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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree that the United States has done a lot to assist Russia, but

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I do not accept that Her Majesty's Government have not played an equal part. We have been vigorous in this area. We have supported all our allies, particularly our American friends, in this endeavour and shall continue to do so.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, regarding the possession of nuclear weapons, what is the view of the noble Baroness of the recent judgment of Greenock sheriff court?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have not yet had the judgment given by the sheriff court; and we await an opportunity to read it in detail. But we are confident that there is no conflict between the International Court of Justice's advisory opinion and the Government's policy of minimum deterrence. When we have had an opportunity to study the formal findings of the sheriff court, we shall be able to take a more informed view.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, given that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is scheduled for review in the fairly near future, does the Minister agree that many of the non-nuclear powers are troubled at the absence of much sign from the nuclear powers that they want to make a move in that direction? Would it not be a major contribution to confidence-building if NATO were to make a declaration of no first use?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I under- stand the noble and learned Lord's sentiment and his anxiety. It is a difficult issue. However, we have made it clear, nationally and in NATO, that the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are now extremely remote.

Nevertheless, NATO continues to reserve the right of limited first use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances of self-defence to persuade an aggressor to desist if no other means are available. It is clear that there is no prospect of consensus among the allies on a move to a policy of no first use.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does the Minister agree that we should bring home to our friends in the United States the tremendous damage done to the cause of arms control by the recent decision on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty? Does my noble friend agree that in his forthright leadership, the President of the United States speaks more convincingly for the people of the United States? Does she agree that if we are to make progress on this front, it is essential to bring home to our friends in America that it is while they have ascendancy that they have a vested interest for their own future in building up convincing international policies and agreements?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have made clear to the Americans our grave disappointment with the US Senate vote. But, as the noble Lord says, that vote does not mean the end of the treaty. We have welcomed the US Administration's

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expression of continuing support for the treaty. We shall continue to work with them and other key countries to bring the treaty into force as soon as possible.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, while discussing American attitudes, will the Minister accept that although the Senate's refusal to counsel assent at this stage to the ratification of the total test ban treaty may be understandable, it is difficult to understand the total inactivity of the President of the United States with regard to the stockpile during his term of office?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. We are extremely disappointed that the Americans have taken the view that they have. It would have been preferable if they could have led by example to encourage others to join us in what is a very important endeavour. We have an indication that the American Administration are seeking to address the issue.

Business of the House: Food Standards Bill

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 40 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Wednesday next so far as to allow the Food Standards Bill to be taken before the Motion standing in the name of the Lord Grenfell.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Greater London Authority Bill

3.13 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Greater London Authority Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Clause 6 [Failure to attend meetings]:

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 4, line 39, after ("If") insert (", without the consent of the Assembly,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 2, 4 and 5. The amendments relate to the period of absence without consent. Amendment No. 1 refers to assembly members. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 refer to the mayor. The amendments seek to reduce the period from the six months provided in the Bill to three months.

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I make no apologies for returning to this matter again even at this late stage. It is not a matter of great principle. It does not affect the structure of the Bill. But we believe it to be extremely important in terms of practical common sense. I say that with 25 years' experience in local government. As regards assembly members, we are dealing with a situation which will arise sooner or later.

The provision in the Bill which requires assembly members to be deemed to have resigned if they have been absent from meetings for six months is based on local government practice and legislation. We have debated the issue. Why is the assembly different? Why should it be treated differently?

The Government have told us throughout the passage of the Bill that the assembly is not local government. For that reason alone, the provisions for local government need not apply. There are important differences between the Greater London assembly and any local authority. First, the assembly will have only 25 members. That is exactly half the number of the smallest London borough council. Unlike all local authorities, there will be no back-bench assembly members. All 25 assembly members will have individually and collectively important duties and roles to play. Most, if not all, will also be members of the various functional bodies being established. Unlike most, possibly all, councillors, assembly members are expected to be full time. Even more importantly, unlike the vast majority--arguably all--local authority councillors, full-time assembly members are to be paid a full-time salary. We do not yet know what that is to be.

