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Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 220:

Page 27, line 25, leave out (“resolves by a majority of Assembly members present and voting") and insert (“decides").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 221:

Page 27, line 32, leave out (“, (3), (4)").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 224, 225 and 235. My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith will speak to Amendments Nos. 222 and 223.

The small group of amendments to Clauses 51 and 53 to which I am speaking cover a large subject. I am returning to it because, having read the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, at Committee stage, I am still unhappy about the draconian and exceptional powers which are proposed for the Greater London Authority to summon people before it. I am disappointed that, having heard what we had to say on the subject, the Government have not introduced any modifications to eliminate the larger absurdities to which, as we pointed out, the provisions give rise.

Amendment No. 221 is simply a paving amendment to Amendment No. 224, which calls for the deletion of subsections (3) and (4). Those two subsections give the assembly power to summon before it three categories of persons; first, any person who has within the

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preceding three years had a contractual relationship with the authority. Secondly, a person who has within the preceding three years received a grant from the authority. Thirdly, a member of any body--I am assuming that that will usually be a company, but it could be a different sort of organisation--or an employee of such a body.

Under Clause 54, any person who, without reasonable excuse, fails to attend, or to answer questions, or to produce documents, is to be guilty of a criminal offence and liable to a fine at current rates of up to £5,000 or even three months in prison. These subsections even purport to confer extra-territorial powers on the authority. In Committee I gave the example of a non-English speaking clerk employed by a firm in Greece being summoned to give evidence under the totally unenforceable threat of the criminal sanctions of Clause 54.

In fact the provisions are even more absurd than I thought when I first considered this clause. The employee, or member who is summoned, need not have been involved in the company at the time that the contract was performed or the grant was given. What value will his evidence have, except perhaps to provide the bait for any fishing expedition that the assembly may choose to launch?

We absolutely do not argue with the need for the assembly to be able to obtain information about its affairs from those having dealings with it. The way to do that is to provide in the contract or offer of grant that it is conditional upon the recipient co-operating with any reasonable request for an account of those dealings. That is what happens in any normal commercial relationship. Failure to comply would give the authority the right to complain to the civil courts about a breach of contract, and to obtain a mandatory injunction requiring the third party to comply.

Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether it is proposed that every contract with the authority will contain a health warning about the contractor and his employees present and future, to the effect that they can be dragged before the authority to give evidence under the threat of being jailed for three months. Or will the contractor be presumed to know the law, even if the subpoena comes as a complete surprise to him?

Perhaps I may point out to the Government that this clause, in an exceptionally badly drafted and cobbled-together Bill, includes also in this particular area one giant defect. It empowers the summoning of persons who are members or employees of the company or organisation being investigated, but what about the past members or employees? There is no power in the clause to summon even the chap who left hurriedly the day after he got wind of the impending subpoena-- I refer to the one who really knows what happened and where the body might be buried.

Far be it from me to invite the Government to include even more regulations. But as I have said, the Government have clearly not thought out the ramifications of this unusual power which it seeks to give to the authority.

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Amendment No. 225 calls for the deletion of Clause 53 (10). That subsection refers to persons appointed under Clauses 56(1) and 56(2). Persons appointed under Clause 56(1) consist of the two political advisors and up to 10 other members of staff all personally working for the mayor. Persons appointed under Clause 56(2) are additional staff members appointed by the assembly to assist the mayor, after taking into account any views of the mayor. Although part of the mayor's staff, both categories of employee are to be treated as employees of the authority. They are accommodated and paid for by the authority out of public funds. That is specifically provided for by Clause 56(3).

What does Clause 51(10) provide in relation to those publicly-funded assistants to the mayor? It provides them with an exemption from being required to give any evidence, or from producing any documents relating to any advice given by them to the mayor. The subsection provides for an elite class of public servants, enjoying an exemption not enjoyed by the staff of Cabinet Ministers. We have all seen civil servants right up to the rank of the Cabinet Secretary himself being called to account before committees of the other place. There is, I know, an argument that if advisers cannot give their masters advice in confidence, then it makes their task difficult, if not impossible. We are talking here about publicly paid advisers, not ones funded by the mayor personally or by his party. We are discussing this in the context of the proposition that,

    “The assembly must be able to undertake the proper scrutiny of the actions of the mayor and the staff of the authority".--[Official Report, 23/6/99; col. 1041.]

Those are not my words; they are the words of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, when responding to the earlier stage of this group of amendments. It will be noted that the noble Lord was referring to the staff of the authority. By the definition in Clause 56(3), which I have just quoted, those advisers are staff of the authority. How can their actions and those of the mayor be “properly scrutinised", in the words of the noble Lord, if the questions which they can be asked are so severely constrained as to make their testimony virtually useless?

Clause 59(4) requires that those special advisers and personal staff members must attend every statutory monthly meeting of the assembly where their presence is requested and must answer any questions put to them by members of the assembly. I repeat: any questions. They will not be subject to the special privileges set out in Clause 51(10). That total contradiction is, of course, typical of the way in which this Bill has been drafted.

Amendment No. 235 is a minor drafting amendment to Clause 54 which I propose solely for the purposes of clarity.

Clause 53 empowers the Secretary of State to prescribe what information persons who are summoned before the assembly are entitled to refuse or to give or what documents they are entitled to refuse or to produce. That is all well and good. However, Clause 54(3) also gives the witness an important

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exemption from answering questions or producing documents if he could refuse to do so in court proceedings. An example would be something that might incriminate the witness or to which some privilege attached; for example, solicitor and client. The amendment makes clear that the ministerial exemption under Clause 53 does not interfere with the exemption under Clause 54(3).

I have already drawn attention to the inconsistency between Clause 51(10), exempting advisers from testifying, and Clause 59(4), which says that they must do so. In Committee I challenged the Minister to say where similar powers existed in local government. With his usual candour, the noble Lord said:

    “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".

That is what is so worrying. Clearly, this Bill and the creation of the Greater London authority will be used as the precedent for the creation of further similar bodies: London today; Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, and goodness knows where else tomorrow.

9 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, what about Newcastle?

Baroness Miller of Hendon: Perhaps even, my Lords, Newcastle, if the noble Lord, Lord Graham, would like that too. There are also the regional assemblies which the Government are threatening to inflict on us.

Is every one of these authorities to be free to set up its own inquisition with powers that, as the Minister admits quite rightly, are unprecedented, except, quite rightly, in the hands of the sovereign Parliament? We agree that the assembly must have proper powers to scrutinise the operations both of the mayor and of the whole authority of which it is an integral part. That is its entire purpose. However, the powers which the Government propose to grant are entirely unprecedented. They are backed by sanctions, as I mentioned earlier, which equate their breach with all but the most serious of crimes. They are unworkable powers in the case of witnesses out of the jurisdiction of the authority and they discriminate against UK residents. They are contained in a group of clauses which, as I have pointed out, are not only inconsistent with each other but have that major drafting error about employees who have already left the employment of the company involved.

Given that it is accepted that the assembly must have powers to make all proper investigations and inquiries, the Government must frame those powers in more direct and restrained terms. That is what those amendments seek to do. I very much hope the Minister will give this matter serious thought because it is a very serious problem, apart from being quite unprecedented. I beg to move.

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