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

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, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 11 January 2007


[Ann Winterton in the Chair]

9.30 am

Greater London Authority Bill

Further written evidence to be reported to the House for publication
GLA 3 London Councils
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): On a point of order, Lady Winterton. First, may I say how delighted I am to see you here? Secondly, I do not know whether all members of the Committee experienced this, but many of us were not formally notified by the Clerks of the room number or timing of this Committee, although the timing is, of course, on the amendment paper. That is most unusual because the Clerks are usually very efficient. I do not know whether it was the post that went astray or the Clerks, but could we have an explanation at some point? I had to contact all my colleagues to tell them which Room we were in, and I think that my counterpart in the Government Whips Office had to do the same.
The Chairman: I am most grateful to you, Mr. Fabricant, for raising that point, and I can assure you that the problem is in no way due to inefficiency among the Clerks. Cards were sent out before Christmas, but they obviously got lost in the Christmas post; indeed, I did not receive one either. However, the normal route was taken, and I can only apologise to the Committee for the lack of notification. I can assure you, however, that the intent was there and the deed was done.
Michael Fabricant: Thank you.

Clause 17

Restrictions on disposal of land: method of giving consent
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): Good morning, Lady Winterton. It is a pleasure to see you presiding. We all formally welcomed you and your co-Chairman to our proceedings on Tuesday, but it is a pleasure to see you, and I am sure that we will benefit from your assistance and guidance. That is especially true of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, who made a pertinent point about needing guidance to Mr. O’Hara when our sitting opened on Tuesday.
The clause provides that any disposal of operational land by Transport for London should receive the Secretary of State’s written consent. That would include the disposal of any land by a subsidiary of TFL, including London Underground and London Buses.
Currently, section 163 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 requires the Secretary of State’s consent to any proposed disposal of land by TFL to be given by order. The clause will restore the previous position, which existed under the London Regional Transport Act 1984, in which the Secretary of State’s consent was given by written letter.
The clause will simplify and speed up the existing process, which is predominantly used by London Underground to dispose of redundant land that no longer serves any operational purpose. It will also reduce the administrative and regulatory burden on Parliament.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Con): I also welcome you to the Chair, Lady Winterton. My speech will be very short.
The Chairman: Actually, it is an intervention.
Mr. Pelling: Thank you very much. Given that there will be quite an accumulation of land as a result of the Olympic bid, what approach are the Government taking to ensure flexibility over the disposal of land by the London Development Agency? Will legislation propose similar flexibility in that regard to make things easier for the Government in future?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman asked a very relevant question, but if he does not mind, I suggest that we deal with it when we reach planning and other issues. The clause refers specifically to Transport for London, which is a different issue altogether.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 18

Membership of Transport for London: eligibility of holders of political office
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 10—Membership of Transport for London—
‘(1) Schedule 10 to the GLA Act 1999 (Transport for London) is amended as follows.
(2) Leave out paragraph 2 and insert—
“2 (1) Transport for London shall consist of 15 members of whom—
(a) eight (“the Assembly representatives”) shall be the Assembly members appointed by the Mayor; and
(b) the remainder (“the borough representatives”) shall be members of the London borough councils appointed by the Mayor on the nomination of the London borough councils acting jointly.
(2) The Mayor shall exercise his power to appoint members under sub-paragraph (1)(a) above so as to ensure that, so far as practicable, the members for whose appointment he is responsible reflect the balance of parties for the time being prevailing among the members of the Assembly.
(3) The London borough councils shall exercise their power to nominate members under sub-paragraph (1)(b) above so as to ensure that, so far as practicable, the members for whose nomination they are responsible reflect the balance of parties for the time being prevailing among the members of those councils taken as a whole.
(4) It shall be the duty of the London borough councils to nominate the first members under sub-paragraph (1)(b) above in sufficient time before the reconstitution day so that the appointment of those members takes effect on that day.
(5) The Secretary of State may by order vary any of the numbers for the time being specified in sub-paragraph (1) above, but the number of the Assembly representatives must exceed by one the number of the borough representatives.
(6) Before making an order under sub-paragraph (5) above, the Secretary of State shall consult—
(a) the Mayor;
(b) the Assembly;
(c) Transport for London; and
(d) every London borough council.”.’.
Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): I welcome you to the Chair, Lady Winterton. The Minister was chivalrous enough to mention that, when the Committee first met, I was indebted to Mr. O’Hara for his kindness in guiding me through this part of the legislative process. As you may be aware, this is the first significant Public Bill Committee on which I have served and, by chance, I find myself serving on the Front Bench, so the potential for me to make mistakes is altogether magnified. [Hon. Members: “No.”] I meant mistakes of procedure. I am of course supported by my hon. Friends, to ensure that I get everything right on policy, but if I make mistakes of procedure, I hope that you will treat me gently and guide me back on to the straight and narrow path, Lady Winterton.
I should also like to thank you, Lady Winterton, and the usual channels for consenting to allow the Committee’s proceedings to start at 9.30 this morning, rather than at 9 am. Given the exigencies of travelling through London on a busy Thursday morning in January, it is entirely appropriate that we have a degree of flexibility. However, it is incumbent on us all to try to deal with the business before us as expeditiously as possible, so I shall try to explain precisely why we have proposed new clause 10, which would change the composition of Transport for London.
Clause 18 makes provision to have political appointees on Transport for London. The Mayor currently has complete freedom to appoint the board members of Transport for London, but the Bill would seem to give him even greater latitude. The provisions seem to imply that there are no political appointees on Transport for London’s board, but that all depends on how one defines political.
It is certainly the case that there are people who have technical expertise, and so it should be. It is also the case that some of those who have strong political views and trade union links also have technical knowledge that can enhance the operation of TFL; but to suggest or imply that the Mayor is constrained in appointing simply a board of technocrats would be a mistake. Equally, to believe that the Mayor needs extra latitude in order to have political support for his objectives would also be mistaken, since many of those who have been appointed are from his own political tradition.
What worries us is that there are no members of the board who represent any other political tradition or who can complement the Mayor’s insights or ideology. That is why we have tabled new clause 10. TFL could operate more effectively and, crucially, more accountably if its membership and composition replicated that of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, which is one of the other functional bodies, and which people generally accept works well and whose operations we shall discuss later. Our model replicates the current LFEPA model, with representatives from both the Greater London assembly and the London boroughs. It is entirely appropriate to have both that political spread and that geographical spread.
I shall touch briefly on some of the issues with which Transport for London and the Mayor had to deal that emphasise the need for greater accountability and political diversity. First, championing buses has been one of the Mayor’s crusades. It appears that he has succeeded, by a variety of manoeuvres, in increasing the number of people in London who travel on buses. In many respects, that is a welcome manoeuvre. However, there was one decision that the Mayor took with regard to London buses that was nothing if not controversial, and that was of course the abolition of the Routemaster bus. Someone once observed:
“Only some ghastly dehumanised moron would want to get rid of the Routemaster.”
The person who made that pithy observation was of course Ken Livingstone, when he was running for Mayor of London. It was as Mayor of London, transformed from candidate to office holder and from insurgent to dehumanised moron, that he got rid of the Routemaster bus.
One reason why I am particularly sad that the hon. Member for Ealing, North is not in his place is that he has, of course, direct hands-on experience of what the Routemaster was like, because, in the 1960s, before he went to the London School of Economics, he was a bus conductor. He has been quoted as saying:
“I will weep if they finally go”.
He remembers having, when he was a bus conductor, to go upstairs to collect fares. He said he knew that anyone who was upstairs was either
“a smoker or a snogger” .
We know that he was previously in the former category; I shall leave it to the Committee to deliberate on whether he remains in the latter one. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman’s absence is due to the fact that he cannot bear to be here to discuss Transport for London, because that would inevitably force him to weep over the demise of the bus that he, and Londoners, loved so much.
I mentioned the Routemaster because there was undoubtedly huge public support for the continuation of that bus in service. It now survives only on a very few heritage routes. There are strong and compelling reasons, put forward by representatives of disability organisations, for change to the Routemaster and to bus provision. However, a variety of individuals have also argued that some modernisation of the classic Routemaster design could have accommodated those concerns. Nevertheless the Routemaster went, and unfortunately the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Londoners, who supported its retention in a poll commissioned by Policy Exchange and run by Populus, were overridden.
