|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Mishcon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for being so courteous. I am really incapable of being a Whip in any sense of that word. But I did have the honour of being chairman of the London County Council.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that correction. I arrived only when that body became the GLC and the noble Lord was there in the days of the LCC. The noble Lord, Lord Archer, said that he followed Sir William Fiske and he said very nice things about that. I shall not comment further other than to say that I followed the noble Lord, Lord Archer.
In particular, there is a need for the older people of London to be represented because there is a large ageing population. Their needs are not sufficiently recognised and valued. It is very important that we do not get just a pop figure as leader who looks on the position as a ladder to move up into a higher political position, or someone who is more concerned with presentation than substance. It will need to be someone who is hardworking.
When I had the privilege of going to Beijing as an escort to one of the Lords Mayors, the people there could not understand how we could be representing one thirty-third part of London. They found it incomprehensible. Although they did not "twin", they had a special relationship with Paris, Bonn and other European capitals. They could not understand that there was no one in London with whom they could have the same special relationship. That clearly brought home to me the need for a voice for London, as did the fact that London's Olympic bid did not succeed because there was no one to pull it together. That was another example of how important it is to have such an authority.
Therefore, I support the setting up of such an authority, but I do not support the proposals as drafted. I was worried when the Minister said that by the time the White Paper is published people will know the information that is now hidden. By the time the White Paper is out, the Bill will have passed through all its stages and the question, as set out in the Bill as drafted, will have been clearly and unalterably determined. It will be on the face of the Bill. Therefore, I cannot see how the White Paper can help to create two questions. The only time to change one question into two questions
The Earl of Carnarvon: My Lords, I speak primarily as chairman of the All-Party London Group, but I have some comments of my own to make. I am grateful to the Minister for her kind remarks about the group's work.
Your Lordships may recall that in 1996 the London Group published a paper entitled The question of a strategic authority for London, which I hope that many of your Lordships found useful in the debate on the matter which I initiated on 16th February this year. In the introduction to that paper, we put forward the proposition that there should be an authority responsible for dealing with those issues which affect London as a whole and that the authority should be directly elected by, and be accountable to, the citizens of London. That was not a recommendation by the London Group--indeed, not all members of the group would support it--but we felt that it was a proposition which required debate both in this House and beyond. Our paper suggested that the people of London should be given a say in the form of authority to be adopted. The limited extent to which the referendum will do that is to be welcomed.
The London Group reviewed various possibilities for the form of the authority and recognised that some might be combined. The group did not envisage the particular combination which the Government have adopted. In considering the recent Green Paper, New Leadership for London, we noted at the outset that the Government had in effect determined that the form of the Greater London authority would be a directly elected mayor and a directly elected assembly. Not all members of the group accepted that determination as final, but in responding to the Green Paper, the group did not seek to challenge it.
However, the London Group noted, and commented on, the novelty of the form of authority proposed in the Green Paper and in this Bill. The concept of an authority with two distinct and separate arms--the executive (the mayor) and the scrutinising and deliberative body (the assembly)--is totally unfamiliar in British local government. In our response to the Green Paper, we sought to impress upon the Minister--I have no reason whatever to suppose that Ministers will be unreceptive--that considerable efforts will need to be made to ensure that the arrangement is fully understood by the people of London; by the other agencies (including the borough councils) with which the authority will have to work; and not least by those elected to office within the Greater London authority.
Clause 7 envisages the Local Government Commission for England reporting to the Secretary of State on the constituencies for the election of members of the assembly. The London Group recognised the great importance of this issue, but was unable to reach agreement on it. There were two distinct views within the group--each strongly held. One view was that there must be a clear link between electors and their
I should like to make two general points. First, if the public are to give an informed response to the simple question posed in the referendum, they must be given beforehand a clear idea of the powers, duties, organisation and funding of the new authority. I imagine that such matters will finally be settled in the legislation which will follow an affirmative response to the referendum, but the London Group has already made many points about such matters both in its original paper and in its response to the Green Paper. I understand that the Government are now preparing a White Paper. We heard today from the Minister that it will be published in March. I strongly emphasise the importance of giving the electorate full and clear information about the nature and functions of the authority on the creation of which they are being invited to vote.
