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Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, given how circumscribed and very detailed the constitution is, we do not believe that this is an omission which should remain. I beg to move.

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4.15 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I am very pleased that I was able to add my name to Amendment No. 5A. As noble Lords will know, in Committee I tabled a similar amendment except that the power to remove the mayor depended upon there being a no confidence vote, unanimously passed. Clearly, since that debate I have had time to reflect and I hope that the Government have done likewise, because I now accept that a unanimous vote of no confidence is not a practical possibility. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, at least one member of the assembly--that is, the deputy mayor--will be beholden to the mayor for his position as deputy. Therefore, the chances of him voting against the mayor are highly unlikely. Secondly, under the system of proportional representation being used in this case, it is possible that a fringe party might somehow secure one single assembly member.

We propose the number of 19 members because that is equivalent to four-fifths of 80 per cent. It is a very substantial proportion and represents a hurdle which could be overcome only with cross-party support. That seems to us an impossible state of affairs. If a mayor for some reason behaved in a certain way, he could not be got rid of. It is unacceptable and, in my opinion, strange that in an office where the incumbent is elected for a fixed term, there is no power to remove him except on the very restricted grounds provided in Clauses 13 and 14. The Prime Minister can be removed if he loses the confidence of his parliamentary colleagues and they vote against him. I believe that that can happen on a simple majority. Therefore, it seems an extraordinary state of affairs that this cannot happen with the mayor. The occupant of the humblest political office--the chairman of a ward--would be bound to go in such circumstances if his committee voted against him. High Court judges can be removed from office under very stringent conditions. The most powerful man on earth--the President of the United States of America--can be removed from office by Congress. In the lifetime of every one of your Lordships, two presidents have very narrowly escaped that indignity.

Let us suppose that the mayor commits a serious crime for which he has not yet been convicted. Of course everyone is entitled to a fair trial and to be presumed innocent until proved guilty. But should the mayor shoot the leader of the opposition in full view of the entire assembly, is he to continue in office for perhaps the time it might take to bring him to trial? The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, did postulate the possibility of an entirely independent person, unconnected with any party, being elected as mayor. As the noble Lord put it, the party establishments would then gang up on him and remove him even though he had the endorsement of Londoners in a direct election.

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The noble Lord upbraided me--rather nicely, I might say--during the debate on Amendments Nos. 48 and 50 in Committee for pointing to what he described as,

    “a somewhat improbable set of circumstances".--[Official Report, 14/6/99; col. 102.]

An independent candidate may stand for mayor. But while, of course, anything is possible, it is not necessarily probable. I cannot envisage an independent candidate beating the choice of any of the party machines. But let us suppose that that improbable event did occur. Is the Minister suggesting that new Labour would be a party to “ganging up" on the choice of the people of London? I have no authority to speak on behalf of the Conservatives on what is clearly a hypothetical point. However, I can say that I do not know of any one of my colleagues who would countenance such disgraceful conduct--“ganging up" on someone because he was not a member of the party when he really had not done anything that deserved it.

In rejecting my amendment, the noble Lord said also that this was a matter for the people, not the assembly. But how is the people's will to be expressed? The Government have made no provision for a recall petition, and perhaps that is just as well too. How does anyone set about collecting and verifying, for example, half a million signatures? The assembly is specifically charged with the duty of supervising the mayor and that is a mere piece of window dressing if it has no power remove him for what the American constitution neatly calls, without specific definition, “grave crimes and misdemeanours". The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred simply to “losing the confidence of". There could be a variety of issues that caused that to happen. The constitution the Government are proposing for our capital city is that the mayor is virtually irremovable, no matter what. That cannot be right and I very much support the amendment.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I support the amendment. This is possibly one of the most significant issues we shall consider today. I certainly think that it is the most significant omission from the Bill, or the Bill as it will be amended during the course of our proceedings. My noble friend Lady Hamwee says that we must think the unthinkable. We have had to do that a number of times. Much of the Bill is devoted to making provision for circumstances which we all hope and many of us believe will never happen, but which may happen.

It is conceivable that in the future a mayor will lose the confidence of Londoners. I do not mean that the mayor will have low opinion poll ratings. That is almost certain to happen and has been the experience of most politicians at some time. I am visualising more serious events when the mayor loses the confidence of Londoners and of their representatives elected in the assembly. I do not wish to indulge in hypothetical conjecture of what such situations could be, but let us accept that there is that possibility.

What happens then? Noble Lords have pointed out that in the Bill as it stands we have a situation where the mayor is above recall. There are no mechanisms for

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recalling the mayor, whatever the circumstances, other than those provided for in criminal law and so on. It is astonishing that a Bill of such length and detail omits a matter as important and as significant as that. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, at the previous stage, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that there might be “frivolous action" by assembly members ganging up together against the poor innocent mayor. I believe that that is highly unlikely. We have provided here that three-quarters of the assembly members--19 out of 25--have to agree on a vote of no confidence in the mayor. No elected assembly person is going to take such a decision lightly. They too will be answerable to the electors of London. If, by so doing, they force another election on Londoners, then Londoners will make their judgment on assembly members as well as on the mayor. This is not something which will be done frivolously by any assembly member.

To secure a coalition of 19 assembly members, all of whom will have been elected at the same time as the mayor--regardless of party or non-party affiliation, they will all have been elected in the same election--and get them to agree on such a serious step would mean that London and London government would be facing a very serious situation. All of us hope it will never happen, but it may. The Government may disagree with the mechanism we suggest for dealing with this unlikely situation. If so, I should like the Minister to tell us what he feels about the principle. Does he acknowledge that this is a situation that could happen? If he does, then what do the Government envisage should be done about it? In other words, I hope that he will deal with the principle of the situation, should it arise, rather than merely the mechanism.

If the Bill passes from your Lordships' House without some provision for dealing with the very serious situation where the mayor of London--a very high profile, public figure with considerable power--so significantly loses the confidence of the assembly and therefore, I am sure, of London voters, what do the Government propose should be done about it? We have proposed a sensible and serious way of dealing with the matter. We have reached agreement with the Conservative Opposition because both of us recognise that this is a situation for which we have to make provision. For that reason, we have come together to try to find, under all the circumstances, the most satisfactory answer.

Reference has been made to voter petitions. On a previous occasion I recall the Minister saying that it is the people who elect the person and that it should be the people who have the right to unelect the person. As a democratic principle, I adhere to that. However, the mechanics of trying to get a petition around 5 million London voters--or whatever proportion one chose, even the 15 per cent mentioned earlier--would be impossible. More importantly, too much time would be needed to organise that kind of action. The matter would need positive, firm but not precipitate action. The time taken to organise a voter petition could only be damaging for the good of London government.

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I return to the point I made earlier. Whether or not the Government accept the amendment, I should like the Minister to tell us how they propose to deal with a situation that may arise at some time in the future where for some reason the mayor loses the confidence of the assembly and of London voters as a whole.

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