Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bassam of Brighton: As ever, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has set out her case clearly. As she explained to the Committee, each year the Assembly is required to hold 10 meetings at which it considers a mayoral report and puts questions to the mayor. There is a requirement that at least 28 days' notice be given of such a meeting—which has the practical effect that meetings will always be at least 28 days apart—other than for the first meeting after an election when the notice required is as soon as is reasonably practicable. The amendment would reduce the notice period for meetings from 28 to 14 days while still ensuring that the meetings were at least 28 days apart.

The current 28-day notice period gives the mayor time to prepare his report for consideration at the meetings and for him and others to prepare for the questions that he will be asked. It also gives members of the public time to make arrangements to attend those meetings if they so wish. The amendment would not make it easier to fit those 10 meetings into a year—that is the first important point—but it would halve the notice period given for each meeting. In our view, that may create practical difficulties for those wanting to attend meetings.

The amendment would not solve the problem and could create further difficulty in that insufficient time would elapse for people to realise that the next round of mayor's question time and reporting was upon them. I understand the difficulty but I cannot see the amendment as a practical solution to the problem.

Earl Russell: As I was going up the stair, I met a mayor who was not there. He was not there again today. I wish to God he would go away.

This is a wonderful example of the use of the best brains in the country to think up more and more ways of saying no to practical parliamentary amendments. Of course there are difficulties. There are difficulties with every possible solution. One sometimes thinks that Ministers employ those in Whitehall to provide a problem for every solution. If the Minister thinks that the amendment does not provide the solution, what does he think does?

Baroness Hamwee: I was hoping that the Minister might respond to my noble friend.

When the Bill was originally presented to Parliament—this shows the mathematical ability of those at the other end of the Corridor—no one noticed that 12 meetings a year, which was in the original draft, with 28 days' gap between them would provide even more difficulty. I clearly recall the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and I sitting on the Front Bench saying, "This simply will not work". That is why the number of

24 Jun 2003 : Column GC66

mayor's question time was reduced to 10. It was not because we do not want adequately to hold to account any mayor.

The Minister, who is a politician to his fingertips even if he is not now an elected politician, will understand that, in practical terms, April is not a good month for holding meetings, nor is August. Quite sensibly, the current arrangements are that those are the two down months. However, the draftsmen who dreamt up a work schedule for members and for the mayor—which, one suspects, they might not necessarily have themselves welcomed—have left us with a problem.

My noble friend is right—as ever, he puts it more effectively than I—and I suggest to the Minister that there must be a solution to this problem. The solution may be 28 days instead of 14. If the Minister would like officials from the Assembly and from the mayor's office to talk this through in front of him, let us have a go.

Of course one must give adequate notice of meetings, but one can give notice while allowing oneself some latitude. The mayor is required to report, but to hold meetings where we cannot have the mayor there—as the Committee can imagine, there is some hilarity as to whether the deputy mayor will make an appropriate substitute—is not a sensible way to hold the mayor of the capital city to account.

If no solution is available today, can I come and talk to the Minister and to his officials? This is a silly point and we need to bottom it out.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I do not want to labour the issue. It is not in our interests to do that this afternoon. I understand that there have been discussions between officials from the Assembly and the ODPM. I am prepared to make the obvious point that we are happy to continue those discussions to see whether a practical and workable solution can be found.

I recognise the importance of ensuring that we have protected time during the cycle of the political year. It is important that the mayor is given the opportunity to explain himself and that people are given the opportunity to question him as the legislation intended. After all, it is all about making sure that he is fully accountable.

There is no way that I will enter into a debate today about whether the deputy mayor is an appropriate substitute.

