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Greater London Authority Bill

Volume 693: debated on Tuesday 19 June 2007

Report received.

Clause 2 [Consultation]:

1: Clause 2, page 2, line 23, leave out “or any of the functional bodies” and insert “, any of the functional bodies or such body representative of the London borough councils”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we now return again to the role of the London boroughs and London councils which represent those boroughs. The amendment would safeguard the voice of London boroughs by elevating them to the proper place as primary bodies with which the Mayor must consult when devising his strategies. It will ensure that, in his deliberations on London-wide strategy, the Mayor would have to take into account the views of democratically elected local authorities in London. The amendment would place these authorities on the same footing as the London Assembly as regards consultation and would inject a much needed democratic ingredient into the Mayor’s consultation process.

The case for the amendment is clear, and we discussed it in Committee. Councils in London are not only the democratic representatives of Londoners, but the very bodies charged with carrying out the Mayor’s strategies. Their inclusion in the consultation process would ensure that mayoral policies were set out with all stakeholders in view. The inclusion of the councils would ensure that all Londoners were represented. In other words, it would fill the gaps on the London Assembly where some boroughs are not represented so adequately. It can only be the right thing that elected representatives have an explicit stake at the same level as the GLA in London-wide strategies before they are published and, effectively, are faits accomplis.

I am surprised that the Government have not accepted the amendment and seen the virtue of it. London councils, as representative bodies, would provide one extra level of scrutiny which would strengthen the Mayor’s eventual strategic mandate. I was quite surprised by the Minister’s response in Committee, where she said that the Mayor should take account of views from within “the family”. Perhaps it is naive of me to assume that the Mayor, the London Assembly and locally elected representatives should not be all one and the same family, delivering together effectively across London. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept this amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to the London family. Over the years, comments have been made about dysfunctional families, but I hope to be more than just friendly towards the London boroughs. That friendship and respect for their views relates to all the London boroughs and to the body that represents them. However, we all understand that a body representing 33 very different views cannot hope to represent them all. When the Mayor is considering his strategies, it is immensely important that he consults all the London boroughs, not just London Councils, the current representative body. I have made that point on a number of occasions and in a number of contexts.

However, new Section 42A in the 1999 Act is about more than consultation. It places on the Mayor a new statutory duty to respond to the consultation carried out under it. Without wishing to suggest that the views of London boroughs are not valid, important and at the head of the Mayor’s considerations, this clause provides a statutory requirement to respond to the Assembly that recognises its particular statutory role, which is different from that of the boroughs. One might say that the role of the boroughs is more important than that of the Assembly. However, it is a different role, and the Assembly has the positive duty to hold the Mayor to account. My point is about how we should be thinking of scrutiny if the boroughs are to be in exactly the same position over the strategies as the Assembly. It is a wider point than it appears. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, regards that as a helpful rather than a hostile comment.

My Lords, we are entering an area where people have a vested interest. I say that in a benign way. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made her point as a Member of the Assembly, and she is entitled to do so. She is concerned that, if the powers of consultation on strategy or other matters that are presently enjoyed are diffused, that may diminish the stature of her consultative powers. In the past, I was connected with the local council and at present the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and I are joint presidents of London Councils. I well understand the concern of local councils and their need to be consulted at every level because, at the level and in the field that we are talking about, there is a need to take the views of local councils fully into account. They know their local areas and their people best, and they know the solutions best. This is an area in the Bill that is worth raising, and I shall be interested to hear what the Minister and her advisers have to say about it. The case was made in Committee, but not pursued too strongly because it is a fine point. I should be interested to hear what the Minister has to say as guidance.

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I am bound to disappoint the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. Obviously, we believe strongly in the importance of all public bodies engaging in consultation in the development and implementation of their strategies and policies, and we expect them to listen to the views of consultees and respond to them. That does not mean that public bodies have to act in accordance with the majority view of consultees, because a consultation response is one of many factors that public bodies need to take into account when deciding what action to take. The GLA is no exception to that.

The GLA Act requires the Mayor to consult the Assembly, the functional bodies and the London boroughs on, among other things, drafts of or revisions to his strategies. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, we are strengthening these requirements under Clause 2, requiring the Mayor explicitly to have regard and respond to views within the GLA group—from the Assembly and functional bodies—at an early stage in preparing his strategies, before he moves to stage 2.

