Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, not the least of the problems that we have faced constantly during debates on this Bill is the fact that the separation of powers is not spelled out on the face of the Bill. It is implicit within its massive content. Clause 31 deals with delegation and there the matter becomes relatively more apparent. But in fact the separation of powers is not spelled out. For that reason in Amendment No. 1 there are the additional words,


Amendment No. 2 is grouped separately, but none the less it is relatively meaningless unless Amendment No. 1 is accepted. It is the second part of a pair of amendments which put on the face of the Bill the separation of powers which otherwise have to be sought in the document The Shape of Things to Come? I suppose that it is a semi-official description of the future structure and the initial organisation of the Greater London Authority. There one sees how the separation of powers is set out.

We tend to think of the separation of powers almost automatically--perhaps completely erroneously, but none the less a fact--in the context of such separation in the constitution of the United States of America. There is a fundamental difference as regards the position that the Greater London Authority will face and its constitution. The assembly is not a legislature. It is not intended to be so. It has no possible role is which it could fulfil that particular function.

Despite that, the assembly will exist to scrutinise the work of the mayor. As regards London, the mayor is virtually the executive and legislature rolled into one. All that the assembly can do is to supervise, examine and criticise, if it so pleases, what he is doing. That is a fundamental distinction. It is not readily apparent to the normal person outside in the street that that is what has happened. That is the reason why Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are worded as they are.

The problem is that the position of the deputy mayor completely breaches that separation of powers because in particular circumstances--it has to be acknowledged that they may never arise and one might hope that they would never arise--the deputy mayor has to act either as or for the mayor, and for a temporary period he could even become the mayor. At

12 Oct 1999 : Column 223

the same time he is expected or supposed to fulfil a full role as a member of the assembly. That is neither a practical proposition nor a reasonable way to proceed. Therefore, I have the greatest pleasure in supporting my noble friend's remarks on the first amendment.

Perhaps the House will forgive me for jumping a little ahead of the game: should the amendment fall, I shall probably not trouble the House by moving the second amendment. I am glad to support Amendment No. 1.

4 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, with the leave of the House and in respect of the Chief Whip's comments, perhaps I may say that in many respects I regret the number of amendments which we are tabling. As the noble Lord, Lord Archer, says, they are an attempt to make the Bill right. I believe that as we go through the Bill there will be greater consensus on those amendments than perhaps appears at first sight.

Unfortunately, however, that does not apply to the first amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, proposed a similar, although not entirely the same, amendment in Committee. I believe that part of the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, is that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has shifted her ground slightly. We have previously discussed the direct election of a deputy mayor. We are now discussing an indirect election for the deputy mayor on the coat-tails of the mayor. If we are using the American analogy, we refer to the system that almost gave us Spiro Agnew as President of the United States. That does not lend a particularly attractive or democratic legitimacy to these proceedings.

That system would, in certain circumstances, also lead to exactly the kind of situation to which my noble friend Lord Mishcon referred. For example, if there were a less than credible candidate for mayor--not that there is any such in this House or elsewhere--that candidate might be tempted to have a populist running-mate. That would open up the possibility of serious conflict. One can also envisage exactly the opposite situation.

It must be clear that it is the mayor who has democratic legitimacy; that it is the mayor for whom people are voting and that it is the mayor who will have those powers. We have indicated that a deputy mayor should be designated by the mayor and should, as the noble Baroness said, be the bridge between the mayor and the assembly. Far from being foisted upon the people of London, they will have a democratic legitimacy, having been elected through the assembly. That provides the flexibility that the mayor will need as well as the link to the assembly.

Regarding the clean separation of powers to which the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and other noble Lords referred, we believe that we need some link between the various parts of the new authority. Indeed, with reference again to the United States, there is a link in the opposite direction, as it were, in that the

12 Oct 1999 : Column 224

Vice-President sits as the Chair of the Senate. We are doing it the other way round, in some sense, and it will bring the two elements a little further together.

That system does not preclude the mayoral candidate from identifying in advance whom his running-mate shall be on the list of assembly candidates. If elected, the running-mate will become deputy mayor. But there must be left with the mayor the responsibility and the authority, throughout his term, to have a deputy mayor who will work with him. That means that the ability to change the deputy during the course of the term of mayor, if that relationship fails, must be left to the mayor. If that is not done, one builds in--even where candidates run on a joint ticket--the potential for further division and for a problem in terms of the mayor carrying out his function.

If the noble Baroness's amendments were accepted, the mayor could not change the deputy during the course of his own term. That is a recipe for greater confusion, not less. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness is able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I have listened carefully to what the Minister said, as I always do. I must confess that I am somewhat disappointed. I do not really agree with his premise. I believe that in America where a President and Vice-President are elected on a joint ticket, the problems which the Minister has just envisaged do not actually occur. He proposes that the mayor can choose someone from the assembly and that it can therefore be said that they were democratically elected. But they were elected to the assembly, and that is not necessarily what the people of London might want for their deputy mayor. If the candidates ran on a joint ticket, the people of London would know who they were.

