Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

16 Oct 2007 : Column 648

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister think that his department and the Department of Health should come together and do more research on insects as a whole?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness and the House that I shall be drawing this matter to the attention of the two Permanent Secretaries who could not come to an agreement about who would answer this Question in the first place.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are an enormous number of hornets in south-west France, both in houses and woods, and that they are dealt with instantly by the amateur fire brigade, known as the pompiers? This may help the Minister, rather than having to go to the Cabinet.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I appreciate the issue in France; it is a serious issue. I understand from listening to the experts on the “Today” programme that these were English hornets, not French ones. Nevertheless, I looked at the website myself: there was an article in the Telegraph on 22 February of this year about the severe destruction of beehives in France by hornets, and how that was being dealt with. It is obviously a serious issue because, as a result, France has had to import 25,000 tonnes of honey annually. I would like to think that they are getting it from this country, but that would be the wrong reason for them to do so.

Flooding: Insurance

2.58 pm

Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, yes. As part of the recent Comprehensive Spending Review, the Government have announced that funding for flood and coastal defence will rise to £800 million in 2010-11. We will continue to work with the insurance industry and other stakeholders to ensure that the outcomes delivered from this funding are maximised.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of the alarm caused last week when the Association of British Insurers issued a press statement saying that the amount that the Government were putting into flood defence and prevention was not enough, and that this could result in the future withdrawal of insurance cover? Does he agree that it is crucial that, in areas subject to high flooding risk, insurance cover is maintained? According to the British Insurance Brokers’ Association, up to 40 per cent of people in these areas may not have adequate insurance cover for contents. The important thing is to

16 Oct 2007 : Column 649

get everybody in those areas insured and to maintain an affordable supply of insurance for them. Does the Minister therefore agree that it is crucial that the Government work closely with the insurance industry to alleviate the alarm and ensure that cover is maintained?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the Treasury is actively working with the insurance industry on cover for people who cannot afford insurance. Defra is honouring all the commitments in respect of money given to the Association of British Insurers in the statement of principles. In 2008-09, the amount of spending will be £650 million; in 2009-10 it will be £700 million; and it will reach £800 million by 2010-11. Those figures are more than was originally requested. They are the minimum available, but I am assured that they are the maximum that can be spent at present.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, why did the then Chancellor, now the Prime Minister, cut £14 million from the flood defences budget last year? With hindsight, was that not a grave mistake?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, first, he did not and, secondly, the money was not cut from the flood defence budget. It was done by Defra. The grant to the Environment Agency was reduced by £15 million in 2006-07 from £428 million to £413 million. The reduction applied to non-capital spend only. Funding for the agency’s capital flood risk improvement programme was not reduced—as I have repeatedly said in this House. The cuts were in staff costs, operational spend and some maintenance of defences; the flood defence programme was not affected. That money has since been replaced.

Lord Elton: My Lords, under what circumstances will the Government permit building on flood plains?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, essentially where the Environment Agency—which is now a statutory consultee on building in flood plains, which it was not before—assesses that it can be managed properly and can be defended. Of course, this building is on the flood plain.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Thames Gateway development will be properly managed without, perhaps, a second Thames barrier?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, there are plans for looking at the future of the Thames barrier. Most, if not all, of the building in the Thames Gateway programme is in normal urban areas. They are all on the flood plain and can be adequately defended. Compared to the situation five years ago, the Environment Agency is now a statutory consultee and is therefore in at the beginning. The water companies and others involved in the massive enterprise of building a new city along the banks of the Thames are fully aware of the situation.

