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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I should declare an interest as deputy chair of the Greater London Assembly. I must not in your Lordships' House speak on behalf of the Assembly--nor indeed on behalf of the mayor--although I am not sure that I could ever speak quite on behalf of the mayor. However, I am privy to the GLA's views and I base my remarks on those.
For me there is no personal conflict because I believe that information concerning government at every level and the public sector should be in the public domain unless there is a very good reason for it not to be. In the title of the order we see the words "Protected Information". It would more accurately be called "Restricted Information".
Before I comment on the detail of the order, I should like to make a general point. The order was laid before Parliament during the Recess and came into force while both Houses were still in recess. Thus it was not possible for a Member of either House to pray against it. In August I was advised by the Clerks that I could apply to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to recall the House so that we might debate the order, but I thought it fairly likely that he would not have been amenable to such a request. I therefore did not ask him so to do. However, I am glad to have the opportunity to raise the matter today.
This is a serious matter. Such an arrangement forms a block on Parliament's opportunity to scrutinise the actions of the executive. The order has been made under the provisions of the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Under the Act, the Assembly has the power to require the attendance of witnesses and to order the production of documents. The Secretary of State is permitted by the legislation to prescribe categories of information and documents which a person may refuse to give or to produce. Similarly, the Secretary of State may prescribe categories of information which a
The Assembly can require information and the production of documents from members of staff both of the Greater London Authority and of the functional bodies, past and present chairs and members of the functional bodies, contractors and their employees, recipients of GLA grants and their employees, and past and present mayors and members of the Assembly. Each of these categories can claim the benefit of the protection afforded by this order. To put that into a more realistic light, the Assembly is entitled, for example, to summon contractors of a functional body--such as contractors for Transport for London--to appear before it. I believe that it would be, to put it bluntly, daft for the Assembly not to be able to require that information should be produced; otherwise--again, to put that more accurately--it would allow the contractors to refuse to disclose information unless a good reason is offered.
Before the order was laid, consultation took place between the Government and the Greater London Authority. I must acknowledge that amendments were made to the original draft. However, there remain some serious concerns. The initial draft provoked responses which dealt with two areas of general concern, as well as other matters of detail. It was believed that the main principle to establish should have been that the mayor and the Assembly should have access to all documents unless they were deemed confidential for a specifically defined public interest reason.
The order is based largely on the provisions contained in the Local Government Act 1972. The relevant schedule to that Act on which this order is based has as its main application the means by which to define categories of information which are not be discussed in the presence of the general public. That is a rather different scenario from the one which would apply in the case of the Assembly. I believe that it is inappropriate for an order dealing with the right of access for the mayor in carrying out his executive functions or the Assembly in its role as a scrutineer. It ignores the ability of the mayor and the Assembly to receive information in confidence. I should say to the House that, although I dislike the situation where anyone acting in a public role receives information on a confidential basis--namely, so that it cannot be disclosed to the general public--even that is better than not receiving such information at all.
A number of other objections were raised on the draft order and, as I have said, some of those have been addressed in the final form of the order. The schedule to the order sets out the categories of proscribed or protected information. Perhaps I may deal with some of the paragraphs and give examples of where the GLA, and therefore myself--having been given the brief--consider that problems could arise.
The first paragraph concerns information relating to employees of the various bodies in question. The current wording does not address the ability of the functional bodies to prevent access to information on the employment contracts of senior officers. Public companies, as well as local authorities, must publish in their accounts details regarding employment. At a time when concerns continue to be expressed as regards "fat cat salaries"--to put it into colloquial language--I think that it would be entirely right for the Assembly to be able to require the functional bodies such as Transport for London to provide that kind of information. Transport for London, which is chaired by the mayor, has recently appointed a new chief executive who will be paid a very substantial salary. It so happens that the current mayor has made that information public, although the detail as regards performance bonuses has not yet been finalised. We do not yet know those details and it may be that Transport for London will decide that it does not wish to make such information public. That is the kind of information that the Assembly should be able to require and to put into the public domain.
Paragraph 3 deals with information in connection with legal proceedings. In order that the Assembly may fulfil its scrutiny functions, it needs to know fully the reasons for the actions undertaken by a functional body. I accept that occasionally the detail of a particular proceeding could not appropriately be discussed in draft. However, the order as presently worded could prevent access to information on litigation which, if the Assembly were to discover it, could identify systems failures. For example, it could be a series of adverse decisions or settlements as regards similar personal injury or employment tribunal cases. If these were put into the public domain, a stream of discrimination claims might be disclosed.
Paragraph 4 deals with information relating to actions in preventing the investigation or prosecution of particular crimes or regarding techniques or methods of criminal investigation. It is worth making the point that while there is no right to summon information from the Metropolitan Police, this paragraph would prevent access to investigations being undertaken by the functional bodies. It has been suggested to me that if the Stephen Lawrence case were to take place today, the mayor and Assembly could be excluded from access to information other than sight of the final public report.
Noble Lords will recall the case of the nun who fell asleep on a bus and was subsequently prosecuted for not having a ticket. It would be a nonsense if that kind of matter could not be investigated. Despite discussions which have been conducted between officers of the Greater London Authority and government officials, we believe that a little alteration in the drafting before the order was produced in its final form could have helped to ameliorate at least some of the GLA's concerns in this area.
I make these points because the Metropolitan Police carry out activities of a national and international nature. It is important that, when scrutinising the expenditure of London's police, Londoners should be confident that their elected representatives know the balance in the budget of what is spent on policing in London for London, and what is spent on activities which have an international flavour.
That could be extended to the question of where the instructions may come from for policing a particular demonstration. Your Lordships will recall the controversy surrounding the demonstrations at the time of the visit of members of the Chinese Government. That is the kind of thing that London's elected representatives should be able to question.
The whole of the schedule uses the terminology "information relating to", and then it lists the categories. It does not, for instance, mention "information required to ensure the confidentiality of"--in other words, it is too broad. If particular information needs to be withheld for good reason, there may be an argument for that. If information should not be splashed across the Evening Standard or put up on the GLA's website, there should be a framework to enable its production on a confidential basis.
London's government is in its early days, I know, but I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that there is a need for a swift review of the principle of the order and its mechanisms. London's newly elected representatives are eager--for themselves and for their successors--to do their job of scrutinising the actions of the mayor and London's functional bodies and working for the good of London. They should be able to carry out that duty without unnecessary hindrance. I beg to move.
Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the order, laid before the House on 8th August, be annulled (S.I. 2000/2060).--(Baroness Hamwee.)
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