Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation
Wednesday 16 February 2000
[Mr. Mike Hancock in the Chair]
Draft GLA (Disqualification) Order 2000
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Greater London Authority (Disqualification) Order 2000.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hancock. This is only the second Committee on Delegated Legislation on which I have had the pleasure to serve--I dare say the second of many more to come.
The order designates the offices and appointments that disqualify the holders from being elected or being the mayor of London or a member of the London assembly. The order is compatible with the European convention on human rights.
Part I of the schedule to the order lists those eight bodies, the members of which are disqualified. Part II lists a further 18 offices and appointments, the holders of which cannot be mayor or an assembly member. The Greater London Authority Act 1999 and other legislation disqualifies certain categories of people, such as members of the authority's staff, from being elected or being the mayor or an assembly member. The 1999 Act also establishes tailor-made disqualification regimes for the new police and fire authorities, Transport for London and the London Development Agency.
In any disqualification regime, there is always a balance to be struck between preventing conflicts of interest and restricting the democratic right to stand for election. We intend the GLA to be an inclusive authority, and we want the jobs of mayor and assembly member to be open to a wide range of talented people. As a strategic authority, responsible for a range of London-wide functions that are small in number but vital to Londoners, the GLA will need to work in partnership with other organisations if it is to serve our capital city best. To foster an inclusive approach, we shall keep to a minimum those offices and appointments that a person will not be able to combine with the position of mayor or being an assembly member. Indeed, the 1999 Act requires some assembly members also to serve on the police and fire authorities, permits up to four to serve on the London Development Agency and allows the mayor to chair Transport for London, should he or she decide to do so.
Therefore, only those offices or appointments that would clearly give rise to significant conflicts of interest with the role of mayor or assembly member will be disqualified. The offices and appointments in the order are included for one of three reasons: first, because their holders are required to be, or to be seen to be, politically impartial, such as judges or civil servants; secondly, because they are with a body such as the Audit Commission or the Police Complaints Authority that has a scrutiny role over the GLA or one of the four functional bodies; or thirdly, because their holders may exercise a quasi-judicial role over the GLA or a functional body --such as a person who hears appeals on penalty fares issued on behalf of Transport for London. The order also makes it clear that magistrate members of the new police authority will not be eligible to stand for election as mayor or an assembly member.
People who currently hold posts or are employed in jobs that are disqualified in primary legislation or under the order will be required to resign before they give consent to their candidature as part of the formal nomination procedure under the rules that will apply to the conduct of the GLA elections. The list of disqualified offices and appointments does not replicate those for the National Assembly for Wales or the Scottish Parliament, or that under the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. That is because the role and functions of the mayor and assembly members will be very different from those of the members of those institutions.
Although we believe that the fewest possible people should be disqualified from the jobs of mayor and member of the assembly, the GLA needs to be properly independent. To ensure that, conflicts with other public offices, whether of interest or of time pressures, will also be covered in the statutory guidance on ethical standards to which the GLA will be required to have regard. We shall publish that guidance shortly.
We have considered carefully which people should be prevented from standing or serving as the mayor or an assembly member because of an office or appointment that they hold. The list before us today, combined with the arrangements to be set out in the statutory ethical guidance, strikes the right balance between preventing conflicts of interest and restricting people's right to stand for election.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): One would usually take on trust from Her Majesty's Government an order such as the one before us, but the atmosphere surrounding preparation for the Greater London elections has soured in recent weeks, as the Minister knows from his experience in the House last night. A member of the Committee, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), did not stint in his criticism of the absence of free mailings in the elections to the Greater London Authority and the London mayoralty.
I am explaining why I shall look so closely at the list of disqualified persons. I wonder into which category, if there is one, the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) might fall in order to rescue the Government from the problems in their party selection process, given that they have allowed factional party problems to influence their conduct in preparing for the election process. I have not spotted such a category yet, but that does not necessarily mean that it is not there.
The Chairman: I expect that it is happening as we speak, but I should like the hon. Gentleman to stick to the order.
