going to happen does happen. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 36 agreed to.
Clause 37 agreed to.
[Amendment No. 104 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
104A: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
“Arrangements for waste disposal authorities in London
In section 10 of the Local Government Act 1985 (c. 51) (joint arrangements for waste disposal)—
(a) in subsection (1)—(i) omit “Greater London”, and(ii) after “county” insert “, and the Mayor in the case of Greater London”;(b) after subsection (1)(b) insert “or(c) that any arrangements in place for that purpose have ceased to be satisfactory,”;(c) in subsection (2) after “State” insert “and the Mayor”;(d) in subsection (3) after “by an order” insert “by the Secretary of State”;(e) after subsection (3) insert— “(3A) An authority established by an order by the Mayor under subsection (1) above shall consist of such number of members as the Mayor may determine, of whom—
(a) a bare majority shall be members of the London borough councils for whose areas the authority is established, appointed by the Mayor on the nomination of those councils acting jointly, and(b) the remainder shall be appointed by the Mayor.(3B) An order by the Mayor under subsection (1) above may make provision for enabling the Mayor to require the authority established by the order to submit to him a scheme for the winding up of the authority, and the transfer to those councils of its functions, property, staff, rights and liabilities.
(3C) An authority established by an order by the Mayor under subsection (1) above shall exercise its functions—
(a) in accordance with such guidance or directions as may be issued to it by the Mayor, and (b) for the purpose of securing or facilitating the implementation of the Mayor’s municipal waste management strategy produced under section 353 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (c. 29).(3D) An order made by the Mayor under this section shall not have effect unless and until it is confirmed by an order made by the Secretary of State.”;
(f) in subsection (5) after “State” insert “and, in the case of Greater London, the Mayor,”;(g) in subsection (6) after “State” insert “or the Mayor, as the case may be,”;(h) after subsection (7) insert—“(8) In this section—
“bare majority” means—
(i) in the case of an even number of members, half of two more than that number, and(ii) in the case of an odd number of members, half of one more than that number;“the Mayor” means the Mayor of London; and
the Common Council of the City of London shall be treated as if it were a London borough council.”.”
The noble Lord said: When I first learnt that the Government were going to review the powers of the Mayor, it seemed to me desirable so to do, as I explained at Second Reading. It also seemed to me that in the area of waste disposal and strategic waste management more powers for the centre in London was a bit of a no-brainer. There are two reasons for that; first, previous policy, and secondly, the performance of London in this area. In terms of recycling, London is the worst region, and in relative terms it is getting worse. It has a huge amount of waste per capita, and it unloads a large amount of that waste to landfill outside the capital. It has a higgledy-piggledy structure of waste disposal authorities in which half of London is covered by a two-tier system and half by a single-tier system. The position of many of the individual London boroughs has been appalling; many are among the bottom performers in the whole of the country. Moreover, London’s performance in this area relative to other north European cities and some well-performing cities in North America is also fairly appalling. Most noble Lords will know those facts.
When the Mayor ran for election last time, on that occasion as a Labour candidate, it was part of his commitment that he would look at establishing a single strategy authority. I may be betraying party processes rather than governmental, but that position was reached in a manifesto that was agreed with the key Ministers in the department of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in what was then the ODPM. What has changed? If anything, London’s waste performance has got worse. Recycling was 4.4 per cent behind the average in England in 2004; it is now 6 per cent behind. Yes, in absolute terms there has been some improvement and there has been a welcome reduction in the past full year in relation to the amount going to landfill. But it is still substantially higher than it was three years ago, and some of the performances by individual London boroughs are still pretty bad. Some boroughs are in the bottom 10 per cent, and some have missed their most recent targets by over 10 per cent—including boroughs which were and are controlled by all political parties.
The performance of London overall indicates the need for a new impetus and a new structure. Further, the infrastructure and logistical planning for the transportation of waste across London that is required indicate that a more strategic view is necessary. Indeed, in moving the last amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, recognised that if the forum—the Government’s preferred way forward at the moment—is to work, a more strategic approach is needed and there has to be greater prioritisation of the funding that goes to waste disposal within the capital.
What has changed since the Mayor first proposed this? To be frank, not a lot. If anything, the performance has got worse, and while politically there has been a change of control in a number of Labour boroughs, frankly that will not really make much difference in any call for a reorganisation of the structure of local government. That call tends to be non-partisan, because the current incumbents will defend the existing structure. I do not think that it is any different here.
The other thing that the Minister may argue has changed is that we have had a consultation which, as he puts it, has revealed a range of opinions. But since showing an interest in this area, I have received substantial support from the waste disposal industry and from the environmental bodies—both pressure groups and the industrial environmental bodies. I have already declared an interest in the Environment Agency, which sees great benefit in this area being centralised in London. Further, there is considerable support in the general range of businesses in London for taking a more centralised approach. In the letter distributed by my noble friend, he states that the reason for not going down this road is that London is doing well in relation to landfill. Perhaps, but it is certainly not doing nearly as well as the rest of the country in meeting recycling targets.
A further argument against this proposal is that at three years off, we are fairly close to the first legally binding European target. If we were to change the structure, it would be disruptive and there would be significant transitional costs. I find that a strange argument, because it is essentially about timing. As Sir Nicholas Stern and others have pointed out, it is much better to act sooner rather than later in relation to environmental problems, all of which are linked to the wider problem of climate change. If the structure is wrong, we should change it as early as possible. There may be some disruption costs, but the real targets that we should be worrying about are the second and third targets under the European legislation. In any case, we are going to miss the first. It is important to have in place a structure and delivery mechanism in a central strategic authority that can help to deliver the investment and planning required in order to meet those subsequent targets.
