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House of Commons
Session 2006 - 07
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General Committee Debates
Greater London Authority Bill

Greater London Authority Bill



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Edward O'Hara, Ann Winterton
Baker, Norman (Lewes) (LD)
Brake, Tom (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
Buck, Ms Karen (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab)
Butler, Ms Dawn (Brent, South) (Lab)
Cooper, Yvette (Minister for Housing and Planning)
Fabricant, Michael (Lichfield) (Con)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry)
Gove, Michael (Surrey Heath) (Con)
Hands, Mr. Greg (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con)
Linton, Martin (Battersea) (Lab)
McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
Neill, Robert (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
Pelling, Mr. Andrew (Croydon, Central) (Con)
Pound, Stephen (Ealing, North) (Lab)
Shaw, Jonathan (Chatham and Aylesford) (Lab)
Slaughter, Mr. Andrew (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab)
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab)
Alan Sandall, Keith Neary, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 9 January 2007

(Morning)

[Mr. Edward O’Hara in the Chair]

Greater London Authority Bill

10.30 am
The Chairman: I welcome everyone to the Committee. I remind Members that there is a money resolution in connection with the Bill and that copies are available in the room. As usual, I remind Members that adequate notice of amendments should be given. As a general rule, I and my co-Chairman do not intend to call starred amendments, including those that might be reached during an afternoon sitting. Before anyone asks, if Members wish to remove their jackets, they may do so.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): I beg to move,
That—
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday 9th January) meet—
(a) at 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 9th January;
(b) at 9.30 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. on Thursday 11th January;
(c) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 16th January;
(d) at 9.30 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. on Thursday 18th January;
(e) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 23rd January;
(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 4; Schedule 1; Clauses 5 to 52; Schedule 2; Clauses 53 and 54; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;
(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 p.m. on Tuesday 23rd January.
Thank you for your remarks, Mr. O’Hara, and it is a pleasure to see you presiding over us today. I am sure that all members of the Committee will benefit from the guidance that you and your co-Chairman will provide as we scrutinise the details of the Bill. May I offer apologies for the Minister for Housing and Planning, who has been delayed on urgent Government business but will be with us in due course? Apologies have been offered to the Opposition parties.
On 12 December 2006, the House passed a programme motion that provides for the Committee’s proceedings to conclude on 23 January, and on 18 December, the Programming Sub-Committee agreed a programme resolution for the Greater London Authority Bill Committee. The resolution provides that the order of consideration follow the order of clauses in the Bill and that schedules be considered alongside the clauses that introduce them. I hope that hon. Members find the arrangements set out in the resolution satisfactory.
Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): First, I welcome the Minister to his place and you, Mr. O’Hara, to the Chair. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I look forward to your wise guidance and that of your co-Chairman, the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton).
I imagine that I will rely rather more on your wise guidance than will the Minister, as this is the first substantial Bill Committee on which I have served. Due to the vagaries of the operation of my own party, I find myself serving on the Front Bench. I suspect that in the days to come I will find myself tripping over schedules, amendments and other aspects of the legislative process. If your kind, guiding hand, Mr. O’Hara, can take me out of the thickets into which I stray and back to the straight and narrow, I will be immensely grateful.
On the time allocated for debate, allow me first to enter a note of regret. One change suggested by the Leader of the House is that public Bills coming before the House in this calendar year should be subject to a new procedure that allows us to take evidence, much though not entirely in the manner of a Select Committee. Given the nature of the Bill, and the number of bodies throughout the capital that have an interest in submitting evidence, we on this side of the Committee—I suspect that we are joined by the Liberal Democrats—think it a pity that the new, enhanced scrutiny procedure is not in place. However, we understand why the Government have decided to press ahead without that enhanced procedure. While we express our regret that it is not in place, we will endeavour to do our best to work within the time constraints.
Given those constraints—the 10 sittings we have in front of us—we will try our best to move expeditiously through those measures that are less controversial to allow sufficient time to debate those that cause greater controversy and division across the Benches. The Government have had ample opportunity to prepare the legislation and there has been pre-legislative consultation. Indeed, it is because of that pre-legislative consultation that the Government argue that there is no need for us to operate under the new, enhanced Public Bill Committee procedure.
Given that, we confidently expect that the Government will not introduce their own amendments. If they do, and if they acknowledge that their legislation is flawed and have to hurry into Committee with significant proposals, we might find the current allocation of time insufficient. With that caveat—that rider—we are happy to accept the good offices of the usual channels.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. O’Hara, and I am sure that you will do us proud during our proceedings over the next few weeks. I also welcome the Minister.
Like the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, we regret that it has not been possible to use the enhanced consideration procedure. However, the 10 sittings that have been allocated to us should be sufficient if we set priorities. The hon. Gentleman said that he is new to such proceedings. He will soon learn that, unfortunately, there is no clear correlation between the amount of time spent in Committee and the number of amendments that the Government accept. In fact, the two are completely unconnected. Adding sittings is no guarantee that a Bill will change beyond recognition.
The time available should be sufficient, and I will ensure that we do not get in the way of allowing time to debate controversial issues by unnecessarily spending time on matters on which we all agree.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful for the constructive comments made by the spokesmen for both Opposition parties and welcome them to the Committee. I am sure that we will have a constructive few weeks. I also welcome my hon. Friends, who are supporting the Government’s endeavours.
I hear what the hon. Member for Surrey Heath says about Government amendments. I cannot say that we will not table proposals, but we will do everything we can to expedite business and ensure that we can scrutinise the Bill fully.
Question put and agreed to.
Ordered,
That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]
The Chairman: Copies of the memorandums received so far are available in the room. I welcome the constructive comments that have been made, which bode well for the progress of the Bill.

