Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 137:

Page 22, line 23, at end insert--
(“( ) For the purposes of this section, a day is a working day unless it is--
(a) a Saturday or Sunday;
(b) Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Maundy Thursday or Good Friday;
(c) a day which is a Bank Holiday in England under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971; or
(d) a day appointed for public thanksgiving or mourning.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6.15 p.m.

Clause 38 [Annual report by the Mayor]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 138:

Page 22, line 31, at end insert--
(“( ) a statement of any targets for the time being in force under section 33(8A) above with respect to the implementation of those strategies and an assessment of the progress made by authorities involved in the implementation of those strategies towards achieving those targets;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 138A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 138, not moved.]

[Amendment No. 139 not moved.]

Clause 39 [The annual State of London debate]:

[Amendment No. 140 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 141:

Page 23, line 8, leave out from (“meeting") to end of line 9 and insert (“under this section (in this section referred to as a “State of London debate") which shall be open to all members of the public.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 142 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 143:

Page 23, line 9, at end insert--
(“( ) The form of, and procedure for, a State of London debate shall be such as the Mayor may determine after consultation with the Assembly, but must be such that there is an opportunity for members of the public to speak.
( ) The power to determine the form of, and procedure for, a State of London debate includes power to appoint a person to preside.
( ) Any person may be appointed to preside at a State of London debate, whether or not he has any connection with the Authority.
( ) A member of the public who attends or speaks at a State of London debate shall do so subject to and in accordance with the procedure for the State of London debate.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. l44 and 145 not moved.]

Clause 40 [People's Question Time]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 146:

Page 23, line 22, leave out from (“meeting") to end of line 23 and insert (“under this section (in this section referred to as a “People's Question Time") which shall be open to all members of the public.").

14 Oct 1999 : Column 559

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 148 and 149. I hope that we can deal with these amendments reasonably quickly. During the debate on the clause in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was concerned that legislation should not require the event to be called by a particular name and she has tabled an amendment today to address that concern. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, was also concerned that the clause did not specifically provide for people to have a right to ask questions and was generally quiet, if not silent, on the procedure for and the form of the event.

We have listened to these concerns and, as with the State of London debate, we have brought forward amendments to rectify them. Amendment No. l46 removes the requirement to use the name “People's Question Time", but leaves it as a defined term in the Bill solely because it indicates what the event is all about. Amendment No. 148 (and the consequential amendment, Amendment No. 149), places a duty on the mayor to decide the form and procedure for the event following consultation with the assembly. It clarifies that the purpose of the event is for the public to question the mayor and assembly members. It also enables someone not connected with the authority to be appointed to chair the event.

I believe that these amendments directly address the concerns raised in Committee. Therefore, I beg to move.

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Serota): My Lords, in calling this amendment I should point out to the House that, if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 147.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, when the matter was discussed in Committee, the Minister looked somewhat crestfallen because a measure that was clearly intended to be, and was, blatantly populist was criticised for not going far enough. In such circumstances, we were confident that he would return, at our urging, with some amendments to the provision--indeed, we are grateful for those changes. However, the fundamental point that we made remains unanswered and the position is still unsatisfactory.

If noble Lords look again at Clause 37, which deals with the monthly meetings and the attendance of the mayor at those monthly meetings of the assembly, they will see that subsection (3) states quite clearly that the mayor shall not only attend that meeting but also,

    “answer questions put to him at any such meeting by Assembly members about matters in relation to which statutory functions are exercisable by him".

Indeed, the Minister has been successful in having carried an amendment in this House earlier this afternoon which will extend that duty incumbent upon him in such a way that, if he is unable to answer the question at the meeting, he is under a duty to take the matter away and, if it is reasonably practical, answer it within three working days. I think that that general

14 Oct 1999 : Column 560

framework is desirable. Therefore, should the mayor fail to discharge that clear statutory duty imposed upon him, it will be a matter for the courts to consider.

However, in sharp contrast, I turn to the "People's Question Time", which is as much a statutory event as the mayor's attendance at the monthly meeting of the assembly. All we find in Amendment No. 148 is:

    “The purpose of a People's Question Time is to afford an opportunity to members of the public to put questions to the Mayor and Assembly members and to enable the Mayor and Assembly members to respond".

The contrast could not be sharper. First, there is no restriction on the questions that may be put to the mayor or to the members of the assembly. He might be asked for his view on who is going to win the cup: Tottenham Hotspur or Arsenal? If there is an anticipation of a tricky meeting, the mayor might be perfectly happy to waste half an hour discussing that matter.

I suggest that the appropriate way to proceed is to impose upon the mayor exactly the same statutory duty to answer questions as is imposed upon him under Clause 37. I see no reason whatever why the citizens of London should be treated in a second-class fashion if in relation to assembly members the mayor is bound to answer the questions put to him. If the Minister and the Government seriously believe that this is a useful extension of participative democracy, it would seem to me to be highly desirable that that change should be made. I have to express my disappointment to the Minister that he has not gone that bit further. I ask him to reflect on the matter again and to consider doing just that.

That is not the only problem relating to this provision. Under its terms, all that is incumbent upon the mayor is to hold and attend the meeting twice every financial year. There is absolutely no indication given of when, where and what size the meeting is to be. Is it to be for half an hour in the back room of a pub just before closing time, or is the mayor to take over the Albert Hall, Earl's Court or Wembley? If he were to take any of those three locations, I suspect that he would find it difficult to get even 1 per cent of his electorate present at those meetings.

I am not suggesting that any of those standing for election as mayor would resort to such grubby tricks, but I find nothing in the proposed legislation which would prevent them from resorting to some restricting approach. There would be no duty on the mayor to answer those questions.

There is a satisfactory modernising way in which to approach the matter. It might most simply be resolved--if the Government and the Minister do not wish us yet again to be too prescriptive--by trying to determine exactly what a meeting is. In common parlance, I believe that it is the idea that one or two people are physically present. However, it occurred to me that there must be few companies in this country now which do not have within their articles of association a provision that a meeting can be conducted electronically or telephonically.

14 Oct 1999 : Column 561

It would seem to me to allow far greater access for the people of London to their mayor and the opportunity to ask him questions if a duty to have a phone-in was imposed upon him. Hundreds of thousands of people would be able to listen and a wide range of questions could be put to the mayor. That would seem to be a desirable way in which to approach the problem. I am contemplating that we might try to firm up this proposal by making just such a suggestion. However, as the Minister clearly does not wish us to be too prescriptive, I should be grateful if he would tell me whether the idea of having a meeting at least partially conducted in a phone-in fashion--that is to say, with communication by radio telecommunications to the public, with questions coming from them--could be contained within the term “meeting".

I appreciate that the Minister may not feel that he can provide an answer to me instantly, but if the Government consider that the term “meeting" would allow for a phone-in to be utilised as a way of getting the views and questions from the public and answers from the mayor, I should be grateful if he could let me know within three working days or whatever, but certainly in sufficient time to enable me to reflect on the matter before Third Reading.

If the Government are not simply playing the populist game with this provision but genuinely wish to extend participation in the democratic process, I urge the Minister to give the matter rather more serious consideration than seems to have been the case today. I hope that he can respond now to some of the points I have made, although I recognise that there are others on which he may wish to write to me.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page