Those two stages of consultation are very important. They are set out in the Act, which requires the Mayor first to consult the Assembly and functional bodies on drafts of or revisions to his strategies before consulting more widely in the second stage. There is a reason for that, as my noble friend said. That is to ensure that the views of the Assembly are formative. It is at the second stage that the interests of the boroughs are safeguarded, to use the term of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. He is specifically required to consult the London boroughs during that second stage. We believe that that has worked well. The voice of the boroughs is clearly heard, so I find myself unable to accept the amendment for two reasons.

First, it is unnecessary. There seems to be an implication that the Mayor does not listen to the voice of the boroughs. The evidence is that he has a good record of modifying his proposals in response to consultation, having listened to the boroughs. For example, when he gave the go-ahead to the western congestion-charging zone extension following public consultation, the exact nature of the zone and treatment of residents’ discounts was significantly modified in light of the consultation responses. Also, in revising his transport and air quality strategies, the Mayor made changes to the boundary of the proposed low emission zone in direct response to feedback.

Secondly, we would be in dangerous territory if we accepted the amendment. An explicit duty on the Mayor to have regard to boroughs’ views would set a precedent that other organisations might perfectly reasonably expect to apply to them. We might therefore find ourselves being harassed by other organisations that want the same powers. The Bill strikes the right balance in placing a duty on the Mayor to have regard to consultation responses from within the GLA group rather than from any external bodies, and only in the first stage of the two-stage consultation process.

I know that that is a disappointing response, but I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to accept it.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the first of many responses today. I hope that we will do better as we go along than we have on this one.

The question of how and when the Mayor consults on strategies is quite important. The amendment would make either the London boroughs or their representative, which is London Councils, a primary consultee rather than being a bit further down the line. The question of consultation on the congestion charge pops up from time to time. It is a bit of a red rag to a bull. Perhaps I should declare an interest here as a council member of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, as it was the prime consultee. It would be reasonably fair to say that it was quite a struggle to get the Mayor to accept that there were problems with the congestion charge on the boundary line. This was eventually changed, but not without a great deal of pressure. The Mayor will now implement many strategies—there are three in the Bill today—and it is a pity that the Government will not accept that the representatives of the local councils should be involved at this primary stage.

I hear that the Minister is not to be budged on this one, as they say, so I thank her for her reply, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

2: Clause 2, page 2, line 33, at end insert—

“(2A) After section 42A of the GLA Act 1999 insert—

“42B Consultation strategy

The Mayor shall produce and publish a consultation strategy containing information about the procedures in respect of all matters upon which he is required to consult under this Act including—

(a) procedure for consultation,(b) persons or bodies to be consulted,(c) arrangements for publicity,(d) arrangements for provision of copies of any strategy and amendments thereto,(e) arrangements for conducting public participation in respect of new strategies or amendment thereto,(f) arrangements to permit reasonable timetable for consultation,(g) arrangements in respect of responses to consultation including provision of written statements.”.”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment would place a duty on the Mayor to publish a consultation strategy that would have a clear and unequivocal indication of his consultation processes. It would ensure that the Mayor was entirely transparent in his execution of the consultation procedure, the bodies that he consulted, the communications that he undertook during the consultation, the timetables that he set for it, and the arrangements that he put in place for responding to it. It would, in effect, provide evidence that the consultation that the Mayor carried out was accountable and subject to scrutiny.

In Grand Committee, we rather strayed from the main point of our very useful discussion. However, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who is not in the Chamber today, summed up rather well the point that we were trying to achieve when he said:

“The whole purpose of electing people to hold office in public life is for them to exercise their judgment and subsequently to be held accountable for that judgment”.—[Official Report, 30/4/07; col. GC 9.]

I suspect that the noble Lord did not realise how close his position was to ours on this amendment.

