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Baroness Hamwee: The Conservatives have a number of points on the amendment with which we would agree but I regret that we are unable to support it. We believe that various debates should be held, and a debate with the assembly is one of those. But the clause does not provide a debate with members of the public. I make that point deliberately because it was suggested a number of times during the debate on the last group of amendments that we oppose a debate with members of the public. We do not. We oppose only the prescription of the name. As that provision is not included in the amendment before the Committee, we regret that we cannot support it.

The Conservatives, too, choose to attach a name to the debate. It may be a less contentious name, perhaps a less fashionable name, and that I think would be

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appropriate. Nevertheless, for the reasons we gave earlier, we do not feel that it is right for the legislation to provide what the debate should be called; the mayor is quite capable of finding the name herself.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: Before the Minister replies, I should just like to say that the purpose of the amendment was to try to match the intention of the Government's clause. The clause does not say that the public have to participate. That is the point I was trying to make--that the thing is a nonsense. If there is an intention that the public should come to this meeting and be able to debate it should say so, and it does not. After all, in a normal local council it is perfectly in order for the public to attend, but they do not have the right to participate in the discussion. The clause does not make that clear either. That is the point that I was trying to make in relation to the amendment.

Lord Whitty: I am sure the noble Baroness is trying to be helpful, as ever, and I understand the way in which she is approaching the matter. But by trying to be helpful she has fallen back on the deeply familiar. Instead of a new, innovative event whereby the mayor of London presents his report on London, his "State of London" report, to representatives of the public and the public themselves, we have yet another meeting of the assembly with the mayor, where he or she is to discuss the annual report.

We are trying to develop new means of communication, new means of participation, in London. I take the point that there must be some lack of clarity in what we have put here, because there have been various different interpretations of it. We shall have to consider whether we should come forward with greater clarity, at least to the extent of requiring the mayor to determine the procedure, to a limited extent at least.

But moving in the direction that the noble Baroness proposes, which is to take it to a normal meeting between the assembly and the mayor, which just happens to deal with the annual report, is not what we had in mind. I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has clarified the position and that the Liberals are on board. I withdraw my previous allegation that they were rejecting a more expansive and more inclusive method of democratic participation. That is what this is about.

I am not entirely clear about the lesser provisions of the clause either. It is slightly bizarre in that it relates to elections in June only. The authority and London borough elections themselves will not be in June. At least, we have not decided to change the normal May dates, and one could presume that May is the month for the elections. I am not quite sure why there is the focus on June. The only elections in June are normally the European elections, which happen once every five years. The coincidence is unlikely.

I do not think this amendment is necessary. In many ways it is unduly prescriptive, as is the new idea, which no doubt the mayor will adopt in various different guises, of a duty of the mayor and the assembly to meet

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with representatives of London boroughs and the City. I am sure the mayor will engage in that, but to be prescriptive and define on the face of the Bill yet another formal meeting would be to go rather against some of the criticisms which we have had from the Opposition Benches during the rest of this evening.

I therefore think that there is a lack of imagination in the attempt by the noble Baroness to clarify. There is clarification by the clause, but we regard it as clarification in the wrong direction. We will consider whether, in order to make our intention clearer we should bring forward an amendment at a later stage, but I cannot accept the clause, and I hope that after consideration the noble Baroness will withdraw it.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I am not surprised that the Minister cannot accept our amendment. I am not sure that I would have liked it anyway. The truth is that I tried to draft an amendment that matched the intentions of the Government, which I think are non-existent. It is all very well saying that all I am suggesting is that the mayor should attend a meeting of the assembly. Maybe that is not what he intends with this great "State of London debate", but let me read to the noble Lord what the clause says:


    "The Mayor shall once in every financial year hold and attend a meeting which is to be open to all members of the public, to be known as a 'State of London debate'". And then what? There is no agenda. We do not know whether the public are allowed to participate. We know nothing. At least my amendment was a little clearer than the clause, which says nothing at all.

I have told the noble Lord, the Chief Whip, that I shall do my best not to take too long, and for that reason, and that reason only, I shall not argue the advantages of my amendment over this extraordinarily badly drafted clause.

The noble Lord picked me up on the question of April, May or June, and asked what kind of election would take place in June. First, I mentioned only those months, although we quite liked the previous amendment, Amendment No. 150, of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I was trying to match what he said.

Nevertheless, on the understanding that the Minister will take this away and will come up with a clause that will not make London a laughing stock, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 39 agreed to.

Clause 40 [People's Question Time]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 152:


Page 23, line 13, leave out (", to be known as a "People's Question Time"").

The noble Baroness said: This is an uncontentious amendment. The purpose is to leave out not the proposal that there be a question time open to members of the public, at which they may ask questions and be given

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answers, but merely the description. I dislike the title "People's Question Time" even more than I dislike the "State of London debate".

My distaste for the name, since it is a matter of taste, and that is inevitably personal, is not very relevant. My objection is that the assembly ought to be able to find its own title, and if the members of the assembly are not capable of finding a title I would query their ability to deal with things that matter rather more than what this is to be called.

In another place the Minister said that the public should not be deterred from attending by the occasion's being referred to in a way which would make them think it was simply another boring old meeting. I concur with that, but let us leave it to those who will be involved in one way or another with the new authority to find a name and methods of publicity and so on which will attract members of the public, rather than feeling that any of us in Westminster or Whitehall should tell them how to do that by prescribing the title. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The amendment would, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, remove the name "People's Question Time" from the twice-yearly meeting open to all members of the public for which the clause provides. We are strongly committed--and this is a serious point--to strengthening the link between local people and local governments. An important aspect of this is to catch and retain people's interest, to enhance local accountability. We believe that a "People's Question Time" is a much better place to do that than a meeting which is to be open to all members of the public.

Amendment No. 152 would, in our opinion, be a backward step in our drive to engage people's interest. While I can understand that there may be a question of taste, I believe that putting it as the "People's Question Time" is different from describing something as a meeting open to the public. Many noble Lords may have been at meetings open to the public in which they were, if lucky, allowed to ask one question at the end. That is a common perception. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Tope: As the Minister knows, I am always keen to help her, and I should like to help her here. We wholly share the objectives. That is not at issue. But can the Minister tell me why the Government have chosen the rather old Labour, even socialist, phrase "People's Question Time" rather than the more usual description in local government of "public question time." Would that not avoid the need for this debate?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, it is a matter of taste.


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