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Page 22, line 20, at end insert--
(“(3A) The Mayor shall--
(a) so far as reasonably practicable, answer any such question orally at the meeting at which it is put, or
(b) if for any reason it is not reasonably practicable to do that, provide a written answer before the end of the third working day following the day on which the question was asked at the meeting,
(subject, in either case, to subsection (4) below).
(3B) For the purposes of subsection (3A)(b) above, the day on which a question is asked at a meeting is--
(a) in the case of an oral question, the day on which the question is first asked at the meeting; or
(b) in the case of a written question, the day on which the question is first raised at the meeting.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to move Amendment No. 134 and speak to Amendments Nos. 135, 190, 215, 259 and 260. This group of amendments deals with questions put to the mayor and GLA staff at monthly assembly meetings and the procedures. It goes no wider than that, as I said in reply to the previous intervention.

As I explained in Committee, it has always been the Government's intention that the mayor should be required to answer written as well as oral questions put to him or her by assembly members at their monthly meeting. It has also been our intention that if the mayor is unable to answer all the questions assembly members put to him at the meeting, he should provide written answers to those questions. We have also been clear that written questions and answers, including those given after the meeting, should be publicly available.

Following the points made during our debate in Committee, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will welcome the amendments.

Amendment No. 190 specifies that assembly members' power to put questions to the mayor at the monthly meeting covers oral as well as written questions. Amendment No. 134 provides for the mayor to answer oral and written questions orally as far as this is practicable. Where it is not, he or she will be required to provide an answer in writing within three working days.

Amendment No. 259 provides for the GLA staff, who may be required to attend the monthly assembly meetings and answer questions, also to provide oral answers, where practicable, and written answers where not.

14 Oct 1999 : Column 548

Finally, Amendment No. 215 makes express provision for the text of questions and the text of answers to be available for public inspection. The amendments fulfil our commitments on formal written questions. I urge noble Lords to accept the amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am interested in Amendment No. 134, paragraph (3A)(b) where the mayor is asked to answer a written question,

    “before the end of the third working day following the day on which the question was asked at the meeting".

Why is the mayor being required to meet that timetable when it has been my experience over the past two years that I cannot in this House obtain an Answer to a Written Question from departments in under three weeks?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I wish to make a similar point. Does the noble Lord agree that what is sauce for the gander should also be sauce for the goose? I ask the noble Lord--casting him temporarily as the goose--whether by Friday evening. I may have a reply to the questions which he was unable to answer on Tuesday.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, it is asking a lot of the mayor to reply within three working days. Does the Minister believe that as a result the answers will tend to be superficial? If the Minister gives an undertaking on the Floor of the House that he will reply to a noble Lord in writing, the noble Lord does not necessarily expect the reply to arrive in such a short time. He would think inadequate thought had been given to it if he received it within three days. The same applies to the mayor. Should there not be greater flexibility in the procedure than we have in the amendment?

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I wanted to make a similar point. Recently I wrote to my bank, taking up a point. I received a letter written about two weeks after mine stating: “You will receive a substantive answer to your letter within seven working days of the date of this letter". That is the kind of nonsense that too tight timetables often provoke: a standard response which says nothing. Sometimes performance standards applied to dealing with customers or consumers make the customer or consumer much more angry, having been brushed off.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we are probably amalgamating general correspondence and questions like those of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on lengthy delays during legislative periods with formal questions in a formal setting. It is reasonable that some time limit be put, in normal circumstances, on a substantive reply to a formally tabled question. There are occasions, even with formally tabled Questions, when Ministers do not reply within what is normally regarded in this House as an adequate timescale. However, it is reasonable in those specific circumstances for Ministers to say why it happened.