Obviously the amendment is not intended to insist that the Mayor reacts to and accepts everything in the consultation. Far from it; he has to exercise his judgment. Rather, the amendment will ensure that the Mayor is accountable for the way in which he carries out the consultation. This is very important; the Mayor should not be able to claim that significant consultation has been carried out without being able to show how and by what means he has carried it out. The frame of reference should be clearly set out so that it is not possible to conduct a hurried, unpublicised consultation and later claim that there has been some. Government departments regularly carry out consultations and make available on websites and so forth their means of carrying them out. They need not be costly or bureaucratic. The amendment simply calls for the Mayor to have a proper process for consultation. I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall pick up points that were made in Grand Committee on the same amendment. Would the noble Lord consider it appropriate to view the strategy, as it is described in the amendment, as a statement of good practice? Might not different strategies or different consultation processes be appropriate for different situations? We spent some time in Grand Committee considering what was meant by consultation, and all noble Lords who spoke were concerned to distinguish between a consultation that was for information, a consultation that might be a referendum—although this country does not go in for referendums much—and a consultation that is genuinely asking, “I have some ideas. You tell me how you respond, and I will go away and think about them”. No doubt there are grades in between. When the noble Baroness replies, I will be interested to know whether she thinks that it should be a single strategy or a menu of good practice.

I make that point because we already may be in danger of doing what some of us have told ourselves out loud that we must not do during this Bill; that is, to personalise the office of Mayor to the current office-holder. Whatever our individual views about the decisions and actions of the current office-holder, we need to stand back. As one who has criticised the Mayor on his consultation, I will be the first to offer that point.

Perhaps I may also respond to what I think was possibly a nudge from the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, when he spoke to the previous amendment. He may have felt that I was simply representing the Assembly. I have declared my interest as chair of the Assembly and as a joint president of London Councils. One might say that my heart is still very much in a local base, having spent a long time as a local councillor. I shall do my best to make it clear to your Lordships when I am speaking on behalf of the Assembly. At this stage, noble Lords may assume that unless I say otherwise I am certainly speaking on behalf of these Benches. We are at a political point in the proceedings.

My Lords, I quite understand the desire to ensure that there is proper consultation and to have something spelt out in the Bill. With the greatest respect, I just question whether it is necessary to insert a chunk of verbiage. We already have a paragraph spelling out the way in which consultation should be undertaken. As the noble Baroness has said, it really should be a matter of good practice rather than something spelt out in the Bill. I would be interested to know whether the Minister feels the same way.

My Lords, I confess that I do. In Committee, we had a very interesting debate about consultation and the different forms it could take. I particularly remember the noble Lord, Lord Tope, making a distinction between consultation which was a form and consultation which produced a result. I suspect that I shall miss my noble friend Lord Harris today when we enter some of the choppier waters. The issues raised were not about semantics, because there are real distinctions about consulting properly, and they are not resolved by the amendment. I agree with my noble friend Lady Turner that the amendment would put in the Bill something which is unnecessary. It is worth stating at this stage that we would all want to make a distinction between the office of Mayor and the person holding the office. There is a suspicion in our debates on consultation that somehow the Mayor is less likely to take account of consultation processes.

As I explained on the previous amendment, the Government are very serious that when public bodies consult widely in the development and implementation of policy, they do so fully and properly. That certainly applies to the GLA, which is not an exception. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that a statutory consultation process would bring any significant benefits. In terms of transparency, the Mayor gives clear advance notice of consultations that he intends to carry out on the GLA website, for example. As far as I am aware, he has never had any difficulty in encouraging Londoners to participate.

The point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is important; namely, there are different types of consultation for different situations. Some consultations can be quick, deep, intensive, forensic and investigatory. Others can be more reflective, longer term and take a different form. To prescribe a single form for a process would not serve the investigative process at all. There are real disadvantages in requiring the Mayor to publish a consultation strategy. I would not want to suggest that it would be tokenism, but it certainly would not be a substitute. It just adds another layer of explanation and burden. It would be bureaucratic, it would not generate additional information, it could not guarantee that the consultation would produce a result and it would be costly to prepare. My main argument is that it risks setting in stone some procedures which, by definition, need to remain flexible and responsive.

Finally, it should not be up to the Government to impose this—

My Lords, would not the GLA’s ability to scrutinise properly be hampered without it? In a moment I shall explain what I have to do as the leader of Essex County Council. The Assembly should have something which enables it to scrutinise the Mayor’s consultation; we are suggesting that the strategy should be published and available. I do not see why it needs to be bureaucratic. Does not the noble Baroness consider that it would assist the GLA’s work if the Mayor did this?

