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Baroness Hamwee: Perhaps the Minister will explain to me what are "reasonable hours" mentioned in Amendment No. 130A.

Lord Whitty: They are clearly not the proceedings of this Committee. "Reasonable hours" would normally be interpreted to be something slightly beyond normal office hours. In an earlier debate, the noble Baroness raised the question of means of access to documents. My noble friend indicated that we shall consider that point as will, no doubt, the mayor in exercising his reasonableness. However, "reasonable hours" does not mean half past one in the morning in terms of the physical copying of the document. Some flexibility should be allowed to the authority in determining precisely what are those "reasonable hours".

Lord Dixon-Smith: In view of the fact that we are all reasonably requiring the mayor to be reasonable, it seems to me that if a strategy had not been amended for a period of six years, it should be republished. Should that provision not be included in the Bill so that the matter is taken care of?

Lord Whitty: I do not believe that such a requirement is necessary. I take note of what the noble Lord says and I shall consider it. But there is a clear implication and any test of reasonableness would lead to the same conclusion as that drawn by Members of the Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 130B to 130D:


Page 21, line 31, after ("strategy") insert (", or any part of such a strategy,").
Page 21, line 31, leave out ("member of the public who requests it") and insert ("person on request during the appropriate period").
Page 21, line 32, at end insert--
("( ) In this section "the appropriate period" in the case of any strategy is the period of six years beginning with the date of publication of the strategy.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 131 to 133 not moved.]

Clause 35, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 36 [Directions by the Secretary of State]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 133A:


Page 21, line 41, at end insert--
("(4) The Secretary of State shall give his reasons for making a direction under subsection (1) when issuing the direction.").

23 Jun 1999 : Column 969

The noble Baroness said: Clause 36 enables the Secretary of State to issue directions to the mayor if he has failed to publish a strategy and does not seem to be taking steps to prepare one. Subsection (2) enables the Secretary of State to impose a time limit. Subsection (3) requires the mayor to comply with the direction. We can certainly understand the need for those powers just in case, for one reason or another, the mayor is dragging his feet over one or more of the strategies he is supposed to create and publicise.

However, there is one element missing from the powers which the Secretary of State is taking. He should be required to tell the mayor why he is making the direction. That may simply be, "Well, you have taken six months and that is far too long", or, "You have declined to form a strategy on that subject and I require you to do so". The reasons may be obvious to everybody, including or especially the mayor. The circumstances in which that power may need to be invoked may be extremely remote. However, whatever the reason for issuing the direction, it should contain just that one extra sentence or two which explains to the mayor why he is being subjected to that procedure.

There does not seem to be any sanction against the mayor for failing to comply with a direction. But, equally, the mayor does not seem to have any right of appeal against such a direction. In what I have described already as the extremely remote circumstance of the clause being invoked, I believe that the mayor should have the right to know the exact nature of the complaint against him. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: If we must have the clause in the form proposed in the Bill, then I agree with the noble Baroness that we need the amendment. We believe that an extra step is desirable in the process. Our Amendment No. 134 proposes that the assembly should first be able to take the mayor to task if he fails to publish a strategy before the Secretary of State can step in.

The assembly can do that through questions and so on. However, the amendment provides a more formal provision which gives the assembly a specific role. That is appropriate because the assembly will be closer than the Secretary of State to what the authority is doing. The assembly will have been involved with issues relevant to the strategy.

We are concerned about the ability of the Secretary of State, however far in reserve the powers may be, to intervene to the exclusion of the other part of the authority. So we propose that the assembly, which is the scrutiny body, will be most aware of whether or not the mayor is not preparing or--possibly more relevantly--not revising a strategy when he or he should be doing so, and it is only if the assembly fails to take necessary steps that the Secretary of State could carry out this exercise.

Lord Whitty: I think I need to explain that these provisions are intended solely to be transitional. They would enable the Secretary of State to issue a direction

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to the mayor to prepare and publish the first of each of his strategies within a given period if it appeared that he was not taking the necessary steps in time to prepare the strategy.

Under the clause, only the very first of each strategy is "prepared and published." All future strategies are regarded as revisions of that first strategy, and the power of the Secretary of State in this clause would not bite on those further revisions. The provision is therefore more limited in scope than I think either noble Baroness indicated.

I do not in practice expect that the Secretary of State would need to issue a direction. It is likely that the incoming mayor will have pretty clear ideas about what he or she wishes to do in relation to each strategy, and it is therefore unlikely that the Secretary of State will have to hurry him or her up. Nevertheless, this is a fall-back should that situation arise.

That means that this clause as we envisage it would not apply to the ongoing situation described by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, where effectively she would give powers to the assembly to do that hurrying-up process. Clearly, the assembly has broad powers of scrutiny and can hassle the mayor into producing those strategies. However, the amendment as drafted envisages the assembly actually taking over in those circumstances the executive powers of the mayor--not just temporarily, but, by implication, permanently. That would blur the executive and scrutiny function to a degree which would be inconsistent with the general approach to the structure of this authority, and I could not accept that.

Amendment No. 133A is unnecessary, given that we are dealing with transitional arrangements and the only reason for using this power would be that the mayor had not published the initial strategy. The reasons are, therefore, built into the purpose of the power to direct and would never need to be explained in that broader sense, because this is not an ongoing power.

I therefore hope that both noble Baronesses will understand that beyond the general requirement that the Secretary of State must act reasonably within the terms of the clause--in other words, his action would be open to challenge by the mayor or others--their amendments are not necessary.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I think I agree with the Minister. In fact, I think I said in moving my amendment that the chances of this happening were extremely low; and that the mayor knows what he wants in his strategy and will no doubt go ahead with it.

The point is that the Government propose in Clause 36, albeit for transitional purposes, to deal with the unlikely event that we have both discussed of the mayor's not going ahead. In that unlikely event, and the unlikely need for the clause to have to be brought into action, with two "unlikelys" on the table I can see no reason why we could not say, "If this unlikely thing should happen, and if therefore the Secretary of State should do that, he should

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at least take a sentence or two to say why he was doing it." In no way would it destroy the Bill; it would do no more than clarify something which is unlikely ever to happen.

Lord Whitty: In this, as we have all acknowledged, extremely unlikely hypothetical situation, the Secretary of State is still required to act reasonably, as he is throughout the Bill. Therefore, spelling it out specifically in this case would perhaps cast doubt on other points where the Secretary of State is expected to act reasonably. I am not sure that saying that the Secretary of State should supply an explanation fully meets the general requirement to act reasonably. An explanation might turn out to be unreasonable. If anything, the noble Baroness's insistence on an explanation rather than a general requirement to act reasonably would dilute the requirements on the Secretary of State.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: With that very reasonable explanation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 134 not moved.]

Clause 36 agreed to.

Clause 37 [The Mayor's monthly report to the Assembly]:


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