Greater London Authority Bill

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Clause 3

The Mayor’s periodic report to the Assembly
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The 1999 Act requires the assembly to hold 10 meetings a year to consider written reports submitted by the Mayor for each meeting and to put written or oral questions to the Mayor. The Mayor must submit his report to the assembly at least three clear working days before each meeting. Clause 3 amends that deadline to require the Mayor to submit his report to the assembly at least five clear working days before each assembly meeting. That will give the assembly more time to consider the Mayor’s report before he appears before it to answer questions.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Confirmation hearings etc for certain appointments by the Mayor
Tom Brake: I beg to move amendment No. 7, in clause 4, page 3, line 13, after second ‘chairman’, insert ‘, or any member’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 8, in clause 4, page 3, line 15, after second ‘chairman’, insert ‘, or any member’.
No. 9, in clause 4, page 3, line 18, after second ‘chairman’, insert ‘, or any member’.
No. 10, in clause 4, page 3, line 20, after ‘chairman’, insert ‘, or any member,’.
No. 11, in clause 4, page 3, line 22, after ‘chair’, insert ‘, or any member,’.
No. 12, in clause 4, page 3, line 24, after second ‘chairman’, insert ‘, or any member’.
No. 13, in clause 4, page 3, line 25, at end insert—
‘members of the Board of Governors of the Museum of London appointed by the Greater London Authority under the Museum of London Act 1965 (c. 17).’.
No. 14, in clause 4, page 3, line 25, at end insert—
‘members appointed under section 377A.’.
No. 37, in clause 4, page 3, line 25, at end insert—
‘any member of a body established under section 24B of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 (c.21).’.
No. 38, in clause 4, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
‘(6) Before making an order under subsection (5), the Secretary of State shall—
(a) consult the Mayor and Assembly, and
(b) have regard to any views expressed by them.’.
Tom Brake: The Minister will note that we are being true to our word in not delaying proceedings. My only concern is that we are perhaps moving too fast in respect of the notes that I prepared.
The power to make appointments to London-wide public bodies is a key way for the Mayor to exert influence in the capital. Clause 4 is therefore welcome for introducing much greater accountability and transparency to the appointments process. However, the Bill is overly hesitant, as the new power will apply to only 10 key mayoral appointments, which leaves more than 70 additional unelected senior posts in key public bodies to which the Mayor could make appointments without any public oversight by the assembly.
Those public bodies are responsible for setting strategic priorities, delivering key services and spending billions of pounds of London taxpayers’ money. We welcome the fact that the Bill concedes the usefulness of confirmation hearings in principle, but it is not clear why that principle should not be extended to all mayoral appointments to public bodies in London. The public should have confidence that all mayoral appointments are made on the basis of merit and not as a reward for political loyalty or as an act of unaccountable mayoral patronage.
The amendments would not grant the assembly the power of veto over the Mayor’s powers of appointment, so the Mayor could still appoint. That would not be an issue. The assembly’s recommendations would not be binding, but they would provide an opportunity to focus public scrutiny on the credentials of the candidates for key public posts in London, which would provide an important test of the credibility and fitness to hold public office of the proposed appointees. That is the purpose of the amendments, which also have the support of the official Opposition.
London assembly members agree with me that it is important that these key amendments are accepted in Committee. They all have the unanimous support of all the political parties in the London assembly. Confirmation hearings are a new concept in this country and Parliament has a responsibility to get this right first time. Amendments Nos. 7 to 14 and 37 would extend the power to hold confirmation hearings to members other than chairs and deputy chairs and to the Museum of London, the Mayor’s cultural strategy group and the Learning and Skills Council.
Appointments to the boards of those bodies are worthy of the same scrutiny. For example, the Museum of London is at the heart of London. It is visited by more than 100,000 schoolchildren every year and it reinforces their sense of the history of London, their citizenship and their sense of belonging to the city. The Museum of London website is promoting an interesting initiative this year: people can buy any year of London’s history between 1666 and 2012, although I am not sure who they are buying it from. The Mayor has gone for 2012, for obvious reasons.
I point out to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath the fact that 1979 is still available for those who want to celebrate the coming to power of Margaret Thatcher. I understand from a transcript of a recent interview that the hon. Gentleman believes that she did nearly everything right and was a heroic character.