I am slightly hoist with my own petard in what I said in relation to the earlier amendment when the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, tried to draw an analogy

14 Oct 1999 : Column 549

between Ministers' responsibilities in this place and the responsibilities of the mayor. But I do not believe there is a read-across to general correspondence. This timetable applies to a formal tabled question at or before the meeting. It is not necessarily general correspondence. In most cases, a formal substantive reply ought to be possible within the three days. If it is not, then occasionally the kind of reply to which the noble Baroness referred may arise. However, in general a substantive reply ought to be possible.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down and with the leave of the House, I am not talking about general correspondence. It is months before one receives a reply to general correspondence. I am talking about a formal question. Today I was promised by a Minister that I would receive a reply. I should be surprised if I received it by Monday. No department in Whitehall replies to a question arising from a formal point made in debate in this House either at Question Time or as part of an Unstarred Question or an equivalent of the assembly meetings within a three-day timetable.

It is wrong to impose that timetable with no flexibility built into it. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I add to her point that we will receive this standard reply saying, “You will receive a substantive reply", that I have never received an acknowledgement that I shall receive such a substantive reply within a three-day period.

It is an unreasonable time-limit to put on the mayor. It might be interesting to put an aspirational limit, but not a rigid legal timetable of three working days.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not sure that it is in order at Report stage for me to reply or for the noble Baroness to come back. The issues raised go wider than the legislation, but I note her point.

5.38 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 134) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 149; Not-Contents, 66.

Division No. 2


Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Ahmed, L.
Alderdice, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Alli, L.
Amos, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L.
Avebury, L.
Bach, L.
Barker, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Berkeley, L.
Blackstone, B.
Boardman, L.
Borrie, L.
Brett, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Burlison, L.
Carlisle, E.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Carter, L. [Teller]
Christopher, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clement-Jones, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Crawley, B.
Currie of Marylebone, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B.
David, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Dixon, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Dubs, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Evans of Watford, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Falkland, V.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Filkin, L.
Geraint, L.
Gilbert, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Glanusk, L.
Goodhart, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Gray, L.
Hamwee, B.
Hanworth, V.
Hardy of Wath, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor)
Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord Privy Seal)
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Kennedy of The Shaws, B.
Kennet, L.
Kilbracken, L.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Leigh, L.
Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Lipsey, L.
Lockwood, B.
Longford, E.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
McNair, L.
Mallalieu, B.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Marsh, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Methuen, L.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Mishcon, L.
Molloy, L.
Monkswell, L.
Monro of Langholm, L.
Newby, L.
Nicol, B.
Peston, L.
Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Puttnam, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Razzall, L.
Rea, L.
Redesdale, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Richard, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Rotherwick, L.
Russell, E.
Ryder of Wensum, L.
St. John of Bletso, L.
Serota, B.
Sewel, L.
Shannon, E.
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Shepherd, L.
Shore of Stepney, L.
Simon, V.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Strabolgi, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Tenby, V.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Thornton, B.
Thurso, V.
Tope, L.
Tordoff, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Uddin, B.
Walker of Doncaster, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Warner, L.
Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Watson of Richmond, L.
Whitty, L.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.


Addison, V.
Ashbourne, L.
Astor of Hever, L.
Attlee, E.
Bathurst, E.
Biddulph, L.
Blatch, B.
Brentford, V.
Brigstocke, B.
Burnham, L. [Teller]
Cadman, L.
Caithness, E.
Clanwilliam, E.
Clark of Kempston, L.
Colwyn, L.
Cross, V.
Davidson, V.
Donegall, M.
Dundee, E.
Effingham, E.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Feldman, L.
Fookes, B.
Hanningfield, L.
Harris of Peckham, L.
Harrowby, E.
Henley, L. [Teller]
Higgins, L.
HolmPatrick, L.
Ironside, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Kingsland, L.
Kinnoull, E.
Lucas, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Lyell, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Marlesford, L.
Mersey, V.
Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Montrose, D.
Morris, L.
Munster, E.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Noel-Buxton, L.
Norton of Louth, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Platt of Writtle, B.
Renwick, L.
Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Seaford, L.
Seccombe, B.
Selborne, E.
Selkirk of Douglas, L.
Shuttleworth, L.
Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Sudeley, L.
Swansea, L.
Swinfen, L.
Tebbit, L.
Vivian, L.
Wilcox, B.
Wise, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

14 Oct 1999 : Column 551

5.47 p.m.

[Amendment No. 134A not moved.]

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