HC Deb 04 November 1999 vol 337 cc502-51

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 2, line 18, at end insert ("; and (c) the holding of an election for Mayor in the event of a vote of no confidence in accordance with section 14(d) below")

Mr. Raynsford

I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendment No. 6 and the Government motion to disagree.

Mr. Raynsford

We are dealing with impeachment, which was debated at great length in earlier stages in this House and in the other place. The key issues are, first, the separate role of the mayor and the assembly in the new structure of governance that we have created in London, with a division of powers between an executive mayor and an assembly performing essentially a scrutiny function. The second key issue is what checks are in place to ensure that the mayor exercises those powers responsibly and properly. The third is procedures for removal from office of a mayor if he or she is guilty of wrongdoing.

The amendments would allow the assembly to dismiss the mayor if 19 of its 25 members voted to impeach him or her. Essentially, that would make the mayor subordinate to the assembly and it would change the structure of the new authority created by the Bill. We debated the subject at length and the Government made it clear why such proposals were unacceptable. Essentially, they would allow the mayor to be removed as a result of a political action by the assembly, which was never the Government's policy intention. We believe that that would be wrong.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)


Mr. Raynsford

I will give way in a moment, but want to make a little progress first.

The mayor and the assembly members will have different mandates and roles. The mayor will be a directly elected executive and the assembly will be there to scrutinise the exercise of his or her executive powers. Potentially, just over 5 million people could vote for the mayor. It seems astonishing that someone who could be elected by 5 million people should be liable to be removed by the votes of only 19 people, who are elected under a totally different mandate.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Raynsford

I have already said that I will give way to the—

Mr. Forth

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have heard the Minister's explanation of his role here today. We are dealing, however, with a matter that bears directly on the position of a future mayor of London under the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is the campaign manager for an aspirant to that office. Is it correct—is it proper—for the hon. Gentleman to deal with a matter that relates directly to the role of a future mayor of London? It strikes me as not only inappropriate but possibly improper.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The matter being dealt with is a matter of public policy, and any Minister is entitled to deal with it.

Mr. Raynsford

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I can quite understand why the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is concerned about the possibility of a mayoral candidate being subject to impeachment procedures, considering the candidate that his party has chosen. Let me make it clear that I am talking about the principles of the Bill, which I defended in the Chamber and in Committee on many occasions. The right hon. Gentleman was well aware of my position during those debates, and it is exactly the same today as it was then. To suggest otherwise is absurd.

If, after four years in office, a mayor no longer commands the confidence of the people of London, it is for the people of London to remove that mayor. That is the framework that we have put in place, and it is the right democratic framework.

Mr. Simon Hughes

When the Minister's responsibilities included London, some three months ago, he circulated a consultation paper for which he had written the preface. It included these sentences: The election of a Mayor and Assembly for London fulfils the Government's commitment … Londoners will choose the Mayor whose policies match their needs and aspirations, and Assembly members who will work with the Mayor and hold him or her to account. How can the Assembly hold a mayor to account if its members have no sanction by which to get rid of him?

Mr. Raynsford

As the hon. Gentleman ought to know, the Assembly has a number of sanctions.

Mr. Hughes

Not to get rid of him.

Mr. Raynsford

It has a number of sanctions. However, we do not propose that its members should be able to override the democratic mandate of the people of London who have separately elected the mayor. The Liberal Democrats never accepted that distinction, because they believe in a more traditional, old-fashioned style of local government, in which the leader is elected from among the elected members of the authority. We debated at length why that system was not appropriate, why there should be separate mandates and why the mayor of London should be elected by all 5 million Londoners—or, at least, by all those who choose to vote out of the 5 million who are eligible. Those votes determine who shall be the mayor; they shall determine if the mayor should no longer serve as mayor.

As I have already stressed, the Assembly has considerable powers—to scrutinise, to highlight weaknesses and, ultimately, to adjust the budget, which will have a profound effect on the mayor's ability to deliver his or her programme.

Mr. Hughes

How does the Minister think that the Members of the European Parliament, who are directly and democratically elected by the people of the European Union countries, would feel if they were told that they had a right to hold the members of the European Commission to account—a commission appointed by Governments elected democratically—but no right to get rid of them if it was thought that they were not doing their job properly?

Mr. Raynsford

That is a curious and completely inapposite parallel, because the European Commission is not elected. We are talking about a framework within which the mayor of London is elected by the votes of 5 million Londoners. It would be quite inappropriate for the people of London to elect a mayor one day and be told the next that the person whom they had elected was put out of office because a majority of three quarters in the Assembly did not like that mayor. That would be preposterous.

If the amendment were accepted, a mayor could be elected who was extremely popular but whose party had little or no support in London and, because of the way in which elections take place, the parties that gained three quarters of the Assembly seats on the same day as the mayor was elected could vote that mayor out of office the following week. That would be nonsense, and it would show contempt for the people of London, but it would be the consequence of accepting the amendment. That is one reason why we ask the House to disagree with the Lords amendment. I give way to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who was a member of the Standing Committee.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

If the mayor were found to be corrupt or to be acting improperly or abusing his office, especially early in his term, it would be wholly wrong for him to be able to continue, notwithstanding a two-thirds vote against him in the Assembly. How could the people of London bring him into account in such circumstances? Is there no mechanism for that other than rioting in the streets or civil disobedience?

2 pm

Mr. Raynsford

I agree that if the mayor acted corruptly, were convicted of an offence or adjudged incapable or unfit to hold office, he should be removed. That is the exactly what the Bill provides. If the mayor is convicted of an offence and a sentence of more than three months' imprisonment is passed on him or her, is adjudged bankrupt or disqualified under part II of the Representation of the People Act 1983 or under section 17 or 18 of the Audit Commission Act 1998, he or she is disqualified from office. As hon. Members know, those circumstances are analogous to those that apply elsewhere in local government. Such provision is right and proper, but it is a different matter to suggest that a body elected on a separate mandate should have the power to remove someone elected by the people of London whom they simply dislike. I should have thought that Opposition Members would be only too well aware of the unfortunate consequences of going down that route.

At the end of last year and the early months of this, we saw an extraordinarily banal process develop on the other side of the Atlantic. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) uses a rather unparliamentary word.

Mr. Edward Davey

I said "crass".

Mr. Raynsford

I misheard the hon. Gentleman and I am delighted that he has clarified the matter. The American Senate's impeachment of President Clinton was crass and demeaning for the whole democratic process on the other side of Atlantic, as the people of America now know. It was a crude, partisan attempt to replace a president on essentially trivial and trumped-up grounds. That is exactly the process that would apply if we accepted this amendment.

Mr. Shaun Woodward (Witney)

Quite right.

Mr. Raynsford

Does the hon. Gentleman really think that it is in the interests of democracy that a mayor elected with the support of the people of London could be removed by a partisan group of people from other parties who happen to gang up in a political conspiracy against him? That is what happened in America. It was demeaning to American democracy and we will not import it into our democratic structures.

Mr. Woodward

The hon. Gentleman may believe that it was crass and not like the idea that America has a democratic system that allows impeachment, but does he believe that it would have been better if President Nixon had remained in office?

Mr. Raynsford

No, because I believe that the impeachment was justified in those circumstances.

Mr. Woodward

Pick and choose.

Mr. Raynsford

It is not pick and choose. I was comparing the case of a president who had committed clear wrongdoing on a major scale and attempted to cover it up with that of a president who acted in a way that was below the highest standards of conduct but had not diminished his ability to do his job. It was the partisan conspiracy against the President because of his sexual behaviour, irrespective of his ability to perform the functions of President, that made the process look demeaning and inappropriate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it would be utterly wrong if a mayor of London elected by a majority of people in this capital city were subject to impeachment procedures and removed from office simply because three quarters of the Assembly did not like his sexual behaviour. That is the parallel, and I hope that he will answer my point.

Mr. Woodward

The parallel that the Minister raises is a good one. I ask him again about the case of President Nixon. If the process of impeachment and hearings did not exist in the United States, how does he believe that President Nixon would have been dealt with? Or does he believe that it would have been better for him to continue in office?

Mr. Raynsford

As I said, I believe that in that case the process was appropriate, but, in the case of President Clinton, it was abused. We believe that on the whole the safeguards in the legislation provide a bulwark against wrongdoing by a mayor. Sanctions are provided through the control of the budget to ensure that the mayor does not pursue policies at variance with the interests of the people of London. We do not believe that it would be in any way right to allow a mayor to be removed from office simply because three quarters of the members of the Assembly elected under a different mandate happened to disagree with him or her. None of the Opposition Members have answered that point.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Raynsford

I will give way in a moment to the hon. Gentleman, who was an assiduous member of the Committee and led for the Opposition, but I put it to him that the Opposition have not answered the point that the procedure agreed by the other place would allow a mayor democratically elected by the people of London to be removed on the say so of 19 people elected on a separate mandate, who could be acting for purely perverse, partisan purposes. That would be the consequence of the amendment, and it would be wrong. Unless Opposition Members can answer that point, they have no case.

Mr. Ottaway

Does the Minister accept that there is a zone somewhere between his mandate, as he calls it, and the provisions of the Bill in which someone convicted and sentenced to less than three months imprisonment would be disqualified? In this Parliament, Ministers have resigned as a result of an error of judgment on Clapham common. Ministers have resigned because they have offshore funds. I am talking about the former Paymaster General. Ministers have resigned because they failed to declare loans taken from building societies. None of those things resulted in convictions or sentences of up to three months. There must be a. way in which someone who makes such errors of judgment can be called to account, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said.

Mr. Raynsford

As I have already said, the mayor will be called to account. He will be liable to scrutiny in the monthly Assembly meetings. His or her budget will be subject to approval by the Assembly. If the Assembly has a two-thirds majority, it can override the mayor's budget. If the mayor is absent for a period without good reason he can be removed from office. If he is guilty of offences, is bankrupt or is disqualified under other legislation, he can be removed. Those are important safeguards. They provide the necessary framework of accountability. To do otherwise is to confuse the two mandates—the mandate given to the mayor by the vote of all Londoners as against the mandate given to members of the Assembly either by the constituencies or at large for members of the Assembly.

Mr. Edward Davey


Mr. Raynsford

I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, who was a member of the Committee.

Mr. Davey

It is interesting that the Minister cites in his defence the impeachment process in the United States. When we raised that in Committee to support our argument for accountability, the Minister said that the case was not relevant. He seems to have changed his tune. Can he cite one example of a mayoral system—not a presidential system—in another country in which there is no democratic safeguard between elections?

Mr. Raynsford

The hon. Gentleman's comment is preposterous. He proposes not a democratic safeguard but a means to ensure that the mandate of one group of people can overrule another. I accept that he does not understand our framework. He was always committed to a different one, with which the Liberal Democrats are more familiar, in which all members of a council are elected together and one is elected from within that number to be leader. We have rejected that system. We have gone for an alternative model of a separation of powers. In that model, it is right that the mayor, who has the executive power should be subject to scrutiny by the Assembly. It is not right that the mayor can be removed by the Assembly because the two have different and distinct mandates.

I made it clear in Committee—I remember it only too well—that the procedures in America made a mockery of the process of impeachment and provided a good reason why we should not adopt such a model for London.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

We must acknowledge that, as we are introducing a new system, there is genuine concern about the concentration of so much power into the hands of one individual. At present, there are relevant parts of other measures and of this one that can overcome the problem of the mad and the criminally bad, but there is also the difficulty of the zone of differences that has been mentioned. I do not want to enter into discussion of the problems of the gradations of bizarre sexual practices, or whatever.

However, if there are gradations of unacceptable behaviour and if the mayor's behaviour leads to public opprobrium, such matters need to be dealt with, although not necessarily in this Bill. If the mayoral system is to be developed under measures to be introduced in the next Queen's Speech, perhaps we could address those matters at that time, or we might review them after five years—the first period of office for the mayor of the Greater London Authority that will be elected in May next year.

Mr. Raynsford

I am well aware of my hon. Friend's reservations as to the model that we proposed; he has expressed his concerns. We have tried to establish a framework under which the mayor can act effectively. We want a model for effective city governance, but we are also determined that such governance should be accountable. The framework ensures openness on a scale that no one could possibly criticise. The mayor will be subject to intense scrutiny at all times; his or her actions will be transparent, and will be examined in detail by members of the Assembly. I have already referred to the safeguards; it would be tedious for me to repeat them.

Mr. Wilshire

It may make the Minister somewhat nervous when I tell him that I have a little sympathy for the point that he made as to the perverseness of some actions. However, what we are hearing are arguments for limiting the power of impeachment—not for making it impossible. Will he consider tabling an amendment that increases the number from 19 to 20 or 21, or that tries to define the perverse reasons when impeachment should not be used? The grey area to which my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) referred is absolutely crucial: there are some actions that are politically unacceptable; they fall short of being criminal, but they are not perverse. Will the Minister consider an amendment, rather than saying that there should be no impeachment?

Mr. Raynsford

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. During our considerations in Committee, at an earlier stage of the Bill's progress, we explored several different options, tabled as amendments. Some of those proposed that there could be petitions from the people of London to remove the mayor—a large number of signatures being sufficient to trigger that. We decided that it would be difficult to verify a large number of signatures in such a way as to give confidence. We discussed different permutations of the maximum number of people who might be required to sign or agree with an impeachment motion so as to make it effective. Our conclusion was that all those proposals were defective and that the danger of abuse of the system—simply to put out a mayor on a partisan vote—was such that it was better to leave the original framework that was in the Bill. That was our judgment at that time; it remains our judgment today.