List of memorandums relating to the Greater London Authority Bill reported to the House for publication

GLA 1 London Assembly
GLA 2 City of London Corporation

Clause 1

Payments on ceasing to hold office as Mayor or Assembly member
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The clause will enable the Mayor of London and the London assembly to establish and administer schemes to allow the Mayor and assembly members to receive a payment on ceasing to hold office. A scheme may be set up if the Mayor and assembly, acting jointly, agree to establish one.
In 2005, the Senior Salaries Review Body recommended that a severance scheme be introduced for the Mayor and assembly members, following a request from the Greater London authority’s head of paid service to review the salaries, allowances, pensions and severance payments of the Mayor, deputy Mayor and assembly members. Allowing such a scheme to be established will remove an anomaly: although the GLA is allowed to make pension provision for someone who ceases to be Mayor or an assembly member, it is not allowed to provide a payment when such a person ceases to hold office. The change will bring arrangements for the GLA in line with those for Members of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Consultation
Michael Gove: I beg to move amendment No. 30, in clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out
‘or any of the functional bodies’
and insert
‘, any of the functional bodies or such body representative of the London borough councils’.
The amendment is simple and intended to clarify the consultation procedure that the Mayor must go through. The Greater London Authority Act 1999 lists bodies to be given priority in consultation. We seek to amend it to ensure that the consultation procedure takes into account one vital, currently missing body.
If there is a theme or leitmotif that we shall attempt to introduce in our scrutiny of the Bill, it is the importance of ensuring that devolution goes to the lowest possible level. One of our concerns is that while the Bill will grant welcome additional powers, which currently lie with central Government and their agencies, to the accountable office of the Mayor, it will also take from the boroughs powers that should remain in their hands without ensuring that they and the assembly have a balancing role in ensuring that the Mayor’s functions are discharged effectively.
In keeping with that theme, the amendment would add to the list of primary consultees the constituent body that represents London councils, so London Councils—formerly the Association of London Government—should have equal consultation status with the Greater London assembly. It seems appropriate that that body should be given that status, because so many of the Mayor’s responsibilities depend on the boroughs for their effective discharge. The original conception of the Mayor’s role was strategic. In that respect, many of the delivery functions outside the scope of the functional bodies devolve on to the boroughs. It is only appropriate, therefore, when it comes to the preparation of the Mayor’s strategies, that the Mayor take full account of what London boroughs think, through the representative body that speaks for them all. I hope that the Government have no objection to making this small but constructive amendment, in the spirit of increased and enhanced scrutiny and the principle of devolution.
Tom Brake: We support the Conservative amendment. Clause 2 strengthens the assembly’s role, requiring the Mayor to respond with reasons to the comments of the assembly and functional bodies on draft and revised strategies. The amendment proposed by the official Opposition would require the Mayor to respond similarly to the comments of London Councils, the representative body of London government.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath says that he wants devolution to the lowest possible level. It could be argued that if he wants to push the matter further the amendment should call for the obligation to apply in the case of all London boroughs, because London Councils represents a collective view rather than that of each borough. Although the amendment does not go far enough in terms of devolution, it is worthy, and I shall listen carefully to the Minister to find out whether the Government accept that it has some validity.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The Government do not support the amendment. I accept what the hon. Member for Surrey Heath says in that we are trying to achieve the correct balance in many areas of the Bill, but we do not agree that the amendment addresses that aim. In preparing or revising his statutory strategies, the Mayor is required to consult within the GLA group, the assembly and the functional bodies before consulting more widely.
