Greater London Authority Bill
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Michael Gove: I rise to oppose the changes suggested in the clauses. It is important to recognise that of all the functional bodies, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, LFEPA, attracts the least controversy. One reason is that it is one of the most effectiveI note that in a previous career, the Minister was the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union. I suspect that LFEPA attracts so little controversy because of the high regard in which firefighters are held throughout the country, but also because of its effective method of working. The suggested changes would alter that method of working in a way that we believe might open the door to less efficient prosecution of its duties.
There are three particular areas of suggested change about which we have concerns. The first is the membership of LFEPA. It was originally proposed that the accountable element of LFEPAs membership should be diluted. At the moment, LFEPA has a balance of borough and assembly representatives who work successfully together. As the Conservatives have pointed out during debate on previous clauses, the model of consensual work that characterises LFEPAs operation was acknowledged by both the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst.
The original plan was to remove two borough and two assembly members. Happily, that has been diluted, and we will now lose one of each, but it still seems
The rationale for mayoral appointments seems questionable. The point has been made that the two new members should be appointed partly to meet diversity criteria and partly to ensure a better relationship with business, so that business takes more account of the need for fire safety, resilience and emergency planning. In the first case, diversity should rightly be a matter for political parties. All political parties are now addressing the issue, and London is an area in which they have all been successful to a greater or lesser extent in addressing diversity within their own ranks. Therefore, having representatives who are assembly or borough members can meet the diversity criteria more effectively than simple patronage from the Mayor.
Secondly, the idea that we need to appoint someone so that business meets its obligations more effectively seems a complete misunderstanding of how LFEPA should operate. Appointing someone to the board from business, however enlightened, will not necessarily mean that other businesses or institutions operating in the commercial arena will take any more heed of what LFEPA says. It seems to us that it is for LFEPA itselfits members and those who work with itto make the case for improved planning to deal with fire risk, improve resilience and manage emergency planning. LFEPA already does a good job, but if there is a feeling in the GLA or elsewhere that it needs to raise its game in those respects, the current composition should address that. Attempting to amend the current composition will not address that concern more effectively.
We are particularly concerned about what is proposed in respect of the power of mayoral direction to LFEPA. Because of the consensual way in which LFEPA works, the use of mayoral direction powers suggests that it has been incapable of resolving a problem and that the Mayor comes in to cut the Gordian knot. In such circumstances, there is an implied threat to LFEPAs accountability. More than that, however, individuals in LFEPA who might wish to operate to an agenda dictated by the Mayor could act as a fifth column, disrupting the currently effective consensual working of LFEPA and hoping that the Mayors powers of direction might subsequently be exercised to favour a minority over the existing consensus. It would not be appropriate for the Mayors powers to be exercised in such circumstances. That is why we have tabled an amendment, which may be taken as a new clause later, that would give the assembly the power to call in certain mayoral directions. We accept that in rare circumstances a power of mayoral direction might be appropriate.
We acknowledge that mayoral direction has been used, for example, with the London Development Agency or Transport for London in preparing for the Olympics, to instil a sense of common purpose for a
We can all conceive of circumstances where a strong Mayor here may need to use a power of mayoral direction with LFEPA to deal with emergencies. In such circumstances, a responsible GLA will not exercise its call-in power, because it would recognise the importance of letting the Mayor and LFEPA get on with the job. However, giving the assembly that call-in power would ensure that the Mayor would exercise it responsibly. Unless the Minister says that it is appropriate to grant the assembly that call-in power, we are chary about extending to the Mayor, willy-nilly, this power of direction.
Our reasons for expressing concerns about the clauses relate to the current composition of LFEPA, the weak reasons being given for the change of membership and our concerns about the potential misuse or inadequate scrutiny of the Mayors power of direction in specific circumstances. I would be grateful if the Minister addressed those concerns.
Tom Brake: I support the points made by the hon. Gentleman. The information that I have received about LFEPA suggests that it functions well and has a local government-inspired culture of openness which, according to my contact, contrasts with that of TFL and the LDA. I am told that its budget is one of the most robust, because its local authority input provides a more active degree of scrutiny than might otherwise have applied.
