Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Hamwee: I could argue the finer points for some time, but I shall not. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1 Jul 1999 : Column 484

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 254AC:


Page 72, line 28, at end insert--
("(5) In exercising his powers of direction over Transport for London, the Mayor shall be under a duty to ensure that Transport for London operates in a manner which represents value for money and therefore that Transport for London is not subjected to changes of policy from year to year of such a degree as to disrupt its long-term investment and expenditure planning, save in any case where continuity in policy would be manifestly unreasonable on grounds of economy.")

The noble Lord said: Clause 134 deals with control by the mayor of Transport for London. This amendment seeks to place on the face of the Bill the need to recognise that the management, direction and control of Transport for London is too significant and important a matter to become a political football. That may seem a strange concept to put on the face of a Bill. However, I move this amendment with some deliberation.

There was a time, back in history and before a large part of what was formerly Essex was taken into London, when political control changed at every election, which was interesting. That began after the Second World War. Following one election a good council took many actions which were promptly reversed as a result of the next election. Of course, in those days, county councils had greater executive control over their affairs than is the custom today. At the next election there was another reversal of power. That situation having persisted for a while, there was a realisation of the futility of what was happening.

There is a danger, in the structure we are creating, that the business of managing London's transport could become a political football. The mayor has almost absolute control and the Minister has said that that is deliberate. The mayor will have the absolute power to determine the membership of Transport for London; he will be able to determine the terms under which Transport for London's members serve. Presumably he will also be able to determine when to terminate their membership. In theory a new mayor could terminate all those serving on Transport for London and install a new board to do his behest.

London's transport is too important for that. I may not have succeeded in what I attempted in this amendment, but that is the reason that I tabled the amendment. We need to recognise the significance of that as an issue. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: This amendment is two-pronged. The amendment would require the mayor to exercise his powers to ensure that TfL operates in such a way as to ensure value for money on the one hand, and not subject to policy changes on the other.

On the first point, it is clear that TfL will be covered by the best value provisions of the Local Government Bill which we shall be discussing in the House shortly. That Bill will require TfL to make arrangements to ensure value for money in the broadest sense.

It would be difficult for us to accept the other point raised by the noble Lord. We are all against political footballs unless we happen to be kicking them ourselves. The whole point of a mayor is that he or she

1 Jul 1999 : Column 485

will give some direction and strategy, but at times of elections that strategy may change. A number of putative mayors have been mentioned in Committee and it is conceivable that some of the most frequently mentioned could alternate in the same way as the noble Lord suggests that Essex alternated, no doubt for entirely different reasons. We hope that that does not happen. Nevertheless, if a mayor is elected with a different strategy, that will alter the investment priorities which he or she would expect of TfL.

The constraint is that the mayor is required to act reasonably. Therefore, even in regard to a newly endorsed and different manifesto, he or she must act reasonably in dealings with TfL. Transport is, of course, such a central issue--and will be a central issue for many years to come, I suspect, in any election for mayor--that it will not be possible for us to write into the Bill a requirement that the mayor cannot change the direction given to TfL with regard to investment priorities. Perhaps the noble Lord, on reflection, will accept that that, in the relatively crude way expressed in the amendment, is not possible.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I had the experience of presiding over a committee of both Houses at Westminster on a Bill connected with roads. The matter was a political football. There had been some 30 days of consideration in Scotland and 17 days of consideration at Westminster, with counsel on both sides. It was a very expensive operation. However, there was an election, the policy changed, and £10 million of ratepayers' money went down the drain because it was a political football.

We all know that democracy can have that effect. Those who have been involved in such matters know the problems. However, I wonder whether the Government could do something to try to avoid what is at the core of my noble friend's argument. As he rightly said, London's transport is too important for there to be constant changes in policy because it suits politicians to swing matters around. Such matters can be expensive.

Perhaps the Minister will consider whether the Government could table an amendment suggesting that policy change should happen only where there is economic justification. At least that would put a brake on the kind of thinking that we all know takes place at election times. Change for the sake of change is dreadful. It actually happened in the case that I have mentioned and it was very damaging. The traffic jams are still there and the money went down the drain, all because of not particularly high-minded local government politics at the time. It happened a long time ago, but it made me realise that waste on a large scale can happen. I wonder whether there is some way in which this matter can be dealt with.

Lord Avebury: There should be some constraints to prevent the sudden disruption of long-term investment and expenditure planning over and above what is represented by the first part of the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that the mayor will be under the obligation contained in the Local Government Bill to ensure that what he carries out represents value

1 Jul 1999 : Column 486

for money. Therefore, if a large investment project were cancelled half way through, as the noble Baroness has suggested may happen in local government, that would be very expensive for the people of London and a contravention of the Local Government Bill, as mentioned by the Minister.

If there is no provision in the Bill, such changes are likely to take place in London. There could be a clean sweep of all the members of TfL. There would be nothing to stop the mayor getting rid of all of them, appointing new members, issuing a new set of general directions and embarking on a totally new investment strategy as long as he can satisfy himself that he is acting within the constraints that the Minister has mentioned.

This point raises great anxieties, particularly when considering the vast needs for investment in the transport system in Greater London, such as the expenditure of huge amounts of money on the Underground system and many other aspects of transport. We need to take such matters into consideration, but I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, in framing the amendment, is correct. We need to consider how this problem can be tackled elsewhere in the Bill. I am not sure that this amendment provides the answer.

Baroness Hamwee: I may be a little old-fashioned in this regard, but it seems to me that the conventional constraints of politics, married with the penalties that would be incurred--the compensation that may have to be paid if a major contract were cancelled--are two points that we should leave to be worked through as they are in other areas of government.

I take the Minister's point about political footballs being footballs only when someone else is kicking them. We are all apt to think, "I am right; you are misguided; he or she is completely bonkers." None of that is addressed to any Member of the Committee. But that is politics. If the mayor takes the view that some project to which Transport for London was committed under a previous political regime was the wrong one, I think that, having considered aspects such as compensation which would be payable, the mayor should be able to take a view as to what would be right in all the circumstances. I am sorry to differ from my noble friend on this matter. It may be the result of different experiences. I share the concerns as to what might happen, arising no doubt in part from history. Nevertheless, I believe that democracy needs to have its day.

7 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to those who have taken part in the debate. I am grateful particularly for expressions of support for the idea that we should be concerned about this area. I am absolutely satisfied that, if I were to be one putative mayor and the noble Lord the Minister were to be another, there would be no difficulty. Between reasonable people there is never a problem. That is the way of the world. But we should not attempt to anticipate or second-guess politics. Politics can be extremely strange and we need to think about what can happen if the nature of politics changes.

1 Jul 1999 : Column 487

I do not apologise for tabling the amendment. The matter was resolved in Essex by an unwritten convention that everyone who achieved executive office would recognise the actions of their predecessors and go on from there. That is essentially the tradition of government. But it is not on the face of the Bill. I shall study with care what the Minister and other Members of the Committee said. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 134 agreed to.

Clause 135 [Structure of fares and services]:


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page