Previous Section Index Home Page

Robert Neill: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should have been more patient, because I was dealing first with the lack of transparency. The Government set out transparency as one of their criteria, but have largely departed from it. I shall finalise that point. The process is opaque; it makes no sense to the average citizen that their assembly member and the majority of the
11 Oct 2007 : Column 493
assembly voted against a budget that was imposed on them anyway. In fact, for the past three years the assembly budget has been cooked up by a back-door cabal. To get the number of votes he required to block any amendment, the Mayor did a backstairs deal with the Green party. So peculiar was that deal that in its first year it involved him buying the support of the Greens by giving their party money to oppose policies that he was asking the assembly to vote him money to pursue. That is about as bizarre as it could be and if it does not bring politics into disrepute, I do not know what does.

Such a situation could only happen in Livingstone-land of course, where the logic is entirely different to that which applies to ordinary human beings. It is also far from transparent and hints at another feature of American big-city politics that I hope we do not want to import—pork-barrel politicking. That is the risk we run when a budget can be put together by stitching up backstairs deals as happens at present. We want to bring things transparently on to the floor of the assembly and to have the debate there. That is an entirely comprehensible proposition; it works well everywhere else in the UK.

A final point that is worth mentioning is that the Minister said that, under a strong model, the budget should be amended only when there is broad support for doing so. First, that is not necessary intellectually for a strong mayoral model to work, as has been demonstrated in the American examples; but in any event, like it or not—I personally do not, but it is a fact of life—the assembly is elected under a proportional representation system. Therefore, in fact, to amend the budget, even by a simple majority, it is necessary in practice for more than one party to come together. So a mayor of one party and a completely dominant opposition party in the assembly could not block each other and get into deadlock. In fact, the assembly would have to work on a consensual basis even to achieve a simple majority. That might be a healthy thing.

The interesting observation that I found from many people in New York, both officials and consumers, when I discussed their budgetary process was the fact that a measure of creative tension was judged not a bad thing, because it also required the mayor and the city council to work in sensible partnership. That would be an altogether more mature and healthier situation for governance in London.

The Government are therefore wrong to seek to disagree with the Lords amendment. The Lords were wise in asking us to reconsider. Their amendment improves the Bill, and we will certainly resist any attempt to remove it.

Tom Brake: Again, I am pleased to return to this matter, which was debated at greater length than any other in Committee and, of course, picked up in another place.

As the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) has said, the Minister and other Government Members have suggested that this budgetary arrangement has served Londoners well. However, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, the
11 Oct 2007 : Column 494
fact is that the Mayor’s precept of the council tax has increased by 100 per cent. in four years, and most Londoners would say that that does not serve them very well. For that reason, we proposed a measure in Committee that would have increased transparency and allowed separate billing for the Mayor’s precept, so that when people received their council tax bills and complained about the fact that their local councils had put up their council tax by 4 or 5 per cent, or by something above the rate of inflation, they would also receive a bill setting out the Mayor’s precept. They would then be able to see that the Mayor had very generously put up his precept by 25 per cent. or by something of a much larger nature than the local authorities had done. I am afraid that, of course, the Government were not in favour of transparency in billing. Therefore, many people remain in the dark about how generous the Mayor has been with their council tax.

We have reached very strange times when the Minister feels the need to invoke Lord Heseltine’s view as a justification for supporting this budgetary arrangement. It is in fashion for the Government to adopt things, but they are going to the extent of adopting Lord Heseltine’s view in defence of their proposal. As the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has said, no one outside the House or the Mayor’s office will understand a budgetary arrangement whereby a budget can be passed when 16 assembly members vote against it and nine support it. No one would see reason in that sort of arrangement. That is why, if the official Opposition choose to press the motion to a vote today, we will certainly join them. The budget and the Mayor’s ability to push his budget through with minimal support goes to the crux of what is wrong with the present arrangements.

