Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty: My Lords, far from there being an inconsistency of drafting, I find the Opposition Front Bench's argument somewhat inconsistent. They were

14 Oct 1999 : Column 608

trying to extend the ability of the assembly to acquire information which might be regarded as commercially confidential or personal. Now we are in a situation where noble Lords opposite are opposing as excessive powers that the assembly should have for perfectly legitimate inquiries and information. I do not consider those powers to be excessive. It is important that the assembly, in order to fulfil its scrutiny role, should undertake proper scrutiny of the actions of the mayor and the staff of the authority. It is for the assembly to ascertain whether persons who have a contract have fulfilled that contract and, if they have received a grant, have used it for the purposes for which it is given, subject to the caveat which was included in the earlier clauses.

If we were to curtail the assembly's powers of summons, as is proposed by the noble Baroness, the assembly would be unable to carry out one of the most important aspects of its work; namely, ensuring that public funds, for which the authority was responsible, were not misused. Certainly, Amendments Nos. 221 and 224 in the name of the noble Baroness would not be acceptable.

At this point I shall curtail my remarks and allow the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, to speak.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. As regards Amendment No. 222, I must confess that I tabled those amendments thinking that I had found a gap in the armour of the Bill. Subsequently, I found that I had not because, of course, the position of the mayor is covered by subsection (5)(c). Therefore, I shall not pursue Amendment No. 222.

Amendment No. 223 deals with the question of someone who has been chairman of a functional body in the previous three years. There is no requirement for the chairman of a functional body to be either the mayor or a member of the assembly. If the mayor chooses to be a member of Transport for London, he shall be the chairman. However, Schedule 8 stipulates that the chairman will be one of the members of TFL and it is only at paragraph 3(2) of Schedule 8 that it states:

    “Where the Mayor is a member ... he shall be the chairman".

It therefore follows that the chairman of Transport for London could be an independent individual appointed to that office. As I read Clause 51, there are no means by which a former chairman can technically be called as a witness in an examination undertaken by the assembly. It may be that I have missed something here, but I do not believe that I have. If that is the case, the provisions of Amendment No. 223 would help the assembly and would help the Government because it would provide consistency.

It is important that people who have served as chairmen of functional bodies, where they might be ordinary mortals who have been pulled in and appointed for what are good and proper reasons, should be capable of being examined by the assembly in those years immediately following the time they served as chairmen. They might reasonably be

14 Oct 1999 : Column 609

expected to have knowledge of and to have been responsible for decisions made by those functional bodies which may require examination.

This is a small, technical point, and is not designed to trip up anyone. Indeed, it is intended to be helpful, and it is on that basis that I have tabled the measure.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I take the point made by the noble Lord on the last amendment. I have been advised that the chair and therefore former chairs of TfL can be summoned. I shall need to check the reference, but I am sure that that is the case. However, I shall write to the noble Lord to give the exact reference.

I shall now return to my speech, to comply with proceedings at Report stage. The noble Baroness referred to the unique criminal sanctions implied in these clauses. It is true--the noble Baroness has quoted me on this--that these are not sanctions which apply in the rest of local government. Nevertheless, they do apply, for example, in relation to the Welsh Assembly. We believe that the position of the mayor is such that equivalent powers are needed to ensure that the scrutiny powers of the assembly in London, as with the assembly in Wales, provide that they can interrogate people to the same degree. That will require some sanction. We regard that as important in order to carry out the duty.

The noble Baroness also referred to the exemption for the private staff of the mayor. In a sense that returns to an earlier debate. It relates to advice rather than to information, and refers to advice which is of the same category as the advice of senior civil servants to Ministers. I know that there are doubts about the provision in the House. However, we have consistently maintained that that advice should be exempt from the disclosure requirements.

Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 235, to which I believe the noble Baroness referred. I am disappointed that the assurance I gave in Committee did not satisfy the noble Baroness. However, the fact is that this matter is covered and the amendment is unnecessary. Clause 54(3) exempts people who are summoned from having to give evidence to the assembly which they would be entitled to refuse to give were they in a court in England or Wales. The provisions of Clause 53 could not in any circumstances override or affect the provisions of Clause 54, and therefore there is no need for this additional cross-reference. They are already protected. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will not press the amendments.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I shall certainly accept what the Minister has said and I shall not press the amendments further this evening. However, I should like it to be put on the record that I am disappointed. However, having said that I am disappointed, I am sure that the Minister will feel quite the opposite and be extremely pleased that I do not intend to press the amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

14 Oct 1999 : Column 610

[Amendment No. 222 not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 223:

Page 27, line 41, after (“is") insert (“, or who has in the previous three years served as,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, subject to the Minister satisfying me that the point has been covered, I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 223 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 224 and 225 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 226:

Page 29, line 8, at end insert--
(“(10A) Nothing in this section shall require a person who is--
(a) a member of a functional body, or
(b) a member of staff of a functional body,
to give any evidence, or produce any document, which relates to advice given to the Mayor by that person or, except as provided by subsection (10B) below, by that functional body.
(10B) Subsection (10A) above does not relieve a person from a requirement to give any evidence, or produce any document, which relates to advice given to the Mayor by--
(a) the Metropolitan Police Authority, or
(b) the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority,
if or to the extent that the advice falls within subsection (10C) below.
(10C) Advice given to the Mayor by a functional body falls within this subsection if it has been disclosed--
(a) at a meeting of, or of a committee or sub-committee of, the functional body at a time when the meeting was open to members of the public by virtue of Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972 (access to meetings and documents); or
(b) in a document which has been open to inspection by members of the public by virtue of that Part of that Act.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, Amendment No. 226 was in the same group as Amendment No. 136 which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, withdrew on the basis that he would take it away and reconsider it. I am not saying that it is forbidden, but it is certainly unusual within a grouping to withdraw one amendment but leave the other. The amendment that has been withdrawn related to the definition of the word “advice". The significance of the definition of the word “advice" comes in this clause, Clause 51. The clause deals with the assembly's power to require attendance of witnesses to give such advice, and so forth, so perhaps all these provisions should be considered together.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I think that I made it clear at an earlier stage--I probably made it excessively clear--that I was concerned only about the definition of “advice" which arises under Amendments Nos. 136 and 228 which, when we come to it, I shall not move.

I did not undertake to withdraw Amendment No. 226, as I thought that I had made clear earlier. That may be a bit unusual, but I was intending to be

14 Oct 1999 : Column 611

very specific that the provisions that I was withdrawing related to the definition of “advice" rather than the principle. I would therefore like to move Amendment No. 226, if that is acceptable. I see that the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip is about to raise something procedural. I am sure that we would not want to fall out too far over this. I shall listen to what the noble Lord has to say.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page