As I have said, the mayor will be subject to intense scrutiny, and his or her actions will be constantly reviewed—not only by the Assembly, but by the London media. The people of London will have every opportunity to make their views known. Furthermore, a mayor who is running into difficulty, and does not have a popular mandate, will be extremely vulnerable when the Assembly scrutinises his or her budget. That will be the Assembly's key sanction against a mayor who strays into territory—I accept that it is possible—where he or she has not acted in a way that is outright criminal, but where his or her actions appear not to be in the interests of the people of London. In that case, the Assembly will have the sanction to take measures—through control of the budget—to amend the mayor's policies. That is the safeguard. The people of London have the right to remove the person whom they entrust with the job of mayor. That is the ultimate democratic sanction, which can be properly exercised only by the same group who have the right to elect the mayor in the first place.

2.15 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the Minister explain to the House why, during discussion of measures introduced by his Government on the effect of a vote of no confidence in the Scottish Parliament, this Parliament decided that a majority in favour of such a vote against the First Minister of Scotland—the Executive of Scotland—would be sufficient for the First Minister to resign?

Mr. Raynsford

I put two points to the hon. Gentleman. First, that what he describes is not impeachment, and, secondly, it is a separate matter because it involves the Scottish Parliament. We believe that there should be different provisions for different tiers of government. What we propose in London is unique. We have not done it before. The hon. Gentleman may not like it; he made it pretty clear throughout the previous debates that he and his party do not want a mayor—they want the old, traditional local government pattern, with everyone elected and the leader being elected in the way that has been done for time immemorial.

I am sorry, but we disagree. We believe that that is not the right way forward for London, where we want a radical and innovative framework that allows the mayor to be directly elected, so that he or she can exercise the type of power and influence that directly elected mayors elsewhere in the world are able to exercise in the interests of their cities. If hon. Members consider the way in which effective mayors, throughout the world, have transformed their cities and have made a difference, they will understand why we have introduced these measures. The intervention made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is a throwback to the old Liberal Democrat style of doing things.

We are moving forward; we are setting up a new structure of government. Our proposals provide for transparency and accountability. There are safeguards; and there is an appropriate disciplinary framework. I do not believe that the impeachment procedures that were added to the Bill in another place could operate without the gravest risk of abuse. That would bring the whole exercise into disrepute, in the same way as occurred in the United States. I urge the House to reject the Lords amendments.

Mr. Woodward

This is an extremely important matter. The consequence of a vote of no confidence in the mayor would be very serious, as the Minister acknowledges. Such a power should not be used lightly. However, Conservative Members take the view that we should trust those who have been democratically elected to the Assembly to exercise their responsibilities with seriousness and due diligence, and that we should trust them in this important matter of impeachment. It is a huge power; it is a significant demonstration of our trust in those whom London will elect next May to exercise that power diligently. We believe that we should trust the Assembly members, who will have been democratically elected, and that the Minister is wrong not to trust them to behave suitably.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

I have listened carefully to the debate. How does the hon. Gentleman define the word "diligent"? It is a wonderful field for legalese. I can picture litigation ad nauseam in the divisional court on that one point. I suggest that it is not a solution.

Mr. Woodward

That there is difficulty in defining "diligent" is no reason not to trust that people will exercise diligence.

We look forward to hearing the views of hon. Members on the important subject of the amendment. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and the hon. Members for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) and for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) have decided not to be in Chamber this afternoon. I would have thought that a debate on a Bill to set up the institution that they want to lead would be an occasion on which they could take time out of their busy schedules to turn up at the House. However, perhaps they have received advice from the Minister for Housing and Planning, whom we are delighted to see in the Chamber this afternoon—if only in his capacity as the campaign manager for one of the candidates.

Mr. Gapes

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether Lord Archer is also in the House at this time?

Mr. Woodward

It is significant that the hon. Gentleman does not realise that Lord Archer sits not in this House but in another place. However, we hope that the hon. Gentleman will catch up with the movement of history as the afternoon continues.

Mr. Gapes

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that Lord Archer is sitting up in the Gallery watching us?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. First, it is not right to refer in that way to Members, or anybody in other places, who might be present outside this Chamber. Secondly, those remarks are straying far from the subject of the debate.

Mr. Woodward

This Bill is about the future of London—our city. The mayor's responsibilities are great and, for the sake of London, a mechanism should be enshrined in the Bill that can effect the mayor's dismissal. Of course, it must be fair to the mayor, to the Assembly and, above all, to the people of London. Although we hope that the power would not need to be exercised, it would be a mistake to assume that there could never be circumstances in which the Assembly would lose confidence in the mayor and which would therefore give rise to a motion of no confidence.

We are concerned about the principle of the amendment. We have legitimate concerns about the provisions for impeachment but, realistically, the two are related. In considering the amendment, we must ask what sort of circumstances could cause the Assembly to lose confidence in the mayor. To assume that that could never happen is to ignore the lessons of history. For that reason, we find it difficult to agree with the response by Ministers in another place to reject that procedure. At best, it is baffling and, at worst, foolish.

The Government have needed to revise dramatically their original proposals, which is why today we begin a debate on more than 800 Government amendments to the original Bill. Given that the first draft of the Bill was inconsistent and technically flawed, and that the Government have already given very poor consideration to major parts of the Bill, it would be arrogant of them to assume that they might not need to give proper consideration to this amendment. It is remarkable that such a long and complex Bill does not include the power to dismiss the mayor through a vote of no confidence.

In another place, the noble Lord Whitty defended the Government's decision not to give the Assembly powers to dismiss the mayor by saying that the Opposition had misunderstood the nature of the Assembly and the mayor. He said that giving the Assembly the power to sack the mayor would make the Assembly's mandate in some sense superior to that of the mayor."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 October 1999; Vol. 604, c. 231.] We believe that his interpretation is flawed. Like assemblies throughout the world, the London Assembly must serve as a check on the Government. Where appropriate, it should also serve as a check on the mayor. There should be a mechanism to redress both the conduct and the power of the mayor, if that power appears to have been abused. The alternative is simply to make the mayor untouchable.

The Government say that the mayor could be unseated in a "frivolous" act by the Assembly, or for the crime of being momentarily unpopular."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 October 1999; Vol. 604, c. 231.] In an Assembly of 25 men and women elected under proportional representation, almost all parts of the Assembly would have to be united in opposition to the mayor under those proposals. The suggestion that that could happen for a frivolous act or for being momentarily unpopular is, therefore, remote—even incredible.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I follow what my hon. Friend is saying, but I could also conceive of the political parties, for some extraordinary reason—but it could happen—getting together to get at the mayor. If that happened, surely the common sense of Londoners would visit vengeance on Assembly members in the following election. In any case, it would not preclude the mayor, having undergone a vote of no confidence, standing again and being re-elected. Does not that cover the Minister's concerns?

Mr. Woodward

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a great shame that, when those concerns were raised in another place, the Government failed properly to consider the proposals.

It is important to trust members of the Assembly. Conditions could be found which would appease people who are genuinely concerned. Let us look at the circumstances that might give rise to such a vote and at whether it would be appropriate. Let us assume that the mayor has been elected. Let us even assume that a Labour candidate has become mayor. He or she would have survived the bewildering electoral machine of the Labour party, which, unlike the Conservative party, does not believe in one member, one vote. Also unlike the Conservative party, its members' votes are not treated equally, but are weighted to give advantage to particular candidates.

Having survived that selection procedure—which, we note, is not inclined to favour candidates such as the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone)—and having been supported by the Prime Minister, the candidate goes on to win the popular vote of our city. What would happen if it were discovered that, in the process of securing that nomination as mayor, the candidate had breached the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998? It sounds incredible. Could it really happen?

Only this week, The Observer reported that a campaign team for one Labour mayoral candidate may have breached, either in principle or in point of law, the Data Protection Act. Information was allegedly made available to one candidate, and not to others. The Government have given many explanations, but have not yet settled on the precise one that they wish to use. As they told the "Today" programme, they do not quite know, but they think that that is because it is not relevant. That is why the Data Protection Registrar is now looking into those allegations, and the House will await the outcome of that serious charge with interest.

There may or may not be a case to answer. Evidence of such a breach may not emerge fully until after the election on 4 May next year. If so, and if that Labour candidate has become mayor of London, would it be in the interests of London and our democracy that the Assembly has no power to express a vote of no confidence in a figurehead who has gerrymandered the process in such a way? A criminal or civil offence may even have been committed. The power to dismiss the mayor would be essential to the well-being of democracy and of London. The Minister for Housing and Planning, a campaign manager for one of the candidates, makes the extraordinary proposition that the Assembly should have no power to get rid of a mayor. He believes that such a democratic check is "preposterous". Now we know where Labour's arrogance leads us—a repeal of the quinquennial Act will no doubt follow.

Mr. Wilkinson

My hon. Friend is instructing the House on some serious issues. The Labour party may be keen to follow what I might call the Welsh model, whereby the Welsh Agriculture Secretary had a significant vote of no confidence cast against her and then refused to resign. By so doing, the authority and credibility of devolution in Wales have been called into question. That is hardly the way for our Assembly and mayoralty to begin.

Mr. Woodward

My hon. Friend makes a telling point.

There may be circumstances other than breaches of the Data Protection Act in which the Assembly may wish to test its confidence in the mayor. Let us imagine the candidate, now mayor, who finds himself driving the Assembly to commit the kind of folly that he last perpetrated when he was leader of a London borough council. It can happen, because it has happened. Under those conditions, a vote of no confidence in the mayor would be entirely appropriate.

Let us remember what happened in Camden when millions of pounds were squandered on ideologically driven, wasteful schemes, in which buildings in Hampstead, Belsize Park, Swiss Cottage and other areas were knocked down. In their place were built ugly, concrete housing blocks, which represented some of the worst examples of post-war architecture. Between 1965 and 1975, Camden spent £100 million pulling down large areas of the borough to make way for towers and terraces of modern council flats.

We know under whose direction that happened. Had the population of Camden increased, that expenditure, while not forgivable, might have been understandable. Yet between 1961 and 1975, when all that money was being wasted, Camden's population fell by a fifth. In 1975, Camden proposed spending the then colossal sum of £2 million to convert just nine houses into council flats. That seems beyond belief, but that was what happened when the then leader of Camden council encouraged his cohorts to behave in that way. What if the right hon. Gentleman exercised the same leadership in his capacity as mayor of London? He would have control of £3.2 billion.

2.30 pm
Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is not a debate about potential candidates or particular parts of London. I should be grateful if he would address his remarks specifically to the amendment before the House.

Mr. Woodward

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As it is essential that we consider the whole business of impeachment and what might constitute grounds for a vote of no confidence, we must test the conditions that may arise. If we cannot think of any conditions for a vote of no confidence, the Government would be right to resist the amendment. However, if the Government properly considered the evidence available, they would have the humility to say that they have made a mistake and that they were wrong not to provide powers of impeachment.

When the mayor is elected next year, he will have control of £3.2 billion. That is a large sum of money, and the mayor will have great authority over how that money is spent. It is relevant to examine how candidates may spend that money if they became mayor. The way in which that money is spent may give rise to a vote of no confidence.

That London borough became a byword for waste and incompetence. It would be a tragedy if, as a result of the Government's arrogance and refusal to consider this issue, London became a byword for waste and incompetence. It is relevant that a borough such as Camden had a housing revenue account deficit of more than £1 million.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is again doing what I asked him not to do.

Mr. Woodward

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am testing a proposition. What would happen if someone had control of an account and irresponsibly allowed it to increase 24 times in a decade?

Mr. Gapes

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. Is it in order for the debate to be used to slur the integrity of an individual, as is happening at the moment?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman can safely leave such matters to the Chair.

Mr. Woodward

I am sure that we are all grateful for your guidance on this matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker, not least because there is no intent to slur. I am reporting the facts and considering the consequences of the Assembly being unable to dismiss a mayor of London who carried out such policies and behaved in that way.

We would have been delighted if the right hon. Gentleman had come to the House this afternoon to explain himself. We are sorry that he is not present. We understand why the Minister for Housing and Planning has directed his candidate not to be here. It is probably wise for him not to be present this afternoon.

Inquiries have been made into the running of some London councils. Those independent inquiries have had something to say about waste, incompetence, arrogance and corruption. When those allegations have been tested in the courts, some individuals have been fully acquitted, but some have not.

I am sure that hon. Members will remember the Appleby inquiry into Lambeth council in July 1995. It reported a catastrophic litany of fraud, mismanagement and dogmatic left-wing leadership that had resulted in the loss of millions of pounds and plunged the Authority into chaos. The inquiry stated: Lambeth is in an appalling mess and it is unlikely that any department is properly managed. That is relevant to London and to the mayoral election next year. If the mayor were responsible for waste and mismanagement, we would expect an inquiry to be held. If the Assembly were to uphold the recommendations of that inquiry, it might want to dismiss the mayor. Regrettably, councils in London have had such policies. We believe that it is a mistake not to be able to dismiss the mayor.

The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) accused me of casting a slur. We give credit where credit is due. Although they beggar belief, the House should be reminded of the views of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras when he was shadow Environment Secretary. In 1995, he condemned Lambeth. He said: Waste and incompetence cannot be tolerated. What happened was a disgrace for everybody concerned.

Mr. Raynsford

Quite right.

Mr. Woodward

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The difficulty I have is that the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras carried out in Camden the very policies for which he condemned Lambeth.

