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Lord Whitty: My Lords, in response to one point raised by my noble friend Lord Shore, which was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, perhaps I may refer to my Amendment No. 20 which is part of this group and deals with safety. At Report stage an amendment was proposed by noble Lords opposite, and I undertook to look at this again. The effect of my Amendment No. 20 is to introduce the concept of safety as a factor that the mayor must consider in the exercise of his duty to promote and encourage the use of the Thames. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said, we do not wish to pre-empt the conclusions of the inquiry into the "Marchioness" tragedy. However, if this amendment is adopted in advance of those conclusions it will flag specifically the need for the mayor to take safety matters into account in exercising his or her functions.

I do not think there is anything between us in principle as regards the importance of the River Thames. The Government have always recognised the importance of the waterway in relation to the economic and environmental development of London. In our own strategic planning guidance we have demonstrated our active efforts to bring life back to the river and to restore it as the focal point of the capital. We have also pointed out, however, that there are clear advantages in having the mayor's policies regarding the Thames enshrined within other strategy documents rather than being abstracted from those documents. That will ensure that the importance of the

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Thames is recognised across the whole spectrum of the strategies rather than being compartmentalised and possibly marginalised by treating this as a separate policy area.

In all these other strategies, particularly in relation to spatial development, the role of the Thames is absolutely vital in relation to any future strategic view of the development of London. As many other speakers have indicated, the role of the Thames is important, both as a waterway and in respect of various crossing points. In relation to the environment, again the Thames is an absolutely central feature of any environmental strategy.

My noble friend Lord Shore referred to two other dimensions, one of which relates to local authority planning decisions. These decisions will continue to be taken in general by the riparian local authorities, but the mayor will be consulted about strategically important decisions and these will be defined under delegated legislation by the provisions of this Bill. There will be particular emphasis on riverside development with specific criteria for development by the riverside which perhaps has been lacking in the past decade.

In relation to recreation, of course the mayor has some responsibilities within the culture and sport area and also economic development. The role of the LGA subsumes the development of tourism within London, of which the river is clearly a significant part. It is our view that the River Thames will feature large in all such strategies. A new clause to provide for a separate strategy would not improve on that position, and indeed could lead to the strategy becoming compartmentalised. Moreover, the proposed new clauses will not give the mayor any new powers over and above those already provided in the Bill. Implementation would have to be through powers already in the Bill to pursue the other strategies. There is the danger of duplication of policies were we to have a separate strategy for the River Thames, which could cause problems.

I appreciate the points that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and others, on the matter--

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. The Minister has replied to most of the points that have been raised, but can he say a little more on bridges and tunnels? That point has not yet been touched on by my noble friend. It is very important to co-ordinate strategy through a central authority rather than through the different boroughs.

5 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, so far as concerns bridges and crossings which form parts of GLA strategic roads, clearly Transport for London, when it inherits responsibility in those areas from the Highways Agency, will take responsibility for them as they form parts of the throughways. In regard to other

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arrangements for bridges, they are presently covered by separate arrangements following the demise of the GLC which the Bill will not directly disturb. Nevertheless, a strategic approach to transport is bound to take account of the impact of changes on the traffic flow on crossings or bridges were those changes to be on anything more than a temporary basis. For that reason, I believe that such matters will be covered in the transport strategy.

It is our view that we do not need a separate strategy for the River Thames. However, it is open to the mayor to take a different view if he or she considers that there are advantages to be had by collecting all the different policies together into a single document over and above the strategic planning guidance for the river that we expect to be covered in the spatial development strategy. If the mayor chooses to collect that information into a separate document, there is nothing whatever to stop the mayor from so doing. Those aspects of the matter should be left to the mayor to take a decision.

At the proper time I shall move Amendment No. 20 covering safety. With those reassurances on the importance we attach to the development of the River Thames in all its dimensions, I hope that noble Lords will not press the amendment.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords from all sides of the House who have taken part in this debate. The Minister will be in no doubt as to the strength of feeling across the board on the important subject of the future of the River Thames. I take some comfort from the Minister's concessions to safety in Amendment No. 20. That is a welcome step and I thank him for that. However, whatever happens, we shall be faced with a problem that there will be too many different interests involved, and I believe that we would save a lot of time if a separate strategy were put in place for the River Thames. Again, the Minister gives me comfort when he says that the mayor may set up a strategy of his own, which he will be able to do.

