My Lords, the amendment draws attention to the fact that the Mayor has undertaken a fair amount of foreign travel in his official capacity. We discussed this in Committee at some length and felt that it would be appropriate to return to it. The position needs clarification. Members of the public also need to understand that, in his official role, the Mayor is entitled to undertake foreign travel, to know what it entails and where he goes.
We believe that the best way of handling this would be as the amendment suggests. It requires the Mayor to report to the Assembly, using the various opportunities he has under the Bill, on the details of foreign travel undertaken and the rationale for such travel. Well over £100,000 has been spent on mayoral travel, which is quite a substantial sum of ratepayers' money. We believe that this should be part of what the Mayor must report to the Assembly; if the discussions are in public, the public can understand exactly what is being done in their name and where. It is a small amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am opposed to this amendment and Amendment No. 24, with which it is grouped. We all agree that the position of the Mayor is very powerful and important. The amendments seem to be an attempt to chip away at that power and transfer some of it to the Assembly. The Assembly is not the GLC. I was in favour of the GLC but the party opposite was not. It was instrumental in getting the GLC dispensed with and now has to live with the consequences. We have a different sort of legislation altogether, with a powerful Mayor and an Assembly which does not have anywhere near the same kind of powers as the GLC.
Given his position, it seems quite reasonable that the Mayor should have the opportunity and ability to make visits abroad in an unfettered way, without being directly responsible for getting such visits approved in advance by a two-thirds majority of the Assembly, as Amendment No. 24 proposes. I hope that my noble friend will not feel disposed to accept the amendment.
My Lords, I am not disposed to accept the amendment. Amendments Nos. 3A and 24 offer a new angle on what emerged as a familiar theme in Committee from noble Lords opposite: how to prevent the Mayor travelling abroad and constrain him from travelling internationally to promote London and, by implication, maintain its pre-eminent position in an increasingly competitive global economy, in which it plays a vital role and of which the Mayor is the supreme advocate.
The noble Baroness said that the Mayor had travelled a fair amount. In fact, he has spent 3 per cent of his time—just 68 days—since he was elected in 2000 on foreign travel. That seems quite moderate for someone who occupies an international position.
Amendment No. 3A requires the Mayor to include any foreign travel he has undertaken and his reasons for undertaking it in his regular report to the Assembly. The focus of the Mayor's report is to inform the Assembly about those of his activities and decisions he considers significant. That would surely include any significant foreign trips he has made, but requiring him to highlight his foreign travel is too heavy-handed; it would put this particular part of his responsibilities and activities in a very different category. I also argue that it is unnecessary; not only in this report but in the 10 meetings the Mayor has over the year with the Assembly, there are many opportunities for Members to interrogate him about his intentions and his foreign travel.
I defend wholeheartedly the principle of the Mayor being able to decide the visits he should undertake and the people he should meet without unnecessary limitation and bureaucracy. For example, he recently attended a summit in New York of the C40 Large Cities Climate Group, which he chairs, to discuss action at city level to combat climate change. I am certain that that was a key meeting from which we will benefit. Over the next five years I expect the Mayor, whoever that may be, to make a large number of foreign trips as the leader of the city hosting the 2012 Olympics.
As my noble friend Lady Turner said, Amendment No. 24 requires the Mayor to obtain the approval of the Assembly by a two-thirds majority to pay the expenses incurred. I cannot agree with that. It would be nothing short of absurd for him to go cap in hand to the Assembly for his foreign trips to be funded. That is a humiliation too far. It is also impracticable. I argue that Amendment No. 3A is unnecessary, while Amendment No. 24 is impracticable and not in keeping with the dignity of the Mayor's office.
I am sorry once again to refuse to accept the amendments, but I hope that noble Lords will understand the case I have made.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. While it was not unexpected, the matter needed airing, and we have aired it now on two occasions.
The Mayor's representative role outside this country is a matter of importance not only to London and the country but also to Members of the Assembly. As I understand it, the only way in which Members can ascertain what he has done when he is abroad or where he is going is by putting down questions. This would be much better in the open. There was a tremendous scandal a little while ago about a visit to Havana. It caused a great deal of comment. Had it been possible to say that the visit would be reported to the Assembly in the normal way, it would probably have neutralised the controversy. The Mayor might in any event have wanted to do what is proposed in our amendment in his own interests. Since it was clear that that did not happen, we tabled the amendments. However, I have listened to what the Minister said. I have raised the matter and do not propose to return to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I shall speak also to my Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 8. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has Amendment No. 7 in this group.
We return to the Government's innovation of confirmation hearings held by the Assembly for certain mayoral appointments. I repeat that I welcome this step. We discussed in Committee whether the provisions should apply to all mayoral appointees—not that the Assembly would necessarily require all appointees to undergo this process, but that it should have discretion over which appointees and officers it wished to deal with in this way. It was pointed out in Committee that it was not necessary for the Bill to be amended to extend the range of appointments in question because the Secretary of State would have the power to make an order to that effect.
