Draft Greater London Authority (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 2) Order 2001

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Mr. Wilkinson: The Minister has been helpful. Why do Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have such a disproportionately high membership compared with the most populous part of the kingdom--England? Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have 14 representatives, but England has only 10. The balance does not match the population density of the kingdom.

The Chairman: I remind the Minister that we are straying from the order.

Dr. Whitehead: I understand the concern of hon. Members. I am trying to be helpful in clarifying the Mayor of London's eligibility for the Committee of the Regions. The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood is wrong about the figures for the delegation. The delegation from England will total 16. If he does some arithmetic he will find that his figures for the proportionate number of delegates from the United Kingdom are wrong. I must emphasise that we are discussing a small delegation and the thrust of his point underlines the fact that it is difficult to obtain exact proportionality, fairness and justice in a small delegation. The hon. Gentleman purports that there is a bias in favour of non-English parts of the United Kingdom. That is true, but the balance is not as skewed as he suggested.

The selection of members for the English delegation is a process of nomination, negotiation and renomination by the LGA. The division of the United Kingdom's total representation to the Committee of the Regions is essentially handed out according to a formula agreed country by country. The split of the delegation between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland was decided by negotiation last time round and the figures produce an outcome that is slightly biased, particularly towards Scotland. I hope that that explanation helps the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Pickles: Is the Minister saying that, ultimately, the LGA is responsible for ensuring the balance? I should say, Mr. Beard, that I am a vice-president of that august body. On what basis does it have that right? Is it merely custom and practice, which is not enshrined in legislation?

Dr. Whitehead: No, the method is not enshrined in legislation. It was agreed for the second round of nominations, at least for the purposes of England. Incidentally, the title of Committee of the Regions is not strictly accurate, because its representation comes from regions, cities and municipalities. Its Europe-wide membership will typically consist of a number of representatives of regions and major municipalities. For example, historically the mayor of Barcelona has been a member of the Committee, as has the first minister of the Catalonia region. We wanted to see whether a system of nomination—people are not directly elected to the Committee—could be brought about first by bringing in the opinions and nominations of the various regional chambers in England and, secondly, by ensuring that that results in a balanced delegation of 16 people, with all the various interests that I have described included in the pot. Therefore, the procedure that was adopted is essentially one of guidance following consultation. The LGA nominates a balancing delegation, eventually with mediation by Ministers. The LGA is requested to do that task by consulting its members and asking them to nominate members—who may, for example, have a substantial municipal, but not regional, role—in order to produce a balanced delegation.I hope that members of the Committee now have a thorough understanding of how the Committee of the Regions works, especially in relation to the possible role of the Mayor of London—if it is decided, according to the procedure, that he will be a member.

The final amendment in the schedule also relates to byelaws, so for convenience I shall explain it now. It is an amendment to the Greater London Authority Act 1999, which gave the GLA the power to make byelaws in respect of Trafalgar square and Parliament square gardens. We intended to give the GLA powers to enforce those byelaws; after all, there is little point in its making byelaws if they cannot be enforced. However, the legal advice is that the 1999 Act is unclear about that. In the light of the other amendments and our clear intention to give the GLA this power, I hope that members of the Committee will agree that we need to make this change. We have discussed the amendment with the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department, and they agree that it is necessary.

The proposed amendment to the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 is perhaps the most critically important of all the amendments in the order. We have already discussed it in terms of considering the construction of the EU Committee of the Regions. The amendment would allow the Mayor and elected members of the GLA to be proposed as members of the Committee. The European Commission and the European Council must consult the Committee on matters that are likely to have repercussions at regional or local level, so it is important that the Mayor and members of the GLA should at least be considered for membership.

The treaties provide that the Committee must consist of representatives of regional and local bodies. Members are appointed for a four-year term by unanimous decision of the European Council on a proposal from their member state. That relates to the point that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood made about the mandate, because the treaty of Nice, when it comes into force, will provide that representatives must hold either a regional or a local authority electoral mandate or be politically accountable to an elected assembly.

In the United Kingdom, a similar provision was enacted in 1993. The European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 provided that a person might be proposed as a member or alternate member for the UK of the Committee of the Regions only if at the time of proposal he or she was an elected member of a local authority—hence, Lord Harris's mandate, to which the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood referred. Parliament intended that all UK members should have an electoral mandate. At that time, of course, the devolved Administrations and the Greater London Authority did not exist, and amendments were subsequently made to the 1993 Act to allow Members of the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales to be proposed as members of the Committee of the Regions. However, the Greater London Authority Act 1999 did not include a provision to make members of that authority eligible for nomination to the Committee of the Regions. That was simply an oversight, which we now want to put right.