Those of us who are interested will continue to press the future mayor to take due cognisance of our feelings. Over and above that, should the mayor choose not to go down that road, we shall take a close interest in any secondary legislation that follows the Bill. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 25, line 45, leave out ("with national policies and").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 18 is a reduced form of an amendment I proposed both in Committee and on Report. The amendment then had two branches, one of which I shall not pursue, having considered the Government's arguments, as I said I would. I now accept the validity of their answer. Unfortunately, the Government have not reciprocated by accepting the point I made, despite the

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fact that I prefaced my remarks to noble Lords on Report with the words:

    "I believe that this is one of the most important amendments to be considered on the Bill".

I went on to say that:

    "It goes right to the heart of the relationship between local government, particularly London's local government, and national government".--[Official Report, 12/10/99; col. 344.]

The marginal note states that Clause 41 applies to the:

    "General duties of the Mayor in relation to his strategies".

Subsection (4) requires the mayor when preparing or revising any strategy to have regard to various matters, including,

    "the need to ensure that the strategy is consistent with national policies".

I ask noble Lords to note the imperative nature of those words. The mayor must ensure that his strategies are consistent with national policies. In other words, they must conform to national policies. According to the clause, it is not sufficient that the mayor should take national policies into account and apply them if they are appropriate to London. His strategies must conform to national policies, whether or not they are appropriate. The Bill does not say simply that the mayor shall have regard to national policies. It does not merely require the mayor to take national policies into consideration when formulating his strategies, which would mean that he should follow national policies whenever and wherever possible and should not arbitrarily ignore or reject them. The words of the Bill give the mayor no discretion whatever as to whether he shall comply with so-called "national policies".

That means that the mayor must do more than consider national policies. He must follow them. That is a major and novel constitutional innovation. I made the same remark on the two occasions that the amendment was put before noble Lords. It is significant that the Government have not attempted in any of their responses to repudiate that. I am left with the inescapable conclusion that the Government really do mean the adverse consequences about which I have been warning. Of course it is entirely right that public bodies should have regard to government policy. If they do not, the courts may take national policy into account on a judicial review. However, aside from that, there is no requirement on a local authority to follow any particular policy or to conduct its affairs in a specific manner except when an Act of Parliament specifically so orders. I should like to stress that point. Outside of specific legislation, the law does not require local authorities to obey the wishes or even the orders of government.

Never before has Parliament attempted to oblige local councils to conform to any wish-list of the government under the guise of national policy. The fact that local authorities have a wide discretion outside any specific legislative constraints to act in the interests of their own local populations sets the balance between local and national government. In case any noble Lord thinks that I am exaggerating the

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consequences of the current wording, I shall remind the House of the words of the Minister when his noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton moved a similar amendment in Committee. He said:

    "the mayor must, in preparing any strategy, ensure that it is consistent with national policies".--[Official Report, 23/6/99; col. 925.]

The words used by the Minister on that occasion were the imperative when he said, "must ensure". That allows for no discretion whatever. So much for local government and this Government's belief in devolved government. So much for the strong independent voice for London promised by the Government when the legislation before us was introduced.

I shall add one further point which I have not raised previously. I have been so concerned with the constitutional aspects proposed by the Government that I overlooked another blindingly obvious question. What is the definition of "national policies"? It cannot, for the purposes of this Bill, be something set out in an Act of Parliament, because it is unnecessary for it to say that the mayor shall comply with the law of the land. That goes without saying. "National policies" clearly refers to some government pronouncement; a pronouncement that may or may not be made to, and be approved by, Parliament. Presumably, the Government could announce their policies to the Sunday papers--they seem to do that very often--or to some favoured interviewer on the radio or television. Indeed, as I said, Ministers often do that, as Madam Speaker in the other place has frequently complained. Is the mayor supposed to monitor the "Today" programme on Radio 4, or "Sunday" on Sky News to find out what announcements of government policy have been made, not to either House but to John Humphrys or to Adam Boulton? How binding are such pronouncements of national policy to be regarded?