I would prefer all mayoral appointees to be subject to the process and leave it to the good sense of the Assembly to determine which to deal with by way of confirmation, but I am happy to seek a way of refining the matter. In successive amendments, I therefore propose certain specific additions with which I shall deal in a moment. The Minister said that the Government wanted the provisions to apply to "key appointments", but all the Mayor's appointments to major bodies are key appointments. If they were not key appointments, they would be rubber stamps, which I hope is not the case.
The first of my amendments would extend the provision to all members of the board of Transport for London. Again, the proposal is not personally motivated—the current members of the board of Transport for London have many admirable qualities between them—but it would be right for the Assembly to seek to have articulated what those qualities are. I say that in the knowledge that the Mayor has chosen to appoint a number of advisers to Transport for London. Confusion has arisen over what is brought to the party by advisers and by those who have a different function as board members. As the Bill is drafted, if the Mayor chose to chair Transport for London, the only confirmation hearing that could be held would be for the vice-chair.
In the case of the London Development Agency, which is the subject of Amendment No. 5, I am again seeking to extend confirmation hearings to all members. I have observed from experience very close working between the Greater London Authority and the London Development Agency. I do not suggest that that is a bad thing, but the closeness has been such that it has been suggested in the past that the London Development Agency, which has funds at its disposal that are not at the disposal of the GLA, can be used conveniently as the Mayor's piggy bank or credit card. It is important for there to be a process that enables such suspicions to be dispelled.
Amendment No. 6 relates to members of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority appointed by the Mayor. Your Lordships may be aware that some difficulty surrounds the current round of mayoral appointments, of which some are statutorily to be nominated by the boroughs and some are to be Assembly Members, in both cases reflecting political proportionality of the boroughs across London and the membership of the Assembly. I hope that the difficulties can be resolved—indeed, that they are being resolved even as I am speaking. They have led to a serious situation that has caused what was described to me as a QC's paradise, given the amount of legal advice that has been required during the past couple of days as a result of the Mayor's indication that he does not wish to propose the current nominees, and to have the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority obtain advice that the position is irregular, unlawful and cannot continue because previous appointments have expired.
I could talk about this situation at great length, but it would not be to the benefit of London to expose all the details. I hope that a solution that is satisfactory to everyone will be found. However, it raises the issue of who are the appointees favoured by the Mayor. To enable that matter to be brought into the public arena, I am seeking not for the Assembly to be able to block the appointments, but for it to hold a hearing which allows the appointees to answer questions about their abilities and expertise. That would be important. I relate this proposal to the two new appointments that the Mayor will be entitled to make under the Bill if it is enacted in its current form.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, wrote to noble Lords after the Committee stage. She stated in connection with LFEPA that the Mayor would make his appointments in line with Nolan principles and established good practice in public appointments. While I do not suggest that what the Minister said was inappropriate, the concerns that have arisen during the past few days lead me to believe that it would be in the public interest for the two new mayoral appointments to be subject to confirmation hearings, so that any concerns that what underlay the appointments was inappropriate could be dispelled. My Amendment No. 8 would exclude Assembly Members and councillors while they were in those positions, because those positions would have led to nomination. It is not special pleading, but there is a different constitutional position behind those appointments.
I hope that your Lordships will understand that this is all proposed in a spirit of ensuring that the public have the greatest confidence that they can in how they are being governed. I beg to move.
My Lords, we have Amendment No. 7 in this group. We support the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the amendments that she proposes. Clearly from the instances that she provided the whole situation is very unsatisfactory and there need to be better arrangements in this regard. I am sure that we will come back to this matter later on in the evening, as it is related to other amendments.
Amendment No. 7 relates to the health adviser and the deputy health adviser. We tabled these amendments in Committee, but I hope that we will get a more satisfactory response from the Minister this time round. My amendments extend confirmation hearings to the office of health adviser and deputy health adviser. The people who fill those positions, be they civil servants or not, will soon have a much larger role than at present. The health adviser is to be given a formal role in the consultation and preparation of a London-wide health inequality strategy. The extent of these positions means that they are no longer run-of-the-mill Civil Service appointments. The responsibility for the new strategy will have a significant impact on the London health service and the Londoners who use it. It is therefore necessary for the Assembly to have further powers of scrutiny over who will take this responsibility.
My Lords, I fear that I shall disappoint the noble Baroness and the noble Lord in responding to their amendments, but I hope that under the next group I may be less disappointing.
Confirmation hearings provide the Assembly with an important new power to scrutinise publicly key mayoral appointments. Assembly Members will recommend to the Mayor whether he should appoint his preferred candidate to one of the offices listed in new Section 60A(3), having assessed the candidate's suitability for appointment, established his or her plans for their new roles, and if necessary challenged an appointment before the Mayor makes his final decision. The hearings provide Assembly Members with an exciting challenge in making a success of their new scrutiny role. However, I strongly resist the amendments tabled by the noble Lords opposite and I shall take a few minutes to explain the reasons why.
