HL Deb 02 November 2001 vol 627 cc1639-42

11.34 a.m.

Lord Filkin rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 4th October be approved [5th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order provides for incidental, consequential and supplementary provision for the purposes of the Greater London Authority Act 1999. The first amendment would enable the GLA to send a member of staff other than a qualified solicitor to prosecute or defend proceedings in a magistrates' court.

There are then three minor procedural amendments to the GLA 's powers to make enforced by-laws in relation to Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square Gardens. The first would enable by-laws to be made under the hand of the mayor rather than under seal. The second would confirm that, if the GLA needed to produce evidence of a by-law—for example, in a prosecution—it could provide a properly endorsed printed copy. The third would clarify that the GLA has power to enforce its by-laws.

The order would also amend the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 to make the mayor and elected members of the London Assembly potentially eligible for nomination to the European Union Committee of the Regions.

Finally, the Secretary of State has powers under Section 85(5) of the Environment Act 1995 to direct local authorities to take steps to achieve European Union air quality obligations. It was intended to transfer that power of direction in London from the Secretary of State to the mayor. Instead, the GLA Act simply took the power away from the Secretary of State and did not deliver it to the mayor. The amendment would deliver the original policy intention and complete the transfer by giving the power of direction to the mayor.

In my view, these provisions are compatible with the convention rights defined in Section 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998. Noble Lords will note that this is a straightforward order designed to put right minor errors, omissions or unforeseen consequences of the Act and to deliver the original policy intention of the GLA Act. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 4th October be approved [5th Report from the Joint Committed.]—(Lord Filkin.)

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, I have two small points to raise under this order. I am not sure whether the noble Lord has been given notice. If he has not, I shall be quite happy if he writes to me about them.

First, under paragraph 3, can he say under what circumstances it is foreseen that the mayor would make such by-laws, and how would that impinge upon local authority responsibility in London? Would a local authority, if necessary, be able to object to such a by-law if it wanted to do so?

Secondly, under paragraph 5, I see that the amendment ensures that a member of the GLA can become a member of the Committee of the Regions. That is fine. However, can the noble Lord confirm that it does not make it a requirement that the regional representatives for London should always be members of the GLA but could be elected from any local London authority; in other words, that it is not exclusive between the GLA and the Committee of the Regions? I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on those two points.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for explaining the order. I am delighted that in this House we have been able to spend less time on the matter than another place succeeded in doing. In describing the correction of the rather typical drafting error on air quality of taking power from the Secretary of State but failing to pass it on to the mayor, the Minister in another place said that this was the last missing brick. I believe that that was tempting providence. I am aware that work on the No. 3 order is well under way.

I declare an interest as a member, and currently chair, of the London Assembly. That position enabled me to discover, when I inquired about sealing documents, that the GLA has merely bought what was described to me as a "cheap company-type seal" to allow the by-laws to be sealed. Therefore, I am glad that neither the budget nor the precept have been too much affected and that, as from today, we shall have our first GLA historical artefact. I understand that the mayor grumbled at that and said that it would surely have been adequate simply to use an old GLC seal until the matter was sorted out.

Most of the measures are practical and uncontentious. I turn to the provision mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in relation to the Committee of the Regions, which occupied another place for a great deal of time. I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight in a minor way. The other place talked a great deal about the position of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, on the Committee of the Regions. As I understand it, he was always an alternate member and not a full member. My noble friend Lord Tope—he is a friend in another sense to many of your Lordships, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, in her position on the Committee of the Regions—has been a full member since 1994 and is now president of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Group, which has more than 50 members and is the third largest of the groups.

I know that discussions are pretty well complete between the Local Government Association and the mayor about nominations for the next mandate—I believe that that is the right term. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, will comment on that.

I end with a serious political point. It is inevitable that we have this order and will have other corrigenda orders. That is because of the complexity of the Act, but not only because of that. The Act is complex because devolution is less complete and, if I may say so, a little more grudging than many of us would wish. We are delighted with what we have but we should have liked to have had even more.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their comments and their general support.

I shall deal first with the points that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I should like to write to him to explain the matter in more detail but, in essence, the GLA is in a unique position with regard to those two spaces in London—Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square Gardens. It is in relation to those areas and only in relation to them that it has powers to make by-laws. The provisions ensure beyond doubt that it has those powers and the powers of enforcement that it needs to do its duties in those areas. The noble Lord asked whether local authorities can raise objections. I should like to check and write to him.

The noble Lord is right in his assumption that while the mayor in consultation with the GLA will make nominations to the Local Government Association in the first instance for the one main and the one alternate space, it can be any elected member within the London area; it does not have to be solely from the GLA. We shall see what happens in practice.

I turn to the interesting points that were made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. She was right to say that the GLA will save considerable sums of money by not having to buy a fine and noble seal and by doing things underhand instead. She was also right to say that my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey was an alternate member. My notes suggest that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, was a full member. This House has been strongly and ably represented on the Committee of the Regions by all three parties; we have more than made our mark in that respect.

I believe that those are the only points that noble Lords raised. I note the point about whether half-completed devolution is involved. The novelty of the GLA Act is partly also a burden; nothing like this has been done before and it is almost inevitable that there will be a sequence of minor amendments, particularly because lawyers are anxious to ensure that matters are put beyond doubt. I shall not detain the House further. This is a straightforward order that is designed to put minor errors, omissions and unforeseen consequences beyond doubt and to deliver the original intentions of the Act. I ask the House to support the order.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I put on record that, as well as appreciating the contributions of those members who I mentioned on the Committee of the Regions, I forgot, because I did not look at my notes, to mention the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, who has, I understand, made a great contribution.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, the noble Baroness's comment matches my understanding; the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has made powerful and important contributions.

On Question, Motion agreed to.