Michael Fabricant: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not only the abolition of the Routemaster that is in question, but what replaced it—namely the bendy bus, which doubles the footprint, increases congestion and knocks pedestrians off their feet when it tries to go round tight bends and a pedestrian has the misfortune to be standing on the corner?
The Chairman: Order. That is not relevant, because the debate is about appointments to the board.
Michael Gove: Thank you, Lady Winterton. My hon. Friend made an admirable point because one of the aims of the board of Transport for London—and I suspect that it would be an aim of any future board—is to increase the number of people who cycle in London, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron). If the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North also cycles from north Kensington to Westminster, I should be interested in her experiences, but if she does—as I have had occasion to do myself from time to time—she will realise that bendy buses are a nightmare for cyclists in comparison to the Routemaster.
Ms Karen Buck (Regent’s Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): I use the bendy buses on a regular basis, when I am not walking, but one thing that I can guarantee I have never done is walk or cycle into the Palace of Westminster followed by a chauffeur-driven car.
Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford) (Lab): Not yet.
Michael Gove: We all regret the fact that a chauffeur-driven car is no longer at the disposal of the hon. Lady, since she left the Government’s service, but it is always a pleasure to hear her interventions from the Back Benches. We all appreciate that all of us, in different ways, make a contribution to public transport. Some of us cycle, some take the bus and some walk; but the bendy bus, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield pointed out—whatever its attractions in allowing people who live with disability to get on and off—is undoubtedly one of a number of deterrents to those who want to cycle. That is one reason why we believe that a more effectively democratic Transport for London might have taken a different decision from the one taken by the current Transport for London, and that new clause 10 would better allow the views of Londoners on vital issues to be represented.
I should also mention the issue of the westward extension of the congestion charge.
Mr. Andrew Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): I am enjoying the trip down memory lane, although I am annoyed that it has taken until the third sitting of the Committee for the hon. Gentleman to mention the right hon. Member for Witney; I should have expected him to do that 20 or 30 times, and I can already see that I am going to lose the sweepstake being held on this side of the Committee. I was following the hon. Gentleman’s argument, and agreeing with him 100 per cent., as I try always to do. I of course regret the passing of the Routemaster, as well as the trolleybus and horsedrawn version. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends regularly take London bus services, as I do: when I am standing in the rain with hundreds of my constituents on the Uxbridge road, the bendy bus that hoves into view, which is easy to get on, is capacious, clean and efficient and takes me down the Uxbridge road smoothly and efficiently. I am afraid that I no longer regret the passing of the Routemaster, much as I enjoyed jumping on and off them at traffic lights and doing other dangerous stunts throughout my use.
9.45 am
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He says that he is fond of dangerous stunts, and indeed his interventions are often examples of that. I take the point that for some people the bendy bus is an innovation, but the point that I would make is that the majority of Londoners favoured the retention of the Routemaster. There was no reason why the Routemaster could not have survived on many more routes than the few heritage routes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham also has something important to say.
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): Before my hon. Friend moves on from buses, can he say something about the effect that his proposed changes to the board of TFL might have on fares? One of the incredible things that has happened since the year 2000, which saw the establishment of the GLA and the current Mayor, is that single bus fares have gone up from 60p to £2, which seems quite an extravagant increase. The disparity between cash bus fares and those paid with an Oyster card is a significant deterrent to tourists and others who come to London and use buses and other forms of public transport once or twice. Would my hon. Friend therefore support early-day motion 610, in my name, which says those things to some effect?
Michael Gove: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. He is absolutely right. In the same way as I argued for flexibility in the provision of different buses on different routes, he rightly makes the point that a degree of flexibility in accepting cash fares is important. I suspect that in many respects most of us welcome the added convenience of the Oyster card—those of us who are regular users of London transport—but we have to recognise that London, as a global city, is a magnet for business and for tourism. In so being, it is vital that getting around London should be as convenient as possible for those on whom London’s economy depends. Whether they are taking the bus on a heritage tour or the tube for business reasons, it would be appropriate to have a greater degree of flexibility.
