HC Deb 04 May 1999 vol 330 cc810-8
Mr. Simon Hughes

I beg to move amendment No. 29, in page 256, line 32, leave out 'appointed' and insert 'elected'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 30, in page 256, line 39, leave out 'appointed' and insert 'elected'.

No. 31, in page 256, line 45, leave out

'appointed by the Mayor of London' and insert

'elected by the London Assembly'. No. 32, in page 257, line 4, leave out 'Mayor' and insert 'London Assembly'.

No. 33, in page 257, line 6, leave out 'appointment he' and insert 'election it'.

Mr. Hughes

The self-contained issue that we shall now consider is not new. The group of amendments before us relates to what is currently schedule 21 to the Bill—the schedule inserting into the Police Act 1996 a schedule setting up the Metropolitan police authority.

The Bill says that the Metropolitan police authority shall consist of 23 members, 12 of whom shall be

"members of the London Assembly appointed"

by a process set up under paragraph 2. Then seven more people shall be appointed by a different process, and four magistrates. Paragraph 1(2) is a provision regarding other number permutations.

The provision for appointment, which follows in paragraph 2, is that

The members of the Metropolitan Police Authority"— those 12 people—

"shall be appointed by the Mayor of London in accordance with this paragraph."

The last provision relates to paragraph 2(3), which states that the mayor shall make sure that, as far as practicable, the members for whose appointment he is responsible reflect the balance of parties for the time being prevailing among the members of the assembly. The Government are proposing an appointment process that is meant to reflect the balance of the assembly. The second part is welcome, but we are still unhappy about the first.

As the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and her colleagues know, we greatly welcome the setting up of the Metropolitan police authority, not just because her party in opposition and our party in the previous Parliament argued for it, as the record of the annual police debates in the House shows, but because the Metropolitan police have argued for it under both the present commissioner and his predecessor. They wanted someone other than the Home Secretary to be the Metropolitan police authority.

Under the present nonsensical arrangement, the Home Secretary, in Gilbert and Sullivan style, is both the Home Secretary of Britain and the police authority for London. He must therefore ask himself for permission to take certain measures, and give himself permission in reply.

The Government could quite reasonably have provided for the assembly to choose the members of the police authority, but instead they have insisted that the mayor choose them. That was reflected in the previous debate, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) intervened. There is no reason for the assembly not to choose its own representatives. It would still be possible for them to reflect the political balance of the assembly.

If there is to be a Metropolitan police authority, as one of the functional bodies under the Bill, there is no reason why it should not be for the assembly to elect the members, rather than for the mayor to appoint them. This is another example of too much power to the mayor and too little to the assembly.

We have rehearsed the arguments. The Government say that the mayor is the executive and effectively the assembly has only a consultative, deliberative or scrutinising role. We do not believe that that is the right balance. Londoners would be far happier if the 12 members of the Metropolitan police authority were chosen by the assembly from among its number, rather than being appointed by the mayor.

Mr. Ottaway

As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, we debated the matter ad nauseam in Committee. The Minister will know what I mean. I can tell the Liberals that we have got the message. We know that they want the assembly to have more powers. They may think that they are making fresh points, but we have heard it all before. We realise what they want, but the assembly is not such a structure.

I cannot say that we agree wholeheartedly with the Government on the Bill, but we agree that the mayor, if there is to be one, should be strong, or strongish, and the assembly should not have a veto over the appointment of a body such as the police authority. The reason for that, and I imagine the reason why the Government have chosen such a structure, is to avoid recreating the old Greater London council.

I am wary of going into what went on at the GLC while the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) is in the Chamber, as I know that he will pull me up and say that that is not how it was. In those days, as an ordinary member of the public, living and working in London and travelling on his underground system and so forth, I was aware of shenanigans going on in police committees. Committees were set up—I do not know what their status was, but the GLC was used as a vehicle to express views on police matters.

Mr. Livingstone


Mr. Ottaway

I thought I might be inviting trouble. Here we go.

Mr. Livingstone

While the incoming Labour GLC established a police committee that met in public, that merely brought into the public domain the secret meetings—from which the public and the opposition were excluded—that took place between the Metropolitan police and the former Tory leader Sir Horace Cutler and his policy committee.

Mr. Ottaway

Yes, but as far as I was aware, the committee was not a formal part of the structure, or rather, there was no statutory requirement to have it.

Mr. Livingstone

That is exactly the point. The Labour GLC did things in public; the previous Tory GLC had private meetings with the police from which the opposition and the public were excluded.

