Greater London Authority Bill

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Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman clearly has not learnt the adage that many of us learnt many years ago—I apologise if it is sexist—that no man may serve two masters. The divided lines of accountability implied by the amendment would create total nonsense. There is no way in which the Secretary of State could fulfil his tasks if his responsibilities were divided between the Greater London authority and this House.

Mr. Edward Davey: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Raynsford: I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear with me for a moment. He may want to consider whether his amendment would be in breach of the privileges of this House, which have in the past been asserted against the courts when there has been a question about to whom Ministers should be accountable.

The amendment is totally misguided and foolish, and I hope that it will soon be withdrawn. The Secretary of State will be accountable to this House—and, ultimately, to the courts. If the Greater London authority chose to challenge one of his decisions and secured judicial review, that would provide another route for challenging him. The idea that the Secretary of State should be answerable to the assembly is nonsense, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will now recognise that and withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Davey: The hole in the Government's argument is that the Bill gives the Secretary of State huge powers to intervene in the day-to-day workings of the authority. My hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that there are more than 260 references in the Bill to powers to be given to the Secretary of State that will enable him or her to intervene before breakfast, lunch and dinner. Surely, when such powers are to be given to the Secretary of State, it is right that the members of the assembly should be able to ask questions of the Secretary of State.

It is not a matter of serving two masters. The amendments do not suggest that the assembly should be able to sack the Secretary of State. Surely, the ability to ask questions of the Secretary of State and to probe the Government's reasoning would improve the accountability of the Greater London Authority.

Under the Bill as drafted, great confusion will be caused among Londoners because so many people will be able to make decisions for London, and because the Secretary of State will be able to intervene. Londoners will not know who to hold accountable for the budget. The mayor and the assembly may agree a budget, but the Secretary of State may cap that budget or alter it in many other ways. That will confuse accountability, unless the Secretary of State can be questioned by the assembly about such interventions.

Mr. Hughes: Does my hon. Friend agree that clause 53, which amendment No. 57 would amend, clearly implies that if there was a financial scandal in London, for example, half-way through the procedures to get to the bottom of the matter, the Secretary of State could change the rules about who could be summoned and what information could be required to be provided, in order to protect the party then in power on the Greater London authority?

Mr. Davey: As usual, my hon. Friend makes a powerful point, which demonstrates the inability of the assembly to hold the mayor to account with the powers given to it by the Bill. The assembly will be unable properly to undertake financial investigations if the Secretary of State chooses to intervene. We are unhappy with the Minister's reply, and believe that the Committee should divide on the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 2, Noes 18.

Division No. 23]

Davey, Mr. Edward
Hughes, Mr. Simon

Buck, Ms Karen
Coleman, Mr. Ian
Darvill, Mr. Keith
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dowd, Mr. Jim
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Gapes, Mr. Mike
Gordon, Mrs. Eileen
Hoey, Kate
Jackson, Glenda
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, Mr. John
McNulty, Mr. Tony
Perham, Ms Linda
Pound, Mr. Stephen
Raynsford, Mr. Nick
Ryan, Joan
Smith, Mr. John

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): I beg to move amendment No. 385, in page 27, leave out lines 23 to 27.

Like all other hon. Members, I welcome you back, Mr. Winterton. My hon. Friends were correct in saying that we had missed you. It is a great pleasure to have you back.

At columns 288 and 289 of the report of last Thursday's proceedings, I said that my inquiry to the Minister in relation to Government amendment No. 241 to clause 37 was a paving inquiry into clauses 51 and 56. I have since discovered that clause 59 should also be included.

There is an element of usterou proterou, or the Husteron and Proteron club, in the order in which events have been presented. That club existed at the university of Oxford in the 1920s. Once a term, its members lived their lives backwards. They would get up, have a whisky and soda and then play some bridge. They would end up by having porridge late at night. In the Bill, the fact that the advice that various people give the mayor cannot be requested comes before the provisions for appointments and for the terms and conditions of those who are appointed. I understand that Bills have to be constructed in that way, but that does not make them easier to understand.

In reply to my earlier inquiry, the Minister agreed that the arrangement was a constitutional novelty. He did not, however, say—I would be grateful if he did so now—why there was no reference to it in the Green or White Papers, given that it is such a constitutional novelty for advice not to be available to everyone in a particular unit of local government. I acknowledge, however, that the explanatory notes to the Bill refer to it.

What we are debating has been referred to as a new category of local government with explicit separation of powers. I will not go into the history of the separation of powers in this nation, although interesting developments in the reign of Queen Anne may have affected constitutional history across the world ever since. That would, however, be too large a subject, which you would unquestionably rule out of order, Mr. Winterton. I want, however, to raise one point, particularly because I discovered that clause 59 absolves the special advisers from all the attendance duties that are laid on others. That makes them very much special advisers.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull): I do not want to trespass on your patience, Mr. Winterton, but my right hon. Friend owes us just one word of explanation on developments during the reign of Queen Anne. My question bears heavily on this place and on the way in which we do business. Was my right hon. Friend contemplating that movement which tended towards ensuring that Ministers could not be Members of Parliament because the two roles were mutually exclusive?

Mr. Brooke: I think that you will allow me to utter the single word ``Yes'' in response to my hon. Friend, Mr. Winterton. I am, however, conscious that time's winged chariot is creaking over our shoulders. We must reach clause 118 remarkably soon, so I should say no more on the subject.

As I was saying when my hon. Friend helpfully intervened, clause 59 absolves special advisers from almost any duty and therefore puts them in a particularly privileged position. I am surprised that the Government did not flag up—other than in the words of the Bill—this absolution, which will prevent the advisers' advice being available in public. Will there be any form of external audit for advice that is given to the mayor?

11.15 am

Mr. Wilkinson: I support the amendment. We are in danger of granting a very special status to these dozen individuals—they could be a dirty dozen—in the worse possible circumstance. If a mayor went seriously off the rails and became involved in fraudulent or corrupt practices, the very people from whom the assembly would most want to secure elucidation of the advice that they had given to the mayor would be those who had a special relationship with him and whom he had personally selected for his inner cabinet.

I am critical of the Government's attitude. They would absolve from the duty of scrutiny those whom the assembly might most wish to question. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) has done the Committee a service, not least in reminding us of his superb knowledge of Greek—a knowledge that has long escaped most of us.

Mr. Raynsford: The right hon. Member for the City and Westminster—

The Chairman: Order. He is the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster.

Mr. Raynsford: I apologise, Mr. Winterton. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster introduced his amendment with an elegant image, as always, although I was disturbed as to what malpractice the members of his obscure Oxford club got up to between their whisky and soda at midday and their consuming porridge—presumably courtesy of Her Majesty—late in the evening.

The provisions concern advice to the mayor which, as I have made clear before, we believe should follow the Whitehall model, whereby advice that is given to Ministers remains confidential. The right hon. Gentleman is well familiar with that practice, which we consider to be compatible with a clear framework for scrutiny, in this case exercised by the assembly and, in the case of the Government, by the House of Commons. We are following that model rather than the traditional local government model, in which there is no division between the executive and scrutiny elements in the body—that separation was not appropriate.

We are, however, mindful of the need to ensure proper accountability. That is why we have provided for all background papers to be made available and to be subject to the assembly's right to demand information; but to provide that the staff of the mayor's office and the staff of the GLA had to give evidence and produce documents relating to the advice that they had given the mayor would entirely undermine the Whitehall principle under which advice to Ministers must remain confidential. Thus we cannot accept the amendment; it would make nonsense of arrangements elsewhere in the Bill.

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Prepared 9 February 1999