Mr. Pelling: Does my hon. Friend share concerns about the changes in the price of the Oyster card, too? It has increased by 25 per cent. for ordinary users, particularly for users of public transport in outer London. I am a regular user, as I do not drive a car—I am almost as green as my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney in that respect—and surely that is an example of rip-off Britain and the way in which people’s costs are going up dramatically.
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It was reported in The Daily Telegraph recently that overall transport costs in London are higher than in any comparable city. Getting around our capital is one of the most expensive jobs that anyone can face.
Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman think that being able to order the Oyster card online adds to the flexibility for users?
Michael Gove: My view is that making it as easy as possible to access the Oyster card is entirely appropriate. I am glad that the number of outlets at which one can buy or top up an Oyster card has grown. I certainly do not oppose it. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central was making a good point about increasing costs overall. His point was not only about increasing costs, but about increasing costs for people who live in outer London. That goes to the heart of the purpose of new clause 10. The change to the composition of Transport for London would ensure not only a broader spread of opinion but a broader geographical spread, too. LFEPA—and the Metropolitan Police Authority, in a different way—ensures that almost every borough in London has one representative who can speak up for it. If we could do that, we could ensure that the voices of outer London were heard on transport provision and crucially on transport costs, which have risen disproportionately for residents of the outer boroughs.
Ms Buck: I think that by an oversight the hon. Gentleman has failed to mention the offer of free fares to under-18s, which has been of huge value, particularly to the lowest-income households in London. I know that there has been some controversy on that issue among his fellows in the London assembly, but will he commit his Front Bench to the retention of free transport for under-18s? In the general context of his comments on fares, is he making a Front-Bench commitment for a significant increase in central Government support?
The Chairman: Order. I fear that issue is going too wide.
Michael Gove: Thank you, Lady Winterton. I shall not trespass on your good will by taking too long, but I stress that this is a devolved matter. Conservatives are committed to doing everything possible to make getting around London easier for children, particularly those at school, its residents and, as I was pointing out, its visitors.
Before the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush intervened, I was talking about the westward expansion of the congestion charge. He might have intervened to draw me away from that subject, but I mention it because it once again underlines the importance of having a broader geographical spread, by statute, in Transport for London’s membership. As we know, many residents of Kensington and Chelsea, and elsewhere, and businesses in those areas, in particular, were deeply opposed to the westward extension of the congestion charge. We will perhaps have an opportunity to debate this in greater detail later. The voices of those who expressed that concern were not represented in the composition of the board of TFL. For that reason, I believe that we would have had a more balanced proposal and a greater degree of sensitivity in the consultation process if, at an earlier stage, representatives of that geographical area had been on the functional body.
Mr. Hands: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems that goes to the heart of the matter on consultation, which I know we will consider in due course, is that although the Mayor is obliged to consult on things such as the westward extension of the congestion charge, he is at no point obliged to pay any heed to the results? That leaves tens of thousands of residents in my constituency and other parts of west London feeling totally disfranchised from the whole process; they receive a glossy brochure with a picture of the Mayor and give their response, but find that it is ignored.
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which underlines the importance of the new clause. If we were to have more effective, broader representation, someone who was elected directly by people in Hammersmith and Fulham would inevitably be on the board and would therefore have a clear reason to ensure that those people’s views were effectively represented. Such an approach would also compel the Mayor to take more seriously the results of any consultation process. One of people’s broad concerns about local democracy more generally is the way in which their views, particularly the views of communities, are often overridden for what are termed “strategic reasons”. Sometimes that is done for good reasons, but when it happens incessantly, the degree of disaffection with local government grows and that is bad for our political culture overall.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in proposing a mixture of elected members and borough members he is almost exactly recreating the constitution of the Inner London education authority, which was abolished by the Conservatives for being undemocratic? In one sense, they had a point, because the borough representatives were not elected for their views and policies on education—they were elected on different subjects. Does his proposal not risk a conflict between the Mayor and elected representatives of the Greater London authority, and the elected representatives of the boroughs? If there were such a conflict, who would be right and which mandate would prevail?
Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman makes a thoughtful point. My point is that a body more modern than ILEA—LFEPA—has an exactly similar constitution to the one that we propose for TFL. LFEPA has not been the subject of any political controversy or ideological division. It has worked effectively and I suspect that that will be reflected when we debate the provisions that relate directly to it. I take it from his support for ILEA that he is declaring himself also a supporter of one of its most respected alumni, the Secretary of State for International Development, who is of course standing for the deputy leadership of his party.
Mr. Pelling: Is it not important that this proposal is adopted because of TFL’s culture of being unwilling to listen to residents, which applies in outer London too, where many schemes are introduced on the fiat of the Mayor? Is it not also important to note that the Mayor’s response is, “I am elected, so I can disregard consultations”? Does this not go to the heart of the Government’s willingness to adopt a strong mayoral model so that he can be so dismissive of public consultation?
Michael Gove: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We all recognise that an appropriate balance has to be struck and that the Mayor has to have a degree of executive freedom, but consultation procedures were written into the Greater London Authority Act 1999 in order that the establishment of the mayoral office did not lead to what I called earlier municipal Bonapartism. It is vital that the Mayor should recognise that; even though he has a mandate to push through change, he should also respect the views of others, particularly as he draws ideas and policies like rabbits out of a hat.
In that respect, there has been a recent check on the Mayor’s wishes. For example, he made it clear that he supported the west London tram, which I believe is supported also by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush. However, it was striking that at the most recent borough elections the Labour administration in Ealing went down to a crashing defeat. Talking to people on the doorstep, one hears that among the many reasons for not voting Labour, of which there are all too many, the west London tram was inevitably mentioned. We have clear proof of a democratic view being expressed by those who would be most intimately affected by that development, but the Mayor still sallies on, as he does so often, heedless of local public opinion.
Mr. Slaughter: I would be happy to send the hon. Gentleman a copy of my election literature, which makes clear my consistent opposition to the west London tram, both as leader of Hammersmith council, which was also opposed to it, and in my current role. I am sorry to say that the hon. Gentleman is right; Labour members of Ealing council needed the salutary lesson of last May to make them change policy. The council is now opposed to the west London tram—for good reasons—yet it still supports better public transport in the area.
The hon. Gentleman is right that public consultation sometimes throws up different views from those that the Mayor would wish, and on occasion I, like him, wish that the Mayor would take account of the fact, but that is not unique to the Mayor. For instance, Hammersmith and Fulham council is closing a popular secondary school in the borough despite unanimous public opposition.
The Chairman: Order. Before I call Michael Gove, I make this point for the benefit of newer Members: interventions should be short and crisp. I have been generous in allowing many rambling interventions—all excellent, of course—but I hope that Members’ interventions will in future be brief.
Michael Gove: Thank you, Lady Winterton. I like long interventions—especially as I am a member of the Ramblers Association. I appreciate the comments of the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush, and I am grateful to him. I appreciate his argument because, with impeccable logic, he was underwriting the importance of considering changing the constitution of Transport for London. I am grateful to him for correcting me on his opposition to the west London tram, but he, as an elected Labour Member, finds the Mayor taking a different view from that which most of the electorate understands—[Interruption.] Naturally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham points out, the hon. Gentleman should support the amendment. I hope that on this occasion he will display his characteristic independence of mind and join us.
Ms Butler: My constituents in Brent have made representations to the Mayor. Although they are not in the middle of the extension to the congestion charge area—they are on the periphery—they made representations about access to a local supermarket and the local hospital. After representations, the boundaries were changed so that they would not be charged. Is that an example of the Mayor listening or not listening?
Michael Gove: On that occasion the Mayor listened. The fact that he was formerly the Member of Parliament for Brent might have swayed his affections somewhat, but the hon. Lady makes a good point. However, the capacity of the Mayor to listen on one occasion does not take anything away from the fact that there are a number of significant schemes—I have mentioned at least three—in which he has either resiled when it was convenient for him to do so from a position that was politically popular, or has ridden roughshod over local opinion.
10 am
Mr. Hands: I would not want my hon. Friend to move on from the extension of the congestion just yet, because it brings us back to the new clause on the TFL board. It is ironic that, between them, three Committee members represent Ealing, Acton, Battersea and part of Brent—all areas that will be adversely affected by the extension. Yet an advantage of the new clause might be that we get representatives on the TFL board who are likely to be far more in touch with residents and constituents in opposing that scheme, which will have such an adverse effect on their boroughs.
