Greater London Authority Bill

The GLA Bill is designed to give additional powers to the GLA (the Mayor of London and London Assembly) to support the delivery of better planned and co-ordinated strategic public services in London. It hopes to enhance the Mayor’s leadership of London and includes measures that will give the Mayor a new lead strategic role on housing in London and a strengthened role over planning in the capital. There will also be additional strategic powers in a wide range of policy areas including culture, health and climate change. The Mayor will have a strengthened role in managing London’s waste and stronger powers over the GLA’s functional bodies.

On 11 October 2007 Mark attended the debate on the Lords’ amendments to the Bill. He made the following contributions:

Mr. Mark Field: I regret that my party was associated with this matter in the House of Lords, because it is wholly wrong that there should be term limits at all. In fairness, I suspect that the idea was to generate a debate, perhaps a slightly academic one. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) made it clear from the Front Bench what our concerns were: that there are potentially too many powers in the hands of the Mayor. Certain aspects of power that should be in the Mayor’s hands are not, but the continued existence of the Government office for London under the Minister’s tutelage is unacceptable, given the devolution that we have had in the capital city during the past seven years. I, for one, have always said that we should abolish the Government office for London and give some powers back to the boroughs and others to the Mayor. That would be the sensible solution for this capital city. I take on board what the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) said. This was rightly intended in a non-partisan way and would not apply to the current incumbent, but such a term limit should not apply at all. I agreed with what the Minister said: this country has no tradition of term limits, nor should we start having them now.

Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman said that he thought that the official Opposition in the other place had simply raised the matter for debate. Baroness Hanham, speaking in favour of two-term limits, said: "The position should not become monopolised by any one individual or party…The role requires challenge, renewal and refreshment."?[ Official Report, House of Lords, 19 June 2007; Vol. 693, c. 115.] Does the hon. Gentleman think that that is simply about engaging in a debate?

Mr. Field: To a large extent, it was. I served under Baroness Hanham as a councillor in the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where, coincidentally, I served for two terms, as I believed she did as leader. Perhaps she was putting her money where her mouth was in that particular regard.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend’s thesis. Are the Liberal Democrats not taking an illogical position? Why restrict two-term limits simply to the Mayor of London? Why not, for example, apply them to Members of Parliament, particularly given that the proposal comes from a third-term Member of Parliament?

Mr. Field: I shall leave it to the opponents of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington to make that case. On term limits for the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the clock is running quickly for the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), but we shall say no more about those matters. The arrangement for the United States presidency is a special situation. The founding fathers had particular safeguards in mind when they decided to have two-term limits for the presidency.

Mr. Burns: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Field: I shall give way to a great friend of mine whose knowledge of American politics knows no limits.

Mr. Burns: I do not wish to upset my hon. Friend, but I should mention that the founding fathers had no view on the subject. This was a rather nasty proposal made by the Republicans in the 1950s because Franklin Roosevelt had broken the tradition of serving two terms and had been elected to his fourth term, and they wanted to ensure that no Democrat ever did so again.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. Extending the debate to the outer limits of Chelmsford is one thing, but extending it across the Atlantic is something else.

Mr. Field: I know that the loquaciousness of north Essex Members knows no bounds, but I think that we will leave it at that. This country has no tradition of term limits and such a proposal would be highly regrettable. Even in the United States, a number of members of the Senate and Congress have famously served for many decades and many terms of office. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst had to say, and I hope that we will not support the Lords amendment. If it is pressed to a Division, I shall vote with the Government. We shall see what the Liberal Democrat spokesman has to say about the disreputable suggestion for term limits in this regard. 

Mr. Mark Field: The Minister is right when he says that we want a strong executive Mayor. I share and understand some of the concerns that he has expressed about the problems that might arise with deadlock, which would be in no one’s interest, not least the people of London. However, it might have ensured that some of the Mayor’s profligate spending in the past seven years was kept in check. As a number of hon. Members have rightly suggested, the mayoral precept has gone up by well over 100 per cent. In fact, it has almost increased by 180 to 200 per cent. since the mayoralty came into being.

Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman mentions deadlock. When I asked the officers of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration in Birmingham whether deadlock was causing a problem in regeneration issues, for instance, they said, "No, things work perfectly well."

Mr. Field: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course, there are many examples across the country of those in coalition local authorities working well together. However, there are other examples of where such arrangements have not worked well and where the situation is much more unstable?not least, obviously, where elections take place annually, rather than every four years.

As someone who lives in the city of Westminster?as other hon. Members do, and the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) is here?I know that we council tax payers in Westminster now find the more than half of our council tax is due to the mayoral precept. Yet the Mayor is responsible for cleaning not a single street, emptying not a single bin or running not a single school or social services department. That enormous amount of money is spent in what we regard to a large extent as a fairly unaccountable way, because of the nature in which the system works for the GLA. That is the reason why we would like a simple two-thirds majority to be used, and I hope that that case was made very powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill).

The Government are almost trying to get a double lock. Of course, the whole system for the GLA was set up to ensure that there was not a single majority party. My own party won nine of the 14 first-past-the-post seats at the last GLA elections and the Labour party won five seats at that juncture, compared to eight and six in the first elections in 2000. As a result, a lock was put in place, with 11 of the members being on a top-up proportional representation basis from the Liberal Democrats, the Green party and UKIP or Veritas. The lock was designed to ensure that no party had a majority, yet the two-thirds arrangements make it almost impossible for a sensible discussion to take place with any Mayor who digs his heels in on budgetary matters.

Given the arrangements for proportional representation in the GLA, a simple majority would be a sensible way forward. That would not necessarily lead to deadlock. Inevitably it would require a Mayor to slash certain aspects of his budget, but that would be done through the usual negotiations in politics. That would be an acceptable way forward for the people of London.

The biggest concern of many of my constituents is the budgetary considerations of the mayoralty, which are getting out of control. It would be undesirable for more than half the council tax of other London boroughs to be in the hands of a largely unaccountable GLA and mayoralty. We want to consider other issues related to the powers of the mayoralty, which we discussed earlier. We hope the Government will ensure that there is a proper democratic safeguard for budgetary arrangements in the GLA. 

Mr. Mark Field: Like other hon. Members, I support what the Government are trying to achieve. However, in view of the many planning measures that will be introduced, I hope that there will be a culture of greater transparency, especially on housing-related matters. I speak with a constituency interest in mind about the large-scale development in the Victoria area. There is grave concern among my constituents that a deal has been done between Transport for London, which is under the Mayor’s auspices, and the developer, Land Securities, for some £270 million. Consequently, the current proposal is that there will be no social or affordable housing on the site. All residents in the Victoria area greatly regret that.

I appreciate that I have raised a specific issue and that we are at an early stage in the process. I wanted to make the simple point to the Minister that, on housing negotiations between the Mayor, housing authorities and the Housing Corporation, greater transparency is vital as far as that is possible. I appreciate that much of the lack of transparency is institutionalised in the planning regime, particularly given the manner in which section 106 agreements operate, which many of us in the House and those who have served as local councillors regret. However, I hope that the point will be borne in mind in this Bill and in other legislation that the Government bring forward.

Mr. Mark Field: We have rehearsed on several occasions in the House and in Committee our concerns about strategic powers and, more precisely, what a strategic planning power means for the Mayor. We are not entirely satisfied and we will have to see how the system operates over a period of time before we can move forward.

I would like the Minister to comment on this narrow point. How does he view the operation of appeals?direct appeals by the public or resident associations? How will appeals operate as between local boroughs and the Mayor, and what of the ultimate right of appeal to the Government inspector? Does he envisage that where the Mayor has called in a particular planning application, it will preclude central Government from doing so under any circumstances, or will there still be a safeguard?and perhaps further complication and delay?in the hands of central Government to call in such an application? From the perspective either of developers or of local communities that want a particular development in their area, it would be highly undesirable if the process led to yet another layer of delay and bureaucracy. Does the Minister envisage that where the Mayor calls in an application in London, central Government will not do so?