Lambeth now has £929 million of debt that was built up under Labour. We are concerned that similar debt should not build up when we have a mayor for London. If a mayor for London allows such a debt to build up, he should be dismissed by a vote of no confidence.

Incompetence in Lambeth continues. We now learn that Lambeth council has been exposed as so incompetent that a squatter is claiming ownership of a £400,000 house. He has lived in it for 16 years and has paid no rent because the council forgot that it owned the house. What is the council's response? It says that it will try to reclaim the property. It is spending council tax payers' money on legal fees. If a mayor presided over such incompetence, the Assembly should have the power to dismiss him.

What if the mayor abused the power to raise revenue in London? In Hammersmith and Fulham, the council tax has increased by 50 per cent. since 1993. As a result, five old people's homes have been closed and there is no provision to replace them; 70 home helps have been sacked; only 34 per cent. of council house repair appointments are kept; burial costs have gone up by 60 per cent. and cremation costs by 50 per cent.; and libraries have been closed. If the mayor presided over such chaos in London, should not the Assembly be able to get rid of him? Does it have to wait years to dismiss the mayor, with people paying more and more tax to meet higher and higher bills?

What if the Assembly were to discover that fraud was taking place under the mayor's administration? The Minister for Housing and Planning tells us that it is all right, because if the mayor does not have a conviction of more than three months inside Wormwood Scrubs all is well. Presumably, his question and answer sessions would take place every day on the hour in the exercise yard. Some of us think that that is not a good standard to set for the mayor of London.

Mr. Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth)

The Conservatives should change their candidate then.

Mr. Woodward

The interesting thing about the hon. Gentleman's remarks is that the gentleman to whom he referred has twice been exonerated by a DTI investigation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not want the House to talk about specific personalities or candidates.

Mr. Woodward

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for reminding us of that, because, as the DTI said, there was no case to answer.

Even if a mayor is not charged with a criminal offence, the Assembly should take action if there are strong grounds for assuming that fraud has taken place in his administration. As the Bill stands, the Assembly would be powerless to dismiss the mayor. Some hon. Members may believe that that could not happen. However, in the Appleby report, some 500 council employees were believed to have committed fraud by falsely claiming housing benefit and income support.

If a mayor presides over waste, incompetence and fraud, is it preposterous—to use the Minister's word—that the Assembly should be able to dismiss the person who presides over such chaos?

Mr. Gapes

The hon. Gentleman is obviously not aware that neither the mayor not the Greater London Authority is responsible for housing or housing benefit.

Mr. Woodward

What a telling point the hon. Gentleman makes. That was absolutely first class. We have all enjoyed reading the Bill, and are grateful for his telling observation. We take note of his point, but we have read the Bill, too.

Regrettably, corruption has been a hallmark of left-wing councils. It is obvious that the Labour party is still worried about low council standards. In August 1997, newspapers reported that the Prime Minister had ordered an inquiry into the activities of Labour-run councils throughout Britain in an attempt to avoid allegations of corruption or impropriety.

Senior Labour officials told newspapers that the Government's image had been damaged by revelations about authorities in Glasgow, Monklands, Doncaster and Hackney. More than 30 authorities in various parts of Britain were reportedly being investigated by district auditors, by the police or by the party's own national executive committees. If such revelations were to appear one day about the mayor, surely the Assembly should have the power to dismiss him. Does the Minister still believe that that would be preposterous?

The mayor will have the power to create a climate of opinion. In London, we rightly depend on the authority and high standing of our police, and our support for the police is essential if we are to have a well-protected city. The mayor's attitude to the police is also essential to fostering a spirit of trust and co-operation. We are now told that some mayoral candidates are prepared to bend their views to comply with the views of the Prime Minister.

Labour often wants to rewrite the past but, if there is a Labour mayor, that past will not be ignored. We should not dismiss from memory the views of those who have said such things as: The task, surely, is to break the Metropolitan Police Force as at present constituted. The hon. Gentleman who made those remarks may regret them today, but we should not forget such remarks, and we should not forget that the GLC spent £400,000 a year on a propaganda battle with the police. The expression of such views would rightly require the Assembly to review the question of whether it had confidence in the mayor.

There are many reasons why the question of impeachment is relevant. The only thing that is feeble is the Minister's attitude: he is too arrogant even to consider the proposal. He may think it old-fashioned. He may be one of those Labour Members who have changed their views on everything that they stood for when they were elected. The truth is, however, that London needs a strong voice. London needs a mayor in whom it can believe. London needs an Assembly that will be able to throw out a mayor who exceeds or abuses his powers, or behaves in a corrupt, fraudulent or bad way.

This afternoon we have been given a number of illustrations of ways in which power can be abused and can corrupt the individuals who exercise it. No one wants a return to such values; no one wants to see them in practice in London. But there can be no guarantee that the former politics of the GLC, or of councils such as Camden and Lambeth, will not be implemented by a future mayor trying to run the Assembly.

The power to dismiss the mayor must be enshrined in the Bill. Not to enshrine that power would be an act of enormous folly and arrogance. We urge the House to support the amendment, and to encapsulate this crucial principle in the legislation.

Mr. McDonnell

I do not support the proposals because I do not think that they are practical at this stage. I accept that powers exist in this and other legislation to remove lunatics and criminals. Arguably, that could apply to some of the present candidates, but there is the issue of behaviour that engenders such public opprobrium that the climate created among the London public suggests that the mayor must go, and I feel that we should consider that at some future date. Certain issues relating to the governance of London may cause people eventually to lose all confidence in a certain individual.

At present, we in the House of Commons rely not on process but on moral pressure when the question of a resignation arises, but I fear that, for some, moral pressure may not be enough. The mayoral system constitutes a step change in our system of local government—it concentrates powers in the hands of one individual to an extent that has not been seen before. The new system may well be extended throughout the country by means of possible future legislation, and I think that we should review it at some point in order to ensure its effective operation. We should, for instance, consider the possibility of a right of recall of mayors during their period in office. Perhaps we could develop a mechanism that would not depend entirely on Assembly members.

2.45 pm
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman—who is my near neighbour—agrees with us in principle, but why does he feel that the matter should be addressed in the future rather than now? I should have thought that this was the ideal opportunity for us to address it.

Mr. McDonnell

I do not think that we can address it now because none of the options that we have considered so far strikes me as both practicable and fair. More work is needed. Rather than delaying progress on a Bill that is so important to the future of London, we may be able to deal with the issue in a local government Bill. We should at least review it after a period during which we have experienced the mayoral system in London and, perhaps, elsewhere.

We need a mechanism that does not rely on the dangerous principle of placing responsibility on Assembly members, but seeks to ensure that the mayor may have to reaffirm his or her mandate with the London electorate. If the mayor is found to be acting in a way that generates sufficient public opprobrium, and if moral pressure is not sufficient to cause him or her to resign, at least he or she will be forced to let the people decide whether he or she should continue in office—or even continue to implement certain policies.

I believe that we should review the position after, perhaps, five years, and that we should start the examination fairly soon. None of the options that have been described so far satisfy my wish for a balance between consistency of government and fairness and the involvement of the electorate. I think that we should consider options that may go further, triggering a re-election that will ask the electorate to decide.

Mr. Simon Hughes

In many circumstances, the argument of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) would be entirely valid. If the Government cannot find the necessary time now, however, no doubt we shall have a later opportunity to consider the issue.

The Government on whose platform the hon. Gentleman was elected had been in opposition for 18 years, and had been committed to restoring Greater London government for 13. It had had plenty of time to think about the issue. The Bill has been going through Parliament for a year. It has been considered at length in Committee, on Report and at Third Reading. It has returned from the other place having secured a majority of nearly two to one for the simple proposition—let us not confuse the issue—that it should include a provision stating that, if a motion of no confidence is passed by 19 or more of 25 Greater London Assembly members, the mayor should go. I feel that, although re-examining the position over the next five years may be a wonderful idea, there is no good reason not to face up to the issue now.

As the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) said, we are returning—for a final two days or so—to what I gather from the Clerks is probably the largest Bill with which Parliament has had to deal during this century. It has 330 clauses and 27 schedules, and 820 amendments have been tabled. I also gather that it is the first two-volume Bill. Moreover, as the Minister pointed out, the Bill proposes a unique structure. Earlier, we asked whether it was fish or fowl; I think that, as the day goes on, we are reaching the view that it is increasingly less fish and more fowl.

Mr. Raynsford

Very fine fare.

Mr. Hughes

The Minister was partly responsible for the Bill's creation, so he would say that, wouldn't he?

I think that we should concentrate on the central issue—the only issue in regard to which the Lords overturned the Government's proposals by a significant majority when the Government did not undertake to return with similar proposals of their own. Later, we shall have an important debate on equality and anti-discrimination measures. The Government were defeated on that matter, but they agreed to accept the Lords amendments. On this occasion, the amendments remain contentious.

I pay tribute to my noble Friend Baroness Hamwee, who moved the original amendment in the Lords and who worked with Conservatives and independent Cross Benchers to try to find the best alternative proposal. As we did in the House and in Committee, they considered various options.

In Committee, my hon. Friends and I originally proposed a 90 per cent. disaffection trigger. Either 90 per cent. of members of the Assembly or 10 per cent. of the London public would have been able to trigger a recall procedure. We have now arrived at the proposal that commands the greatest confidence. Therefore, it demands more respect and more support, and I hope that it will find favour with hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Today is a test for Labour Back Benchers. Will they always do as their pagers tell them? Will they always be told by Downing street how central, regional and local government should be run? Will they always be merely obedient voting fodder or will they stand up for some sort of democracy in the capital city? Perhaps they will all troop through the Lobby and say, "We're sorry but, on this issue, we cannot afford to protest because that would be too embarrassing." If the three Labour candidates for the mayor of London are conveniently not present so that they do not have to have their votes recorded, we will remind the public of that fact.

Mr. Gapes

What about the Liberal Democrat candidate?

Mr. Hughes

The intelligent Member for somewhere in the east end asks about the Liberal Democrat candidate.

If she were a Member of the House, she would be here. She was selected by one member, one vote; she is not tainted by records from which most people would run a mile and she is not in the middle of an appointment process that has been rigged by Downing street.

Mr. Wilshire

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Hughes

In that process, every debate becomes more incredible—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Member sit down when I am on my feet?

Mr. Wilshire

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier, you correctly advised us that we should not discuss the Labour party and Conservative party candidates for the mayor's job. Does that ruling apply to the Liberal Democrat candidate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I would be grateful if candidates were not mentioned in the way that they were earlier. I hope that they will not be mentioned again.

Mr. Hughes

I hear what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I do not consider such references to be out of order. You are making a request—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member will appreciate that the Chair will decide what is in order.

Mr. Hughes

I hear your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I was just wondering what its basis was.

Those of us who have listened to the debates realise—I hope that the Minister does, too—that this vote will be a test of whether we have democratic or autocratic government. If he keeps nailing his colours to the mast of autocratic government, he and the Labour party will live to regret it. It is living to regret it, because the Government's reputation for being autocratic grows every day and their reputation for being democratic diminishes every day. The British public will grow disaffected with the Government probably for that reason as much as any other.

We had a bit of a debate earlier—when the Minister got going—about why we should not have an impeachment provision. A debate on such a provision would have been highly relevant. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) has remarked, the argument used against the provision was crass. When we raised the issue in Committee, the Minister said that an impeachment provision would be irrelevant. However, when impeachment proceedings were begun against the current American President, I do not remember anyone saying that there should not be such a facility. It was simply argued that it was inappropriate for the special prosecutor to proceed or for Members of Congress to trigger the proceedings. There lies the rub. Members of Congress may pay the political price and suffer from triggering a procedure that was not in line with the public's view of what was appropriate.

In that case, the need for an impeachment procedure was not questioned. As the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) argued, the other impeachment proceedings that took place in America in the 20th century were necessary to ensure that a President resigned. Impeachment was not carried out, because the President resigned beforehand. However, the fact that he could have been impeached was probably necessary to ensure his resignation. If we do not have the sanction to force the mayor to go during his term of office, we are giving him power the like of which we have never before given to people in British elected public office.

If the Prime Minister is defeated in the House by a majority of one—by 50 per cent. of Members plus one—on a no confidence motion, he or she goes.

Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North)

He does not have to.

Mr. Hughes

He does not have to, but, even though we do not have a written constitution, he goes. Lord Callaghan is the last living example of that.

In the Scottish Parliament, it is expressly the case—we debated the matter here—that a vote of no confidence in the Executive leads to their being expected to go. Evidence from the Welsh Assembly suggests that a vote of no confidence—not in the Agriculture and Rural Development Secretary, but in the Executive—would mean that the Executive were expected to go. One can argue that the London Assembly is not the same type of body and that point is relevant because we are dealing with different levels of government. However, it does not make the Minister's argument for him.

Mr. Bermingham

Does not the hon. Gentleman's logic take him to the conclusion that I have reached, which is that, when public opinion, officials and Assembly members have no confidence in the mayor, he or she will go? Let us logically think it through. How can someone perform if everyone is against him? He cannot, and that is why Prime Ministers and Ministers go.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman argues for what most people would expect to be the case. However, under the Bill, if the mayor does not resign, there is nothing that anyone can do.

It is possible that the mayor might not resign. In recent years, mayors elected in the western world, and in cities such as the capital of America, have carried on in office while they were in prison. If the mayor of the capital city of America did not go when confidence was lost in him, there is no evidence to suggest that the mayor of London might.

Sir Sydney Chapman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes

I shall give way shortly.

