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Baroness Miller of Hendon: It is more than a matter of taste. We have "the people's Peers", and "People's Question Time". It is ridiculous. I am sorry to say that it just makes us laugh.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: In the spirit of helpfulness which seems suddenly to have broken out,

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perhaps we could simply have a clause which states that the mayor and the assembly shall twice in every financial year hold and attend a question time open to all members of the public; and that the question time shall be held on a date, and so on. Then the mayor, the assembly and the authority can decide whether they want to give it some sexy name, but we would all know exactly what was intended.

Baroness Hamwee: I paused to see whether there was to be an answer. It appears not. I think that the mayor and the assembly should, if they wish, and if it is more of the age in, say, 2010, call it "Londoners' Question Time" or "Citizen's Question Time"--there are many descriptions. Whether it is an old Labour, a new Labour, a real Labour or a socialist term, I do not know or care. My point is that it is not for us to tell them what to do. That point has probably been recorded now half a dozen times. Perhaps the time has come for me to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 153:

Page 23, line 24, at end insert--
("( ) shall satisfy himself that the meeting is held at a venue of sufficient size to accommodate all members of the public who may wish to attend and to provide them with sufficient facilities to ask questions and to hear the proceedings; and
( ) shall ensure that all members of the public shall be allowed to ask questions of the Mayor and members of the Assembly present at the meeting.").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 153 is a probing amendment to extract from the Government more details of this rather bizarre idea of a so-called People's Question Time. I shall not comment further on the outlandish name which has been sufficiently commented on by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in debate on the previous amendment--to which we added our two penn'orth.

I agree that this rather quaint name for the function seems to have originated in some socialist student society. I was interested in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, when he discussed it in that way. Indeed, the whole outlandish idea smacks of people's soviets that Russia originally favoured until people started raising awkward questions of their leaders.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: As regards the people's Russia and the Soviet era, I lived there. I can assure noble Lords that there were never any public question times.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: The noble Baroness is probably right. It is no substitute for proper representation by a local councillor having a tie with the ward or borough which the Government have discarded in favour of the 14 remote super-constituencies and 13 other assembly members whose first allegiance is to their political party.

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The proposal is as half baked, ill-thought out and lacking in detail as many of the other matters included in the Bill, to say nothing of the ones which await a ministerial decree before we can discover what the Government have in mind.

The meeting is not confined to voters. At least seven million people live in Greater London. Will tickets be needed? How is that compatible with the stipulation that all members of the public should be entitled to attend? If only one in 5,000 people wanted to come, that would mean 3,500 people who would have to be accommodated. It could even be more. If it were less, it would prove that the whole exercise was just window dressing.

I suspect that it might just be a platform for pressure groups, which is fair enough. I fear, however, that it might also attract the sort of anarchists who rioted in the City last Friday and who do not understand the concept of free speech and peaceful demonstration as compared with the opportunity to stick masks on and have a punch-up.

In my normal spirit of helpfulness, and in order to assist the Government improve the Bill, we have stipulated that the meeting must be held at a place which holds all those people who wish to come. I have no idea where that might be. The Albert Hall might not be big enough. Wembley Stadium? But what if it rains? The Millennium Dome? Getting all those people there and away again in a short period would be a major problem--the mayor's problem, and that of the Government who have landed him with it.

The function is described as a "People's Question Time". But, curiously, the Bill does not specifically provide the right for anyone to ask any questions. It is all very well giving the function a name, but where is it stated that individuals can ask questions? Our amendment makes good that deficiency. Of course there is no requirement for the mayor or assembly members to answer. If a few thousand people turn up and hundreds of them want to ask questions, how long will the meeting go on for? Will there be power to adjourn the meeting? Or will it become like the midnight marathons that your Lordships sometimes have to endure?

The Bill does not say how disruptive persons are to be dealt with. That is something the Government have to answer. So far it seems to have been overlooked. Our amendment only scratches the surface of the problems that this eccentric and costly concept produces. The most sensible idea--I told the Minister that we are trying to help--would be to abandon the whole project, dump it in "file 13", the dustbin where it belongs. If the Government are going to press on with it, they have to provide the power for the assembly to make practical rules, subject to the Secretary of State's approval, for the conduct of what at Second Reading I called the people's "pow-wow". In the meantime, I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: I was going to refer to it as the Dome amendment, but perhaps I shall not.

We support the proposal that there should be proper opportunity for Londoners to question both mayor and assembly. I have a question for the Minister on the clause. There may or may not be an answer. My

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underlying point again is the difficulty of writing so much on to the face of the Bill. My question is in connection with Clause 40(2) which states,

    "A People's Question Time shall be held on a date to be determined by the Mayor and the Assembly". That is fine. But how are they to determine it? What are the voting arrangements to be? Should each assembly member have one vote and the mayor have one vote? Alternatively, is the assembly, by a majority, to have one vote and the mayor another? It is a slightly facetious question because one hopes that they will be able to co-operate and sort out the matter without that kind of row. But if this provision is to be prescribed, perhaps everything needs to be prescribed.

9 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Amendment No. 153 would place an explicit and clear duty on the mayor to hold the People's Question Time in a venue large enough to hold all the members of the public who may wish to attend and make provision for people to ask the mayor and assembly members questions at the meeting. The duty contained in the first part of the amendment is not sensible. No one can believe that the mayor who will be elected on the mandate by the people of London would hold public meetings in a venue that was deliberately not large enough to hold all the members of the public who may be expected to attend. Nor would he or she choose a venue that was not suitably equipped and did not meet the needs, for example, of disabled Londoners. Inevitably, there will be a period of trial and error. The clause clearly states that the meeting is to be open to all members of the public, but it would not be reasonable to put the mayor in a position whereby one person too many to fit into the venue would leave him or her in breach of their statutory duty.

My experience of a public consultation meeting, which was mandatory, during a review of surplus school places, was that at one meeting far more parents than anticipated had turned up. One member of the public tried to get the meeting closed down by the police and threatened to switch off all the lights. That was in spite of the fact that I had offered at the beginning of the meeting to hold a separate meeting to ensure that everyone's views could be known. That kind of situation demonstrates that the noble Baroness's amendment is not a sensible one.

It is obvious from the title that members of the public can ask the mayor and assembly questions. We intend to bring forward an amendment whereby the mayor would decide the procedure for the event, following consultation with the assembly. We would anticipate that, as in many other areas, this would be achieved through a process of consensus, following those discussions. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I feel for the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, who has had to speak to, and reply to, three horrible amendments. The truth is that

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there is something drastically wrong with the way the Bill has been framed. I know that that is not the fault of the noble Baroness.

In the margin against Clause 40 are the words "People's Question Time", and if you look at it quickly that is what it appears to be. However, Clause 40 states that the mayor and assembly twice in every financial year should hold a meeting which is open to members of the public, which will be known as the People's Question Time. Great. There shall be a meeting; there can be a meeting; there must be a meeting twice in a financial year. And we are going to call it the People's Question Time.

Subsection (2) tells us that the date will be determined by the mayor and the assembly and that it shall be not less than one month before or one month after the State of London debate, which we somewhat ridiculed. At least one month prior to that People's Question Time the mayor shall decide where it is to be held and shall take sufficient steps to give adequate notice. When those people come, what are they going to do? The Bill does not say that they can ask questions. It is all very well having something in the margin, but it is ludicrous.

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