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Lord Bowness: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her intervention, but I do not think that that answer escapes the point that the referendum will be authorising, confirming and approving a principle with no detail. The legislation will not have passed through Parliament. The Minister cannot say that there are firm proposals.
In the light of popular views expressed and the changed circumstances, my party has reviewed its policy on London; we accept the concept of a mayor and an authority. However, there are many different powers and methods of working available to a mayor and there are different options for the authority. The method of election of the mayor and the assembly has still to be decided. Irrespective of whether that appears in the White Paper, when the people of Greater London vote that information will not have appeared in legislation which has passed through Parliament. The number of members of the assembly and the nature of the electoral areas are unknown. Yes, there may be popular support for a mayor and an assembly, but not at any price. Why should the people not cast their vote in the referendum in full knowledge of such matters? If there has to be a referendum, do not the Government trust the people to express a view upon detailed proposals or is it suggested that they can be consulted only on an idea?
However supportive of the general concept, many people would feel strongly that the mayor should be elected on a straight first-past-the-post system. Others might feel equally strongly that the alternative suggestions of the Green Paper are preferable. Some people will feel particularly strongly that the members of the assembly should have a clear and distinct representational role in respect of the towns and the cities that make up Greater London and would wish to see a system of election and electoral areas recognising that. We believe that the assembly should be indirectly elected. After all, Greater London is the sum of its constituent boroughs. There are other merits to that particular proposal which I believe would be more properly discussed in Committee. I hope that when they are discussed the Minister will give them proper consideration. I must advise the Minister that the reaction in another place was not encouraging. Suffice it to say that I believe that when the details are known it is possible that people will say, "We like the idea in principle, but given the way in which it is to be done, we can no longer support it". It is possible that people may say, "We like the idea of a mayor, but we no longer like the concept of the assembly as proposed." In this case, as in so many others, it is possible to be in favour of something but not, as I have said, at any price.
The arguments in favour of a mayor do not, I submit, extend to a directly elected assembly. Of course, we on these Benches accept the need for an assembly to provide the necessary scrutiny, the relevant counterbalance to the mayor, and to approve the mayor's budgets and strategies, but the assembly should also be the voice of Greater London speaking to the mayor--and the voice of Greater London is, I submit, the voice of the boroughs. They will not always be united, but they are the people speaking through their democratically elected representatives. It would be for the boroughs to reach agreement among themselves in the light of the mayor's proposals. The alternative directly elected assembly would not have its roots in the towns and cities that make up Greater London. I submit that it is bound to seek functions. An elected body, the principal function of which will be scrutiny and approval of someone else's activities, will inevitably seek power--and that power can come only from the cities and boroughs of London.
I want us to look forward in deciding how we should proceed in London, but we need to remind ourselves of where we have been in the past. When considering some of the options, we must try not to rewrite history or to forget past lessons. Debates in another place and some of the Minister's remarks have tempted me to deal with certain myths and misconceptions about London without a London-wide authority. I draw attention to this only because people need to know as much as possible when they come to make their decision. They need the ability to give as full an answer as possible.
What are some those lessons and myths of the past? It has been said that the removal of the Greater London Council was somehow a destruction of local democracy. It was no more than a local government reorganisation with which one can agree or disagree. We should not imagine that all the problems, real or perceived, of Greater London will disappear with the creation of a mayor and a new authority. The question of resources will be paramount. The question of powers and functions will be extremely important. When such information is known, I believe that people may have different views about the desirability of a directly elected assembly, supporting my contention that there should be two questions. We need to ensure that the new authority does not create the possibility of conflict with the boroughs. We need to ensure that it does not take away their powers. Those are the lessons that we need to learn from the past. Any objective assessment of previous arrangements points to the duplication, delay and cost which resulted from a system which did not seek to avoid duplication, conflict and unnecessary cost.
