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Page 198, line 17, at end insert--
("(1A) The Assembly shall take such measures as it considers necessary to consult the bodies and persons referred to in subsections (2) and (3) of section 27 on the draft consolidated budget prior to its consideration by the Assembly.
(1B) The consultation arrangements referred to in sub-paragraph (1A) above may include surveys, opinion polls, public hearings, citizens' juries and referendums.").

28 Jun 1999 : Column 51

The noble Lord said: I rise to move Amendment No. 213D which stands in my name and that of my noble friends. This amendment returns to the same issue of trying to encourage and, indeed, to require a more open budget consultation process. In practice, I suspect that much of this will happen. I certainly hope that it will if we have the assembly we should have, and that the mayor, at any rate, would wish to do it.

As I stated when moving the previous amendment, it is enormously important that the political priorities of the mayor are fully and properly debated, discussed and determined so that the mayor, in proposing his or her budget, knows the expectations not only of the London borough councils but also of the other groups listed in Clause 27 of the Bill and, indeed, of Londoners generally.

The purpose of the amendment--perhaps more directed than the previous one--is to draw out from the Government whether or not they share our views about the budget process and the need for that very open and full consultation process and, if they do, what steps they will take to encourage or require the assembly and the mayor to carry out such steps. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: This amendment would place an express duty on the assembly to consult the same list of bodies (as the mayor is required to consider consulting before exercising the general power) about the mayor's draft budget before considering it at a public meeting. This amendment raises the important issue of consultation on the GLA's budget. We have, of course, already considered consultation at great length when debating the consultation provisions in Clauses 27 and 34.

We cannot imagine that the mayor, if he or she thought it appropriate, would not want to test public opinion about the proposals for forthcoming expenditure by the GLA and the functional bodies. The amendment would place an express duty on the assembly rather than the mayor to carry out this consultation. I think it much more likely that the assembly would want to take its own soundings on public feelings on budgetary priorities long before it reaches the mayor's draft budget. As we have discussed, the timetable for the budget process is inevitably tight. Waiting until the mayor's draft budget to carry out consultation is, as the noble Lord acknowledged, unlikely to be feasible.

An express duty to consult a specified list of bodies on the GLA's proposed budget, regardless of whether it is placed on the mayor or the assembly, would appear to be unduly prescriptive. The mayor will, of course, already be under two very important incentives to test Londoners' support for his budget proposals. The first is the ballot box. Secondly, under the provisions of the Local Government Bill, the Government will be able to take account of local people's support for the GLA's budget in deciding whether or not to use its reserve powers to regulate excessive council tax increases. We suspect that those two factors will certainly be in the assembly's mind as it considers the mayor's draft budget and approves the final version.

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I am sure that the assembly, too, will want to take account of public views when considering the draft budget. I would expect it to do that in the usual ways: for example, by holding public meetings, or by constituency members consulting electors in their area. Again, we feel that a specific duty is unnecessarily prescriptive. I am aware that one woman's prescription is another person's necessary discipline. We appear, occasionally, to use the same terms in a slightly different context. On this occasion, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: Before my noble friend responds, perhaps I may say that, yes, indeed, in tabling paragraph 1B we were looking forward to hearing our arguments about prescription played back to us. They may come back across the Chamber at another point in the debate.

Paragraph 1A inserts a duty; paragraph 1B sets out the possible methods of consultation. Sadly, we can imagine that the mayor may not want to test public opinion on the draft budget. Can the Minister confirm that the assembly will be entitled to do so?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Yes.

Lord Tope: I am grateful for that. It is a strange irony that the Minister is now suggesting that I and my friends are being over-prescriptive, given the comments that we have been making and will continue to make throughout this Bill. But that irony was not lost on the Minister in making those comments.

I question whether we are being over-prescriptive. The amendment relates to Clause 27 and asks that,

    "The Assembly shall take such measures as it considers necessary to consult", as stated by that clause, with,

    "any London borough council; the Common Council; and ...

