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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


[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]

Greater London Authority Bill

2 pm
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): On a point of order, Mr. O’Hara. I want simply to put on the record an apology to Committee members. On Second Reading, we undertook to publish a draft order on the Mayor’s planning powers in time for us to be able to discuss it in Committee when we reached the relevant clause of the Bill. We published the draft order on Tuesday and made it available to the Chairs of the Committee, but unfortunately, due to confusion, it was not circulated to members of the Committee, although it should have been. I want to apologise to members of the Committee for that.
We did today, as soon as we became aware that Committee members had not received the draft order, circulate copies of the draft order. If any Committee members do not have a copy of it, they should please contact me and I will ensure that they receive a copy as speedily as possible, as we had wanted to ensure that Committee members had copies in time for the deadline for tabling amendments to the relevant provision of the Bill, which is the end of today.
I thank both Opposition parties, which I know have had discussions through the usual channels about the matter, for their understanding and for accommodating us.
Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr. O’Hara. May I put on the record my thanks to the Minister for the gracious way in which she has acknowledged that this situation has arisen? Opposition Members completely understand that there was no intention to mislead or to impede the flow of the Committee’s proceedings—we know that this is just one of those things.
More broadly, and depending, obviously, on progress in Committee, we will have an opportunity to discuss all the planning clauses, I hope, next week. During that time, there will be an opportunity to debate the order. There are amendments standing in our name that would delete specific clauses. If for any reason our amendments are not accepted by the Government, we recognise that there may be an opportunity to propose more specific amendments on Report with the aim of amending the order once those clauses stand part of the Bill. I hope that that will be acceptable. If for any reason it is not, perhaps I could be given guidance to that effect.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I, too, thank the Minister and her team for the efforts that were made to explain what had happened. I now have on file the Minister’s mobile phone number, but I will not seek to abuse it.
The Chairman: All those expressions of mutual good will bode well for the further progress of the Committee. I thank Committee members for that.

