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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, we have had an interesting discussion. In relation to my amendments I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. I am not sure whether he has been present each time we have

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discussed this, but not least of the reasons for tabling what might be called “foolish" questions is that it forces the Minister to think. I pay the Minister this compliment. He has strengthened his arguments in favour of his position considerably since we first raised the matter. That is the justification for the procedures of this House.

I shall study with interest the Minister's comments. He definitely strengthened his argument. I doubt that the two of us will ever be in complete agreement on these matters, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 529 to 529D not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 529E:

Page 151, line 16, at end insert--
(“(12) Proposed members of the London Development Agency shall complete a declaration detailing their business interests, whether he has been made bankrupt, been a party to a voluntary arrangement, whether there are any judgements against him, whether he has been convicted of any offence involving fraud or dishonesty or an offence under legislation (whether or not of the United Kingdom) relating to companies (including insider dealing), building societies, banking or other financial services, or if he has been disqualified as a director or of any other material information, and this declaration should be publicly available for inspection one month before appointment."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 529E seeks to put into the Bill a subject which produced quite a bit of interest when we were dealing with this matter at the Committee stage. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, joined me, and the amendments not spoken to in the previous grouping touch on this matter. No one who works for a public limited company would be unfamiliar with the provisions in either of these amendments. They are both directed to achieve the same purpose but would do so in different ways. Amendment No. 529E seeks to insert a provision into Clause 263 and Amendment No. 534 would make an addition to Schedule 20.

As I said, any businessman who is working in a plc will, if he is a director of that company, have to make a declaration of probity. It is an entirely reasonable and accepted procedure which any businessman would not think about for one moment; indeed, he would expect to have to comply with it. Of course, some of the businessmen who will serve on the London Development Agency have already signed this declaration, but they will have signed it for someone else. I do not think that it is unreasonable that they might have to make the declaration for the mayor--in fact, not for the mayor, but for the people of London. The LDA is not there for the amusement of its members, still less is it there for the gratification of the ambitions of the mayor. It is there to serve the people of London.

It would gratify me enormously if the Minister could find it in his heart to accept one or the other of these amendments. I believe both of them to be sensible, but I do not expect both to succeed. The principle is absolutely correct. Although I admit that we have returned to a matter which we debated thoroughly in

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Committee, I think it is an important matter and that these two amendments deserve sympathetic consideration by the Government. I beg to move.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 530 and 531. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has no doubt noted, it is no coincidence that the amendment from these Benches is identical to Amendment No. 529E in many respects. Indeed, we were certainly not alone in Committee in finding the Government's reply unsatisfactory regarding the nature and the way in which interests were to be declared with regard to the LDA.

In her reply in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, seemed to imply that the provisions in the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 were satisfactory. However, I suggest to her that paragraph 8 of the second schedule to that Act, which I believe is the part of the legislation that she referred to as requiring declarations of interest, is really unsatisfactory and is certainly in no way comparable to the provision suggested by these amendments. The paragraph in that schedule deals only with ad hoc disclosures and not with general disclosures, which are then fully published. We debated the Food Standards Bill in the Moses Room last week. There are proper provisions in that legislation for declarations of interest and their publication. That is the right thing to do for a public agency. In our view, the LDA should be treated no differently.

We have tabled Amendment No. 531 which can be treated as either additional or alternative to Amendment No. 530. Indeed, the matter might be best dealt with by incorporating, as it seeks to do, Clause 55 of the Bill into the Regional Development Agencies Act. That clause currently applies only to the mayor, the assembly members and the staff of the authority. The amendment is designed to incorporate Clause 55 into the Regional Development Agencies Act so that the provision would also apply to members of the LDA. It deals inter alia with disclosure and registration of interests, the exercise of functions when there are conflicts of interest and,

    “the prescription of model codes of conduct".

All that could be properly applied to members of the LDA.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, pointed out, and as was quite clearly stated by the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, in Committee--who, after all, must have filled in a great many application forms to the Stock Exchange over a course of time--such declarations are the sort of thing that businessmen do every day as a matter of course. It really is time for the Government to accept that a much more comprehensive declaration of interest is required by members of the LDA under the terms of the Bill. They should be subject to a proper duty to make declarations. I very much hope that the Government will reconsider the matter.

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6.15 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the propositions in these particular amendments. I just wonder whether it is all a little too complicated, but no doubt my noble friend the Minister will enlighten us. There is one advantage that I see in a declaration; namely, that if someone signs a declaration which is false, it would open up the possibility of a prosecution for perjury. To that end, there would be an additional sanction available which, as I understand it, would not be available if the concept of a declaration is rejected. I may be wrong in that respect, so I shall certainly listen to my noble friend's response with care.

It seems to me to be important to inject into this argument the possibility of a criminal sanction which might follow in what is a matter of very important public duty. I simply put that idea forward for my noble friend to consider in her response to this debate.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 529E and 534B, together with Amendments Nos. 530 and 531 which were originally in the previous grouping, would require proposed members of the LDA board to complete a declaration covering certain issues which might render them unsuitable to serve on that board. Those issues would include bankruptcy, fraud, dishonesty, offences under the Companies Acts and similar legislation, and disqualification as a director. The declaration must be publicly available for one month before appointment.

The noble Lord has raised an important issue. I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate the matter with him again. Perhaps I may begin by stressing that we fully accept the need to avoid conflicts of interest and the need for high ethical standards. However, conflicts of interest are prevented by Schedule 2 to the Regional Development Agencies Act--this deals with one of the points raised by the noble Lord--which requires members to declare interests in matters being discussed and prevents such members from taking part in decisions in which they have an interest. Ethical standards are protected in part by the power of the mayor to remove members who become bankrupt and by the imposition of the local government framework of controls, including oversight by the Audit Commission and the appointment of a chief finance officer with statutory duties to ensure financial propriety. Therefore, we are convinced that there is no case for further controls in that area.

I can understand noble Lords seeking to argue that it is best to err on the side of caution, but we have another difficulty with the proposed amendments. We firmly believe that the approach suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan--with its emphasis on avoiding the rigidity introduced by trying to define standards in statute--is the right one. The amendment proposed would cut across that policy. We accept that the amendment essentially covers Stock Exchange practice for directors of plcs, but I am advised that that practice does not have a statutory basis, thus supporting the view that statute is not the best vehicle for such matters.

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Finally, I should point out that the mayor with his or her powers of appointment and extensive powers of direction over the LDA is able to apply such extra safeguards as she or he sees fit. Our policy is not to add unnecessary constraints on the mayor's freedom of action. He or she is, in the last analysis, answerable to the voters for stewardship of the authority and functional bodies. It is not clear that a false declaration would inevitably in all circumstances--I am sure noble Lords are aware that I am being cautious--lead to perjury; it would depend on the status of such action. I prefer to write to clarify the point in greater detail if that is necessary.

As regards the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, Amendment No. 530 requires proposed members to complete a declaration covering bankruptcy and certain related matters. However I believe that I have covered that point. I hope that noble Lords will feel that to achieve the aims which we share it is not necessary to proceed with the amendments.

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