Mr. Jenkin: I note that the provisions in part II, paragraphs 22, 23, 24 and 25 create, at public expense, new offices that disqualify the holder from membership of the assembly or from the mayoralty. Members of the Committee may be particularly interested in the public-private partnership agreement arbiter. Who in the Committee knows who that is? It is the person who has to decide on disagreements between those conducting the public-private partnership on the tube and the rail regulator, who may take a different view of how to resolve some aspect of regulation of the public-private partnership in relation to railways. The diligent hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Edward Davey) may be about to correct me. Perhaps he will illuminate the Committee.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): I think that the hon. Gentleman is slightly incorrect in what he said about the role of the public-private partnership agreement arbiter, which is to arbitrate between the franchisees and the mayor if there is a dispute about a change in the contract wanted by a future mayor.
Mr. Jenkin: I should be interested to know whether that is entirely correct or whether the arbiter has more than one role, which may be possible. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's illumination of that point.
The nature of government is changing; it is no longer conducted through public agencies, but extensively through private agencies and businesses that want to turn a profit, and there is nothing wrong with that. They are, nevertheless, closely interested in the administration of public affairs. Yet nowhere in the list is there any sign of those who might be included in that potential conflict of interest. Whereas previously a person carrying out such a function would automatically have been a civil servant, today it might well be a private agency or company. We must consider carefully whether the conflict of interest of a person holding a substantial private contract with a listed public agency, with the Government or with the GLA is sufficient to exclude him from office in the GLA or from the mayoralty. Otherwise, somebody might be able to stand for election for public offices while being paid by one of the political authorities that are closely interested in the administration of such offices.
I have no particular gripes about the order, but I shall remain on guard and wary. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's remarks.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hancock. I am sure that you will bring me to order with your usual impartiality should I stray from the subject of the debate.
Like the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), the Liberal Democrats do not have too many problems with the order. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is unusual for legislation introduced in the run-up to the GLA to produce that reaction. However, I should like to probe the Minister on a few points.
I should like to ask about the Government's criteria and their general approach. Are the disqualifications of bodies, offices and appointments in relation to the mayoralty and to membership of the assembly the same as those that apply to local councils, especially in London? Part of the Government's case against a free post is that the new authority is very similar to a local council, so there should be no such posts in the GLA elections as none are available in local council elections. Yet most London local councillors would not be disqualified if they were members of the Central Arbitration Committee, which is another example of a difference between the GLA and local councils.
I mention in passing that I learned after last night's debate in the House--unfortunately not before--that the Government are trialling free posts in local elections in Watford, which completely undermines the case that they made in that debate. I know that you are about to call me to order, Mr. Hancock, but I thought that Labour Members would want to know how appalling the Government's actions are on that point.
Interestingly, officers of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and the Data Protection Registrar are to be excluded from GLA membership. Those people will be very busy during the next few weeks and for the first few months of the GLA, because of the way in which various selection contests have been undertaken so they will probably be pleased that they are unable to stand in the contest. However, it is interesting that National Audit Office staff are also excluded. Will the Minister tell us why? I understood from his remarks in the House last night that the GLA was a local government body, so it is right that Audit Commission members are excluded. However, if the GLA is a tier of local government, why have the staff of the National Audit Office--the auditor for national Government Departments--been excluded? Presumably, they will not have a GLA remit because, as we have heard, it is a form of local Government.
My interest was also aroused when I saw what offices and appointments are disqualified in part II. The Minister said that we do not want to restrict membership of the GLA too much. That is the right approach. We want to encourage people to stand for office whenever possible, if there is no conflicting interest. However, some bodies could have conflicts of interest, which might be covered by other legislation. For example, the Environment Agency might need to oversee some of the GLA's activities, such as the planning inspectorate. Why is it not included in part II? The office of the Lord Mayor of the City of London comes to mind. Could the mayor of London also be the Lord Mayor? Perhaps we could combine the posts in the way that heavyweight boxing titles have been combined.
We do not have huge problems with the order but, like the hon. Member for North Essex, we will scrutinise it closely. I hope that the Minister will respond to the substance of my points.