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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, Keith Neary, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 18 January 2007

(Morning)

[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]

Greater London Authority Bill

9.30 am
The Chairman: As this is the last sitting I will be chairing, I wish to take this opportunity to thank members of the Committee for the good-humoured but serious, courteous and co-operative approach that they have displayed throughout my chairmanship of the proceedings.

Clause 38

Duty of Mayor and Assembly to address climate change
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): Good morning, Mr. O’Hara. It is good to see you presiding over our proceedings. I am sure that I speak for the whole Committee when I say that we are sorry to hear that this is the last sitting over which you will be presiding, because I am sure that we shall be engaged all the way through to our closure next Tuesday evening. We are grateful for your assistance in keeping us focused and on course.
Clause 38 places a duty on the Mayor and the assembly to address climate change. I am not sure who has arranged the weather for the debate today, but it is clearly appropriate. The Mayor is required under the duty to take action to help mitigate and adapt to climate change. He is also required to take the Government’s climate change policy into account when exercising any of his statutory functions. He must comply with any guidance or directions issued by the Secretary of State in performing that duty.
The assembly is required under the duty to take into account the Government’s climate change policy when exercising any of its statutory functions. It is also required to comply with any guidance or directions on climate change in respect of how it performs it duties.
The duty will ensure that action to tackle climate change is taken by the Mayor and the assembly on an enduring basis in Greater London. In fulfilling that duty, the Mayor can draw on his existing wide-ranging powers under the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to promote the improvement of the environment in fulfilling the duty. The requirement for the Mayor and the assembly to comply with any guidance or directions by the Secretary of State in respect of how the duty is performed will stop any damaging conflict between GLA policies and the Government’s policies in addressing climate change. A unified and consistent policy approach is necessary to optimise carbon reduction and adaptation to climate change.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I support the clause, but I want to clarify whether the Minister believes that the duty that will be placed on the Mayor in respect of climate change will be applicable to other mayors in future. Let us suppose, for example, that Birmingham chose to go down the mayoral route. Will the clause be setting a precedent and is it something that the Minister thinks it might be appropriate to be covered in the Local Government Bill that will be debated soon?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am sure that colleagues who are drafting the Local Government Bill will be taking account of the measures in this Bill, given that the Department for Communities and Local Government is responsible for both measures. I cannot say that a similar duty will automatically be placed on future mayors but, given the duty that is being imposed on the Mayor and the assembly, I should be surprised if it were not applied consistently throughout local government in future.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 39

The London climate change mitigation and energy strategy
Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 53, in clause 39, page 41, line 12, leave out from beginning to end of line 37 on page 42 and insert—
‘(2) The London climate change mitigation and energy strategy shall be in general conformity with national policies and strategies.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 6, in clause 39, page 41, line 12, leave out from beginning to end of line 37 on page 42.
Michael Gove: What a pleasure it has been to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. O’Hara. Conservative Members wish to associate ourselves entirely with the comments of the Minister. You have been a gentle and helpful Chairman and, speaking for my part, it will be a great pity that we shall not be serving under your chairmanship after this morning’s sitting. Thank you very much.
Our amendment was tabled in a constructive spirit, as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington explained. We are broadly in agreement with the principles behind the enhancement and clarification of the Mayor’s role in combating climate change. The Minister made an appropriate reference to the roiling waters of the Thames outside and to the inclement weather that we face today. On my way here this morning, I was listening to a debate on the “Today” programme between two advocates of different approaches to climate change, as I imagine were many hon. Members. One person was arguing that climate change was perhaps not as much due to man-made causes as might have been attested; the other was arguing that climate change was primarily an anthropomorphic phenomenon. For the benefit of the Committee, that means that we are responsible for it to a significant extent.
The scientific consensus, as attested by the intergovernmental panel on climate change, is that our problems of climate change are to a significant extent man-made. In the House, and across all parties, there is broad acceptance that man’s actions—and how, among other things, we produce CO2—are contributing to the greenhouse effect and therefore to changes in climate. As Nicholas Stern pointed out in his report, such changes will, if unchecked, cause dramatic and devastating effects on not only the quality of life of people in this country and elsewhere, but our future gross domestic product.
