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Baroness Miller of Hendon: I will agree to withdraw the amendment. At this stage, I am not happy or content that the matter falls within the Perjury Act and I shall take legal advice on it. There are so many mistakes in the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 54 agreed to.

Clause 55 [The Secretary of State's guidance on ethical standards]:

[Amendment No. 204 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 205 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

11 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 206:

Page 30, line 25, at end insert--
("( ) The guidance shall provide that the standards to be observed by the Mayor shall be the equivalent of standards to be observed by Ministers of the Crown.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 208.

23 Jun 1999 : Column 1046

In dealing with the Secretary of State's guidance on ethical standards, Amendment No. 206 proposes that in the case of the mayor the standards,

    "shall be the equivalent of standards to be observed by Ministers of the Crown". It might be said that, in the mayor's executive powers, the mayor has responsibilities that are arguably greater than those of Ministers of the Crown. At the very least, in a different context the mayor's responsibilities are arguably equivalent to those of Ministers. The electoral mandate that the mayor will have is much greater than that of Ministers.

Ethical standards will be important for the reputation of the authority, although I believe that generally it should be a matter for the authority itself to set them up. However, an amendment from these Benches to delete Clause 55 would be likely to be misunderstood. I therefore sought to avoid that by not tabling such an amendment.

We propose that the mayor should be subject to the ministerial code of conduct by the guidance providing equivalent standards. I hope that the Government may give us some comfort that those standards will be as stringent. The standards for assembly members, and indeed staff, should be as close as possible to those that apply to a local authority. We anticipate detailed provisions for local authorities coming down the track quite soon. Amendment No. 208 seeks to insert that new provision applying to assembly members and staff. In the current cultural, moral and legislative climate we are currently considering, through a joint Select Committee of this House and another place, the whole question of ethical standards. We expect legislation on that point very shortly. I do not see the need for any distinction other than a technical one. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: We support Amendment No. 206, in that our Amendment No. 207 is extremely similar.

Lord Whitty: The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred directly to the fact that ethical standards in local government are being looked at in a wider context. It is our intention that, when any such Bill has been agreed by Parliament, the new ethical framework will apply to the GLA. In advance of that legislation, appropriate measures need to be included to ensure that the GLA operates to ethical standards.

The noble Baroness's amendment recognises the fact that the existing local government provisions are not directly well suited to the structure of the new authority, which will be based on the separation of powers. So an alternative approach is needed.

I agree with the noble Baroness's amendments in so far as they recognise that the mayor, as an individual elected to take executive decisions, will need different treatment from an assembly member. However, I do not agree that an exact parallel can be drawn between the office of mayor and a Minister of the Crown. After all, the mayor will be directly elected to take the decisions, whereas the Minister is elected to be a Member of Parliament and is then a member of a collective

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executive which takes individual decisions. Those in which a Minister, for example, might have an interest can be passed on to another Minister. The mayor is not in that position.

To base the provisions on the ministerial statutory code also involves problems. The ministerial code has no statutory force. It is up to the Prime Minister to write the code and enforce it. It would be slightly odd to use that code as the statutory basis for securing ethical standards in relation to the authority.

We shall be taking work forward to secure high ethical standards generally in local authorities in tandem with our other proposals to modernise local authorities. That is the most appropriate framework in which to establish ethical standards for this authority. Therefore, in advance of the new ethical framework, we will leave it for the Secretary of State to be able to issue guidance to the authority on a range of ethical matters. But in the end, the ethical framework for local authorities generally will need adaptation which will be applied to the authority as a whole.

Baroness Blatch: Is the noble Lord saying that the department and those advising it on the drafting of the Bill are incapable of defining what the ethical standards should be which should be upheld in the course of the establishment of the authority?

Lord Whitty: No. I am saying that it is a matter of guidance rather than something to be shown on the face of the Bill. That is partly because we shall be issuing a new ethical framework shortly to go into subsequent legislation.

Baroness Hamwee: I do not believe there is much between us on the point. I thank the Minister for his reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 206A:

Page 30, line 27, at beginning insert ("disposal,").

The noble Baroness said: This is a more specific amendment relating to the mayor. It proposes that the guidance should deal not only with disclosure and registration of interests but also with the disposal of interests. I said in speaking to the last amendment that the mayor is in a particular and sensitive position. She or he will have to be extremely careful. Interests could quite easily arise in connection with transport contracts, with the whole issue of regeneration and so on. Huge commercial interests will be involved in the exercise of the mayor's functions. I believe that the mayor must be careful not to put herself or himself in a position where there could be any questioning of a conflict of interest.

Unlike a Minister of the Crown, with the awarding of contracts the mayor is in an even more sensitive position. The current ministerial code issued by the Prime Minister provides for this in detail. It explains why Ministers must scrupulously avoid any danger of an actual or apparent conflict of interest. It deals with legal obligations, with the interests concerned, and makes the point by way of a general principle that the

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Minister should either dispose of a financial interest giving rise to an actual or perceived conflict or take all steps to prevent it.

I hope that we will have assurances from the Government that this particular but important point is in the minds of the Government in considering how to deal with the question of standards and perceptions. We must all be concerned that the new authority and its constituent parts are assisted in every way not to bring the authority into disrepute by perception, quite apart from whatever the reality may be. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: This amendment would add the disposal of interests to the list of matters that may be dealt with in the Secretary of State's guidance on ethical standards. Clause 55 sets out the basic framework around which the ethical guidance will be structured. It could be more wide-ranging if, after consultation, that was felt to be appropriate. What we have sought to do in drafting this clause is simply to set out the essential features that the guidance will include--the bones on which we shall put the flesh.

As the noble Baroness is aware, we sought the views of the Neill Committee in relation to the handling of mayoral interests. The views that that committee expressed will be taken into account in the preparation of the guidance. That guidance will be made available in draft for consultation. This is a matter on which we wish thorough consultation to take place. The amendment could be seen as pre-empting that process as it would signal that the disposal of interests must be included in the guidance when that might not be the conclusion we reached following those consultations.

I reassure the noble Baroness that the guidance would not be precluded by the current wording of Clause 55 from including reference to the disposal of certain interests, or the creation of blind or bare trusts. But, as I have explained, more detailed consideration of this particular matter is needed. As the noble Baroness said, the handling of mayoral interests is a very sensitive area. All of these issues are to be taken into account in preparing the guidance, and we shall consult on the draft. In the circumstances, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: Perhaps the Minister can inform the Committee when the draft is likely to be available for consultation.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I am unable to do so at the moment, but I shall write to the noble Baroness and ensure that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, is given a copy of that letter.

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