Various objections have been put forward by the Government during the passage of the Bill. Assembly members may be unavoidably absent perhaps through long-term illness. The Minister will recall my pointing out the practice in local government of giving consent for someone to be absent for a longer period if there is good reason--such as long-term illness. The amendment provides for that, to make doubly sure. We are dealing with full-time, paid assembly members who are absent for a period of time without good reason and without the consent that the assembly would normally give.

It is a very different position from that which applies in local government. A single assembly member may be more greatly missed because of the smaller number of members and the greater responsibilities involved than those of a back-bench councillor or a committee chair on a local authority who, if long-term illness prevents him carrying out his duties, can be more easily replaced temporarily by a colleague.

We believe that six months' absence in a four-year term from any meeting--I do not refer just to the full meeting of the assembly, but also its sub-committees, and so on--is much too long. In debate on the issue, the Government have given no good argument why the period should be six months rather than three months. We are dealing with an assembly which will work every day. Full-time members will attend the

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assembly building every day. They will be paid full-time salaries. We are not dealing with councillors who turn up once a week or fortnight for a meeting.

We think that the appropriate period is three months. If an assembly member is absent without good reason and without prior consent for a longer period than three months, a serious situation will occur. Under such circumstances, that assembly member is unable to carry out his duties and, if necessary, should be removed from office.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 make the same provisions with regard to the mayor who, under the Bill as it stands, is required to attend six consecutive monthly meetings of the assembly. I accept and hope that such circumstances are less likely to arise. If the mayor ignores the assembly for a period as long as six months, or even three months, there are greater difficulties than are provided for in the Bill.

The whole purpose of legislating here is to deal with situations which we hope will not arise, but which may arise. It is better to envisage situations which may arise and provide accordingly at this stage than after the event when there will be all kinds of difficulties.

A mayor needs to have, and I hope will have, a good and positive working relationship with the assembly. The mayor will wish to attend assembly meetings and the assembly will wish the mayor to attend. There may be circumstances in which that is not possible and we make provision for the assembly to consent to absence for a longer period if there is a good reason. That is the custom and practice in local government.

In objecting to the measure on Report, the Minister said that the assembly could possibly collaborate with the mayor to ensure that the mayor never had to attend assembly meetings. I suppose that, theoretically, that is possible, but I suggest that if we ever reach the stage where the assembly wishes to collude with the mayor so as to ensure that the mayor never attends assembly meetings, there is something deeply wrong with the whole process. We all conjecture on unlikely happenings, but on this occasion the Minister strayed into fantasy. Such a situation will not arise.

If a mayor decides that he or she does not wish to attend assembly meetings, a period of six months in a four-year term of office is a long time to provide. We are talking about a mayor who has considerable powers, albeit limited by the Bill, and a high personal profile. The whole purpose of the assembly is to be able to question the mayor and to hold the mayor to account. If the mayor is able to "escape" meetings for a period as long as six months, the mayor is thumbing his nose at the assembly and the assembly is being prevented from carrying out the job that the Government propose it should. There will be a full-time assembly and a full-time mayor of the largest authority in the country and we believe that a three-month period is quite long enough.

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There may well be a circumstance in which the mayor is unable to attend meetings for longer than three months. Perhaps for good reasons he will have missed two meetings and then suddenly find that he will have to miss the third. It is reasonable that we should provide, as we do in local government, for the assembly to recognise and understand the mayor's good reason for being unable to attend the third monthly meeting and to give consent. That is the reason for Amendment No. 4.

These are not matters of great principle, but they are matters of practical common sense. With all my experience of local government--others present have as much and possibly more--I know that we are dealing with situations which sooner or later will arise. I do not know why the Government have been unable to consider the matter more carefully. I can assume only that they have been too distracted by the 880-odd amendments which they have presented to your Lordships.

For the practical good running of the Greater London Authority, I beg the Government to accept the amendments. I beg to move.

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