It has often been suggested that there must be a direct trade-off between action on climate change and economic growth. However, as Nicholas Stern pointed out, unless one takes prudent action to tackle climate change, our future economic growth and prosperity will suffer. Some who have rung the alarm bell on climate change are pressing on us policies that might well have a deleterious effect on economic growth. An appropriate balance has to be struck and appropriate sensitivities have to be respected. We recognise that a significant role has to be played by not only the national Government but international institutions.
Elsewhere in this House, there is lively debate about what the national Government can do through taxation. The Minister for Housing and Planning will be aware of the controversy attached to some of the Treasury proposals—those relating to the cost of flying, for example, have been criticised by some as doing too little and being insufficiently effective in targeting aviation emissions.
More broadly, attention has been drawn to the fact that while the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been in office, the proportion of taxation from environmental sources has declined. That has led my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to describe the Chancellor as a fossil-fuel Chancellor in a carbon-conscious age.
However, we absolutely agree with one of the Government’s points: whatever steps one takes on taxation, international measures have to be taken as well. We must pay close attention to the whole principle of carbon trading. One of the questions that the whole House has to address is the fact that the current carbon trading system run by the European Union is not necessarily achieving the goals that it should. Trenchant criticisms of the emissions trading system have been made by the think-tank Open Europe. They relate to the fact that public sector institutions have had to pay a significant amount into the system, while some major energy companies have succeeded in making a profit from it.
I would be interested in the Minister’s view on how, for example, NHS institutions could be more effectively protected and safeguarded in respect of the operation of the carbon trading system. A number of people think that money allocated to the NHS or other public services should not be used—as it has been under the carbon trading system—effectively to enrich energy companies. Any guidance that the Minister could give us on how London’s taxpayers and public services could be better shielded in an enhanced carbon trading system will be appreciated.
Tom Brake: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would also be interested to hear the Minister’s views on whether action should be taken on not only the international and national levels, but the individual level, so that we take action such as ensuring that our homes are properly insulated, switching to vehicles with lower emissions or possibly even flying less.
Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman has passed the ball to me in a silky way. I am afraid that the Prime Minister seems to have left an open goal; some of his recent references to the level of leisure flying that he wishes to continue to enjoy when out of office have suggested a public concern about the mismatch between the rhetoric of some people in public life who enjoin the seriousness of climate change on us all, and their personal habits, which do not match.
I do not want to personalise the debate unnecessarily, but I want to emphasise the important point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington. I have spoken about national and international obligations, but it is also important that we recognise local and personal ones. I shall come to those in due course.
The Chairman: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is moving on. It is an eloquent statement of the national and global context—I point out that the Mayor of London drives a Prius—but I hope that the hon. Gentleman is coming to the London climate change mitigation and energy strategy.
Michael Gove: As ever, I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. O’Hara. My point about carbon trading is that it has an effect on some of the institutions on which London relies and the taxes and precepts that Londoners pay. Any guidance on how the London climate change mitigation strategy might have an impact on broader negotiations about a European and global carbon trading scheme would be illuminating for the Committee and for Londoners.
On the key question of the personal contribution that we can all make, I am grateful to you, Mr. O’Hara, for pointing out that the Mayor does his bit—he is a conspicuous user of public transport and he drives a Prius. We know—it was a recent subject of controversy in the Greater London assembly yesterday—that the Mayor himself has been engaging in a variety of foreign trips recently. A new clause, to which we will come later, specifically discusses the Mayor’s foreign policy. During debate on it, we will have an opportunity to discuss not just the mismatch between what the Mayor says about climate change and the actions of the Mayor and some of his officers, but the mismatch between his commitment to making London an effective multicultural and global city and some of his policies.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): Given that the hon. Gentleman is enthusiastic to talk about mismatches, does he join with us in condemning the kind of mismatch that involves cycling across London to work accompanied by a car that brings one’s shoes?
The Chairman: Order. I think we have agreed that we will not personalise the debate.