Michael Gove: Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether 1983 is available? That is when Aberdeen won the European Cup Winner’s cup in Gothenburg, beating Real Madrid 2-1.
Tom Brake: I have absolutely no idea, but the hon. Gentleman can look on the website, which clearly indicates which years are for sale.
The amendments are necessary to prevent the inconsistency of the chair of a body being subject to a confirmation hearing, but not his or her immediate subordinates. Such a chair might be undermined by the Mayor’s appointees, who would not be subject to the same scrutiny by the assembly.
Amendment No. 38 would require the Secretary of State to consult the assembly and the Mayor before making an order that amended the list of appointments that are subject to confirmation hearings. I hope that the Minister understands why the assembly and the Mayor would want an opportunity to comment on any such proposals or changes put forward by the Secretary of State. This is a standard provision for secondary legislation that relates to specific bodies, and it clearly makes sense.
I consider, as I hope the official Opposition do, that the amendment would strengthen the Government’s case for improved scrutiny and transparency in the appointments process. I hope that the Minister is willing to take on board those very minor changes.
Robert Neill: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. O’Hara. Having extended one set of apologies, I would like to say that I am glad that, for once, it was not the Minister or me who brought football into the discussion. In case I have not formally declared it, I remind everyone of my involvement as a member of the London assembly. I do not think that the clause has any effect on any potential conflict of interest or any financial matter.
First, I would like to give an example to reinforce a point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington. The boards, such as those of Transport for London, have executive power. As Labour Members will know, the Mayor sought to push forward a scheme for the Thames Gateway bridge, which was approved only by a very narrow majority of the board of Transport for London. There was a prospect—I think there were only one or two votes in it—that the board would come to a conclusion different from the Mayor’s. In those circumstances, it is not unreasonable that there should be an opportunity for the assembly to know where potential nominees to the board of Transport for London are coming from on an issue of such significance, which might have indicated a potential difference of political opinion between the Mayor and those whom he was nominating to the board. It would have been useful and desirable to know that in advance.
Secondly, the principle is excellent, and I am grateful to the Minister for listening to the assembly and taking on board what it said. This a matter that we raised with him, so I have no problem with it, and what I say is intended to be wholly constructive. I understand that the names and posts listed are an initial attempt, but within the Mayor’s administration, the nature of which may change under this Mayor or in future, there are other posts of huge significance. It is not disrespectful to post holders named here to suggest that the Mayor’s policy directors, who are not subject to any scrutiny, exercise hugely more power and receive significantly greater remuneration than they do. People such as Redmond O’Neill and John Ross are well known as powerful figures in the Mayor’s administration.
There is nothing wrong with that—no criticism—but if we are scrutinising the nominees for chairman of the cultural strategy group, should there not be the opportunity to consider other powerful posts, on the board of Transport for London or beyond, that exercise as much influence on the direction of mayoral policy as any of the posts listed in the clause? In that constructive spirit, I support the amendment.
11 am
Stephen Pound: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Robert Neill: I am always happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] I am so naive and innocent.
Stephen Pound: The words naive and innocent have never been associated with Bromley and Chislehurst in the past or the present.
I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman’s argument, which is logical up to a point. Does he envisage a cut-off point on financial levels? Is he talking about every employer above a certain salary level, or is he categorising by service head or job description? Which group of people is he talking about?
Robert Neill: I was not seeking to go into particular financial cut-off points, but I was using an example. The public will be aware of the significant power and influence that is exercised, the effect on the budget—I put no more emphasis on it than that—in policy terms and the profile of many people who influence the administration but who are not on the list in the clause. That is my point.
Tom Brake: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the core group of people comprises the chair, deputy chair and governors or board members of the key functional bodies, such as the Museum of London? We are considering in total 77 people.
Robert Neill: The hon. Gentleman is right. The assembly recognised, when it sought to support an extension along the lines of the amendment, that it would not always be desirable to scrutinise every nominee who fell within the potential heads and that, in practice, the measure would be self-limiting. It is worth remembering that there was widespread cross-party support for that in the assembly. This is not a narrow, partisan position. The opportunity for scrutiny should be included, as the hon. Gentleman has rightly said. The amendment would strengthen the principle that the Minister and his colleagues are seeking to introduce and would have a fair wind of support from all parties in the assembly, which is a good thing that will enable it to work better, as we all want.