As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington pointed out, we as a legislature should not put into place a system that will allow years to pass, something to go wrong and confidence in politicians and London government to be lost before anyone can say, "Now we must do something." It is no good shutting the door after the horse has bolted and saying. "I'm sorry. We forgot to provide for this eventuality." If we do that, people will go to the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) and tell him that he was warned.

Mr. Bermingham

If a chief executive works for a mayor who has gone completely barmy—I do not mean mentally, but he behaves absolutely stupidly—the chief executive will simply not do what he is told. The mayor will become ineffective because no one will take instructions from him. What will happen then? The mayor will resign, and that is what happens in the States and elsewhere—they go.

3 pm

Mr. Hughes

First, that did not happen, and it does not always happen, in the United States.

Secondly—as the Minister is constantly at pains to tell us—the office of the London mayor will be different. The Bill will provide for Britain's first mayor to be elected directly by the voters. The mayor would be quite entitled to wave two fingers at the London Executive, Assembly and electorate and say, "I was elected for four years by you lot—I was elected with far more votes than the Prime Minister. I am staying." There has been no precedent for the office, and we must ensure that, in creating it, we do not make a terrible mistake.

Sir Sydney Chapman

The hon. Gentleman has just made the point that I wanted to make. A person who has been elected directly for a fixed term is much more likely to put up the proverbial two fingers to the Assembly. That fact strengthens the case for creating a corrective mechanism.

Mr. Hughes

I think that the hon. Gentlemen and I share exactly the same view on the issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton asked the Minister a very simple factual question. He said, "Minister, you are the one who studied the Bill for a year and piloted it through Parliament, and you are now the campaign manager for the Labour camp. Give us one example of one directly elected mayor in any other city in the world—it does not even have to be a capital city—that has no provision for a recall or no-confidence motion." Answer came there none.

In Committee, we cited the procedures used in St. Louis, Washington, San Francisco and Tokyo. Although they all have different procedures, suited to local circumstances, each of those cities provides for a remedy in dealing with a mayor who goes off the rails. The greater the power that we give to the mayor, the more reason we should have to enable the Assembly to take control of the situation.

The Minister might say that our arguments apply only to the Scottish Parliament and the European Parliament, but they apply also to local government. I have friends who have served in London local councils. Although I have not asked them about it, I am sure that they all believe that the leader of a Liberal Democrat-controlled council would be voted out of office if a majority of council members felt that he or she should not be entitled to continue in office. Council leaders are elected by the council, and they may be removed by the council. There are mechanisms to remove a mayor or council leader everywhere, except in the Bill.

The Government are not offering an alternative proposal. They are not saying, "We don't like the idea of a no-confidence motion being triggered by 19 of the 25 Assembly Members; we want to set the number at 22." The Government are offering no alternatives.

We really must support the Lords amendment, and ask Labour Back Benchers to be braver than they are usually. Not content with a Bill that pretends to give power to London government, but leaves much power in the hands of the Secretary of State; not content with a Bill that, initially, was described as giving regional government to Londoners, but that now is said to create just another form of local council; not content with a system in which Labour Assembly candidates are not elected by London Labour party members, but appointed; not content with a system in which, on instructions from No. 10 Downing street, the mayoral candidate selection process is being fixed; not content with having rigged the candidate selection process in the Labour party from beginning to end, the Government now want us to buy a package in which, for four years, we would not be able to get rid of the person whom they tried to force on us. That would just not be acceptable.

So far, of all the proposals that the Government have made in their two and a half years in office—half of the Parliament—their proposals on the London mayor are the most autocratic.

Although there is a party political reason to have a no-confidence provision, there is also a much more important reason. We are in an age in which every opinion poll states that the public do not have great confidence in politicians. Moreover, the person who currently has the confidence of the greater part of the London electorate may not even be allowed to stand for election. The Government's proposals would undermine London government's ability to have the confidence of the people of London.

It would not be good for London to have a mayor who does not enjoy the support of the people, and it would not be good for London government if the mayor and the Assembly had no confidence in each other. As the Minister said, one Authority will be composed of two parts. If the two halves of the same Authority have no confidence in each other, London government will not operate effectively.

Regardless of our disagreements on how much power the mayor and the Assembly should each have, if we want the mayor and Assembly to work well together in doing their job, we shall have to allow the Assembly to force out a mayor who does not enjoy the Assembly's confidence—which may have been lost because of corruption, laziness, illness, arrogance, or personality and performance in office. I shall give one example.

People should be regarded as innocent until they have been found guilty. Let us imagine—I have no one specifically in mind—that a London mayor is being investigated on serious financial allegations. Perfectly properly, he or she might say, "I have not been found guilty. I am defending my case and arguing that I am not guilty. I want to stay in office." Regardless of the truth of the allegations, would it be good for London—the world's financial capital—to have a mayor who, perhaps for two or three years, was being investigated?

Mr. Hill

There was no truth in the allegations?

Mr. Hughes

Not at all; and the mayor would be absolutely right in saying, "I am not guilty." However, would it be in the best interests of London government for the mayor to stay in office throughout those investigations? [Interruption.] The Ministers say yes, but previous Ministers have not always taken that view. Even allegations undermine confidence. We have to foresee a situation in which the greater interest dictates that someone should step aside, regardless of their view on their own performance.

Mr. Woodward

The hon. Gentleman is making a common-sense point. Creating a no-confidence provision would give the Assembly the power to decide whether to exercise it. The Assembly might take the view that allegations being peddled about a mayor are nothing more than rumour, gossip and innuendo, and are therefore valueless. If so, the Assembly would not be compelled to pursue a vote of no confidence. Nevertheless, such a provision would invest in Assembly Members the trust to act with due diligence.

Mr. Hughes

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Additionally, between 75 and 80 per cent. of Assembly Members would have to decide the matter. I cannot imagine a London electoral result—it has not happened this century—in which 75 per cent. of electors vote for people from the same party. Therefore, a decision to pass a no-confidence motion would have to be taken by Members of two or more parties.

Assembly Members would also be aware that they would have to account to their electorate for their decision to get rid of a mayor. As the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) said, if they act irresponsibly in voting for such a motion, their electorate probably would not take a favourable view of it.

Mr. McDonnell

The hon. Gentleman was unusually disparaging about my earlier remarks. Nevertheless, we are now debating the key issue of natural justice, which we shall have to resolve. If allegations have been made against someone, should he or she immediately be penalised because of them, before a full investigation has been conducted to determine the truth?

A number of us—including the hon. Gentleman—have dealt with miscarriages of justice cases, in which it has been discovered that, because of the failure of an investigation, the climate of the hunt has led to someone being pilloried and removed from a position, despite subsequently being found innocent. The issue of whether there should be a suspension mechanism, rather than a rejection mechanism, must be reviewed as we have not yet found the appropriate mechanism.

Mr. Hughes

I always try not to be disparaging about the hon. Gentleman. There may be arguments for suspension, but if the Bill receives Royal Assent with no such provision, the press—not the elected Members of the Assembly—will decide whether the mayor resigns in the event of a serious allegation. I would far rather that 80 per cent. of the Assembly, rather than the press, decided.

I wish to strengthen the point made by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, who is an experienced London colleague. Let me be modest about my colleagues. Let us imagine that a Liberal Democrat mayor is elected next May, as we increasingly expect. Let us imagine that a Liberal Democrat mayor comes to office with huge support from the London electorate, as is increasingly possible. Let us imagine that we do not sweep the board in the Assembly, and that there is a coalition of 19 members coming from the other parties, while we have all the others. If those 19 vindictively and conspiratorially decided that the best form of government was not available to Londoners and that they wanted to vote out the Liberal Democrat mayor, the point made by the hon. Gentleman is the answer.

If they did so, the candidate could stand again—and probably would, depending on the party's view. However, the electorate would decide both on that candidate and on the people who got rid of the mayor. The history of this place shows that when, for other reasons, it kicked out people such as Bradlaugh, the electorate sent them back. In the end, the electorate won the day.

If we want to improve confidence in public life, the amendment must be accepted. It may not be the amendment that my colleagues and I would have wanted to table, nor is it theoretically the best in the world. It is not the amendment that we might have had had a royal commission inquired into the matter in five years' time. It is not even the amendment that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington might have come up with after reflection and consultation. However, at the moment, it is this or nothing.

If the Government turn this amendment down today, they will send the message that they want the office of mayor of London to be more autocratic than any other position in British constitutional life. They will want to give the mayor more power, and others less control over the mayor.

I hope that the House will support the amendment that was passed by nearly two to one in the Lords. If this place reverses the amendment, I hope that the Lords make one last stand—some of them have not much more to lose. If they go out for the last time next week, it is better that they do so with a bang than a whimper. They could do no better service than to say to the Government that there will be a power for Londoners to have a no confidence vote in their mayor and to get rid of him if that is appropriate.

I hope that we overturn the Government's view and support the Lords. If not, I hope that the Lords make certain that the amendment is still in the Bill next week.

3.15 pm
Mr. Gapes

I am grateful to be called at this point in the debate, as it is always a pleasure to follow the sanctimonious nonsense of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). I and others had to sit in Committee through hours and hours of it, and we have just had another example from the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey talks about democracy, and then invokes the hereditary peers as a means of defeating the democratically elected Government—a Government elected on a mandate to establish the mayor and Assembly. He says that, if the democratic decision of this House goes once more for the Government's proposal, the hereditaries and his friends in the Conservative party in the House of Lords should vote down a democratically elected Government. So much for the democracy of the Liberal Democrats.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey talks about the public not having much confidence in politicians. They certainly do not have much confidence in Liberal Democrat politicians—that is why the party only gets 11 per cent. in the opinion polls, and why there are only 46 of them in this democratic place. They may have more in the House of Lords at the moment, but they do not have democratic support in the country.

I wish to refer to the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward), who is not here at this moment. I must say that I preferred the approach in Committee of the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway). The hon. Member for Witney cast a series of slurs and smears at Labour politicians and others unable to answer them. If that is the way the Conservative party intends to fight the Assembly and mayoral elections, we will have the dirtiest election campaign that this city has ever seen.

I hope that the Conservatives think carefully before going down that road, as those who live in glass houses should be careful when they start throwing stones. I suspect that it would rebound against the Conservatives—and their candidate for mayor—among the general public.

Mr. Brooke

My hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) was entirely open handed in terms of the strictures that he raised, and he referred to the conduct of the London borough of Camden between 1965 and 1975. Between 1968 and 1971, the Conservative party was in control of the London borough of Camden, and I was a member of it. Although I did not intervene on my hon. Friend to say that I resented his strictures, I do not think that he can remotely be described as having cast slurs.

Mr. Gapes

As always, we benefit from the great advice and sagacity of the right hon. Gentleman, who entertains us with his insights into politics. [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Witney has come back into the Chamber, and I hope that he heard what his right hon. Friend said.

Clearly, we are involved in a new concept, and we are employing two different electoral systems, neither of which is used for the election of local councillors or Members of Parliament. The system for electing the mayor is the supplementary vote, which means that whoever is elected as mayor of our city will have a substantial first preference and a large second preference, giving them the support of more than half the people of our city.

Members of the Greater London Authority will include people who—for the information of Liberal Democrat Members—have been democratically selected by the Labour party. That process included ballots in borough pairings to select candidates for the 14 constituencies, such as the one in Redbridge and Havering, in which Labour party members voted overwhelmingly for our candidate, and selection for the top-up party list, which will be used if we do not win many seats. I suspect that we will not need many people on our top-up list, because we shall win many of those constituencies. However, all parties will probably benefit from the top-up.

The Greater London Authority will also include members who, given that they pass the threshold of 5 per cent., will have received very few votes. That is presumably how the two or three Liberal Democrat members of the authority will be elected. Although they may win one or two seats, they will be reliant, to some extent, on the top-up list. Such members will not have received a great personal vote; they will have been elected by virtue of their place on the party list.

So the mayor's democratic mandate will be different from that of the 25 authority members. Yet the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition proposes that 19 of the 25 members should have the ability to remove from office somebody who might have secured the votes of 1 million, 2 million or more Londoners—by methods that could be subject to political intrigue reminiscent of the behaviour of Republicans in the United States.

It is a pity that the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) is not present. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] I do not know where he is—probably issuing press releases that attack Labour Members of Parliament, as he did in my constituency this week. In 1981, when the Labour party won the Greater London Council election, the leader of the Labour group was Andrew McIntosh—now Lord McIntosh. After that election, there was a coup, and the hon. Member for Brent, East became leader of the council by a majority vote in the Labour group. That happens in other parties from time to time, too. I remember that the Conservative party in the GLC also changed its leader through an internal coup.

Such a model is appropriate when all members of the authority are elected on the same basis, and when the leader of the authority is from that common electoral college. However, once a mayor is elected by direct mandate, the whole system changes. It is difficult to understand why the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are in league on a proposal that will allow them to manipulate a coup against a democratically elected Labour mayor, without any democratic sanction by the public.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

I am grateful to my former pair for giving way. It is always a coup when one is on the losing side. Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that he has stumbled on the point of the debate? Under the traditional model that he has described, a coup, or house-cleaning, can always occur by a vote of the democratically elected members who originally elected the leader or mayor. However, that does not apply here because the Government have chosen a system of two separate mandates. There is therefore no mechanism for dealing with the Mayor Barry factor. Will the hon. Gentleman address that point?

Mr. Gapes

I am happy to do so. The Conservative party opposed the concept of a Greater London Authority; it wanted only a directly elected mayor. I would be interested in its proposals for removing a mayor without an Assembly. Would it be done by osmosis or extrasensory perception? The Conservatives have obviously changed their position.