My Lords, I believe that the Mayor has a strategy for consulting the GLA, which is probably well known to it, but we are talking about broader consultations. I do not agree and remain unmoved by the eloquence of the noble Lord opposite. On that basis, I ask him to consider withdrawing his amendment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her answer. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I say that there is a menu of different consultations, as did the Minister. As the leader of a large authority—not the Mayor of London—you have to publish a forward plan under the present local government legislation. I am sure we will discuss this tomorrow, because we are talking about governance arrangements. If one wants to change the forward plan—this happened only yesterday in Essex, when I wanted to go out to consultation—one has to publish a leader’s decision, which then can be called in by the opposition. It is less than satisfactory because, at the moment, various legal officers interpret the law in local government outside London in different ways. This may need to be clarified in our discussions tomorrow.

We are seeking clarity. The Mayor should publish his strategy, the GLA should have it and everyone should be aware of it. Obviously it might have to be amended at times when something crops up but it would give clarity and enable the Assembly to function better. I am very disappointed that the Minister cannot see any logic or sense in it. It need not be bureaucratic; it could be relatively simple. I note what the Minister has said but this is probably not the right time to divide the House. I hope the Government will reflect on the matter and we may come back to it at another stage. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3: Before Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—

“Mayor: limit on number of terms

In section 21(1) of the GLA Act 1999 (disqualification from being the Mayor or an Assembly member) before paragraph (a) insert—

“(za) he has previously been elected or been the Mayor twice;”.”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, it is important that we establish at the beginning of this amendment that we are talking about the principle and not the present occupant of the mayoral office. It is terribly difficult in this Bill not to take account of what has happened during the past six years, since the Greater London Authority Bill became an Act and the debates that took place then, with the elected Mayor in the mayoral office. We have unfinished business from the GLA Act because when we debated it we were not able to limit the terms of office of the Mayor. It is a very big position which requires a great deal of capacity and organisational skills. It would not be unknown for a mayoral office to be time-limited to two terms. That is what happens in New York, and no one would say that Mayor Giuliani did not make a profound impression upon New York in his two terms.

The office of mayor in this country is now the nearest thing we have to a dictator. There is very little to stop him doing what he wants to do. It is true that he or she has to consult and take account of other bodies within London, and presumably he has to take some account of the electorate, otherwise the second term would not appear—nor would a third, if that is what is proposed. It is a very unusual office in this country; in fact, it is unique. It seems to us that the whole principle established by the Septennial Act, which limits parliamentary terms to four or five years, is based on the acknowledgment that Administrations become tired and complacent, and potentially—if they are on their own, as the Mayor is—could become dictatorial in that job.

The Bill affects the London Assembly, one ingredient in a plethora of organisations dedicated to the service of running London, but an ingredient that we would say is top-heavy. The Mayor’s position is very powerful and has at its disposal considerable resources. As we discussed briefly before, there were attempts in the Greater London Authority Act to limit the amount of resources that would be available to any Mayor, and it has not been possible to do that. However hard we try to make ourselves believe otherwise—or, at least, however hard the Government do so—the scrutiny role of the Assembly is still not powerful enough. We are trying in this Bill to ensure that it becomes a bit stronger, but it is still not strong enough to stop a Mayor in his tracks or to provide an adequate check on the mayoral position.

For those reasons we feel that the Mayor should be entitled to run for only two terms of office, and that that period should be the Mayor’s time and his record. The position should not become monopolised by any one individual or party, because that is effectively what happens when the role is occupied for too long. The role requires challenge, renewal and refreshment. If it remains for too long in the hands of one occupant, there is a considerable danger either that there could be a feeling that that one person was a permanent institution or that, if he was there for more than two terms, the Mayor may become disparaging of and disconnected from the electorate.

I have been trying extremely hard to make sure that I am talking only about the position, not the person. I understand that at this stage of the process it is quite hard to disconnect one from the other, but I am talking about the principle here, a principle that we were not able to establish during the GLA Act but which I thought then, and continue to think now, was something we ought to have been able to introduce.

I shall move the amendment in those terms, and I am sure the debate will continue in those terms, on the principle that the mayoral role should be limited to two terms only. I beg to move.

My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 26 and 93, standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee. I declare again that I am a Member of the London Assembly, although I am not seeking re-election next year. Through my Assembly membership, I am a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and, completely unrelated to that, I am a London borough councillor and intend to remain so at least until 2010.