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes my point more crisply than I could. Such a constitutional change would ensure greater accountability.
The westward extension of the congestion charge would be a redistributive measure, but in the wrong direction. Car owners in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea are hardly likely to be among the wretched of the earth; they are the wealthiest residents in London—not always, but often. And yet, as a result of the westward extension, those who live in that borough and drive into London will face a significant discount because they are in the congestion charge zone. That strikes me as, at best, quixotic. It will be bad for commerce and good for the wealthy in that area. For that reason, I would have hoped that the Mayor paid closer attention to public feeling.
Ms Buck: What concerns me about the hon. Gentleman’s argument is that when the original central London congestion charge was being proposed, precisely the opposite argument was made by his predecessors in Committee and subsequently. I would be grateful for a rebuttal, but it seems that the Opposition’s argument changes to suit their political convenience.
Michael Gove: Heaven forfend the Conservative party being accused of changing, but we have, and I am glad that the hon. Lady has noticed. Modern compassionate conservatism, with its commitment to social justice, recognises that matters such as the westward extension of the congestion charge and technical issues including traffic flow involve social justice and redistribution. We are not saying that any one of those factors should be decisive; they should be balanced, which is why the new clause would allow local representatives across London to contribute more effectively.
Mr. Slaughter: From the examples that the hon. Gentleman has given, he seems to want representatives from Hammersmith, Brent, Battersea and Westminster. He has not yet got outside inner-west London. He wants not an assembly, but an amalgam of borough leaders, which the Conservative party wanted at one time. That is the problem. Some of his points have merit—I agree with him on the extension of the congestion charge and the west London tram—but not every borough with a vested interest should be represented.
Michael Gove: I could detain the Committee by going, borough by borough, through a range of transport issues, and I suspect that Back Benchers might quiz my knowledge of their communities and take the opportunity to acquaint the Committee with why their important concerns should be better reflected. However, the point is that the LFEPA model ensures that there is a mosaic covering the entire capital with someone speaking up for each area, whether that is a GLA representative for a specific geographical area, as my hon. Friends are and have been, or a borough representative.
The same thing applies in a different way, because the constitution is different, with the Metropolitan Police Authority: there is someone speaking up for either one or two boroughs as part of the MPA to ensure that the voice of each borough is heard on policing issues.
Two of the most important issues devolved to the Mayor are policing and transport. As discussed in relation to a previous amendment, they are two of the areas of greatest public concern, particularly when inter-meshed with issues regarding transport security and safety on the transport network. It seems appropriate that we should move to a model that works with LFEPA and that is analogous in some respects with the MPA.
Martin Linton: But surely the Greater London authority already has a representative at Battersea and at Hammersmith and Fulham, elected by residents to represent the transport interests of those areas. If those representatives are not effective or articulate in defending the interests of their constituents, so be it. In my experience, Members of Parliament are often more effective. The point is that those interests are already represented and those people were elected for their views on transport. The hon. Gentleman still has not answered the question: if there were borough representatives as well as Greater London representatives on TFL, whose mandate would prevail? Surely, it must be the views of the Greater London representatives elected for that purpose, particularly the Mayor?
Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman is, in effect, arguing for the status quo ante presentation of the Bill. The Government have already conceded, as a result of clause 18, that there should be political representation and that it is appropriate to have political representatives. If that principle has been conceded by the Government, which we welcome, the question is, how many representatives should there be and how widespread should the process be?
We contend that, rather than allowing the Mayor leeway to appoint one or two political representatives, this or a future Mayor might appoint only representatives who reflect their political views. The current composition of TFL shows that this Mayor is only too happy to do so. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to have a constitutional structure that allowed wider representation.
On the question of whose view would prevail, as I pointed out, LFEPA already provides a working model of people who are certainly prepared to be strong representatives of their party and vessels for their party’s values. However, they are also prepared, when serving on a functional body, to do their best to make it work. In that respect, the body would function like a Select Committee, and the hon. Gentleman serves on one of those with distinction.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that, regardless of the composition of the TFL board, it is the Mayor, not the board, who has the power under section 174 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to direct fare increases?