Mr. Bermingham

Does my hon. Friend agree that those who support the amendment base their argument on a two-tier democracy: the populace will elect the mayor and those who have been elected will deselect the mayor? That is nonsense and a contradiction.

Mr. Gapes

As my hon. Friend says, if the public have elected the mayor, they should be able to remove the mayor. It would be wrong to provide that those who are elected on a different mandate can remove the mayor.

I have some sympathy with the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) that there should be a review. The system is new, and there may be lessons that we can learn from London and other cities over the coming years. However, the proposal that we are considering is dangerous. Given the nature of politics and the views that have been expressed in the debate, the provision could be used maliciously for party political ends. It is not in the interests of London, Londoners or our mayoral system.

Mr. Randall

Logic is not one of the hon. Gentleman's strong points, but perhaps he recalls that, during the many happy hours in Committee, the Conservative party proposed that the populace, as he puts it, could remove the mayor by petition. Given his reasons for opposing Lords amendment No. 1., why did he vote against our proposal?

Mr. Gapes

I did so for the good reason that a petition signed by Mickey Mouse or Colonel Blimp, or whoever the Conservative party puts up, is not the best way forward. "Petitionitis" politics, which is more typical of the anoraks on the Liberal Democrat Benches than the Conservative party, is not the way forward.

Mr. McDonnell

Speaking as someone who was there during the GLC period, coups or not, I can inform the House that a petition was presented to the House, asking the previous Government to abandon their abolition proposals. The Conservative party ignored that petition. It is therefore ironic that it is now calling for petitions. I went through the petition personally to remove all the Mickey Mouse and Ronald Reagan signatories. It was a genuine petition, organised in order to preserve the GLC, which the Conservatives ignored.

Mr. Gapes

I am grateful for that information. I remember banging on doors in my hon. Friend's constituency to get him re-elected—in a campaign of which the Conservatives thought so much they did not even put up candidates.

I shall not delay the House any longer. [Interruption.] I might speak again later, if hon. Members want me to do so. I hope that the House votes against Lords amendment No. 1 and supports the Government.

Mr. Ottaway

We are discussing how an unfit mayor can be removed from office. I agree with the Minister—the locum for this afternoon—that the amendment does not provide the right way of doing it. With only 19 people having the matter in the palm of their hand, it would be too easy for the mayor to manipulate them. One could easily buy off eight or 10 people. It would also be possible for political parties to gang up against an independent mayor—there could quite easily be one—for purely political reasons rather than because he was unfit.

3.30 pm

That, however, is the limit of my agreement with the Minister. I believe that the amendment is right in principle. As my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) said, we proposed in Committee a recall petition. There are many other approaches—there are a lot of ways of skinning a cat—but if one is considering the fundamental issue of the mayor's competence to do the job for which he was elected, the fact that half a million people agree about his not being up to it and that the principle is enshrined in legislation should be good enough to force the mayor to submit himself to re-election or to stand down.

That principle is widely used in the United States of America, where there are directly elected mayors, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said. The Government, however, propose that there should be no principle whatever. A local authority can dismiss its leader with no trouble at all. We had the example of the coup led by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) against Lord McIntosh after the 1981 election—when my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) was a candidate, I believe.

It is easy to remove a sitting leader. The Prime Minister can be removed. Lord Callaghan was removed by the House of Commons and Baroness Thatcher by her own party. In Europe, the Commission was effectively sacked, although its members chose to resign. In the United States, President Clinton survived the impeachment proceedings and President Nixon decided that he could not survive the Watergate proceedings.

Those were principles enshrined in legislation for the good of the Executive, but there is nothing comparable in the Bill. The Assembly could be unanimous—that had no effect in Wales, when the Agriculture Minister was censured—and there could be unanimous motions of both Houses of Parliament, and indeed every psychiatrist in Harley street could declare the mayor insane, but nothing could be done about it. That is a matter for grave concern.

There are proposals in the local government White Paper for directly elected mayors for councils. I believe that surveys show that nearly 90 per cent. of councils are against the proposals, because they know that they will not be able to get rid of the bloke if they lose confidence in him.

The Minister spoke of two principles allowing the mayor the authority to continue. The first was his electoral mandate. That is not a good enough reason, as a mayor could come to office on the crest of a wave, squeaky clean, and incidents could happen thereafter. I thought that the Minister was going to say that there are no fewer than 270 powers reserved to the Secretary of State in the Bill. The Government are so worried that the hon. Member for Brent, East might be elected that we called those provisions Livingstone clauses. The Minister then said that the Assembly had powers to scrutinise, to highlight and to veto the budget. Those powers could not deal with a corrupt mayor. I believe the point about the mandate to be irrelevant and disingenuous.

The Minister's second point was that there were provisions for conditions in which an unfit mayor could be removed. One of those was if the mayor is convicted and sentenced to three months or more in prison. That is a pretty unlikely scenario. For a start, it could take a year or more to convict the mayor, and he could continue in office during that time. There is a huge credibility gap in the principles outlined by the Minister.

I spoke earlier of Ministers who had resigned during this Parliament. One resigned as a result of an error of judgment on Clapham common—that was not a criminal offence, so there was no question of a conviction—and another resigned because he failed to disclose a loan from a building society while his own Department was investigating the man who had made him another loan. Comparable circumstances would be justification for the mayor to be declared unfit for office, but the difference is that the Ministers resigned because they knew that they would otherwise be sacked, but the mayor is untouchable and could not be sacked.

One could come up with numerous examples of people being unfit but having the power to continue. In my judgment, a mayor should not have powers without checks and balances. No mayor should be able to continue unchecked, and the Government do not have the right to do what is wrong.

Mr. Bermingham

I did not serve in Committee on the Bill but I have listened to the arguments on whether the ultimate sanction of giving the Assembly the power to dismiss the mayor should be in the Bill. The arguments in favour are superficially attractive but do not take us very far. To put it mildly, such a sanction is unfair. The mayor is elected by the electorate of the whole city and serves for four years. He has certain powers and employs certain people: the council employees, presumably, who will run the authority. This massive Bill, which has changed shape several times as I have followed its progress from a distance, sets the precedent for the major cities of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield, so one wants to see how it will develop.

Should the ultimate sanction be in the hands of the Assembly or of the electorate? I say the latter: he who gives must have the power to take away. The Assembly is elected on a different franchise and serves in a different way. One can foresee a wholly independent mayor faced with an Assembly, elected in the two-stage process of constituency members and top-up members, that does not like him. Under the amendment, that Assembly could dismiss that independent, elected mayor. That would not be right. The argument would then, of course, be that the electorate could do something in due course—but that would create a hiatus and a period of disturbance.

The other side of the argument asks the question, "What if we have a wrong 'tin as mayor?" Bringing in personalities would do the argument no service, so leaving out all such arguments, why would we want to get rid of a mayor? If he had gone mad, section 28 and the other restraining sections of the Mental Health Act 1983 would give us more than enough powers to certify him, and that would take him out, just as it would anybody else in public office—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) says that does not work in here. I have thought about that on many occasions, but I have never had the courage to find two psychiatrists to certify the many Ministers, regardless of political party, whom I have wanted to have certified over the years. If I had had the courage to do so, I might have been able to prove that the mechanism worked here.

If a person is in prison for three months or more, that person is pretty obviously a crook. Of course, people have to face the allegations and the horrendous "News of the Screws" exposés that are published against politicians of all parties all the time. The mud sometimes sticks—although some of it is totally unjustified, and the beneficiary usually walks away clinking the coins in his pocket for the rest of his life. We have the sanction, the counter-sanction and the remedy.

What would a mayor have to do for people to want to throw him out? Probably he would have to be incompetent. That is probably the mischief that the amendment seeks to chase, but it is not needed. If a mayor is incompetent, that starts to show up, as it does when a council leader loses his or her way. Fellow councillors begin to notice and worry about it, as do the chief executive and the employees. Once the chief executive and the other employees begin to see that someone has lost the plot, they begin to react, and the press begins to publish.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Does the hon. Gentleman accept the fact that, as far as I know, all forms of local government have an annual meeting, and the leaders, the mayors and the other office bearers are elected annually? There is an annual sanction against somebody who does not want to go. However, with the London mayor there is only a four yearly sanction, and someone can do a lot of damage in three years.

Mr. Bermingham

I served on a council that threw the leader out half way through the year—or perhaps that happened just after my time. That has happened on many authorities.

At local government level the sanction is always there. With the new Assembly and the new mayor, people might be after the mayor simply because he was incompetent. When I intervened earlier in the speech by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)—I thank the hon. Gentleman for letting me do so—I was trying to point out that the pressure of public opinion often drives out incompetents.

I rely on the Minister to correct me later if I am wrong, but I think that under the Bill, once that degree of incompetence builds up and is demonstrated, the executive and the Assembly will have the power to isolate the wrong decisions made by the mayor. The mayor does not personally go down and run the tube trains or exercise the various economic powers. He employs people to do that for him and follow his instructions.

Local government employees in general are liable and can be sued for negligence if they wilfully follow a path that they know to be contrary to the interests of the local authority. As I understand the Bill, the employees of the Assembly of the Greater London Authority are also in that position. If I am wrong, most of what I have said in the past few minutes is rubbish, but if I am right, the sanction and the corrective are there.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam)

One of the problems with the hon. Gentleman's line of argument is that many of the people who will be discharging the functions of the mayor will have been appointed by the mayor—such as the chairmen of the boards, the members of the executive boards that will discharge and oversee the works, and the deputy mayor. All the people who the hon. Gentleman says would turn against the mayor are the mayor's place persons.

Mr. Bermingham

The chief executives of Sheffield city council and Birmingham city council are appointed by the committees of the council, but they are employees of the councils themselves. The same is true of the Assembly. The mayor may select the employees, but the employees are employed by the authority. Therefore the rules on negligent behaviour apply equally to them.

Much as one would like to think that this world is full of cronies, it is not. A good employer employs the best people, and I would be staggered if the employees of the Assembly were not thought to be the best that could be found. The Assembly will not go in for jobs for the boys and girls. If it does, the fiercest of all rows will break out in this place. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) might be the first on his feet screaming about what had happened, but he would probably lose the race by about 30 seconds to me, because I would be here screaming even more loudly.

Mr. Burstow

But when the Bill becomes an Act, speaking in this place will not enable us to get the mayor to resign on such grounds—unless we legislate again.

Mr. Bermingham

Then I go back to the old saying about the fuel of publicity. I finish where I started. This is not a necessary amendment; powers exist and the remedies are there, so the Bill does not need it.

3.45 pm
Sir Sydney Chapman

We are discussing two of the 820 Lords amendments that we have to deal with, and the Leader of the House told us earlier that she intended to introduce a guillotine some time on Monday. I realise that trying to deal with all those amendments is trying to put a gallon into a thimble, but it would still be helpful for the House to know the size of the thimble. Do the Government intend the guillotine to fall at 7 o'clock on Monday, or 10 o'clock? That could be the difference between having nine hours to discuss the amendments and having 12 hours. The Government at least owe it to democracy in some form to let us know how long we will have. I have a high regard for the Minister, and I hope that he will tell us as soon as possible.

Mr. Simon Hughes

May I help the hon. Gentleman? My understanding is—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. We are dealing with one group of amendments. It is not our concern now to worry about what we have done or failed to do. We can concern ourselves only with the amendments before us.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I entirely accept what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I think that I made an important point.

I support Lords amendments Nos. 1 and 6, and will therefore vote against the Government motions to disagree. I accept, however, that this is a question of balance. I served on the Standing Committee, and I think that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) who introduced the amendment for a call-in petition. I followed his arguments closely, but I have had time to reflect on our debates in Committee, and I now veer towards saying that a vote of no confidence would be a better and more practical method than a call-in petition.

I do not need to go into all the detail, but although when we are dealing with such matters the expense is not the only consideration, I now believe that the mechanisms and the expense would be somewhat cumbersome and arbitrary.

I can be much briefer than I originally intended now, because most of the points have already been made and I can simply allude to them. It is true that the mayor and the Assembly will have separate powers and responsibilities, but they will be interactive. For example, the Assembly is responsible for scrutinising the mayor's decisions and actions. To put it another way, it will be the duty of the Assembly to hold the mayor to account for his actions.

The Bill will create a precedent and will possibly be a model for extending to other cities the principle of elected mayors. Therefore, we owe it to the country, let alone Londoners, to get this issue right. There are two options for removing the mayor—the first is by petition and the other is by a vote of no confidence. I prefer the latter.

We can argue about the number of votes that would be needed for a no confidence motion to be successful. Personally, I would not favour a requirement for fewer than 19 of the 25 members of the Assembly. I would also not favour a requirement for unanimity, because the mayor will appoint the deputy mayor, who might feel that he owes an especial loyalty to the mayor. Whether the figure is 19, 20, 21 or 22 is a matter for debate.

Serious charges could be made against the mayor that are not covered by section 28 of the Mental Health Act 1959—I know that the Minister is more familiar with section 106 agreements and town and country planning legislation—but that would require the mayor to resign in the interests of Londoners. Clauses 13 and 14 cover the issue, but in the case of clause 13 only if the mayor fails to attend six consecutive meetings of the Assembly. Clause 14 covers criminal offences.

Parallels exist abroad for ways to deal with the matter. The mayor will have a high profile and a dominant personality, at least within greater London, and the safeguard against the abuse of an option to remove him through a vote of no confidence supported by at least 75 per cent. of members of the Assembly is the good sense and political intuition of Londoners. Given the fragility of my majority, I wish to point out that all my constituents are extremely sensible and politically "with it". However, that might explain why I have only a wafer-thin majority.

