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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, we support the amendment; indeed, it is one that we moved at an earlier stage. I continue to ask why it is necessary to give the Secretary of State this power to restrict expenditure when the Secretary of State already has wide powers through existing local government legislation. At the last stage I called this clause a "sledgehammer" of a clause, and I still regard it as that.
The Government's reply was that it provides a safeguard against an irresponsible mayor diverting such a large proportion of the authority's resources to discretionary resources that essential services are starved of funds. That begs the questions of what essential services are and who judges whether services are essential. I could not help but think of the term "bogus asylum seekers", which is used a great deal. Asylum seekers are only bogus if you choose so to designate them. This is a similar situation.
The provision in the Bill reveals the degree of control that is to be applied. Much of the spending of the new authority will be capital expenditure. Noble Lords are aware of the complex system of credit approval for capital expenditure, which is also a very constraining system, and of the controls on revenue expenditure.
How will the provision operate? Will a message come to the authority from Whitehall or perhaps Eland Place in the middle of the year, after the budget has been set and the authority has embarked on its spending pattern for that year? There may be practical considerations to take into account.
We are particularly concerned about the principle. The Government stated that the power will control expenditure on discretionary activities, but the provision on which it bites does not provide discretionary powers in the way that a member of the public would understand them. Clause 30(1) states that the authority shall have the power to do anything which it considers will further any one or more of its
The Conservative Benches were suspicious about Clause 30(1), thinking that it might be very wide. Noble Lords were reassured by the Government about how narrow that provision is. We have always supported the provision because we recognise that the Government cannot predict and spell out every activity which may be necessary to support the promotion of the principal purposes. Although the deluge of government amendments indicates that they are trying to spell out everything, it is not possible to do so. Clause 30(1) is a very sensible provision. It is made much less useful by the subsection to which we and the Conservative Front Bench object. We support the amendment.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is not seeking to comment on the internal procedures of the Labour Party, nor do I comment on the internal procedures of the Conservative Party. From whatever party the successful candidate comes, the Secretary of State will require some reserve powers on behalf of Londoners and taxpayers generally.
The amendment is narrowly defined. I am slightly surprised that the point of principle focuses on this point. The clause is not a power to limit the totality of the authority's expenditure; nor is it a power to limit expenditure on specific statutory duties. It is a power that is directed only at the amount of spending on activities other than those which fall within the authority's specific powers or duties.
The Government have made their position clear on this issue. The power to set a financial limit is included in the Bill for two important reasons. First, we have made a commitment to Londoners in our manifesto, in our White Paper and in everything that we have done in regard to the Bill, that staff and costs in the GLA will be streamlined. Secondly, Londoners want the GLA to spend its money on services and they do not want it to squeeze services in order to facilitate extravagant expenditure on itself or on activities that are outside its specific statutory powers and duties.
This power for the Secretary of State is a reserve power to control the ability of any mayor to spend outside those areas. It is not about constraining, in advance or in retrospect, the mayor's freedom to spend money on general power activities, and it is not about how much the authority should spend on each of its specific functions. It is, however, an essential and specific safeguard against expenditure outside those specific functions, and it is therefore a reserve power which I contend is very, very much in the interests of Londoners, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred. I cannot accept the amendment and I hope that the noble Lord will not press it.
I entirely accept that this limited power of direction is very specific and that it is not aimed at the generality of expenditure but at very narrow paths. In the context of the Bill, if the idea is acceptable at all, that is the only way it could be done, but I do not see the point of giving those powers and then putting a limitation on them when there is already a power to have overall control of the authority's absolute budget.
The Minister might imply that the mayor would wish to squeeze the generality of the authority's expenditure at the expense of these specific new general power functions. I wonder how long a mayor could expect to last if he were to squeeze the police budget, the fire and emergency planning budget and the budget of Transport for London. In my view, there was an air of unreality to the Minister's reply. I believe that we should test the opinion of the House on the matter.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.