16 Oct 2007 : Column 650

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is it possible to persuade the Environment Agency to change some of its policies and allow landowners to drain ditches and clear streams that are overgrown with weeds so that they can carry the excess water that comes with flooding? I declare an interest in that we lost a number of sheep in the recent floods in Worcestershire.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, an independent review of the lessons to be learnt from the recent flood is going on, chaired by Sir Michael Pitt. Information from the internal drainage boards, landowners and others will be put to that committee. The issue of clearing ditches was raised with me when I was looking at the flood areas during the floods and subsequently. The Environment Agency has a view about biodiversity as well as about flood defences. The faster the ditches are cleared, the higher the rivers will be and the more risk there will be to the towns, so there is a balance to be struck. These issues will be fully dealt with in the independent review of what happened this summer.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, the original assessment was around £600 million. It has gone up to £800 million, which is a 30 per cent increase. Is it not a bit much for the insurance industry to threaten not to provide insurance cover for these people?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, my noble friend is right; there has been a substantial increase in flood defence expenditure. Since 1996-97, some £4.5 billion has been spent across England. That is a substantial increase on what was spent before. Nevertheless, with climate change and other unforeseen circumstances, we need to keep our defences up. There will therefore be more expenditure. I do not think the insurance industry is threatening anyone. We intend to work in partnership with it to see that everybody gets the necessary insurance cover.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, has the money that was due to go to the local authorities following the two dreadful flooding episodes, first in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and then in Gloucestershire, been allocated to them? Secondly, how many private dwellings that were troubled by flooding had personal coverage for insurance purposes?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, £57 million was made available during the summer to the regions affected. I am not certain if that includes both the local authority Bellwin money and the money that went to the regional development agencies. Obviously money went to the RDAs, which I know has been taken up by only a few farmers in some of the areas. More work is being done on that to make sure people are aware of it. We expect 100,000 households to benefit from the improved protection.

I cannot give an estimate of those who were not insured. I understand that the number of people without individual dwelling cover was fairly high in parts of South Yorkshire. That is where most of the floods affected dwellings. The flooding in Gloucester

16 Oct 2007 : Column 651

and Worcestershire affected land rather than dwellings. Obviously it was serious for the crops. I do not have the exact figure on who was and who was not insured. As I have said, the Treasury is concerned about this and is having discussions with the insurance industry to ensure that people who could not afford insurance are able to get access to it.

Greater London Authority Bill

3.06 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons reasons be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

commons REASONS

[The page and line references are to HL Bill 46, the Bill as first printed for the Lords.]

In section 21(1) of the GLA Act 1999 (disqualification from being the Mayor or an Assembly member) before paragraph (a) insert-

“(za) he has previously been elected or been the Mayor twice;”.”

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A.

It was the overwhelming view of the other place that it would be wrong to impose term limits on the office of London Mayor. This country has no tradition of term limits. The principle that sits at the heart of elected public office at all levels in this country is that it should be the electorate who decides who represents them.

In the GLA elections next May, Londoners are looking forward to a robust contest between Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson and whoever the Liberal Democrats choose as their candidate. But the current Mayor would be disqualified from standing were this amendment to stand part of the Bill. It is obviously right for the London electorate to choose who should be London’s Mayor. Term limits have no place in the vibrancy of British political life.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A.—(Baroness Andrews.)

16 Oct 2007 : Column 652

Lord Tope: My Lords, I can understand that noble Lords on the Conservative Front Bench do not want to speak on this issue because they got into an embarrassing position with their colleagues in another place. Not for the first time, noble Lords on the Conservative Front Bench in this House showed rather more good sense than their colleagues down the Corridor.

Before I start, perhaps I may present the apologies of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who cannot be here this afternoon at this final stage having followed the Bill through so far. Sadly, she has to attend a funeral of a very close and long-standing colleague. Secondly, I should again declare my interest as a Member of the London Assembly.

I want to make two points because we have debated this issue long and hard in this House—in Committee, on Report and at Third Reading. First, those who tabled this amendment, and I include myself as one of those, do not raise this issue out of some motivation to defeat Ken Livingstone because we cannot do it in the ballot box. We have made clear throughout that that is absolutely wrong. In evidence of that statement I remind the House that when the original Bill was going through eight years ago we moved a similar amendment on term limits. At that time Mr Livingstone agreed with the amendment. At some point during the past eight years he has come to a different view; so be it.