Michael Gove: I am grateful to you, Mr. O’Hara, for making that point. As we all know, there are two potential next Prime Ministers—the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr. Brown) and the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)—and I invite the House to reflect which of the two has been seen more often on a bicycle, under whatever circumstances. [ Interruption. ] Yes, it probably is very poor, but nevertheless the Minister invited me down that road, so I felt I had to go, even though I was rather wobbly as I went down it and probably needed stabilisers, not to mention a pannier full of better arguments. I hope that the Committee will bear with me.
Our amendment would give the Mayor of London an appropriate degree of flexibility. We understand why the Bill contains prescriptive clauses and subsections, and we appreciate the Government’s good intentions in framing them. However, the Conservatives believe that it is important to recognise that when it comes to combating climate change, not only are specific policies appropriate to specific regions but specific policies might be appropriate and could be piloted by individual boroughs.
Our amendment would insert into the Bill a provision stating that it is important that the Mayor’s strategy be in conformity with policies. We accept the Secretary of State’s role in setting an appropriate strategy and overall targets, but we want to give the Mayor greater flexibility. When it comes to combating climate change, we believe that it is important that we apply the principle of localism, diversity, pluralism and, through pluralism, greater innovation.
As you pointed out in your helpful intervention, Mr. O’Hara, of all the UK’s politicians, the Mayor has probably been in advance of most and more energetic than many in pressing the need to tackle climate change. In that respect, particularly given the impetus behind the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North, we can expect that this Mayor—and, I confidently expect, future Mayors—may well be anxious to press ahead with particular policies, suggestions and strategy aspects that are more innovative than national policy.
One of the reasons why I suspect that that might be so is that London has a critical mass, which is almost inevitably likely to grow, of voters who are conscious of the need to tackle the problem and aware that because of the city’s congestion, the population flow into it and the high economic growth that it enjoys, the challenges of climate change are particularly acute in the capital. More than that, those of us who listened to the “Today” programme may have heard Damon Albarn and Peter Ackroyd discussing the city’s significance and culture, particularly the role of the Thames—the river of tears, as Peter Ackroyd called it.
9.45 am
One of the key points that Peter Ackroyd made is that the London Thames barrier, which I think was meant to be raised only once every seven or eight years, has recently been raised seven or eight times a year. There is a great deal of speculation about whether the support and protection that the Thames barrier provides to London is adequate. Given that it is there as a bulwark against one of the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change, any future Mayor is bound to have a keener appreciation than other local or national politicians of the impact of climate change on the people whom he serves. In that respect, we believe that the Mayor—influenced by the boroughs and by the GLA—should have greater freedom to set a strategy.
Tom Brake: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that giving the Mayor greater flexibility and greater strength—strengthening his hand to tackle the issue of climate change—is something to which we shall return in relation to new clauses 6 and 7, which refer specifically to water and the Mayor’s role in that respect?
Michael Gove: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who points out that my party and the Liberal Democrats have alternative—they do not really compete—suggestions on how the Mayor’s powers might be enhanced in relation to water and sewerage and the role that those two factors play in a broader approach to climate and demographic change in London.
We shall indeed have an opportunity to discuss the new clauses in greater detail. However, I want to emphasise more broadly the fact that although there have been disagreements across the Floor about the balance of power between the Mayor and the assembly, as well as that between the Mayor and the boroughs, in almost every area where power is or could be passed to the Mayor, or where the powers of the assembly and of the authority overall could be enhanced, we have been supportive.
One of the interesting things about this part of the Bill—the final quarter, as it were—is that a number of amendments tabled by my party and the Liberal Democrats would enhance the Mayor’s powers. I look forward to some of them being spoken to later by my hon. Friends, and I hope that that gives the lie to any suggestion that the Minister may attempt to make, though I am sure she would not, that we are somehow opposed either to the Mayor’s office or to the devolutionary principle behind the Bill and the original 1999 Act.
On climate change, my final point is that the rallying cry of the original green movement was to think globally and act locally. The first part of that is a point that we appreciate absolutely. The second part, we feel, is given insufficient weight in the Bill. It is through innovation that we can respond to the specific circumstances that London faces.
