All 1 Lord Tope contributions to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023

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Mon 20th Mar 2023

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Lord Tope Excerpts
This measure is supported by members of the Liberal Democrat party and Liberal Democrat councils, and the ULEZ proposal has been opposed publicly by Labour Party Members of the other place. I hope that my amendment will command the widespread support of your Lordships’ House, not least of the one party not mentioned so far—the Conservative Party—when my noble friend comes to reply. I beg to move.
Lord Tope Portrait Lord Tope (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, not least for taking me down memory lane. He began by describing the Greater London Authority Act. I had the honour, and sometimes the pleasure, of taking that Bill through this House from the Front Bench, along with my noble friend Lady Hamwee. I remember the debates very well indeed. The noble Lord’s references to the prospective Mayor Livingstone were slightly wide of the mark. As I recall, the then Labour Government were terrified of the threat of Mayor Livingstone—and it was a threat as far as they were concerned. We spent much of our debate on the Greater London Bill discussing measures to reduce his powers. However, we should not divert too much into history.

I welcome Amendment 178B, on the budget. As it happens, when we were doing the Greater London Bill, I was the leader of a London borough council. I was certainly the only council leader in the Lords, and perhaps the only one in Parliament at that time. I went on to lead the Liberal Democrats on the Greater London Authority for its first eight years. I remember only too well the first eight years of Mayor Livingstone’s budget. Never once did he come close to getting majority support for it. It was always passed, because it had to be, but always without the two-thirds majority to amend it.

That has continued to be the case throughout the life of the Greater London Authority. In both of the last two years, in the preceding debate on the budget—it is a two-stage process—there was not even majority support for the mayor’s budget. When it came to the all-important final decision, a two-thirds majority was not there. So I entirely support what the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said about the need for some democracy there and that the practice for majority support for a budget should apply, as it does virtually everywhere else.

I move now to what I call the ULEZ amendment, although it is not strictly speaking a ULEZ amendment. The expansion of the ULEZ to outer London is hugely controversial in outer London at the moment. I should declare an interest, as I was a leader of a London borough council for 13 years—incidentally, a London borough council that has been under Liberal Democrat control for the last 37 years and has won the last 10 elections with a majority, so we must be doing something right there.

ULEZ is hugely controversial and is causing a lot of upset. This amendment is not about the particular proposals for its expansion; it is more about the relationship between the London boroughs and the mayor. That needs to work on a form of consensus. The mayor has the strategic authority, as you cannot deal with a subject as important as air pollution on only a borough-by-borough basis. It must of course be dealt with on a London-wide basis, in this case, so from that point of view I am wholly in agreement. However, the borough and the borough councils have to do the mechanics and implementation, and they are getting most of the heat from the objections here.

I could all too easily divert myself into talking about the shortcomings of the mayor’s present proposals, but I do not want to. I say that as someone from a council that strongly supports any measures that will genuinely reduce air pollution and tackle that issue. But the way the consultation was conducted and the way the implementation is being proposed owe everything to the mayor’s awareness of the timetable he has to meet before the next mayoral election—he wants the expansion firmly embedded in good time before May 2024—and nothing to good common sense.

This amendment is actually about the relationship between the Mayor of London and the borough councils, particularly their leaders. I was very much minded to put my name to this amendment, but I did not do so and the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, knows why: I think that proposed new subsection (2) is wrong. It says that

“before the scheme is introduced, consent to the introduction of the scheme is granted by all local authorities”

within the affected area. That gives any one authority the power to veto, in effect, the whole scheme. That is simply wrong.

Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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With every possible respect for the noble Lord, would he accept that it would in fact allow the mayor to tailor the scheme to include those boroughs that are willing to have it and exclude those that are not? It would not veto the entire scheme for other boroughs that wished to see it implemented as the mayor had proposed.

Lord Tope Portrait Lord Tope (LD)
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My Lords, I accept that a mayor, were he or she so minded, could act in that way. However, I have to say that the current mayor has shown no interest whatever in conceding anything to any of the boroughs, let alone to one single borough. We could get to a state in which the mayor allows one borough—I will not name one, although Bromley comes to mind, remembering the trouble we had with the introduction of the Freedom Pass—to opt out and the mayor could accept that, but I would not want to put that responsibility on some future mayor.

It would be much better if we stuck to the majority principle that we were talking about just now; the boroughs should have the right themselves to opt out of the scheme. I would hope that they would not do so, but they could have the right to opt themselves and their area out of it, but not the right to either stop it for everywhere else or rely on the benevolence of the mayor—little of which we have seen recently—to opt that borough out. So a much better way would be to reword the amendment. I suspect that the noble Lord is not going to press this to a vote tonight, although a lot of people in London think he is: much better that we come back on Report with clearer, better wording to try to achieve what we want to do.

I think, as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said, that what this amendment is actually about is the relationship between an executive Mayor of London—in a sense, a presidential system—and the borough councils, which are essentially a parliamentary system. Nobody has given enough thought, and there are many other examples, to how we match the mismatch between a presidential and parliamentary system. We have a situation now where the boroughs are all, in a sense, elected parliamentary bodies, with borough council leaders playing an increasing role through London Councils in the running of London, and a presidential-style elected mayor who has all the power vested in the mayor, with none vested in the boroughs and none, for that matter, vested in the London Assembly either. I say that with some regret after serving as an assembly member—indeed, as the leader of the Liberal Democrat group there—for eight years.

I hesitate today to ask for a reconsideration of the government of London—I am not sure I would want to go through all of that again—but that is, in essence, what this amendment is about. If we can agree a slightly different form of wording for this to come back on Report, I should be happy then to give it my support.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I rise to speak only to Amendment 178B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, in the interests of embracing an extraordinarily rare consensus. It would be ideal, for the Green group, for my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, former London Deputy Mayor and long-time London Assembly member, to be here, but unfortunately she is otherwise engaged, so you get me, a resident through many of the years that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, was talking about. I say “embracing a rare consensus” with enthusiasm, because I was buoyed last week by the fact that we saw the Government table their own amendment to the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill following a Report stage at which the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, had put down an amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and I had both signed it, and that actually ended up in law. So, you never know; maybe the same kind of unusual consensus of the noble Lords, Lord Moylan and Lord Greenhalgh, the Greens, the Lib Dems and others all backing Amendment 178B might get to the same outcome. We can but hope.

I think the case has already been very strongly made for this: this is democracy. But I just want to make one additional point, which is that the London Assembly is, of course, elected through a proportional system, so the majority there reflects the views of the majority of the public. That is unlike local authorities, which are elected by first past the post systems yet need only a simple majority to overrule the administration’s budget.

We heard a lot in our debates on the Bill earlier today about tidying up and fixing up past inequities and infelicities; well, this would be a real democratic addition and a real tidying up. I entirely back the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and all the others who have signed this amendment. Let us see where we can get with it.