Michael Gove: I support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington and echo some of the sentiments expressed so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst.
The principle of confirmation hearings may seem, at first glance, new to the British constitution and is something that we more commonly associate with the American system with its powerful Senate Committees. On the selection of Supreme Court judges or cabinet appointees in America, Senate Committees can scrutinise the records of those who are being appointed to important public offices and, if necessary, recommend their refusal. That principle is hallowed in America and has increasingly been adopted here in the United Kingdom. One striking example of its adoption is in respect of members of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England.
With the decision of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make the Bank of England independent—probably his first and perhaps his last good decision—came an acknowledgement that this arm’s length devolution of power from the Executive should be accompanied by enhanced parliamentary scrutiny. That is why, when any new member of the MPC is put forward by the Chancellor and nominated to that body, the confirmation process takes place and Treasury Committee members have an opportunity to quiz them to assess their suitability for office and, importantly, to gauge their position on various issues to ensure that the MPC is balanced. We recognise that, in developing an appropriate counter-inflation strategy for this country, the mix of expertise, background and views matters. There is an established parliamentary precedent as well as an established international precedent for confirmation hearings. We welcome the fact that confirmation hearings should be extended to the GLA.
As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington has pointed out, many of the people who are appointed by the Mayor are responsible for huge budgets. The functional bodies—Transport for London, the London Development Agency and the Metropolitan Police Authority—are responsible for millions of pounds of public money. They are responsible, furthermore, for the discharge of services that intimately affect the lives of all Londoners. In the case of the Metropolitan Police Authority it is not only Londoners who are affected, because the MPA is the lead police force in dealing with anti-terrorism, royal protection and other vital security matters. So the people who are appointed to the MPA have a role, a status, an influence and a responsibility that extends beyond London’s boundaries, and the idea of introducing greater transparency, accountability and scrutiny into such appointments is one that we wholeheartedly welcome.
As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington has pointed out, however, there is a flaw in the Government proposal, because the Government seem to have embraced the idea of confirmation hearings yet flinched from the full consequences of their logic. The Government proposal would allow confirmation hearings only for chairmen or deputy chairmen of the respective bodies. It is important to appreciate that, although those figures are the most important, they are not the only important figures. Many of those appointed to other roles—to the MPA, for instance—can exercise significant influence. An example would be the position occupied by Mr. Peter Herbert, who sits on the MPA and who is not elected but directly appointed. He is a figure whose past record at the Greater London Council and elsewhere might give rise to concerns on the part of some people about his views and how those views might affect the discharge of the MPA’s responsibilities. I myself cast no aspersions on his suitability for the office—on the evidence that has come to me, he has discharged his responsibilities in an exemplary fashion. At the time of his appointment, however, it was understandable that some people might have taken a moment to express concern, and at some point in the future the Mayor might wish to appoint to Transport for London, or to the LDA or MPA, individuals below the level of chair or deputy chair whose views or responsibilities might cause the public to wonder why there is not more scrutiny.
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): I am slightly confused by the hon. Gentleman’s argument. He is drawing parallels with the MPC. However, is it not part of the point of having confirmation hearings that the authority is not an executive one? It is precisely because the Mayor has executive power that it is not comparable. The Mayor is also subject to the scrutiny of the electoral process, so going beyond key appointments is an entirely unnecessary level of intervention.
Michael Gove: It is interesting to hear the hon. Lady make that point, because she is arguing in effect against Londoners being given more information on how they are governed and on who governs them. The whole point of the confirmation hearing and of the amendment is that with every appointment made to such bodies, there should be an opportunity for accountable public debate on who is appointed. Whenever the Mayor makes a nomination at the moment, there can, of course, be external scrutiny by the press, or in this House, and questions can be raised. We seek to ensure that the process is regularised and formalised, and that there is an appropriate way to ensure that due process is followed. If the current Mayor, or any future Mayor, is confident that he is appointing the best men and women, he should not fear scrutiny or a confirmation hearing. In fact, a hearing would only bolster public confidence in the way in which London is governed and in the way in which the Mayor makes such decisions. I see no argument for decreasing scrutiny or transparency.
