Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I cannot argue with the Minister's explanation for refusing my small amendment. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 195:

After Clause 45, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) The Mayor or the Deputy Mayor or the Assembly may receive petitions bearing such minimum numbers of signatures of electors registered in Greater London as the assembly may from time to time determine.
(2) Any petition so received shall be the subject of a report from the Mayor to the Assembly including specific comments on such matters contained in it as the Assembly may request.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment, very lightly, imposes a further duty on the mayor, his deputy or the assembly; namely, the duty to receive petitions from the electors of Greater London.

The assembly will fix the minimum number of signatories required to protect the mayor or the assembly from being pestered by crackpots and small but vociferous single-issue groups. I say that it is a light duty because the clause provides only that the mayor or assembly "may", not "shall" receive petitions. That will entitle them to reject petitions which are no-hopers. Once the petition has been received, the petitioners will be sure that their request will be considered or their complaint investigated. We believe that that facility is important in any democracy. It is certainly available in the other place, where there is a long tradition of petitions being put "in the Bag", which hangs symbolically behind the Speaker's Chair.

The assembly will represent 7 million Londoners and a vast number of businesses. As I have already had to remind the Committee on several occasions, the assembly members will be remote from them because of the way in which the assembly is constituted. Therefore, a means of direct access to the mayor and assembly, as a matter of importance to a substantial number of Londoners, is vital.

23 Jun 1999 : Column 1033

The proposed subsection (2) makes sure that the petition is not pigeon-holed before it has at least been considered. This amendment provides a facility which any democratic legislature should be only too willing to provide. I beg to move.

Lord Tope: Again, I have much sympathy with what lies behind the amendment but I wonder about it. First, I do not think it is possible to draft any legislation that can protect us from crackpots. If there is, after 25 years in local government, I hope the Government will pass it very soon.

I cannot think that it is necessary to have legislation to enable the authority to receive petitions. I am sure they will come anyway. The important point, which is in part addressed in the second part of the proposed new clause, is what happens when the petition has been received. In that sense, I am not certain that this goes far enough. I hope that the mayor and the assembly will make provision for petitioners presenting a proper petition, in terms of the legislation, not only to present their petition but to speak to it, explain what it is about and be available to answer questions. That is what many good local authorities of all political persuasions already do, and have done for many years.

Therefore, the amendment is probably not adequate, but I return to my previous point, which is why it should be necessary to have it in the legislation in the first place, legislation we are already describing as too prescriptive. It seems to me that this is a proper and appropriate matter for the mayor and the assembly to decide for themselves. They cannot refuse to receive petitions; petitions will arrive anyway. It is inconceivable that a petition received from a number of Londoners will not be considered properly. It is for the mayor and the assembly to determine these matters: what constitutes a proper petition for their consideration--presumably signed by a given number of electors, or representative bodies and so on; and how they will treat petitions in terms of hearing petitioners and so on. These are matters which are properly considered by the mayor and the assembly, not matters which need to be enshrined in legislation.

As I have said, most local authorities already have some provision for dealing with petitions from people who live and work in their areas, but so far as I know there is no legislation, nor any intention of legislation, requiring local authorities to have such a provision. So, while I entirely support the objectives of the amendment, I cannot support it, because the matter should be left to the mayor and the assembly to determine how they want to deal with it.

Lord Whitty: Without any collusion whatsoever, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has made my case for me. I have nothing to add, and I would ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment in the light of the noble Lord's remarks.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I think I might withdraw in view of the fact that the Minister agrees

23 Jun 1999 : Column 1034

with the noble Lord, Lord Tope, but I shall not do so on the basis of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, making those comments.

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 46 [Discharge of functions by committees or single members]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 196:

Page 25, line 43, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Lord said: The clause deals with aspects of the procedure of the assembly, specifically its power to delegate. It says that it may delegate either to a committee of the assembly, which is entirely acceptable, or to a single member. I have some hesitation about delegating to a single member. I am not aware that that would be practice anywhere else in local government, or indeed in general. It is, of course, not unusual for a body to appoint committees, and it may even be that the committees will subsequently delegate aspects of their work to the chairman. But that would always be subject to the sanction of the committee.

It is not for us to lay down on the face of the Bill in detail the way in which the assembly shall do its business. So what we are dealing with here is perhaps more a matter of judgment than something which should appear on the face of the Bill.

I am concerned that the assembly may delegate some of its functions to one member to be discharged on its behalf. That is a quite extraordinary arrangement. It was because of that scepticism that we tabled the amendment. We wish to explore what is in the Government's mind in making this extraordinary proposition. I do not think that it is a wise one. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: Before he replies, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. I share the concerns of my noble friend.

Clause 46(1)states:

    "Subject to any express provision contained in this Act or any Act passed after this Act, the Assembly may arrange for any of the functions excisable by it to be discharged on its behalf ", by a single member of the authority. However, subsection (3) states:

    "Subsection(1)(b) above does not apply in relation to functions under or by virtue of section 20A of the Police Act 1996 (questions by Assembly members to representatives of the Metropolitan Police Authority)". Given that that is an area which cannot be delegated to a single member of the assembly, does the Minister argue that almost any function contained within the Bill can be delegated to a single member of the assembly?

Baroness Hamwee: Amendment No. 196A takes up a similar point to that made by the noble Baroness.

23 Jun 1999 : Column 1035

I have provided that the ability to delegate to a single member,

    "does not apply to functions relating to the capital spending plan", of the authority. That seems far too significant to allow a single member to deal with it. I doubt that the assembly would agree to delegate functions to a single member in that connection. But, for instance, under Clause 108 the assembly's comments on the plan are invited. I do not believe that it would be appropriate for a single member to respond.

Lord Whitty: One of the oddities about this debate is that for most of the evening we have been accused of being over-prescriptive but when we are allowing the assembly to determine its own procedures we are attacked. Amendment No. 196 would prevent any function of the assembly from being delegated to an individual assembly member. Amendment No. 196A relates to a specific matter. But Amendment No. 196 is a substantial restriction on the assembly's ability to decide its own procedures. The Bill contains a number of restrictions on the assembly's ability to decide how to discharge its functions. As regards a handful of key functions, such as questioning the mayor, the exercise of assembly power to summon, the assembly's role in deciding the budget and matters in relation to the chief finance officer and the auditor, under the existing provisions of the Bill a single member cannot exercise any of those functions. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, drew our attention to the clause in relation to the police authority.

In general, we say that the assembly will determine its own procedures, and in other areas there is the freedom for the assembly to delegate to a group or single individual. I do not believe that it is likely that the assembly will delegate a substantial role in capital spending to a single member of the assembly. Nevertheless, I believe that it is right that the assembly has the authority to determine its own procedures in that respect.

Noble Lords may believe that this is a way in which the majority group on the assembly would deny other assembly members the ability to scrutinise the mayor. That is not the implication because Clause 44(3) makes clear that assembly members will be able to question the mayor in all respects; and we intend to bring forward amendments in relation to written answers too. The Bill does not affect the ability of any other member of the assembly in exercising the scrutiny function. What it does is to provide the authority with the ability to so organise the procedures that there is an element of delegation to committees and individual members. Whether that is likely to be the situation in the case of capital spending is another matter. But it should be left to the assembly to decide. Therefore, I suggest that the noble Lord should withdraw the amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page