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Lord Clement-Jones: Generally, I think that the intention of these amendments is good. However, on the analogy that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, talked of in terms of reporting requirements--namely, that TfL should be seen in the light of a commercial company--I find some difficulty with the timing involved. Yes, TfL should produce an annual report at the appropriate time when the accounts have been audited, but I do not agree with the suggestion as regards the budget for the year in which the company will already be when the report is submitted. For example, if the year end is 31st December, the external auditors will probably produce their audit about March or April and TfL will already be in the next financial year. Therefore, putting the budget in that annual report is not particularly useful. Indeed, it would be far more useful

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to publish it three months or so before the beginning of the next financial year when people can actually debate the content of the budget.

Similarly, it is a little difficult to understand quite how Amendment No. 262 would work in view of the fact that TfL would already be in the financial year. Therefore, it would be rather hypothetical to prevent the company receiving funding for the year in which it would already be working. So, although we recognise that reporting requirements need to be robust and in line with those of a commercial operator, we have some problems with the timing and the precise details of the amendments.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The amendments deal with the contents of the annual reports of Transport for London, and some of the procedures for dealing with its budget and annual audit. I hope that I shall be able to persuade Members of the Committee that they are unnecessary and, indeed, that they could even be unhelpful.

The Bill already ensures that TfL will be covered by the Accounts and Audit Regulations 1996. Under Regulation 9, TfL will have to publish its accounts,

    "as soon as reasonably possible after conclusion of an audit, or nine months from the day following the end of the period to which the accounts in question relate". TfL is also covered by provisions in Section 15 of the Audit Commission Act 1998, which require it to make its accounts and all supporting documents open to the public.

I turn now to the budget. The mayor is already required to publish the budget for TfL for the year. The Audit Commission Act 1998 and the Accounts and Audit Regulations 1996 lay down requirements which TfL will have to follow on what it must include in its published accounts. There is provision laying down the rights of local government electors for the area of a body subject to audit to inspect the accounts and supporting documents.

As my noble friend Lord Whitty said, TfL will also be covered by the best value provisions of the Local Government Bill which the Chamber has recently been considering. We think that this is the best way of setting targets for TfL rather than through separate primary legislation in this Bill. Following the process in the best value legislation means that users of TfL services, London taxpayers and London's businesses will have a say in improving TfL's performance.

Amendment No. 262 would require the assembly to approve the report by a two-thirds majority. Until the authority did this it would be unlawful for the authority to approve a budget for TfL for the following year which was higher than the year to which the report related. The amendment would cause great uncertainty about TfL's budget. The GLA consolidated budget, of which TfL forms part, must be agreed by the end of February each year. The annual report cannot be published until after the financial year ends on 31st March, and in reality is unlikely to be ready until June or July. So the assembly would have to set TfL's

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budget in February at a level no more than the previous year and then revisit the budget later on after the financial year in question had started. We do not think that this would enable TfL to manage its financial affairs properly. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, drew attention to that point.

Clause 118 adds the functional bodies, including Transport for London, to the list of public bodies which under the 1998 Audit Commission Act are required to make up accounts annually. It also adds TfL to the list of bodies which must be audited by an auditor or auditors appointed by the Audit Commission. This means that TfL, like the GLA and the other functional bodies, will be covered by the same audit system as applies to other organisations within the local government finance system. Not only is this tried and tested but it also prevents the assembly becoming bogged down in routine appointment procedures. The assembly's role, should it so choose, is rather to scrutinise and challenge the contents of the audit. I hope therefore that the amendment will be withdrawn.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury: The Minister has covered most of the areas dealt with in the speech of the noble Lord who proposed the amendment. However, she left out one important point. She said that Transport for London will have to publish its accounts which will be open to the public and that local government electors will have the same right to inspect the accounts and supporting documents as they would the accounts of similar bodies. The noble Baroness did not say anything about the proposal of the noble Lord that the reports required under the subsection should be available to the public at no charge and should be published in an electronic form capable of access by members of the public.