Ms Buck: The term that the hon. Gentleman has missed out from his list is “extension”. It is not that key appointments should not be properly scrutinised, but that a balance must be struck when someone—in this case, the Mayor—has executive authority that allows them to retain that authority. That balance must maintain public confidence in a number of ways, including hearings for key posts, but it must not over-egg the pudding by extending hearings right down to the most junior staff members, as the hon. Gentleman has suggested.
Michael Gove: Again, I think that the hon. Lady has misunderstood both the spirit and the letter of the amendment. We are not suggesting scrutiny of the most junior staff members, such as junior aides or administrative assistants. We are talking principally about the members of functional bodies. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has pointed out that some individuals in other senior posts in the Mayor’s establishment have responsibilities ranking, in terms of influence and reach, with those of members of functional bodies.
I shall draw an example to the attention of the hon. Lady and the Committee. The chair and deputy chair of one of the functional bodies may well go through the scrutiny process, but those two individuals’ freedom of action could be undermined by the appointment at a future Mayor’s behest of other members who work against them. To those people who say, “Oh, the very idea! Imagine the authority of the head of a London-wide body being subverted from within,” I say remember what happened to Lord McIntosh many years ago, when another figure managed to subvert from within. There is a precedent in London governance for the head of an organisation to find that others burrow from within to subvert his authority. Talking of burrowing—
Stephen Pound: During his time in this House, the hon. Gentleman has earned himself a reputation as a skilled forensic scientist, and his language is normally very precise. He used the word “principally” in the context of the amendment. Unfortunately, that word is loose and ill-defined. It worries us that he seems to be opening up the provisions to a limitless number of people. Will he remove the word “principally” and concentrate on precisely those grades of staff to which he is referring?
Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman has allowed himself to be confused by some of the—how can I put this? [Interruption.] No, no. The word that I was searching for is “chaff”. He has allowed himself to be confused by the chaff thrown up by the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North. The amendment is precise. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington for framing it, because it is perfectly clear to whom it would apply. It would apply precisely to members of functional bodies and extend to the Museum of London, because that is an existing body to which the Mayor will have a new right to appoint governance.
It is entirely precise whom the amendment would cover. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst pointed out what is no more than a matter of fact—that other individuals appointed by the Mayor have significant powers—but all that the amendment seeks to do is ensure that other members of functional bodies appointed by the Mayor are subject to the confirmation process.
Tom Brake: It is clear that Government Members have a degree of support for the proposed measures, but they are seeking clarity as to which people will be affected. Perhaps we can come to an agreement that we are literally talking only about the seven individuals who will serve on the different boards. The amendment sets that out clearly. If hon. Members would consider it more carefully than they have so far, they will see to which boards we are referring. It is very clear.
Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman has amplified and underlined my point. We have not only numbered but listed the precise appointments. If it is not clear after reading the amendment, I suggest that the hon. Members for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North and for Ealing, North talk to the Labour members of the Greater London Assembly who support the proposed measures.
One of the striking things about the amendment is that it has the support of every Member of the GLA. Why? Because all of them, whatever their ideological views, recognise that the principal role envisaged for the GLA when it was established was scrutiny. The principal function of a scrutinising body is to scrutinise how public money is spent. The principal bodies that spend public money in London at the Mayor’s behest are the functional bodies, and the principal individuals who are responsible for spending that money are members of the board. Four sets of principles are at the heart of the amendment.
11.15 am
I hope that the Minister will listen to his colleagues on the Greater London assembly, who are entirely in favour of the extension of the confirmation process from those figures named under the legislation to those figures named under our amendment. If he does, he not only will win the support and applause of Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament, but—this will come sweeter to his ear—he will win the applause of those hard-working Labour members of the GLA who want to work even harder in the interests of Londoners by scrutinising the Mayor’s work.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I take the point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington about getting ahead of ourselves. I am sure that the Government Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, via the usual channels and you, Mr. O’Hara, can reassure us that that will not be the case. I also acknowledge the experience that the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst brings to the Committee as a serving member of the GLA. However, that does not mean that we shall accept the conclusions that he has drawn from his time there.
Confirmation hearings will provide the assembly with an important and exciting new power that its members could use to good effect. They will allow assembly members to scrutinise appointments that the Mayor intends to make; they will assist in assessing the calibre of candidates and their suitability for appointment; and they will enable assembly members to establish candidates’ plans for their new roles and, if necessary, to challenge an appointment before the Mayor makes his final decision.
