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Lord Morris of Manchester: We have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. I entirely understand the viewpoint so cogently argued by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, and much appreciate the support she expressed for my amendments.

I am indebted, too, to my good friends, the noble Baronesses, Lady Darcy de Knayth and Lady Masham. They contributed first-hand experience of the daunting problems that severely disabled people now have to face in London in seeking the freedom of movement others have as of right.

The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, referred to abuse of the orange badge scheme. When I first proposed the scheme 30 years ago, in 1969, I was told that it would be very widely abused. My reply was that penalties for abuse would be provided in the legislation I was drafting. That is what happened. My Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which brought the scheme into existence, made provision for penalties for abuse. The penalties have been increased since 1970 and if there is a case for increasing them again, I have no doubt that Ministers will look sympathetically at every suggestion to protect against abuse a scheme which has been of profound importance to millions of severely disabled people over the past 30 years.

Over 1 million cars now have the orange badge and some people feel that this in itself must imply widespread abuse. But over eight times as many people now receive the mobility allowance as was envisaged when I introduced that benefit in the 1970s. I was told after legislating for it that I was probably exaggerating the number of disabled people who would qualify. In truth I was under-stating the number.

The fact is that the statistics available to me as the then first Minister for Disabled People were much less reliable than those available to Ministers now. And I must pay this tribute to the last Government: they spent far more on improving the social statistics available to Ministers than previous governments. Their statistics proved that the new benefits for disabled people introduced in 1970 applied to far more people than was first estimated.

As the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, may know, there are procedures for individuals to report alleged cases of abuse of the orange badge scheme. I am sure that my honourable friend Glenda Jackson will be only too glad to provide any noble Lord with full information as to the action that can be taken against abuse.

I turn now to the response of my noble friend Lord Whitty. As I understand it--I know he will tell us if it is not so--the Government have it in mind to legislate for a national scheme of exemption from road charges and levies for disabled people who have to depend on cars to get about. Glenda Jackson's helpful response to DIPTAC, to which I referred in moving my

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amendment, also makes clear that a national scheme will apply throughout London, whatever the view, presumably, of the mayor.

So what issue of principle divides us? The only difference, if these amendments are approved, is one of timing: London will lead and not follow the rest of the country. I am sure that no conceivable candidate for the mayoralty would object to this and that most Londoners would welcome the role of leadership that my amendments offer. Why should London not be the first to meet the test of humane leadership that these amendments involve?

I hope that the amendments will not be seen as being far more prescriptive than is intended. As my noble friend said, there are later amendments to be discussed that would help disabled people. The two substantive amendments that I have addressed this afternoon will return to the House later and this is not the moment to consider pressing them. I ask my noble friend to reflect carefully, as I am sure he will, on what has been said from both sides of the Committee in this debate. More especially, I hope he will reflect that there is no great issue of principle between us. The letter of his ministerial colleague, Glenda Jackson, to DIPTAC itself made that crystal clear. I hope that at a later stage of the Bill my noble friend will be able to offer some encouragement to disabled people who do not wish to run any risk with their independence. They strongly support the amendments, as does the Minister's Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 70:

Page 14, line 18, leave out from ("have") to end of line 19 and insert ("the powers conferred by this Act")

The noble Baroness said: With this amendment, I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 71, 72, 73, 75, 76 and 78. This group of seven amendments relates to Clause 25 which the rubric describes as being concerned with,

    "The general power of the Authority". Members of the Committee on adjacent Benches have put down a further 10 amendments to Clause 25, including Amendment No. 74, in which they are joined by my noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, from the Labour Benches. Of course, I cannot comment at this stage on the reasons for the amendments proposed to the clause other than my own. However, my own reasons are that I believe that in some respects the general tenor of the clause is too vague and unspecific. In some instances it is too wide and in other parts it is too woolly.

Amendment No. 70 relates to Clause 25(1) which proposes:

    "The Authority shall have power to do anything which it considers will further any one or more of its principal purposes".

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    As if the licence to do anything is not wide enough, the authority is not even required to show that what it is doing will further the objects. It has not even to show that what it is doing will have the strong possibility of furthering those objects, just a vague suggestion that it considers its actions will further one of those objects. The clause does not even require the authority to have reasonable grounds for its opinion.

Among the many blank cheques for which the Government ask in the Bill, this is probably the blankest of them all. It is bad enough that in many cases the Secretary of State is treating the Bill as an enabling Bill with the real provisions to be revealed in regulations which will be published later. In this clause we are being asked to give the assembly limitless power to do anything it considers will further the principal purposes, however unreasonable and irrational that belief may be.

