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Lord Burlison: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until a quarter past eight.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.14 to 8.16 p.m.]

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Greater London Authority Bill

House again in Committee on Schedule 2.

[Amendments Nos. 38 to 41 not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Failure to attend meetings]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 42.

Page 4, line 23, leave out ("six") and insert ("three")

The noble Baroness said: I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 42 and 51 which have an identical purpose.

In Clause 6 an assembly member automatically forfeits his place if he fails to attend a meeting of the assembly for six consecutive months. Under Clause 13 the mayor forfeits his office if he fails to attend six consecutive meetings of the assembly. I imagine that the reason for one being based on a period of time and the latter being based on the number of meetings is that there are provisions for calling extraordinary and special meetings.

The principle of forfeiture of office for persistent absence is unobjectionable. Indeed, it is a common provision which applies to company directors in everyday life. I am sure that it is included in the terms of appointment to many quangos. The amendment will reduce the period from six months to three months in one case and from six meetings to three meetings in the other.

In the light of the importance of accountability of the mayor and the enormous amount of power vested in his hands, he should only be allowed to be absent for two consecutive meetings rather than the five proposed in the Bill. Clause 44 does not permit the substitution of the deputy mayor at the assembly meetings, nor would he be able to do so. If Amendment No. 15 had been accepted, to have an elected deputy mayor, not only could the deputy have acted in the mayor's place but also one or other would have been free to go on extended overseas trips to promote London's interests abroad or for other purposes around this country. In the case of an assembly member, to be absent for half a year is, I suggest, wholly excessive. One group of assemblymen represents 14 giant super-constituencies. Who will look after them if their member is away on such a protracted absence? The other assembly members are elected on a party ticket and with only 11 of them in all, and to preserve the democratic balance in the assembly, their absences should be strictly limited.

It was mentioned earlier today that there are insufficient assembly members and that further consideration should be given to the numbers. But, in any event, if an assembly member can have such protracted absences, it really would not be possible for the work to be done. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The clauses which the noble Baroness is seeking to amend provide for the mayor to be disqualified from office if he fails to attend six consecutive monthly meetings of the

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assembly and for an assembly member to be so disqualified if he fails to attend any meetings of the assembly during a period of six consecutive months.

Under the provisions of Clause 44(2), the assembly is required to hold monthly meetings which, under the provisions of Clause 37(3), the mayor must attend unless he has a reasonable excuse not to do so. The meetings have been established for the express purpose of allowing the assembly to cross-examine the mayor about his decisions and actions.

The assembly will undoubtedly want to invite the mayor to attend the other meetings it will hold and the mayor will undoubtedly wish to accept such invitations. But the statutory monthly meetings will be the essential core of the mayor's formal relationship with the assembly. Therefore, we believe that any procedures which would result in the disqualification of the mayor for failure to attend meetings of the assembly should be linked to those statutory monthly meetings.

In our view, it is unlikely that the mayor would consciously seek to avoid those meetings. They will be an important opportunity for the mayor to explain his policies, decisions and intended actions.

But the Mayor of London will have other significant duties, the timing of some of which will be determined by others; for example, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, said, travel abroad to promote the economic interests of London and visits to London by people of importance to the future welfare of the capital. In such circumstances, the mayor must be able to absent himself from an assembly meeting. The deputy mayor will stand in for the mayor on those occasions.

However, we recognise that the mayor cannot be allowed to treat the assembly in a wholly cavalier manner. That would be completely unacceptable, not only to us but also to the people of London who will have elected the assembly to ensure that the mayor can be held to account. Therefore, we have provided for the mayor to be disqualified from office if he fails to attend six consecutive monthly meetings.

The noble Baroness has proposed that we should allow for fewer meetings to be missed--only three--before the mayor is disqualified. But that is neither acceptable nor workable. I am sure we can all conceive of circumstances--ill health, a serious accident or a combination of one of those with other circumstances--in which it may be necessary for three or more consecutive meetings of the assembly to be missed. But other than in exceptional circumstances, a mayor who failed to attend six consecutive meetings of the assembly would be pushing his luck, both with the assembly, on which the mayor relies for the delivery of the authority's budget, and with the electorate.

In the circumstances, I hope that the Committee will agree that we have pitched this about right in linking the procedure for disqualification to the statutory monthly meetings and in setting a maximum number of six consecutive meetings which can be missed.

I turn now to Amendment No. 42 which refers to disqualification of assembly members through failure to attend any meetings during a period of six consecutive

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months. The noble Baroness proposes that that should be reduced to any meetings during a period of three consecutive months.

An assembly member is likely to be busy with the statutory monthly meetings and any committee or sub-committees on which he is required to serve. Clause 6(3) provides that a member will be deemed to have attended a meeting of the assembly if he attended as a member of meetings of committees, sub-committees or as a representative of the assembly or authority at a meeting or a body of any other persons.

Those requirements are in line with those relating to local authority members provided in Section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972. In that Act, as in the provisions of this Bill, a member of a local authority can be disqualified if he fails, throughout a period of six consecutive months, to attend any meeting of that authority.

While we are creating a new style of London governance, there appears to be no special reason which makes it necessary for assembly members to be treated differently from members of a local authority in relation to matters of failures to attend meetings. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Tope: I listened to both speeches with great interest. On this occasion, I genuinely approached the matter with an open mind and wanted to be convinced one way or the other by the argument. It is an interesting issue. Like the noble Baroness who has just replied, I hope and believe that it is unlikely that any wise mayor will ignore the assembly for six months or even for three months. But then we legislate for what is unlikely to happen. When we have failed to do so, we have found ourselves in trouble. Therefore, while we hope and believe that it will not happen, we need to cover the eventuality that it may do so.

Therefore, I am persuaded that to reduce it to three consecutive meetings is sensible, given the frequency of the meetings and the work of the mayor and assembly, with the proviso outlined by the Minister that where a reasonable explanation is given for the mayor's absence that will be accepted.

I turn to the provision of absence without reasonable excuse, with which we are all familiar in local government; that is, six months. But as the Government have told us so often, the Greater London assembly is not local government; it is something which is unique and different. We cannot have it all ways. We should not look at this matter in the circumstances of general local government provision but in the particular circumstances about which we are speaking; in other words, the Greater London assembly.

As an assembly, it will meet frequently and, critically, it will be a much smaller body than most district councils and certainly than most major councils. The absence of an assembly member for as long as six months--I would say for as long as three

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months--will be even more serious than in the case of a larger authority. That member may well have, and indeed should have, important duties. It is quite serious to be absent for such a long period. While I hope and believe it will not happen in the case of the mayor, I am sure that sooner or later it will happen in the case of an assembly member. To allow it to go on for six months for no reason other than it is the norm in local government is not good enough. We need to look at the consequences of such an absence and provide for a shorter period--and three months is proposed here. However, just as in local government, where there is good reason the proviso exists that the member is excused. Where there is not good reason, we should pay attention to it.

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