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Baroness Hamwee: As I said when I moved the amendment, I knew that the proposition that the mayor should simply have to do what the assembly asks would not be attractive. I understand the separation of powers. That does not mean that we will not go on protesting about that separation.

I was glad to be referred to Clause 37(2)(c), but whether proposals have to be submitted under a particular section or simply submitted without the legislative provision is the point that I was making. However, we keep having the same debate as to how much it is necessary to show on the face of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 50, agreed to.

Clause 51 [Power to require attendance at Assembly meetings]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 198:


Page 27, line 20, leave out (", (3), (4)").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 198 I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 200, 200A and 201.

Clause 51 gives the assembly powers to summon persons into its presence to give evidence on various matters. This statutory power is unique in local government. No doubt the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong on that point. The power is analogous to that inherently belonging to Parliament. Looking forward to Clause 54, we see there that the power is backed by severe criminal sanctions; that is, a fine of up to £5,000 and three months' imprisonment. Unlike in other spheres of local government, the assembly does not make most decisions and does not necessarily have access to offices, or the right to receive documents and explanations. Hence the assembly's access to information is restricted.

It is argued that there is therefore a need to allow the assembly to summon persons connected with the authority to give evidence and to produce documents. I should have thought that the place for the assembly to go for that information was the mayor, his officials and his office. However, the Government feel otherwise. So

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we find draconian powers, backed up by severe penalties affecting people who by any normal process would not be subject to the jurisdiction of the assembly.

Amendment No. 198 is a paving amendment to make way for the deletion of subsections (3) and (4). Subsection (3) catches any person who within the preceding three years had a contractual relationship with the authority or with a member of his staff. Subsection (4) catches anybody who has received a grant from the authority or a member of his staff.

The best way to illustrate the excessive nature of these provisions is to reduce them to a number of examples. Anyone having a contractual relationship with the authority could be any business anywhere in the EEC because of the obligations for open tendering across the EU. We could therefore have a firm in Greece, not within the jurisdiction of the British courts, being summoned before the assembly under threat of sanctions in the magistrates' court, which equally has no jurisdiction. We could even try to summon a clerk in the Greek firm who did not speak English. Similarly, this would be an opportunity for disgruntled employees--or, more likely, former employees--to create problems. Its scope is so wide that a sub-committee bent on empire building or its chairman bent on personal or political advancement could summon a wide range of witnesses irrespective of need or relevance simply to make a name for himself or themselves. We have only to look across the Atlantic to see what can happen when one has committees with untrammelled powers to subpoena witnesses. Simply put, the power is just too wide. The Government must take the provision back to the drawing board and produce something more practical and reasonable.

Similarly, we object to subsection (10). That exempts the mayor's two political advisers, paid for at the public expense, and his staff paid for by the taxpayer from having to give evidence to the assembly. I realise that there is an argument that if they could not give advice in confidence they would be inhibited in their work. But I repeat that these people are paid for by the council tax payers and that they should be directly answerable to the assembly. The staff of Ministers are not exempt from appearing before parliamentary committees, however distinguished their rank in the Civil Service. We only have to recall how the Cabinet Secretary himself, now the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, was put on the rack in an Australian court in 1986 and had to admit that he had been economical with the truth over the Spycatcher affair to see how even the most senior civil servants in the country can be called to give an account before a court with appropriate jurisdiction.

We seek to delete subsection (10). It is partially contradictory to Clause 59(4) and (5). These two subsections stipulate that any of the 10 members of the mayor's personal staff, other than his special advisers, must, if so required by the assembly, attend every routine monthly meeting of the assembly and answer any questions put to them. If they have to attend the routine meetings and answer questions, why should they not be required to attend special investigation meetings and answer questions? Conversely, how does subsection (10) prevent the assembly from asking awkward

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questions of the mayor's personal staff at the normal monthly meetings? Ministers themselves are answerable to select committees. Why should the mayor's advisers and staff not be answerable to the local taxpayers via the assembly? There is no reason or need to create an unaccountable elite.

Amendment No. 201 is simply a small drafting amendment to Clause 53. That clause states that the Secretary of State may by order prescribe the categories of information a person who is required to give evidence to the assembly may refuse to give and the categories of documents that he may refuse to produce. That may be helpful to a potential witness or it may not. Clause 54(3) confirms that a person is not obliged to answer questions or to produce documents to the assembly if he could refuse to do so in an ordinary court. That is quite right.

The purpose of our amendment is to make sure that any order made by the Secretary of State does not erode the right that a person has. It is arguable that by a convoluted trick from Clause 51(1) and Clauses 52 and 53 and Clause 54(3) the result is achieved without our amendment. To assist the layman who may be faced with a summons from the assembly, the addition of just four simple words makes it plain and avoids the journey that I have just described. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: These amendments are not acceptable to us. The assembly must be able to undertake the proper scrutiny of the actions of the mayor and of the staff of the authority. The categories of summonable organisations and individuals that we have identified in the Bill are those who will be responsible for either the allocation of the GLA's resources or their use. As such they must be able to be held to account by the authority to avoid abuse and to expose abuse.

As regards individuals or organisations which have had a contractual relationship with the authority or who have been paid a grant by it, they have a duty to explain whether or not they have fulfilled the contract, subject to the jurisdiction of the English courts. Individuals or bodies who might have been at fault where contracts have been let illegally or grants have been used for purposes other than that for which they were given might very well be unwilling to accept the assembly's invitation to meet them were it not backed by sanctions. That is why we have provided them in this clause.

If such persons or bodies could not be summoned, which is what the noble Baroness is proposing in the amendments, the assembly would be incapable of ensuring that the public funds for which it is responsible were not misused. However, the need for scrutiny does not need to extend to the scrutiny of the advice or political advice which the mayor receives, as we discussed when dealing with the previous amendment.

Amendment No. 201 would make the Secretary of State's order-making powers in Clause 53 subject to the provisions of Clause 54(3). Under Clause 53, the Secretary of State would be able to prescribe categories of information which someone summoned by the assembly could legitimately refuse to give. Clause 54(3) already exempts people who are summoned from having

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to give evidence to the assembly which they would be entitled to refuse were they in a court in England or Wales. As drafted, the provisions of Clause 53 could not override or affect the Clause 54 provisions and, therefore, do not need to be subject to them as proposed in the amendment. We believe that the assembly needs the powers set out in these clauses and that the amendment is unnecessary. I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendments.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: Can the Minister tell the Committee how the political adviser will be accountable and held to account publicly?

Lord Whitty: I can tell the noble Baroness that it is the mayor who is publicly accountable, not his individual political advisers. It is the same situation as one has in Whitehall.

Baroness Blatch: I believe that the Minister misunderstood my question. I repeat: how is the political adviser to be held accountable publicly?

Lord Whitty: The role of a political adviser is to provide political advice to the mayor. The mayor is responsible for the actions taken, not the political adviser. Therefore, the legal adviser is in a different role from the rest of the staff of the authority.


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