Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Whitty: Clearly, we hope that the mayor of London will be very much party to the development of strategies and will develop an international position, but the GLA is not a nation state that makes its own international obligations. The GLA may contribute to our national position in those negotiations, but once that position has been agreed, it is a matter for the state as a whole to do its best to ensure that it is met.

These provisions are not put into the Bill because of any earlier experience, but on the basis of common sense. If we have a national policy relating to, for example, various environmental objectives, it is reasonable to require the mayor to have regard to the need for consistency with national policies. If we have an international obligation, as we do, under Kyoto,

23 Jun 1999 : Column 929

which is not in legislation, it is sensible to have a provision whereby the mayor must have regard to the need to be consistent with such an obligation. For example, the UK has an obligation in relation to EU waste strategy--this will be in legislation--and the mayor may decide, totally contrary to the direction of EU legislation in these matters, that London can get rid of waste only through huge landfill sites. It must be right that the mayor should have regard to the need for consistency with that obligation and the national policies that are being pursued to fulfil it. Therefore, all we are saying appears to be common sense. It is not centralisation. It is not imposing any penalties on the mayor other than those which exist generally within administrative law to deal with a person who has not carried out his duty. Nor does it constrain the mayor in the way in which he develops his strategies. However, it is fair and reasonable to impose on the GLA the duty to be consistent and to have regard to the need for consistency with those international obligations which have been notified by the state.

In one sense, I think the noble Baroness is being helpful to the Government in saying that there may be matters about which the department has forgotten to notify the mayor. But I also believe it is not reasonable to expect the GLA or any other local authority to be aware of obligations which may be in the minutiae of some obscure treaty. Therefore, there is an obligation on national government to notify the GLA of any international obligations.

I repeat that this is not a centralising measure but a commonsense measure. It is designed to ensure that London and its new administration play their part in the delivery of both our national policies and our international obligations. I believe that that is a sensible provision. To act otherwise would be difficult to explain. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I do not think there is anything between ourselves and the Government as regards this matter, although the wording of subsection (5)(a) on page 20 is somewhat peculiar. The need to ensure that the strategy is consistent with national policies is absolutely clear, but it is,


    "with such international obligations as the Secretary of State may notify".

International obligations are international obligations. I accept absolutely that the last thing one would wish to see is the mayor having to build some minor department or even to use half or a quarter or even 1 per cent of a clerk's time to find out with which international obligations he may have to comply.

The use of the words "such international obligations" seems to imply some sort of distinction. Will the Minister consider whether altering the wording slightly

23 Jun 1999 : Column 930

will make his intentions, with which I believe we all agree, absolutely clear? The wording seems to me to be odd, to say the least.

Baroness Hamwee: I think the noble Lord is saying--and my reaction was similar--that it suggests some picking and choosing. There may be picking and choosing as to the relevance. But I believe that the noble Lord is saying that the mayor should ensure that the strategy is consistent with international obligations, provided that there is notification by the Secretary of State.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Before the Minister replies to that point, will he answer my question as to what would happen if he does not do some of these things? How is the matter resolved? Or is there no answer to that at the moment?

Lord Whitty: This provision, and many provisions within this Act, require the mayor to have regard to various aspects. Clearly, having taken into account the international obligations and so forth, if there is no specific legislation then there is not a direct penalty as there would be, for example, for a breach of financial arrangements under the local government regime. Nevertheless, the mayor is subject to the general provision within administrative law: that it is open to the Government or anyone else to apply for a judicial review if there is a challenge that the mayor has not taken into account the requirements within the legislation. However, there is no direct penalty in the sense to which I believe the noble Baroness was referring.

As I indicated earlier, with regard to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, the duty to ensure that international obligations are carried out falls on the state. The state is party to those treaties. The state must therefore notify those other authorities and persons that are required to act in conformity. Therefore, I believe that the requirement that notification should take place is appropriate in those circumstances.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that she believed that I had easily understood this matter. I must put her mind at rest and qualify that. I think that I understood it but it certainly was not easy when I went through it. The problem is with the word "such". Subsection (5)(a) states,


    "is consistent with national policies and with such international obligations as the Secretary of State may notify".

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, mentioned the word "pick". When I originally wrote my few lines to this amendment, in my own notes, which I did not read to the Minister, I said that it should not be left to the Secretary of State to "cherry pick" which of those international obligations he notifies to the mayor. I find that word quite unacceptable. I believe that the amendment, which refers to the need to ensure that the strategy is consistent with our national obligations, is much more sensible.

23 Jun 1999 : Column 931

Before I take up the Minister's suggestion and decide whether or not to withdraw the amendment, I should be grateful if he will comment on my remark that this duty is not upon local councils.

Lord Whitty: The obligation is not the same in relation to councils. The legislation is different. There are no obligations on councils to draw up strategies in this way as part of their legislative duties. That is why it is not covered in local government legislation. That is the only reason for that.

Much is being made of the word "such" and of where the obligation arises. Clearly there are many international obligations which are totally irrelevant to the GLA and which the GLA would have no part in helping the Government to meet. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, expressed the matter, it is meeting international obligations, provided that the obligations have been notified to the GLA. It does not mean that we shall be able to cherry pick but the GLA only has that duty provided that it has been told that it has that duty. I hope that that clarifies the point.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I am interested to hear what the Minister has said. I was not intending to speak again. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, I was a member of an authority which was obliged by law to make a structure plan. In some ways, that is not so different from developing a strategy. There is no question of not accepting government guidance. It is all part of the habit of local government. If councils do that anyway--as our officers did on our behalf and then informed us of what was taking place, for example, at Rio--why do we need special rules for the new authority in London? If they do not do it anyway, why are these rules not being applied to all major authorities in the United Kingdom?

Lord Whitty: The key answer to that is that structure plans and other obligations on local authorities are subject directly, or on appeal, to the Secretary of State. This power of the mayor is being laid down for the first time in new legislation in a unique authority. We therefore need a degree of clarity on the relationship between the mayor and national governments in this respect where, as the noble Baroness rightly says, custom and practice over decades has established a degree of understanding within the local authority structure. I believe that when one is dealing with an authority with an entirely new structure and powers, which consists of a geographical area of 6 million to 8 million people--I cannot remember the exact figure--we have an entirely new situation with which to deal. Therefore, we must legislate in this area with greater clarity than perhaps in other areas.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: The Minister said earlier that he thought I was trying to be helpful but rather confused things. I always try to be helpful to the noble Lord, as he knows very well. In fact, my help extends beyond the Bill; I am always trying to be helpful to the Government.

23 Jun 1999 : Column 932

On that happy note, I am delighted that we have had this discourse across the Dispatch Box because it has enabled us to pull out a few more of the Government's thoughts. I shall read the debate with care. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 114 to 118 not moved.]


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page