We have great difficulty with amendments Nos. 7 to 14 and amendment No. 37, which seek to specify further offices to which confirmation hearings may apply, which is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage. We believe that it is sensible to allow the new process to bed down and for the assembly to make a success of its new role before considering whether to extend the list of offices to which the hearings may apply. We propose that the assembly should initially concentrate on scrutinising the most important appointments that the Mayor makes—those that have the greatest influence on delivery, particularly the chairs and deputy chairs of the functional bodies.
The amendments would result in the assembly being faced with a bewildering array of offices—our calculations indicate that it would be more than 100 offices. I acknowledge that the calculations by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington have produced a different figure, but none the less there would be a greater number of offices on which to decide whether to hold a confirmation hearing. We are not setting in stone the number of offices subject to confirmation hearings. Clause 4 provides for the Secretary of State to specify further offices by order, should she wish to do so. Should the need arise, it provides the flexibility to extend the list of offices without the requirement for primary legislation.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington for explaining amendment No. 38. It seems sensible that, should the Secretary of State wish to consider further offices being subject to confirmation hearings, she should seek the views of the Mayor and the assembly before deciding on an appropriate course of action. However, I do not believe it necessary that the Bill should require the Secretary of State to have regard to the views of the Mayor and the assembly, but I welcome the opportunity to consider the amendment more carefully to see whether we can introduce a suitably drafted proposal at a later stage.
Stephen Pound: On that point, and in the spirit of the search for clarity and consensus, which is so typical of the Committee, I draw attention to amendments Nos. 9 and 10, which refer to the MPA and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. If we are to extend the measure beyond the two titular roles, who will do the confirmations? Will not the members be interviewing themselves? Has my hon. Friend given any thought to that?
Jim Fitzpatrick: We certainly have. Government officials have looked at all the functional bodies and those members who are appointed by the Mayor as opposed to those who are appointed by the boards and Secretaries of State that make up a variety of different categories. That is why we are suggesting that it is not appropriate to extend matters beyond the chairs and vice-chairs, but the issue could be revisited in due course to see whether there should be an extension of hearings for appropriate members. The maximum number of appointments that we calculate from the bodies mentioned in the amendments is 135, and I can certainly share where we have got that information from with the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington. With that assurance in respect of amendment No. 38, I hope that he will not press it now. However, we do not accept the other amendments, which we ask to be withdrawn.
Tom Brake: I thank the Minister for his response, and his indication that the Government are proposing to move forward with a draft amendment at a later stage to amendment No. 38, which relates to the Secretary of State. I am sure that the official Opposition thank him as well, because that is clearly helpful.
I am disappointed that on the real substance of this debate, the confirmation hearings, I have heard nothing from the Minister to explain why the Government accept in principle that confirmation hearings are appropriate for the chairs and deputy chairs of a whole range of bodies, but are not for other board members, who, in a worst case scenario, could have the power to subvert the activities of those boards, even if the chair and deputy chair had been subject to scrutiny and were clearly appropriate for the job. Being disappointed in that respect, I will therefore press the amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 9.
Division No. 1 ]
Brake, Tom
Fabricant, Michael
Gove, Michael
Hands, Mr. Greg
Neill, Robert
Buck, Ms Karen
Butler, Ms Dawn
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Linton, Martin
McDonagh, Siobhain
Pound, Stephen
Shaw, Jonathan
Slaughter, Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Question accordingly negatived.
The Chairman: Is amendment No. 38 being pressed to a vote?
Tom Brake: No, on the basis that the Minister has confirmed that the Government will come forward with a draft amendment in future, I will not press amendment No. 38.
The Chairman: Unless I hear strong objections to the contrary, the nature of the debate on these amendments is such that we may take it that the clause stand part debate has been held, so I will put that straight to the vote.
Motion made, and Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 5.
Division No. 2 ]
Buck, Ms Karen
Butler, Ms Dawn
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Linton, Martin
McDonagh, Siobhain
Pound, Stephen
Shaw, Jonathan
Slaughter, Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Brake, Tom
Fabricant, Michael
Gove, Michael
Hands, Mr. Greg
Neill, Robert
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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