Amendments Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 7 extend the list of offices to which confirmation hearings may apply. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 make all appointments to Transport for London and the London Development Agency subject to the confirmation hearing process. Amendment No. 6 extends the list to the two appointments made by the Mayor to the board of LFEPA under Clause 25. We shall discuss the LFEPA board later this evening, so I shall not get into the dispute about appointments now. Amendment No. 7 refers to the GLA's health adviser and deputy health adviser. We shall make it clear later that the role of the health adviser is to advise the Mayor, and it is the Mayor who takes decisions.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that it is important to be clear about the difference between board members and advisers. It is right that she makes that point, and essential that advisers to boards have their roles clearly set out and that they are described and transparent, as I am sure that they are. As she said, all appointments are key; in singling out some appointments, the aim is not to detract from the importance of others. It is important that the Assembly initially concentrates on scrutinising the most important appointments that the Mayor makes. These are very significant appointments—those that have the greatest influence on delivery, particularly the chairs and deputy chairs of the functional bodies.
The effect of these amendments is to increase the number of posts subject to confirmation hearings to over 40—a fourfold increase, which risks extending too widely the scope of the Assembly's confirmation hearings role before the Assembly has had a chance to make a real success of it. As I said in Committee, that is not to say that the list of offices subject to confirmation hearings can never be extended, and I know that the noble Baroness appreciates that. Noble Lords will know that the Bill provides for the Secretary of State by order to specify further offices should she wish to do so, following consultation with the Mayor and Assembly. This provides the flexibility to extend the list of offices in future, should the need arise, without the requirement for primary legislation.
I turn to the amendment exempting Assembly Members and councillors appointed to any of the offices listed in Clause 4 from being subject to confirmation hearings. Frankly, I am very surprised by this amendment and I resist it in the strongest terms. The purpose of the Assembly's new role is to scrutinise candidates whom the Mayor proposes to appoint and recommend their suitability for office. It should not matter if the candidate is an Assembly Member or local councillor; the Assembly should still be able to request their attendance at a confirmation hearing in order to scrutinise their appointment. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, in tabling the amendment, noble Lords are seeking to protect elected officers from such scrutiny—although I am sure that that is not their intention. Their amendment would certainly create an unfair process whereby some candidates would be exempt from confirmation hearings and others would not. That would risk bringing the Assembly's new role into disrepute before it had even begun.
I take for example the current chairmen of both the MPA and LFEPA, who are both Assembly Members and would be exempt from confirmation hearings under this arrangement. Their appointments would not be subject to scrutiny even though both already attend Assembly scrutiny sessions to answer questions in their capacities as chairs of functional bodies.
I hope that the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing her amendment. I believe very strongly that the confirmation hearings will be a positive and important development for the Assembly. We are very much behind making them a success.
My Lords, the Minister said that the 40 confirmation hearings would be too many, but they would be over a period of time. I should have thought that with any reasonable local authority that would not be anything like the number of appointments that members make. I am not on the GLA but, if it did not have much to do, it would give it something to do. I think that 40 over four years is a reasonable number to scrutinise, so I am surprised that the Minister said that.
My Lords, I would not wish to be boring and never to surprise people, but I would also not want to suggest that the Assembly does not have enough to do. I am sure that it does. What is important about these confirmation hearings is that they are very public. From my perspective the very public nature of the scrutiny, not just with the Assembly but with the media, will help to make the accountability real. I do not want to mention a figure in relation to confirmation hearings. However, we are proposing a very practical start here, and we do so with good intentions. I hope that the Assembly will embrace this new opportunity and really make a go of it.
My Lords, I disabuse the noble Lord of any view that the Assembly does not have enough to do. Like the noble Baroness, I believe that this is a positive move. It is because it is a positive procedure, which allows the Assembly to draw out the views of appointees who might otherwise remain shadowy figures, that I am advocating an extension.
I agree with the noble Baroness that the dispute about LFEPA may be discussed later; I am not sure that I particularly want to cover it tonight. However, the principle needs to be addressed at this point in the Bill. I tabled this amendment before the dispute blew up.
It is for the Assembly to judge which are the important appointments. The measure is presented as if the Assembly has to pass some sort of test on how it conducts itself in confirmation hearings before it is allowed to apply the procedure more widely. I do not think that is appropriate. If confirmation hearings have been approved by the Government, they should not seek to put what I regard as an artificial limit on who can be subject to them. As I said, if the Mayor chose to chair Transport for London, the only hearings that might take place would concern the deputy chair or vice-chair—I am not sure what the relevant title is.
Amendment No. 8 was tabled in response to what the noble Baroness said in Committee about the oddity of the amendments then tabled applying to Members of the Assembly—of the Assembly holding hearings about the appointment of its own Members. As I had hoped I had explained, it is not a matter of protecting colleagues. Assembly Members and borough councillors have a qualification for appointment which is different from that of the board members of Transport for London and the LDA.
I said that I accepted that the measure was positive. Because I believe that it is positive, I should like to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments Nos. 13 and 19, and I can be fairly brief. The whole group, in which the Government also have amendments, relates to procedure around confirmation hearings. Amendment No. 9 provides for a copy of the candidate's application to be attached to the notification by the Mayor of the proposed appointment. Taking on board comments made in Committee, I have provided that the candidate's address and phone numbers may be deleted from the application. That is for practical reasons. It would be odd if the applicant did not provide all the relevant and sensible information but, as has been pointed out, confirmation hearings are not job interviews. It will not be possible to construct a list of standard questions to be applied every time. For the Assembly to have the application form will assist it to construct appropriate questions and hold confirmation hearings in the best way possible.
