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Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that one important point was put to him by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew? It related to the Home Office legal advisers' department. That department has been under immense pressure for many years. I hope that the Minister will look into it, as he indicated he would, as a matter of urgency. I do not believe that the situation should be allowed to continue.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for that. The noble Lord has particular knowledge of the Home Office. I never cease to marvel at the quality and expertise of the work we get, under extremely trying circumstances, with very long hours of work. To take one example, with the Northern Ireland legislation of September last year, to my certain knowledge officials

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were working long hours through the night having to attend in the Box for the Home Secretary in the Commons and then immediately having to come here, with no rest. The work was not only of first-rate quality but they were always cheerful and enthusiastic. That is not something one is paid for, it comes from a loyalty to the cause, which is a good cause, well served by them.

Greater London Authority Bill

5.37 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 35 [Publicity and availability of strategies]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 130:

Page 21, line 27, after ("strategy") insert ("and draft strategy").

The noble Baroness said: I am moving Amendment No. 130 and grouped with it are Amendments Nos. 131, 132 and 133, the last of which is also in my name and those of my noble friends. Amendment No. 130 was trailed by my noble friend Lord Avebury shortly before the Statement. Clause 35 concerns the publicity to be given to each strategy and its availability. We are concerned that, as is proposed in the clause, there be adequate publicity, but we do not believe that it will be adequate unless similar publicity is also given to each draft of each strategy. We want to be sure that those who may be affected by a strategy and may wish to contribute to it are able to inform themselves and take part in the process at the draft stage, and not only to be informed after the strategy is in place. We believe that to make drafts available will enable the final form to reflect the widest input. I accept that there are quite extensive provisions for consultation in connection with the preparation and provision of strategies, but that consultation relates to bodies and organisations. If it is not specifically articulated in that way, that is how it is likely to be read.

We touched on a similar issue concerned with best value plans and reviews at both previous stages of the Local Government Bill. In that Bill the Government have referred to the involvement of "representatives of" wide interests. We understood that that was intended to mean, as we had hoped, more than formally constituted groups of representatives. We should like to see something of the same flavour in the context of this Bill.

Amendment No. 133 is also concerned with publicity. It proposes that a copy of each strategy shall be sent to each principal library--by which we mean main library--in each London borough and be available for inspection. Despite recent sad closures in some parts of London, libraries are still regarded as important places of information. I believe that that remains the position despite the increasing use of electronic technology. Those libraries are a repository of information. It is up to each borough to decide how to disseminate information, but, on being consulted, as they are required to be by statute, most boroughs will themselves trickle down that consultation. We believe that this is a minimum requirement but nevertheless an important one.

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Other noble Lords have tabled amendments that are concerned with electronic technology. Despite the gathering pace of new technology, not everyone has access to the Internet; and some who have access may not be very good at using it. I cast no aspersions on anyone other than myself. We want to ensure that traditional methods remain widely available. Although we support the autonomy of the boroughs, as this clause is about the GLA's strategy, it is appropriate that the authority should be subject to a minimum standard. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 131 and 132. At the moment there is no guaranteed provision for copies of the strategies to be available outside the mayor's office. Further copies are available to the public on payment of a fee to be determined by the mayor. The mayor is also obliged to take such steps as in his opinion will give adequate publicity to each strategy. None of these provisions is adequate in the interests of "transparency" (to use the current buzzword).

The mayor's office will not be readily accessible to most residents of London, especially considering the state of public transport on the one hand and the plans of the Deputy Prime Minister to drive private cars off the streets of London on the other. I am willing to give very good odds that, in common with most local and national government and government agencies, any available parking will be restricted to officials only. There must be a way for someone who lives in Havering or Hillingdon to be able to discover what the mayor has in mind without having to traipse all the way to central London.

As to payment for copies of the strategies, one citizen's reasonable fee could be another's prohibitive expense. It may be that the mayor will consider it reasonable to provide a copy to every branch of every public library--certainly, we support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, as to that. But, as drawn, the clause does not require him to do very much at all. In his opinion it may be sufficient for him to publicise the strategy perhaps by notice in a newspaper, local or national, that is read by a small proportion of the population. Which Members of the Committee can honestly say that they read the public notices in the paper of their choice? To send a copy of the strategies to each of the London boroughs is merely common courtesy. The councils can then make their own arrangements for giving residents access to the copies.

The mayor is obliged to consult the councils when formulating his strategies. Why should he not be obliged to send them a copy of the result? Is there to be a queue of council chief executives waiting for their turn to read the document? The Minister may very well argue that, naturally, the mayor will send copies to councils, but laws are made to make sure that people do what is expected of them. This amendment guarantees that the councils receive the information that they need promptly, without difficulty and also without charge to their council tax payers. It also ensures that the mayor cannot keep councils in the dark about his plans or delay informing them about those plans.

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Amendment No. 132 also requires the mayor to post his strategies on a website to be established by him. The Government claim to have a target of 25 per cent of government services to be accessible electronically by the year 2002. They even sent Members of this House a disk to enable them to reach, provided they know how to use the Internet. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested that most noble Lords know how to use the Internet. I confess that I do not. Perhaps in the circumstances I should not make that admission. However, I have young grandchildren who know how to use it. This provision will require the mayor to follow the excellent example set by the Conservative administration in the London Borough of Wandsworth. It is also environmentally friendly for the information to be published on the Net rather than paper.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: We believe that these amendments which relate to arrangements for publicising the GLA's work, in particular its strategies, are unnecessary. Clause 35 already requires the mayor to take such steps as he or she considers necessary to secure adequate publicity for each strategy. This requirement allows the mayor a sensible degree of flexibility. He or she will be able to decide whether or not to place a copy in each of London's libraries if he or she so wishes, post them on an Internet site or send them to each of the London boroughs. We believe that it would be unduly prescriptive to legislate on these points.

I appreciate the sentiments behind the noble Baroness's proposal that would require the authority to maintain a public Internet site free of charge and post its most important literature on it. Now is the time for confession. I too have difficulty accessing information on the Internet. My 10 week-old grandson, I suspect, will be able to use it with fluency before I can. But this is surely a matter best left to the authority to decide for itself and not a point upon which we should legislate in the Bill.

The Committee will note that we have tabled amendments that will tidy up arrangements for the publication of GLA documents, including the mayor's. The effect of these amendments is that each of the authority's documents would be available for inspection free of charge, as the noble Baroness recognises, at the GLA's offices for a period of six years, and copies would be obtainable for a reasonable fee. These arrangements will bring the GLA into line with similar arrangements for local authorities. We shall shortly be discussing those matters.

In the light of my comments and the tabled amendments to be dealt with shortly concerning the authority's publications, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment. However, as always we shall consider very carefully the points that have been made by both noble Baronesses in dealing with these amendments.

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