My second point relates to my first. The London Group shared what I believe to be a general desire that if there is to be a Greater London authority it should be a lean body, rather than a large one. It follows that the authority should not be charged with responsibility for organisations and activities which, however worthy and important, are not essential to its strategic role. The London Group recognises the tendency of all powerful bodies, once established, to seek an extension of their powers in their areas of operation. At the same time, the group recognises the difficulty of determining at the outset precisely what functions should be assigned to an authority with such a unique character and role. That suggests that there should be some provision with suitable safeguards for extending--or, indeed, restricting--the role of the authority in the light of experience of its operation.
Strategic planning is one of the most important functions which the Greater London authority will undertake. In the past, planning has been a major source of conflict between the tiers of government in London, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. It is absolutely vital that the role of the authority should be clearly and precisely defined so that there is no confusion. The authority must have the powers required to ensure that its strategic planning policies are implemented. Those powers may need to include the power to deal with planning applications of major strategic importance. The public, including developers, must know where responsibility lies. The right of a developer to appeal to the Secretary of State against an
Transport is no less important. It is right that it should come under the aegis of the Greater London authority. I have strong views as to the name of the body that is to be responsible for transport. I hope that it will not be called the London transport authority. I believe that that would create confusion by implying that it was wholly separate from the Greater London authority as it would be in effect a committee of the Greater London authority, with added members drawn from other sources. Perhaps it would be better described as the London transport agency.
Finally, with regard to the election of the mayor, I hope that serious consideration will be given to allowing each candidate the free circulation of one electoral message to the constituency of 5 million people and, quite importantly, to require that, once elected, the mayor should hold no other elected or appointed office. I greatly look forward to reading the White Paper in March.
Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, I rise to support the Government's Bill without any ifs and buts. I do so at an appropriate distance from my noble friends on the Front Bench, although I hope in the same friendly spirit of debate and openness of mind to argument.
The Bill marks a vital staging post in a highly desirable process that may give London the kind of government that it needs. Just over seven years ago, on 6th December 1990, I was asked by London Weekend Television to give the London Lecture on the subject "Does London need to be governed?". Incidentally, I was asked by a producer, Mr. Trevor Phillips, whose name is now on the list of those who may stand as candidates for mayor. I very much hope that he will stand. At the time my conclusion appeared to many to be Utopian. I said that, on reflection, it appeared to me that London needed a mayor. What is more, the mayor should be directly elected by the people of London. I went on to argue for a mayor who had the independence and legitimacy to speak for the whole city and its people--a political figure who, once elected, was not primarily a party figure. In that sense all analogies with national government are misleading.
It is also an open question whether the government of London should be described as regional. Of course, the size and importance of this great capital city make its leadership more than just local government. Clearly, its voice will be heard along with those of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and in due course perhaps other regions of England. Yet there is a unity to London which is not present in the regions. Large cities suffer if they are treated like regions. That is the weakness of Berlin, a Land within the Federal German Republic, with all the institutions of a parliamentary democracy; and it is the strength of Munich, the capital city of Bavaria, which is roughly the same size and is run by a directly elected mayor with a separately elected city council.
It seems to me that continental examples are more relevant to the issue of London than American ones. It is worth mentioning that in Germany the mayoral system has spread from the south to the north, where it has replaced the British system introduced by the occupation authorities. In Italy elected mayors have recently and successfully been introduced. I for one would not be at all surprised if the London example were soon adopted by other cities, large and small, in the United Kingdom.
Since my London Lecture in 1990 I have been exposed to many arguments on the subject. The most direct involvement was with the Fresh Start for London Group, set up Sir Alan Greengross, with the all-party group invented and chaired so admirably by the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon; and also the efforts of the Liberal Democrats to produce a blueprint "Home Rule for London". Respectable cases have been made for divergent views but they have not persuaded me that my original view was wrong. Indeed, I felt delighted and exhilarated when the Government took up the proposal after 1st May which produced the Bill now before us. If throughout the debates I have changed my mind at all it is in one rather sad respect only. I am now--and certainly shall be by the time of the first mayoral election--beyond the age of ambition. A few years ago I should have loved to declare my interest in joining the campaign for mayor as a candidate. To take our great metropolis forward, if only a few steps, and give it the sense of civic pride that it deserves is a task worth every effort.
When we last discussed London government in your Lordships' House in February of this year in a debate initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, I gave six reasons for a directly elected mayor: a face as well as a voice; a position that cut across parties; a focus upon particular issues; a visible representative who was exposed and approachable; someone who could properly and legitimately do what the best Lord Mayors had tried to do; and an increase in local pride and civic sense. There is no need to go over the ground again, except perhaps for one point that I want to stress to my noble friends and others.
