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Lord Dixon-Smith: After that debate I will consider what the Minister has said, and for the moment withdraw the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10 May 1999 : Column CWH5

3.45 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 20, at end insert--
("(k) a Regional Development Agency")

The noble Lord said: We are immediately into another very dangerous field because this is the point at which this particular Bill impacts on yet another Bill which has only just arrived before this House. I suppose that consideration of that Bill will take a great deal more time than consideration of this one. In fact, we have here three amendments. The first is a matter of consistency. If we include the London development agency here, I have some difficulty in understanding why we do not include the regional development agencies in this particular category. I have tried to understand whether the regional development agencies were precursors for the London development agency, or whether it was the other way round and it just happened that the legislative programme went in a different direction.

I accept that, unusually, the London development agency is going to be part of the Greater London Authority, whereas of course the regional development agencies are established on a rather separate basis. It seems to me that the concept and principles of best value, if they have validity, have validity in rather wider spheres than purely those of local government. Therefore, I have no hesitation in moving the first amendment in this particular group.

Is it appropriate that I speak to the other two amendments in the group at this time?

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Yes.

Lord Dixon-Smith: The second one in fact seeks to establish the Greater London Authority in its entirety as a best value authority. Subsection (2)(d) has a peculiar way of expressing the aspect of London that is subject to the duty of best value. It states,

    "the Greater London Authority so far as it exercises its functions through the Mayor". One way out of this would appear to be for the mayor to decide not to exercise any functions, unless it is those as defined in the Bill. If he can delegate, he can delegate the duty of best value out of existence.

I have some difficulty, therefore, with that particular proposal. Again, if best value has a genuine reason for being, there seems no reason why it should not apply across the Greater London Authority. After all, if one looks down the list of authorities which are included, among which are the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Transport for London, the London Development Agency and police authority, there is precious little of the Greater London Authority remaining that is not already in the Bill. I find this annotation in subsection (2)(d), therefore, rather strange.

The third amendment in the group simply removes Clause 2(4), which provides that,

    "The Secretary of State may by order provide for the Greater London Authority to be a best value authority for the purposes of this Part in relation to".

10 May 1999 : Column CWH6

    Therefore, what I am proposing is on the face of the Bill already, but written in a rather longer format. My amendment would merely simplify matters somewhat. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: I, too, was perplexed by the reference to the London development agency, but not regional development agencies, until I read the proceedings in another place and realised that this is because of the status in the health scheme of the local government finance system. I understand that the difference is that the London development agency will be a precepting authority. I dare say that some noble Lords will have comments to make about that when we debate that Bill.

I noted, too, that the comment was made by the Government in another place that NDPBs funded by central government and subject to audit arrangements are subject to what they described as satisfactory arrangements to safeguard probity and value for money. The Minister there was right to refer to quangos and how they deliver their functions. However, local authorities, too, are subject to audit; they are also subject to the ballot box, as we have seen in the past few days.

I would hope that so far as concerns the Greater London Authority, there might be a possibility of finding a more straightforward way to express this remarkably convoluted concept. I am aware that the Government want the Bill to be flexibly drawn to allow for the different ways in which the GLA is to deliver its functions but I do not believe that this clause would pass the plain English test. It has taken me--and others, I know--many readings to try to understand it and I am not entirely sure that I understand it yet.

Lord Bridges: I support Amendment No. 2 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, which seeks to include regional development agencies in the list in Clause 1. These agencies were set up under a recent statute. They are not supported, as was originally intended, by elected members in a separate council. The requirements that are set out in the Title of the Bill relating to economy, efficiency and effectiveness could appropriately be applied to the regional development agencies. I support the amendment.

Lord Harris of Haringey: I would have some sympathy with the objectives of the amendments in relation to regional development agencies if that were part of a general approach considering the involvement of all public authorities in best value. However, regional development agencies outside London in many ways constitute "unfinished business" in that they do not relate to an elected authority, whereas the regional development agency in London, the London development agency, will be accountable to a directly elected mayor. That is a distinction which I believe is important and one of the reasons the Bill is placing the London development agency within the ambit of best value, because the London development agency will be acting as part of an authority, an authority which will be precepting from council tax payers across London. The same principles therefore ought to apply to the

10 May 1999 : Column CWH7

activities of the London development agency as would apply to any other service for which Londoners are paying through council tax. For that reason I believe that the amendment as drafted is not particularly helpful.