Amendment No. 13 would allow for the flood of appointments following an election. The Government have an amendment to a similar effect in the group. Amendment No. 19 extends the ability of an individual member, in this case the chair, not only to call meetings for confirmation hearings—the Government accept the practical desirability of that—but to set out the Assembly's requirements by way of documents and information to be provided by the applicant. I have proposed extending the scope of what the chair can do from simply calling the meeting because of my concern that if the chair is not able to take those steps it could largely negate the desirable effect of the Government's amendment, which is just about calling meetings. If the Government are not able to deal with this matter at this stage, perhaps on Third Reading they will be prepared to come back to it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have in this group Amendments Nos. 10 and 11, which were tabled in Committee. I want to press the issues a bit further. The Government believe that the Assembly should have extended powers of scrutiny over certain of the mayoral appointments. We believe that increased scrutiny is an appropriate way of ensuring that the positions are filled with properly qualified, independent people who have the support of the Mayor and the Assembly. However, the Bill does not provide that. Instead, we have a rather toothless power for the Assembly to request a hearing and ask the appointees some questions; no more or less. Any decision that might flow from the hearing has no effect on whether a person is finally appointed, because it is left as a mere recommendation by the Assembly.
My amendments instead ensure that the Assembly will have a real power of scrutiny over the appointments, by a majority vote. Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 would achieve that by replacing the current provision for the Assembly to make recommendations to the Mayor with a requirement that the Assembly may make that recommendation with much more force by having a vote, and a simple majority of the Assembly could make the recommendation. Amendments Nos. 14 to 17 go hand in hand with Amendments Nos. 10 and 11. They are consequential and set out the procedure by which the Assembly would approve an appointment.
We believe that these are reasonable measures that would allow the Assembly to carry out confirmation hearings and set a time frame within which it would be required to respond to the Mayor. If three weeks passed with no response from the Assembly, the Mayor could go ahead without its approval. Our amendments are reasonable and allow for flexibility. I beg to move
My Lords, this is another set of amendments from the parties opposite that seem designed to write into the Bill powers that the Assembly does not have at present but which were available when the GLC was in operation. As I have said previously, the Assembly is not the GLC. We now have a new set of legislative provisions before us that provide for a powerful Mayor—which everyone has accepted, apparently—which means that he is obliged to perform certain functions.
I really cannot see any point in writing into the Bill that a copy of the candidate's application must be attached, when it is already written in the schedule that the Mayor must include,
"the reasons why the candidate is the person that the Mayor proposes to appoint to the office".
I would have thought that that was the most important point. The amendment would add an enormous amount to what is written into the Bill and is not required at all. The Government have provided clarifications in their own amendments and I would have thought that they were sufficient. The amendments of the two parties opposite are quite unnecessary.
My Lords, I very much endorse and welcome my noble friend's comments. Her memory perhaps goes back slightly further than mine, but I remember the GLC and appreciate that we are talking about a very different authority.
The three government amendments to Schedule 1 respond, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, pointed out, to concerns raised in Grand Committee about ensuring that the Assembly has sufficient time to make a recommendation to the Mayor on whether he should appoint a candidate to one of the offices listed in Clause 4. Schedule 1 sets out the procedure for conducting confirmation hearings. Paragraph 4(3) states that the Assembly has three weeks, from the day that it receives notification from the Mayor of his proposed candidate, to make its recommendation on the appointment.
The Government accept that the Assembly may find it difficult to make a recommendation within this timescale following an ordinary Assembly election. It takes time for any elected body to find its feet following an election, and the Assembly must focus initially on appointing its chair and deputy chair, which under Section 52 of the GLA Act it must do within 10 days of an ordinary election. Government Amendment No. 12, therefore, exempts the period from the day of an election until the day the Assembly meets to elect its chair and deputy chair from counting towards the three-week period within which the Assembly must make its recommendation to the Mayor. In practice, this means that if a newly elected Mayor notifies the Assembly of his preferred candidate for a relevant post shortly after being elected, the clock would start ticking on the three-week deadline only on the day after the Assembly elects its chair and deputy chair. As I said earlier, that must be within 10 days of an election.
Turning to government Amendments Nos. 18 and 20, Schedule 1(9) precludes the Assembly's functions in relation to confirmation hearings from being exercised by anyone other than the Assembly itself or an ordinary committee. This means that in practice the Assembly or an ordinary committee would need to meet in order to take any decision required under Schedule 1, including whether to hold a confirmation hearing with the candidate before making a recommendation to the Mayor. The Government agree that it would be sensible to allow the Assembly to delegate this decision to the chair of the Assembly. Amendments Nos. 18 and 20 do that by providing more flexibility for the decision on whether or not to hold a hearing to be taken quickly and potentially allowing more time for the Assembly to focus on the hearing itself and making a recommendation to the Mayor.