The Minister said that requiring a majority to support the budget risks conflict and impasse. I do not agree at all. What it risks is the Mayor having to sit down and agree with a majority of assembly members in the different parties that they will support his budget. That arrangement seems to work quite well in local authorities throughout the country, where Conservative and Liberal Democrat administrations, Liberal Democrat and Labour administrations or, quite possibly, Conservative and Labour administrations work together and reach arrangement on budgetary issues and policies. We should not be afraid of that, but it seems as though the idea that the Mayor of London should have to achieve a consensus with assembly members is so appalling and alarming to the Government that they cannot possibly entertain it.

We think that this is a matter of huge importance. It is probably the most important issue that we need to address to try to make the whole process more democratic, more accountable and more open. We sincerely hope that the motion will be pressed to a vote and that we can command a majority of support against the Government, so that we in the House adopt what was sensibly proposed in the other place to ensure that the budget must be passed by a majority.

2.15 pm

Mr. Mark Field: The Minister is right when he says that we want a strong executive Mayor. I share and understand some of the concerns that he has expressed
11 Oct 2007 : Column 495
about the problems that might arise with deadlock, which would be in no one’s interest, not least the people of London. However, it might have ensured that some of the Mayor’s profligate spending in the past seven years was kept in check. As a number of hon. Members have rightly suggested, the mayoral precept has gone up by well over 100 per cent. In fact, it has almost increased by 180 to 200 per cent. since the mayoralty came into being.

Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman mentions deadlock. When I asked the officers of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration in Birmingham whether deadlock was causing a problem in regeneration issues, for instance, they said, “No, things work perfectly well.”

Mr. Field: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course, there are many examples across the country of those in coalition local authorities working well together. However, there are other examples of where such arrangements have not worked well and where the situation is much more unstable—not least, obviously, where elections take place annually, rather than every four years.

As someone who lives in the city of Westminster—as other hon. Members do, and the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) is here—I know that we council tax payers in Westminster now find that more than half of our council tax is due to the mayoral precept. Yet the Mayor is responsible for cleaning not a single street, emptying not a single bin or running not a single school or social services department. That enormous amount of money is spent in what we regard to a large extent as a fairly unaccountable way, because of the way in which the system works for the GLA. That is the reason why we would like a simple two-thirds majority to be used, and I hope that that case was made very powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill).

The Government are almost trying to get a double lock. Of course, the whole system for the GLA was set up to ensure that there was not a single majority party. My own party won nine of the 14 first-past-the-post seats at the last GLA elections and the Labour party won five seats at that juncture, compared to eight and six in the first elections in 2000. As a result, a lock was put in place, with 11 of the members being on a top-up proportional representation basis from the Liberal Democrats, the Green party and UKIP or Veritas. The lock was designed to ensure that no party had a majority, yet the two-thirds arrangements make it almost impossible for a sensible discussion to take place with any Mayor who digs his heels in on budgetary matters.

Given the arrangements for proportional representation in the GLA, a simple majority would be a sensible way forward. That would not necessarily lead to deadlock. Inevitably it would require a Mayor to slash certain aspects of his budget, but that would be done through the usual negotiations in politics. That would be an acceptable way forward for the people of London.

The biggest concern of many of my constituents is the budgetary considerations of the mayoralty, which are getting out of control. It would be undesirable for more than half the council tax of other London
11 Oct 2007 : Column 496
boroughs to be in the hands of a largely unaccountable GLA and mayoralty. We want to consider other issues related to the powers of the mayoralty, which we discussed earlier. We hope the Government will ensure that there is a proper democratic safeguard for budgetary arrangements in the GLA.

John Healey: As I tried to explain to the House, and as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) has just urged, there is a democratic safeguard in the current arrangements. It is in the original 1999 Act and has worked well to date. The Lords amendment would undermine, not reinforce, that.

In his comments about New York, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), speaking from the Conservative Front Bench, illustrated why it is not possible to translate the models of other cities to our circumstances, and why it is important that we continue to fashion the arrangements that are appropriate for our political tradition and our capital city. He cites New York and the budget-making process there, but he knows that there are almost three times as many members of the New York city council. He knows, because he has discussed the matter before with my hon. Friend, that those members have only a local mandate and that generally, when they seek to challenge the mayor of New York’s budget, they do so because they are pursuing support for local issues—precisely the sort of risk of pork-barrel politics that the hon. Gentleman is so keen to avoid.