    (a) voluntary bodies some or all of whose activities benefit the whole or part of Greater London;

    (b) bodies which represent the interests of different racial, ethnic or national groups in Greater London;

    (c) bodies which represent the interests of different religious groups in Greater London;

    (d) bodies which represent the interests of persons carrying on business in Greater London". That is who we require the assembly to consult. To borrow the Minister's words, it is inconceivable to me that an assembly doing its job properly in considering the mayor's budget would not do that. It puzzles me why the Government are not prepared to require the assembly to do just that and, instead, suggest that it is over-prescriptive. That comes from a government who told us the other evening that they require the mayor to have two political advisers and 10 members of staff, whether they happen to be full or part-time. That is not over-prescriptive. But to require the assembly to consult the people as the Government laid down in Clause 27 is over-prescriptive.

The Minister said that what is or is not prescriptive is in the eye of the beholder. We have an excellent example of that now. This is not the time to press this further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 214:

Page 199, line 31, leave out sub-paragraph (3) and insert--
("(3) The final draft budget, with or without amendment, shall be the Authority's consolidated budget for the year if approved by a majority of the Assembly members voting.").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, in moving Amendment No. 214, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 215 to 219.

As drafted the Bill creates a situation which makes it possible for the mayor to pass a budget with the support of only one-third of the members of the assembly. That is the implication of the requirement for two-thirds of the assembly to vote for an amendment in the final draft.

Amendment No. 214 seeks to allow the elected assembly to provide proper checks and balances upon the mayor's budgetary powers, restoring accountability and helping to prevent possible financial irresponsibility. The Bill gives virtual dictatorial powers to the mayor and the assembly is almost powerless to intervene in the budget-making process. No assembly of which I am aware has ever had less power in a democratic country.

The Government's White Paper on London said that the assembly,

    "must be much more than a talking shop"-- paragraph 1.14. Again, in paragraph 3.6 of that White Paper the Government said that,

    "the assembly will provide an essential check and balance to the power of the mayor". The budgetary procedures in the Bill as currently drafted make a mockery of those promises. The assembly could not be a check or a balance on the executive power of the mayor in this instance; it could only be a puppet.

If the Government do not accept Amendment No. 14--it is fairly moderate, requiring only that the mayor obtain a simple majority to pass a budget--it will prove what many of us fear--that while New Labour may preach democracy, in reality its policies are those of control. These amendments put the GLA's budgetary provision on a normal democratic footing in line with the position in any other authority. The propositions on the face of the Bill are the equivalent of allowing the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bring to the House of Commons a budget which could be passed with a two-to-one vote against it. I cannot imagine the furore that would be created if a legislative proposal was introduced to make that possible. But that is what we are being invited to consider in this Bill as drafted.

Without these amendments, the Government's promises of democratic accountability in the budget-making process of the Greater London Authority will not be fulfilled. I await the Minister's reply with interest, but this may be a matter which will cause some difficulty. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: We have a lot of sympathy with this set of amendments. We, too, find it quite wrong to put the mayor in a position where it will be difficult for the assembly to overturn or alter the budget. We tabled an amendment in the next groups which contains a similar thrust. We, too, would like to see the assembly voting on the basis of a simple majority with regard to the draft budget.

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Perhaps I can ask one or two questions for clarification. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, moved Amendment No. 214, which seeks a simple majority in respect of paragraph 8(3), the approval of the final draft budget. I do not believe that his set of amendments proposes a change to paragraph 8(4) which deals with amendments. I am not sure therefore whether or not he is proposing that amendments require a two-thirds majority and the final draft budget a simple majority.

In connection with Amendment No. 217, which proposes the duty contained in paragraph 8(7) to approve the final draft budget, is that to be a duty of the authority rather than the assembly? The authority embraces the assembly and the mayor. I am not entirely clear about the comparative roles of the two entities--if I can call the mayor, masculine or feminine, an entity. But the principle point of the amendments, which is that the Bill should not create a situation which is close to unworkable, should be retained.

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