At this point, I want to pay an uncharacteristic tribute to the Minister for Housing and Planning. In interviews with the Evening Standard and The Observer, she has pointed out some creative ways in which one might deal with climate change: growing grass on the roofs of houses, and ensuring that new build more accurately reflects the requirement to remain warm in winter and cool in summer—we can learn from Mediterranean styles of architecture on that. Different people have different views about the applicability of those policies, but it is right that the Minister for Housing and Planning should be prepared to think outside the ministerial red box and put forward such proposals.
We believe that it is entirely appropriate, not least given the powers over housing and planning that the Mayor is likely to receive through the Bill, that the Mayor should have similar freedom to explore creative ideas through his strategy. Not all of them might necessarily win central Government approval, which is why we consider the greater freedom conveyed by our amendment appropriate.
We supported the Government when they sought to deny the Mayor the specific powers that he wanted concerning waste. We believe that what the Minister takes away with one hand he may give with the other, and that he may therefore support the amendment.
Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): What a delight it is, Mr. O’Hara, to see you in the Chair, and a delight also that we are at last talking about climate change on a regular basis. Whenever we discuss legislation now, there always seems to be some climate change aspect to it, which is entirely right and proper. I must reflect on the fact that those of us who were warning of the dangers of climate change some 10 or 15 years ago faced accusations of being bedecked in sandals and beards, and other such allegations.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Con): Liberals!
Norman Baker: Indeed, my party in totality was talking about climate change some 10 or 15 years ago, and we were told that it was not happening, it was not important, that we were making it up and we were scaremongering. I am delighted to see that the subject is now mainstream and everyone has caught up with us.
When it comes to the clause, our amendment is not dissimilar to the one that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath moved a moment ago, and we have tabled our amendment for similar reasons. We do not think it appropriate for central Government to be so prescriptive about what they expect the Mayor, or indeed any local authority, to do. There are local circumstances in which locally elected politicians are best able to respond to the challenges that their area faces. They know their circumstances, and they are more attuned to the needs of their area than people sitting in Whitehall, even if, as in this case, the seat of national Government happens to be in the area of the local authority concerned.
If the Mayor were to follow national policies, he might end up having weaker policies than if he followed his own. Also, he might end up not tackling climate change in the way that he felt was most effective or would be more effective. For example, he is expected to follow national policy on surface transport. Figures in parliamentary answers that I have received from the Department for Transport indicate that since the Government came to power, the overall costs of travelling by bus have risen significantly above inflation—I think by about 10 per cent. The cost of travelling by train has risen similarly, and there was another big increase in rail fares in the past couple of weeks. The cost of motoring, however, has gone down by about 10 per cent. Those are the Government’s own figures, and I am always happy to believe such figures.
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the problems in London is precisely down to the rise in bus fares? Since 2000, a single bus fare has gone up from 60p to £2, which is directly the result of the policies of the current Mayor.
Norman Baker: I am not sure that we would agree with that. To be fair, the Mayor has succeeded in reducing road transport in central London twice in 30 years. He did so with his “fares fair” policy in 1981, which I think was successful. I was, in fact, working as a director for a company at that point. Driving around London, I saw the roads free up overnight. It was a remarkable achievement. He has also reduced road transport by introducing the congestion charge, which undoubtedly has moved people on to public transport.
The cost of bus fares has become unacceptably high—that is perfectly true—but I would not necessarily blame the Mayor for that because there are other factors involved. Moreover, he has introduced measures, not least the Oyster card, that have increased the number of bus passengers.
Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes the point that I was going to make.
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): He is no friend of ours.
Ms Butler: My hon. Friend reminds me that the fib Dems are no friends of ours, and I quite agree. However, the hon. Member for Lewes raised the point that I was going to make about the Oyster card, the increase in buses and the increase in their usage. I thank him for raising those points and for being a little more balanced in his arguments.
Norman Baker: I am very happy to be called an hon. Friend by the hon. Lady. I shall regard myself as an honorary friend as well as an hon. Friend in this particular circumstance.
The argument that I want to deploy on climate change is that whatever the failings of the Mayor—there are some, which I have referred to under different circumstances—one thing he has done is highlight the need to tackle climate change. He has introduced measures to improve public transport—not once, but twice in his career—and they have worked. He is probably the only person in Britain, effectively, to oversee a marked decrease in road traffic in an area for which he is responsible. We need to accept that that is a reality.
