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Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Government understand and sympathise with the sentiment behind the amendment. As all noble Lords have said, the River Thames is an important component of London's

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identity. It has a number of diverse roles that need to be handled sensitively and in a strategic manner. However, as I indicated in Committee, we have given further thought to this matter. We still believe that the Bill already gives the mayor the powers that he or she needs to reflect the strategic importance of London's river through the spatial development strategy and other strategies. We do not consider that to require a free-standing, separate strategy for the Thames is the best way to achieve the objective that the noble Lord has set out.

The Government currently set the strategic framework for planning policy in London through regional planning guidance. A dedicated annex sets out strategic policies for the River Thames. It may well be that the mayor will want to incorporate the Government's current policies on the Thames, which are widely supported, wholesale into the spatial development strategy. But we believe that that should be a decision for the mayor, and that it is not one that we should place on the face of the Bill. To retain strategic policy for the Thames within the ambit of the SDS confers very positive advantages; in particular, it will ensure that it has added teeth.

The boroughs' unitary development plans will also have to be in general conformity with the spatial development strategy and the mayor will be responsible for monitoring that. The effect of putting policies for the Thames into a separate strategy as the noble Lord proposes is to take them out of those arrangements and may result in the Thames having less protection than it has at present. Noble Lords will be aware that Clause 33 already provides that the mayor must consider in all the strategies the desirability of promoting and encouraging the use of the River Thames.

I hope that I have at least reassured noble Lords that we recognise the importance of the Thames to London and that we have provided the mayor with powers in the Bill to preserve and enhance its role. Having highlighted the concerns about having a separate, free-standing Thames strategy, I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that those concerns are central both to the SDS and other strategies.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I do not know whether my noble friend is about to sit down.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not, but I shall sit down.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, we are all in eager anticipation of sitting down. That is totally untrue: we want to go on for ever.

Perhaps I may put a question to my noble friend. If the strategy adopted by the mayor and authority was in conflict with the wider aims of the Government in relation to the river and everything that it offers, including its access to the sea, would the Government have no status in that argument? Would it be solely a matter for the mayor of London to devise, as prescribed in the Bill? Surely there are transport issues

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here which could be of great national import. How would that be given effect to by the Bill as presently constructed?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the strategies of a mayor all have to be in broad conformity with national policy and the Secretary of State would have some reserve powers were the mayor attempting--a slightly unlikely situation--to close the Port of London to international shipping. I am not quite sure of the conflict my noble friend envisaged but there is provision within the Bill for conformity between all strategies, including in particular the development strategy, and broad national strategies, and that would apply to transport as well.

The Thames features in many of those strategies, in particular, in the spatial development strategy, and would best be linked with all the broader policy objectives, both London-wide and nationally, rather than being dealt with on its own.

Safety on the river, covered by both the intervention by the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, and also Amendment No. 108, is a matter we must take very seriously. Noble Lords will know that an inquiry now being carried out by Lord Justice Clarke into safety on the Thames will review the current position, particularly in the context of potential additional use of the Thames during the millennium year celebrations and indeed will consider early issues arising from the tragedy of the “Marchioness". I cannot at this stage prejudge the conclusions that the inquiry may reach but we are committed to ensuring that safety procedures on the river are adequate for responding to emergencies, including collisions. With that in mind, I would like to take away Amendment No. 108, particularly with regard to adding the word “safe" to Clause 33(5)(d). I am not so persuaded by the rest of Amendment No. 108 but I believe that the safety issue does require further consideration and, with the leave of the House, I shall consider it further and the possibility of bringing forward a proposal at Third Reading. Subject to that, I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue his amendment.

Lord Luke: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for his explanation. I confess that I am a little disappointed by his response. Nonetheless, I still feel that at some stage a proper river strategy should be incorporated in the directives to the mayor. Perhaps we can come back to the issue at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 104 and 105 not moved.]

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 106.

Page 20, line 3, leave out paragraph (a) and insert--
(“(a) the need to ensure that the strategy is consistent with the international obligations of the United Kingdom,
(aa) national policy")

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The noble Baroness said: I believe that this is one of the most important amendments to be considered on the Bill. I did try to have it degrouped but there was a bit of a muddle in the office. The only reason I wanted it degrouped was to point out the importance that I attach to it. It goes right to the heart of the relationship between local government, particularly London's local government, and national government. It will also be a precedent for other city authorities with elected mayors and others forms of regional government which may eventually be set up.

As drafted, the Bill requires the mayor to do two things in preparing or revising any of his strategies. First, he must ensure that the strategies are consistent with national policies. Secondly, he must ensure that the strategies are consistent with those international obligations that the Secretary of State may notify to the mayor. I should like to look at each of those two concepts in turn. First, he must ensure that the strategies are consistent with national policy; that is, with the policy of the government of the day. The Bill does not say that the mayor should simply have regard to those policies when formulating his strategies. It does not say that he should simply consider them. Either of those forms of words would mean that the mayor should look at national policy but would not be bound to follow it. The words in the Bill positively impose an obligation on the mayor to follow government policy.

