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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I accept the assurances given by the Minister on my amendments but I am rather sad that yet again he seems to have demoted a little the position of the London boroughs. The general point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, was a very good point and one which concerns us a great deal.

The noble Lord says that the general point of having regard to what boroughs are doing is covered because of consultation provisions in Clause 34 and in other provisions in the Bill. However, if that is so, why is it necessary to specify that the mayor must have regard to targets and objectives set nationally and performance indicators set by the Secretary of State? After all, the Bill is very clear about the mayor's obligations regarding strategies being consistent with national policies--a matter which we have discussed at some length. I do not regard the points as consistent in that the Government are suggesting that national targets need to be referred to specifically but that local targets need not.

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I believe that that point needs to be placed on record again. After all, the boroughs spend much time dealing with performance indicators--not only the ones which they would like to set themselves, but those which meet the Secretary of State's formats and so on. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment No. 113A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 113, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 113B not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 113 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 114 and 114A not moved.]

Clause 34 [Consultation]:

[Amendments Nos. 115 and 116 not moved.]

Clause 35 [Publicity and availability of strategies]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 117:


Page 21, line 24, after first (“to") insert (“the current version of").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this group of amendments deals with arrangements for publicity and availability of the mayor's strategies, draft strategies, the annual report, the bus guidance document and the GLA publicly available documents in general. We debated the issues raised by these amendments at some length in Committee. We recognise the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which was shared also by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon. We promised to consider very carefully the points raised.

In the light of our further consideration we tabled a number of amendments to the arrangements for publicity and availability of strategies. One of those amendments will require the mayor to send each strategy to each London borough and to the Common Council. Another will require the mayor to make strategies available for inspection in such cases as he or she considers appropriate, in addition to the GLA's offices. I trust that noble Lords opposite will welcome those amendments.

I turn now to the amendments in my name. Amendments Nos. 117 to 129, with the exception of Amendment No. 118, alter and extend the arrangements in Clause 35 for publicity and availability of strategies. Those amendments respond to the points made in Committee by both Liberal Democrat and Conservative Peers. The amendments do three things. First, they ensure that it is the current version of each strategy that is kept available for inspection. We have taken the point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Dixon-Smith and Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the strategies available for inspection must be those in force. Therefore, the amendments remove the requirement that each shall be kept available for a period of six years. As was pointed out in Committee, that could have meant that a strategy in force for more than six years might not be available for inspection.

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Secondly and similarly, we have been persuaded that the mayor should be required to send copies of the strategies to the boroughs and to the Common Council as those authorities will be guided by them and have a role in implementing them.

Thirdly, we have also been persuaded of the case for requiring the mayor to make the strategies available for inspection at places other than the GLA's principal offices. I trust those amendments will be welcomed.

Amendments Nos. 533 and 540 to 551 are consequential on the amendments to Clause 35. Amendment No. 412 alters the arrangements for publicity and availability of the bus guidance document in an identical way to those for strategies. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment No. 118. I tabled this provision to ensure that there will be adequate publicity for draft strategies, which arguably need to be made more public, or at least made available to a different group of people than do the final strategies. The Minister's answer previously addressed the form of publicity rather than what was to be publicised.

I appreciate that draft strategies will be the subject of consultation with the boroughs and others. At the last stage the point was made that the boroughs themselves may wish to make arrangements locally for publicity on draft strategies. However, I believe that it is important to make the drafts widely available in order that the consultation process can be effective, by including indirect consultees who may choose either to respond to their own boroughs or who may wish to respond direct to the mayor.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 126, 127, 139 and 150, but my Amendment No. 126 requires the mayor to send out a copy of each of the strategies. Clearly I did not notice the Government amendment which sets out their intention to do that. For that reason, I shall not press the amendment.

In Committee, time did not permit me to move the first two of these amendments--in any event I shall not now move the first one--despite what I consider to be their importance, particularly to the citizens of London. At the moment there is no guaranteed provision for copies of the strategies to be available outside of the mayor's office, with the exception of the provisions just described to us by the noble Baroness. Further copies will be available to the public on payment of a fee to be determined by the mayor. I am very glad indeed that the Government have taken on board our request that the fee should be limited to a “reasonable fee".

The mayor is also obliged to take such steps as in his opinion will give adequate publicity to each of the strategies. However, none of the provisions is adequate in the interests of the current buzzword of “transparency". The mayor's office will not be readily accessible to most residents of London, especially considering the state of public transport on the one

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hand, and the Deputy Prime Minister's plans to drive private cars off the streets of London on the other. Further, I am willing to give very good odds that in common with most local and national government and government agencies, any available parking that might be outside the office will probably be restricted to officials only.

There has to be a way for someone living in Havering or Hillingdon to be able to discover what the mayor has in mind without having to traipse all the way to central London. It may well be that the mayor will consider it reasonable to provide a copy to every branch of every public library. However, as the clause is presently drawn up, it does not require him to do very much. In his opinion, he may decide to publish his strategy by a notice in the local or a national newspaper. On the other hand, it may be published in a newspaper read by only a small proportion of the population. Which of your Lordships can honestly say that he reads the public notices in the paper of his choice?