I commend the Lords amendments to the House and I hope that Labour Members will realise that they are not a cobbled-together machination between the two main Opposition parties. I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House genuinely believe that this issue should be tackled.

Mr. Edward Davey

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman), who makes his case forcefully. I agree with everything that he said. It is a pleasure also to be able to welcome the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who is now in his place; I wonder whether he will give the House his views on the amendment. I hope that he will tell the House that, if he were to be elected to the great office of mayor, he would not be afraid of democratic censure. I hope that he feels that he would be able to meet any vote in the Assembly by argument and would not need statutory protection against a vote of censure.

The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) is unfortunately no longer in his place, but he made an important point when he said that the Lords amendment was not needed because the power of the press and public pressure could be used to keep the mayor in line. The reality is that however the press attack the mayor—and whatever views the Assembly members or employees have of the mayor—he can still refuse to go. That is the whole point of the amendment. However much bile is poured on the mayor by the press, he can stay put.

If the amendment is not accepted, the danger is that the mayor may be the subject of a groundless attack but would have no protection. The amendment would ensure that a tabloid-led campaign to try to get rid of a mayor who had done nothing wrong could be answered by Assembly members who, by defeating a vote of no confidence, could say, "Case not proven." It would provide protection against scurrilous press campaigns against a democratically elected politician and as such the Government should support it.

The main reason why the Government should support the amendment is because of its effects on the Brent, East question. We have had the West Lothian question in connection with the Scottish Parliament, we have had the Cardiff, West question in connection with the Welsh Assembly and now we have the Brent, East question. I submit that the Lords amendment would provide a solution to the Brent, East question. It would help to solve the Government's Ken conundrum. Even at this late stage and given their problems in this area, they would be wise to consider whether the amendment might help them to dig themselves out of the hole that they are in.

The Brent, East question is a problem for the Government, whose reasoning is, "If Ken is not on the ballot paper, Labour party members and Londoners will hate us, but if he is, he may win and embarrass us." If one considers those two dangerous outcomes for the Government, one can see why the amendments would be in the Labour party's interest. The option of keeping the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) off the ballot paper is a lose-lose situation—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not going to discuss selections or ballot papers, because my understanding of the amendment is that it covers the situation after the mayor is elected. The hon. Gentleman should keep to that issue.

Mr. Davey

My remarks are aimed at ensuring that the mayor will be democratically held to account and that the Government accept the measure that will assist that process. If the hon. Member for Brent, East were not on the ballot paper, the Government would be in a lose-lose situation after the election. They would have alienated their party in London, and Londoners. If the hon. Gentleman decided to run as an independent candidate, the Government would still lose out. However, it seems as though the Government will pursue that lose-lose situation.

If the Government were to accept the amendment and allow Londoners and the GLA Assembly the ability to ensure democratic accountability, that would be a win-win situation. If the hon. Member for Brent, East were to be allowed to stand and became the mayor, the outbreak of democracy would curry favour with the London Labour party—a win for the Government. It would restore credibility to the Labour party's proposals among the electorate—another win—and even if the hon. Gentleman were elected, the Assembly could keep him in check. That is the answer to the Brent, East question and the way out of the Government's hole. Assuming the role of a political risk analyst, I offer that last-minute solution to the Government. The argument may not persuade Liberal Democrat Members, as it is not in our interests to help the Government get out of the hole, but I occasionally like to be helpful.

4 pm

Mr. McDonnell

I wish to raise a point with the hon. Gentleman, really out of a personal grudge. He is concerned about democratic accountability, but why was he absent when the House voted on the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill the other night? Why was his—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going far too wide of the amendment.

Mr. Davey

Although I am tempted, I know that you would rule me out of order if I responded to the hon. Gentleman now, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall be more than happy to speak to him afterwards.

The Government have put forward against the amendment no concrete, constitutional argument that holds water. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, we are used to votes of no confidence in British political institutions—that is how our various democratic institutions have evolved. However, the change introduced by the Bill is that that is not to be allowed in the new GLA. The Government may well say that that is the point: the GLA is a new body, so it is right that it be different from the institutions that have existed before.

Given the shenanigans that are going on, that is a doubtful claim, but let us take it at face value. When I asked the Minister whether the Government had learned from the experience in other countries and cities when they adopted this new model, he was unable to give me a single example from elsewhere in the world of the new type of institution that the Government want to introduce into Britain that did not have a democratic safeguard.

That failure speaks volumes. I should be more than happy to give way to the Minister if he would like to intervene with an example of the sort that I seek. However, the fact that he does not want to intervene suggests that no such example exists.

Therefore, the Government will be introducing a unique form of mayoral government, which has never been experienced before. Again, the Government might claim that they have designed a new form of Government that has been tailored especially to London's unique features. We heard various weak arguments like that during the Committee proceedings.

However, it is odd that, at the end of the 20th century, Britain's new Labour Government should be able to find a new form of democracy that has not been invented before. In that form of democracy, a great deal of power will reside in one person's hands but cannot be checked by a democratically elected body between elections.

What is so unique about the new authority and about London's political culture that would justify that lack of democratic accountability? What can explain the Government's position? So far, they have offered no explanation themselves, so I shall hypothesise.

Perhaps the answer has to do with the powers of the Secretary of State. Those hon. Members who have been involved with the Bill all the way through got used to the assertion that the Secretary of State should have reserve powers to prevent the mayor from doing things that the Government of the day did not like. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions was not voted into office by Londoners, so it would not be democratic to allow him oversight of the mayor's activities.

However, the problem is worse than that: in the case that we are debating today, those powers do not even exist. The Government have not performed even their usual trick and reserved for the Secretary of State the power to kick out the mayor. I hasten to add that I do not suggest that they should do that, as that would really expose the weaknesses and undemocratic nature of the institutions that the Government are establishing, but the logic of such an approach is typical of their attitude to other elements of the Bill.

When this amendment was debated in another place, it was argued that the fierce nature of party politics could lead to gridlock. It was stated that parties could gang up on the mayor, and that the repeated hiatuses so caused would render the new Authority unable to govern London properly.

The proposal to impose democratic accountability takes account of that problem because it is based on a qualified majority. I would encourage the Government if they were to argue that that qualified majority should be higher. That would be a fair argument, but the point is that such devices exist to prevent procedural abuses that could render institutions powerless. The Government could bring forward their own device, and the fact that they have not is incredibly worrying.

It is odd that a mayor should be allowed to continue if he or she were unable to command the support of only seven or more Assembly members. It would be bizarre for a mayor to have so little support. I doubt that the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras would be happy if he could not rely on the support of at least seven Authority members so that he could stay on as mayor.

I fear that the Government's opposition to the amendment is based on their conviction, when they put the Bill together, that their candidate was certain to win. They believed that the mayor would be one of theirs, a Labour party member who was signed up to the new, Blairite project, so they did not worry about putting in place the safeguards that we have discussed. However, events have shown the error of the Government's original thinking. By now—after the experiences in Wales and Scotland—one would have thought that the Government would have learned from their mistakes and looked for another solution.

Although the Government appear to be trying to rig procedures and prevent other people from standing, recent history should have told them that the best laid plans can go awry. I suggest that the Government find a new faith and trust in democracy. They should not allow the mayor of London to be an untouchable, but should make sure that he or she can be brought to account.

Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster)

I shall keep my remarks brief. This debate has been similar to the debate in Committee on the same subject. Disappointingly, in their support for the amendment, Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members have concentrated on narrow party political issues rather than on the issue that we are discussing.

Throughout the consideration of the Bill, the Opposition have often appeared to misunderstand the nature of the balance between the Assembly and the mayor. That misunderstanding was evident again in the contribution from the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey).

Clause 14 sets out a number of ways in which the mayor could be removed. Additional powers are available if the mayor were to act ultra vires, and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) did the House a service when he referred to them.

Two methods of removing the mayor have been considered—by petition or by vote of confidence. What are the respective benefits of those systems? Clearly, the House of Lords has not considered the petition option suggested in Committee by Conservative Members. The debate in Committee exposed the several disefficiencies involved in having a petition and a recall.

By contrast, one has to ask whether a confidence motion, such as we are considering this evening, would mean that Assembly members would in effect take away from the mayor the authority and the mandate that he or she received from the population of London. Given that such a change of power would be quite possible, the confidence motion option would be unfair. The House must therefore consider whether the Bill would give the proposed Assembly sufficient powers to protect Londoners. My view is that there are—not only are there the powers set out in clause 14 and the other statutory provisions, but there is the power of the Assembly to challenge the mayor and his strategy in a number of ways, and the power to examine the financial settlement. Those are the considerable powers that will be open to the Assembly, as well as public debate.

Mr. Randall

I agree that we should be looking at the principle. Would the hon. Gentleman support the principle that the people of London should be able to remove the mayor in office? If so, that is the case that the Minister made in Committee.

Mr. Darvill

If one supports that principle—the Conservatives have advanced it only through a recall petition—one must consider and debate the number of signatures that would be required for the recall and how one would authenticate the petition. There are massive practical difficulties. The hon. Gentleman asked whether I am in favour in principle, but the principle has to be backed up by the practicality of putting that into effect in legislation. On balance, my view is that such legislation would be unwieldy. It would certainly lead to the destabilisation of the mayoralty and the governance of London so it would hinder the governance of London.

Mr. Randall

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman will agree, but I find it disappointing that despite the length of time that has been spent on the Bill—it has been Labour party policy for some time—a suitable method has not yet been thought of and that is why it will not be included in the legislation. Although the hon. Gentleman does not agree with some of the suggestions, does he agree that there should be some mechanism for removing the mayor and that we should have had something by now?

Mr. Darvill

With respect, there are ways in which the mayor could be disqualified. Many hon. Members have made no reference to those provisions in advancing their ideas. Some scurrilous attacks have been made on various people, but that is no justification. When one looks at the debit and credit columns of the argument, one has to take into account all the credits and then see whether there is a weakness.

There is no perfect constitution. There is always a balance between democracy and the ability to govern, whether in a country, a region or a city. There has to be that balance. In this proposal for an elected mayor and Assembly, we are for the first time vesting executive power in a mayor. If that mayor is to operate properly, he or she cannot constantly be open to a vote of confidence. The Bill provides that the mayor will go up for election every four years and that seems sufficient. For that reason, I urge the House to reject the Lords amendments.

4.15 pm
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

I do not represent Greater London so I hesitate to take part in this debate, but it is an important constitutional matter. We are creating a uniquely powerful post. For some years I was both a London borough councillor and a member of the Greater London council—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Before my hon. Friends cheer too much, I should say that I voted against the abolition of the GLC. I also voted against the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill earlier this week, as I did not consider it sufficiently democratic. Therefore, I have some credentials in arguing for a democratic framework for Greater London government.

We are creating an extraordinarily powerful post. People are only just waking up to how influential the mayor will be. Ultimately, the Government will always be able to control the purse strings, but the mayor will be the only official to be elected by 8 million people. Therefore, he or she will have an enormous reservoir of political influence, and that may explain what is happening in the Labour party. The person who is finally elected to be mayor of London in the spring may well be either an independent candidate or a candidate who is independent of the Government albeit of the same party, without getting into the question of personalities. So there is room for enormous political controversy. That is why I support the Government to a certain extent on this amendment. We are creating a unique institution.

I accept the Government's argument that the mayor will be elected by a certain form of representation—voting—and the Assembly will be elected completely differently. We do not want to create a situation in which there is constant controversy and members of the Assembly feel that if a certain number of them gang up—whether 10, 15 or even 19—they can remove the mayor. I have considerable sympathy with the Government's view. We want the mayor to have the powers and the political independence, not to feel that he is the plaything of politicians. To that extent, I accept what the Minister has said.

I also agree with some of the arguments made in the debate. There is no perfect way to remove a directly elected official. The Minister is on weaker ground as regards the experience in the rest of the world. As numerous contributors to the debate have said, there is no example of any directly elected official, as far as I am aware—whether a president or a mayor—who cannot be removed by a democratic assembly. That is a matter of some concern.

Incidentally, I do not think that this situation is likely to arise. We have heard amusing comments about the mayor going insane or spending three months in prison, but that is unlikely. There has been some criticism of the candidates. We have one distinguished representative sitting in the Chamber. No one is seriously suggesting that he will go bonkers, whatever he may think of his opponents or potential opponents. That is not going to happen.

We all know the arithmetic in the House. The Government will get their way tonight and the amendment will go crashing down to defeat. That is the way the House works. The Minister is a fair-minded man and we much admire the way in which he has piloted this legislation through the House. I hope that he thinks that fair arguments have been made in this long debate, which we could mull over if we were thinking of creating mayors in other cities or if we revisited the legislation.

One could envisage a situation not in which the mayor is deemed to be insane under the Mental Health Acts or convicted of an offence, but in which London or any great city becomes ungovernable and the mayor for some reason simply loses the confidence of the people—we have heard the Mayor Barry example several times during the debate. There is no mechanism to deal with that.

Since the 18th century, when people have devised new constitutions they have always created systems in which there is a division of powers. Basically, there is always an executive or an executive office, a legislative office and a judicial office. There is a separation of powers between the three. All constitutions have some mechanism for legislators who are elected by the people to remove a chief executive who loses the confidence of the people for whatever reason.