Robert Neill: Can the Minister help me on two short questions? First, in our tradition and process, where is there any example of a two-thirds majority being required to pass a budget? Secondly, is he aware of the evidence given by organisations in New York that the situation there has

John Healey: The point that I was making is that the New York model does not translate. Instead of all members of the city council, as in New York, having local-only mandates, 11 out of the 25 members in London have a city-wide mandate, without a constituency mandate. In terms of the general approach to mayoral systems, in other parts of the country where they exist, they largely replicate the one that we have in London.

Robert Neill: Is the Minister saying that there is any other city or town in the United Kingdom which has a directly elected mayor where the local council requires a two-thirds majority to amend the budget?

John Healey: Yes.

The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about back-stairs deals. One could look at the budget process and the way that the Mayor has managed it in those terms, but one could also look at it as effective coalition building—precisely the thing that the Opposition parties have failed to do in the budget process. It is reasonable to see the role that the Greens have played as an example of the way in which assembly members can and do effectively influence the Mayor’s budget priority through the budget-making process.

11 Oct 2007 : Column 497

Robert Neill rose—

John Healey: Does the hon. Gentleman wish to come back?

Robert Neill: It will be the last time. I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify a comment that he made earlier, when I asked him whether there was any town or city in the UK where the council had to pass the budget by two thirds. Can he tell us?

John Healey: Yes—Doncaster, Watford, Hackney.

I return to the point that I was making. Out of the 25 elected Assembly members at present, nine are Conservative and five are Liberal Democrat. It is simple maths to calculate that already there is a simple inbuilt 50 per cent. majority if the two parties co-operate. That leads me to my earlier argument. If the majority were set as a simple majority for amending the final budget, it would routinely set the Mayor against the Assembly, it would undermine the authority of the Mayor in the budget-making process, it would fundamentally weaken his position, and it risks a complete disconnect between the elected Mayor’s priorities for the city and the budget-making process.

Tom Brake: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Healey: No. I am sorry. I am finishing on that point.

For the reasons that I have set out, I urge my hon. Friends to disagree with the amendment made in the other place.

Question put, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 278, Noes 165.
Division No. 208]
[2.25 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Begg, Miss Anne
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burnham, rh Andy
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, rh Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr. David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Dai
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, John
Henderson, Mr. Doug
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, Jim
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Lucas, Ian
Mackinlay, Andrew
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Marshall, Mr. David
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh David
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moran, Margaret
Morgan, Julie
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis

Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Purnell, rh James
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Salter, Martin
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, John
Snelgrove, Anne
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Vaz, rh Keith
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wills, Mr. Michael
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Ayes:

Alison Seabeck and
Ms Diana R. Johnson

Afriyie, Adam
Alexander, Danny
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baron, Mr. John
Barrett, John
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Bercow, John
Binley, Mr. Brian
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brake, Tom
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Breed, Mr. Colin
Brokenshire, James
Browning, Angela
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Butterfill, Sir John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Conway, Derek
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, Philip
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dodds, Mr. Nigel
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine
Duddridge, James
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Featherstone, Lynne
Field, Mr. Mark
Foster, Mr. Don
Francois, Mr. Mark
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
Gidley, Sandra

Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harvey, Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Heath, Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hogg, rh Mr. Douglas
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Horam, Mr. John
Howard, rh Mr. Michael
Howarth, David
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hunter, Mark
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Jones, Mr. David
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Kramer, Susan
Laws, Mr. David
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lidington, Mr. David
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Main, Anne
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moore, Mr. Michael
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, Mr. George
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Price, Adam
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Rosindell, Andrew
Rowen, Paul
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Sir Robert
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Viggers, Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wright, Jeremy
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. David Evennett and
Michael Fabricant
Question accordingly agreed to.
Next Section Index Home Page