Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lucas: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may point out that she has not answered the question; namely, what function does this amendment serve in the Bill? With this amendment what can the mayor do or what is he or she compelled to do which would not be so if this amendment were not in the Bill? Perhaps the noble Baroness would like to write to me.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I thought that I had made it explicit that the amendment requires him or her explicitly to do what is outlined. In previous debates on this subject we were asked whether it was necessary to add clauses and conditions which some of the other amendments to be dealt with this afternoon appear to indicate. From the Government's point of view we felt that it would be helpful to make that requirement explicit. This amendment does that.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendments Nos. 124 and 125:

Page 21, line 29, after first (“of") insert (“the current version of").
Page 21, line 30, leave out (“during the appropriate period").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 126 and 127 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendments Nos. 128 and 129:

Page 21, line 32, leave out subsection (4).
Page 21, line 33, at end insert--
(“( ) Any reference in this section to “the current version" of a strategy or part of a strategy is a reference--
(a) in the case of the spatial development strategy, to that strategy as last published, whether originally or by way of replacement, and to any published alteration thereof for the time being having effect; and
(b) in the case of any other strategy, to that strategy as last published, whether originally or as revised.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have already spoken to these amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

14 Oct 1999 : Column 534

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendments No. 130:

Page 21, line 33, at end insert--
(“(5) The Mayor shall maintain a Greater London Authority web-site on which he shall publish each strategy of the Authority established under section 33 and also publish any other documents that are published in any other way by the Authority.
(6) Nothing in this section affects the restriction requiring confidentiality for information in section 48 (2A) of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I assure the Minister that I tabled this amendment with a particular wish to be helpful to the Government. If they were to accept it or agree its principle and word it in a way which they may consider to be more satisfactory, they may save themselves a deal of bother with a series of amendments which may well refer to the publication of information on the Internet. We have returned to this subject again and again throughout the passage of this Bill.

I thought that my remarks could be relatively brief in that much of the ground that I wished to cover has already been dealt with by my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon in the course of her remarks. However, there are still things to be said, partly in response to the Minister's reply to previous amendments.

During the course of that reply it was indicated that the Government's view is that to require this type of publication on the Internet would be too prescriptive. We are establishing a new authority with new systems and practices. The whole matter is prescriptive because the Bill prescribes what shall happen. Is this amendment too prescriptive when the whole Bill is prescriptive and when everything that the Government say about the GLA is prescriptive? What is one more piece? We are arguing from a false premise except that if one were cynical one might infer that it is not prescriptive if the Government prescribe it, but it is if the Opposition do so. Perish the thought that we should ever fall into such a narrow way of debating matters.

The noble Baroness also indicated that those who are looking at the way in which the Greater London Authority will work in future will be considering systems for handling documents electronically within the authority. That is nothing new because it has been going on for a long time. For instance, it has long been the practice for documents to be generated on desktop computers and then be sent to printers and so on. The information goes round within authorities and, thankfully, without having to appear on paper until it appears at the end of the process as a document in the hands of a member or a member of the public. That is a good thing.

There is absolutely no technical difficulty at all in that handling system and putting documents into a website available to the public. So there is no possible technical objection to what I have put forward in this particular amendment.

The amendment refers to the need to publish strategies. It goes on to deal with all other documents which the authority would normally publish being made available on the website. For the sake of safety I have added a subsection dealing with restricted

14 Oct 1999 : Column 535

information. As drafted, it refers to an amendment tabled by the Government but not yet passed. However, it seemed to be prudent to put it in that way rather than refer back to the Local Government Act 1972.

There is no reason why this provision should not be on the face of the Bill, except that the Government say that it is prescriptive. The systems exist to make it possible. It would not require the Greater London Authority to do anything novel and is a perfectly reasonable requirement. An indication has been given that this is highly likely to happen in any event. If that is so, I cannot see why the Government cannot accept it on the face of the Bill.

I am prepared to accept that from the point of view of those who sit in courts and make judgments the wording of the amendment may not be wholly satisfactory. However, its principles are good. If the Government could find it in their hearts to accept the principle of the amendment at this point, it would save this House considerable time and anguish debating the matter piecemeal. They could then table their own amendment in a proper form if they consider this not to be so. I beg to move.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I support my noble friend on the Front Bench in his amendment. This morning on the website of the Scottish Parliament I encountered an exceptionally boastful account of a meeting between the Prime Minister, Mr Bill Gates and Miss Wendy Alexander of the Scottish Executive. They were proudly proclaiming what they would do for voluntary organisations in Scotland in providing them with a link across the Internet. Much was being made of that.

If the Government and those who support it in Scotland are so proud of what they do for voluntary organisations in Scotland, it seems reasonable that in such circumstances, where we have a new mayor with statutory strategies which he must spell out, he should be under a statutory duty to provide such details on a website. I see no difficulty with that.

I understand that in the eyes of the Prime Minister I am one of those forces of conservatism or reaction that are so damaging to the country at present. However, I hope that I shall demonstrate, in one bound, that I am far from being an unthinking member of such forces. The Government would be recognising that there is probably greater support for the modernisation of Britain--if that is what is so important-- if they accepted my noble friend's new proposal and, in statutory form, placed a requirement on the mayor to post details of his strategies on the Internet.

It simply will not do to resort to the final argument of all Government Front-Benchers--which I know I have resorted to time and again--by saying, “I regret to say that this proposal is far too prescriptive in its

14 Oct 1999 : Column 536

terms". This should be on the face of the Bill. Like my noble friend, I very much hope that it will be accepted by the Government.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am happy to acknowledge that both noble Lords who have spoken are clearly at the cutting edge of technology in these matters, as, indeed, is the Scottish Executive. However, I do not recall the noble and learned Lord proposing that we should prescribe on the face of the Scotland Bill that all documents should be posted on the Internet.

I am happy to go some way with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and say that I accept the principle. As indicated by my noble friend, the transition team and the mayor's team will undoubtedly post documents on the Internet. However, as to whether that will be on the face of the Bill is a different matter.

The cutting edge of technology is not frozen in time. Perhaps I may draw the attention of noble Lords to the proposal made by my noble friend the Leader of the House about an hour ago. The noble Baroness proposed that we should change a resolution of this House of 1849 relating to the material upon which our Acts are printed. I do not wish to put the leader of this House in 150 years' time in the same position of having to propose a minor amendment to the Bill because the Internet has been overtaken by some other form of technology. Indeed, I suggest that the Internet could possibly be overtaken within 10 years. In that case we would have to provide some other prescriptive form of communication.

The Bill clearly indicates that we should publish the strategy. There is an obligation on the GLA to publish it by the most effective means possible. As of today, one such means would be the Internet. However, I am not able to say that that will be the cutting edge of technology in 10 years yet alone 150 years' time. In that sense it is a little over-prescriptive. However, I believe that we are all agreed that that is exactly what the GLA should do. I would prefer not to see it on the face of the Bill. I hope the noble Lord will accept at least some of my arguments.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page