My concern with the clause is that if the Mayor is expected to follow national policies, he will be stymied in introducing measures. Presumably, the Government’s national policy is to allow the cost of motoring to decrease in real terms, to cave in to fuel protesters when they are out on the streets and to jack up the cost of travelling by train as an alternative to providing more infrastructure to enable people to come into London. We are back to the old British Rail policy of pricing people off the trains.
Michael Gove: I note with interest the hon. Gentleman’s reference to caving in to fuel protesters. Were they not protesting against many other things, including the fuel tax escalator, which was introduced by a Conservative Government as part of a way of dealing with climate change? Was not that wise measure repealed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer?
Norman Baker: That is the case. I do not think that any political party, including the Liberal Democrats, came out of the episode with much credit. Collectively, we were not prepared to face up to that particular problem. As a consequence, we believed the headlines that said motorists were being penalised, when the Government’s figures showed that that was not the case. When the protesters were out on the streets, the cost of motoring had been decreasing. It was a sad episode and we might all have dealt with it differently.
The Mayor has a record of moving people on to public transport—one that I would like to be pursued further—and I do not think that requiring him to follow national policies relating to surface transport will help in that respect.
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): The hon. Gentleman referred to the Mayor’s desire to persuade people on to public transport, which all of us accept and agree with, but does he share the concern about the precise manner in which the Mayor has persuaded people on to public transport, in particular the way he has negotiated the bus contracts? The contracts involve increased ridership, but on a basis that rewards kilometres travelled rather than passengers carried. Transport for London has revealed that the average load on a London bus is 14 passengers.
Norman Baker: I am happy to accept that there is an element of truth in the hon. Gentleman’s point and I do not wish to pretend that TFL is perfect. Indeed, he may recall that, in a contribution I made last week, I drew attention to what I regard as the arrogance of TFL in refusing to listen to sensible suggestions from individuals.
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): Pursuing that line of argument, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the logic of the official Opposition’s position is that bus services would concentrate exclusively on high-demand routes and that, consequently, the outer suburbs and communities otherwise poorly served by public transport, as well as areas where buses run at night, would be denuded of services? Perhaps the official Opposition should make it clear whether that is their position.
Norman Baker: It would useful to have a debate on bus deregulation, but that is probably beyond the Committee’s remit. When the changes to bus regulation were made in 1986, the situation described by the hon. Lady was exactly what came about. London is a lot better off for buses than East Sussex, which has seen a dramatic drop in ridership. People find it very difficult to catch a bus to a rural area in my constituency, which is outside Brighton and Hove and the main city centre, as a direct consequence of bus deregulation. London, of course, is regulated differently. It is important that we have a system outside the capital in which there is a centrally determined division of routes, rather than the free-for-all, which does not work.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): That is the crucial point. It is comforting to hear the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst talking about bus stops. He is unlike his predecessor, who probably never travelled on a bus, but is it not the logic of his remarks about us needing higher bus ridership that precisely the services he would advocate—buses to Biggin Hill or Pratts Bottom or wherever in his constituency—would have to be withdrawn because they probably have low ridership?
10 am
Norman Baker: One of the keys to increasing the ridership of buses is the frequency of the service. Outside London, though not in Brighton and Hove, there is a vicious circle in which the number of passengers falls, the frequency falls, and the service is less reliable, so still fewer people use it. The only people using the service in the end are those with no alternative. That is not the vision I wish to see.
Increasing the frequency and reliability of buses, not the chopping and changing of routes that occurs outside London, is the way to bring forward extra passengers. If we have services that are underused, marketing them better is preferable to cutting them. This, however, is not simply a matter of surface transport. According to the clause, the Mayor is expected to follow national energy policy, but he has a different view on that. He certainly has a different view on incineration and energy from waste, and is in the middle of an argument with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about it. It is for the Mayor or the London boroughs—we could argue about that division—to decide on waste policy; it is not for the Government to determine it for them. The Mayor is expected to adopt a policy different from his own, which is not decentralisation, localism or responsibility at local level, but national diktat. I do not want to support such a policy, particularly when it is wrong.