That is a major constitutional innovation that the Government are slipping in through the back door of an extremely long Bill. It is right and proper that a local authority should have regard to national--that is, government--policy. However, having regard to government policy is not the same as being required to follow it if the local council disagrees with it. That is a total negation of the concept of local government. The council, or in this case the mayor, should be able to decide that the policy should not be applied in their particular circumstances; or that the policies are wrong. The law does not oblige a local authority to obey the Secretary of State's policies. It requires the local authority to obey primary or secondary legislation. Parliament has not previously required local councils to follow national policies except in rare and special cases: for example, the interpretation of the contaminated land regime. The Secretary of State will have policies on local government responsibilities and the way that they carry them out. It is right and proper that he should do so. However, he cannot demand obedience unless Parliament has given him a direct power or the responsibility for determining appeals by the public against local council decisions.

Subsection (5)(a) is a dangerous and damaging innovation. It creates as a matter of law the necessity of local government acting consistently with government policy. If the Bill remains as drafted, the mayor would be hard pressed in law to justify a failure to follow government policy. Indeed, in Committee the Minister referred to judicial reviews.

The second part of the amendment reverses the rampant centralisation--the very over-centralisation that the Government claim as a justification for their

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policies of devolution, regionalisation and the creation of the Greater London Authority. The mayor would be required to take national policy into consideration but he will not be required to follow it or even be consistent with it. This part of the amendment ensures that the mayor's role is not merely to produce strategies as the proxy of the Government: to be the Government's rubber stamp.

The other part of the amendment requires the mayor to ensure that his strategies are consistent with the international obligations of the United Kingdom. As drafted, the Bill has the rather curious obligation for the mayor to follow,

    “such international obligations as the Secretary of State may notify to the Mayor".

That means that the Secretary of State could pick and choose which international obligations he would require the mayor to follow. What about any other international obligations about which the Secretary of State did not formally notify the mayor? Is the mayor free to ignore them? Of course not. Perhaps I do the Government an injustice over this extraordinary passage. Perhaps the Government intended that the mayor should be reminded of international obligations to which he is subject. We do not need an Act of Parliament to tell the Secretary of State to do that; and certainly not one in the form at present proposed. Like all public bodies, the mayor's actions, not merely his strategies, should be consistent with the country's international obligations.

The amendment maintains that obligation while removing the implied limitation of the present wording to only those obligations notified by the Secretary of State. Compliance with international obligations should not be dependent on a letter from the department to the mayor.

When this same amendment was debated in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, gave us the benefit of the Government's thoughts on the subject, which I promised to study. I am sorry to say that in this case, uncharacteristically, he does not appear to have answered the points that I and other noble Lords who supported me then made, which is why I have brought the matter back before your Lordships. In dealing with the aspect of international obligations, he said,

    “The GLA is not a nation state which makes its own international obligations".".--[Official Report, 23/6/99; col. 926.]

We entirely agree with that. That is why we want the mayor to have regard to all this country's international obligations, not just such of them as the Secretary of State may designate. The noble Lord told my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith at col. 930 that,

    “The duty to ensure that international obligations are carried out falls on the state. The state must therefore notify those authorities that are required to act in conformity".

We entirely agree. We also agree with what he told me two paragraphs further on in col. 930, when he said,

    “Clearly, there are many international obligations which are totally irrelevant to the GLA".

He disclaimed any intention to cherry-pick but that is precisely what the clause does, as drafted, whether that was the Government's intention or not. If we are both

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agreed that, first, the Secretary of State should notify the mayor of any international obligations affecting London--which we presume he would normally do as a normal executive act without being told to do so by statute--and, secondly, that he is only seeking to exclude irrelevant obligations, then our amendment produces precisely the effect on which we both agree, but without the ambiguity that simply bothers us.

I am surprised that, having heard of the disquiet that the wording of the clause has produced, particularly including the word “such", and having acknowledged that there was a genuine problem, the Government have not introduced their own amendment to tidy up what is clearly a loose piece of drafting.

As regards the mayor being obliged as a matter of law to conform to national policy in framing his strategies, the Minister's reply has confirmed our worst fears. That is precisely the Government's intention. When the Minister replied to the earlier Amendment No. 111, moved by his noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton, he said at col. 925:

    “The mayor must, in preparing any strategy, ensure that it is consistent with national policies".

Noble Lords should note the word “must". It is not just a question of “have regard to" as the clause under debate proposes: he “must ensure" their consistency with national policies.

Having taken considerable time in discussing the issue of international obligations, the Minister only briefly touched on that part of the amendment dealing with national policy, where he said at col. 929:

    “This is not a centralising matter. It is designed to ensure that London plays its part in the delivery of our national policies and our international obligations".

Ensuring that London plays its part in delivering our national policies, as the Minister put it, is centralising. If it is not, then what is it? That one remark confirms what we fear. The clause, as drafted, makes the mayor a Government poodle whose purpose is to act as a figurehead while obeying the orders of the Secretary of State, but taking the blame in London if anything goes wrong. The clause, as drafted, removes the mayor's promised powers and ability to decide his own policies. It merely leaves him applying the Government's policies as the proxy of the Secretary of State. This amendment restores the balance. It allows the mayor to decide what is best. It allows the people of London to have the sort of mayor they voted for in the general election and in the referendum. It allows the people of London to get in each term what they were voting for in the successful candidate for mayor. Both parts of the amendment re-establish the mayor as an independent political figure with independent executive powers, elected by the popular vote of the people of London to reflect their aspirations and concerns. That is what the Government promised in their manifesto. I beg to move.

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