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Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker: Thank you. We must now move on to the main business. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] We shall be returning to the matter many times over the next few months. Fear not--I shall remember those hon. Members who have not had an opportunity to ask a question today.

20 Jan 1999 : Column 922

Orders of the Day

Greater London Authority Bill

[2nd Allotted Day]

[(Clauses 1 to 4 and Schedule 1 and 2)]

Further considered in Committee, pursuant to the Order [15 December] [Progress, 19 January].

[Mr. Michael Lord in the Chair]

4.17 pm

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): On a point of order, Mr. Lord. Have you received a request from the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies) to come here to correct the record from yesterday? During debate, it was suggested that the decision to abolish the Greater London council did not form part of the 1983 Conservative manifesto. I have read the 1983 manifesto, and it is perfectly clear that the proposal was included in it, so it would be appropriate for the hon. Gentleman to come to the Chamber to apologise.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord): That is not a point of order for me, but a matter for debate. I have received no information of the sort the hon. Gentleman seeks.

Clause 2

Membership of the Authority and the Assembly

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 2, leave out lines 25 to 27 and insert--

'(a) begin on the first Monday in July following the ordinary election; and'.

The Second Deputy Chairman: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 70, in page 2, line 25, leave out 'second'.

No. 65, in page 2, line 25, after first 'day', insert 'two months'.

No. 71, in page 2, line 28, leave out 'second'.

No. 66, in page 2, line 28, after first 'day', insert ', two months'.

No. 32, in clause 3, page 3, leave out lines 24 to 28.

Mr. Burstow: This debate should be relatively short and centre on the term of office of the mayor and the members of the assembly. The group of amendments raises issues on which we should like to probe the Government so as to ensure that we clearly understand their thinking on how those matters will operate. The effect of the amendments would be to provide for a transition period, from the time when the election of the mayor and the members of the assembly takes place to the time that they assume their responsibilities.

The amendments would also remove the Secretary of State's power to set the date on which the authority comes into being and starts to operate. The Bill as it stands provides for the Secretary of State, in effect, to act as mayor of London for about a month, during April, in the run-up to the elections for the Greater London authority,

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and we do not believe that the Secretary of State should also have the power to change the start date of the authority. That is an unnecessary power and our amendments, if accepted, would make it clear that the assembly would commence its business and the mayor would start to act from July, so there would be no need for the Secretary of State to become involved.

I seek clarification on how Ministers envisage acting during the shadow period, when the new authority is in place but the members of that authority have not been elected. As we understand it, the authority will operate from 1 April. We must be clear about exactly how Ministers will discharge their powers on behalf of Londoners during that period. That is why we have tabled the amendments. I hope that the Minister will elaborate on how Ministers will be additionally accountable to London during that time and how we can ensure that we have the benefit of a transition period in future elections.

It has been said on several occasions that the Greater London authority presents an opportunity to experiment, innovate and try new methods of operation. The Liberal Democrats are entirely in favour of such experimentation, and we invite the Government to consider a further innovation in the workings of the GLA. Given that the legislation clearly separates the executive and scrutiny roles and that newly elected mayors will face a mammoth task, we believe that the legislation should provide a period of transition from a sitting mayor to a new incumbent mayor following an election to allow the latter to prepare for the task ahead.

The traditional model in general elections in this country, whereby an election is held and a losing Prime Minister must vacate his offices almost the same day, is ineffective and inefficient in the context of this institution. Yesterday, Ministers recognised correctly that we must examine each institution and construct it in a manner that is appropriate to the task that it performs. In this case, we believe that the Government should adopt that innovation.

The amendments seek to remove the power of the Secretary of State to decide the assembly's first meeting date and to put a clear date for that meeting in the Bill.

Mr. Ottaway: I speak to the amendments in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) and myself, which are similar in intent to those tabled by the Liberal Democrats.

It is clear that several lesser appointments will be made in establishing the authority--I do not wish to demean those who will ultimately fill those appointments; they are part of the new assembly's essential machinery. The key appointments will not be made until after the elections. Like the Liberal Democrats, we believe that a time interval should be permitted to allow the mayor and his advisers to make those appointments in their own time. For that reason, we think that a two-month delay in commencing the mayor's term of office would benefit the appointment process. We are not alone in that view. A few weeks ago, the Evening Standard stated:

For once, the Conservative party and the Evening Standard are in accord. That newspaper has not supported us for many years and I am pleased that it is beginning to come around to our point of view.

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I do not advocate the mooted delay of several months to allow the Government to put in place their public-private partnership for London Underground before the mayor takes office. I think that that transitional stage is a disaster waiting to happen, and it will no doubt form the basis of much debate in Committee. I do not think that the mayor's term of office should be delayed at the Government's convenience. It should be for the convenience and benefit of Londoners. Under the circumstances, a two-month interregnum between the election and the commencement of the term of office seems right and appropriate.

The Minister for Transport in London (Ms Glenda Jackson): The Government share the belief of the hon. Members for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) and for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) that there should be a breathing space between the mayor and the assembly being elected and taking up the duties that the people of London will have placed on them by virtue of electing them. I am happy to consider the hon. Gentlemen's proposals before the Bill reaches its later stages.

The assembly will have direct responsibilities for appointing senior officials because it will be necessary to create an executive. It is proposed that there should be a shadow secretariat. I use that term in its widest sense. There will also be a need for the mayor to make appointments to the many executive committees that will be directly responsible to him. We simply need to consider the time that should elapse between the election of the mayor and the assembly and the commencement of their duties.

I turn now to amendments Nos. 65, 66 and 70. It is clear that there needs to be a pause because, as Government Members have made abundantly clear, the Bill proposes a new form of city-wide government, and the mayor and assembly will be responsible for designing a strategy to improve the quality of life in London by improving its transport and dealing with many of the other issues that we have already discussed. However, such a pause will be necessary only after the first election, which will take place in May 2000.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam made a point about whether there would be additional ministerial responsibilities during that interregnum.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): It is interesting that the Minister says that a pause will be necessary only after the first election because if there were a change of mayor, the new mayor would want to make appointments. He or she would not be able to do so before the election, so the same problem would emerge. The secretariat would remain the same, but the advisers appointed by the mayor would surely change and there would need to be time to make that change.

Ms Jackson: I find the hon. Lady's intervention bemusing. There is no pause in central Government after an election. There is no pause in local government after an election. The business that is the responsibility of local authorities and central Government goes on whether or not the political power in local authorities or the party in Government changes. The necessary structures that facilitate the work of political representatives sent to those offices by the will of the people support and sustain day-to-day business.

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