The third four-year term of the Committee of the Regions will begin in January. We want to ensure that members of the GLA and the mayor are eligible for membership, to provide the opportunity for proper regional representation in the nominations process. I have mentioned, and do not need to underline further, that the amendment does not guarantee the Mayor or an Assembly member a place on the Committee, but includes the GLA in the nominations process. A separate amendment is being introduced to make Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly eligible.

The final amendment that I would like to explain to hon. Members is perhaps the most typical of those whose need arises from a drafting error. In section 367(4) of the 1999 Act, London local authorities were exempted from the provisions of section 85(5) of part IV of the Environment Act 1995, which gives the Secretary of State the power to direct local authorities to take steps to achieve European Community obligations on air quality. It is clear from the Official Report during the passage of the GLA Bill that it was agreed that the Mayor, not the Secretary of State, should be able to direct London boroughs in pursuit of the implementation of the United Kingdom's international air quality obligations.

However, rather than follow that intention, the 1999 Act took that power away from the Secretary of State but did not give it to the Mayor. That means that at the moment, under the primary legislation—perhaps this is good news for air quality libertarians—neither the Mayor nor the Secretary of State can ensure that London boroughs are fulfilling the relevant European Union and international obligations. However, to ensure that the UK clearly demonstrated that it could meet its obligations for the first set of EU directive air quality limit values, which came into force in July, the UK transposing regulations extended the powers of direction as a temporary measure, for that directive only.

In effect, a measure was agreed to cover the gap temporarily, but that is unsatisfactory. It is important that we now deliver the original policy intention. Elsewhere in the 1999 Act, the Mayor is required to prepare a strategy for London's air quality. That needs to be consistent with national and international obligations. The Mayor already has the power of direction over local authorities to ensure that he gets necessary information and assistance from them to prepare his air quality strategy. It makes elementary sense, therefore, for the Mayor to have the power to direct local authorities to fulfil the European Union obligations.

Mr. Pickles: It might help the speedy passage of the order if the Minister could say something about co-ordination between the Secretary of State and the Mayor over boroughs immediately adjacent to the GLA area. It is patently obvious that the Secretary of State performs duties relating to the normal relationship between different districts and boroughs as a natural process of his office. How will that take place in the relationship between London boroughs and the boroughs immediately surrounding London?

Dr. Whitehead: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Obviously, air does not stop at the boundaries of the GLA. As I understand it, there is no magic constitutional arrangement by which co-ordination takes place. It is for the Secretary of State to ensure in the process of issuing directions that the Mayor is fully informed of those directions and that the directions of the two do not contradict each other or seem to create problems on the boundaries of, for example, Kingston and north Surrey, or of Upminster and Essex. However, it should be emphasised that, at the moment—save only a temporary piece of jury rigging to allow a particular directive to be responded to—no one has the power to make directions in a manner that one would consider advisable. Consequently, the provision is important because it will clarify who makes directions to local authorities and how co-ordination will subsequently occur.

Importantly, the provision is the last missing brick in a system that would otherwise allow co-ordination to proceed smoothly. The 1999 Act requires the GLA to consult on air quality with districts outside its boundaries. Indeed, if the Mayor directs local authorities that the air quality strategy for the Greater London area as a whole is detrimental to outside control, and if consultations and discussions break down, the Secretary of State may direct the Mayor on that strategy. However, given that, technically, no one can direct the boroughs at the moment, it is a little difficult to envisage such direction being put in place. The purpose of the provision is to fill that gap in the procedures. Taken together, the procedures should ensure that consultation takes place, and that direction can be put in place if all else fails.

The main obligations that we need to be—and are—concerned about are the European air quality directives that member states will need to achieve, which set mandatory ambient air quality limit values for key air pollutants. Although we would not expect any borough to ignore the limits, in case they are ignored we must have a safeguard in London that is similar to that which applies nationally. The only difference is that the Mayor, not the Secretary of State, will hold the reserve power. In such circumstances, the direction of the Secretary of State would therefore be the reserve power of a reserve power, as it were.

We are all committed to improving air quality in the UK. The Mayor has given his commitment to improving air quality in the capital, and he will use his strategy to illustrate how he intends to do that. If we expect him to meet in full the requirements of the 1999 Act, it is important that he have the full range of powers that he is supposed to have.

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