Stephen Pound: I have greatly enjoyed the hon. Gentleman’s contribution so far, and I apologise for being a few minutes late. I was distracted by this morning’s news on the radio that Eric Black, formerly of Aberdeen, has just been appointed manager of Coventry. However, may I ask the hon. Member for Lewes why, in the powerful case he is making, which moves considerably faster than the River Ouse flowing through his constituency, he is proposing to delete these measures? Is there no alternative? Is there no sensitive, sparkling, fresh, green Liberal Democrat alternative? This appears to be a dull, dark, negative removal, which adds nothing. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me that I am wrong?
Norman Baker: The River Ouse flows very slowly through Lewes, unless it is flooding the area, which is unfortunate when it happens. It is for the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to provide the town with flood defences against that.
The hon. Gentleman’s point about deletion misses the argument. This is not about a Labour version of what the Mayor should do, nor is it about a Liberal Democrat or Conservative version. It is about what the Mayor should do. We should not be telling him what to do.
The Minister, for whom I have had considerable sympathy on many occasions, is seeking to impose a straitjacket on the Mayor, which is inappropriate. That is my argument. I have my own view as to what the Mayor might do, as do my colleagues and others in this room, but it is for the Mayor himself to decide what to do. He has his own mandate, as do the London boroughs. It is not for us to second guess and impose a national framework on them, as the clause does.
I referred to energy. We also know that the Mayor, sensibly in my view, is opposed to nuclear power, but is expected to adhere to national energy policies. Therefore, against his better judgment, he will have to sign up to nuclear power. We know, for example, that he is concerned about aircraft emissions, as indeed we all are. Even the Prime Minister is offsetting his numerous holidays with some carbon offset.
We are concerned that the Mayor wants to restrict aviation emissions—I think he genuinely wants to—but Government policy aims to increase airport capacity around London. It is likely that an extra runway will be built at Gatwick. There have been a succession of new runways, and another one is coming, at Heathrow. Is that in line with the Mayor’s policy? Are we expected to sign up to that? If he is following national policy, he will be encumbered with following something he does not believe in. In turn, that will restrict his freedom of movement and ability to form policy in line with what he believes is his democratic mandate and what the people of London may or may not want. That is why the clause is inappropriate and why I hope the Committee will reject it.
Tom Brake: Does my hon. Friend agree that we need clarification from the Minister on the nuclear energy point? For instance, if the Government have a policy of delivering a certain percentage of electricity through nuclear power, will the Mayor, if he must assist the Government, have to facilitate the achievement of a similar percentage in London?
Norman Baker: If the Government were that prescriptive, that would be a nightmare scenario. However, that policy cannot be ruled out. It is appropriate for the Minister to set out exactly how prescriptive the Government will be, how far they will push national policy with the Mayor and the flexibility that he will have. I want a policy produced by the Mayor to reduce the impact of climate change in London, not a national diktat that he has to follow against his own better judgment.
Tom Brake: It was remiss of me not to wish you a happy retirement from the Chair, Mr. O’Hara. I hope that other challenging roles and responsibilities await.
The Chairman: Other duties.
Tom Brake: It gives me great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend in this debate. It is widely recognised in Parliament that he is one of the foremost activists on this subject. I am sure that, at times, he may have felt like a lone voice in the wilderness—some 10, 15 or 20 years ago when campaigning on these issues. I welcome, as he does, the fact that the debate on climate change is now mainstream and that all parties and individuals, or most of them, are responding appropriately.
I do not want to speak at length and shall focus a couple of issues. I would like to know what role the Mayor might be required to play in respect of nuclear energy. The Minister heard the earlier question, on which I hope a response will be forthcoming. I also seek clarification on “transport by air”, which is specifically excluded in the clause. What does that definition entail? Does “transport by air” simply cover an aircraft when it is 1 cm off the ground, or aircraft while they are taxiing or stationary, but using their energy supplies or engines to keep them ticking over? A similar question would apply to other forms of air transport, such as helicopters.
I correctly left my hon. Friend to deliver the meat of our argument about why we want to delete a number of subsections from clause 39, but I would like the Minister to give clarification on the points that I have made.