Accountability is crucial, but it is more than a technical requirement. There can be no true accountability without visibility, and to local government it is sadly not sufficiently visible. A directly elected mayor will be. He or she will be exposed to public scrutiny every day. I see the need for accountability as a case in favour of the proposal.
Several major issues remain to be resolved, and no doubt we shall discuss them here in detail. It would, for example, be regrettable if in the interests of false homogeneity we lost the very important role that the Lord Mayor of the City of London had played in the past and must continue to play. Like many of your Lordships, I was particularly pleased by the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Levene, which made that point so forcefully.
That latter issue--who takes the initiative; who exercises control--is relevant to the question at hand today: the referendum on a Greater London authority. In the schedule to the Bill the Government have suggested a form of words which comprises the entire proposal; that is, the elected mayor as well as the separately elected assembly. Many noble Lords, and others outside the House, have stated clearly that in their view the question should be split, and even that one or two other questions, including one relating to tax varying powers, should be added. I do not have strong views on the substance of such demands. If the Government wish to accede to them, so be it. There is the wider question of what referenda--do we absolutely have to call them referendums?--are about.
I remember the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, arguing, when the Scottish referendum legislation came before your Lordships' House, that we might well first need a Bill relating to the purpose and conduct of referenda. That seemed, and still seems to me, to make sense, although we are in the process of developing case law on this matter. My view is that referenda should not be exploratory and open-ended. They should test the views of the people about government proposals. The first duty is therefore that of government to make such proposals and to argue for them. It is for that reason that I find the single question, as it stands, acceptable.
If the people of London do not like the Government's proposals--for two separately elected components of the Greater London authority--the Government will have to think again. If, as I hope, the people do like the present proposals, we shall no doubt have lively discussions about the substantive Bill when it comes before your Lordships' House.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, it was my privilege to represent a constituency in middle England for 23 years, but I started my political career in the London Borough of Islington. I am probably one of the few Conservatives to have been leader of that borough. The Bill, as the Minister said, is about the referendum only, although in response to an intervention from my noble friend Lord Bowness she said that the White Paper would be published towards the end of March.
As I understand it, if the timetable is to be met that leaves some six-and-a-half weeks before the proposed election. The White Paper, by definition, is not definitive. It is the Government's firm ideas, although by tradition White Papers can and do change. So around the Easter Recess we shall have at most a few weeks in which to take on board the answers to the many
I was worried when the Minister said that the lessons of the GLC, and the problems that it created, had been learnt. It is not evident--I have read the Green Paper several times--that those lessons have been put into print. They may have been learnt, but so far they remain a secret on the Government Benches. The rest of us have to guess whether they have been learnt.
The one reassuring element is the feeling I have of a general welcome for the role of mayor. There has been press comment of a similar nature. No one, so far as I know, has come out against the concept. What is less clear is whether the role of mayor is to be that of just one person or whether, as one or two speakers have said, it is to follow the example of the Continent or the US. One could have an independent candidate of substantial ability but with no political backing who might wish to put forward a slate in terms of having perhaps two deputies--one with a knowledge of the eastern half of London and the other with knowledge of the western half of London. Such a concept should not be ruled out.
As the noble Lord, Lord Levene, said, special care needs to be taken over the relationship between the Lord Mayor of London and a future mayor of London. I have spoken about slates and potential running partners. I wonder whether, as political parties, we should think about running primaries. If we are in for constitutional change, perhaps we should look at how we produce our candidates for mayor.
Much play is rightly made in the Green Paper of what should be the form of the constituency. The City Corporation might well feel that, as its wards originated in Saxon times, that would be a pretty good basis from which to move forward. When I was leader at Islington I would not have felt my views on the strategic problems facing London coloured by the fact that I represented a particular borough. I am not one who is worried about the little-borough nature of the leaders. That is not a problem.
Mention of the City brings me to the point that none of us should forget that the City Corporation is a success. The concept is that it is a city run for business by business. It is a success story. It is something that we all greatly value. It is a world leader in financial and business services.
Of course, there are some elements which those of us who come from a more democratic background question. I find no favour in the aldermanic veto, and an alderman being elected for life is also somewhat questionable. The plea I make is that we should listen to the corporation and let it find its solution to the problems that it has perceived.