The information that I have received suggests, as the hon. Gentleman said, that this measure may be about trying to ensure that the ethnic minority representation on LFEPA is correct. There may be other, more effective, ways of achieving the degree of balance that the Minister is rightly seeking than simply switching places from local authorities and assembly members to the Mayor. The method being used to achieve that balance is not appropriate. I shall listen carefully to what the Minister says, but he will have to work hard to convince me that Iand the official Oppositionshould support these clauses today.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The clause, which amends paragraph 1 of schedule 28 to the Greater London Authority Act 1999, changes the composition of LFEPA and gives it wider powers in the appointment of the authority members. It enables the Mayor to appoint the 17-member board as follows: eight assembly members, currently nine, seven London borough nominees, currently eight, and two further new members appointed by the Mayor on his own nomination who are intended to represent stakeholders who are other than elected politicians. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington mentioned the prospect of someone from the black minority ethnic community being nominated, which is an option that would be open to the Mayor.
The clause also makes consequential amendments to ensure that the Mayors appointment of eight assembly members continues to reflect the political balance of the prevailing parties in the assembly. It makes consequential amendments requiring the Mayor to fill any occurring vacancy of mayoral representatives on the authority as soon as reasonably possible.
Clause 26 removes the constraints imposed on a chair or vice-chair of LFEPA who is also an assembly member in respect of receiving allowances for carrying out those roles. This change reflects the initial responsibilities of being chair or vice-chair of the authority. The Government believe that assembly members should not be prohibited from receiving an allowance in respect of those offices.
Clause 27 inserts new sections 328A and 328B to the 1999 Act. The clause provides power for the Mayor, under new section 328A, to issue directions and guidance to the authority. In issuing any directions and guidance, the Mayor must have regard to the fire and rescue national framework and other fire safety enforcement guidance. That will give the Mayor more influence over delivery while ensuring that the arrangements for LFEPA remain broadly compatible with those for fire and rescue authorities elsewhere.
Tom Brake: If, for instance, clause 27 was passed, giving the Mayor the power of direction, why does the hon. Gentleman believe that it would be necessary for the Mayor to appoint his own people to LFEPA?
Jim Fitzpatrick: It is our view that the LFEPA board should have its membership widened to include those other than local authority representatives. We partly discussed that earlier in respect of the TFL boardwhether there should be outside people on it and it should be exclusively local authority or assembly representation.
We believe that it would add to the experience and ability of the LFEPA board to continue with the undoubted success that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath in respect of discharging its duties and which the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst knows better than any of us, having been a senior figure and leader of the authority over many years and well respected within the fire community for the role that he has played. We believe that bringing in other than local authority representatives would assist the board in its ability to discharge its duties. As I was saying, this will give the Mayor more influence over delivery while ensuring that the arrangements for LFEPA remain broadly compatible with those for fire and rescue authorities elsewhere.
Clause 27 includes a power for the Secretary of State in the new section 328B of the 1999 Act to direct the Mayor to revise or revoke the guidance or directions given to LFEPA that he considers inconsistent with the fire and rescue national framework or fire safety enforcement guidance. The purpose of that reserve power is to ensure that if the guidance or direction issued by the Mayor to LFEPA is inconsistent with that issued by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State can direct the Mayor to remove their inconsistency. That will ultimately ensure that the guidance or directions issued by the Mayor do not conflict with policy requirements
Finally, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath promoted me above my rank. I was not general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union but a senior lay official in London, which was several ranks below.
Michael Gove: Many of us feel that the Fire Brigades Union would have been in even better hands had the Minister been general secretary, because his judgment in so many matters is exemplary. However, on this occasion, it has let him down.
I am sorry that the Minister cannot accept the burden of our arguments, but we might table an amendment, perhaps on Report, specifically to see whether call-in powers might be appropriate. I give notice that, due to the Ministers insistence that the clause stand part intact and unamended, we shall vote against it.
The Chairman: For the sake of clarity, I remind the Committee that, as we have grouped the stand part debates for clauses 25, 26 and 27, the other two clauses will be moved formally once I have put the question on clause 25 stand part. If anyone wants to make further comment on part 5, they should do so now.
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 6.
Division No. 9 ]
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Directions etc by the Mayor
Motion made, and Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 6.
Division No. 10 ]
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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