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Greater London Authority Bill

Volume 695: debated on Tuesday 16 October 2007

My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons reasons be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

commons REASONS

[The page and line references are to HL Bill 46, the Bill as first printed for the Lords.]

1: 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;”.”

1A: The Commons disagree to Lords Amendment No. 1 for the following reason- Because the Commons do not consider it appropriate that a person should be disqualified from being elected or being Mayor of London or a member of the London Assembly on the basis of the number of times he has previously been elected or been Mayor of London.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A.

It was the overwhelming view of the other place that it would be wrong to impose term limits on the office of London Mayor. This country has no tradition of term limits. The principle that sits at the heart of elected public office at all levels in this country is that it should be the electorate who decides who represents them.

In the GLA elections next May, Londoners are looking forward to a robust contest between Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson and whoever the Liberal Democrats choose as their candidate. But the current Mayor would be disqualified from standing were this amendment to stand part of the Bill. It is obviously right for the London electorate to choose who should be London’s Mayor. Term limits have no place in the vibrancy of British political life.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A.—(Baroness Andrews.)

My Lords, I can understand that noble Lords on the Conservative Front Bench do not want to speak on this issue because they got into an embarrassing position with their colleagues in another place. Not for the first time, noble Lords on the Conservative Front Bench in this House showed rather more good sense than their colleagues down the Corridor.

Before I start, perhaps I may present the apologies of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who cannot be here this afternoon at this final stage having followed the Bill through so far. Sadly, she has to attend a funeral of a very close and long-standing colleague. Secondly, I should again declare my interest as a Member of the London Assembly.

I want to make two points because we have debated this issue long and hard in this House—in Committee, on Report and at Third Reading. First, those who tabled this amendment, and I include myself as one of those, do not raise this issue out of some motivation to defeat Ken Livingstone because we cannot do it in the ballot box. We have made clear throughout that that is absolutely wrong. In evidence of that statement I remind the House that when the original Bill was going through eight years ago we moved a similar amendment on term limits. At that time Mr Livingstone agreed with the amendment. At some point during the past eight years he has come to a different view; so be it.

When the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, moved an amendment in this House, we made it clear that it would be wrong to introduce term limits applicable at the next election so close to that election. There is no argument about that. It would be wrong and we have been clear about that from the start. The amendment that we proposed—similar in intention but a little different in wording—made it very clear that implementation of this clause would apply only to the elections after 2008. Let us get that one out of the way first of all.

The second point, to which the Minister referred again this afternoon, is that it would be contrary to the British tradition of political life. When we introduced an elected executive Mayor of London, that was contrary to the British tradition of political life. Traditionally in this country, the British system has been a parliamentary system. Local government in this country is modelled on a parliamentary system. The devolved Assemblies—Parliament in Scotland and Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland—are parliamentary systems. Whatever one's opinions on the rights and wrongs of it, vesting power in one executive mayor is, in effect, a move to a presidential system, away from a parliamentary system.

There are different views about that system. One may well support it, but it is without question contrary to the British tradition of political life. When making such a change, it must be right that we properly consider the checks and balances on the power vested in one person. Limiting the number of terms is, legitimately, one of those checks.

I understand that there will be different views—indeed, that is why we are here today—but let us be clear about what we are debating. We are not debating some manoeuvre to get rid of the current incumbent, nor are we trying to subvert in some way a British tradition. We are dealing with a wholly new system that the Government seem intent on pursuing in local government. It is therefore right that we should at least consider what is done in other countries that have a longer tradition, experience and history of presidential systems—and not only the United States, where the system is not universal. That is why we have proposed and still support the idea of term limits. Clearly, it is not appropriate to pursue it any further today and we will not do so.

My Lords, it is interesting how opinions that are based on personalities change. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, tells us that this has nothing to do with the nature, stewardship, policies or personality of the present incumbent, but with great respect I must say that I think it has. If anyone other than Ken Livingstone were involved as the Mayor, the issue would not have been floated again—this is the fourth time that each House has had an opportunity to look at this matter.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why. The alternative to the amendment proposed is to allow the people of London, when the election takes place, to make a choice between the candidates from all three main parties. That is a well tried system. I have yet to hear any argument other than that of principle, but based on experience, that the present situation needs to be changed.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, made a side reference to the behaviour of the Conservative Party in the other place. It is a fact that the Conservatives in the Commons did not oppose the rule of this House. I would be very surprised if the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, rose and spoke contrary to the view of her party. I do not think that she will do that. As far as I am concerned, this is a throwback. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, told us that long ago it was his view that there should be limits and that as long as there is no limit he will persist in trying to get the limit. All we can do in this House is try to make sure that he does not have it. We have had opportunities in this House and in the other place—not once or twice, but three times. It is an issue well worth airing and a debate to be had, but not one that this House should accept.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

2: Before Clause 12, insert the following new Clause- “Budget

(1) Schedule 6 to the GLA Act 1999 (procedure for determining the Authority’s consolidated budget requirement) is amended as follows.

(2) Omit paragraph 8(4).”

The Commons disagree to Lords Amendment No. 2 for the following reason- 2A Because the Commons do not consider it appropriate that the Mayor of London’s final draft budget for a financial year should be capable of being amended by the London Assembly without the broad consensus of agreement required to obtain a two-thirds majority.

My Lords, I beg to move That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 2 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 2A. The other place again made clear its strong opposition to this amendment. It cuts across the fundamental principle of the GLA model—a strong executive Mayor and an Assembly holding him to account through effective scrutiny. We have had many debates on aspects of that principle during the passage of this Bill.

The two-thirds principle—whereby the Assembly may amend the Mayor’s final draft GLA consolidated budget and the component budgets it comprises by a two-thirds majority—allows the Mayor to propose a budget in order to implement his policies and proposals which the Assembly can amend only if a broad consensus of Assembly Members are minded to do so. That is the right approach. The alternative—allowing the Assembly to amend the Mayor’s budget by a simple majority—would mean the Assembly routinely setting the GLA budget, which would mean confusion, deadlock and a complete disconnect between the budget and the Mayor’s priorities.

At Third Reading, I tried to be helpful. I explained how the Assembly could approach its role differently in order to secure a two-thirds majority for amending the budget. I suggested that there was momentum in forging coalitions of common interest and in taking a fresh look at the customs and practices that have become established at City Hall. That is the right way forward: it is not making fundamental changes to the GLA model; not blurring the currently clear division between executive and scrutiny functions; and not, in effect, allowing the Assembly to set the budget.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 2 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 2A.—(Baroness Andrews.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure for five minutes.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 3.17 to 3.23 pm.]