Amendment No. 27 also requires the mayor to post his strategies on a website to be established by him. Some time ago, the Government claimed that they have a target for 25 per cent of government services to be accessible electronically by the year 2002. That target has become more ambitious still, as we shall see in a minute. They have even sent Members of your Lordships' House a disc enabling them to reach “gov.direct", provided that Members know how to use the Internet. I must confess that I do not, but I have grandchildren who do.

The provision will require the mayor to follow the excellent example set by the Conservative administration in the London Borough of Wandsworth. It is also environmentally friendly for the information to be published on the Net rather than on paper.

As recently as 13th September, the Prime Minister gave business the following blunt message, which I quote:


    “If you don't see the internet as an opportunity, it will be a threat. In two year's time the internet could be as common in the office as the telephone. If you are not exploiting it, you could go bankrupt".

That is the end of the quote. If that is true for companies, then why is it not for the GLA?

On the same day the Prime Minister launched a report that called for all government dealings to be deliverable electronically by 2008. Why not also local government? The report specifically gave plans for the new assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Does the fact that London was not included mean that London is not to be given the same encouragement?

I now move ahead to Amendment No. 139 to Clause 38, which relates to a similar theme; that is, the wider distribution of the mayor's annual report and making it easily available to the members of the public who wish to see it, and indeed to the media who in turn will assist in its dissemination.

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This is a quite innocuous amendment requiring the mayor simply to send a copy to each of the London boroughs and to the Common Council, and to make it freely available on the website. At the previous stage asked the noble Lord the Minister the simple question, “Why not?". I am afraid that I did not receive a satisfactory answer. He said that,


    “it may be sensible for the mayor to do so";--[Official Report, 23/6/99; col. 983.]

that is, that it would not necessarily be compulsory.

I had tabled the provisions of Amendment No. 150 in Committee but, as the Minister knows, I did not move it then because of the lateness of the hour. It was some time after 9 p.m. and I thought that it required rather more serious debate.

The residents in the area of a local council are within a comparatively short distance of the town hall or a public library where some councils ensure that some of their documents, such as the minutes, are available. However, in the case of Greater London, that is simply not practical. London is a vast, sprawling city, and the distances to the centre from any of the outer suburbs involves a time-consuming journey, whether by public or by private transport. It is sensible--indeed, it is vital--that interested parties should have access to public documents without having to make that journey.

It would also be a matter of some concern if the authority were required to make reading room facilities available at its offices for casual visitors, or even those arriving by appointment, and to provide copying facilities as well. It would be much more convenient for both parties--the authority and members of the public--if an inquiry could be dealt with by a request for copy documents, with the alternative of everything being made available on the Internet.

I should like to add two points that may be self-evident. First, the documents I am referring to are minutes and what I would call “public documents". It goes without saying that not every piece of paper passing through the authority's hands should be open to public inspection. Of course confidential internal memos, discussion documents, correspondence of a personal nature affecting members of the public and so on should not be available. No doubt in due course the long-awaited freedom of information Act will make it clear which documents are within the public domain and which are not.

Secondly, your Lordships will have noticed that I have taken it for granted that the Government will agree that the public availability of public documents is vital in the interests of open government and local accountability. The only issue is how easily that access should be obtained. Since it is the right of the public to see such documents, access should be by those means most convenient to the public, especially as the authority has ample resources to make the material available within a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost.

It would not be acceptable for the Minister to respond by saying that this amendment is not necessary because of course the authority can be relied

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upon to do what is right. With no disrespect to anyone at all, since the authority has not yet been formed, I do not believe that we can accept that.

Experience tells me that in dealing with government, whether it be national or local, wringing documents out of officials, especially when it is known that they might contain something embarrassing or which they would rather keep to themselves, gives cause for regret at the passing of the rack or the thumbscrew, although I am not sure that I would endorse that action either.

The Minister will note that I have proposed the same six-year period for the availability of documents as the Government have provided for in Clause 35(4) relating to the publication of the mayor's strategies, and in Clause 38(7) on the availability of the mayor's annual report.

Finally, noble Lords will notice that I have again called for the material to be made freely available on the Internet. Parliament and the Royal Courts of Justice readily make their proceedings public via the Internet. As the Prime Minister pointed out in a speech from which I have already quoted in connection with an earlier amendment, the Internet is the communications medium of the future. London will not want to be left behind in the world of dog-eared documents in public libraries, or of its citizens standing in queues at counters in the new Greater London Authority's building waiting for some official to try to locate a file and being told to come back for it later.

There is no problem in setting up a website and loading it with all the documents you could possibly want. There is also no problem when someone wants to download that information onto a personal computer located anywhere in the world. My personal researcher keeps on coming up with pages of material obtained from the library of Congress, various universities, pressure groups or publications which he tells me he gets via “www something or other dot com" on the Internet.

Government of the people, by the people, depends on the people having access to all the relevant facts and not confining them to the secret archives of the legislature and its staff. I very much look forward to the Minister giving a lead on the matter of open government by accepting this very simple amendment.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I threatened the Minister earlier in a private message with taking this group amendment by amendment. In fact, the only amendment to which I shall seek to speak individually is Amendment No. 123.


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