A third argument is hinted at in the Minister’s letter, indicating that there is a bit of an argument between central government and the Mayor over the situation of energy from waste. The Mayor tends to argue that energy from waste could squeeze out recycling. That is an argument about strategy, not about delivery. The question of whether we build a significant number of energy-from-waste plants—the pejorative term is “incinerators”—rather than go for recycling away from landfill is one of the second order and can better be approached on a strategic, cross-London basis than individually, borough by borough. The result of leaving this to individual boroughs and the few areas where there are two-tier authorities—there is a multiplicity of organisations, some 16 in all within Greater London—is that inevitably we will end up with sub-optimal investment and logistical movements and confusion over who is actually responsible.
In the debate on the last amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said that one of the things that would follow her amendment, which the Minister has agreed to look at again, is public accountability. At the moment, there is no clear public accountability in London for the strategic disposal of waste and the development of waste disposal plans. A single waste disposal authority would solve most of these problems. If the issue is one of timing, perhaps the Minister will consider putting this on to a contingency basis, with the timing to be decided, rather than providing the Mayor with full authority as my amendment proposes. If the issue is one of principle, the Government have the wrong principle here. I am surprised at the opposition among the London boroughs and some in the GLA, because one of the biggest environmental problems facing London is its waste disposal problem—a problem that can be resolved only if we establish a structure, a delivery mechanism, a funding mechanism and an accountability mechanism at the London level. That is what my amendment seeks to achieve. The Minister may argue that there are better ways of achieving that, but unless we give clear, statutory authority for such a development, we will end up missing all the targets, not just the immediate target for recycling and moving away from landfill in London. I beg to move.
As I said on Second Reading, we do not support the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will have been briefed by London Councils, as I have, but sadly my own council’s point of view is that London boroughs should handle the whole question of waste disposal in the way in which they are handling it at the moment. They all work in joint consortia anyway, which seems to work perfectly adequately. The noble Lord mentioned the recycling percentages, but London is an extremely difficult city, and I am not sure that the Mayor would make a better go of increasing the recycling percentages than the London boroughs, which are sitting on top of the situation all the time and are having to make policies and plans to persuade residents to split their rubbish and put it out for recycling. The local emphasis is the one that really matters.
Secondly, unless the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, can produce it, no one has seen any business plan for this. We have no idea what it would cost to bring waste disposal under one management, and we do not know whether it would be any more business-effective in financial terms than it is with the boroughs doing it themselves. Although recycling is one aspect, cost is certainly another. Unless a plan has been worked out and fully costed, everyone will be extremely sceptical about what is involved. I touched on the fact that local boroughs have an eye on local issues, which is where their eye should be and where the responsibility should lie to ensure that waste disposal policies are carried out.
In broad terms, we will not support the amendment. Even if the Government suddenly agree to it, we will still oppose it. I am sure that others will wish to contribute to the debate but, for the moment, I put on record that we will not support it.
I wanted to hear what the noble Lord had to say. We have just agreed Clause 36 without any debate. Clause 36 is hugely significant in that it changes the way in which waste is to be dealt with by substituting “have regard to” with,
“act in general conformity with”,
the Mayor’s waste management strategy. If used properly, that could lead to a considerable change in the way in which various parties work together. I do not think that this has been taken fully on board in the debate so far. The current Mayor’s briefing dismisses this, saying:
“The general conformity clause is a legal minefield and a recipe for deadlock”.
We have just managed to avoid deadlock in the areas where general conformity has been required until now. The briefing continues:
“It could mean local authorities and the Mayor being continuously locked in judicial reviews, with London council tax payers footing both sides of the legal bill and critical delays in the delivery of sorely needed waste infrastructure and service improvements”.
So says the current Mayor; I not sure whether that is a threat or a promise. The letter circulated by the Minister points this out. Indeed, he refers to the costs and risks of a single waste authority, and I very much agree with what he has said in that letter.
We on these Benches do not say that all is well. Indeed, when the issue first became so very live, I felt that it was particularly important that the boroughs and the Mayor did not behave in a knee-jerk fashion and treat this as a matter of competing powers. The issue is much too important for it to be about who has what power; it should be about what the solutions might be and how one might reach them.
I do believe that the boroughs are addressing the issue. My noble friend Lord Tope, from Sutton, may speak about the new consortium that Sutton, Kingston, Merton and Croydon have just entered into—I do not know; we have not discussed it. I talked to the London borough of Southwark and was struck by the difficulties and uncertainties encountered by potential contractors during the borough’s project for considerable investment and new facilities when the review of the Mayor’s powers started. Its project is now back on track. It has been in communication with both the Mayor and Defra, and has asked the Mayor what would happen to this major new project if a single waste authority were to be set up. The Mayor could say only that he would ask Defra to put fair and equitable arrangements in place. Defra could give no assurance that the borough would not lose out if the site was transferred to the single waste authority. I mention this because so much is going on in different parts of London in this area that if boroughs have to go back to the drawing board an awful lot will be thrown into confusion. There are some very big contracts in the pipeline.
