Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Tope: I support my noble friend. It has been suggested to us several times in Committee that some of our amendments are too prescriptive. We have occasionally suggested to the Government that they are too prescriptive. For them to feel that it is necessary to enshrine in legislation the title of a debate is a little too prescriptive. I hope that the Minister will be able to convince us that it is not a gimmick apeing the State of the Union debate in the United States. I can see no other reason why we should call it a "State of London debate".

I want to concentrate particularly on Amendment No. 150--

Lord Harris of Haringey: I want to make sure that the noble Lord is aware that it is not necessarily apeing the United States of America. A number of London boroughs, including my own, have an annual debate on the state of the London borough concerned. It is simply carrying on a tradition which already exists in a number of London boroughs.

Lord Tope: I am delighted to hear it. As the noble Lord said, most London boroughs have such debates. None of us is required to do so by legislation. It is not stated in legislation that I am required to have a state of a London borough debate in a prescribed three-months period of the year. That is not the point. It is not that there should not be such a debate but that we should be legislating to say what the mayor must call it and the months in which it should be held. I wonder why we need to prescribe the months in which the debate should be held.

As it has been suggested that we should do so, let us look at that. I recognise that the intention here is that we should be debating the mayor's annual report as soon as possible after publication. In a sense, that is a backward-looking process. It is necessary and desirable and I am sure that it will happen. But, as my noble friend said, we are trying to look forward and set the debate, whatever it is to be called, in the context of the forthcoming budget both of the London boroughs and the authority itself. We suggest that the autumn months of September, October and November are about the right time in an annual budget process to be able to have a meaningful and worthwhile debate as regards the

23 Jun 1999 : Column 986

priorities of the authority and those for London. Enough work has been done on the coming year's budget to make it a meaningful debate and not enough to make it too much set in stone and too finalised.

Therefore, if we are to prescribe the period when we should have the debate, let us have it in the context of the priorities for the authority and the budget that should reflect those priorities. I believe that the Conservative Party recognised some of the difficulties in having the debate in the April, May, June period in its Amendment No. 151 which suggests that the debate should not be held in that period if it occurs during an election period.

If we are to continue to hold elections on the first Thursday in May or early in that month--it may move to a weekend--and if the Government adhere to their earlier proposals that there should be annual elections in the London boroughs and elsewhere, then we might just as well not state April because that will never be possible. It would have to be in the latter part of May, which would be difficult. In reality, therefore, we are talking about a debate in June, except, of course, when there are European parliamentary elections.

This is a nonsense. If we are to prescribe the time I urge that we have the debate in the budget context and in terms of the forthcoming priorities of the mayor, the authority and London generally. It should be taken at the proper time in the budget process, which is better in the autumn than immediately after the end of the financial year.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I admit to some sympathy with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, over the timing of the debate. If the period must be specified, one is always vulnerable to the possibility of a general election. There is nothing one can do about that so long as the Prime Minister has a discretion over the setting of that particular event.

Moving the debate to the autumn would have one further advantage, not yet mentioned. By that time the financial out-turns on the previous year would also be known. Although, in the context of a State of London debate, financial out-turns might seem relatively unimportant--one hopes that such a debate would spend a great deal of time on more significant matters than financial affairs--to have available the financial results from a previous year would be both advantageous if there is to be consideration of future budgetary matters and also advantageous because it is also a measure of outcomes which would enable judgment to be made on the relevance, appropriateness and precision of previous planning. In certain circumstances it could also be a measure of competence, which would then become very public indeed.

For a number of reasons I support moving the timing of this particular debate to the autumn.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: It will be interesting to know the Government's motivation for the timing they have given. If the timing is changed to September, October or November, we shall have a great political debate about London mixed with several party

23 Jun 1999 : Column 987

conferences and the opening of the Westminster Parliament with all the debates attached to that. It is a time of great political discussion. I do not know what are the Government's reasons.

I referred previously to the picture of Mr Livingstone being in command of the assembly. I can visualise him having very great fun with a debate on London at party conference time. I know that that is entirely speculative. I wonder what is the Government's motivation for the time they have given.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I am fascinated by this clause and Clause 40, which appears to have all the characteristics of a spoof clause if we are to have something called a "People's Question Time". The mayor has to hold and attend a meeting to which the public are to be admitted. That is clear enough. It is to be known as the "State of London debate". In the next clause there is to be what is known as a "People's Question Time". As I read the clauses there is no obligation on anyone at the meeting to debate anything. There is no obligation on anyone to answer questions. Nor is any right given to the citizens of London to ask questions.

This is one of the most extraordinary examples I have seen of filling up the statute book with provisions which have absolutely no purpose other than to have the mayor go along, hold a meeting, sit shtoom as long as he wants and when he has had enough bring the meeting to an end. That is completely without purpose. Both clauses should be removed.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My noble friend stated why we agree with Amendment No. 150. I would not like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to think that because I have not commented on a "State of London debate" and its name, that we do not have any views. I am saving that for my Amendment No. 151. We agree that the name is ludicrous.

Lord Whitty: I find this debate quite amazing. I am not a great one for importing Americanisms, but I rather like the term, "State of London debate". If we owe more to the London borough of Haringey than we do to the Founding Fathers of the Republic, so much the better. I am not sure that the noble Baroness is correct to say that it is not in the constitution of the United States; it is certainly a very early decision in the history of the USA. However, if it is not in the constitution, it probably should be, though that may be an ultra vires remark.

I am also amazed by the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser. We are talking about opening up the process of consideration of important London issues to a wider participative audience--that is to say, an audience which affects the mayor and which can reflect public opinion within London. The precise structure and standing orders of such an event may well not be laid down by legislation. Indeed, to use the noble Baroness's term, it would certainly be extremely overprescriptive to do so. Nevertheless, I should have

23 Jun 1999 : Column 988

thought that the fact that the events are being held, and are being required to be held, is a significant advance to democracy, whatever one may think of the name.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: The Minister does not seem to have grasped my point. We are going to have an event--a meeting--which is called a "State of London debate", but what I am trying to get across to the Government is that, as I understand the provisions, there is no duty imposed on anyone who participates to debate anything or, indeed, to answer any questions. Moreover, there is no right given to ask questions. Unless I have missed the point, it seems to me that these provisions are completely redundant. All that will happen is that the mayor will go along and start the meeting. He is undoubtedly under a duty to attend, but there is no obligation on him to do anything which would take democracy forward in the way spelt out by the Minister.

Lord Whitty: The imaginative leap of the noble and learned Lord always amazes me. The event will allow citizens of London and their representatives to raise issues with the mayor and to debate and propose certain changes to his strategy. It is a requirement that the mayor at least sits there and listens to the debate. Indeed, the concept of "questions" tends to imply that there is a facility for answers. How that procedure will work has yet to be determined. No doubt it will evolve over time. But the idea of any of the putative candidates for mayor of London sitting shtoom for several hours while citizens throw points at him is quite remarkable. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, is not in his place this evening. I think he may well have had views about that, as would other putative mayors who have been mentioned during the debate.

I believe that Members of the Committee have got hold of entirely the wrong end of the stick. Alternatively, it may be that their instincts are not quite as open and democratic as those of the Government. I hesitate to believe that of any of the noble Lords who have spoken. The intention here is more than a gesture; it is a major contribution to an event in London in which people think they can--and, indeed, they can--positively participate. It brings back a new dimension to governance and accountability within the capital.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page