Amendment No. 13, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, goes further and allows the Assembly to delegate to any Member of the Assembly any decision under Schedule 1(6) to decide whether a confirmation hearing should take place and what documents to request from the candidate. While it is sensible to allow the Assembly or an ordinary committee to delegate only to the chair of the Assembly, I would like to consider further the case for extending the scope of that delegation to any decision under Schedule 1(6).
Turning to the other amendments in the group, I am somewhat incredulous, if that is the right word, at Amendment No. 9, requiring the Mayor to provide the Assembly with a candidate's application form as part of his notification. I resist this most strongly. I can assure noble Lords that I have been involved in an awful lot of recruitment in my career, and application forms are not everything they sometimes need to be. But I really cannot see the need to descend into detail in primary legislation. The Mayor must already provide the Assembly with reasons why he should appoint the candidate to the given office. I think that those reasons will provide the information that the Assembly is looking for on the candidate's background and to help it frame the questions that the noble Baroness mentioned. It would be in the interests of the Mayor to provide a full and robust rationale which, I am sure, would go far beyond an application form, given that he will want the Assembly to recommend in favour of the proposed appointment.
The Assembly may also request any candidate to produce any documents relating to the proposed appointment which are in his possession or under his control. That is a wide power, and I am sure that the Assembly would want to make the most of it. The Assembly is free to draw its own conclusions should the candidate refuse any such request. Obviously, refusal to provide information could raise questions that the Assembly would want to pursue. There is absolutely no need for the Mayor to be required to supply further information.
My Lords, recently the press reported the case of someone who was about to be appointed to the main board of a major FTSE 100 company. It transpired that he possessed neither of the degrees to which he had laid claim. Is the Minister giving us a guarantee that anything of that sort will have been verified by the Mayor or his human resources advisers and is, therefore, irrelevant to those in the Assembly who might be cross-examining him?
My Lords, I am trying to make clear that the Assembly can request specific information from candidates, and the candidate then may or may not provide that information. If the candidate chooses not to provide it, I am sure that the Assembly will make its conclusions from that lack of information. The Assembly will receive the reasons from the Mayor as to why he would like to appoint a candidate; they may well include formal qualifications or experience on other boards—we are talking about chairs or deputy chairs. What the right information is for the right appointment will be a matter of horses for courses. We are talking about primary legislation. It would be a mistake to be too prescriptive about the inclusion of an application form. There is a wider opportunity in the Bill for the Assembly to request the information that the candidate has in their possession; if the candidate refuses, it can draw its conclusions.
My Lords, I am sorry; I had not quite finished. I got confused about where I was in my speech. I am sure that everyone is waiting with bated breath to hear my response to Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 14, 15 and 17, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham.
The overarching theme of those amendments, as the noble Baroness clearly explained, is whether it is the Mayor or the Assembly that decides whether an appointment is made. I want very much to resist those amendments because they would overturn the otherwise clear lines of accountability between the Mayor and the Assembly; they would compromise the Assembly's clear focus on scrutiny by giving it the executive function of appointment. As we discussed in Committee, the difference between executive decision and scrutiny is very important if scrutiny is to be absolutely effective.
I resist Amendment No. 16, which was tabled by noble Lords opposite, but only because it is not necessary. The Assembly is clearly able to meet without the candidate being present. The Bill defines a confirmation hearing as being a meeting at which the candidate is invited to attend. It is perfectly within the Assembly's rights to meet, without the candidate being present, as often and as frequently as it likes to discuss the appointment. Amendment No. 16 is not necessary.
To reiterate, I will consider further Amendment No. 19; I would very much like to discuss it further with the noble Baroness before Report. I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her willingness to consider Amendment No. 19. The government amendment covers the points raised in my Amendment No. 13. The Minister said that she was incredulous at Amendment No. 12; I think that her incredulity-stat is set a bit too low. She said that application forms are not everything; indeed, they are not. The Mayor will give a full and robust rationale for his proposed appointments. Having the application form would allow the Assembly to test his rationale. Clearly, I am not going to persuade the Government on this point, which I have explained adequately and need not reiterate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 12:
Schedule 1, page 54, line 8, at end insert—
"( ) In calculating the period of 3 weeks, no regard shall be had to the period beginning with the day of the poll at an ordinary election, and ending with the day on which the Chair of the Assembly and the Deputy Chair of the Assembly are elected under section 52(2) of this Act."
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 13 to 17 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 18:
Schedule 1, page 55, line 24, at end insert—
"(1A) The Assembly may arrange under section 54(1)(b) of this Act for its function under paragraph 6(1) above of deciding whether to hold a confirmation hearing to be discharged on its behalf by the Chair of the Assembly."
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]
My Lords, here we come to the always interesting subject of the Mayor's budget. The amendment would omit from the original GLA Act a provision that requires any amendment to the Mayor's budget to be passed by a two-thirds majority. In effect, that means that the Mayor's budget may be approved by one-third of Assembly Members. One of the few powers that most people believe the Assembly to have is power over the Mayor's budget. In fact, that power is very limited, even if it were to be implemented, but it has proved thus far incapable of implementation. Each year in recent years, the Mayor's budget has been passed by nine votes in favour and 16 votes against, with the Mayor sitting in the gallery shouting, "Carried". That is little short of a farce.