A couple of months ago, I asked the Mayor how, if there were to be a single waste authority, he would deal with existing long-term contracts. I did not receive a satisfactory answer. He referred to Transport for London having taken over a considerable number of organisations. That is interesting, but I am not sure that it translates to this situation. As I understand it, Mr Livingstone would wish to leave collection to the local authorities and, although they want it, that seems to be the difficult bit. There has been a lot of recent discussion about whether the public will accept fortnightly collections. It is almost a poisoned chalice to leave with the boroughs. It begs the question of what they would do, not just about reduction but about recycling. In parenthesis, I realise that there is a danger in talking about recycling in this debate as if it was a panacea, when we should be talking about reduction in the first instance.
There has been some lobbying for a single waste authority. I have had a handful of letters. They used strangely similar terminology: three or four lines of exactly the same words. Somebody has suggested precisely what they might say.
The Mayor could and should do some things whether or not there is a single waste authority. The main thing he can do is raise capital. A single waste authority would not change the profile of London’s housing stock—a particular difficulty when one is talking about recycling or collections from flats. A single waste authority without recycling would not immediately mean achieving targets.
The Mayor may not have much power to deal with attitudes to waste, but he is in a good position to influence them. Waste minimisation is largely a cultural issue, as is recycling. The Mayor can provide facilities which help the boroughs without having a single waste authority. I have mentioned the recycling fund; there is also London Remade. The Mayor should be building on these. He must counter stories about materials being shipped around the world, which deter people from recycling. He must say that he is providing an alternative way for the boroughs to join in with dealing with materials, and focus on providing materials reclamation facilities so that materials become raw materials for new products. In other words, the Mayor can add a lot of value. It does not have to be with the major change the current Mayor seeks.
Although I started by saying that we should see this as an important issue which needs addressing in itself and not as a power struggle, it has come to be seen as one. That is regrettable. If we can all move away from that, so much the better. I say that to the Mayor as I say it to everyone else.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was kind enough to refer to the fact that I put my name to this amendment. I was delighted to hear her contribution, because she immediately acknowledged that all was not well with the current arrangements for waste disposal in London. That must be a substantial understatement. London’s performance on waste disposal is pretty appalling. It is the only major metropolitan region in England where waste disposal is not managed and co-ordinated at city level. I wonder whether that is why the performance is so poor. Instead, London has 16 waste disposal authorities.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that one of the difficulties about the proposal is that the authorities have a number of big contracts in the pipeline and negotiations pending. That is precisely why I am extremely concerned about the current situation.
I am sure that I am not telling tales out of school, but I recall that when I was a borough leader—and I discussed this with my contemporaries in borough leadership positions at the time and have done so since with borough leaders—joint waste disposal authorities were used as a convenient depositing ground for the members of the local authority who one most wanted to find things to do outside the town hall or the civic centre. They were very happy there. They paid themselves substantial allowances and went off and did things which nobody else was interested in; nobody knew what they were up to, and periodically a very large bill arrived for the local authorities concerned.
I discovered that that was not confined to the particular parts of north London that I was involved with and which I knew about, but it seemed to be something which was not uncommon. I am assured that the situation has changed. I am assured by members of joint waste disposal authorities that they are of the highest calibre and are not the people whom their borough leaders and other colleagues want to get off the premises. Of course I take that at face value.
I wonder about the capacity of 16 different waste disposal authorities to enter into long-term, detailed and complex contracts. Past history has not been good. I just wonder where this major change in capacity has occurred to ensure that the negotiations will be of the best possible arrangements. I find it difficult to see how the proposals in the Bill will be able to deliver sustainable and co-ordinated waste management in London.
Actually, the Government propose very little indeed. There is the change in the arrangements referred to by the noble Baroness regarding general conformity, and there will be very important voluntary arrangements and talking shops. I am not sure what they amount to. Yet, we are told a step change is needed to ensure that London meets the European landfill directive targets. The Government are concerned that short-term landfill directive targets will not be met unless something substantial happens.
The real risks are in failing to deliver in the longer term. London faces cumulative fines of £1.7 billion. In 2010, fines will be £35 million; in 2013, they will be £139 million; and in 2020, they will be £232 million. I want to know—and I will listen with great interest to the response the Minister gives at the end of this discussion—where the Government think this step change will come from. I do not see that the proposals in the Bill are anything like sufficient to deliver that step change.
While on the subject of step change, it would be interesting to know, again from the Minister, what has caused the step change in Defra’s position? Not that long ago Defra thought that a single waste disposal authority for London was a good idea. I do not think the arguments have changed, but something has. It would be interesting to hear what my noble friend thinks has changed to convince the department that the fairly modest proposals in the Bill will be sufficient to deliver the major change in waste disposal that London needs.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said that London was a very different city, or maybe it was a difficult city—I cannot remember her phraseology.
I agree with the noble Baroness that London is a very different city. It is the greatest city in the world, and that is fine. But I wonder why it is therefore assumed that some of the recycling targets are going to be so impossible to meet. I note that in Europe, Hamburg recycles 57 per cent of its waste; Copenhagen 54 per cent; Munich 42 per cent, and Milan 39 per cent. In the United States, San Francisco—a very different city—recycles 50 per cent, and Seattle 58 per cent. The figures are possible. It can and should be done. Again, I wonder why we are being so modest in our proposals.
