Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I hear what the Minister has to say. If he will forgive me, it seems to me that we are in danger of establishing a very nasty precedent which might be used to extend this principle to other areas of local government. The excuse could be made that we have accepted it in this legislation. We are invited to accept that the Secretary of State should have the power to limit the expenditure in a specific area of an authority's budget. I believe there is not an authority in the country that would not fight that to the death. It is a serious matter. Local authorities have perforce had to accept--because they are creatures created by legislation--that the Government should require powers to control their expenditure. The Local Government Act that was made law in the summer was passed with that provision as part of its purpose. It may be reasonable that the Government should control the overall expenditure of the local authority or authorities. Although there is now some academic evidence against it, they argue that the impact of local government expenditure on the nation's coffers is sufficiently significant to justify it.

That may be an acceptable argument, but when we reach the point where the Secretary of State has the power to control a specific part of an individual authority's budget I am obliged to part company with the Minister.

I shall study his reply with care. It is late in the evening, perhaps we have had sufficient excitement for a little while. We may need something later in the evening to wake us all up, therefore I shall not pursue the matter. However, I suggest that there is here an exceedingly dangerous principle. I can imagine that it might well be argued to extend the principle in other directions, and that would be wholly unacceptable. The Minister may say that that will not happen. This House and, I suspect, the other place have had a litany over a number of years and I do not wish to provide the opportunity for the principle to go further. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 [Consultation]:

[Amendment No.68 not moved.]

12 Oct 1999 : Column 316

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 69:

Page 16, line 37, at end insert--
(“( ) In determining what consultation (if any) is appropriate under subsection (1) above, the Authority shall have regard to consultation undertaken in the preparation or revision of any applicable strategy.")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 69 is to explore a little further the relationship between the consultations on functions and strategies. Clause 27(1) gives the power to do anything which the authority considers will further one or more of its principal purposes. That is a wide power, but I do not quarrel with it. Under Clause 27(1), it is exercisable only after consultation with the bodies which the authorities think are appropriate. I hope it will not be thought that I am decrying or denying the importance of consultation, but I remain unclear how this links with consultation on the mayor's draft strategies, as provided by the Bill.

The amendment was spoken to in Committee; it was part of a wide-ranging group. Re-reading the debate, it seemed to me that it became lost in whether there should be a list of consultees under Clause 27(3), or additions to that provision. In considering the Bill, it has seemed to me throughout that the order of events is that the authority needs the power, then the mayor creates a strategy about exercising the power and then comes its exercise. So it would be appropriate to have regard to consultation which has already been carried out on the same subject. I apologise to the House for returning to the point, but I do not believe it was answered at the previous stage. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I find the amendment slightly confusing. As I understand it, the noble Baroness says that, if the mayor has already consulted on the preparation of the strategy, he needs to take account of that consultation as to whether, with whom and to what degree he needs to consult on the exercise of the powers.

In one sense it would automatically be the case that the mayor would take note of what consultation had taken place on the strategy and would make use of it; but I do not know that we need to legislate for that. The perverse effect of this, it seems to me, is that it could discourage the mayor from consulting about the use of the general power, using the excuse that he had consulted on the preparation of the strategy perhaps a matter of years previously.

I am sure that is not the intention, but the “if any" in the amendment might suggest it. We would wish to consider a continuous, iterative process between the mayor, the authority and the bodies which are the relevant consultees. This would seem to limit that. It may not have been the intention, but it could be the effect in certain circumstances.

I would therefore ask the noble Baroness to consider that and not to pursue the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the Minister and I probably take the same view. My concern is about whether it is properly expressed.

12 Oct 1999 : Column 317

He is quite right: I certainly did not intend to limit consultation. I intended to direct the mayor's mind, not just to the amount of consultation but to those whom he or she consults, having regard to the comments that have come back as a result of the previous exercise. As he says, it should be an iterative process. The mayor, having regard to comments already made, should be considering very carefully whether the particular points should be explored in more depth.

I do not think that there is anything between us on the substance, and I certainly will not take any more time of the House on it tonight. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 70:

After Clause 27, insert the following new clause--


(“ .--(1) The Authority shall make appropriate arrangements with a view to securing that--
(a) in the exercise of the power conferred on the Authority by section 25 above,
(b) in the formulation of the policies and proposals to be included in any of the strategies mentioned in section 33(1) below, and
(c) in the implementation of any of those strategies,
there is due regard to the principle that there should be equality of opportunity for all people.
(2) The functions conferred on the Authority under or by virtue of this section shall be functions of the Authority which are exercisable by the Mayor acting on behalf of the Authority.")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, during the Committee stage of the Bill I agreed to take away and consider your Lordships' comments about the need to place on the face of the Bill specific references to the authority's duties in relation to the promotion of equal opportunities. I am now moving an amendment which represents a response to the concerns raised. It also makes explicit what we believe was already implicit in the Clause 25 provisions of the Bill.