There is a major difference between saying that a local government elector is entitled to go into a town hall and look at the accounts and supporting documents--if he can find the relevant documents that he wishes to inspect--and saying that they will be available on the Internet where they are open to the inspection of anyone who wishes to see them, not just the local government electors in the area of Greater London. There may well be people who are not local government electors who would have a locus in the matter and would want to see the accounts. For example, commuters who come into London from outside may well have an interest in some of the matters covered in the accounts or in the supporting documents.

While the noble Baroness may have satisfied the Committee that the accounts will be well and truly audited and that the documents will be available for public inspection, she did not deal with the important point that they should be available on the Internet.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: It is my understanding that that would be a matter for decision by TfL. Should the situation be otherwise, I shall write to the noble Lord.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: I am grateful, I think, for the response of the noble Baroness but I shall need to

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read what she said with some care. I take on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about the way I have drafted the amendments. I agree that there may be difficulties with them which the noble Baroness pointed out. However, I do not think that the noble Baroness has satisfactorily answered the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. It is all very well saying that TfL may publish the documents on the Internet, but we in this Committee are in a position to insist, if we wish, that that is done. The noble Lord made a good point in that regard. I may wish to return to that particular part of the issue at the next stage.

Generally speaking, I am grateful for the noble Baroness's response; I shall read it with care. I hope that when I do so I shall find that most of the points I made will be satisfactorily dealt with under the proposed arrangements. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 261 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 261A:

Page 75, line 41, at end insert--
("( ) Transport for London shall publish any report made under this section.
( ) A copy of any report made under this section shall be kept available for the appropriate period by the Mayor for inspection by any person on request free of charge at the principal offices of the Authority at reasonable hours.
( ) A copy of any report made under this section, or any part of any such report, shall be supplied to any person on request during the appropriate period for such reasonable fee as the Mayor may determine.
( ) In this section "the appropriate period" in the case of a report under this section is the period of six years beginning with the date of publication of the report pursuant to this section.")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 262 not moved.]

Clause 139, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 263 not moved.]

Clause 140 [Distribution of Property].

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 263ZA:

Page 76, line 5, at end insert--
("( ) The Secretary of State shall, before making an order bringing into effect the provisions of this Act relating to Transport for London, publish a list of the property, rights and liabilities that will be held by Transport for London or any subsidiary of Transport for London.")

The noble Baroness said: We consider that this amendment standing in my name and those of my noble friends to be of considerable importance in the Bill. It was the subject of a rather irritable debate in Standing Committee A in another place in February of this year. I do not propose to go through all the arguments displayed on that particular occasion. It is the broad thrust of the amendment that is important.

The clauses concern the disposal of property, and the disposal of land in particular. In a series of amendments to be moved by the Minister there is a slight relaxation of the definitions of the kind of land that can be dealt with, how it can be dealt with and

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whose permission needs to be asked before it can be disposed of. That series of amendments begins with Amendment No. 264A.

I wish to make a straightforward point. Before one starts disposing of what was publicly owned land it would be desirable to have a list of the properties of the organisations which have contributed and have now been taken over by Transport for London. In the debate, the Minister in another place said that asking for the list was asking for the impossible; that it would take forever to make a list of all the widgets, spanners and other property of which TfL was possessed.

I hope that the Minister will take the amendment in the spirit in which it is put forward. We are talking about the major assets of this company. We know quite a lot about these major assets. A Ministerial Answer, which gave a response as to the assets on 31st March 1998, stated that if one takes tunnels, railway carriages, tracks, bridges, drainage pumps, underground stations, escalators and lifts, power stations, sub-stations, bus stations and stands and bus shelters--which are all substantial pieces of property; it is relatively easy to know where they are--one comes to a very large total indeed of objects and lengths of track. Subsequently, in a Written Answer on 20th April, it was stated that the total value of the infrastructure and assets is £6 billion. We are talking about very large sums of money.

I will not go into the whole argument about the privatisation of rail services and Railtrack. However, one really cannot argue with the fact that, as a result of that process, there has been a considerable sell-off--some people have called it asset stripping, but I will be as calm and unaggressive as possible in moving this amendment--of property that was formerly publicly owned and publicly funded. I will not say that one should never allow a company such as TfL to sell any property. However, I believe that we should have transparency about what that property is, when it is sold, why it is being sold and who sanctions the sale. I contend that we cannot do that unless we have a list of the major properties owned by Transport for London. I beg to move.

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