Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty: My noble friend Lord Graham is correct. I have considerable sympathy with the objectives behind the amendment and with the bodies he cites that support it. The Government's commitment to sustainability is clear and is reflected in the Bill's provisions. I do not believe that it is necessary to add to this clause because already on the face of the Bill there are sufficient protections and insurances to ensure that the mayor takes sustainability into account in this context, as in others, and to ensure that there is consistency between the various strategies.

For the record, among the provisions are commitments: in the authority's principal purposes, set out in Clause 25, which reflect the sustainable development objectives of our strategy; in the requirement to consider the impact of the use of the general power on the achievement of sustainable development and in using it to do so in a way best calculated to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, as set out in Clauses 25(4) and (5); and in the requirement that in preparing or revising any strategy the mayor must have regard to the effect the proposed strategy or revision would have on the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom. That is in Clause 33(4).

Also, the mayor must, in preparing any strategy, ensure that it is consistent with national policies. That means any policies of the Government which are available in a written form and which have been laid before Parliament or have been published by a Minister of the Crown.

The mayor must therefore have regard to our national strategy for sustainable development and the guiding principles and approaches contained within it. If those

23 Jun 1999 : Column 926

are combined, it is inevitable that, in preparing or revising his or her strategies, the mayor must undertake a sustainability appraisal. That is effectively a requirement and it is already built into the Bill.

In response to the noble Baroness's specific questions, the matters in Clause 33(4) are those to which the mayor must have regard under the Bill. But under general administrative law principles, the mayor should also have regard to any other relevant practice. The mayor will therefore, as the noble Baroness requests, be able to form a view of his own on those matters.

With that assurance, I hope that my noble friend will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I am grateful to the Minister for doing what I ought to have done; namely, to try to relate the concerns which have been drawn to my attention to the possible solutions that appear in other parts of the Bill. I believe that those outside the House can rest assured that there is nothing between them and the Government in relation to their interests. It is a question of seeing how we go, heartened by the manner in which the Minister has drawn my attention to the Government's commitment to ensure sustainability. Our concern is how that will be achieved. But it is early days and we need to see the authority and the mayor working together and, with the Minister, ensuring that these worthy objectives are achieved. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 112 not moved.]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): I must point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 113 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 114 to 116 inclusive.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 113:

Page 20, line 7, leave out paragraph (a) and insert--
("(a) the need to ensure that the strategy is consistent with international obligations;
(aa) national policy;").

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak to Amendment No. 113 and not move Amendment No. 116. This amendment is one of the most important amendments to the Bill. It goes to the heart of the relationship between national and local government. The Bill goes beyond requiring the mayor to have regard to government policy, it requires him to have regard to the need to ensure that his strategies are consistent with government policy. He must therefore do more than consider national policy, he must follow it.

This is a major and undesirable constitutional innovation. It is right that public bodies should have regard to government policy. If legislation does not expressly impose such an obligation, the courts will do so on judicial review. But having regard to policy does not mean following it; the council can decide that it should not be applied in their circumstances or that the policy is wrong.

23 Jun 1999 : Column 927

The law does not oblige local authorities to obey the Secretary of State's policies. Parliament has not obliged local government to follow national policies except in rare and limited cases; for example, the interpretation of the contaminated land regime. That sets a balance between national Government and elected councils. The Secretary of State will have policies on local government responsibilities, and he is right to do so, but he cannot demand obedience unless Parliament has given him the right to direct or the responsibility for determining appeals. Even in those circumstances, the exercise of intervention powers is limited by political reality and judgment.

Subsection (5)(a) is a dangerous and damaging innovation. It sets in law the desirability of consistency within government policy. The mayor must have regard to the need to be consistent. Although the provision does not in terms impose a duty to be consistent with government policy, the practical effect is not much different. The mayor would be hard pressed to justify in law a failure to follow a government policy, that could be complied with. The amendment reverses this rampant centralisation. The mayor will be obliged to have regard to government policy, but not to be consistent with it. Like all public bodies, the mayor's strategy should be consistent with this country's international obligations. The amendment maintains this obligation while removing the limitation in the present wording to obligations notified by the Secretary of State. Compliance with international obligations should not be dependent on a letter going out from Eland House to the mayor's office.

This amendment determines whether the mayor is an independent political figure elected by the people of London, and able to reflect their aspirations and concerns, or a government poodle who obeys the Secretary of State's orders. The clause removes the mayor's ability to decide his own policies and merely leaves him to apply the Government's. This amendment restores the proper balance and allows the mayor to decide what is best and the people of London to get what they voted for. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: We have two amendments in this group, but I shall not be moving Amendment No. 115. Amendment No. 114 has perhaps already been answered in part by the noble Baroness. She appeared to be able to follow more easily than did I the distinction between ensuring that a strategy is consistent with some other matter and simply having regard to that other matter. I found the detailed purport of the provision quite difficult to understand. I shall be glad if the Minister can explain in his reply the precise purpose of the clause.

We do not believe that the GLA should be required to observe national policies that are not in legislation. We understand that the GLA must abide by "extant legislation", which was the term used by the Minister when this issue was touched on in Committee on Monday. I accept that he probably did not mean only extant legislation, but the term sums up our views.

23 Jun 1999 : Column 928

Policies that have been supported and found their way into the legislative process are one thing; a twinkle in a Minister's eye is quite another.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: This is a very interesting matter. I anticipate that the Government have in mind what happened towards the end of the reign of Mr Ken Livingstone when the Greater London Council was in existence. He set up in opposition to the government of the day on the other side of the river and said all manner of things about policies which were the total opposite of the government's. That made government extremely difficult, and it was resolved by the Greater London Council coming to an end. Obviously, it would have been very much better had those problems been avoided in another way. I remember being involved at the time in that very difficult matter.

When the Minister replies, perhaps he can tell the Committee whether the statements in subsection (5) of the clause that we are discussing are legally binding on the mayor. What happens if he does not do them? If he simply fails to do what is said in the provision, is there a legal redress? I see that the Minister's noble friend is trotting off for a little bit of assistance, so perhaps I have put my finger on an important button. It seems to me that all of this is very desirable. Obviously, the mayor must do that which is legal. The noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench has pointed out that the mayor will have to abide by anything that is in legislation, but some of these matters will simply be government policy, international or domestic, which is not couched in legislative terms. Perhaps the Minister can explain to the Committee what happens if this part of the Bill is not obeyed by the mayor.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: Rereading subsection (5) in the light of all of the amendments that have been tabled, it occurs to me, and no doubt also to the Minister, that the mayor will himself be a major player on the international scene. In particular, in the European scene he is almost bound to be involved with other similar people, and it is extremely likely that he and the authority--however they play their part in international organisations--will need the Secretary of State's instruction with regard to obligations under international arrangements. The authority will be part of drafting many such international arrangements.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page