The present arrangements are not accountable to Londoners. Because there are so many different waste authorities and the arrangements in some cases are baroque and complicated, they are not transparent bodies. Not only is there administrative incoherence and perhaps a limited capacity so far as the 16 waste disposal authorities are concerned, but there is also a gap in democratic accountability. The implementation of any waste strategy will require a major effort across a number of levels of activity in London, and that is where a single authority under the control of the Mayor and working with his functional bodies will play a critical role. The necessary skills and experience have to be brought together, along with the power to ensure that the necessary changes are made.
I am conscious that one of the implications will be to look at how freight movements are dealt with in the city. Indeed, I spent a couple of hours this morning talking about the city’s freight policy with representatives at Transport for London. There is enormous potential for energy saving strategies in this area. But I wonder whether those changes will happen if we continue with a system of 16 waste disposal authorities and do not take up the opportunity provided by this amendment.
I have mentioned the problems of capacity. Partnerships UK, a body formed in 2000 by the Treasury, is all about supporting the delivery of high-quality public services and the efficient use of public assets. It has responded to a consultation by highlighting the issues related to the fragmented nature of management and disposal responsibilities and saying that that results in relatively small package and contract sizes that reduce access to economies of scale in plant, equipment and financing structures, produces multiple public sector counterparties to contracts, thus increasing their complexity and perceived risk, with a corresponding impact on market appetite and the price offered. There is also a lack of central expertise or critical mass of skills and experience. Those are the challenges we face if we do not support the amendment of my noble friend.
I want to make a final point about hazardous waste. At the moment, some 10,500 tonnes of hazardous waste are produced by London householders, but only 200 tonnes are collected by the Hazardous Household Waste Collection and Disposal Service administered by the Corporation of London on behalf of the London boroughs. That is the extent to which waste disposal collaboration between 16 waste disposal authorities works at the moment, so I put it again to my noble friend who will be replying: where is the step change going to be made in order to ensure that we see the improvement in performance that is necessary?
Could I ask the noble Lord to comment on something said in the other place by Nick Raynsford, the person who brought in the Mayor and the Greater London Authority? He made a remark that noble Lords on this side of the Committee certainly agree with—that the whole architecture of the Greater London Authority was to be strategic. There is nothing strategic in what is being proposed here. This is practical, hands-on work that ought to be carried out by the local boroughs. This is not a strategic overview, but the Mayor negotiating contracts and getting involved in the day-to-day work of the London boroughs. It would be an enormous change in terms of what the Greater London Authority was set up to do. If we are not careful we will be in danger of drifting into a position where the Mayor of London and the authority no longer play a strategic role but remorselessly move on towards becoming an authority very similar to the Greater London Council. The noble Lord may think that would be a really good idea, but I think the rest of us would say that it is a really rotten idea. We need the Mayor to remain strategic and leave the boroughs to do what they are meant to do. Perhaps the noble Lord might like to comment.
I respond to that with pleasure. My right honourable friend Nick Raynsford is an admirable man. He is right to say that the architecture of the original GLA Bill was designed to create a strategic authority. One of the biggest strategic challenges facing London at the moment is what to do about its waste. The fact that London’s waste is rising faster than that in many other parts of the country and that our performance on disposal is the worst in the country comprise major strategic challenges.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, became excited and appalled at the idea that the Mayor of London might be engaged in all sorts of contract negotiations, which brought back memories of the Greater London Council. I am no fan of the old days of the Greater London Council and I am certainly not suggesting that we should go back to them, but my noble friend’s amendment is concerned with creating an additional functional body. That is the same as a functional body which currently delivers transport. The major element of the work of Transport for London comprises negotiating contracts with bus companies. Those contracts may be long term and complicated. In the past they were not well handled but now they are much better handled. Except in the subject of the contracts, what is proposed is no different from the situation where the Mayor has responsibility for an agency which delivers transport for London. As I say, waste disposal is one of the greatest strategic challenges facing London at present, which is why I support my noble friend’s amendment.
I want to speak briefly in support of this amendment. I say “briefly” because, as the Committee will be pleased to hear, I suspect that my voice will not hold up for too long.
My noble friends Lord Whitty and Lord Harris of Haringey put the case clearly and fairly, and the international comparisons are very telling. We must hold on to the fact that London is going in the wrong direction in this area. It is not yet going in the right direction. It is certainly not going in the right direction at the pace that is needed to deal with the problems that it faces today, tomorrow and the day after.
At Second Reading I raised my concerns about the performance of the London boroughs on waste management. Fairly predictably, this irritated a number of the London boroughs, including Southwark where I live. I am not altogether sure whether my bins will still be collected. Predictably, Southwark sent a great deal of material explaining what it is doing and describing the new facilities that it is putting in place. That is all very admirable and I have no quarrel whatever with it. However, much of the material which has been sent to me does not look very strategic but, rather, a late-in-the-day response to an impending set of deadlines and targets triggered by the 2010 target and deadline. Like my noble friend Lord Whitty, I suggest that target is likely to be missed anyway. We have to keep our eye on the longer-term targets and on whether we will attain them if we carry on with the present arrangements.
I received a letter from my noble friend Lady Andrews following my intervention at Second Reading arguing against the Mayor’s proposals for a London-wide body. Although my noble friend’s letter was, as usual, extremely eloquent, it did not really provide the figures or the cost-benefit analysis which I sought at Second Reading in order to assess whether the Mayor’s proposal was right or wrong. This is not about a power struggle. Rather, I seek an analysis of the options against risk, which we do not have. We have costings on a particular set of assumptions about a particular proposal but we do not have a cost-benefit risk analysis which shows that a pan-London body would be wrong given what has to be achieved in London in the longer term.