However, I do not wish to pursue the matter any longer. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister and his colleagues will have another rethink. There is a lot to be said for the suggestion in my amendment. I realise that it would cause some difficulty in terms of the way in which the Bill is structured, but I believe that that could be dealt with. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 2 to 4 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 5 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 5A:


Page 2, line 18, at end insert (“; and
(c) the holding of an election for Mayor in the event of a vote of no confidence in accordance with section 14(c)").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 22. The amendments are tabled in my name and in that of my noble friend Lord Tope. I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, had hoped to have had her name added to the amendment, which builds substantially on the Conservatives' amendment tabled in Committee. I know that some difficulties were

12 Oct 1999 : Column 225

experienced by the Public Bill Office at the end of last week and the beginning of this week, given the number of amendments which arrived on their desk so late in the day.

The amendment gives me the opportunity to say that the House must, on this point, “think the unthinkable"; that is, about the position if the mayor loses the confidence of the assembly and of London. Amendment No. 5A is a paving amendment, adding a reference to the mayor being returned at an election after a vote of no confidence in his predecessor, or indeed in the same person if the electorate turns out to have greater confidence in him than had the assembly members. Our Amendment No. 22 which, if accepted, would become Clause 14(c), deals with a declaration of vacancy in the office in the event of a vote of no confidence. That vote would be cast by 19 members of the assembly out of the total of 25.

At the last stage of the Bill, my noble friends and I proposed that a vote of no confidence to unseat the mayor would require a two-thirds majority of the assembly. We added what became known as “the nuclear option", which would be the automatic resignation of the assembly members. In other words, all the members of the new authority, whatever their capacity, would have to go to the electorate. Other noble Lords thought that that was unrealistic on our part and we have accepted that view. The Conservatives proposed in a similar amendment that there should be a unanimous vote against the mayor in order to achieve his unseating.

I said that we need here to think the unthinkable. The Government have done so in their drafting to the extent of dealing with criminal offences which would commonly lead to disqualification from local government, electoral offences, bankruptcy, and criminal offences which carry the possibility of a custodial sentence.

However, it is by no means impossible that a mayor should lose the confidence of the assembly and of Londoners which is, of course, particularly important. In our view the assembly has a particular responsibility to speak for Londoners. The assembly has the job of scrutinising the mayor's decisions and actions and will be well placed to judge the conduct of the mayor and whether particular conduct might bring the office of mayor and the whole of the work of the authority into disrepute; for example, if the mayor's priorities lost touch with reality or even if the mayor's personal conduct affected public respect for the office. We believe that generally a politician's private life should remain private, but I mention that area of concern because, by definition, given the structure of the new authority, the mayor will be a big personality. The whole structure is designed for personality politics. Therefore, we believe that the mayor's general conduct is relevant where, in other offices, it might not be.

It is a sad fact--and I know that it is a concern shared right across the House--that confidence in politics and politicians is at a very low ebb. That is manifested in low turnouts, including that at the referendum last year for London government.

12 Oct 1999 : Column 226

Therefore, to argue that a matter of confidence would begin and end with the electorate only at the time of the election is, I believe, ducking the issue of the responsibility of other politicians to that electorate.

I was a member of a Select Committee of this House and another place which considered a draft Bill on local government. That Bill is likely to come to your Lordships in the next Session. The aim of the Bill was in part to deal with the introduction of executive mayors into local government. During the proceedings of the committee, it was commented that to have no provision for the recall of an executive mayor would be unique. Most other countries have either an impeachment process or a process to allow voters to petition. There is no mechanism such as a voter petition in this case. If there were to be--and we have not proposed this--it would raise questions about how many signatories would be required. I understand that in Los Angeles 15 per cent of the electorate signing a petition can cause the mayor to leave office. That is a large number of people but quite a small proportion of the electorate. If that were to be the course that your Lordships favoured--in other words, some mechanism for the electors who put the mayor in office in the first place--I have wondered how he or she would be removed. Perhaps coupons would be printed by the Evening Standard to be returned. Maybe there would be the option to call an 0800 telephone number to register a view, although it occurred to me that that might be an income-generating activity if premium rates were charged.

That is not sensible. We believe that it should be possible for the politicians--the assembly members--to act as leaders in such an unhappy situation, if it were to happen. The figure of 19 members out of 25 proposed by the amendment is a high proportion. We do not believe that it could easily be achieved. We accept that. Indeed we have deliberately sought a high proportion. We have not proposed unanimity among the assembly members. We do not believe that that would be appropriate. Some of the assembly members--for example, the deputy mayor whose position we have just debated--could be so closely associated with the mayor that it would be in their personal interests to vote to support the mayor.

In other countries mechanisms flow from different constitutions; for example, the decision of a supervising governor. In Japan, I understand, a proportion of the assembly can pass a resolution of no confidence which allows the mayor to dissolve the whole body. We in this country have an unwritten constitution. In this Parliament, the Prime Minister may be subject to a vote of no confidence and that would normally lead to the dissolution of Parliament. The constitution of the new London authority is not unwritten. Indeed, one might say it is overly written.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page