In my few weeks in this House I have learnt that your Lordships have a particular ability to speak succinctly. Therefore, I conclude by referring to democratic safeguards. Does the Minister believe that the new body, particularly the mayor and the assembly, will come
Democratic control and visual accounting for what has happened are vital today. If we get it right from the start the role of those who serve the public will be enhanced. If we get it wrong, those same people, whether they be right or wrong, will be hounded beyond belief. Members of this Chamber and of the other place have a responsibility to take the issue very seriously.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow a leader of a London borough, as I was 35 years ago. It is petrifying to think that it was so long ago. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Archer, visiting the Enfield Grammar School, deputising for his good friend Christopher Chataway at the prize giving. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, with a great deal of humility. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, represented Southgate, which is part of my old stomping ground.
We are talking about London and Londoners. Many people such as I came to London to work, and found our niche in local government. We are proud to call ourselves Londoners and we try to speak on behalf of the people of London. However, I cannot honestly say that the people of Edmonton talk of little other than the future of the GLC or whether there should be a directly elected authority.
There is a danger of self-aggrandisement as regards people such as I who have a claim to leadership. We shall not know the views of Londoners until we give them an opportunity to express them. I warmly welcome the Bill and endorse what the Minister says as regards its raison d'etre. However, politically we believe that we should give the people of London an opportunity to express a view. Whether we like what they say remains to be seen.
We examine the issue against the background of what has happened to London government. When I became the leader of Enfield council the London County Council was in existence. The Conservative Party's great idea was that, having failed to control the LCC, it would change the council's boundaries and turn it into the Greater London Council. It believed that the old concept of the LCC, over which it could never win power, would be changed in its favour by adding to it. It added small parts of Surrey, Essex and Hertfordshire. Surprise, surprise: at the first election in 1964 the Conservative Party was hammered and beaten. Politicians do not always get it right.
In a difficult political and economic climate, the GLC tried to do what it was designed to do. At the end of the day, the people of London were not given the choice of whether they wanted the GLC or not; other people took the decision for them. Therefore, with a great deal of
If one wishes to see the meaning of the abolition of the GLC one has only to walk on to the Terrace and look across at County Hall. When I have visitors who ask, "Tell me, Ted, what is that old building?", I reply, "It used to be the centre of London government". They ask, "What's happened to it now?". I say, "It's been sold. The London Residuary Body sold it". They ask, "Who did they sell it to?", and without making any point I say, "To the Japanese". They tell me that the same thing has happened somewhere else. I believe that it is to the shame of the Conservative administration that they kept silent about the net effect of what they did in abolishing the GLC.
The GLC was no more heavily criticised than by the London Borough of Enfield and other Labour authorities. They were standing up and attempting to do something which they believed had to be done. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, made two telling comments. She spoke of the absence of a focus and of a visible, coherent body to represent Londoners as regards Olympic bids and so forth. Despite the efforts that have been made by various bodies to try to do what the GLC did, they have failed in expressing the views of Londoners.
I am not sure whether the election of an assembly and a mayor will prove to be right. But, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, the people of London will decide when they vote and the Government must pick up the pieces. I have been impressed by the number of questions which the Minister has been asked tonight. I am prepared to extend her time to one hour and 40 minutes, but she still will not have answered all the questions.
We have heard a good trailer for the many problems which will emerge after the election and after flesh has been put on the bones of the proposal. We may never get it right, but the Government are to be congratulated on bringing forward innovative measures into local government. I am not frightened of doing something for the first time. The proposal might not be the best way and it might not be successful, but the Government are attempting to say, "We don't want the LCC nor the GLC. We want to give London a body and a mayor which we believe will be the answer". That might not be the answer, but unless we make progress with the Bill we shall never get the answer.
I like the way in which the Bill seeks to define the functions of a government for London. I refer to land-use planning, environmental protection, transport, culture and leisure, economic development and regeneration, police and fire services and so forth. Those are all core services. Tourism, which is not specified, can best be managed across the whole city. I like the idea that is contained in that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is quite right to say that there are 32 mayors and separate entities which are all very proud and fierce. When I was leader of Enfield, before it became the London Borough of Enfield, there were very proud boroughs called
I liked very much what the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, said as regards what we are looking for in a mayor of London--a face, a focus, a voice, visibility, exposure, approachability, local pride and a civic sense of purpose. We must bear in mind the importance of making sure that we do not lose things which are worth preserving. However, having a mayor can be a powerful incentive. London has lost out a great many times because it is seen as a disparate unit. Whether or not the man is a politician or whether he has special qualities remains to be seen.