Mr. Ottaway

Yes, but the point is that neither administration needed to have any meetings—they were ad hoc. The fundamental complaint against the GLC was that it was becoming a regional power base and it was being used for all sorts of things that were well beyond its statutory remit. I would have no difficulty with the hon. Member for Brent, East setting up committees to talk about this and that if he were mayor of London. That is the stuff of politics. The point is that that is the sort of thing that brought the GLC into disrepute. My concern is that if appointments to the new Metropolitan police authority become a political issue, we will run into all the old problems and the committee will become a political football.

Mr. McDonnell

It is important to get the record straight. The GLC was the collector of the Metropolitan police precept. At that point in time, the setting up of a police committee allowed Londoners the opportunity to debate how the precept could be spent and to inform the Metropolitan police of their views. Many of the views expressed then have been taken on board as key policies in the development of the Metropolitan police, including representation, consultation with local communities and ensuring that ethnic minorities are involved. The committee ensured a discussion about equal opportunities. Many of the discussions in the police committee, which was chaired by a current Home Office Minister, elaborated on what would be the consequences, in particular for London's multicultural society, if we did not take it on board that Londoners should have adequate representation on bodies such as the GLC's police committee.

Mr. Ottaway

I have no trouble with that. I said at the outset that I had no problem with what was going on. The point was that, as an ordinary member of the public in those days, I had the vision that the police were being made into a political football under the old GLC. That is my point and I am sure that the House will appreciate the clarification that ex-members of the GLC are bringing to this debate. They must recognise that, in the eyes of most people, that is why it was seen as becoming a political football.

Under the old GLC and the first-past-the-post electoral system, one party or the other won and the result was clear. It is highly likely that we will not have a clear winner in the GLA elections next year. The Labour party may get 40 per cent. and the Conservatives 35 per cent., or perhaps vice versa, and the balance of the votes will be for the Liberal Democrats. We just do not know. No doubt the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats will get together, knowing the sort of coalition that they go in for now, and do some sort of deal. I do not think that that is desirable. If there were a clear, overall winner, there would be something in the system, but the form of proportional representation that we are to have for London and which we will have in Scotland is fairly ridiculous—it is probable that by next Friday the Liberal Democrat party will be in coalition with the Labour party in Scotland.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I hesitate to rise because we have been debating this matter for so long, but surely after all these years the hon. Gentleman is not seriously arguing that if a party does not get a majority of the votes it should have the majority of seats and do what it likes, either in London or Scotland. Surely he cannot believe that any more.

Mr. Ottaway

I am not sure of the hon. Gentleman's argument. Is he saying that if no party gets a majority, Labour and the Liberal Democrats will not enter into a dialogue over the Government of Scotland.

Mr. Hughes


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think we have had enough of tartan tales.

10.15 pm
Mr. Ottaway

I do not question your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but we are questioning the method of appointment to the Metropolitan police authority. The relevant point is that if there is a minority administration in the new London authority, a deal will have to be struck between parties to form a majority to make the appointments to the authority. Exactly the same method of election will be used in Scotland and Wales as we shall have in London, leaving aside the 5 per cent. threshold agreed earlier this evening. With respect, that is why it is fair to draw comparisons between what will go on in Scotland later this week and what could well go on in London if the amendment were accepted.

Let no one be under any illusion as to what is going on. I have here a poster that happens to emerge from Castle Point council elections, which are due on Thursday. It says:

The local Liberal Democrat Party have chosen not to contest seats at the Castle Point Council elections on May 6. Liberals can still exert their democratic influence in Castle Point. You can help choose who runs your council for the next four years. New Labour is closer to Liberals in both principle and policy. Do not stay at home and waste your vote. Vote Labour.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have been as generous as I can with the hon. Gentleman, but this is absurd.

Mr. Ottaway

I recognise that I may have pushed my luck, but the point is that there is a lot going on between the parties, and that is what would happen if we got into the situation that the amendment would create.

Mr. Gapes

I should like to bring the hon. Gentleman back to London, if he does not mind. He talked about dirty deals. Is he aware that in the London borough of Redbridge, the Conservatives and Liberals combined to push through a joint budget and the Liberals put the Tories in as a minority administration? The yellow and the blue Tories joined together in Redbridge.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be tempted further down that road.

Mr. Ottaway

I would be, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if it were not for your ruling.

