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Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 52:


Page 8, line 15, at end insert ("or
(c) is subject to a unanimous vote of no confidence by the Assembly,")

The noble Baroness said: This long and extremely complicated Bill has gone through the detailed scrutiny of the other place. In the course of its passage so far it has been virtually returned to the drawing board by the Government, and it has, like Topsy, "just growed", by no fewer than 85 pages. It is therefore curious that one essential provision is missing.

One assumes that the mayor is deemed to hold office during good behaviour. The Bill does not provide for his dismissal or his removal from office for "grave crimes and misdemeanours". If the Prime Minister were to fall out of favour or indeed the leader of a council, then his party, possibly with the assistance of the other side, could get rid of him by voting him out of office. Of course, the electorate can get rid of the whole party at an election, but that is not what we are talking about here.

The mayor of Greater London is unlike any other mayor of any city in the United Kingdom. Those mayors have largely ceremonial duties, including presiding over

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the council meetings, with his only real power being a casting vote in the case of an equality of voting. Despite the fact that the Secretary of State is reserving considerable powers to direct the mayor on how he should perform his duties, we are about to invest the mayor of London with enormous executive powers. He will have a budget equivalent to or in excess of that of the entire national budget of some third world countries. He will have substantial powers of patronage. I have no doubt that the person who is elected mayor will conduct himself in a perfectly proper manner. But perhaps he will not, either over a period of time or on a particular occasion. Perhaps he may be guilty of inappropriate conduct--I do not mean in his personal life--but in performance of the heavy duties imposed on him under the Bill.

High Court judges can be removed only by a joint Address to Her Majesty by both Houses of Parliament, but Her Majesty will not be appointing the mayor. The mayor will be elected. It would be grossly improper to have the dismissal effected by the Secretary of State at the request of the assembly. The Secretary of State already has more than enough reserve powers under the Bill, a Bill which seeks to give London an independent mayor, but leaves him subject to the directions of the Secretary of State in many vital areas.

Judging by Amendment No. 53, I believe that the Liberal Democrats agree with us in principle that there should be a power to remove the mayor and that the decision to remove the mayor should be in the hands of the assembly and the assembly alone. Therefore, the difference between us revolves around how many members of the assembly should decide on this drastic step. I accept what will no doubt be a criticism of my amendment that achieving a unanimous vote of no confidence will be extremely difficult. But I believe that the process ought to be difficult because unseating the mayor, elected by a popular vote, would be a very serious matter and should not take place unless it is clear that it is the right and proper step. I know it is possible that some obstinate person could in effect exercise a veto, or that a close friend of the mayor might be reluctant in what could be a secret vote to reveal that he too had voted for dismissal. In either of those cases it would be for them to explain that although the mayor had, for example, shot the leader of the opposition in front of the whole assembly and was locked up in prison awaiting trial, or had cost the taxpayers millions because of some gross act of negligence, they nevertheless voted for him to stay in office. No, I believe that they would act properly, and in a case where it is claimed that the removal of the mayor is both just and necessary, a unanimous vote is essential. I think there are difficulties with a lower percentage but the problem is that this is a very small assembly.

The reality is that it is not difficult to imagine an election in which, under the categories of constituency and party list members combined, one party could acquire an automatic majority sufficient to throw out the mayor. If the mayor happened to be of a different party, their own candidate having failed, then it would be a fairly simple matter to reverse the election results for absolutely no reason but that they did not like the

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winning candidate. Also, with only a small majority being required, there would be the temptation to launch a series of ill-founded motions, or even just one, which although unlikely to succeed, would undoubtedly fatally undermine the credibility of the mayor and his authority, and would distract him from the performance of his duties. One has only to look at recent events in the United States to see what I mean.

It is essential that in a democracy no office should be a freehold. Equally, if it is a leasehold it should be possible for the representatives of the electors to end the term of an elected official early where there is an exceptionally good reason. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: We share the concern expressed by the noble Baroness about the need to find some mechanism to deal with what would be very extreme circumstances. The experience of the conduct of mayors in the United States, for example, is not wholly happy. I do not mean to imply that every mayor in the United States has been corrupt, but there have been a number of notable and very worrying examples.

