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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, when earlier today I spoke to Amendment No. 18, I said that it was probably the most important amendment to the Bill. I wrote that note over the weekend, before I had had the benefit of looking at the Marshalled List this morning, when I found Amendment No. 97. It states:
If it is necessary for the Secretary of State to appoint such people to carry out these duties for the mayor and the assembly, it was necessary when the Bill went through all its stages in the House of Commons; it was necessary when the Bill came to your Lordships' House; it was necessary when the Bill had its Committee stage and it was necessary when the Bill had its Report stage. I am appalled that the new clause should come before the House at this stage.
Furthermore, the Minister presented the amendment in an elegant way. He said that the provision is short-term and temporary and that it seeks to deal only with this short-fall. Where does it say that in the new clause? The amendment states:
The new clause allows the Secretary of State to make all the appointments that the mayor and the assembly should make when they take office. As the Minister said, it would allow the Secretary of State to make appointments to the authority, to Transport for London, to the London Development Agency, to the Cultural Strategy Group and so on, before the mayor takes over. But where does the new clause say, as the Minister said, that there will be a limit on the terms of these appointments and that they will last only until the mayor takes office?
As the amendment is drafted, the appointments could last for the whole term of the mayor. I have never seen anything quite like this before. Would it be possible for the mayor to sack any of those appointed with minimal notice or compensation? It is all left to the Secretary of State to decide. As it stands, this is an appalling new clause. It should have come before us at the Committee stage when we would have had the opportunity to discuss it properly with the Minister and
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, on one point. It is a pity that the clause comes to us at such a late stage. It is symptomatic of the Government's anxious approach that they feel that everything needs to be spelt out in such a way. As I understand from the Minister's introduction of the amendment, the new clause is required to implement the provisions which the Government have aired in their fairly recent consultation paper on transitional provisions. That asked among other things whether people should be appointed on the basis of competencies rather than for particular policy areas in order for them to be in place so that the financial arrangements are operating, the computer systems are in place and so on. Reading between the lines of those questions, I saw some indication that the Government thought: "What the hell do we do about all this? It is a fairly awful situation to have to cope with". I agree with them on that. It is my hope that the clause is not to be read in the anxious and sinister way suggested by the noble Baroness on the Conservative Benches.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am bound to support my noble friend. The wording of the provision, which is all that we have to go on in this House today, is completely open and unqualified. I heard what the Minister said in introducing the amendment. However, it drives a coach and horses through what I regard as the normal establishment-- which is what I thought was going to happen--of the new authority. Under the new clause, the Secretary of State can appoint,
It is very late in a difficult stage of a difficult Bill. I have tried hard to think of an assurance that the Minister could give which would make it absolutely clear that this open power is in fact a very restricted power. But as the amendment stands, the provision is open. That may not be the Government's intention. But their intention has to be what is on the paper in front of us, not what is in their mind. We cannot read their mind. I am afraid that the amendment should be withdrawn, and matters should be allowed to take their course. That would be better than having this deeply flawed amendment on the statute.
The amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Whitty enables a sensible transitional arrangement to operate. It would allow a proper transition. I am sure that the assurances sought by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, are those that I heard my noble friend give; namely, that these are transitional arrangements and appointments will be made on a temporary basis to enable the mayor and the assembly, once they are elected, to take office in a smooth and seamless fashion, and to ensure that there is no dreadful hiatus from 1st April because budgets have not been set and arrangements have not been made for the smooth transition of staff.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, with the leave of the House and before the noble Lord sits down, I am absolutely sure that a smooth transition is necessary. But the provisions for a smooth transition should be in the Bill as it now falls. The amendment is deeply flawed.
Lord Tope: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Harris, I had also not intended to intervene. I do so largely to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris. He is obviously right. We probably all share the concern expressed. I merely want to raise two questions. The first is: why on earth is such an amendment being moved at the last possible stage of the Bill? Surely something as obvious as this should have been spotted. Perhaps we should have spotted it, but, frankly, it is the Government's responsibility to spot these points, not that of the Opposition. So, why are we dealing with it now? We have only just seen it. Because there is no termination date it is open-ended. Clearly, these provisions are needed.
I hear what the Minister says and do not doubt for a moment that he means what he says. However, that is not in the amendment and therefore it will not be in the Act as it will become. I believe that we shall agree to this amendment tonight; we need to do so. However, I should be much happier if the Minister could give an assurance that, in the process that follows, this particular shortcoming in the amendment will be corrected in the other place so that a termination date is inserted.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, although I had an indication that this matter caused difficulty I did not expect the degree of concern that has been expressed in relation to this clause. It is not unusual in legislation in this House for transitional arrangements to appear quite late in the stages of a Bill. I recall various other pieces of legislation
Although I agree in general terms with the criticism about the tabling of late amendments, in this case that is not so. Transitional arrangements are, after all, put in as the last part of the jigsaw. I believe that people misread this new clause. It refers to appointments for which the Secretary of State does not currently have powers although he will need those powers under the interim arrangements in order to do the preparatory works to which my noble friend and the noble Baroness referred, such as setting up the finance, IT and property management systems, the personnel function and so on. Those appointments would need to be made. At present, neither the Secretary of State nor any other body has power to do that.
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