The proportional representation system that is being foisted on the people of London is the root cause of our concerns. It is possible that people will not be able to agree who are the best candidates, and that it will be necessary to reach a compromise.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Does my hon. Friend find great irony in the fact that we would probably be very happy for the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) to say who should be a member of the police authority, as he has said what an awful mayor the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) would make?

Mr. Ottaway

It is not for us to probe into quarrels between neighbours, but the story was in the Evening Standard. It seemed to show a radical split between Brents, East and South. Given that the hon. Member for Brent, South is a Home Office Minister and would be closely involved in the matter, it is a highly relevant point that my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) makes. He is from Derbyshire, but he takes a close interest in London matters. It is a valid point.

The serious point is that the consequence of the amendment would be a compromise. The new authority would become a political football. It would be reminiscent of all the old weaknesses of the GLC. Under those circumstances, we do not feel able to support the amendment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kate Hoey)

I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) for the setting up of the Metropolitan police authority. I am pleased that the official Opposition seem to be moving towards supporting it. However, the effect of the Liberal Democrat amendments, especially amendment No. 31, would be to have the 12 assembly members elected by the assembly rather than appointed by the mayor. All the other amendments are consequential on that amendment.

As has been pointed out, the matter was debated in Committee, if not ad nauseam, then for a very long time. At that stage I resisted identical amendments, two of which were supported by Conservative Members. I am afraid that I have not been persuaded to do other than resist these amendments now.

Amendment No. 31 is another illustration of the real theme expounded by the Liberal Democrats throughout the Committee stage. They wanted to extend the powers of the assembly at the expense of the mayor. I do not want to repeat the arguments about why we have struck a balance between the mayor and the assembly that was endorsed by Londoners in the referendum; but I will repeat my firm rejection of any argument that the amendments are justified on the basis that they would bring the process of appointing members of the Metropolitan police authority, and the composition of its membership, into line with the process applying to other police authorities. Such an argument fails to take account of the unique model of governance that is being created for London, and ignores the existence of the mayor's strong strategic role.

We regard the power of appointment as crucial to the mayor's ability to take a high-level and strategic interest in the Metropolitan police authority's efforts to tackle crime and maintain an efficient and effective policing service in London. Moreover, the role is consistent with the mayor's power of appointment to the other three functional bodies. We do not want any dilution of the mayor's power in this respect.

The argument to which I have referred also ignores the split for which the Bill provides between the executive function of the mayor and the scrutinising function of the assembly. As we pointed out in Committee, local councils outside London combine those roles. It is simplistic to argue that, because local councillors elect their own members to police authorities, the assembly should elect its own members to the MPA. That incorrectly assumes that the assembly and local authorities are directly comparable, which they are not. However, I remind hon. Members of the requirement for the mayor to ensure that, as far as is practicable, his or her appointments reflect the balance of parties in the assembly.

I know that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) feels strongly about his amendments, but I think he also knows how strongly we feel. The mayor will have a crucial role in establishing the MPA and choosing its membership from the assembly. I hope that, in the light of what I have said, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Simon Hughes


Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call Mr. Simon Hughes.

Mr. Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am happy to allow the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) to speak before me if he wishes to do so.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I did not realise that the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) was trying to catch my eye.

Mr. Brooke

I had indeed been trying to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I thank the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) for drawing it to your attention.

Responding to various amendments that the Liberal Democrats had tabled in Committee, the Minister argued that the existence of an alliance between the Liberal Democrats and the official Opposition was not in itself a reason for her to be convinced by our arguments. I said that the fact that she held the strong views that she expressed in Committee did not in itself constitute a reason for us to pay any attention to them, and that no greater logic was involved in the fact that her views were strong than in the fact that there was an alliance. Some might say, on the strength of the conduct of the Committee throughout, that the fact that the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats found something on which they both felt strongly, and in unison, was itself a suggestion that they might be right and the Government wrong.

The Minister has again cited the strong strategic role. You did not have the excitement and privilege of listening to our debates in Committee, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I can tell you that a consistent element was the attempt to find out whether the Government were introducing new clause after new clause, and rewriting the Bill as they went along, because they were smarting at claims made outside the House that the Secretary of State was being given all the powers and the mayor was not being given any, or because they had not actually written the Bill before Second Reading, and the cover was giving the Secretary of State powers in the first instance that could then be transferred to the mayor in the new clauses.

I accept that, although it took a long time, by painful extraction, to get an admission out of the Government, they acknowledged in the end that they had listened to criticism not only outside but in Committee, and had therefore decided to transfer powers to the mayor.