In a debate such as this, we must bear in mind what kind of London we are talking about. London is economically rich but it has many social problems. We are talking about a London which contributes 17 per cent. of the UK's GDP; where there is access to 9 million employees; where London's financial sector contributes £6 billion--75 per cent.--to the financial services sector; which brings in £7.7 billion in tourism. But in that same London, throughout the area, there are serious social problems; for example, 45 per cent. of the ethnic minority population lives in London. That means that only 55 per cent. lives in the rest of the country. Moreover, 25 per cent. of the inner-London workforce is ethnic, but 40 per cent. are unemployed. In London there is more unemployment than in Scotland or in Wales and one in five young people is targeted in the welfare-to-work scheme. In London, one in three black men are out of work, and the manufacturing sector has dropped from 650,000 to 328,000 in the past 10 years.
Some of my colleagues from the London Borough of Enfield, on both sides of the Chamber, are struggling and sweating to try to solve some of those problems. I hope that in time--not too far ahead--we shall have a group of people, men and women of all political parties, who will see it as their responsibility to deal with some of the problems that I have just outlined. It is far too easy for London boroughs to say to themselves, "We have too much on our plates to bother about London transport or tourism or the economy of London". We need a fresh look. I believe that the Minister and her colleagues are striving to give the people of London an opportunity to say whether or not they like that possibility.
Reference has been made to the Corporation of London. It has done and is doing a grand job. Yesterday, I was in Epping Forest. I went to visit a place which has had a great deal of money spent on it. It is the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge in Chingford. I do not knock anybody who has done anything to try to serve the interests of the people of London. I hope that people will not believe that the provisions of the Bill are designed to
Viscount Chelmsford: My Lords, this Bill invites Londoners to vote on whether they want to have an elected mayor and a separately elected assembly. But it makes no attempt to set out what powers either would possess; nor does it say who would give up the powers which the GLA would take.
A key point in the proposal must be the power balance in the relationship between mayor and assembly. The Bill does not specify that. The Minister says that by the time of the referendum there will be answers to those concerns since the White Paper will be published by then. But that does not cover the point that the referendum is on the Bill, not on the Bill plus the White Paper. Since there is nothing specified in that Bill, there is nothing to prevent government changing their mind post-referendum. If the Government wish to campaign on the policy of the White Paper, there should be some linkage in the Bill to that White Paper so that responsibilities and powers are identified.
London certainly needs its own voice. Everyone has said so, and I agree. Currently it does not have that single voice. On the other hand, the Corporation of London has a very successful single voice--the Lord Mayor, who is the voice of the Square Mile. His job has become increasingly important as a marketing tool for the City of London. Many of us believe that the same formula could be applied to the needs of Greater London--the London that lives within the M.25.
The infrastructure behind the City's Lord Mayor is modest. Behind the Government's proposal is a new tier which looks remarkably like a third layer of government sitting in between national and local government. The Bill proposes a referendum to decide between whether to establish a mayor and an assembly or not to have anything. Like others, and like my noble friend Lord Bowness in particular, I suggest that there is a case for having separate votes in relation to a mayor and an assembly. Many of us would vote for a mayor, particularly if he were seen as the marketing arm for London, but not necessarily for an assembly.
The Government's consultation paper, New Leadership for London, suggests that the mayor sets the strategic direction and the assembly examines and approves that. It adds that changes could be proposed. Therefore, it must be presumed that the Government see the mayor's strategy as possibly being rejected. What happens then? Despite the executive nature of the mayor and the wide range of his responsibilities, which have just been referred to--land use, planning, regeneration, transport and so on--the Government say in their consultation paper that they do not envisage a large number of staff. I ask the Minister what numbers are envisaged and what large or not large means.
It is noticeable that those new devolved powers are by no means absolute. If central government disagree a strategy they can block it. Therefore the question arises as to whether government will block a GLA strategy which has formed a platform on which the mayor was elected.
Recently I have heard many points made about the importance of London to the rest of the United Kingdom and how the fortunes of London have a knock-on effect in respect of other parts of the UK. When London does well, it is suggested that it adds value to the UK in general. But when it comes to funding, the consultation paper suggests that there will be no extra money and that if more money is needed, it must be found out of savings. I should have thought that the money could be switched to some extent from the regions to London to reflect London's influence on regional ability to grow.