Strangely, I also received a letter from London Councils on 3 May, which argued for leaving things with the borough. It had a rather strange concluding paragraph, including:
“We see the Government’s proposal for a London Waste and Recycling Fund as the opportunity to address the need for a new waste disposal infrastructure in London on a strategic basis”.
I suggest that this is hardly a vote of confidence in the present arrangements, and rather a strange way of trying to justify them. It suggests, if they mean what they say, that there is some degree of doubt among the London boroughs over the strategic capability to cope with the present waste disposal. What they see as a sound strategic infrastructure to cope with the challenges of waste management in London is not clear to me. They seem to come quite close to supporting the Mayor’s analysis. The difference seems to be one of scale and timing.
Like my noble friends, I am quite unpersuaded that the current mish-mash of 16 separate bodies and consortia is the right strategic approach for London. That is an average of two boroughs joining together to let quite complex contracts. We have been through this in other parts of the public services, where bodies too small to drive big, powerful contracts with powerful suppliers of services simply cannot do the best, most strategic deals. We must look at whether that is a sound way for us to proceed.
I wish to correct the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. As I heard her, she said that all the boroughs are in consortia. That is simply untrue: some of them are acting on a single-borough basis. I agree with her that the single body should be costed, but so also should the present mish-mash of bodies. They should be compared against the challenge London faces, and a risk analysis should be done. We need some assurance that there is a costed set of proposals to ensure that the current mish-mash will deliver the bacon on the challenges facing London. I have not seen those figures or analysis, so I remain unconvinced that we are heading in the right direction on this.
The amendment of my noble friend Lord Whitty, supported by other noble Lords, hardly seems rash. In moving the amendment, my noble friend has already said that one can look at some of the detail, which I support. One understands that one does not wish to disrupt the current patterns of work. Clearly, there must be proper transitional arrangements in moving from what we have now to a new body, but that is what good public management is about when moving from one system to another. If that is the right approach to meet the challenges that London faces, as it seems to be, it is not an argument against moving in the direction that the amendment suggests.
To sum up: given all the risks attached—which have been well set out—we have not seen the kind of analysis which supports carrying on with the present consortia. It looks like people are slightly deluding themselves about the challenges that London faces and hoping that it will all be all right on the night as we bumble along with what can be described only as a mish-mash of bodies and consortia. They are really are a bit of a disgrace for a major capital city.
I cannot resist the temptation to respond. At the beginning of the Committee, I declared that I am a London borough councillor. I suppose now that I should confess, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, already well knows, that I was leader of a London borough council for 13 years. For all of the past 20 years, my council has been in the top two or three London borough councils for the rate of recycling, and it remains in that position. Perhaps I should also say to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that I have never been a member of a joint waste authority. I have never consigned anyone to the outer darkness of a joint waste authority. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, my authority is shortly to enter into such an arrangement, so perhaps we will then have the opportunity.
This issue has been the subject of intense debate in London for many months. Unlike most of my borough colleagues, I started the debate with a genuinely open mind. As is often the case, there are good, sound arguments both ways and I was certainly willing to be persuaded. As I have listened to and taken part in the arguments over those months, I have become less and less convinced that a single waste authority is the answer to the problem which we all acknowledge exists.
Noble Lords supporting the amendment have quoted extensively from the Mayor’s briefing, which, understandably, supplies figures that are no doubt accurate, but are there for the sole purpose of supporting the argument. Let me quote from the London Councils briefing which counters the arguments, but is, nevertheless, no less valid. I take issue with what several noble Lords have said, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Warner, about what is nowadays termed the direction of travel.
London’s recycling rate has more than doubled since 2001. London is expecting to achieve a combined recycling rate of 24 per cent for 2006, which is a 15 per cent increase on the previous year. We have had comparisons with regions. I do not think that Greater London compares properly with any other region in this country, all of which contain significant rural areas and are of a quite different composition. Nevertheless, London is the second best region in the country for diverting waste from landfill and so on. We can all continue to quote figures that support our arguments. I can make international comparisons, not with much smaller cities than London, but with, for example, New York, which has a recycling rate that is considerably less. Tokyo’s recycling rate is only equal to London. Paris is the only broadly comparable European city and, again, it is worse than London.
We can use figures. We can prove our cases with all the figures we want, but we need to try, as dispassionately as possible, to look for the solutions. In finding solutions, we have to understand the problem exactly. Part of the problem is the nature of the boroughs, the demography, the number of flat dwellers and so on, but I have always believed that the fundamental difference is one of political will and political priority. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was right that it is not a party issue. It is about the political priorities that that local authority has had, which is why some boroughs have been very much better and other boroughs with different priorities have been very much worse.
That is one of the reasons why the situation is now changing. London borough councils have considerable financial incentives and penalties to have the political will and give it the political priority, which is why there is and will continue to be a step change—an expression which has been used—in London. The issue of waste minimisation has gone considerably up the political agenda right across London. I believe that, contrary to what some noble Lords have said, the direction of travel is getting significantly better and will continue to do so. If we look to solutions, if we are to challenge that direction of travel, we must have very good reasons for doing so.
I have come to the conclusion that establishing a single waste authority, where the debate has been very much about control, is not the solution. I still do not understand exactly what a single waste authority will do to increase waste minimisation—if that is the right expression—in the London boroughs, particularly as they will retain responsibility for recycling and, quite rightly, responsibility for waste collection. One of the advantages in London is that we have combined collection and disposal. Separating them would be a retrograde step that would considerably erode it.
