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Baroness Miller of Hendon: Before I express in full my disappointment in the Minister's answer, perhaps he could comment on another matter. Earlier I asked about Clause 51 which gives the assembly powers to summon persons into its presence to give evidence on various matters. The noble Lord may remember that I then leapt forward to Clause 54 and talked about the power being backed by severe criminal sanctions. I then returned to Clause 51 and said that I believed that that statutory power was unique to local government. I would like the Minister to comment on that aspect.

Lord Whitty: The noble Baroness is right to say that this is unique to local government, as indeed are the powers of the mayor and the authority.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I know of no other system whereby people can be called forward and then it is down to an assembly to decide the matter. People can end with fines of up to £5,000 or three months' imprisonment. I find this whole series of matters, galloping as it does from one to the other, to be totally unsatisfactory. If I may say so, it is extraordinarily late at night. The best that I can do at this stage is to say that we will take it away; but this is not a matter that will be dropped. We will return to it. This whole matter is absolutely shocking.

In passing, I have to make a further comment. This Bill grew like Topsy in the other place. Yet we have dealt with clause after clause which is not clear, especially those I spoke about earlier. The Minister kindly said that the Government will try to clarify the points raised, but it seems to me that this Bill has been

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extraordinarily badly drafted. I feel extremely sorry for both Ministers because they have to answer to this, but the fact remains that this is a shocking state of affairs. I feel that someone should take the matter up and deal with it in a much more appropriate manner. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 199:


Page 27, line 24, at end insert--
("( ) The Assembly may also require the Secretary of State, or any person who has within the three years prior to the date of the requirement been the Secretary of State, to attend proceedings of the Assembly for the purpose of explaining and justifying any guidance or direction given by him under this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 202. As we have discussed, the assembly can require the attendance of witnesses. Amendment No. 199 suggests that the Secretary of State should also be required to attend proceedings of the assembly to answer questions. The Secretary of State can, among other things, cap the authority's budget; give guidance governing the exercise of powers--and regard must be had to that guidance--and he can limit the authority's powers and national policies. The assembly has a scrutiny role.

From time to time when we try to widen the powers of the assembly we are accused of not understanding the principle of the separation of powers, but we appreciate the model that is being put forward. We believe that the assembly should have the opportunity to deal direct with the Secretary of State. I appreciate that questions may be asked of the Secretary of State in Parliament with regard to the powers that are exercised. However, I do not believe that that process would be adequate or appropriate in the case I am discussing. In a modern system of London government, where the Secretary of State will play such a large role in the authority, I suggest that there is no reason why he or she should not appear before it in order to answer questions.

I turn to Amendment No. 202. Under the Bill the Secretary of State may prescribe categories of information and documents which a person may refuse to provide to the assembly. Earlier today I asked how certain measures would comply with the forthcoming freedom of information legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, I believe, that he sought to reassure me on this issue. I was not in the slightest bit reassured by his comment, although I was not surprised by it; namely, that as the proposed legislation is weak in that almost anything can be exempted from its provisions, there is no inconsistency in this regard.

Amendment No. 202 seeks to require the Secretary of State to explain his reasons for issuing any order under this part of the Bill. I am aware that when my honourable friends in another place proposed a similar amendment they were considered to be silly. However, I do not think that these are silly points at all. These matters raise serious issues. I understand the argument about lines of accountability being blurred in that the Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament. Although I understand that argument, I do not accept it as an argument against these amendments which permit

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no more than the asking of questions. Therefore I do not think that they involve a blurring of accountability or a breach of privilege that Members of Parliament would find offensive. I do not believe that I am coming anywhere near that.

We do not believe that powers should be retained at the centre when their dispersal is necessary. In this case the assembly members have direct knowledge of the situation. As I say, they are members of a scrutiny body and they should be able to ask questions of the Secretary of State direct. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I did not know that in the other place these two amendments that were spoken to so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, were thought to be silly. However, we on these Benches will stand side by side in support of these so-called silly amendments.

When my noble friend Lady Blatch asked about political advisers, the Minister said that advice would be given to the mayor and he would be accountable for what he did as a result of following that advice. Several times during the course of this Bill we have asked whether the Secretary of State will be the mayor for London as he has taken upon himself so many powers that one wonders how independent the mayor will be.

If the Secretary of State is happy that members can be summoned before the assembly in this unique way--there is no reason why there should be such a power--and as the Minister tells us that the Government want the Bill to be modern, new and so on, the Secretary of State should be prepared to come before the assembly, if that is what the assembly wishes, to answer questions in the way he or she expects everyone else to.

Lord Whitty: I have to withdraw the accusation that the Liberal Democrats do not understand the separation of powers; they have a very innovative approach to the separation of powers. However, as the noble Baroness anticipates, to move down this road would be a blurring of the lines of responsibility. The Secretary of State is responsible for the powers conferred on him or her by Parliament. He or she is not responsible to the Greater London assembly. His powers do not emanate from the Greater London assembly but from the Palace of Westminster. It would be anomalous if he or she had to account for the use of those powers to an assembly which did not grant them and which has no authority over them.

Whether the Secretary of State or his representative might wish to give information to the assembly is an entirely different matter. But the question of accountability should be clear--it is to Parliament and not to the assembly part of the authority.

Baroness Hamwee: Of course the powers emanate from Parliament, but, given the way the Bill is framed, their exercise is pretty much courtesy of the Secretary of State. This is a serious issue and we may want to come back to it, in this form or another. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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[Amendment Nos. 200 and 200A not moved.]

Clause 51 agreed to.

Clause 52 agreed to.

Clause 53 [Restriction of information]:

[Amendments Nos. 201 and 202 not moved.]

Clause 53 agreed to.

Clause 54 [Failure to attend proceedings etc]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 203:


Page 30, line 13, at end insert (", or
(e) knowingly makes any statement which is false or misleading in a material manner").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 203 deals with an anomaly in the Bill, yet another omission of something that ought to be there. Clause 54(1) prescribes a list of offences in relation to a summons to appear before the assembly. Briefly they are: fails to attend a meeting; refuses to answer a proper question; refuses or fails to produce documents; alters or destroys any document. Curiously, omitted from the list of offences is a witness lying to the assembly in respect of a material matter.

The assembly has no power to make a witness testify under oath. Unless an offence is created, it will be better for a reluctant witness to go and lie, rather than refuse to go to the assembly. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My honourable friend the Minister for London agreed to consider this amendment when it was brought forward in another place. We thought then that it was unnecessary because it would be covered by the provisions of the Perjury Act 1911. Having taken further legal advice, we remain of that view. In those circumstances, I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw her amendment.


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