Clause 2, as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington says, sharpens up the Greater London assembly’s role in policy development by placing an explicit requirement on the Mayor to have regard to the comments of the assembly and the functional bodies in response to consultation. It also requires the Mayor to write to the assembly, identifying which comments he accepts and giving his reasons when he does not accept assembly recommendations.
The amendment would require the Mayor to have regard to the comment of any body representative of the London boroughs when he consults on drafts or revisions to his strategies. Section 42 of the 1999 Act already provides that the Mayor should consult the London boroughs on draft strategies. The views of the London boroughs, alongside those of other external stakeholders, provide an important contribution to the development of the Mayor’s strategies. I feel sure that the Mayor carefully considers all those responses during the consultation process. It is not, therefore, necessary to place an explicit requirement on the Mayor to have regard to those comments, as the amendment would do.
10.45 am
Michael Gove: I am disappointed that the Minister feels that he cannot accept the amendment. All that we seek to do is ensure that the representative body of London boroughs enjoys the same rights as the London assembly in the process of consultation. It seems to me that the existing responsibility that is placed on the Mayor to consult London boroughs gives them second-class status relative to the London assembly. The existing responsibility is to consult each London borough after the priorities are given to the assembly and to the functional bodies. It is wrong that London boroughs should have that second-class status. It also seems wrong that the Mayor should have a prior requirement to consult with the functional bodies, many of which are composed of his own appointees, before consulting the representative voice of all London’s local government.
The Minister must be aware that there is grave disquiet about other parts of the Bill, which will take power away from boroughs and place it in the hands of the Mayor. The amendment would be one small step to acknowledge that when strategies are developed, the coherent unitary voice of London’s boroughs is heard. The Minister could make a simple concession to show that the Bill is intended to respect the rights of the boroughs rather than, as many of us fear, simply to take their powers away whenever the possibility is presented.
Amendment negatived.
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr O’Hara.
The Chairman: Before I take the point of order, it appears that that amendment could have been withdrawn.
Stephen Pound: On a point of order, Mr. O’Hara. Would you advise the Committee whether GLA members, who clearly have a financial interest in clauses such as clause 1, are best advised to excuse themselves while discussion of those matters is taking place or whether it is sufficient for them to make a declaration? We are always delighted to see the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, but we do not want him to be caused any embarrassment.
The Chairman: I do not think that that is a matter for me to determine. If any hon. Members have such concerns, they should consult the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, not the Chairman of this Committee.
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. O’Hara. May I thank the hon. Member for Ealing, North for his welcome; apologise for being late, thanks to the rail timetable change announced yesterday; and say that I will certainly take appropriate advice? I would no more want to be in that position than he would, as I am sure he knows.
The Chairman: I think that disposes of that point of order.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
 
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Prepared 10 January 2007