The Mayor does not want waste collection—very sensibly, in my view—and no London borough would let him have it. They would fight to the death for that. Anyone involved in local politics knows that if you mess up refuse collection you are out at the next election, and that will always remain the case. The argument for a single waste authority is at best unproven and to impose substantial costs and disruption on boroughs that do not want it would be a retrograde move. We should welcome the step change that is happening in London and encourage it to progress. The boroughs and the Mayor should work together on the implementation of the Mayor’s waste strategy in order to tackle an issue that we all acknowledge is a very real and important one in London. I cannot support the amendment.
While I do not want to introduce a note of party politics to this, it is the first time in my six years in your Lordships’ House that it is basically me, the Tories and the Liberals against the Back-Benchers. It is on a London issue as well, so it is a bit tricky because I have always kept away from those. I have a wonderfully long response here which I intend to make because it is important to put the Government’s view on the record. First, however, I shall use my notes before I move on to the speech.
I want to make one or two points in response to what has been said by my noble friends Lord Harris and Lord Whitty. The Government have never supported a single waste disposal authority for London. I came to this some weeks ago with a neutral view, but soon came to realise that it is Defra’s baby and something of a problem. We undertook a public consultation on a range of options without stating a preference. It was clear from that consultation that no single option emerged as a clear preference. We also commissioned research into a number of the options. A single waste disposal authority came out as one of the worst choices for managing London’s waste.
That brings me to the first point I want to answer. My noble friend Lord Warner asked about the risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis. The Government commissioned KPMG to look at the cost benefits and risks in a number of options for London’s waste. The report is available on Defra’s website. It found that the Mayor’s proposal was one of the worst options. The report formed part of the input into the Government’s decision. Work has been done on this issue and it is all there in the public domain.
Many boroughs work together on a sub-regional basis. A quick count shows that around two-thirds of the London boroughs are in consortia, and only one operates completely on its own. The others undertake joint work in the area of waste disposal. Indeed, some London boroughs are among the largest authorities in the country, so it is not as if we are dealing with minnows. I was curious about how the local authority deals with my own rubbish—that is, the rubbish I do not take to its very well run recycling site. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, pointed out, there is no question that there have been major changes in recent years, and that big improvements have been made. A London Councils briefing shows that the city is doing well in comparison with some cities. It is fair to look at London with comparable cities such as Paris, Tokyo and New York, but it is not fair to compare it with others that are not comparable.
While major improvements are needed, performance is going up—it is moving in the right direction. A single authority would not be likely to improve recycling rates because that responsibility would remain with the boroughs. We therefore have some serious problems with the amendment.
We are committed to all the targets of the landfill directive, but the earlier targets for 2010 and 2013 are likely to be harder to achieve because of the large improvement needed over a short timeframe. It is not a question of focusing on one to the exclusive ignorance of the other. We do not accept that poor performance. I am very careful about trying to translate what my noble friend Lord Harris said about the capacity and quality of the councillors—if I can put it this way—dumped on joint bodies as in the past. Waste disposal and recycling are politically sexy today; they were not 10 years ago. There has been a major change. It is tied in with the agenda of environment and climate change; these things come together. I suspect that there are much more senior councillors taking an interest in these authorities than was the case in the past. I have no doubt that that will also change in the future as the penny drops; there is no question about that.
I hope that I will not repeat some of the points that have already been made. The new clause introduces a requirement on London waste collection and disposal authorities to act in general conformity with the Mayor’s municipal waste strategy, in Clause 36. Under Section 353 of the Greater London Authority Act, the Mayor of London is required to prepare and publish a document known as the municipal waste management strategy, which sets the strategic direction for London’s waste activities. Section 355 requires waste collection authorities and waste disposal authorities in London to have regard to the Mayor’s strategy. Clause 36, in amending that, as has been referred to, requires the authorities to act in general conformity with the Mayor’s municipal waste management strategy when exercising any of their waste functions. That duty has an effect, to the extent that it does not impose additional excessive costs or require an authority to breach or terminate a contract, which would not be good value for money. The clause includes a power for the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the definition of general conformity and excessive additional costs. The announcement of the Mayor’s powers to require waste authorities to deliver services in general conformity with the strategy, along with his existing power of direction, will help to ensure that the strategic vision that the Mayor sets out for London is delivered on the ground. That is very important.
Clause 37 strengthens the requirements for authorities to inform the Mayor before putting new waste contracts out to tender and updates the Act following changes to the public procurement legislation. Under existing legislation, it is not always necessary for London waste authorities to inform the Mayor before putting waste contracts out to tender. Clause 37 introduces a new duty on authorities so that where they are not obliged either to send the European Commission a first information notice of their intention to tender a waste contract, or publish on the authorities’ buyers profile, but are obliged to send a second information notice, they must inform the Mayor of their intention to tender. They are required to notify the Mayor 108 days before issuing the second information notice. The amendments will ensure that the Mayor is informed of all important waste tenders in advance.
Strengthening the requirement for the boroughs to inform the Mayor if they are going to tender a contract will ensure that the Mayor has a role in procurement decisions and will ensure that the vision and policy set out by the Mayor are implemented locally in the way in which waste authorities deliver certain functions. That is part of the background. In other words, this new clause must not be seen in isolation as a new idea for an extra power or function for the Mayor. It has to be looked at in the context of the changes that are being made in the Bill, which have been approved.