In introducing the debate, the Minister alluded to the impeachment trial of President Clinton. He said that it was an abuse and that it showed how impeachment could be misused. As he knows, the American Senate rose above party politics. Although it was Republican dominated, it decided that there was no case for impeaching the President on the basis of high crimes and misdemeanours. Any directly elected assembly can rise above politics when dealing with such a situation. As far as I know, no American President has been successfully impeached. President Nixon resigned before the process started, President Clinton was not impeached and, in the previous century, President Jackson survived the trial.

Although all types of impeachment have their faults, surely it should be possible for the House to develop some mechanism, whether a recall procedure, a petition or a procedure by which a large portion of the Assembly has to vote for impeachment or no confidence or establish their case. Surely we are capable of developing some means by which a person in what will be a uniquely powerful directly elected office can be removed. That is all that we are asking, and the debate has proved that it is possible.

Mr. Wilshire

I am not wedded to this amendment, but we must have some provision to achieve what it attempts to do. It has been said that all the contributions from Opposition Members have sounded party political. Rather than joining in a party kick-about, I wish to focus on matters of principle to try and clarify the situation and thus persuade Labour Members to see the merits of our very valid case.

I consider the debate to be about accountability, and I suspect that most hon. Members would agree. Accountability and democracy are not the same thing, but the words have been used interchangeably by most previous speakers. One does not have to be elected to be accountable; even political accountability does not flow directly from the method of election, as some Labour Members have argued. Political accountability exists as a matter of principle, irrespective of the method of election. Even if we concede that there is an indirect link between accountability and the method of election and democracy, the link is not as simple as some have suggested.

The Minister stressed in his opening remarks—others have echoed the point—that there is direct political accountability between the post of mayor and the people of London. That may be stating the obvious, but it does not help us understand why an amendment of this sort is needed. Direct accountability between the mayor and the electors of London is as simple as the Minister wants us to believe only if there is no link of any sort to an Assembly. Once an Assembly is introduced, as the Bill provides, there is direct accountability between the mayor and the Assembly. There is no point in saying that it is nothing to do with the Assembly and that the Assembly will somehow trample on the mayor's accountability to the people of London. That is to misunderstand the concept of accountability and the political process.

We need to define accountability. A simple description that is frequently used is that it means hiring and firing. That is not necessarily the best definition, but as it always comes to mind, it is worth pursuing. As the Bill stands, the electorate hire the mayor, but they cannot fire him until the end of the four-year term. If hiring and firing is a reasonable description of accountability, the current method is both flawed and dangerous. If I were to be a successful candidate for the post of mayor of London, and I had no intention of seeking a second term of office, I could run amok. I could go out of control for four years because I would fear nothing. A one-term mayor would not be accountable to the electorate.

Under the Bill, the electorate cannot fire the mayor, except at the end of four years. It follows that somebody, or something, must have the power to fire the mayor if the post is to be truly accountable. If the electorate do not do the firing, the Assembly is the only realistic alternative. I consider it logistically impractical to use any of the methods that have been suggested to enable the electorate to get rid of the mayor. Even if we did, the arguments of perverseness would apply just as much to the electorate as the Assembly.

It would also be wrong in principle to allow the electorate to fire the mayor. If we think through the concept of hiring and firing, it will become obvious why we should focus on the Assembly. Hiring and firing is too slick and simplistic a phrase to describe any part of the political process. Accountability involves more than hiring people and firing them if they are unsuitable. It involves giving the hired person work to do and checking to ensure that it has been done; and if the work is not satisfactory, the person can then be fired.

Apparently, criticism sometimes works. We have heard this afternoon that sometimes if people are criticised enough, they will get the message and go away; but sometimes pigs will fly before that happens, so criticism is not a practical sanction. Neither is censure. It is all very well to allow people to pass a vote of no confidence, and then, lo and behold, through some mystical process, the mayor goes away. He might, but there is no guarantee.

There seems only one practical sanction to deal with all the problems that have been mentioned this afternoon—that is, to remove the mayor from office. That brings me back to the point that somebody must have the power to fire a mayor who has transgressed. The Bill makes no provision for that; it provides only that a court can remove the mayor in specific circumstances, or the electorate after four years. That is the Government's argument.

In fairness to the Minister, I have some sympathy with his point about the petty and perverse use of such a power. I also have some sympathy with the argument that it is possible to overrule a mandate if the Assembly goes too far. Those are valid points, but neither is an argument for having no sanction; they are arguments for accepting a different amendment that guards against what the Minister is concerned about.

The Minister also said that he was worried that if we granted this power, it would make the mayor subordinate to the Assembly, whereas the Government want the mayor to be subordinate to no one but the electorate—but only after four years. But if there is no accountability on a day-to-day basis, the mayor is out of control.

4.30 pm

I am not wedded to the Lords amendment but I hope that the House, like me, is prepared to consider an alternative such as a bigger majority or defining the circumstances so that the power is limited. The Minister used the example of perverseness. In the case of President Clinton, the perverse activity seemed to be misuse of a cigar. It should not be beyond the wit of even this Government to frame an amendment to the Lords amendment to rule out the improper use of cigars as a ground for impeachment. However, that would not breach the principle that there have to be some such grounds.

The Government's logic is deeply flawed. If they want to use perverseness as the reason for opposing the amendment, where does that argument end? If the electorate to whom the Minister wants us to turn were so perverse as to vote for someone of whom the Government did not approve, would they use the same argument and say, "This is perverse, so we should not have elections because the power that we have given the electorate is not being used in the way we want"?

My neighbour, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), argued that it would be sensible to leave it for now, see how we get on, and review the situation once we have a mayor. I would rather suffer from the perverse use of the power in the amendment than have a mayor who ran amok without any control.

Mr. Wilkinson

What is noteworthy about this debate is that so few London Labour Members have seen fit to participate in it. It is true that the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has given his aide-de-camp, the Minister for Housing and Planning, leave from his day job to come to the House and that we had a spirited intervention from the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes). I see a great future for him as a Labour Whip, rather like the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty). The hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) made a conscientious contribution, as we would expect from an assiduous member of the Standing Committee.

The fact is that the Labour party in London, in its heart of hearts, realises that this stinks. The Government are prepared to have a mayor in office with no proper check, balance or effective sanction on the exercise of his power. That is typical of the Labour party today. It is an utterly undemocratic party and wishes to institutionalise autocracy in the capital. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) put it well. It is a shameful process because Labour could foist an unpopular candidate on the people of London who may then find himself in office.

The characteristics needed to win high-profile election campaigns such as that for the mayoralty are not necessarily those needed for good, effective, conscientious, trustworthy government. A high-profile personality may be great for winning elections but it remains to be seen whether such personalities can avoid letting the excitements of office go to their heads. The opportunities for abuse of the mayoralty's powers are manifold. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) said, they are perhaps greater than those for any public servant in our constitutional history apart from the Prime Minister. I was struck by what was said by two highly independent and senior Conservative Members, my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) and for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire). Not having had to sit through the Committee, they come late to this debate, but, from their objective perspective, they understand the real danger that the mayor may abuse his power.

The British political system is noteworthy for its powers of patronage. They typify the goings-on in this place, which are being institutionalised in the reform of the other place that will be completed by the end of next week. Such cronyism seems all set to be institutionalised in London, too. The people of London need to check it, and ensure that there is no abuse. The men and women whom they elect to the Assembly will be seen by the electors as the custodians and guardians of their interests. Fourteen will have constituencies and will represent local interests. The other 11 will purport to represent the interests of London as a whole, although we know that, because of the closed lists by which they are chosen, they will represent more the interests of political parties.

The Londoners who elect the Assembly men and women do not wish them to be paper tigers. They would not imagine that the men and women whom they put into the Assembly would have the power only to question the mayor once a month and comment on mayoral strategies for transport or spatial development. They do not expect the biannual people's question time to be much more than a political circus and media event. The serious examination of the performance and character of the mayor in office is surely the proper role for an elected democratic Assembly for London. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras laughs, but these are serious issues and are so regarded by the people of London.

Mr. Bermingham

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Assembly doing its job properly by questioning and holding to account the mayor, day in and day out, is how the checks and balances in the system will work?

Mr. Wilkinson

No, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne made so eminently clear, unless there is an ultimate power to fire him, a high-profile, aggressive self-confident mayor may think that it is all made for him, especially if he may not wish to stand again at the end of his four years. He may have become cosy with the construction companies and too familiar with other business interests so that he does not care a jot or tittle for criticism. He will press on regardless, conscious that he will earn a good pension and hopeful of being put on the board of big companies. He will feather his nest. Any publicity is food and drink to the media-hungry big personalities who may vie for the office.

I listened with great attention to the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), who brings much legal and local government expertise to this debate. However, I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne: unless the Assembly can fire the mayor, it will prove to be a paper tiger. That would not only demean the Assembly but diminish the credibility of the authority as a whole. It is a binary system, and unless both parts work effectively, it will not carry authority.

I forgot to mention the contribution of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell). I should have because it was exceptionally thoughtful. He brings more local government experience—or would new Labour call it baggage—to our debates than most Labour Members. The hon. Gentleman uttered many serious words of caution. He showed plainly that he was not satisfied that there should be no power to remove the mayor. He did not believe that it was feasible politically to implement the amendment. Of course, arithmetically it is not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough pointed out. From the point of view of the hon. Gentleman's career, it is not worth sticking his neck out and voting against the Government. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) made it plain in his earliest intervention in proceedings on the Bill, I think on Second Reading, that, if he voted against the Government, he would be deselected, and that he therefore would not do so.

We must understand that autocracy is being imposed in London and that the Labour party has scant regard for democracy in London and the rest of the country. If the binary system is to work effectively, the mayor will have to co-operate, and work hand in glove, with the Assembly. They should be as one. The mayor should welcome consultation. He should be given an incentive to consult, in the knowledge that, if he upsets the Assembly, which is made up of elected representatives like him, his future could be on the line. That is the kind of democracy that the people of London expect and to which any objective observer would believe that the people of London or any great capital city are entitled. The tragedy is that the Labour party will not provide it.

Mr. Waterson

This has been a fascinating debate. It was especially fascinating to see the Minister for Housing and Planning drop in and explain to us that he was not really here; that he is a sort of virtual Minister for these purposes.

I express my pleasure at seeing the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) here. He is obviously expecting a rough campaign because I see that he has recruited a stunt double. I do not know whether wearing a beard is a requirement of his campaign, but it seems to be quite common among members of the team. It is good of the right hon. Gentleman and some of his team to fill up the Chamber, no doubt taking time off from the arduous sending of identical letters to people about the campaign.

The debate has done credit to the House. It has been extremely wide ranging. I do not have time to go through in detail the points that have been made. The speech of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was useful in highlighting what I have called the Mayor Barry parallel. If there is no power to deal with a mayor who kicks over the traces and loses the plot, how on earth is any control to be exercised except, as he pointed out, perhaps by the media? The errant mayor would simply be hounded from office by the press.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) expressed sensible reservations about the legislation, but I parted company with him on his suggestion that the issue could be dealt with later on. It would be a nightmare to have to deal with the problem when it had arisen and we had a mayor who was out of control or facing criminal or other investigations.

The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) seems obsessed with the notion of coups on the GLC. He reminded me of the quote: Treason doth never prosper, what's the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason. It is a coup if one is losing and not a coup if one is winning. I noted that he stumbled across the central issue. If one does not have the ability to stage a coup, as happened to the former leader of the GLC, how is one to make a mayor who is behaving badly stand down?

4.45 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Bill, at least in the shape in which it left the House some months ago, had some penetrating things to say about it. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) made some interesting comments on the proposals. My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) spoke of the good sense of Londoners, and that will be brought into play if the amendment is not accepted by the Government. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) had a lot to say on votes of confidence and so on. From what I can gather, with the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) claiming to lead his party outside Parliament, perhaps his own leader will face a vote of confidence fairly soon.

The hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) talked about protecting Londoners, but surely the Government's attitude to the Bill would principally protect a mayor, and a bad mayor at that. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) rightly referred to international comparisons. My hon. Friends the Members for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) respectively, talked about the need for accountability and the autocracy of the Government, as displayed by the Bill.

On any view, we need a mechanism for removing a mayor on the grounds of dishonesty, any other serious misbehaviour, if he has forfeited the support of the Assembly, or if he has just lost the plot generally. There have to be mechanisms for removing him or her. In other places such as Los Angeles, mechanisms exist to remove the Mayor by petition or otherwise.

Much time was spent on the attempts to impeach the President of the United States for high crimes and misdemeanours, but saying that the US system is hopelessly flawed is not a good argument against introducing an equivalent system here, but one that works. With due respect to the Minister, the principal charge against the President was perjury. Surely even the Minister would not suggest that a mayor guilty of perjury should continue in office.

The amendments have moved away from the so-called nuclear option described in the other place, but there is no provision for votes of confidence. If a Prime Minister loses a vote of confidence, he resigns, but constitutionally he does that because there is a higher authority—the Queen. There is no higher authority in London under the legislation than the mayor. The mayor would join the select band, which includes His Holiness the Pope and the Grand Mufti, of people who simply cannot be sacked by anyone, at least on this earth. If the mayor lost touch with reality and barricaded himself in his bunker, convinced that he was right and everyone else was wrong, there would be nothing that could be done about it.

We think that the proposal strikes the right balance; 80 per cent. seems to be a reasonable proportion. If the Government felt that they could accept the principle—even though they have not yet done so—but achieve it differently, we should welcome their proposals.

The Government's basic position is that the matter should be left to the ballot box in due course and, if appropriate, to the law in the meantime. However, we all know that the law can take a long time; in America, arguments are deployed that a sitting president should not even have to face legal action until he has left office. Similar arguments could be deployed in this country.

