Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation
Thursday 25 October 2001
[Mr. Nigel Beard in the Chair]
Draft Greater London Authority (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 2) Order 2001
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Dr. Alan Whitehead): It is a pleasure to speak under your first such chairmanship, Mr. Beard. I congratulate you on your elevation to the chairman's panel, and hope that we will meet on many such congenial occasions in the future.
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Greater London Authority (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 2) Order 2001.
The order provides incidental, consequential and supplementary provisions to the Greater London Authority Act 1999. It corrects some minor errors and omissions from the original legislation. It could also be described as the snagging process at the end of a major building project, although I shall not say which building I might be thinking of. Even the best buildings have one or two problems that must be rectified.
The Greater London Authority Act 1999 was the biggest, and one of the most complicated, pieces of legislation since the Government of India Act 1935. The Government used the 1999 Act to create a new city-wide government for London. We expected to make minor corrections to the legislation; that is why we included broad powers of correction in sections 405 and 406.
I am sure that hon. Members have read carefully the schedule of amendments and the explanatory notes to the order, but it may help if I briefly explain the amendments. The first set of amendments relate to the Local Government Act 1972. Some parts of the 1972 Act were not updated to take account of the creation of the Greater London Authority, and so do not apply to it. The first of the three parts of the schedule of amendments will rectify that.
Section 223 of the 1972 Act allows local authorities to send a member of staff other than a qualified solicitor to prosecute or defend proceedings in a magistrates court, because it would be burdensome and inefficient for authorities to use a practising solicitor to defend every minor breach. The GLA also must prosecute minor breaches, and it is only right to allow it the same latitude as other authorities; the amendments will help it to achieve that.
Section 236 of the 1972 Act was successfully applied to the GLA to enable it to make byelaws specific to Trafalgar square and Parliament square gardens. The Mayor has taken measures to control nuisance in Trafalgar square and to improve the area around it. The least burdensome way of making byelaws is to do so by the hand of the Mayorin other words, by using his signature. As the creation of byelaws is the only function carried out by the GLA that requires a legal process involving a seal, it is more than reasonable to remove that requirement.
Another minor error arising from the 1972 Act is that section 238 was not amended to include the GLA. The amendment, however, deals with general housekeeping. If relevant authorities need to produce evidence of a byelaw, for example in a prosecution, they can provide a properly endorsed and printed copy of it. Unfortunately, as the GLA was not made a relevant authority for that purpose, it cannot do that.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): How can Lord Toby Harris, a member of the Greater London Assembly, sit as a member of the Committee of the Regions in Brussels? By what statutory power of the House is that possible?
Dr. Whitehead: I have not reached the section that deals with the Committee of the Regions but my understanding is that Lord Toby Harris's current mandate to be a member of that committee does not relate directly to his position as a member of the GLA. Indeed, he was appointed to the Committee of the Regions before the GLA elections took place. Members of that committee are required to have a current mandate in UK local government, but they do not have to retain their original mandate throughout the entire period in which the committee sits before obtaining a new mandate. Lord Toby Harris has an historic mandate, but when the new appointments to the Committee of the Regions are considered, there will be a problem concerning whether members of the GLA, or even the Mayor, can be legitimately appointed as part of the UK delegation. I would like this Committee to rectify that this morning.
Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): I interrupt the Minister out of courtesy to try to remove that obstacle. Given that there is a fixed number of people who sit on the Committee of the Regions, will people who currently represent local authorities be deprived of places?
Dr. Whitehead: It is possible to draw that conclusion in the same way that one might conclude that the number of places in heaven is fixed: the notion that one person being admitted to heaven would therefore preclude another being admitted. However, a procedure has been agreed for the next delegation to the committee that allows some direct nomination from regions.
The Local Government Association will have the right to nominate, but not to make a final decision on, the number of members not nominated by the regions that complete the total delegation. The problem is that the GLA is not, for the purposes of the legislation, regarded as an eligible local government mandate, and is therefore in a rather anomalous position. If the Committee does not agree to the amendment, it would not be possible for members of the GLA or the Mayor to be nominated to the Committee of the Regions. That does not mean that the Mayor or members of the GLA have to be nominated, it simply means that they would, if the amendment were agreed, be eligible for consideration under the existing rules, which they are not at present.
Mr. Pickles: Let me intervene simply to move the debate along relatively quickly. Members are nominated from the regions on a proportionate basis. Would the Minister tell us how that would affect the region for which London nominates? How will that affect the proportionate basis concerning the authority and the Mayor?
Dr. Whitehead: The problem with strict proportionalitythis is an issue that has always bedevilled the British delegation to the Committee of the Regionsis that there is a limited number in the British delegation. One must decide how to create a delegation that is proportionate not only in party representation, but in terms of who is drawn from what region and from the representative interests. Trying to reconcile all those groups has always been a difficult task.
The procedure that has been adopted for the present round of nominations is that in the first instance about two thirds of the totalI do not have the exact figure to handare nominated via the regional chambers. Because of the way those nominations are made, they will be regionally, but not necessarily politically, balanced. The Local Government Association has therefore been charged not only with nominating a number of people to make up the total delegation, but with considering the nominations from the regions when making its appointments. That process will be endorsed by the Minister to ensure that there is something like a balanced delegation.
If the delegation were strongly weighted in one political direction, the LGA might be minded to nominate a rather larger number of people from another political direction. It might then be difficult for the Mayor and a member of the GLA to be a part of the delegation, and that consideration needs to be taken into account. I should emphasise, therefore, that means that there is no automatic right for the Mayor or a member of the GLA to be a member of the Committee of the Regions, except to the extent that one might consider that London is a region and therefore nominates. As things stand, that is not the position and the purpose of the amendment is to try to put the GLA and the Mayor of London on exactly the same footing in terms of eligibility for nomination to the Committee of the Regions as anyone else who is considered in the process.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): I apologise for dwelling on what my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) said, but many of us here in London are concerned that some GLA councillors are elected on a first past the post system and others are elected via a party list system. People who are elected via a party list, in many ways with democratic credibility no greater than that of Members of the House of Lords who are excluded from being on the Committee of the Regions for that very reason, will somehow take precedence as GLA councillors over long-standing local councillors in local authorities. That is our concern about this type of amendment.
The point was made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) in relation to Lord Harris, who is currently a member of Haringey council, although I am not sure whether he will be standing for re-election come next May. It would be a retrograde step if we allowed GLA councillors, who are effectively party list nomineesthat applies to all of the parties to a large extent
The Chairman: Order. I remind hon. Members that interventions are intended to be brief.
Mr. Field: I apologise, Mr. Beard. I shall conclude my remarks. I should like the Minister to comment on my final point.
Dr. Whitehead: I am grateful to the hon. Member for his intervention.
It might be helpful if I gave the total of members from England. From that hon. Members can see how difficult it is to achieve the ideal outcome of who goes with what mandate, from which authority and in which party balance. The arrangements need to be looked at in the context of England and the total delegation from England is 16. Nine regional chambers make nominations in the first instance. That leaves seven for the LGA to consider in order to correct any imbalances resulting from those regional nominations. So it is not certain that someone from the regional assembly or the Mayor of London would get a place as of right. The purpose of the amendment is to put everyone on the same starting line. There may be a number of starters on the starting line, but only a few will leave it. The matter is further complicated because one of the nine is nominated from the Greater London Authority, so the question arises of the Mayor's eligibility to be among those members--I do not wish to downgrade their importance--who are nominated to balance the delegation when the regional element has been selected.