London is a major driver of the United Kingdom's wealth. The campaign for a better infrastructure for London, particularly in transport, started in the City, which is concerned that London stays an attractive place for the international company and for global trade. Can it truly be said that three layers of government fingers in London's pie will achieve more than two? Are we quite sure that the views and powers of mayor versus assembly will not end up in contradiction, cancelling each other out and thus adding to London's burdens rather than adding value?
I turn briefly to transport, improvement in its communications being London's greatest need. I am supportive of a London transport authority inasmuch as the management of road traffic using modern technology is already emerging in an infrastructure which divides between urban management and inter-urban management. Clearly the interface between these management teams will be important. Where London is concerned, with its territorial definition which covers everything within the M.25, care will be needed in the interface where motorways--managed by the Highways Agency--penetrate inside the M.25.
The Government's consultation paper talks about national, regional and local roads. Yet the management control teams currently being set up split only between urban and inter-urban or regional teams. Effectively control does not have a national presence, yet the Highways Agency is national and is based on a different concept of infrastructure. It seems to me that there is still a lot of thought needed about how the future of our road system will be driven forward.
In conclusion, the real reason in my view that London needs a mayor is to intercede with central Government on London's behalf. I submit that it is not local government which stops London from implementing a grand strategy. I think that it has always been central Government and that it probably always will be. I do not see how another layer of local government can possibly address the real problem.
Indeed the Liberal Democrats are suggesting, like the Conservatives and indeed many in the Labour Party, that Londoners should have some choice in the matter and not just be presented with a "like it or lump it" question. That makes some discussion of the options necessary. We appreciated the welcome given by the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, for many Liberal Democrat points made by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. I hope that in return we are not required to endorse his candidacy!
The Minister mentioned that traditionally there has been a lack of interest in constitutional change. I am glad to say that that is not reflected in this debate today. We are usually told that it is only the Liberal Democrats who are interested in such a subject. The Liberal Democrats believe that the Government's proposals are a mixture of the timid and the risky. They are timid in that it is strange that the Government do not have the confidence in their own proposals to allow Londoners to be able to choose between essentially a parliamentary and a presidential model for their own regional government. I thought that the Minister was remarkably defensive in her justification for refusing two questions in the referendum.
The proposals are also timid in that they essentially--this comes over time and time again when government spokespeople mention the proposals--talk about London government as local government. Most of us on these Benches see it as regional government. London is a region as well as a city; it is a city region. That is why we propose more extensive powers and functions such as strategic responsibility for health functions, but not the delivery of the health service--that is clear. We also want London government to have tax varying powers, which need not mean an increase in taxation; it is a question of where the tax is raised.
Government proposals also risk a concentration of power, even the danger of corruption, with a directly elected mayor who is not sufficiently scrutinised. There is a difference here in that we are talking about regional government having an extensive degree of power devolved down from central Government. The more power that we want a London authority to have, the less happy we are to see those powers concentrated in the hands of a single individual. I respect very much the views of my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf on the question of a directly elected mayor. However, I need hardly remind him that he is in a rather small minority in the Liberal Democrats. That is why we want a debate. We are open enough to show that we have differences of view in the Liberal Democrats. That is not the case in the Labour Party, where people are not allowed to voice different views.
We have already heard today of the dangers of a personality contest arising in the election of a directly elected mayor. That is perhaps why the mayors of almost all European capital cities are elected by their assemblies and are not directly elected. I take the point made by my noble friend when she spoke of Munich.
As others have said, if the Greater London authority does not have powers devolved down from central Government, the problems will be recreated of the GLC interfering in the affairs of the boroughs. The Government risk that by being timid with the powers and through the lack of financial powers that they are willing to give Londoners to run their own affairs. I was interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, talk about the licensing powers of the GLC, of which I confess I was not aware. I would hate to see a Greater London authority tempted to interfere in the affairs of my local street market in Islington, Chapel Market, although perhaps it could not make a worse job of it than the council.
