Draft Greater London Authority (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 2) Order 2001

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Mr. Wilkinson: It is a privilege for me, Mr. Beard, as a non-member of this Committee to be able to take part in this debate by virtue of your kind permission. I am pleased to see you in the Chair and I wish you well in that role for many years to come.

I should like at the outset to allude to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar, who referred to the Schleswig-Holstein question. It was the federal German model, particularly the influence of the German Lander, that led to the establishment of the Committee of the Regions. My hon. Friend also referred to the Maastricht treaty. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) spoke about those long days and nights in Committee spent scrutinising the Greater London Authority Bill. We spent almost equally long days and nights on the Floor of the House when we scrutinised the Maastricht treaty ratification measure. Those of us who were critical of that legislation successfully insisted that only elected members should be representatives of the United Kingdom on the Committee of the Regions. The order reflects that fact in relation to the Greater London Authority.

It is instructive, however, to look at the proportionality of representation on the Committee of the Regions and to judge whether having representatives from the GLA, be they the Mayor in person or other representatives—at present, we have only one, Lord Toby Harris—will give London a fair deal. Luxembourg, with a population of 417,000, has six representatives on the Committee. Ireland, with 3.6 million—about half the population of London—has nine. Denmark, with a population of 5.3 million, also has nine. Finland, with a population of 5.1 million, has nine. There is no guarantee that the membership of the Mayor and perhaps another Assembly Member will provide sufficient topping-up of London membership so that London can cast its weight in the committee in a manner that is appropriate for the major capital city of the continent, the one that is supreme by far. London cannot be compared to Brussels, where the committee sits, and which has a population of only 900,000.

We are fortunate to some extent in that a London borough councillor, Councillor Sally Powell from Fulham and Hammersmith, chairs a committee of the Committee of the Regions. She is the only United Kingdom representative to hold either a chairmanship or a vice-chairmanship of any of its eight committees. With another GLA representative or two, we might get better representation in the offices of the Committee of the Regions.

I apologise to the Committee for having got my arithmetic wrong at the outset. Looking down the list, I forgot that it does not differentiate between the 24 full members and the 24 substitute members. I apologise for my mistake, but the point remains valid in essence, as the Minister generously pointed out. London at present has only four members, compared with 16 for other parts of the Kingdom. I hope that the Government will put that disparity right.

The Mayor will have to decide how his time is best spent, if he is chosen by the Government. After all, this is not a democratic matter—the cronies of the Government tend to be appointed. Will the Mayor's time be spent in the best interests of Londoners if he goes to Brussels for the five plenary sessions per year, and is a member, as he will almost certainly be, of one or more commissions, as the committees are known? Some topics covered by the committees are appropriate to his remit. Commission 4, chaired by Councillor Sally Powell, is about ``spatial planning'', which is entirely relevant. Now we understand where that term, which is in the 1999 Act, came from. Many of us, knowing that it did not have a cosmological origin, wondered about it. Spatial development strategy, a function of the Mayor, comes from European Union terminology. It is covered by commission 4 along with urban issues, energy and environment.

However, many of the other subjects are less relevant to the Mayor, such as fisheries, rural development and agriculture, which are covered by commission 2. Londoners, and members of the Committee, should remind themselves of what the Committee of the Regions actually does. Although I am not a computer buff, the Library found for me what the committee puts out about itself on its website. What does it do for the European citizen? The Mayor will be keen to know what it does for Londoners. I hope that his focus will be narrow and clearly directed to their welfare. The Committee of the Regions states that it acts as a ``bridge'' linking the European institutions to the regions.

The Chairman: Order. The terms of the order are well defined. They are to do with enabling the Mayor and members of the GLA to be members of the Council of the Regions. The hon. Gentleman is straying some distance from the centre point of this morning's debate.

Mr. Wilkinson: I take your point, Mr. Beard. If the legislation is permissive in allowing the Mayor or a member of the Assembly to be nominated to the committee, it is germane for us to know what their responsibilities would be if they were so nominated. Is that not relevant? We are not in the business of giving a carte blanche without fully reminding ourselves of what they would have to do were they lucky enough to be in Brussels. However, I shall summarise my point. The committee is an organisation that works towards an ever-closer European Union of citizens. It is designed

    ``to bring the European Union to the citizen''.

The Mayor and GLA work specifically for the welfare of Londoners. That is their primary job and it should be their whole focus, which is why the order requires careful scrutiny.

10.57 am

Dr. Whitehead: Let us dispose of the pigeon issue. The order is not designed to help Ken deal with the pigeons. That issue is not changed by the order. The order's purpose is to make it clear that the Mayor can enforce byelaws as well as make them. Although one may think that that is elementary common sense, the judgment suggests that it is not. The Government think that that needs to be made clear for the avoidance of doubt.

I sympathise with the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton. I used to live in Hampton, which is a hitherto unrevealed fact about my youth, where clouds of pigeons flying over from Kingston were a constant nuisance, so I understand his concern. The hon. Members for Brentwood and Ongar, for Ruislip-Northwood and for Kingston and Surbiton raised the issue of co-ordination. I set out the position as I understand it. This is as a reserved power. Boroughs both within and outside London have concerns about air quality and will take action on it. The Secretary of State can direct boroughs outside London to conform to EU standards on air quality or give them directions if there are particular problems with their air quality strategies. If the order is accepted, the Mayor of London will have that directing power within London.

In the first instance, boroughs inside and outside London should discuss how to ensure co-ordination of air quality strategies, and the Mayor should bear in mind such discussions in any direction he may make to the boroughs. I have emphasised that the Secretary of State has, as it were, the reserve power of a reserve power. The Secretary of State can direct the Mayor to direct the boroughs to help implement EU obligations where necessary or if the Mayor's air quality strategy is, in the Secretary of State's view, seriously detrimental to implementing those obligations. I should emphasise, however, that in the first instance co-ordination should be discussed, so that the direction will not be required.

Mr. Pickles: That is very helpful. Is the Minister saying that work on the various directives will take place at borough and district level, and that London boroughs and boroughs outside London will normally co-operate, but that the Mayor himself will have no power to impose his own air quality standards, and will be empowered merely to enforce pre-agreed directives?

Dr. Whitehead: The Mayor will have an air quality strategy that he may announce, but he will not substitute for the boroughs. If the Mayor feels that the air quality strategy of local London authorities is not conforming to EU directives, or that their efforts are departing so significantly from the directives that they are failing, he may direct them to ensure that their strategy conforms to the directives. The power is not a substitute authority that will determine the actions of boroughs; it is a reserve power to direct if problems arise.

Mr. Pickles: That does not quite answer my question. The Minister mentioned Ken's pigeons. I am asking not whether the Mayor will have reserve powers in respect of EU air quality directives, but whether he will have the power to enforce his own air quality measures—his own standard—outside EU and Government directives.

Dr. Whitehead: In principle, the answer is yes, to the extent that the Mayor will be able to create stricter standards than boroughs might otherwise choose, and direct boroughs to impose those standards. However, he must act in a way that is consistent with national air quality strategy and EU directives. He has the power to bring up to those standards people whom he feels are falling behind, but his power is not arbitrary. He cannot make up standards and enforce them. Should standards fall below levels set by EU directives and by a national air quality strategy, he is empowered to raise them, but he must act within those standards. He is not empowered, therefore, to decide what boroughs should do on the basis of a whim.

Mr. Pickles: So it is a power of scheduling and timing, rather than a power to establish new levels. Is the Minister saying that the Mayor cannot suddenly decide the emissions level for London, even if that level is significantly lower than that set by EU directives?

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Prepared 25 October 2001