We had an interesting debate on this in Committee. Our Amendment No. 26 has the same effect as Amendment No. 3, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has just spoken. I concur with all that she said but I will not repeat it. I want to address some of the points made in Committee.

It was pointed out correctly that it has not been the practice in this country to have term limits. That is important. The Greater London Authority Act, establishing the office of Mayor of London, was the first time in this country that we moved from an essentially parliamentary system. Local government works on a parliamentary system—perhaps more in theory than in practice sometimes—where power is shared between a number of people, and the leader, however termed, is elected by the council and not directly by the people. We moved from that system to an essentially presidential system, where one person has all executive power vested in him or her. Rightly or wrongly, that was a very important shift in practice. It is certainly not unusual for other countries with a similar system to have term limits—France and the United States spring most immediately to mind as perhaps our closest allies. Although not universal, it is the norm, for the very good reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has given. It has been seen as necessary and desirable to have such term limits.

That is why we should incorporate this system here. I was asked in Committee whether I would apply this elsewhere. That is not a matter for this Bill but, as it happens, the answer is yes. Where there is elected office and one person holds all the executive power, there should be term limits. That is irrelevant to the business before us; we are amending the original Greater London Authority Act, the first to establish a presidential-style elected executive Mayor, and I believe that the Act should be amended in the way proposed.

It was suggested in Committee that we were doing this only because of the difficulty of defeating the present incumbent. Not so; we moved amendments with exactly the same intention during the passage of the original Act. We have learnt, perhaps from experience, that the fact that we did not succeed in persuading the Government eight years ago does not mean that we are wrong to try again now.

A fairer point made in Committee was that it would not be right to introduce term limits only a matter of months before the election. That is fair comment; many of the candidates have already been chosen, presumably not on that basis. That is the purport of Amendment No. 93. It would be left for others to determine but it need not be implemented prior to next year’s elections. I think that that is fair. As I said in Committee, Mayor Livingstone will always have been the first Mayor of London; he may very well be the only Mayor of London ever to serve three terms. I am not pre-judging next year’s election result; I am merely saying that that may well be the case. There is a very well known precedent for that. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only US president to serve three terms, after which, despite his successes as president, it was seen fit to introduce a limit of two terms.

I suggest that this is a proper and appropriate opportunity to do what I think we should have done in the first place: introduce the concept of term limits to an office which is, within its legislative limits, all-powerful. The executive power is held in the hands of one person, with relatively little check and balance. We will debate that point further later. I hope that today we will see fit to introduce those term limits, which are the norm in presidential systems and should be the norm in this country to the extent that we go down that road.

My Lords, my recollection is that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected for four terms: in 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944. Sadly, he died—he was not removed from office—but I believe that, had he wished it, he could have gone on, because he was that kind of man. Whatever happens to Ken Livingstone is in the lap of the gods. Our system should not take away from the electorate the right to remove from office an incumbent leader. The people of London, rightly or wrongly, wish to see the Labour Party’s nominee, Ken Livingstone, lead London in all its many forms. When the GLA Act was first proposed, there was no restriction; attempts were made to impose a restriction but they were rejected democratically.

I am strongly of the view that the people who are affected, whatever the forum, should have the power to remove someone. Those opportunities come along regularly in parliamentary elections. In 1979, 1983, 1987 and 1992, the people of this country chose a Conservative Government. For the first three of those four election victories, the party which gained power and office was led by the same person. I cannot understand, unless I reflect on history, why the Conservative Party is moving this amendment. I see in the Chamber a number of noble Lords who served at a high level from 1983 to 1986. Colleagues may remember that this was the period in which the abolition of the Greater London Council was conceived, primarily because the council, led by the same Ken Livingstone, was proving unwilling to be as compliant as the Government wished. Instead of leaving it to the people to reject the Labour administration at County Hall, the Government made reference by an Act of Parliament, based on a manifesto—I do not dispute that—to the abolition not just of the GLC but also of the other regional authorities. A mandate was sought, and parliamentary arithmetic was such that it was a foregone conclusion that it would be achieved.