On the amendment, after decades of relying on burying waste in large holes in the ground, we are in the process of a fundamental shift in how we manage waste in the UK. To reduce the environmental impact of our waste and especially to take account of climate change impacts, we have got to reduce the amount that we sent to landfill, increase recycling and invest in new facilities to deal with our waste in more sustainable ways. We are at a critical stage in delivering this step change in how we manage waste in the UK.
We face our first EU target to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste we send to landfill in just three years’ time, which poses a real challenge for local authorities. I am pleased to say that early indications show that London is responding positively to this challenge. Figures for 2005-06 show that as a region it is second to only the West Midlands in terms of reducing the amount of waste going to landfill.
Recycling is also very important in reducing environmental impacts, especially its role in reducing the “carbon footprint”. London’s recycling has doubled since 2001, but performance is mixed within the capital. While two London boroughs, Sutton and Bexley, have been awarded beacon status on waste and recycling, Tower Hamlets is at the bottom of the national recycling league table. Many London boroughs need to make major and substantial improvements. The Government are working with them to make sure that this happens and are prepared to use formal intervention if necessary.
At Second Reading, a number of concerns about London’s waste performance were raised. A number of noble Lords expressed the view that a single waste disposal authority would provide a more effective and efficient means of addressing the problems. We now have before us an amendment that, while it differs slightly in substance from the amendment tabled in the Commons, is aimed at a similar outcome. I suspect that the amendment we will get on Report will be slightly different because one adjusts as we go through the scrutiny of legislation.
The arguments put forward in favour of a single waste disposal authority are based on the premise that London will fail to make the necessary step change towards sustainable waste management, including achieving the landfill diversion targets and that a single waste disposal authority would improve performance across the capital and deliver efficiencies.
However, the evidence does not support this view. London, like every region of England, needs to boost recycling and reduce waste to landfill, but recent data on landfill diversion indicates that London is making progress—for example, a new mechanical biological treatment plant recently opened in Newham. In only three years we face the first of the EU landfill targets and significant fines if they are missed. The creation of a single waste disposal authority for London at this important stage would be incredibly disruptive to the efforts that are going on. The efforts and resources need to be focused, not on the establishment of a new authority and issues such as the transfer of staff and assets, but, more importantly, on working to ensure that the necessary waste infrastructure is in place.
Proponents of the single waste disposal authority have also argued that it is needed to improve London’s recycling rate. We agree that some London authorities need to do much better on recycling. However, it is important to make clear that a single waste disposal authority would not have responsibility for recycling. That point has to be answered by the proponents of a single authority. Under the amendments tabled, waste collection would remain a borough responsibility, so the single waste disposal authority would have little impact on recycling rates in the capital. Furthermore, the proposed amendments would split control over collection, recycling and disposal responsibilities between two different political bodies, which could make it more difficult to manage waste in an integrated manner. For example, if the Mayor wanted to introduce anaerobic digestion for the disposal of London’s waste, he would need specific collection arrangements—that is, separate collection of food waste—but he would not have control over collection arrangements.
The economies of scale that could be gained from managing London’s waste disposal contracts at a larger scale are minimal. The Government and the GLA are agreed that it would not be desirable or practical to have a single waste disposal contract for all of London—the city is too big—and most authorities in London are already working together in sub-regional groups. We have four statutory joint waste disposal authorities encompassing 21 boroughs—two-thirds of boroughs. Many of the remaining boroughs are already working together to identify and procure joint waste disposal solutions. The South London Waste Partnership is a good example of this, bringing together the boroughs of Merton, Croydon, Kingston and Sutton.
Our analysis suggests that any further efficiency gains from a single waste disposal authority would be small, and could be outweighed by higher administrative costs. Waste and recycling are a priority, as I have said, and we welcome the opportunity to debate how we can improve arrangements in London. However, having examined the detailed evidence following a consultation, the Government have come to the view that a single waste disposal authority would not deliver improvements in waste management or cost efficiencies. A single waste disposal authority could result in extra costs to the Government and to the boroughs, and could put our landfill diversion targets at risk. If the UK failed to meet its targets, the resulting fines would be likely to be passed to London’s council tax bills.
This is a crucial time for waste management in London, as it is for the rest of the UK. The fundamental change that the amendment would make to the governance structures for the capital’s waste would threaten the good progress which the latest figures show London is making, and would divert attention and resources, putting at risk our performance and our achievement of our EU targets. We do not want to be complacent about the scale of the challenge ahead and the further progress needed on landfill diversion. Significantly changing the governance structures of London’s waste at this important time would undermine and delay the urgent work that we need to do. Waste services are best operated at local level. Efforts and resources should be focused on improving diversion and recycling performances within the current structures, which can fully reflect local needs and circumstances.
One size does not fit all; that is the essence of local government in many ways. Waste collection is, as the noble Lord said, fundamentally a local government issue. Some areas are already beating their targets for household waste recycling and composting. As has been said, the London borough of Bexley has reached 37.7 per cent. Its revised target was 30 per cent. I shall give a few plugs to other boroughs that have succeeded. Hillingdon, which is a member of a consortium, has reached 27.7 per cent. Its target was 21 per cent. Bromley, which had a target of 21 per cent, achieved 27.3 per cent. These targets are all low compared with the recycling targets of 50 per cent that have been quoted, but the fact is that these boroughs are exceeding their current targets. The North London Waste Authority had a target of 18 per cent, but reached 20.9 per cent. Haringey had a target of 18 per cent, and achieved 19.2 per cent. There is movement, although we know that some boroughs have far to go.