The Government talk of the directly elected mayor as a champion, a voice and as someone to speak up for London. That is a valid role but it is a limited one. What we are talking about is better government--that is, accountable and responsive government--for this diverse, cosmopolitan capital city region. Perhaps that is summed up in the different titles we have used for our papers. The Government's paper is entitled New Leadership for London and the Liberal Democrat's response is entitled Home Rule for London. We think that the best way to obtain better government for London is through the traditional parliamentary model developed over a thousand years, and not through the alien import of a US-style presidential model. I think that voters can grasp the essence of the difference. They are quite intelligent enough to be able to make that choice. They can see, for instance, what happens in the United States between president and Congress. If a parliamentary style of government in which the leader--who for London may or may not be called a mayor; I take the point about the risk of confusion there--answers to his or her colleagues, and through them to the voters, is good enough for the UK, for Scotland, for Wales and for local government, why is it not an option that Londoners should be able to choose?
I am afraid I do not agree that to be visible someone has to be directly elected. I do not think that there is any problem with the visibility of Prime Minister Blair. I do not agree either that just because there are problems in local government and in some of our town halls, we should blame the structure of the traditional parliamentary model. One could equally blame the culture of the Labour Party which runs many town halls, or the lack of a fair voting system. I do not think it is fair to say that we need to shake off the reputation of local government in order to go for what is essentially a gimmick of a directly elected mayor.
But if the Government are so convinced of the virtues of their preferred structure, what have they to fear from a two-question referendum? They rightly can point to progress they have made since May in bringing forward proposals for a more open, democratic British constitution. I applaud that. How strange it would be, therefore, if this reputation for openness was marred by a rather stubborn and high-handed refusal to let the
The Minister gave several reasons why only a one-question referendum was appropriate, why Londoners should only be able to endorse the proposal, not choose an alternative one. She said that it would only be practical to ask one question; she thought that two questions would be confusing. That was not true in Scotland, and it need not be true in London. Londoners are perfectly capable of intelligent choice.
The Minister also said that the case for two questions misunderstands what the Government are proposing. We have heard rather too often recently that those who oppose the Government's proposals have "misunderstood" them. It is not a matter of lack of clarity; it is opposition to the substance which needs to be tested. The Government are in danger of attracting the charge that they are covering up a lack of confidence in the people's support for this novel and alien system.
It would be extremely dangerous if a form of government was imposed which was unstable. After the history of the past 11 years, the last thing we want is a system that does not endure. We want a secure and stable system with broad support.
I am glad that the Conservatives have seen the light and now support giving the citizens of London the right to choose. They abolished the GLC, after ignoring overwhelming opposition to its abolition. I am glad, however, that they have changed their minds on consultation and democracy. After that history, London government would have been a party political football, and it should not be so. It needs to be constructed on a sound basis.
We are happy to discuss the precise form of the two questions. It is not difficult. The noble Lord, Lord Archer, had a point when he said that there are already two questions wrapped up in one in the existing phrasing. Liberal Democrats will accept the outcome. We have some suggestions as to how the mayor and the assembly under the Government's proposals can have co-operation and how the assembly can control the mayor. We are not being ostrich-like; we are not saying that we will not engage in a debate. We have put forward specific proposals for the relationship between the mayor and the assembly. We are prepared to engage in debate, and we invite the Government to do so as well.
In the view of most of us, the arguments for a directly elected mayor are weak. However, that is not the main point today. The issue is that the arguments for a one-question referendum are weak indeed. We know that many Labour as well as Conservative politicians want two questions. It would be fair and democratic to allow the people of London that chance.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, the Bill seeks to authorise a referendum on the establishment of a Greater London authority and a separately elected mayor. Some of your Lordships may recall the words of a song--which, I hasten to say, I do not propose to sing to you this evening:
Go together like a horse and carriage.
You can't have one without the other".
The fact is that different groups want different things. Government Members in the other place apparently want whatever their pagers tell them they want. The Liberal Democratic Party wants an elected authority, but not a mayor. The group of Labour-controlled borough councils are reported to be emphatically against a separately elected assembly.
In a paper published on the Internet as recently as 24th November, the Greater London Labour Party reported that its conference rejected the idea of a mayor. How exactly the author of the paper knew that is not clear, as she complained that the conference was not allowed to take any votes, only "soundings". Even the conclusions of the "workshops" held at the conference were disallowed. So much for democracy!
The views of the Conservative Party are clear. They support the creation of a mayor. They oppose the creation of another layer of local government--making the mayor more remote from the citizens of London. They oppose the expense that it would involve. But, above all, they oppose the elected assembly, for the same reason as we assume the Government's supporters in the London borough councils oppose it. It will remove important features of government from the local councils into a more distant authority with no local connections or knowledge. It will create a body which may, according to one of the Government's proposals, have fewer members than there are boroughs. That would ensure that no member will be able to represent one borough, but may have to reconcile the conflicting interests of two of them.