I draw the Minister's attention to paragraph 2.02 of the Green Paper. Although the document as a whole talks of the authority not taking functions away from local government in the capital, that paragraph refers to the interest of the authority in economic regeneration, planning, transport and environmental protection--examples of borough activities. That is not just the view
For that reason we attach importance to the consideration of two questions and the ability of the people to decide whether or not they want a directly elected assembly. Our preferred answer is to have an indirectly elected assembly. We say that because we do not believe that the boroughs will take a parochial view. Each is part of an area of the capital and each is vital to the other. If the new authority is to work, there must be an end to the view that boroughs are good only for dealing with allotments and pedestrian crossings provided they are not on main roads. That is something which has bedeviled previous arrangements and is an argument that sadly has been hinted at in your Lordships' House in other debates on London.
My party is committed to the success of London, the capital of the United Kingdom. We endorse all of the comments of the Minister about London as a world class city. We are second to no one in our desire to ensure that it enjoys pre-eminence among the cities of the world. We accept the desire of the people to have a champion in the person of a mayor of London. At another stage we may need to consider the effect of this title on the traditional valued institutions of mayoralty not just in the City where the Lord Mayor has served the whole of London but in the whole of the United Kingdom and in the towns and cities that make up Greater London. We also accept the need for an assembly but not the need for a directly elected body which has the potential to replicate all that was bad about the Greater London Council. We want people to vote in the referendum with the benefit of the answers to some of the questions that have been posed and with the benefit of the Government's firm legislative proposals in answer to questions posed in their own Green Paper. Because they cannot and because, as proposed, they can answer only one question and not two, we have reservations about the Bill. We hope that as it passes through its stages we can remedy some of these ills.
In another place it was said that the Government promised a mayor and an assembly with the proposals being put to a referendum. The Minister repeated that argument today. We were told that the Government did not promise to pick and mix; in other words, "We do it our way. You do it the way we say". What kind of trust is that for the people? If that is the trust that the Government are prepared to place in the people, why bother to ask any questions at all?
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I too begin by thanking the Minister for starting us on the road to strategic government for and by London. The Minister invited declarations of interest. I certainly do not declare an interest as a potential candidate for either of the positions; nor on this occasion do I declare an interest as a London borough councillor--which I am--because we on these Benches see the government of London as a regional and not local matter. I was a little startled to hear the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, refer to the
This Bill is only about the referendum, but the need for a new level of government, and the effectiveness and importance of the functions of that new level of government are relevant to the structure of the new authority and therefore what is to be put to the electorate. The electorate will not have long to assess those functions. The estimated date of the arrival of the White Paper is about six weeks before the 7th May. Much is to be said for a post-legislative referendum. I note what the Minister has said about the electorate knowing about the Government's proposals. On this point I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. Those will be merely proposals and not tested proposals that have gone through the parliamentary process.
The Government have set out in their Green Paper the criteria for the new authority. I do not take issue with them on those. They have said that it should be consensual. One wonders whether that is the right term. It suggests that there may be evidence of the lowest common denominator or perhaps even a code for ignoring minorities. I prefer to think of the new authority as a co-operative model. It also says that it should be audible. The audibility appears to refer only to the mayor. One hopes that "audibility" also means that it will be listened to by central government. One word that does not feature in the list of criteria--I hope it is implicit--is "subsidiarity". It is essential for the success of the new authority that there is a clear distinction between it and the boroughs and that its powers are drawn down from central government.
As to the functions of the authority, we believe that the Green Paper is rather on the timid side. It is widely agreed that transport is an area that must come under the aegis of the new authority. One may say that that is enough for anyone to tackle. But we see the job as being to govern London strategically, and that is a job for the body, not one individual.
In particular we see important strategic roles in the health services--these are matters that are not proposed; but it would be interesting to debate this matter in the context of the new White Paper--and in further education. We are not alone in identifying these as areas that merit further consideration. I have seen a long list of organisations and individuals, including many who have no axe to grind on this subject but who have a useful perspective, who believe that education and health could usefully be dealt with by the new authority. For instance, citizens advice bureaux have mentioned education, and London First has mentioned health. Practically no one has commented that these functions should be excluded. I believe that it is important to get the new authority up and running. If we cannot have everything perfect to start with, we should at least allow for the possibility of adding functions.