I am intrigued—perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, will help me—that when this matter was discussed in the other place, her party’s spokesman, Michael Gove, was strongly of the opinion that that which is proposed today should not be the vogue and that it should be left to the electorate to reject an incumbent mayor. Perhaps the noble Baroness will explain to me why the official line of the Conservative Party has been changed. I would be very interested to know. While I appreciate what the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said about differentiating between the position and the person, I cannot do other than believe that the personality of the Mayor is somehow involved in what we are talking about. The noble Baroness is right in saying that she and the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in this House have been consistent in wanting to change the whole basis of the system. I wonder how the people elected as mayors of our cities would be affected. One would get caught up in arguments not only about length of service but about age.

I strongly believe in the intelligence and the political sagacity of the electorate, who are not fools, are very well served by the media and have it in their power to make a judgment. Very often colleagues in the other place who have been successful in carrying the banner for their parties time after time, after a good length of service suddenly find that not only their party but the electorate reject them. Some Members of this House, myself included, have had the experience of being rejected by the electorate. That is democracy; that is how it should work.

These amendments, well intentioned though they are, should be rejected, because the people of this country and of London are well capable of deciding that enough is enough. If, as I detect from the words used by those who have spoken before me, this proposal is being made because the powers of Members of the GLA are insufficient to bring the Mayor to account and therefore the best way is to take him out of office, I do not think that that is the right way in which to do it. I believe that the good sense of the people of London should prevail.

My Lords, I had not intended to speak, but I wanted to add to my noble friend’s comments. I urge rejection of this amendment on the basis that it is not good enough to slip through a provision with major constitutional complications while amending a Bill that does not directly concern that particular constitutional issue. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, is wrong to say that the issue is not relevant in the way I am suggesting; it is very relevant. It would be a major change with implications throughout the British democratic system, and now is not the time to have that discussion.

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Tope which is possibly not a surprise because I think that my name is on one of the amendments to which he referred.

The Minister, in responding to a similar amendment in Committee, challenged the notion that after two or three terms one might run out of steam and said that we had the example before us of a third-term Government boiling over with new ideas and energy. It struck me afterwards that a comparison to be made is between the Mayor and the Prime Minister, not between the Mayor and the whole of the Government. This is the particular point about the mayoralty of London: if one can compare it to anything in terms of profile and influence, it must be to the Prime Minister. But it has also been compared—and I have compared it—to the position of a president, because it feels very presidential.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, talked about the same Ken Livingstone who, not able to be put back in his box by the Conservative Government in the 1980s, had the box abolished around him. I am not actually sure that he is the same Ken Livingstone, but that would be to personalise it more than I am telling myself that we should.

A clear distinction is to be made here. Does one leave it to the electorate to vote every four years or should there be some sort of constitutional structural limit on the number of terms that a Mayor can serve? This would be a constitutional limit on a single-person executive; a very particular and unique—that is not a term I use often—office. Local mayors have been mentioned. We shall discuss that tomorrow and thereafter. These Benches have similar concerns about the position of local single-person executives.

This Bill gives us our first opportunity to adjust the introduction of a new governmental institution. On that basis, I refute the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, that it would be inappropriate to deal with the matter on this occasion.

The electorate whom I have encountered during the past few years have expressed surprise that there is not such a constitutional bar. That was very much in our minds when tabling these amendments. As my noble friend said, we tabled similar amendments in 1999, but London voters have told me time and time again that as this is such an unusual position there must be this unusual constraint upon it.

Our amendments and that of the noble Baroness extend to Assembly Members, not so much because we feel that the same arguments apply to them but in order to pre-empt accusations that we are protecting our own position and just having a go at the Mayor.

In Committee, it was fairly said that it would not be appropriate, so close to the next election, to place a bar on mayoral and Assembly office holders standing for office again. If this amendment finds favour with the House, we should follow through on that. Amendment No. 93 to Clause 57 concerns the rather technical point of commencement dates. It seeks to make a distinction between current and future office holders to enable it to be brought into effect after the next election. We should not kid ourselves—the next election will reflect the advantages of incumbency. It will also reflect the disadvantages if those seeking election have offended the electorate. My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market referred—with irony which was not shown very clearly in Hansard—to that magnificent paper, the Londoner, which is but one of the tools in the Mayor’s toolkit. As I say, there is considerable advantage in incumbency.

I hope that the House will understand that the amendment is not tabled on a whim to attack an individual but reflects a constitutional concern that the Liberal Democrat Benches have had from the start, and which they retain.