Stephen Pound rose—
Tom Brake: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman. I wonder whether he has seen the film “Billy Elliot”. He said that football was the working man’s ballet, but, if he enjoyed “Billy Elliot”, perhaps ballet is the working man’s ballet.
Stephen Pound: Anyone who saw the sublime Vincenzo Montella score two goals for Fulham last night would know that ballet belongs not just in shorts, but at Craven Cottage.
I join the hon. Gentleman in praising the hon. Member for Lewes. Most of us would endorse that; no one would ever call him dull. Those of us who have seen him in his purple suit and in the video of him with his rock and roll band, in which he waves his maracas to the delight of the audience, would never call him dull.
May I bring the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington back to the deletion that he is proposing? Surely, the Mayor’s being able to publish the document known as the London climate change mitigation and energy strategy shows that he is not being constrained. He can happily go ahead of the Government if he—or she, in the future—wishes. We must surely accept that climate change has to be considered nationally, and ultimately supranationally. What on earth is wrong with requiring the Mayor to operate within the national framework?
Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman has already heard the response from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes. I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the fact that, as part of the London strategy, the Mayor will be required to assist the national Government in delivering national policies. I am afraid to say that, although I cannot agree with the Mayor’s description of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as “the carbon kid”—if nothing else, that is an ageist comment—the Government’s track record on climate change will compare rather unfavourably with the one associated with the Mayor in office as he advances his own strategy.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I accept that Opposition Members intended to table their amendments in the spirit of being helpful, but the proposals would not achieve that objective, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North said. Both amendments would remove the provisions that specify the issues that the Mayor’s London climate change mitigation and energy strategy should cover and whom he should consult in preparing it.
We do not support either amendment. Were either accepted, even the definitions of “climate change” and “mitigation” in respect of the strategy would be deleted. No other statutory strategy that the Mayor is required to publish would be as undefined and vague as the amendments would make the climate change mitigation and energy strategy. They would severely undermine a key reason for putting the strategy on a statutory footing—to ensure that future Mayors continue to focus on the key climate change and energy issues, critical for London and the UK, in which the Mayor has an important role. To ensure a focus on those key issues, and on the key data that underpin them, it makes sense that we should set them out in the Bill. We have done that in close consultation with the Greater London authority.
It also makes sense for us to ensure that the strategy sets out what action key bodies such as TFL and the London Development Agency will take to support its implementation. That is critical, given TFL’s role in reducing emissions from London transport and the LDA’s role in engaging London businesses and promoting innovation. However, in listing the areas that all Mayors must cover if any strategy is to be effective, we are not seeking to limit the Mayor’s flexibility on other issues that he believes are important for London. We have set it out that in the strategy the Mayor must cover areas broad in definition and scope; he will have great flexibility to define and deliver in a way that maximises benefits for London.
The areas listed in the Bill are not intended to be exhaustive. The Mayor will have freedom to cover other areas and publish other data in his strategy. We seek only to define the critical issues that he must cover. Furthermore, amendment No. 6 would strip away all references to the need for the Mayor to have regard to national policy when preparing the London climate change mitigation and energy strategy.
It is vital that the Mayor should develop his energy strategy having regard to the context of national energy and climate change mitigation policy. Those issues cross regional boundaries, but action in London could have significant repercussions throughout the UK.
Norman Baker: The Minister is making a case for very broad national objectives, such as mitigating climate change, that he expects the Mayor to follow. I do not necessarily disagree with that. The difficulty is the clause’s wording. It mentions national policies, and that could be interpreted as being specific to small-scale policies. That may not be the Minister’s intention, but it is in the clause.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I hope that I have explained that the Mayor must have regard to national policy. However, I am also reading remarks on the Mayor’s flexibility into the record. We do not expect blind obedience to every minor detail. As I shall say in a moment, the Secretary of State and the Mayor will discuss policies and strategies. We believe that flexibility is incorporated in the proposals as they stand.
Tom Brake: As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes says, proposed new section 361B in clause 39(2) refers to “implementation”. The Mayor must assist not only with national policies, but with their implementation. That sounds very prescriptive.
Jim Fitzpatrick: If I develop our arguments against amendment No. 6, that may address the issues raised by the hon. Gentlemen.