I will not pass judgment on the other amendments because I shall be interested, too, in hearing the precise definition that the Minister is about to give in relation to the responsibilities of the Greater London Authority. It may well be that no functions whatsoever in respect of the delivery of services will be delivered other than under the aegis of the mayor, or the agencies accountable to the mayor. In that case, while I accept that this is not perhaps the simplest way of expressing the concept, it none the less covers all the points that might need to be made.

Lord Whitty: The noble Lord and others have described the complexities of a Bill which has just finished its proceedings in another place and will not be with us until next week. This Bill is attempting to make provision for it. Whether in my reply now I can reduce all of that to standard, plain English I am not entirely sure; I will make an attempt.

As far as regional development agencies outside London are concerned, they are not part of the local authority structure, and the Bill deals with the local authority structure. The Committee will understand that the London development agency is a different case. It has been identified as a best value authority because it will, as the noble Baroness said, be a precepting authority on the Greater London Authority and will be within the total ambit of the local government finance system and therefore within the scope of the best value provisions of the Bill.

Other regional development agencies are not in that position. They are the equivalent of non-departmental public bodies. They will be funded by central government grant-in-aid, and they are accountable to the Secretary of State and then to Parliament. Moreover, their financial arrangements will be set out in financial memoranda and they will be audited by the National Audit Office.

Like other non-departmental public bodies, RDAs will be subject to periodic financial management and policy reviews. Arrangements are therefore already in place to safeguard probity and value-for-money considerations in respect of the non-London RDAs. Those powers are contained in the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. I hope that explains why we cannot accept Amendment No. 2.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 relate to the position of the Greater London Authority under the best value regime. Amendment No. 5 would have the effect of subjecting all the functions of the GLA to the general duty of best value and not just those corporate functions that are exercised through the mayor.

Noble Lords will have noted the particular way in which the Bill provides for the duty of best value to be applied to the GLA. In Clause 1 the GLA is identified as a best value authority

    "so far as it exercises its functions through the Mayor".

10 May 1999 : Column CWH8

    Subsection (4) of Clause 2 provides for the duty to be applied to functions not exercised through the mayor, and functions of another best value authority.

The Government believe that the GLA should be subjected to the duty of best value throughout; but the way in which the duty of best value is applied needs to be flexibly drawn in order to take account of the different ways in which the GLA exercises its functions and its relationship with the four functional bodies that will deliver the main London-wide services, namely, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Transport for London, the London Development Agency and the Metropolitan Police Authority.

The Bill needs to be sufficiently flexible to cater for different internal working arrangements and to ensure that as much of the GLA's normal work as possible is subject to the duty of best value. Clause 2(4) achieves that by allowing the Secretary of State to provide by order the duty of best value, to be applied to any function exercised by the GLA other than through the mayor, and to any role it plays in respect of the functions of other best value authorities; for example, setting the strategy for Transport for London, which is itself a best value authority.

This approach to creating a duty of best value for the GLA takes specific account of the range of different relationships that will exist between its constituent parts. They will ensure as far as possible that accountability for delivering best value will attach to the bodies responsible for carrying out the various functions. Those bodies specified in the Bill are separately audited and separately accountable.

Accountability for the duty of best value needs to be equally clearly drawn, so that there is no doubt where responsibility lies for delivering it. The combination of provisions included in the Bill allows us to ensure that that will be the case. We shall, of course, be prepared to assist the GLA and its various functional bodies by means of guidance should that prove necessary.

A simple application of best duty to the GLA corporately, as is the intention of Amendment No. 5, would prevent those aims from being achieved satisfactorily. We run the risk of blurring the lines of accountability if the application of the duty of best value is not clearly prescribed. The Bill as drafted gives us the ability clearly to identify the separate roles of the mayor, the assembly and the functional bodies. A simple corporate application of the duty would not allow us to do so; it would detract from the lines of responsibility and the transparency that we seek.

I hope that that is a clear enough explanation for the noble Baroness, and I hope that the noble Lord will not feel the need to press these amendments.

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