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for elucidating and developing the debate that we had in Committee. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton, who made a very eloquent speech. His forensic analysis exposed the illogicality of the presidential parallel, the cracks in the political cohesion of the Conservative Party in its position on mayors and the weaknesses of the political argument in relation to scrutiny, which we have tried to strengthen. As I listened to the debate, I was extremely interested in the different arguments used to justify what I believe was a very strong argument for the democratic process and elections, and the fact that in this country we do not remove people other than by electing them out of office. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, spoke about a dictator and, on the other hand, about a leader who was worn out. She spoke about the need to end the monopoly and about the weakness of the present system of scrutiny. On the first three grounds—can you imagine a stronger argument than eviction by election? I cannot. On the last argument, we have strengthened the powers of scrutiny of the Assembly.

I am sure that the changes are not proposed on a whim; clearly the Liberal Democrat Party has pursued this issue for some time, but as my noble friend Lady Thornton said, they have serious constitutional implications for the established democratic process. They also create precedents for elected mayors around the country. It is not, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, a unique situation. As much as noble Lords argue that this is about principles—I take the integrity with which they make that argument and their determination to separate the office from the office holder—I put it to them that it is impossible to make that argument with any conviction, because it would be judged in any case to be seen to be a way of removing a strong Mayor without the bother of electing him out of office. It will be seen by Londoners as a pretty devious, back-door way of stopping Ken Livingstone from standing for a third term. I take the point that in Amendment No. 93 that is protected. It will certainly be seen as a way of denying the opportunity to decide whether he is the right Mayor, and it will be seen and judged to be the act of a party that finds it difficult to find a strong candidate and which is in something of a muddle about this.

The arguments that have been put forward have been rather bizarre. This goes right to the heart of the GLA constitution. It goes right to the heart of the key principle of a strong executive Mayor with a democratic mandate and it goes right to the heart of the fact that in this country we derive political legitimacy from direct elections, in the case of the GLA, involving all Londoners every four years. This is not something that has been invented; it went to the foundation of the GLA. There is no case for change on the basis of expediency and there is not much of a case for saying that we should take note of what happens in the United States. As we said in Committee, not every American city has a mayor with fixed terms. There are different practices in different cultures. We are looking at something that is very much of our culture. Fundamental changes should be made to the GLA’s constitution only when there is a clear and overwhelming case on the grounds of political expediency, and there is no argument for that kind of change.

In the White Paper, A Mayor and Assembly for London, published in 1998, we made it very clear that there should be no limit on the number of terms of office of either the Mayor or the Assembly, in common with other categories of elected office across the country. To remove the right of Londoners to vote out the Mayor is a fundamental change; it should not be contemplated lightly. It is what gives the Mayor his political legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate. If he is a dictator, the best way to remove him is by the democratic process. I am not convinced that the arguments put forward today about the need for term limits on any grounds that I have heard override this fundamental democratic principle which is a cornerstone of political life in this country.

In the recent prescription by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, for local government change and for stronger mayors, there is no reference that there should be any term limits on the Mayor. That should cause the noble Baroness to think hard about whether she will press her amendment. I see no argument with the fact that the democratic process should continue, should be strengthened and should not be overturned by the amendment.

My Lords, I have been fascinated by the arguments put contrary to my amendment. I am bound to say that I am at a loss to understand how it can be suggested that the electorate would be taken out of the equation if there was a clear indication that the period of office should be limited to two terms. Some mayors may not survive two terms—they may be voted out in the middle. The electorate would have a right on two occasions—to elect them in and to re-elect them. The term of office would then be completed and the electorate would have the right to vote for someone else. I do not follow at all the suggestion that that would deny democratic procedures.

I and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, tried—and the Minister rather undermined that attempt—to ensure that this discussion was based around the principle of the term of the mayoralty. This was not and has never been tied up with the present Mayor. This has always been related to the constitutional implications for the GLA. It was not just my friends in the Liberal Democrat Party who attempted, during the passage of the GLA Bill, to impose this measure; as I recall, it was a joint venture to limit the period of office to two terms. The reason was then, and remains now, because the Mayor has a unique position in this country. If the amendment is passed, we may have other thoughts on the processes and discussions on the various elements that will be included in the local government Bill.

I heard what the Minister had to say and the arguments that have been made, but I wish to test the opinion of the House.