Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Page 63, line 43, at end insert--
("(4B) In those cases referred to in subsection (4A)(a) and (b) above, the Mayor of London shall publish the report within 7 days of receiving it."").

28 Jun 1999 : Column 132

The noble Lord said: This amendment requires that where someone has made an adverse report that report should be published. There may be some technical difficulties if a report names a particular individual. However, I believe that the facts of such a case could be reported without names. Again this is a matter of probity and openness. I believe that if an adverse report is made to the authority it is in everyone's interest that the main substance of the report is placed in the public arena as soon as it is practical to do so. At present reports are to be considered at a meeting of the assembly within 21 days. The mayor has to respond to any recommendation of that meeting within 14 days of that meeting. That in itself is a considerable delay. The opportunity for spin doctoring to spin out of control--as has been observed on occasions--would be much reduced if the report was placed in the public arena at the earliest possible opportunity. This amendment seeks to give effect to that. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: We fully support the motive behind this amendment. We believe it is important that the GLA and functional bodies are publicly accountable for their actions and that all relevant reports are made publicly available.

Where a chief finance officer completes a report under the provisions of Section 114 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, the authority or functional body must consider it at a meeting within a period of 21 days, as the noble Lord said. This meeting must be convened in accordance with Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972, which requires that details of the agenda and the reports themselves must be made available three days before the meeting.

Specific provision has been made for Transport for London to be subject to the provisions of Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972. It will therefore have to hold a public meeting within 21 days and make the chief finance officer's report available beforehand.

The responsibility for publication rests, as I think it rightly should, with the authority and each functional body. Therefore we believe the amendment to be unnecessary and hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw it.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I shall study the words of the noble Baroness with considerable pleasure and consider the matter in the light of what she has said. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 115 agreed to.

Clause 116 [Duties of Authority or functional body as regards reports]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 242:

Page 65, line 27, at end insert--
("(7A) Where any recommendation carries the support of a simple majority of members of the Assembly present and voting on that recommendation at a meeting under subsection (3) above, the Mayor shall comply with that recommendation when making any decision under subsection (6) above.").

28 Jun 1999 : Column 133

The noble Lord said: I am amazed that I am finding my way through these amendments without getting into a greater muddle than I have on past occasions! Amendment No. 242 is designed to ensure that when a financial report on improper activity is submitted any action that is taken is not exclusively within the mayor's discretion. The Bill as currently drafted makes the Greater London Authority unique, in that it is the only local authority in the United Kingdom in which the mayor and not the entire authority decides what action should be taken when financial irregularities are discovered. This is a departure from the spirit and wording of the Local Government Finance Act 1988. I wonder whether it is a justifiable departure.

The assembly will have no powers to oblige the mayor to do anything in such circumstances, whereas an existing local authority can compel council leaders to take a particular course of action. The Bill merely states that the mayor has to take account of the assembly's views when coming to his decision. Once again, this is reducing the assembly to the position of a powerless talking shop.

We have heard evidence that that is what the Government think it should be. Despite that, we think it should be rather more. We do not want the assembly to be incapable of bringing real scrutiny and supervision to bear on either the mayor's or the functional bodies' financial activities.

The mayor might decide to do nothing about one of those reports. That is a technical term for wasting the public's money. It could be through incompetence; it could be through something worse; but whatever the cause, it is not in the interests of the people of London. If the mayor takes a decision to do nothing, that is the end of the matter--and that cannot be right.

The amendment restores to the assembly the accountability which the Government have effectively left out of the legislation and puts the GLA on to the same basis as every other local authority in the country. That is essential given the size and scope of its budget. If this amendment is accepted, it will demonstrate that the assembly is a truly representative body and enable it to have some check on a small aspect of the mayor's activities.

I can anticipate what the noble Baroness may say in response to the amendment. I almost feel like inviting her to say that she will give me the expected reply, cut short the proceedings by saving her the necessity of giving it, and saying that I shall consider it in absentia. I am confident that I know what her answer will be. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: For the same reasons that I mentioned when we were discussing my noble friend's amendment about accountability to the assembly for the capital spending plan, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. The assembly is the right body to hold the mayor to account.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The amendment would require the mayor to comply with any recommendations supported by a majority of the

28 Jun 1999 : Column 134

assembly in respect of any report published by the chief finance officer of the GLA and in deciding what action to take in consequence of the report. The amendment would, in effect, give the assembly the role of deciding what action to take following a report by the GLA's chief finance officer. We have rightly returned to the respective roles of the mayor and the assembly many times. It is plain that noble Lords opposite simply want a different sort of city-wide governance from the one proposed and the one endorsed by Londoners in the referendum.

Earlier in the debate the noble Baroness, Lady Young--who is not in her place--appeared surprised that we should produce a proposal for a separation of powers. It is common in the United States, in Canada, for example, in Toronto, and in Europe, for example, in Rome and in Barcelona, to have systems which involve this sort of separation of powers. I do not want to go over all those arguments again. I would, however, emphasise that under the model for London set out in the Bill the mayor is responsible for the strategic direction of the GLA and the functional bodies. The mayor must consider the report. If nothing is done, this could lead to the CFO producing another report at a later date. Therefore the mayor must consider the report and decide what action, if any, to take in respect of it.

Under our proposals, provision has been made specifically to require the mayor to attend the meeting at which the assembly considers the report. Furthermore, the mayor must have regard to any views or any recommendations of the assembly at that meeting. The assembly will therefore have influence in the matter but ultimately the mayor must retain the final responsibility for deciding how to respond to the report. In the light of this reply, I feel I should ask the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, to withdraw the amendment and to read what I have said at leisure.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am fascinated that the noble Baroness did not accept my invitation to curtail her eloquence and say, "Yes, the reply is what you expected it to be." Instead she has tempted me, just marginally, by giving a longer reply. Without wishing to detain the Committee for more than a few moments, I would remind your Lordships that in a Question to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor last Thursday the subject of the separation of powers was under discussion. He had some views on that and on the way we do things in this country that were slightly at variance with what is in this Bill. While there are some aspects of the American system that are good, not the least of the problems we face with establishing an authority such as the GLA is that we are borrowing some parts of the American system, but only some. We are not borrowing all of them. The difficulty arises when you pick and choose between parts of a system to which the community is accustomed and try to translate them to somewhere else, to a community that is not accustomed to them.

28 Jun 1999 : Column 135

I shall study the noble Baroness's remarks with care. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 116 agreed to.

Clauses 117 and 118 agreed to.

Schedule 7 [Amendments of the Audit Commission Act 1998]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 243:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page