It has to be possible that the strong strategic role for the mayor to which the Minister alludes in the instance of the Metropolitan police authority was originally put in as a counterbalance to the criticism that all the powers were with the Secretary of State. That is not in itself a reason for the mayor to have a strong strategic role in the police authority.

The issue is essentially the principle of election against that of appointment. In Committee, I expressed surprise that the present Government should be so averse to election and so insistent on appointment. The view that has been expressed by the Opposition, not only in the Committee upstairs, but in the House now, is pluralistic: it is desirable that power should be moved down in any organisation, and any organisation where it is moved down is likely to be healthier than one where power is centralised.

The difficulties that the Government have had with their devolution programme—I will not go too far down that particular alley—is that they cannot decide whether they want power to be devolved from the centre, or to be retained in a centralised capacity at the heart of government. There is a real tension, which has been patent to anyone who has watched the Government's devolutionary programme.

We owe a debt to the Liberal Democrats for having brought the issue back to the House. The fact that the Minister sought to discredit the argument by linking it to other arguments that the Liberal Democrats have advanced, with which we might not have agreed—although we are in total agreement on the subject of election to the Metropolitan police authority—is not of itself an Exocet through the Liberal Democrats' argument. The hon. Lady repeated the arguments that she used in Committee. I personally thought that she had some obligation to do rather more than she did in Committee, when she spoke for six and a half paragraphs in response to the Opposition's points.

In essence, the argument that the Minister has deployed on the issue, which is extremely important to the future of London, is that, because what the Government are proposing is different from what we have had in the past, everything about it should be different. As a Conservative, with a large C and a small c, I do not find that argument persuasive.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I am grateful that the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) had a chance to speak. He led for the Conservatives on the issue in Committee. We were grateful to him then, as we are now. Like him, I listened to the Minister's reply and found unconvincing the simple logic that, because at least some of the other agencies that will be set up by the Greater London Authority—functional agencies, as they are described—have to have a particular shape, it follows that the Metropolitan police authority has to have a particular shape.

I reflect on the speech of the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), who tried to describe how the proposals that we were putting forward were dangerous because they reflected an electoral system that was in the Bill, which gives proportionality to the make-up of the assembly. We argue that it would far better for an assembly that was representative of the votes that were cast in London to choose the members of the police authority, rather than the mayor who, first, might not have won a majority in being elected; secondly, might be some way off having won a majority, even of those who cast their votes; and thirdly, might have won by a handful of votes, whether or not he or she had a majority. As a result, the mayor would be vested with all the power. In choosing the representatives of the Metropolitan police authority, it would be better to have the power shared, rather than concentrated.

The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster shares a second argument with us. The Minister said that we should not draw a parallel with other police authorities in England, whose representatives are selected not by the chair of the authority, or by some other individual, but by members of the authority. She said that we should not follow the same logic here. She argued that it did not apply because the Metropolitan police authority is a different sort of police authority.

10.30 pm

The Metropolitan police service has a particular London focus, with some diplomatic and royal responsibilities, and it is bigger than other police services in the United Kingdom. However, it does not necessarily follow that the general principle established across England some years ago—when police legislation was amended providing a tripartite structure for police authorities, comprising magistrates, local authority representatives, and those chosen by the two groups—should not apply also to London.

Liberal Democrat Members have also not been won over by the argument that we have to give the mayor the substitute power to appoint members, rather than allowing a process by which police authority representatives are chosen by London's councillors.

As the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said, thereby setting bells ringing, and as I said—which the Minister acknowledged, for which I am grateful—although the Government are ending the Home Secretary's role as London police authority and democratising the authority, which we welcome, we should still be trying—now, at the beginning—to get it right.

If the Government insist on their position, gradually the assembly will wish to assert its right to choose its representatives, not only in the police authority but possibly in other bodies. Londoners would prefer that the authority be a chosen, representative body, rather than an appointed one. I predict that—even if the Government get their way today, and sustain their position when the Bill goes to the other place—the logic of their position, and its consequences for representation of the people of London, dictates that that position will not hold for all time.

If policing in London is to be credible to the maximum number of Londoners, and if Londoners are really to believe that they have the best policing, more of their elected representatives should participate in the selection of the London police authority.

The Minister has reiterated the Government's position, and I realise that the Government will not give way on it. We shall therefore not press the amendment to a vote, as we did in Committee. Although we may well return to the issue in other debates, for now, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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