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Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 135:


Page 22, line 2, leave out ("three") and insert ("five working").

The noble Lord said: This clause deals with the distribution by the mayor of information to members of the assembly for its first and subsequent meetings. Subsection (1) requires that reports should be submitted three days before the meeting of the assembly.

Three days may appear to be reasonable. I accept that once it is into its swing the assembly will normally be meeting monthly. But it depends very much on the mayor, his style and how readable the reports are as to whether the three-day period is long enough. In my early days in local government if anyone had sent me the book of reports that I had to go through for a council meeting three days before the meeting, there is no way that I could have read it and absorbed the implications. Even should the mayor write in a clear and relatively concise style, I would suggest quite seriously that three days is not a very long period to absorb the content of those reports and then perhaps do some research work so that the member of the assembly feels that he can form a valid opinion on them.

Amendments Nos. 135 and 136 are designed to extend the period to five days for that reason and also because "submit a written report" does not necessarily mean that the member has received it. Even if a report is put on e-mail, if we go into the digitally literate age and assume that all members of the assembly can use e-mail, it does not mean that the recipient is there to receive it, so he may still get it rather late. The amendments extend the period by two days, which I do not regard as unreasonable.

Amendment No. 137, which is grouped with the other two, is to enable the mayor to notify the assembly of, say, business which might arise in the period between

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his submitting his report and the meeting of the assembly, so that the assembly can consider it. I suppose it could be argued that the amendment to a certain extent negates the intention of the others, but that is not so. It is there to ensure that should some emergency happen which the mayor felt it appropriate for the assembly to discuss, he could notify the assembly so that it would know it was coming and do what preparation it could. We have tabled Amendment No. 137 in order to ensure that such an emergency procedure exists. I look forward to the Minister's reply. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: These amendments seek to alter the arrangements set out in the Bill for the mayor's monthly report to the assembly.

Amendments Nos. 135 and 136 would require the mayor to submit his written report to the first and subsequent monthly meetings five working days in advance.

Amendment No. 137, is, I assume, intended to allow him to bring urgent issues which arise after the five working days deadline to the assembly's monthly meeting. The deadline of three days strikes the right balance between ensuring that the mayor's report covers recent decisions, and allowing the assembly sufficient time to consider the report and decide what questions to put to the mayor. A full-time assembly should have no difficulties with doing this in three days. Three days is also the length of time which local authorities generally and the assembly are obliged to give the public to inspect papers before meetings. We shall be bringing forward an amendment to clarify that the mayor should submit his report three clear days before the meeting, in line with the approach for local authorities in the Local Government Act 1972.

Amendment No. 174 appears to be an attempt to address the problems that a deadline of five working days could create. The issues which interest the assembly most in any month, and on which assembly members are keenest to quiz the mayor, may fall outside the scope of his report.

Clause 37 does not limit assembly members to questioning the mayor about issues covered in the report. Nor does it prevent the mayor from submitting a further report to the assembly after the three day deadline if he wishes to. We are exploring whether the Bill as drafted would prevent the assembly from considering a supplementary report at a monthly meeting. But where issues are covered in the mayor's report, the assembly will have, in good time, not only details of the mayor's significant decisions, but also the reasons why he took them. And it is this information which will enable the assembly thoroughly to scrutinise the mayor's actions.

I urge noble Lords not to press the amendments. I repeat that we shall read and consider carefully the points raised by noble Lords during the debate.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: When the Bill states that the report will be submitted, does that mean that members will receive it--that it will be posted? Or will they be in the building and able to pick it up? It makes

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a difference whether you receive a report with just a day to spare when perhaps you are at another meeting. It is not only a question of reading a report of what the mayor has done but also reading his response to the proposals of the assembly. There is a lot to consider before a meeting. The noble Baroness knows the situation well from her experience in local government. It would be interesting to know what "submit" means. Does it means that the mayor puts the document in the post?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: "Submit" means "make available to" and "present to". The comparison with local government is not always valid. The small number of assembly members will be full time, and therefore would be expected to be in their place of work and able quickly to access the information, unlike some members of local authorities.

Baroness Hamwee: My point relates to that last remark. Submission to the assembly is not the same as "submission to" or "receipt by" members of the assembly. I believe that a member of the assembly, whether or not full time, may be outside the assembly building undertaking the work of the assembly. The scrutiny role requires an understanding of events outside the building. Although it is a small point, it bears examination.

The Government propose three clear days. Are those three clear working days, or three clear days? Members of this House and of local authorities--I accept that there are differences--are well accustomed to working on Saturdays and Sundays. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, nods wearily--no doubt from experience in both capacities! However, noble Lords on the Conservative Benches made the point about the need to undertake research following receipt of papers, and to contact other people. One cannot assume that people will be available on Saturdays or Sundays to reply to reasonable and necessary inquiries. I should like to be assured that there is an adequate period for the assembly members to undertake the work on which they will eventually spend all their time.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The answer to the noble Baroness's question is three days, and not three working days. I repeat: we shall consider carefully the points raised during the debate.

Lord Tope: I am a little disappointed with the Minister's response. I welcome her statement that she will consider the point carefully. I realise that she understands well the difference between three working days and three clear days. In other words, to send it out on Friday afternoon for consideration on Monday does not follow the spirit of the provision.

We all hope and believe that the relationship between the mayor and the assembly will be constructive and co-operative. I hope and expect that the mayor will send out such documents in good time. I believe that if it were a straightforward local authority the matter would be covered adequately in the authority's standing orders.

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That is not appropriate to the relationship between a mayor and an assembly. I express a personal view. I hope that at an early stage the mayor and the assembly will work out some convention on how they will work together. That is best left to them.

However, since we are legislating, and it is not a major matter of government policy, I hope that the Government will consider carefully the points made. I hope that those Ministers who have experience of local government will recognise that three days (not three working days) may all too often be inadequate because they cover weekends. They may cover periods when hard-working full-time members may be representing the assembly outside the country at some important event and unable to see the document. The danger of providing for three days in the Bill gives the mayor a defence for sending it out late. The mayor is complying with his or her statutory requirement; and there is little that the assembly can do about it. If we are to specify a time limit, it needs to be a reasonable one. A period of five clear working days is a reasonable time limit.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to the debate. The simple amendments provoked a worthwhile discussion, to which I listened with care, as I am sure did the Ministers.

I am grateful that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, will consider the matter further. With that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 136 and 137 not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 138:


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