Let me put some numbers on this. The Mayor's budget is in the region of £10 billion a year. That sum is approved each year by no more than nine Assembly Members. Were this amendment to be agreed to, the Mayor's budget would have to be approved, or amended, on a simple majority; that is, 13 Assembly Members, which is an addition—to state the obvious—of four Assembly Members. That is not a big change in itself but it would be a huge change in principle. It is hard to think of anywhere where a budget of £10 billion that covers policing, transport, the fire authority, development and the authority itself is simply approved on the say-so of nine members, with a majority always voting against.
I understand that the Government wish to see what they call a strong Mayor; I am sure that we will hear that when the Minister replies. Much of this hinges on a definition of exactly what is a strong Mayor. Is a strong person someone who can simply impose their will regardless of the interests or wishes of a greater number, or is strength defined by those who are able to command majority support? My view is that the latter is very much the case; strength comes not from what someone else once described as elective dictatorship but from winning, persuading and argument.
Probably an even more important change, were the Mayor required to obtain a simple majority for his budget, would be in the whole approach to the budget-making process. At the moment, the Mayor simply has to line up nine Assembly Members—currently the seven Labour Members and two Green Members, who simply submit their shopping list to the Mayor; no doubt they discuss it and agreement is reached. If the Mayor had to reach a simple majority, he would have to deal with the Assembly in the budget-making process and, equally important, the Assembly would have to deal with the Mayor and put forward positive proposals for what it did and did not want in the budget. Having just four more votes would make a huge and fundamental difference to the way in which the whole budget process works—and it is a large budget with huge effects on Londoners.
This is not just a simple amendment about numbers; it is not just a simple amendment about giving the Assembly some real power. It is a measure that, if exercised properly—I believe that it would be—would change the budget process from, frankly, a rather negative process and almost a farce into a much more positive relationship and even a co-operative arrangement between Mayor and Assembly. That must surely be in the interests of the majority of Londoners and would in itself produce in the end a better budget that better reflected the needs and aspirations of all Londoners rather than simply the wishes of one—albeit powerful and elected—person who is able to impose his or her will. For those reasons, the amendment is important. It would strengthen the checks and balances that we all believe are necessary to hold an elected Mayor to account and it would change the relationship in a much more positive way than has existed heretofore. I beg to move.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment and am delighted that it has been brought back. We discussed it at some length in Committee but it needs to be considered on the Floor of the House and with as much openness as possible. To be fair, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has been mild in putting it forward. In reality, the Assembly's scrutiny of and ability to affect the Mayor's budget are a nonsense. The Assembly cannot stop anything that the Mayor wants to be done. It can make any observations that it likes but the Mayor does not have to pay the slightest attention to them; nor, indeed, is there any realistic mechanism whereby the Mayor can be suborned into paying attention to what the Assembly says.
The Government set great store by the word "scrutiny", but scrutiny is a completely toothless tool. It involves only the power of persuasion. Persuasion may be possible if you are dealing with policies, strategies or something else that can be discussed, but in this case a budget is put before you; it represents the Mayor's controls and supports his policies, but London pays for it and London is becoming very brassed off with the amount that it is having to pay. The Mayor's budget has burgeoned since the GLA was formed. In fact, the call on the council tax payer has risen by well over 50 per cent, and I think that the figure would be well in excess of that if calculations were made based on the sums since the mayoralty was introduced.
It seems to us that some mechanism for legitimate control needs to be advanced. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, is right when he says that there has to be a change in the balance between the Mayor knowing clearly that he will have no trouble at all in getting his budget through and his having a bit of a tangle over it and not being at all sure whether it will be accepted on the basis of what the Assembly believes to be appropriate and right for London's electorate. We also have to remember that the Assembly, as well as the Mayor, is elected and is there to support the London electorate. We very much welcome the amendment and I strongly support it.
My Lords, we are in a familiar situation. Despite the political ability of the opposition parties, they have been unable to find a way forward in relation to the two-thirds majority. They are saying that it has not been possible to achieve what is almost enshrined in many other democratic institutions and procedures—that is, a two-thirds majority to carry a proposition—and, consequently, they want to reduce it to a bare majority. Let us examine what that means.
Noble Lords opposite are arguing that the Mayor has the votes of all the Labour Members in his pocket and, whenever he wishes—using what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred to as the shopping list but what is also known as pork-barrel politics—he is able to command the nine votes that he requires. I do not think that one should imagine or predicate that for all time the Mayor will be able to rely on every vote in the Labour group. We have our experiences and the Opposition have theirs. Whatever tendencies the opposition parties may have, in this House, the other place and almost every other democratic forum there is a good history of dissent within the Labour Party. If the Opposition believe that the Labour Members will support the Mayor willy-nilly, regardless of whether he carries out his remit in a heinous, objectionable and appalling manner, they are mistaken.