What a terrible idea!--the very thought of an assembly populated by persons who would be advancing the interests of their constituents, or as Labour would put it, "the people", and not necessarily following the party line.
The fact is, the Government want a separately elected assembly for one reason. They want to remove from the local councils as many of their powers as they can and to put them in the hands of a remoter body answering to no individual constituents. They are trying to create what I can only describe as "un-subsidiarity". They are doing so despite the claim in the fine print of their manifesto that,
The Minister made much of the manifesto commitment to give a new deal to London; that is, with a strategic authority and a mayor. As my noble friend Lord Bowness commented, in the other place it was described as not being an opportunity to pick and mix. But elsewhere in the manifesto the Labour Party stated:
Whether they intend it or not, they are creating a situation of potential conflict between the boroughs and the assembly. Indeed, they go further than that. They support the creation of a London development agency, and it seems likely that the Government Office for London will also be retained. Perhaps the Minister, in replying, will tell me if I am wrong on this matter. If I am not, then we shall have no fewer than four bodies competing with each other, or having to spend time and money consulting with each other or duplicating each other's work.
Why are we even having to discuss the pros and cons of an elected assembly in this debate--the topic of which is simply the referendum? It is because, as with the Scottish and Welsh referenda, the electorate are being asked to sign a blank cheque. There are some 61 unanswered questions in the Green Paper about the future government of London. The Government will undoubtedly feel themselves free to deal with those problems in whatever way they choose to interpret the consultation results. But in the interests of open government, will the Government publish the result of the consultation, tabulating the number and nature of the replies that they receive to each of those 61 questions?
I return to the central question. Since the Government have offered Londoners a referendum, why cannot both questions be separate? The same question has been repeatedly asked in the other place and, indeed, during our debate today, but so far we are without an answer that we find acceptable. I hope that in her reply the Minister will give the House a more plausible explanation than that the manifesto simply referred to a complete package. Why cannot Londoners have just one or other, if that is what they want? Why cannot the assembly consist of the democratically elected leaders of their respective local--and I stress the word "local"--councillors? The fact is that the Government are afraid of the answer they will get. The answer to the question of an assembly, if asked separately, would probably be a resounding "no".
I shall not take up your Lordships' time by repeating at length the many objections we have heard here today and in the other place about the proposed separate assembly. How will it be elected? What will it cost? What will its powers be? Will it be able to raise taxes?
The Government have failed to explain why 32 or perhaps fewer assemblymen beholden to their party of whatever political hue for their position, are better placed to decide the strategic needs of the capital or to hold the mayor to account than 32 democratically elected borough leaders, each with an intimate expert knowledge of the problems and interests of the residents of a major part of the city. In other words, why are the Government afraid to allow two questions rather than, in the tradition of the Labour Party conference, the composite they seek to impose?
On the question of an assembly, Labour's manifesto is ambiguous and contradictory. Apart from the contradiction about subsidiarity to which I have already referred, point 9 of their so-called contract promised to decentralise political power. An assembly for London will do exactly the opposite of that. Indeed, the Green Paper itself identifies no fewer than 15 diminutions of the powers of the boroughs. For that reason, as my noble friend Lord Bowness said, we shall reserve the right to reintroduce the amendment splitting the question into two.
There can be no reason why a party which claims to be wedded to democracy should not allow the people to decide on the two entirely separate issues to be posed in the referendum. As my honourable friend said in the other place on 10th November, at col. 669 of the Official Report,
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, it has been a fascinating debate and one that illustrates that the issues we are discussing are not as simple or straightforward as is put forward by those who suggest that we should take one question and turn it into two.
I shall return to that in a moment. First, perhaps I may congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Levene, on an excellent maiden speech, one founded on knowledge and experience. I am sure that it made us all wish to hear more from him in the future.
Perhaps at this point I may say that we very much take the points he made about the Corporation and the role of the Lord Mayor of the City in relation to the mayor and assembly. I think we share his optimism that the two could work well together, not diminishing each other's roles but complementing them in speaking together for the capital. We believe that that is the way forward. It will be necessary to have clarity in the relationship, as the noble Lord outlined.
The desire for clarity was a theme of the debate. The noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, suggested that we needed clarity in terms of the functions, powers, responsibilities and division of responsibilities. That point was made too from the Opposition Front Benches, although not always
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|