Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Greater London Authority Bill

3.20 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [The Authority]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 12, leave out ("or imposed")

The noble Baroness said: I should perhaps apologise to the Committee for the fact that such a substantial Bill has attracted as its first amendment something that is not a bang and is barely even a whimper. The bangs, I am sure, will come later.

14 Jun 1999 : Column 15

Amendment No. 1 seeks to leave out of Clause 1(3) the term "imposed"--it is a term used in a number of places in the Bill--and to leave Clause 1(3) providing that,

    "The Authority shall have the functions which are transferred to, or conferred", on it, but not those which are "imposed" on it. The amendment seeks to do no more than understand whether the term "imposed" imports some other meaning than transferred or conferred. I suspect that it may be to do with responsibilities as distinct from powers, but the implication of the term "imposed" suggests that functions may be laid upon the authority against its will. I simply seek to understand what the Government mean by the term. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: The noble Baroness stole my line about "bangs" and "whimpers" which we shall no doubt experience as the Bill progresses. There is nothing sinister about the wording. The term "imposed" is quite frequently used in legislation. It reflects the fact that the word "functions" includes powers and duties. It is common as a matter of drafting to refer to "conferring" powers and "imposing" duties. For example, the same wording was used without any great controversy in the Government of Wales Act in respect of the functions of the National Assembly for Wales. In short, it means that the Assembly will have the functions that Parliament decides from time to time that it should have.

I understand the noble Baroness's anxiety that governments should consult. No doubt this consultative and inclusive government will always consult on such matters. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, for this and for future governments, it is a matter for Parliament what duties shall be undertaken by local authorities, including the Greater London Authority. How those duties are imposed will therefore reflect the intentions of the government and Parliament at the time, but no doubt from time to time Parliament will impose duties as well as confer powers.

I hope the noble Baroness will not seek to press the matter further. There is adequate precedent for using the word "impose". I hope that she accepts that.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I feel I must comment on the word "imposed". Legislation constantly imposes duties upon local authorities and now on regional authorities but never gives or guarantees the necessary funding to match the impositions. I feel that that point should be made.

Earl Russell: I understand the point the Minister makes. However, can the Government see their way to making it in less imposing language?

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I did not speak on Second Reading but I am interested in this Bill and hope to join in debates from time to time. I felt that the

14 Jun 1999 : Column 16

Minister replied in a very casual way. What would happen if the authority refused to have the power imposed?

Lord Whitty: I am not sure I can better the comment of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Obviously my original intervention was not sufficiently imposing for the noble Baroness. I hope it was not casual. It is a matter of convention that the term "imposed" is used in relation to local authorities.

I accept in part the more general point that when we impose we should seek to ensure that we provide the resources to ensure that the duty is carried out. That is certainly this Government's intention with regard to the Greater London Authority. However, the word "imposed" is not inappropriate here. We use it in other areas of local government. In this devolution debate it is right that this Parliament should impose functions on local authorities and other assemblies within our devolved constitution.

The sanctions available if an authority refused to carry out the function would depend upon what function we were talking about. There are some sanctions in local authority legislation; there are others where the sanction is left to the electorate. It depends very much on how we draft the legislation. There are different powers within this Bill with regard to different functions. I am trying to resist the implication that the word "imposed" by definition is a draconian measure. It is not. It is one frequently used by the draftsman over the years.

Lord Avebury: I understood the Minister to tell the Committee that in all legislation it is usual to "confer" functions and "impose" duties. In this subsection there is no mention of duties. If we wish to impose something on a local authority, as we may well do, not just in this legislation but also in future legislation, should they not be duties and should not those duties be mentioned in the subsection as well as the functions?

Lord Whitty: This grammatical debate is taking some time. In my initial reply I said that "functions" subsumed both powers and duties, and that indeed is the case. The normal terminology therefore is to "confer" powers and to "impose" duties. In individual areas of this and other Bills, that is the terminology used.

Baroness Hamwee: My noble friend made the point I had in mind; that is, whether "functions" really does subsume powers and duties or responsibilities. When the Minister said he hoped I would not take the matter further, my noble friends, in a chorus, said, "Why not?". That was perhaps being a little mischievous. This may be an occasion--not to set a precedent for the rest of the Bill--when I can say that, although I shall read the Minister's answer, I do not believe I shall want to bring the matter back later. I thank him for his explanation and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

14 Jun 1999 : Column 17

3.30 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 2.

Page 1, line 12, at end insert--
("(4) In this Act, the Greater London Authority shall be referred to as "the Authority."")

The noble Lord said: Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, we are beginning this massive task with quite a small matter, but it is nonetheless important.

I must confess that on reading through the Bill, which consists of 328 pages, 330 clauses and 27 schedules, I found it occasionally difficult to remember what I had read before and the relationship between the individual parts. That may be inevitable, but the need for the amendment arose when I read Schedules 18 and 19, which relate exclusively to Clause 112.

Schedule 18 commences with the word "Interpretation" and gives various meanings in a list that fills nearly a page: it goes from a borough scheme to a charging area, to traffic signs and trunk roads. There is no mention of the authority.

On previous occasions when I have looked at legal documents I have always referred to the list of definitions, and everything that is required to be defined has been contained in that section. Therefore, I was surprised, having read the list in Schedule 18, to come across the words "the Authority". I had just read a page of definitions, but "the Authority" was not defined. The same situation applies in regard to Schedule 19.

The Bill is full of references to different authorities: all of the London boroughs are authorities; the Common Council of the City, the Police Authority, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority; and even Transport for London can be called an authority. I could not recall anywhere in the Bill where "the Authority" was defined as meaning the Greater London Authority.

My initial reaction was to put down one amendment to Schedule 18 and a separate one for Schedule 19; but I have to confess to the Committee that I could not remember with sufficient accuracy whether wherever the words "the Authority" were used in the Bill they were used exclusively and precisely to mean the Greater London Authority, and that they could not mean anything else wherever they had been used.

I invite the Minister to consider the matter and ask him to give me an assurance that wherever the words "the Authority" have been used, they mean the Greater London Authority and nothing else. That would make me a very happy man. If he is unable to give that assurance, perhaps he can accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: I understand why the noble Lord has raised this point because it is often difficult to see whether definitions relate to part or all of the Bill, and it is a bit like a treasure hunt. I am not sure that it is for me to make the noble Lord very happy, but is he not satisfied with the definition contained in Clause 329 which applies to the whole of the Bill?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page