When the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, moved an amendment in this House, we made it clear that it would be wrong to introduce term limits applicable at the next election so close to that election. There is no argument about that. It would be wrong and we have been clear about that from the start. The amendment that we proposed—similar in intention but a little different in wording—made it very clear that implementation of this clause would apply only to the elections after 2008. Let us get that one out of the way first of all.

The second point, to which the Minister referred again this afternoon, is that it would be contrary to the British tradition of political life. When we introduced an elected executive Mayor of London, that was contrary to the British tradition of political life. Traditionally in this country, the British system has been a parliamentary system. Local government in this country is modelled on a parliamentary system. The devolved Assemblies—Parliament in Scotland and Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland—are parliamentary systems. Whatever one's opinions on the rights and wrongs of it, vesting power in one executive mayor is, in effect, a move to a presidential system, away from a parliamentary system.

There are different views about that system. One may well support it, but it is without question contrary to the British tradition of political life. When making such a change, it must be right that we properly consider the checks and balances on the power vested in one person. Limiting the number of terms is, legitimately, one of those checks.

I understand that there will be different views—indeed, that is why we are here today—but let us be clear about what we are debating. We are not debating

16 Oct 2007 : Column 653

some manoeuvre to get rid of the current incumbent, nor are we trying to subvert in some way a British tradition. We are dealing with a wholly new system that the Government seem intent on pursuing in local government. It is therefore right that we should at least consider what is done in other countries that have a longer tradition, experience and history of presidential systems—and not only the United States, where the system is not universal. That is why we have proposed and still support the idea of term limits. Clearly, it is not appropriate to pursue it any further today and we will not do so.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, it is interesting how opinions that are based on personalities change. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, tells us that this has nothing to do with the nature, stewardship, policies or personality of the present incumbent, but with great respect I must say that I think it has. If anyone other than Ken Livingstone were involved as the Mayor, the issue would not have been floated again—this is the fourth time that each House has had an opportunity to look at this matter.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why. The alternative to the amendment proposed is to allow the people of London, when the election takes place, to make a choice between the candidates from all three main parties. That is a well tried system. I have yet to hear any argument other than that of principle, but based on experience, that the present situation needs to be changed.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, made a side reference to the behaviour of the Conservative Party in the other place. It is a fact that the Conservatives in the Commons did not oppose the rule of this House. I would be very surprised if the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, rose and spoke contrary to the view of her party. I do not think that she will do that. As far as I am concerned, this is a throwback. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, told us that long ago it was his view that there should be limits and that as long as there is no limit he will persist in trying to get the limit. All we can do in this House is try to make sure that he does not have it. We have had opportunities in this House and in the other place—not once or twice, but three times. It is an issue well worth airing and a debate to be had, but not one that this House should accept.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

3.15 pm

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I beg to move That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 2 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 2A. The other place again made clear its

16 Oct 2007 : Column 654

strong opposition to this amendment. It cuts across the fundamental principle of the GLA model—a strong executive Mayor and an Assembly holding him to account through effective scrutiny. We have had many debates on aspects of that principle during the passage of this Bill.

The two-thirds principle—whereby the Assembly may amend the Mayor’s final draft GLA consolidated budget and the component budgets it comprises by a two-thirds majority—allows the Mayor to propose a budget in order to implement his policies and proposals which the Assembly can amend only if a broad consensus of Assembly Members are minded to do so. That is the right approach. The alternative—allowing the Assembly to amend the Mayor’s budget by a simple majority—would mean the Assembly routinely setting the GLA budget, which would mean confusion, deadlock and a complete disconnect between the budget and the Mayor’s priorities.

At Third Reading, I tried to be helpful. I explained how the Assembly could approach its role differently in order to secure a two-thirds majority for amending the budget. I suggested that there was momentum in forging coalitions of common interest and in taking a fresh look at the customs and practices that have become established at City Hall. That is the right way forward: it is not making fundamental changes to the GLA model; not blurring the currently clear division between executive and scrutiny functions; and not, in effect, allowing the Assembly to set the budget.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 2 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 2A.—(Baroness Andrews.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure for five minutes.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 3.17 to 3.23 pm.]

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page