We were promised by the Government that the new Greater London Authority would not turn out to be the Greater London Council Mark Two. We were promised that it would not be able to run amok on frolics of its own and involve itself in all kinds of matters which had nothing to do with the governance of London, like its predecessor, which was the cause of its summary execution by the regime led by my noble friend Lady Thatcher.

Incidentally, if I may digress for a moment, last week, on 14th June, when we dealt with the first batch of amendments to the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty said, in response to one of my amendments, while disclaiming any intention of making "cheap political points"--his words, not mine:

    "13 or 14 years ago the previous Government, in the face of massive opposition in London and without any talk of a referendum, completely demolished the structure of local government".--[Official Report, 14/6/99; col. 122.] I agree with him about the massive opposition which consisted of the spending of an estimated £20 million of ratepayers' money by the GLC, under the leadership of the Member for Brent East, in order to preserve Labour's fiefdom and in time to coincide with the 1984 elections for the European Parliament.

However, as I told the Committee then, we did not need a referendum because it was in our 1983 manifesto which said:

    "The metropolitan Councils and the Greater London Council have been shown to be a wasteful and unnecessary tier of government. We shall abolish them". When I mentioned in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that we won the 1983 election with a substantial majority, the noble Lord, Lord Tope interjected with a comment denying that. I am pleased to see him here. I remind the noble Lord that the majority then was 144, which is substantial by any standard.

I digress from the main point because we on this side of the Chamber are concerned to ensure that there is absolutely no possibility of history repeating itself. We do not want any fine print or ambiguities that will allow the GLA to do anything it likes--those are the words of the Bill--so long as it considers in its discretion, which the Bill makes no pretence of trying to fetter, that it will

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further one or more of its objects. The authority is not answerable to Parliament; it is answerable to the electors, but only once every four years.

After the rejection of the very reasonable amendments moved by myself and the Liberal Democrats about the removal of the mayor, the Government say that the mayor is not answerable to anyone at all because whatever he does, however wrong, there is nothing anyone can do about it except within the very limited powers under Clauses 49 and 50.

Amendment No. 70 would make subsection (1) read:

    "The Authority shall have the powers conferred by this Act". It is as simple as that. First, the powers are set out in black and white in the Act itself. Secondly, the powers given to it in specific terms by the Secretary of State under his powers to create secondary legislation are subject to the scrutiny of both Houses of Parliament. In that way someone will be answerable to Parliament if the assembly or mayor should go off the rails.

Judging by reports in the press and bearing in mind that Millbank Tower is the headquarters of ABK (the Anyone But Ken movement), that body views the possible emergence of the honourable Member from exile in his own island of Elba, known as Brent East, with even more concern than we do. We, in our party, will do our best to prevent a Labour candidate becoming mayor and/or the assembly being Labour-controlled. However, in case either catastrophe occurs, this amendment will enable the government of the day or the courts to give an appropriate and decisive tug on the reins if the mayor or assembly, or both, start to indulge in empire-building or to interfere in matters that are none of the business of what is, after all, a local, or perhaps regional, council. I hope that in this instance the Government will be duly grateful for the suggestion that, in a Bill where we have complained that the Secretary of State seeks too much power to intervene, we look to him to protect the public by strictly limiting and defining the powers of the GLA.

Amendment No. 71 requires the council to act in co-operation with local councils and the Common Council. The Government have, by a deliberate piece of policy with which we profoundly disagree, made sure that there is no direct connection between members of the assembly and individual boroughs. This has been done by creating 14 super constituencies. Whatever the Boundary Commission reports, it is clear that these 14 constituencies will have diverse interests within them because of the different nature of adjacent London boroughs. What must not happen is that the assembly rides roughshod over the views and wishes of the boroughs whose residents have put it into power. This applies even more so when half of the members of the assembly represent no constituency and are answerable to no one except the party machines that have given them a favoured place on the party list and on whose continued patronage they will depend if they want to be elected for a later term.

Clause 25(2) sets out the general purposes of the authority as promoting economic and social development and the improvement of the environment in Greater London. Clause 27 requires the authority to

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consult with others in deciding how to promote its purposes. But consultation does not necessarily mean co-operation. Our amendment requires the authority to act in co-operation with the London boroughs and the City of London. This reflects the political reality that for the mayor and assembly to achieve what they want they have to work with other local government in London. Many of the mayor's strategies will work properly only if carried out in conjunction with the boroughs.