A government prone to flying kites and then saying that they did not mean what was reported or even that they were misreported will leave the mayor in a state of total confusion. A government whose policies change with the wind cannot surely expect the mayor to conform to whatever is the flavour of the month. Are such pronouncements, or even ones mentioned in either House but not given the force of law, to be treated as binding? I hope that even under the regime of a government who regard parliamentary procedure as an obstacle to their executive control freakery we have not yet reached the point of government by ministerial decree.

At this point, I would normally have liked to comment on the answers given by the Minister in the debates on my amendment, but I regret to say that both times when I read his reply no answers came; so I can make no comment. I immediately and unreservedly acquit him of any discourtesy or of deliberately glossing over what I had described as one of the most important amendments I was moving. If one reads the Minister's speeches on both previous occasions, it will be seen that he deals only with the

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separate amendment dealing with the obligation of the mayor to have regard to certain international obligations.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I am no longer pursuing any amendment regarding consistency with international obligations. I accept what the noble Lord said at the previous stage. However, subsection (5), to which this present modified amendment relates, has two aspects. This amendment relates to the part of subsection (5) which requires the mayor to conform to national policies. The Minister has at no time at any stage given any reason why the mayor should be required to conform to whatever the Government announce in whatever forum they announce them as national policies--"the Government" in this case being any one of the several Secretaries of State whose differing bailiwicks impinge on the various aspects of this monster and wide-ranging Bill. The Minister has not told your Lordships why the mayor must conform to national as distinct from international policies--"conform", that is to obey, submit to or comply with--whatever the Government may choose to announce as national policies. The clause as drawn removes, or at least inhibits, the mayor's ability to decide his own policies and compels him to follow the Government's policy as set out in some undebated ministerial ipse dixit.

The amendment simply ensures that outside of any statutory constraints contained in any primary or secondary legislation the mayor is truly independent and is not merely serving as a rubber stamp whose function is only to obey the orders of the Secretary of State or a possible gaggle of Secretaries of State. This amendment restores the proper balance and allows the mayor to decide what is best for the people of London who elected him or her and allows him or her to get on with the policies for which people voted. I urge the Minister to consider the implications of the Government's ill-drafted wording and to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I have occasionally mentioned to your Lordships my 25 years in local government. I have to say that for 18 of those years in local government there was a Conservative central government. To hear now the Conservative Front Bench railing against central government control leads me to wonder just what happened during those 18 years. One of the reasons we are here today is that the former GLC was not required to follow national policies. It did not follow national policies--probably of any government--but what happened to the GLC should be borne in mind. I feel a little strange. I do not for one moment question the sincerity of the noble Baroness who moved the amendment or indeed of the present Opposition Front Bench. I must just say that no one is so blessed as a sinner who repenteth. That is what has happened now.

Having said that, I think that the noble Baroness is right. Of course the mayor should have regard to national policies; indeed, it is inconceivable that, in

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drawing up strategies, the mayor would not have regard to national policies--and would probably need to have good reasons if he or she were to depart from national polices and priorities. But he or she should surely have the right to do so if the circumstances are different; if his or her priorities are different; if the platform on which he or she was elected is different; if what Londoners want is different. That is going to happen.

We come to the heart of the present Government's schizophrenia over the whole issue of the devolution. Many of their members have long believed in the devolution of power and, I am sure, still do. The Government are preaching devolution. They are starting cautiously to practise it, but they cannot quite let go. This is another instance of where they cannot quite let go. I can understand a Labour Government believing, I suspect with diminishing belief each day, that they will have a Labour mayor wishing to do this. But perhaps I may suggest to the Government Front Bench that there may come a time, hard though it is for any of us to conceive, when there may be a Conservative government and a Labour mayor. Why should they require a Labour mayor to follow consistently policies laid down by a Conservative government? We always need to remember that. It is fairly easy for noble Lords on these Benches to remember that the present arrangement does not necessarily last for ever. Governments should consider that.

I do not understand--rather, I do understand but I think it is wrong--why the Government should be legislating to require the mayor to follow strategies that are consistent with national polices. It is fair enough to say that he or she should have regard to them but requiring the mayor to follow national policies regardless of the nature of the government in power should not be enshrined in legislation. We shall support the amendment.

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