Michael Gove: I appreciate that the Mayor has those powers and that they are consistent with a strong-Mayor model, but when it comes to the operation of TFL the Mayor relies upon the board and, as I will mention in my final point, the commissioner. Given the reliance that the Mayor places on the board, it would be more appropriate if that functional body more accurately and effectively represented the coalition of interests that makes London such a successful city.
As I have mentioned before and will no doubt have occasion to mention again, the Mayor said that London’s strength flows from diversity. We are a global city, and it is the multiplicity of communities making up London that make it so successful. One of the most important issues facing London and the future of transport is ensuring that that multiplicity of communities and views is more effectively represented.
It would be wrong for me to take sides in that battle, and to do so would be difficult, I suspect, for the two Ministers present. However, although Bob Kiley’s appointment raised Londoners’ hopes, it was done in a high-handed and ultimately very expensive fashion. When it comes to the disposal of public money and the appointment of transport commissioners, a wider spread of individuals on the TFL board would ensure that subsequent appointments were made more consistently in respect of public money and UK expertise in the transport sector.
For all those reasons—the need to ensure a wider ideological spread of voices and wider geographical representation of interests—and because there is already a successful working model in LFEPA and a successful geographical spread in the MPA, we believe that the Government’s intention to allow political representation on the TFL board would be better carried out if they were gracious enough to accept new clause 10.
Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington is not here this morning, but the Liberal Democrat members of the Committee support new clause 10 and accept the logic put forward by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. In particular, we accept that there is a need to ensure a spread of membership to reflect geography and political views. Like all cities, London has a spread of political views and geography that needs to be represented, and we are not convinced that the current arrangements produce a satisfactory outcome.
We endorse some criticisms of TFL. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the fiasco—that is what it was—of the withdrawal of the Routemaster bus. People have their own views on whether that was the right policy, and there are arguments on both sides. However, there is no doubt that public opinion in London and more widely was in favour of retaining the Routemaster. On that occasion, not only was public opinion ignored, but there were what I regard as phoney polls, conducted on behalf of the Mayor of London, to demonstrate that his policy was correct. The free sheet The Londoner includes those phoney polls and attempts to justify policies that do not have public support.
For example, the introduction of the bendy bus, which has been referred to, was seen as a triumph. People using route 29 were polled on it and said that they preferred the new bus to the previous vehicle. The implication from the article in The Londoner was that that previous vehicle was a Routemaster, but those familiar with route 29 knew that it was in fact a clapped out 1980s bus. That is typical of the spin that has been indulged in to justify retrospectively opinions and decisions taken by the Mayor and those in his close circle.
10.15 am
In many ways, TFL has done a good job. As a user of public transport, I say that there have been significant improvements in London—particularly to the bus services, which have enjoyed a significant upturn in patronage. There have been successes, but that is not to say that policies could not be better deployed. A greater spread of membership and a greater geographical spread would secure those objectives. It is important that TFL is seen as a vehicle—no pun intended—for the public in London and not simply as a close circle serving the Mayor. TFL would be damaged if that impression were more widely felt. If clause 18 is accepted and new clause 10 is not, I fear that the potential for that to occur will increase, not diminish.
Transport for London has in many ways done a good job, but it does not listen to valid criticisms of its policies. Indeed, it talks to itself, persuades itself that it is right and then tries to find ways to justify its decisions, rather than simply asking whether policies ought to be amended. Through my dealings by letter with the Mayor of London on several matters to do with transport in London, I am not convinced that logical argument is met with a logical response on all occasions. In speaking to new clause 10, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath deployed logic of considerable validity, and I hope the Committee supports it in the vote.
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): It is a pleasure to see you here this morning, Lady Winterton.
The hon. Member for Lewes characterised admirably the nature of TFL. That is a point to which I shall return, because there is no magic in the composition of the functional bodies in the Greater London authority; they vary partly for historical reasons and partly due to variation in function. There is no reason for not reconsidering their composition. Although the Government’s provision meets the criticism about TFL’s lack of accountability—a criticism that has existed since the establishment of the authority—it goes nowhere near meeting evidence of TFL’s performance on accountability and transparency, particularly when contrasted with other bodies.