What is to be done is as important as considering how it is to be done. It is essential that not too much power is placed in the hands of one individual. The reasons for the creation of the new authority that may also be taken as benchmarks against which the proposals can be tested
I believe that at the moment we have what has been described as the world capital of quangos and joint committees whose functions are left almost to the whim of joint arrangements. Certainly, London needs a voice. When for eight years I chaired the London Planning Advisory Committee I was constantly irritated by the fact that foreigners believed that the Lord Mayor of the City of London was Mr. London. But the provision of a voice for London does not necessarily mean that only one individual gets the melody. In my view, not only is London too big for one individual--its population is more than that of Scotland and Wales--but it is inappropriate to allow one person to be cast as having the mandate of 5 million electors. That is empowerment with a vengeance. This is a presidential model, not the prime ministerial model with which we are all familiar.
However, I recognise that there are differences of view. Liberal Democrats generally believe that there is a need to avoid the dangers of an elected dictatorship; to ensure that all the constituent parts of the new authority pull together; to ensure that its members are not merely doing the job of a rubber stamp, or causing gridlock--the two extremes--but do something in between; and to ensure that they have a job worth doing so that the right people are attracted to stand for membership. That goes to our argument that the mayor should come out of the assembly, and, essentially, that a separately elected mayor would not provide effective accountability of the kind that I am sure your Lordships will want to see--accountability on a day-to-day basis, not just once in four years.
There are other views which my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf will effectively make. That leads me to say: let there be a debate. The Green Paper did not consult on the different models. Advocates of a directly elected mayoralty often point to New York. Success there in turning things around, as happened in the city, must surely, in large part, be due to the powers being made available. The crackdown on crime, of which we have heard so much, must in large part be due to putting more
The comment was made, "If you want to see a democratic deficit in action, go to New York". It is also often said that having a directly elected mayor will lead to an increased turnout. If the revival of democracy depends upon personality politics alone, that leaves me with a sense of unease for the future of our democracy.
I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, about the desirability of the assembly consisting of London leaders. I had some related experience of that in chairing the London-wide committee, which I have mentioned. It is impossible for London borough councillors to take as their first priority, and to give proper strategic consideration, to the interests of London if their main job is their job in their own boroughs. Not just that, but to have an assembly consisting of London leaders would blur lines of accountability. Good relationships between the boroughs and whatever strategic authority we end up with must not be lost.
The Liberal Democrats are not alone in their concerns. We call for two questions on the referendum so that the matter can be debated publicly. There has been much discussion, especially in another place, on that issue. I will not this afternoon trade lists of names with the Minister. Many people have mentioned to me the report in last Friday's Evening Standard about the postponement of the London Labour regional conference. According to the article, it was to avoid the London Labour Party embarrassing the Government on that issue. I fully expect the Minister to deny that that is the reason for the cancellation.
It is fair enough to say that the recommendations are those of the Government; but there are two questions whose answers will be clear. Some people may not like the answers if those two questions are asked, but that is no reason not to ask them.
I turn briefly to other parts of the Bill. The referendum, and the question or questions, are not the only novelty. So too will be the electoral arrangements. We urge a "son" of the Scottish Constitutional Convention to bring together interested parties to reach the best solution for the electoral model.
If there is to be a directly elected mayor, there will be two elections. It will be helpful not to have ballot papers, one of which requires a cross and one a one-two-three-and-onwards answer. We will have to have one to six, or however many, probably by the alternative vote when we elect the mayor, if we do so directly, otherwise there will be a serious risk that the mayor will be someone who obtains only 15 per cent. of the vote. So it would be appropriate to have a proportional system for members of the authority. As well as proportionality, we shall look to voter choice and a degree of local connection. London, after all, is of a size, and has enough historically cohesive areas to allow for such a system.
Other points, which are not headline points but which are important, relate to the hours of the poll. I hope that it will be possible to give voters longer than the 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. which applies to local elections, given the hours that so many Londoners work, and the distances they have to travel. As to the cost, and how the money is spent, it is important that publicly funded publicity encourages voting but does not encourage the outcome. Some people think that some other people have already started their campaign. Will the Minister explain when election expenses will start running or indeed whether they have already started running?
We welcome the Bill. The referendum must be one which leads to a widely accepted outcome. The Minister talked about trusting Londoners. We must enable the electorate to express its views, and not have just one question to which many Londoners--I should be one--would want to answer, "Well, yes and no". I want to be able to answer resoundingly, and without reservation, "yes" to the whole package.
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