The Government's only other argument against the proposal is that other parties would somehow gang up on the hapless mayor, who enjoyed the wholehearted support of ordinary folk in London, and get rid of him as soon as he was elected. However, the hon. Member for Ilford, South—my former pair—pointed out that that could have happened under the old GLC; indeed, it did happen. It seems crazy and enormously risky for the Government to have no provision whatever to remove a mayor from office, except in severe circumstances.

If a legal case were brought against the mayor, it could well take the rest of his or her period of office for such a case to be resolved. That would be to take an enormous risk with the constitutional arrangements. It would be an enormous risk for the people of London and, for that reason, I urge the House to accept the amendments.

Mr. Raynsford

With the leave of the House, I shall make a few comments in response to a rather uneven debate. We have heard some thoughtful and interesting contributions from both sides of the House. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward), who speaks for the Opposition, chose, in his introductory remarks, to take an ill-judged, party political approach—including some extremely distasteful personal attacks on individuals. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), who must have been somewhat astonished to find himself included in the catalogue of supposed Labour extravagance and waste, made an astonishingly elegant riposte.

Mr. Brooke

I am grateful to the Minister for that last comment. However, does he agree that the animadversions about candidates in the mayoral election fell first from his lips, not from those of my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward)?

Mr. Raynsford

When I introduced the debate, I focused on the key issue—whether there should be a means for the Assembly to remove a mayor from office. I gave examples of when I thought that it would be inappropriate for that power to be available. I did not set out to impugn individuals in any way—except in one aside about one candidate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] It was an aside, referring to one gentleman whose past might well lead some people to conclude that the Conservatives have a strong reason for wanting a power of removal, to avoid embarrassment.

Mr. Brooke

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me again. Could he devise some system by which—while delivering speeches during the debates on the Bill—he could indicate whether an observation is substantive or an aside?

Mr. Raynsford

With his considerable experience of this place, the right hon. Gentleman knows the difference between an aside, delivered with a degree of humour, and an ill-judged, party political rant.

It is clear that there is no single model to which all Members of the House—or indeed all members of one political party—can sign up. Several different options have been considered and explored by various people, who have all concluded that no single model can be satisfactory. Whether we are talking about a framework for impeachment, or for a vote of no confidence, or to recall petitions, they are all subject to weaknesses. Those weaknesses were identified. The risk of abuse and of the demeaning of those powers—in the way that the American constitution was demeaned by the activities of those wanting the impeachment of President Clinton—provides a salutary reason why we should not lightly take that route.

The key question must be whether sufficient and satisfactory safeguards are in place. Are there sufficient and satisfactory phone cards—safeguards—

Mr. Woodward

Phone cards? [Laughter.]

Mr. Raynsford

The hon. Member for Witney, who revealed his ignorance by referring to "our city" earlier in the debate—presumably implying that he lives here and identifies more with London than with his own constituency—really should know better than to make such facile and juvenile contributions.

The key question is whether there are adequate safeguards to ensure that any mayor who acts improperly or incorrectly can be held to account. The answer is that, in our legislation, there are. Let me summarise them.

First, the mayor is subject to a rigorous system of accountability. He will have to account, on a monthly basis, to the Assembly; twice a year he will be subject to open questioning at people's question time; he will have an annual state of London debate—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) seems to regard a people's question time as beneath his dignity. I am sure that he would not expose himself to the electorate—[Interruption.] He would not expose himself to the scrutiny of the electorate—far from it. That is not his style. He would much prefer to hand down his views from on high and not be accountable at all.

Our framework allows for proper accountability. In addition to the explicit arrangements for accountability, as everyone knows, the mayor will be subject to regular scrutiny by the media and the public of London. There is also a budgetary provision under which the Assembly will have the power to veto the mayor's budget if it regards it as unsatisfactory. That provision is a safeguard against inappropriate spending, waste and abuse—[Interruption.] Opposition Members clearly do not wish to listen to the debate and are behaving in a childish manner—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I call on the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) to be quiet.

Mr. Raynsford

I was referring to the budgetary safeguards, which ensure that the mayor will be subject to proper scrutiny by the Assembly. The mayor's budget can be changed and overruled by the Assembly if the Assembly believes that the mayor is misusing his power.

Next, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) pointed out, there are the statutory officers, whose role in this Authority is the same as in any local authority. Finally, there is explicit provision in the legislation for the mayor to be removed from office if he is convicted of an offence, is bankrupt or is disqualified under the Representation of the People Act 1989 or by the Audit Commission.

The hon. Members for Witney and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) suggested that there could be circumstances in which the mayor was suspected of wrongdoing, but that wrongdoing could not be proved in a court. In such circumstances, they believe that it would be appropriate for the Assembly rather than the courts to remove the mayor.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I did not say that.

Mr. Raynsford

I am sorry, but if the hon. Gentleman looks at the record tomorrow, he will see that was the thrust of his remarks.

It is a dangerous constitutional principle that someone could be removed from office on the basis of suspicion about his or her actions, when those actions would not lead to a conviction in court. That is a dangerous route to go down.

Mr. Hughes

I have one simple question: why is it that everyone else in office—the First Minister in Scotland, the Prime Minister in England, Commissioners in Europe and mayors in local government—have constraints, restrictions, qualifications, and other people controlling what they do, yet, uniquely in any UK administration, the mayor of London cannot be removed by the Assembly of which he is part?

Mr. Raynsford

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be aware from our earlier debate that the clear distinction, in the case of the GLA, is that the mayor is separately elected by the people of London on a different mandate, and it is inappropriate for someone elected by the people of London to be removed by another group of people who do not have the same mandate. That is the principle. He and his colleagues asked about overseas experience. We looked carefully at that. We looked at the arrangements in Washington, where there is provision for Congress to appoint an official to take over responsibility for functions in that city as a result of the failure of its mayor. I doubt whether the Liberal Democrats would have been pleased if we had provided for the Secretary of State to have powers to intervene.

Washington, however, is just one model. In preparing the Bill, we discussed the matter with people in many parts of the world and their advice on this matter was, overwhelmingly, be very careful. Provisions for impeachment or recall may sound attractive, but they can be abused. The ability to abuse the system and, on the whim of a political grouping, remove a mayor who has been democratically elected by the people of London is a danger that we do not believe it is right to allow in the legislation.

The Liberal Democrats urged us to have faith in democracy. We have faith in democracy, and in the people of London. We are giving them back the right to elect their own mayor and Assembly. Only the people of London should be able to remove the mayor. That is a proper framework of accountability in a democratic structure. The people of London will elect the mayor, and only the people of London should be able to remove that mayor.

Question put, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 306, Noes 151.

Division No. 293] [5 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Davidson, Ian
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Ainger, Nick Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Dawson, Hilton
Alexander, Douglas Denham, John
Allen, Graham Dismore, Andrew
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Dobbin, Jim
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Austin, John Donohoe, Brian H
Banks, Tony Doran, Frank
Barnes, Harry Dowd, Jim
Barron, Kevin Drew, David
Battle, John Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Bayley, Hugh Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Beard, Nigel Edwards, Huw
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Efford, Clive
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Ellman, Mrs Louise
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Ennis, Jeff
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Etherington, Bill
Bennett, Andrew F Field, Rt Hon Frank
Bermingham, Gerald Fisher, Mark
Berry, Roger Fitzsimons, Lorna
Best, Harold Flint, Caroline
Betts, Clive Flynn, Paul
Blackman, Liz Follett, Barbara
Blears, Ms Hazel Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Blizzard, Bob Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Foulkes, George
Boateng, Paul Gapes, Mike
Borrow, David Gardiner, Barry
Bradley, Keith (Withington) George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Bradshaw, Ben Gerrard, Neil
Brinton, Mrs Helen Gibson, Dr Ian
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Godman, Dr Norman A
Buck, Ms Karen Godsiff, Roger
Burden, Richard Goggins, Paul
Butler, Mrs Christine Golding, Mrs Llin
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Cann, Jamie Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Caplin, Ivor Grogan, John
Casale, Roger Hain, Peter
Caton, Martin Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Cawsey, Ian Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Chaytor, David Hanson, David
Clapham, Michael Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Healey, John
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clelland, David Hepburn, Stephen
Clwyd, Ann Heppell, John
Coaker, Vernon Hesford, Stephen
Coffey, Ms Ann Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Colman, Tony Hill, Keith
Connarty, Michael Hinchliffe, David
Corbett, Robin Hodge, Ms Margaret
Corbyn, Jeremy Hoey, Kate
Corston, Ms Jean Hood, Jimmy
Cousins, Jim Hope, Phil
Cranston, Ross Hopkins, Kelvin
Crausby, David Howells, Dr Kim
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hoyle, Lindsay
Cummings, John Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Humble, Mrs Joan
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Hurst, Alan
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Iddon, Dr Brian
Darvill, Keith Illsley, Eric
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Pickthall, Colin
Jamieson, David Pike, Peter L
Jenkins, Brian Plaskitt, James
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Pope, Greg
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pound, Stephen
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Powell, Sir Raymond
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Keeble, Ms Sally Prosser, Gwyn
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Purchase, Ken
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Kemp, Fraser Quinn, Lawrie
Khabra, Piara S Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Kidney, David Raynsford, Nick
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Roche, Mrs Barbara
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Rooker, Jeff
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Rooney, Terry
Laxton, Bob Rowlands, Ted
Lepper, David Ruddock, Joan
Leslie, Christopher Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Levitt, Tom Ryan, Ms Joan
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Salter, Martin
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Sarwar, Mohammad
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Savidge, Malcolm
Linton, Martin Sawford, Phil
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Sedgemore, Brian
Love, Andrew Shaw, Jonathan
McAvoy, Thomas Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McCabe, Steve Shipley, Ms Debra
McCafferty, Ms Chris Short, Rt Hon Clare
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield) Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
McDonagh, Siobhain Skinner, Dennis
McDonnell, John Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McGuire, Mrs Anne Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McIsaac, Shona Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
MacShane, Denis Snape, Peter
Mactaggart, Fiona Soley, Clive
McWalter, Tony Spellar, John
McWilliam, John Squire, Ms Rachel
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Steinberg, Gerry
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Stinchcombe, Paul
Martlew, Eric Stoate, Dr Howard
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Meale, Alan Stringer, Graham
Merron, Gillian Stuart, Ms Gisela
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Moran, Ms Margaret Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Temple-Morris, Peter
Mountford, Kali Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie Timms, Stephen
Mudie, George Tipping, Paddy
Mullin, Chris Todd, Mark
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Touhig, Don
Naysmith, Dr Doug Trickett, Jon
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Turner, Neil (Wigan)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Olner, Bill Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
O'Neill, Martin Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Organ, Mrs Diana Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Osborne, Ms Sandra Tynan, Bill
Palmer, Dr Nick Vaz, Keith
Pearson, Ian Walley, Ms Joan
Pendry, Tom Ward, Ms Claire
Perham, Ms Linda Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David Wise, Audrey
White, Brian Wood, Mike
Whitehead, Dr Alan Woolas, Phil
Wicks, Malcolm Worthington, Tony
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W) Wray, James
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen) Wyatt, Derek
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael Tellers for the Ayes:
Winnick, David Mr. Tony McNulty and
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C) Mr. Kevin Hughes.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Allan, Richard Horam, John
Amess, David Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Baker, Norman Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Baldry, Tony Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Beggs, Roy Jenkin, Bernard
Bercow, John Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Blunt, Crispin
Body, Sir Richard Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Key, Robert
Brady, Graham King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Brake, Tom Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Brand, Dr Peter Kirkwood, Archy
Brazier, Julian Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Breed, Colin Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Leigh, Edward
Browning, Mrs Angela Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Lidington, David
Burns, Simon Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Burstow, Paul Loughton, Tim
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Luff, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Chidgey, David MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Clappison, James Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Collins, Tim McLoughlin, Patrick
Cotter, Brian Madel, Sir David
Cran, James Malins, Humfrey
Curry, Rt Hon David Maples, John
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Mates, Michael
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Duncan, Alan May, Mrs Theresa
Duncan Smith, Iain Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Evans, Nigel Moss, Malcolm
Faber, David Nicholls, Patrick
Fabricant, Michael Norman, Archie
Fallon, Michael O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Fearn, Ronnie Öpik, Lembit
Flight, Howard Ottaway, Richard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Page, Richard
Foster, Don (Bath) Paice, James
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Paterson, Owen
Fox, Dr Liam Pickles, Eric
Gale, Roger Prior, David
Garnier, Edward Randall, John
George, Andrew (St Ives) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Gibb, Nick Rendel, David
Gill, Christopher Robathan, Andrew
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Gray, James Ruffley, David
Green, Damian Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Greenway, John St Aubyn, Nick
Grieve, Dominic Sanders, Adrian
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Sayeed, Jonathan
Hammond, Philip Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Harris, Dr Evan Shepherd, Richard
Hawkins, Nick Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Heald, Oliver Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Soames, Nicholas Waterson, Nigel
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Webb, Steve
Spicer, Sir Michael Wells, Bowen
Spring, Richard Whitney, Sir Raymond
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Whittingdale, John
Stunell, Andrew Wilkinson, John
Swayne, Desmond Willetts, David
Syms, Robert Wilshire, David
Tapsell, Sir Peter Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton) Woodward, Shaun
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Yeo, Tim
Trend, Michael Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tyler, Paul
Tyrie, Andrew Tellers for the Noes:
Viggers, Peter Mr. John M. Taylor and
Wardle, Charles Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment disagreed to.

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