Greater London Authority Bill
Baroness Andrews (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government; Labour)
My Lords, noble Lords clearly recall our debates on this issue on Report, when I opposed this approach on two grounds. First, as my noble friend Lady Turner has said, it seeks to redefine the relationship between the Mayor and the Assembly. It is extremely important that the Assembly should focus on retrospective scrutiny of the Mayor's decision, and should not confuse its role by becoming embroiled in operational decision-making. Secondly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, said, it would lead to unacceptable delays in issuing time-critical directions.
I want to address the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, especially since we seem to have inspired it from our own Front Bench. In courtesy, therefore, I am happy to address it. The noble Baroness has attempted to address the notion of the time-critical element in the new clause by including a new stage in the process. Under Amendment No. 1, the authority's monitoring officer may now allow the Mayor to issue a direction without first sending it to the Assembly if he deems that any delay would be against the public interest or prejudice the interests of the GLA or the body to which the direction will be issued.
I wish that I could be more gracious but I believe that the additional step adds another layer of complexity and bureaucracy to a proposal that has little benefit in practice. With the best will in the world, I cannot see how this can do anything but add further to the delay in issuing directions and guidance. An equally important point is that it would place the authority's monitoring officer in a rather hapless way into the process. It requires him to adjudicate between hierarchies of different directions, some of which may seem to be more significant than others. It puts him in the position of arbitrating between the Mayor and the Assembly. I do not think that, with the best will in the world, that will help.
There is another problem: the definition of "direction" in Amendment No. 2 includes directions and guidance issued by the Mayor. Here we have the prospect of another avalanche of internal documents and bureaucracy. All that adds up to a clear threat to the business of getting on with operational delivery. I shall expand a little on that.
These amendments would mean the Assembly engaging in executive decision-making proactively rather than retrospectively. As my noble friend Lady Turner said, noble Lords know that the GLA model of government, which is successful, is built around a strong, decisive mayor who is able to take often tough or difficult decisions and an Assembly which holds him publicly to account for those decisions. A fundamental principle is that the Mayor should be able to take operational decisions, including directions, without first having to refer to the Assembly. An Assembly power of call in at that late stage would serve only to slow down the process and make it more bureaucratic and less efficient. The Mayor's powers to issue directions and guidance to three of the functional bodies—TfL, LDA and, through Clause 29, LFEPA—are crucial for ensuring that those bodies deliver the Mayor's priorities for London, the priorities that Londoners elect the Mayor to fulfil.
The Mayor also has specific direction-making powers. For example, on transport, the Mayor issues directions under Section 174 of the GLA Act in relation to setting TfL's public transport fares. On planning, the Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order 2000 specifies that the Mayor has 14 days from being notified of a borough's decision on a planning application to decide whether to direct the borough to refuse the application. The Government are proposing a similar timetable in relation to the Mayor's new power under the Bill to direct a borough that he will determine a planning application of potential strategic importance. The Mayor has used his powers of direction proportionately since the GLA was established, but I stress that directions do not come out of the ether from nowhere because the policies underpinning many operational directions have already been subject to the authority's internal process of policy development, debate and scrutiny—there is no more active member of the Assembly than the noble Baroness—which is where the Assembly scrutinises them.
Allowing the Assembly to influence the Mayor's operational decisions at this late stage serves only to blur the boundary between the Authority's executive and scrutiny functions. It is a clear risk that the Assembly would end up scrutinising the outcomes of decisions that it had helped to make. There are parallels to be drawn with the issuing of directions and guidance to non-departmental public bodies by the Secretary of State. In such circumstances, Ministers rarely consult Parliament before they exercise such powers and fully expect Parliament to scrutinise their actions retrospectively, should it so wish. I believe that the principle of retrospective scrutiny of operational decisions with a clear separation between executive and scrutiny functions is the right and consistent approach for the GLA. I hope the noble Baroness can be persuaded that there is a good case for withdrawing her amendment.