That is why I support my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath. By addressing the real issues, he seeks to go further and to be bolder—by no means for the first time during the Bill’s consideration—than the Government. Examples of lack of transparency are legion, as anyone who has had dealings with the authority and its functional bodies knows. There is almost an institutional arrogance in TFL, which seriously undermines the technical merits of its performance. I am afraid that it comes from the top—from how senior management are appointed and to whom they think they are accountable, and from the board’s lack of accountability. Essentially, the board is a creature of the Mayor, and in that respect it is different from the boards of other key functional bodies such as the MPA and LFEPA.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman will concede that the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority, now LFEPA, is regarded so highly because of the consensual way in which it conducts its politics, as well as the way that fire services operate within a national framework, as it is now, and, generally, within a national strategy for dealing with fire and rescue issues.
Robert Neill: That supports my contention; I agree with the Minister. He and I, in different roles, were in at the beginning of the old London Fire and Civil Defence Authority. I would like to replicate that operation, which is precisely why I support the new clause standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath. We could do with more of the same culture in the running of TFL, and we seek to achieve that. Let me show how it works.
In my assembly constituency of Bexley and Bromley, two projects important to local people have been carried out by TFL. Both were perfectly desirable, but the manner in which they were carried out completely ignored any consultation of local residents. TFL is diabolical at consulting local people. Consultation is non-existent and there is a positive arrogance in the operation of TFL’s bureaucracy.
In the London borough of Bexley, a footbridge over the A2 was replaced. Everyone agreed that that had to be done, and it would affect residents on either side of the A2 because of where it went. However, there was no consultation of residents. As the London assembly member, I was given no notification that the works were to take place. As soon as I knew—to answer an intervention made from the Labour Benches—I got on the case, but one needs to know about such things first. TFL’s bureaucracy has no concept of accountability, and the London borough of Bexley was not notified. Had it been, it could have come up with a scheme more acceptable to residents.
It was only because of pressure from me, as an assembly member, that a public meeting was held within days of the scheme being due to commence. At the meeting, significant criticisms of the scheme were made and a number of alternatives suggested, including an offer from the leader of Bexley council of alternative land to achieve a better configuration. Within four days, all that had been ignored by the bureaucrats at TFL. There is no accountability.
Robert Neill: That sums up the position perfectly, and it is also demonstrated by the example that I gave—road works in the parliamentary constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), which comes under my London assembly seat. Those works had to be done, but there was no consultation of the London borough. The traders in a major shopping centre to which there would be no vehicular access as a result of the works received leaflets through their doors the night before, and when they turned up for work, they could not get into their business premises because the road was closed off. One of them went out of business and others lost significant revenue.
My hon. Friend and I are still pursuing claims with TFL on behalf of those people. The practices that I have described represent monstrous arrogance and monstrous incompetence. Had anyone had the wit to pick up a telephone and call the London borough of Bromley, it could have suggested a different means of rerouting the traffic to prevent that from happening. Had there been borough representatives and a culture of accountability, which those of us who have served in local authorities are used to, it would not have happened.
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): It would be unfair of us to brand all junior officers who work at TFL as somehow ineffective in what they do. My experience relates to the 463 bus being rerouted, which local residents did not want—it was a high-quality service. Officers from TFL who came to our public meeting were most helpful, and that bus has not been rerouted. I would like to thank those junior officers, on the public record, for their help.
Robert Neill: The variation in experience is itself a concern. There ought to be consistency of service to the public, but they do not get that.
The other important reason why there should be borough representation is that TFL, as well as dealing with the Mayor’s projects, the buses and the TFL road network, is the vehicle through which significant money is disbursed to the London boroughs for the local improvement schemes. The money comes from the Department and is then passed from TFL to the boroughs. Those road works are often on borough roads, not TFL roads, but TFL can dictate the terms of the works that should be carried out. It is fundamentally wrong that the boroughs have no one to speak for them at the table where those decisions are made.
Jim Fitzpatrick rose—
Robert Neill: I shall give way to the Minister of course. Perhaps he will change the situation that I have described.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Notwithstanding that we would all agree that the lack of consultation is to be regretted, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush said, even with the most effective and the best possible consultation, sometimes at the end of it some people—
It being twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.
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