Time is short, and I am coming to the end of my remarks. The Government’s proposals to enhance the Mayor’s powers, along with his existing power of direction, will help to ensure that the strategic vision which the Mayor sets out for London is delivered on the ground. Taken in the round, the changes made by the Bill mean that local authorities will have to pay greater regard to the Mayor’s strategic plans, and we think that they are the way forward. The massive disruption that would be caused by accepting the amendment would be counterproductive. As I said in response to the first intervention from one of my noble friends, the cost-benefits and risks for a number of options for London’s waste were considered in a report by KPMG, which is on the website. The report found that the proposal that is implicit in the amendment was one of the worst options. One cannot say better than that. It is a bad option in terms of money, collection and recycling, and a very bad option if we are to meet our targets within three years. I ask my noble friend to think again about pushing this amendment.
Since I have now missed my last train, I assume that it is open to me to respond at length to the various points that have been made in the debate. I could, for example, differ from my noble friend on what the preferred position of Ministers, if not the announced policy, was two years ago, or even more recently. I could argue with him that the basis of the KPMG report, which I have at least glanced at, seems to differ substantially from earlier analyses that were made to Defra and the GLA on the possibility of efficiencies in waste disposal through contracting and through more efficient regulation, and for the driver that it would produce in relation to better collection and recycling methods in the boroughs. I could certainly argue with him on some of the statistics, and probably will.
Everyone has assumed and stated that we need a step change. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, has sort of implied that we already have one. I do not think that the figures bear that out. We have doubled recycling, but still 64 per cent of waste goes to landfill. It is way off target. We have improved recycling levels in a number of boroughs. I tried to obtain the latest information on what actually happened in 2006-07. I could not get it for all the boroughs, but six out of the seven boroughs for which it was available showed a very small improvement, a slow down in improvement, and one borough showed a significant retrogressive move. So I do not think that we have achieved the step change.
The question is how do we achieve the step change to meet the 2010 and 2013 targets or get anywhere near them, let alone the longer-term ones. Most Members of the Committee who have participated in the debate suggest that some improvement is needed in the structure. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, in moving an earlier amendment, indicated that we need a better strategy, a better allocation of funds and a better approach to how we pay for infrastructure and innovation in this area.
I am surprised that KPMG reached the conclusions that it did. When you have 16—shortly to be reduced to 12, as I understand the south-west London arrangement—different waste authorities, there must be some economies of scale in going larger than that, and at least approaching the contracting arrangements in a more coherent and systematic way. That is, indeed, what earlier studies concluded.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, I think was commending the new south-west arrangements, as the Minister appeared to be. That contradicts the rest of his opposition to having a two-tier authority in London and separating out disposal and collection. If memory serves, about 20 years ago we were talking about a new authority within south-west London, which has now been achieved. I am very pleased that it has been. Would it not be much better if we could achieve that across the whole of London?
The argument for a two-tier authority seems to apply quite effectively in the areas where the Government are not proposing to do anything about it; namely, in the county and district areas. It is an entirely different issue where waste is not dealt with within an individual borough area; people are driving their own waste. The waste disposal companies and the waste disposal authorities are moving waste across borough boundaries the whole time. The new facilities being developed have to be developed and justified on the basis that they serve more than one borough and more than one waste disposal area. There is a huge outflow of waste from London into its neighbouring counties, which has to be dealt with by those counties on an authority by authority basis. All of that leads to inefficiency. That does not, I admit, prove that if you put a new, publicly accountable, statutorily based authority in there that that would, de facto, improve the situation.
Something needs to be done. The cost of establishing that seems likely to be less than the efficiencies gained by so doing. Nevertheless, I agree with my noble friend Lord Warner that these things need to be looked at. I do not think that KPMG goes far enough. However, I make the point that if, as we go further down this road, those step changes have not been achieved by 2010 and 2013, and we are maintaining the present structure of delivery and the present rather nebulous arrangements for the forum proposed by the Government, hopefully enhanced slightly by the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, we will have no statutory base for actually rectifying the situation.
I said just now that we only got around to creating a south-west London authority in the past few months, whereas it had been discussed—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will agree with me—for the past 20 years. If we have no statutory authority, no ability to use this legislation—which is the most important legislation since we established the GLA—and we do not use this to at least provide on a contingency basis the ability to establish an alternative structure, our ability to meet the later targets will be severely damaged.
So if the Minister is prepared to accept neither the amendment in this form nor the arguments that the Mayor should be able to trigger a single London authority, in conjunction and co-operation with the boroughs—we do not have a statutory base for creating such an authority—we will have missed the boat. The proposal includes a majority of representatives of the boroughs, which, as the Minister has said, will no longer be those on which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, used to dump environmental and waste management concerns, but those who are interested in them. I therefore argue that if the Minister cannot accept the amendment, he needs a plan B. Plan A—leaving it to the boroughs and the present structure—is frankly not working. I, for one, have no faith in its ability to continue to work. This legislation should have at least the possibility of a plan B, and I ask the Minister to consider that. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Committee stands adjourned until Monday 14 May at 3.30 pm.
The Committee adjourned at 7.51 pm.