Baroness Hamwee: I hope that we can try to sort it out before the end of the Bill's passage. As I said, such opportunities are few and far between. As it has been reported to me—I may have misunderstood—such discussions as there have been, which have been with the Government Office rather than with the ODPM, have not particularly flagged up the problems let alone moved towards the solutions. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

24 Jun 2003 : Column GC67

4 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 221CB:

    After Clause 116, insert the following new clause—

(1) After section 38 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (c. 29) there is inserted—
38A (1) Section 22 of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) (access to information etc) shall have effect as if—
(a) the mayor was a local authority executive,
(b) a reference to an individual member of such an executive referred to either the mayor or to a person or body mentioned in section 38(2) to whom an authorisation has been given by the mayor under section 38(1), and
(c) any occasion on which either the mayor or such a person or body exercises any function of the Authority (whether such a function is exercisable by him solely or by him jointly with the Assembly on the Authority's behalf) was a meeting of a local authority executive,
but with the modifications contained in subsections (2) to (4) below.
(2) Any reference in section 22 of that Act to a committee of a local authority executive, or to a sub-committee of such a committee, shall be disregarded.
(3) A reference in section 22 of that Act to an overview and scrutiny committee, or to a sub-committee of such a committee, is a reference—
(a) to the Assembly;
(b) if the Assembly has appointed a committee or committees under section 54, to such a committee or committees (being ordinary committees within the meaning of section 55(1)) as the Assembly shall designate under subsection (4).
(4) The Assembly shall designate a committee or committees for the purpose of discharging an overview and scrutiny committee's functions under section 22 of that Act, provided that section 54 shall not apply to its functions under this subsection."
(2) In section 420(8) of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (regulations and orders) after "section 25;" there is inserted "section 38A;"."

The noble Baroness said: I would have expected this to be the more sensitive issue. I have already made the point that it is not party political. I told the current mayor that I was tabling the amendment and I made it clear to him that it related to the office of mayor, not his mayoralty.

The issue is openness and access to information and it is right to put on record that, although there have been criticisms on the part of the Assembly about openness on particular matters, the mayor makes his ten reports a year. There is now a system for regularly recording mayoral decisions and putting them in the public domain. I think it is fair to say that, within City Hall, work is in progress on this. Nevertheless, as a result of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and the Local Government Act 2000 we have one executive in this country who is not subject to the access to information provisions. The Assembly, as the scrutiny arm of the GLA, has almost no executive powers at all.

The Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985 does not apply to the mayor of London. Although the rules cover many bodies, including local authorities, fire and police authorities, regional development agencies and even three out of four of the GLA's own functional bodies, they do not cover

24 Jun 2003 : Column GC68

Transport for London—of which, under the legislative arrangements, the mayor himself is the chair. When the Government implemented their agenda for modernising local government, they introduced new access to information rules to safeguard transparency in the newly created executives. As I said, however, none of the safeguards were applied to the GLA.

The Government clearly appreciate that significant decisions taken by individual mayors or councillors in executive positions in local government should be open to public scrutiny and indeed to press scrutiny. The arrangements therefore require that notification be published in advance when key decisions are to be made so that the proposed decision is made in public. The agenda, reports about the proposal and a record of the eventual decision must be made public. I see no reason in principle why those protections should not apply to the mayor of London.

The Assembly's meetings, which are essentially scrutiny meetings, are open to the public, with advance copies of agendas, reports and minutes. However, it is the mayor's decisions that have a real and immediate impact on London and Londoners. At mayor's question time, to which I have just referred, the mayor decides what to include in his own report. He also has to make an annual report. Members of the Committee have probably received the rather large document which has recently been circulated. I received the document as "Baroness Hamwee" a considerable time before I received it as "Sally Hamwee, Member of the Assembly", but that is another matter. However, those arrangements are not adequate for the purposes that I am discussing.

My amendment will allow the Secretary of State to extend regulations on the transparency of decision making to the mayor of London, with a similar approach to a forward plan of future significant decisions. As I said, I appreciate that this matter is perhaps more sensitive than the previous one. It is perhaps right, therefore, to conclude by saying that I am not seeking to extend the Assembly's powers. I am not, for example, seeking to enable the Assembly to call in decisions, change statutory strategies or anything of that sort. However, I think it appropriate that we address why there is a difference in the openness provisions. When I mentioned the matter some time ago to a previous Minister, my comment that the situation had occurred was met with surprise, almost incredulity. I therefore look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page