When we look at the implications for other forms of local government, we have to take on board a number of other factors. Let us examine what the budget, in totality, normally means. I give way to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on this, because they are very much involved in these matters and I respect their knowledge but, from the papers that I have been sent from various places, it seems that the bulk of the money raised is for the police and neighbourhood policing. I do not know whether people are objecting because too much is being spent in that way or whether they are objecting simply because the Mayor is using his powers to do what he is entitled to do and is getting the budget passed.
When one looks at the budget spent on police matters and compares it with the amount of money spent by other policing authorities, give or take the odd point on either side of 5 per cent, that is the level of the increase in the precept for the Metropolitan Police Authority and policing matters in London. I think that the Opposition are fighting to cut the Mayor down to size, as they believe that that is the only means by which they can get their own way. If they have powerful arguments, they should be able to convince at least the two Green Party Members; even if they convince only one of them, they will have their majority. Again, as they have done on previous amendments, the Opposition are saying, "If we can't beat 'em, we should change the rules".
Of course, the rules were made some years ago but that is a very short period in local government. We are talking about less than 10 years. I honestly believe that, if the system were changed, it would become dangerous in democratic terms. In London, we know that politics are very volatile: there are no certainties. We are not even certain who will oppose the Mayor at the next election, never mind what the result will be. As I said, if the Mayor's policies are unacceptable to the people of London, the Opposition should rest assured that he will be rejected. If he is not rejected but elected, that will be an endorsement for the policies that he and the Assembly have carried through.
We are all involved in arithmetic in politics. It is the art of the possible, involving deals being stitched together to outwit the opposition. The Opposition are saying that the Mayor of London is proving to be more capable than them in getting his own way, but he gets his own way only if the policies that he puts forward are broadly acceptable to the people of London. If they are not, he will be rejected. I hope that he is elected.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, says that the Mayor will not always command the support of the Labour group. If, or when, a Mayor from another party is elected, I suppose that he will not command the support of the Labour group. This is not personalised; this is a point of principle. The amendment was not tabled as an objection to the way in which the current Mayor has dealt with the budget over the past seven years. That has been used as an example to explain what can happen, but this is not a matter of opposing a single individual.
The noble Lord said that the bulk of the budget has been for the police. He may not be aware that that has commanded huge support—invariable support, although my noble friend may correct me—from the Assembly. However, I suggest to him that there could be a situation in which a Mayor put forward a budget that did not propose enough spending on the police in the eyes of Members of the Assembly. Let us consider all the "what ifs".
The noble Lord also says that a two-thirds majority is widely accepted as the majority needed for change. That is normally the case when one is changing the basic constitution of an organisation, but I do not believe that a budget is a constitutional point in that sense. Budgets in local authorities are not dealt with on the basis of a two-thirds majority. Budgets made by the Government of this country are not dealt with on the basis of a two-thirds majority.
However, I agree with the noble Lord that this is about enabling the Assembly to bring the Mayor down to size—any Mayor, not necessarily this Mayor. I gently stress that a helpful way of considering amendments that might be seen as personalised and attacking could be to look at them as if the object of the attack—a future Mayor—was someone whose politics were the most odious. When considering how the amendment should be dealt with, as parliamentarians wishing to ensure that there is control of a Mayor, let us consider who might be elected to that position. I support my noble friend.
My Lords, in Committee we had a very interesting debate about a similar amendment in which it became obvious that some practices in relation to budgetary challenge need not be set in stone in the GLA. I want to return to those as a way of persuading noble Lords opposite that the amendment is unnecessary, because the Assembly has the power to have more purchase on the budget.
First, I want to go through the budget-setting process in detail. I shall reiterate key points of principle, as I resist this amendment strongly. I have to fulfil the expectation of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and say that this amendment strikes at the strong Mayor model. Nothing is more important than the budget; I take the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, made on that. That is what London sees in terms of the services delivered by the GLA. The model is based on the simple principle of a strong executive Mayor and an Assembly holding the Mayor to account through effective scrutiny. It has been a successful model, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton said, for policing and for transport. Policing certainly has commanded great support.
The budget-setting process plays a pivotal role in this model, ensuring the right balance of powers between the Mayor and the Assembly. It provides the Assembly with the power to amend the Mayor's final draft budget, when approving it, if it can secure a two-thirds majority in favour of change. The Assembly cannot reject the budget, but it provides important checks and balances. There has to be a broad cross-section of Assembly Members providing a clear consensus in favour of amending the Mayor's final draft budget.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, did not mention the fact that there is a previous stage, in which the Assembly can exert its influence powerfully. First, the Mayor must present the Assembly with a draft budget, which it may amend by a simple majority. I suggest that the Assembly can exert a great deal of influence at that stage. Then there is a final draft budget, which it can amend by a two-thirds majority. At that first stage, a simple majority is very important. The GLA's website appears to show that reining in the Mayor's budget has saved Londoners more than £125 million. I would say that that is fairly powerful.
The very fact that the Assembly can amend the Mayor's budget in that way means that any Mayor will be mindful of proposing a budget that he knows will not find favour. No Mayor would want the Assembly to amend significantly a budget that he proposed. That would be seen as a political defeat. In practice, the Mayor will compromise with individual Assembly Members or parties.