Our interpretation of amendment No. 6 is that it would create the odd position of the Secretary of State retaining a power of direction if the strategy were inconsistent with, and damaging to, national policies, but the Mayor not having to have regard to those national policies when writing the strategy. We are talking about his having regard to issues. We are not being rigid or inflexible or tying the Mayor down, as has been described. We are leaving flexibility in. Relying solely on the Secretary of State’s option of a power of direction would be an ineffective and blunt way to ensure consistency with national policy.
Norman Baker: I am sorry to come back to my point, but my concern would be met if “policies” was removed and “strategic objectives” inserted instead.
10.15 am
Jim Fitzpatrick: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, and obviously we shall reflect on the debate in due course, but that is not our interpretation. Certainly, we do not acknowledge the restrictions being identified by Liberal Democrat Members.
My advisers tell me that in relation to the allegation that the Mayor must implement national policies, which would be prescriptive, it is in our view essential that all tiers of government work together, so we are referring to a working arrangement, not to blindly following policies. Amendment No. 53 stipulates that the strategy should be developed in general conformity with national policies but, as it would strip away the detail on what the strategies should cover, it is unclear what benefit such a stipulation could have. Since Bill does not specify what the strategy should cover, it would also be unclear what areas of national policy it should be in conformity with.
Both amendments would also remove the requirement for the Mayor to have regard to any guidance produced by the Secretary of State in relation to the preparation of the strategy. That is an important provision as it allows flexibility for the Secretary of State to provide further guidance on issues of national importance that may not be covered specifically in national policy documents. It also allows the Secretary of State to provide more detailed guidance to the Mayor on national policy without having to resort to a power of direction. It is not an unusual provision. The Secretary of State provides guidance to the Mayor on a number of his existing statutory strategies—for example, transport, waste and air quality.
Finally, both amendments would remove the list of key bodies that the Mayor must consult when preparing his strategy. He would still be required to consult the bodies listed under section 42(1)(a) of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, but the amendments would remove the specific requirement for him to consult bodies with an important interest in energy issues. It is vital that the Mayor consult energy companies, the energy regulator and the main energy consumer body when writing his strategy because it will have an important impact on their work and, in turn, they will need to have a role in delivering an effective strategy.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked for a definition of “air transport”. The Mayor’s is not required to refer to aviation in his strategy. I am sorry that that information does not respond fully to the hon. Gentleman’s point.
Tom Brake: I am not quite sure what point the Minister is making. I want clarification of whether the Mayor will have responsibility for and power over aircraft that are taxiing, for example. Clearly, in the vicinity of Heathrow the impact of that on climate change and emissions is significant. If the Minister is saying that that is excluded, clearly that is a substantial negative input to emissions in London over which the Mayor will have no control.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Aviation policy is obviously a matter for the Government. I do not for a moment suspect that the Mayor would not refer in his strategy to several areas outside his direct power but to which he wants to draw attention. He does not have responsibility for aviation policy. As I said, that is a matter for the Government and, in that regard, it is not referred to under the Bill.
The hon. Member for Lewes asked about the Mayor’s ability to introduce innovative carbon reducing transport policies and suggested that those will be stymied by the Bill. The Mayor has wide-ranging transport powers and has already introduced many innovative policies to which the hon. Gentleman referred, such as the congestion charge.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath made several points that were outwith the scope of the Mayor’s power but made interesting listening. I am sure that we shall return to them in due course. He said that the amendments would give the Mayor more flexibility. As I have explained, we do not believe that to be the case. We cannot assume that all Mayors will be as innovative as the current Mayor, and the reason for the strategy and the proposals is to ensure that future Mayors address the key issues. There is room for flexibility and innovation. The Mayor can cover issues that are not set out in the clause and, indeed, we fully expect him to do so. Given my explanation, I urge Opposition Members to withdraw the amendment on the basis that it would not achieve the objectives that they have set.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am sorry, but I cannot offer that guarantee at this time.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 10.
Division No. 16 ]
AYES
Baker, Norman
Brake, Tom
Fabricant, Michael
Gove, Michael
Hands, Mr. Greg
Neill, Robert
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
NOES
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)
Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
 
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