The new clause means that the mayor must put in place appropriate arrangements to ensure that, in exercising the general power and in preparing and implementing his or her strategies, she or he will have to have due regard to the principle that there should be equality of opportunity for all people. The mayor is already required to consult people or organisations whose interests are affected either by the exercise of the general power or by the strategies she or he has prepared. There will therefore be many opportunities available to people to ensure that the mayor cannot fall short in fulfilling those duties in relation to the implementation of the equal opportunities provisions of the Bill or, for that matter, any other provisions of the Bill. The mayor's statutory meetings with the assembly in the people's question time will provide other public occasions during which the mayor may be held to account and progress assessed.

As we have explained throughout the passage of this Bill, we are concerned that the authority should recognise the diverse nature of the population it will

12 Oct 1999 : Column 318

serve and the need for that population to be given an opportunity to have its say and to be involved in the governance of London. We believe that the provisions of the Bill deliver that opportunity and that the provisions of this amendment make our intentions absolutely explicit. I beg to move.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, perhaps I may first of all welcome the new clause introduced by the noble Baroness the Minister. She has obviously tried to give due weight to arguments advanced by all sides of your Lordships' House during the Committee stage of the Greater London Authority Bill. The proposed amendment, however, falls far short of the arguments that were advanced and which formed the basis of our contribution during that part of the Committee stage.

To explain, the Government's proposal would require the Greater London Authority to make arrangements with a view to securing a number of key areas that the Minister has just mentioned: first, the exercise of the power conferred by Clause 25 of the Bill; secondly, the formulation of policies and proposals under the strategies referred to in Clause 33(1); and, thirdly, the implementation of any of those strategies.

We have a problem here. In short, the arrangements for securing these objectives could be met by the GLA putting some arrangements in place with the intention specified in the amendment, but in reality there would be no real obligation to build equality of opportunity into the functions of the GLA. I go by my previous experience in this particular field. I shall be as helpful as I can to the Minister. I declare that at one time I worked for the Commission for Racial Equality. At present there is similarly vague wording in Section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976, which refers to making appropriate arrangements with a view to securing that various functions of the local authorities are carried out with due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups. Note the similarity between what the Minister proposes and what is already on the statute book.

But the Commission for Racial Equality, which has carried out some major formal investigations under the race relations legislation, has concluded, and will state, that provisions of this nature have enabled some local authorities in this country to pay lip service to racial equality but to do little or nothing whatever. In reality, the discredited Section 71 and the provisions proposed by the Minister do not advance equality of opportunity any further.

We seem to have lost sight of the Macpherson Report. Only last month the Home Office published a thematic review of equality and fairness in the Fire Service--a damning report if ever there was one. Central to this major report is the extent of racism and the need to eliminate such practices. The GLA Bill already provides in Clause 338 that Section 71 of the Race Relations Act shall apply to the GLA, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.

12 Oct 1999 : Column 319

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, moved an amendment at Committee stage, which the Government agreed to consider and redraft, to make the promotion of equality of opportunity part of the core function of the GLA. Although the Government have acknowledged that the GLA will be subject to the existing anti-discrimination legislation, there was a strong feeling in your Lordships' House that, given the diversity of London's population, a positive duty to promote equality of opportunity should be included in the Bill. The totality of the Government's amendments adds very little to what will already be the duty of the GLA under Clause 338. Can the Minister explain the difference between Clause 338 and the new clause after Clause 27? In reality, there is none, and Clause 338 depends very much on the provisions of Section 71 of the Race Relations Act.

I take off my hat to those who drafted the new clause. It pays lip service to the promotion of equality of opportunity but adds very little to what is already in the Bill, and this simply will not do. What is also needed in the clause is specific reference to race, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation and religion. While the Government talk about

    “equality of opportunity for all people",

the major advantage in specifying particular factors that must not be grounds for unequal treatment is that it makes the GLA's duty far more concrete and solid. Critically, this would provide from the outset statutory criteria that must be applied in any monitoring of compliance by the GLA of its duty to promote equality of opportunity. If the government proposals are enacted, the GLA is likely in practice to adopt monitoring on the basis of some, but not necessarily all, of the criteria I have just mentioned. It is preferable for the legislature to specify in primary legislation the specific criteria on which it expects the GLA to monitor its equality performance. Those criteria--race, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation and religion--are the same as those included in Article 13 of the European Union treaty that will ultimately be specified in European anti-discrimination legislation.

Time does not permit me to refer to the ALG briefing. Most of your Lordships will have seen what it had to say. This is a subject that I raised in Committee. Of course, we also need to revisit Clause 338.

I plead with the Minister to reconsider this provision. I shall be pleased to assist her in any way I can. If she does not, I shall certainly move appropriate amendments at Third Reading.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page