Surely it is right that the Mayor, as the executive, sets the budget that delivers his priorities for London, unless a consensus of Assembly Members opposes it. If that were changed, as suggested by the amendment, so that the final draft budget could be amended by a simple majority, it would fundamentally weaken the Mayor's powers to set the budget. The Assembly would routinely assume the executive function and there would be a real confusion of functions; there would be an increasing separation and a real disconnect between the budget and the Mayor's priorities, which Londoners elect him to deliver.
I can draw on some allies for this. My noble friend Lord Graham may be surprised to find himself in the company of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, who sadly is not in his place. The noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, recommends in his Cities Taskforce report that city mayors should be subject to "loose scrutiny" by an assembly, which would require a two-thirds majority to block executive actions. What a strong endorsement of the Government's position. I hope that the noble Baroness opposite will feel able to accept those recommendations—better to do so 10 years late than not at all. I note that the leader of the Opposition has been conspicuously silent on this.
I turn now to my second point. In Grand Committee, I laid down a challenge for the political parties in the Assembly to work together to maximise the Assembly's contribution to, and influence over, the preparation of the budget—I was going to say that this is not a romantic assumption. I challenged them to work smarter in order to secure a two-thirds majority—I find the argument that they cannot muster a two-thirds majority pretty defeatist, although I know that there are certain realities—to have the courage of their convictions and to forge coalitions of common interest in order to amend the budget. Surely that is better than trying to fix the process and simply legislating to provide an easier route for the Assembly. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, the right approach is to win hearts and minds and to persuade, not to make the process easier. That challenge needs a fresh approach from the Assembly.
That approach towards the budget-setting process could succeed if two misconceptions were swept aside now—I am trying to help noble Lords opposite and the Assembly. First—this is a crucial point—the Assembly may, if it chooses, amend any one or more of the final draft component budgets: the budgets of the Mayor, of the Assembly and of the four functional bodies. In so doing, it amends the final draft GLA consolidated budget. That point is crucial. I know that, to date, the annual GLA budget-setting process has not worked in that way, but there is no reason why it should not. Instead, the Assembly has voted on broad packages of amendments to the consolidated budget as a whole, proposed by each of the main parties. In effect, the Assembly votes to accept or to reject an alternative budget to the Mayor's budget rather than seeking to amend.
That is a perfectly valid approach, but it is self-evident that the Assembly could more readily secure the broad consensus needed to achieve a two-thirds majority by voting on specific amendments to one or more of the final draft component budgets. The Assembly could, for example, seek to amend the TfL final draft budget by a specific amount, and for a specific reason, rather than, in effect, voting on an entire alternative budget. I realise that giving advice to a body outside this Chamber is a slight departure from our normal exchanges at this stage of a Bill, but I am serious in my attempt to get this recommendation across.
The second misconception is that Assembly Members cannot vote in favour of specific amendments because, in doing so, they would also be voting to accept parts of the Mayor's final draft budget with which they disagree. Let me be absolutely clear: the Assembly cannot reject the Mayor's final draft budget. Schedule 6 to the GLA Act 1999 states that the Assembly must approve the Mayor's final draft, with or without amendment, with any amendments needing a two-thirds majority. That is a clear statutory duty.
I have learnt a great deal about the GLA and its budget-setting process in Committee and now on Report. It is clear that the Assembly has the capability. It can secure the degree of influence that it wants if it approaches the way in which it votes differently. That should be the way forward—not by fundamental change to structures, not by the blurring of executive and scrutiny functions and not by fixing the system and creating another deadlock. That would be bad for London and bad for Londoners.
As I said in Grand Committee, a change of this kind would not be confined to London. The two-thirds rule also applies to mayor and cabinet and mayor and council managers in local authority executives up and down the country. The model words well. I beg noble Lords opposite to think hard about what I have said and about introducing such a fundamental change. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her helpful advice on how the Assembly should approach the budget. I hope that she will forgive me if I suggest that she has not actually sat through the budget process at the Assembly—nor, I suspect, have any of the people advising her—whereas the movers of the amendment have had the good fortune to sit through seven Assembly mayoral budget processes. With the greatest respect, I suggest that there is a difference between theory and practice. Maybe the theory is well understood by the Minister and her advisers, but perhaps the practice is better understood by my noble colleague—who has chaired the Assembly and the budget committee, one or the other, continuously throughout the past seven years—and, dare I say, even by me. For the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, I declared my membership of the Metropolitan Police Authority, although I did not tell him that for the past seven years I have chaired the finance committee and so have a little understanding of that, too.
I know that my noble friend and I would be very pleased to debate at great length the budget process of the Greater London Authority, but we are not going to. We are talking about an important point of principle. We are all agreed that there is nothing more important than the budget. I am quite certain that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the other place would love to be able to get his Budget through each year with only one-third of the votes in the House of Commons. My message to him would be, "Dream on". We must live with the nightmare. This is an important principle. The Mayor's budget should be agreed by a simple majority of the Assembly, and I wish to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, I suggest that Report begins again not before 8.34 pm.