However, as the noble Baroness said, we are concerned about the need for unanimity. She mentioned the possibility of a chum of the mayor who is a member of the assembly blocking a vote of no confidence. The example which came to my mind was of a deputy mayor appointed by the mayor and therefore having a rather different personal interest from the rest of the members of the assembly.

We have proposed a two-thirds majority to allow for the odd obsequious and unquestioning supporter. Two-thirds may be a bit too low, but we wanted to examine tonight the possibility of steps being taken to get rid of a mayor who had lost the confidence of the assembly. For the purpose of this debate, I am happy to put it in the terms of the noble Baroness's amendment. It is not actually easy to get a two-thirds majority, I would have thought; certainly not if it were on a straight party line. The mayor would have to have done something pretty outrageous for this circumstance to come about. We have proposed two-thirds because it is a fairly common proportion which is required for constitutional change, but perhaps it is a little on the low side.

The mechanism we have proposed differs in another important respect from that proposed by the Conservatives. In any event, the assembly members would no doubt think pretty hard before passing such a resolution, but we are asking for a sanction on them to make them think that much harder--not only should they not be frivolous but that if they were frivolous it would rebound upon themselves--because our election provides for an outright election. In other words, if the assembly members want to get rid of the mayor they have to be prepared to face the electorate themselves. We believe that a mayor with very considerable powers needs to be subject to careful controls. In many

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situations I would argue that this is a matter for the electorate but, given the particular powers of the mayor, this is something that deserves particular consideration.

Lord Whitty: The noble Baroness started with the subject of corruption in American mayors and perhaps I should put on record here that the normal disqualification provisions covering the conduct of all local authority members would also apply to the mayor. In other words, the mayor will have to stand down if he has committed an offence that would carry a sentence of three months or more. If they are bankrupt, or disqualified under the Representation of the People Act or disqualified under Section 17 or 18 of the Audit Commission Act, or they are not prepared to attend meetings, the question of a corrupt mayor does not arise. It is really a policy issue that we are referring to now.

The noble Baroness also referred to the United States. I think that the recent history of impeachment processes there is not a very good model for us to follow here. It is conceivable that a vindictive assembly might take action against a mayor, even attempting to get a two-thirds majority--possibly not a unanimous majority, I concede, but nevertheless a two-thirds majority. Even in the improbable circumstances that we have been asked to consider in relation to the Bill, it is not improbable that a totally non-party candidate could win as mayor. That is a conceivable circumstance. The party establishments collectively might well have a view on that. Yet he or she would have had the endorsement of Londoners and a direct election. The flaw in these amendments is that the assembly's mandate is assumed to be superior to that of the mayor. Yet, if anything, the mayor's personal mandate will be more direct and substantial.

Under the Liberal Democrat amendment, if there were a vote we should also have to engage in an election for the assembly. It is a "nuclear deterrent" type of power. But again--as we are asked to consider improbable scenarios--if it happened, it would possibly happen almost immediately after one election where the programme of the incoming non-party mayor might be rejected by the assembly. Would the assembly be justified in removing the mayor? In what circumstances exactly would the assembly be justified in doing so, given that corruption, criminal offences and offences covered by local government legislation are already provided for? It seems to me that the noble Baroness's normal instinct applies here. This is a matter for the people, not for the assembly, whose members are elected on a parallel ticket for a different job from that of the mayor. I do not think that it could be justifiable if on every occasion--taking the two-thirds majority target, as the assembly must have a two-thirds majority--the assembly was able to ask London to vote again for a mayor.

I have a fundamental objection to this proposal. It is a matter for the people, not for the assembly. It is a misreading of the relative role of the assembly and the mayor. I do not think there is any precedent of one group of elected officials being able to vote out another, different elected official. Admittedly, we are in new and

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uncharted waters. But this proposal muddies the waters of the division of functions. It provides the possibility of dangerous and damaging conflict within the new Greater London Authority and we should reject it. I feel strongly about this matter. I hope that the noble Baroness will reconsider.


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