The efforts of the mayor alone on biodiversity, municipal waste, air quality and ambient noise will add up to little unless he acts alongside the boroughs. The spatial development strategy is a recipe for dissent and disharmony unless it is worked out with, and through, the boroughs. The authority will have other strategies beyond those written on to the face of the Bill. To work they need the boroughs. This amendment requires the authority to act in co-operation with the boroughs and the City of London. I believe that that is practical, sensible politics and sets out the necessary relationship for the future government of London.

In anticipation of the Minister's response, if he does not accept the amendment the only implication can be that it is the intention of the Government that the assembly does not have to act in co-operation with the boroughs. I hope very much that this will not prove to be the case.

Amendment No. 72 proposes to remove Clause 25(2)(b). This paragraph describes the second principal purpose of the authority as,

    "promoting social development in Greater London". So much importance do the Government place on this purpose that they list it even before,

    "promoting the improvement of the environment in Greater London". That shows an interesting sense of priorities. What does "promoting social development" mean? The Explanatory Notes to the Bill do not provide one word of enlightenment on the subject. We propose to delete this item because it is totally meaningless gobbledegook. It could even be described as misleading as the Bill does not contain much in the way of powers to promote social development. Its meaninglessness and vagueness are an illustration of the danger of subsection (1) which allows the authority to do anything that furthers one of its objects; in other words, there is an unlimited power under the subsection to further a meaningless object.

When I introduced this group of amendments I said that the Government were asking for the mother of all blank cheques. I believe that the Government must show greater respect to Parliament than they usually do and tell us exactly what they are getting at. I suggest that the Government accept the amendments and bring back the provision at the next stage, re-written with a little more care and attention, and certainly with a much fuller explanation.

Amendment No. 73 seeks to include in the principal objects, alongside the environmental objective, improvement in the quality of life. Perhaps that should be in a separate paragraph, but in view of the terseness with which the Government have defined the principal

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objectives we have tacked it on to the environmental objective. The two do not necessarily go hand in hand. For example, one person's improvement of the environment, perhaps in the form of a total ban on private cars, could be another person's damaged quality of life. However, we want the authority to consider matters more broadly than in purely economic terms. We believe that to add the quality of life is a good alternative to the promotion of social development, which we have already asked to be deleted. It is also more in keeping with the powers of the authority in the Bill, for example, its emphasis on culture. Although that objective is not in itself exact, quality of life indices are available and, therefore, the authority's success in promoting it should be amenable to measurement.

Amendment No. 75 calls for the omission of subsection (3). The authority has three principal purposes. In doing an act it can decide to promote one or more of those purposes. Subsection (3) adds legal complexity and mental gymnastics where there is no practical necessity. The final paragraph requires the authority to,

    "secure, over a period of time, a reasonable balance between furthering each of its principal purposes". What is a reasonable balance is a matter of political judgment, if not personal prejudice. Politicians inside and outside London will disagree; Londoners will all have different views on the balance. If the subsection remains, the authority will be accused by someone of not striking that balance and breaking the law. But no court will decide what a reasonable balance is. It will say to politicians that it is up to them. The present wording imposes legal duties which are legally unenforceable. That is not sensible law-making.

One further point of concern, and a theme to which I fear we shall return many times on this Bill, is the right of the authority to act without diktat from the Secretary of State. We are worried that the Secretary of State will give guidance on what is a reasonable balance or use his powers of intervention to secure it. Subsection (3) gives to the Secretary of State an even greater temptation to meddle in the authority's decisions.

Amendment No. 76 requires the authority to have regard to national policy for the time being in force. What we cannot have is a local authority, especially one as powerful and influential as the GLA, declaring UDI, if the Committee will excuse that alphabet soup all in one sentence. We cannot have the GLA deciding that it objects to a policy of financial constraint and exceeding spending limits. We cannot have the GLA deciding to ignore decisions or legal responsibilities about local taxes.

We have seen examples in the past of councils refusing to set a rate. Some noble Lords may remember the self-inflicted martyrdom of the councillors of Clay Cross who rebelled against the implementation of the Housing Finance Act 1972 and as a result were surcharged by the district auditor and barred from public office. The new Labour Government who came to power in 1994 declined to earn them a remission despite the fact that the councillors included the brother and cousins of the honourable Member for Bolsover.

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Finally, Amendment No. 78 seeks to delete subsection (5). That subsection is objectionable for two reasons. In paragraph (a), the authority is to have regard to improving the health of persons in Greater London. When the former Prime Minister secured an opt-out from the social chapter at Maastrict, including the 48-hour week, the socialist-dominated Commission in Brussels introduced it by the back door under the guise that it was a health and safety matter. Clause 25(4)(a) is another blank cheque because it is so intangible that it authorises the banning of almost anything. It could result in no smoking, no drinking and no eating on the highway; no radios--in fact, in the gold plating of food regulations. Some noble Lords may agree with some of those examples. The point I seek to make is that the list is as endless as the fertile imagination of a bureaucrat could make it.

