Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dixon-Smith: Before the noble Baroness sits down, I should like to make the following point. Whatever proposals we or my colleagues may have put forward as regards the possible membership of the assembly, the assembly, once in place, will vote on the basis of a simple majority. At that level, at any rate, the process would be democratic. I wish we could stop referring back to the referendum. If the referendum had made clear that the budgetary proposals of the Greater London Authority could emerge without the approval of the authority, or could be passed on the back of a minority vote, I doubt very much whether the people of London would have accepted such a proposal, referendum or not. There is a fundamental disagreement of principle here. As I say, I support the amendments of the noble Baroness. I have heard nothing to persuade me to change my mind.

Baroness Young: Having supported my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith, I should like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. She makes a serious point in the amendment which deserves to be looked at. The proposal

28 Jun 1999 : Column 61

in the Bill for the separation of powers is based presumably on the separation of powers in the American constitution, on which it is perfectly possible to have deadlock. The separation of powers allows for that in a way that our constitution does not. In order to overcome what is clearly a possible constitutional deadlock, the Government have decided that they will remove the democratic element and say that the mayor will have overriding power.

The noble Baroness said that the assembly will have influence. Yes, it will have influence--but it will not have power. That is the difference. There has always been a fundamental prerequisite of democracy in this country--which has stood the test for a good many years--of no taxation without representation. In London, quite clearly, as my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have made clear, there will be taxation--not through representation through the assembly, but through the one mayor that people may have voted for several years before. To a very large extent he will be able to run unchecked except for this extraordinary two-thirds majority. I think this is an extremely dangerous principle. I have heard nothing this afternoon which leads me to think that the Government have understood the path down which they are going.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: I do not wish to suggest that the Minister is not capable of responding to those points; however, I regard them as unanswerable. The Minister's argument almost seemed to suggest that the assembly may as well have no role at all when it comes to the budget. I am sure we will return to this issue at the next stage. In order that it is again on the record, I shall merely make the point now that we are not proposing that the Minister should not be in the lead; that role still remains.

Lord Tope: The mayor.

Baroness Hamwee: The mayor should be in the lead. It might as well be the Minister. I have written down "M in lead" with not enough gap between the words.

We look forward with interest to all parties and none playing their part and to the whipless culture that that suggests. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment Nos. 215 to 219 not moved.]

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 219A:

Page 200, line 5, leave out ("other") and insert ("earlier").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 219A, which stands in my name and the names of my noble friends.

The amendment refers to paragraph 10 of Schedule 5 which gives the Secretary of State power to change the February dates for the budget, which we were debating earlier, to,

    "such other day as may be specified". The purpose of the amendment is to restrict that power to enable the Secretary of State to amend it to "such earlier day". We debated earlier our view that the

28 Jun 1999 : Column 62

    February dates are already too late; certainly later than desirable. If the Secretary of State has power to make those dates even later, then that becomes even more undesirable.

Paragraph 151 of the Explanatory Notes to the Bill states:

    "The purpose of this power is to accommodate any delay to the Local Government Finance Settlement". In other words, what the Government mean by any "such other day" is any "such later day".

The effect of the GLA setting its budget and its precept any later than the last day of February--without presumably a similar permission for the London borough councils to delay their budget making--and all the consequences that will flow from that, make the whole process a mockery. It would be wrong. We must stick to this deadline at the very latest. We would wish to see the Secretary of State with the power to set an earlier deadline--indeed, we would wish him to exercise that power for the reasons we debated earlier. The Government's purpose in this provision of allowing the date to be later would make any meaningful consultation--even with London borough councils, let alone with the wider London interest groups--impossible. It would make the budget process for London borough councils even more difficult, if not impossible.

We propose that the Secretary of State should have the power to set an earlier date, but certainly not a later date.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Schedule 5 provides that the Secretary of State may, by order, change the 1st February date, by when the mayor must present his draft budget to the assembly, and the last day of February date, by when the GLA's budget must be finalised, for any other date he may specify. The amendment would remove the Secretary of State's power to specify dates later than the statutory dates in the GLA's budget process, as the noble Lord said in moving his amendment.

The power is needed because the GLA, like other major precepting authorities, will not be able to finalise its budget until it has the final figures for RSG and NNDR (national non-domestic rates) that are set out in the local government finance settlement. The power to amend the GLA's timetable would be used if for some very good reason the settlement were delayed, making it difficult for the mayor to prepare a draft budget and impossible for the budget to be finalised by the specified dates.

The effect of the amendment would be to remove the Secretary of State's ability to specify any revised date. It would be absurd to prevent him from using his discretion in deciding whether to take account of a delay. Surely it makes sense to allow him to decide whether such a delay is serious enough to require him to specify later dates for preparing a draft budget. We are not talking about normal practice but about serious circumstances where it would be necessary for the

28 Jun 1999 : Column 63

power to be used as a logical move to assist the GLA. For that reason we believe the amendment is unreasonable and ask the noble Lord to withdraw it.

Lord Tope: Before I consider what to do with the amendment, can the noble Baroness say whether the Secretary of State currently has the power to permit London borough councils to set their council tax by a later date than that provided in statute at the moment?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I am not aware whether the legislation the noble Lord refers to applies in London in the same way as elsewhere in the country. My understanding is that it does not apply. In this case we are talking about the equivalent of county councils as opposed to the GLA. I will write to the noble Lord about whether that power exists in that regard.

Baroness Hamwee: Could the Secretary of State postpone the GLA's announcement, as it were, the finalisation of its budget, beyond the date when the London boroughs have to set their budgets and start sending out bills? I am not suggesting that would be a sensible thing to do, but will it be allowed?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Even if it were possible in theory it would be ludicrous were it to be applied. It could only be a hypothetical situation.

Lord Bowness: Does it not verge upon the ludicrous to allow the Secretary of State to defer the date from 1st February to an even later date, as is specified on the face of the Bill? There will be enormous difficulties. Rather than a regulation to this effect, it would be more appropriate to place a duty on the Secretary of State to announce the rate support grant at an earlier date in time for people to set their budgets.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I find the debate quite fascinating. Of course the Government will say that they envisage having to use this power only in a particular emergency situation and all the rest of it. I should prefer not see this power on the face of the Bill in order that the Greater London Authority has to approve its budget itself. That would make more sense.

Lord Tope: It would be clearer and, if I may say so, more honest if this paragraph were to say what the Government mean--that is, not "other day" but "later day"--and we were clear that it meant a later day. I am subject to correction, but I think I am right in saying that the deadline by which the London borough councils--and presumably district councils as well although in this context we are talking only about London borough councils-- have to set their council tax is determined by the amount of notice that they have to give before the start of the financial year. If memory serves me correctly, it is either 10th or 11th March. Am I about to be corrected?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page