Clause 18

Membership of Transport for London: eligibility of holders of political office
Question proposed [this day], That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Question again proposed.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking 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.”.’.
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I had given way to the Minister.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): It is good to see you back in the Chair this afternoon, Mr. O’Hara. Before the Committee was adjourned, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst was kind enough to allow me the opportunity to intervene on him. I had only one word left to utter, but it would be unfair on him just to say “satisfy” and then sit down. The substantive question that I was asking was whether he would like to take on board the valid point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush that no consultation, no matter how thorough, will ever be able to satisfy 100 per cent. of respondents.
Robert Neill: Welcome back to the Committee, Mr. O’Hara. I understand, of course, that no system will be perfect. We are not asking for that, but what I am saying and what is, I fear, overwhelmingly the experience of members of the London assembly is that there is a systemic failure in Transport for London, which stems from the culture of the organisation. I regret to have to say that. There are individual officers who are excellent and I have had good experiences, but there has been such a number of unsatisfactory experiences that I have a real concern about the culture of the organisation. That brings me back to my point that that is based on one that has some advantages in terms of driving forward a business plan—I accept that—but does not have the advantage that comes from those who serve on the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, as a classic example, and increasingly in the Metropolitan Police Authority as well. I am referring to the need to interact with elected representatives and their constituents. That is where the failure is and where the culture, accountability and transparency would be improved by going down to the LFEPA model.
I had nearly finished my comments this morning. I was just making the point that there is an issue about Transport for London’s failure to consult on network roadworks, which affect the public, but that there is a broader problem, too.
I regret that there are many instances of similar failures on borough roads. For example, as I was saying in this morning’s sitting, TFL disburses money to the boroughs to carry out local schemes. There is no problem with that; but there is often a feeling among the boroughs that the funding terms and conditions, which are frequently controversial at borough level, present them with a fait accompli.
Works as straightforward as road widening or the installation of a pelican crossing should ordinarily be dealt with without the need for the Member of Parliament or the assembly member to rectify communication problems. They should be dealt with by a local ward councillor taking up a constituent’s concern with the appropriate officers and sorting it out. Repeatedly, and repeatedly is the problem, that does not happen. When a matter is resolved, it seems to be dependent on the good will of individual officers, some of whom come from borough backgrounds, rather than on a TFL system that inculcates into the body the need to consult and to take on board the views of elected representatives.
I regret that there is a feeling among TFL management that they are answerable solely to the Mayor, and that if they are driving forward the Mayor’s policy, everything else is subordinate. That is not a satisfactory way of doing business or of delivering those works, and that is the major failure. The funding is important to London boroughs, but although they can negotiate individually with TFL, at management level they have no collective voice on the policies that underpin the terms and conditions of their funding. They should have a voice, and the LFEPA model would enable it.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): I did not originally intend to take part in this debate, or indeed in any debate on the Bill, representing as I do a Staffordshire constituency, and never ever having been a councillor; so I assure the Committee that there will be no discussion, as there was this morning, about the No. 433 bus route or potholes in Brent.
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I want to clarify that point: it is the No. 463 bus route.
Michael Fabricant: I withdraw my earlier statement. It is the No. 463 bus route, which only goes to show that sometimes there is an advantage in taking the broader perspective from Staffordshire.
I shall make just two points, which will not be about the detail of the new clause. Some hon. Members know about my interest in broadcasting and my service on the Select Committee on National Heritage and, later, the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. We constantly thought that the BBC required protection when criticisms were made of it. There is a direct relationship with the new clause, which I shall explain later. The BBC needed protection because until recently it had been its own judge and jury. I felt, as did the former excellent Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), that an external body should protect the director-general, the chairman and the board of governors of the BBC from criticism when they defended criticisms made against the BBC because it should not be seen to be its own judge and jury.
I shall relate an example to the clause. I do not know whether you have been in the back of a London taxi recently, Mr. O’Hara, but whenever I have been in that position I have heard nothing but complaints about provisions, congestion charges and other issues directed at the Mayor. They all say that it was Ken Livingstone wot done it and that if he were in the back of their cab, they would have something to say to him.
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): String him up.
Michael Fabricant: Indeed. On one occasion at least I have heard that said by a London taxi driver.
If new clause 10 were adopted, it would offer protection for the Mayor of London whoever he or she may be. It would clearly provide an open, democratic and easily visual system whereby decisions could be made about London—including on the congestion charge and Routemaster buses, which we discussed this morning—that would be isolated and separated from the Mayor. For that reason alone, new clause 10 is worth having.
The Chairman: Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is making a serious point.
Michael Fabricant: My serious point is that, although the operation of congestion charging may or may not be admirable, the way in which it is operated in Coventry in respect of individuals is very efficient. I felt that that should be put on the record.
My main argument is that without new clause 10 not only will there be a lack of glasnost—I speak as someone who worked a lot in the Soviet Union in the ’80s and early ’90s—but there will be no protection for the current Mayor of London or future Mayors from the many people, including cab drivers, who would perhaps sometimes unreasonably like to string him or her up.
2.15 pm
Stephen Pound: The late Neville Chamberlain was always accused of looking at life through the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe. The hon. Gentleman is clearly looking at life from the perspective of the back seat of a cab. I assure him that there has been only one time in London’s history when cab drivers have been united in their support of any political figure—and that was Ken Livingstone in his early years when he allowed night pricing. Congestion charging was also supported by the cab trade, but I appeal to the hon. Gentleman not always to listen to all cab drivers. They speak sense and with great wisdom most of the time but, by and large, opposition runs deep in their veins. Such opposition is very often not directed at an individual, but is a matter of principle.
Michael Fabricant: I would be ruled out of order if I were to talk about the merits of black cab and hackney drivers, although they provide a unique service in London, which is the envy of the world. Anyone who has travelled in Washington DC will know precisely what I mean, because it is virtually impossible to work out the cost of getting from A to B. We think that the hon. Gentleman was referring to Joseph Chamberlain rather than Neville Chamberlain, but I nevertheless take the point that he makes. I was going to sit down before that helpful intervention. I hope that I have made my position clear, taking a distant view from Staffordshire.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Clause 18 removes the prohibition of the appointment of political representatives as members of TFL. It is important that the Mayor is able to nominate to the board the best candidates to represent the interests of those living and travelling in London, which the clause ensures by providing the Mayor with the opportunity to nominate appropriate political representatives, including borough and assembly representatives. The Department for Transport has separately consulted on whether to give the Mayor greater influence over rail services beyond the GLA boundary. There is a provision in the Railways Act 2005 to ensure that, if that is taken forward, the Mayor will appoint to the board at least two additional members, who may be political representatives for areas outside London, to represent the interests of rail users from their areas. An announcement is expected on that shortly.
New clause 10, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, seeks to provide a different model of membership for the TFL board. It would prescribe that membership was limited to assembly members and borough nominations, which would not strike the balance that he mentioned during his contribution today. The clause would also exclude the Mayor from the board and from its chair. We strongly resist that change. The restrictions could affect the delivery of the decent transport system that London requires. For that reason, I urge the hon. Gentleman not to press the new clause.
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): Will the Minister outline why he does not have any objections to the structure for the LFEPA board?
Jim Fitzpatrick: As I mentioned in an earlier intervention, the different functional bodies are providing different services for London. They have different responsibilities and are working to different programmes. Their controlling organisations and structures accurately reflect the jobs that they are supposed to do. TFL is a board that delivers transport services; there should be an opportunity to appoint political representatives, and also to appoint a mix of people to the board.
It is important that the Mayor is able to nominate the best candidates to represent the interests of those living and travelling in London. Clause 18 ensures that that will happen by providing the Mayor with the opportunity to nominate political representatives. That would allow the Mayor to nominate assembly members or members of local authorities.
Michael Gove: I am disappointed that the Minister has chosen not to accept the logic of the new clause, particularly after the eloquent contributions from my hon. Friends.
In proposing the clause, we sought to make the case that Transport for London should have a broader level of representation because of the vital functions that it discharges. The Minister has made clear why he opposes that and we have had ample opportunity to canvass our reasoning. I can only register my disappointment that the Minister has not accepted the logic. During the debate, however, I detected some sympathy for our arguments, not least from the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush, which I hope will be reflected in any Division that we have.
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 6.
Division No. 8 ]
Buck, Ms Karen
Butler, Ms Dawn
Cooper, Yvette
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
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 19 to 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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Prepared 12 January 2007