Clause 25(4)(b) is a direct invitation to the assembly to interfere, or to encourage the mayor to interfere, in national affairs--for example, to refuse to allow further factory building in London, as was done in the 1960s or 1970s. The authority's brief is to look at the interests of London, first and foremost, and always and alone. In any event, Clause 25(4) is clear enough and wide enough: to promote health and sustainable development in the authority's decisions. The final three lines state that the authority should not exercise its powers under the subsection if it is not reasonably practicable. I think that that is a good point: the authority is not to attempt to do something that is not practicable. If only that novel concept permeated through the remainder of the Bill. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: Amendments Nos. 77 and 79 in this group are tabled in my name. They are probing amendments in connection with the promotion of the achievement of sustainable development. Subsections (4) and (5) refer to,

    "the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom".

Having discussed the issue at some length on the Regional Development Agencies Bill, I concede to the Government the need to refer to the whole of the United Kingdom. However, I seek to insert in each of those provisions a reference to "Greater London" as well as the rest of the country. I want to ask the Minister about the balance of responsibilities for the GLA when considering sustainability in the authority's immediate backyard and the United Kingdom. I can envisage tensions from time to time, and different demands depending on how the GLA considers the area of responsibility.

Amendment No. 79 is possibly more important. It deals with the exercise of powers and how they should be calculated to contribute to sustainable development in London.

Perhaps I may comment on the other amendments in the group. My noble friends may also want to comment on some of them. I am not sure whether my noble friend Lord Tope intends to do so. He would like it to be made clear on the record that although he acknowledges that he was in error with regard to the Conservatives'

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manifesto for the 1983 election, he knows who won it! There seems to be some suggestion that he did not. The two of us were a little confused about the apparent reference to a general election in 1994 although we shall read Hansard to see whether we misheard.

Amendment No. 70 provides that the authority will have only the powers specifically conferred by the legislation, and not powers to further the purposes set out. I disagree with that approach. Although I understand the noble Baroness's concerns, one of the difficulties of our constitution is that only what is spelt out is allowed when we speak of any level other than Her Majesty's Government. I believe that there are considerable limitations and constraints on the exercise of the powers contained in Clause 26 and elsewhere in the Bill. It is important that the authority is not fettered by the omission of this general provision which does not extend its powers but merely enables it to exercise them.

On Amendment No. 71, we have made clear that we share the concern that the GLA will not constrain or interfere with the boroughs. We believe that the GLA is unlikely to succeed without joint working with the boroughs. However, the wording of the amendment suggests an overlap of functions in using the Act. I believe that the co-operation will best be seen when the "strategies"--in the Bill that word seems to be used for "policies"--are created. The level of consultation with, and the involvement of, the boroughs at that point is important.

If the omission of a provision for the promotion of social development is a matter of semantics, that is one thing. In another place the noble Baroness's honourable friends referred to the term as "Left-wing" and "loaded". But social well-being is a pillar of sustainability and part of the proposed new duty for local government; and I think correctly so. We believe that it is correctly a pillar in the matters which the GLA must consider. Deletion would lead to an imbalance--an assumption that wealth creation would be sufficient on its own. We should be left with the provision,

    "promoting economic development and wealth creation ... [and] promoting the improvement of the environment". Tackling poverty and social exclusion would be a key aim of the GLA. We believe that there is such a thing as society.

On the other hand, we are sympathetic to Amendment No. 73, which seeks to add "and quality of life". I should prefer that issue to be kept separate from the environmental purposes. I believe that the noble Baroness has already taken that point. As she says, one should not suggest, for instance, a ban on the use of cars. For individuals a car may add to the quality of life, whatever the environmental effects. There are balances to be struck on these issues.

Amendment No. 75 seeks to delete subsection (3). We believe that the provision is somewhat prescriptive. I am not sure that I agree with the noble Baroness's point that the Bill should not set out any legal duties which are not enforceable. I agree with the general thought underlying it, but the whole approach of the GLA, the culture that individuals manage to create, will be important.

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We shall debate Amendment No. 76 when we consider Clause 33, which concerns the place of national and international policies and obligations in the preparation and revision of strategies. The wording will make the exercise of the powers subject to national policy from time to time. We should not, however, limit the general purposes of the authority, which will be a constant framework, by something which may be variable.

In relation to disregarding the promotion of health and sustainability if it is not reasonably practicable, can the Minster confirm that Clause 25(5) does not override the principal purposes of subsections (2), (3) and (4) of this clause?

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