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Baroness Hamwee: Perhaps the noble Baroness can tell the Committee whether there has been any consultation with the Local Government Association. I well understand the problems with individual boroughs, such as Camden, which no doubt is concerned about the King's Cross area. I am not trying to make any point, other than to ask that question. However, when looking at the 1996 Act, it is a sad situation that one immediately starts thinking, "What will this cost the local authority to carry out?" So, I do not suggest that the problem the noble Baroness has highlighted is not one, but that there is a context to every additional power given to a local authority, welcome as the power itself may be.

Baroness Blatch: I rise very briefly to say that I support my noble friend. She has put the case very well. I think that at least one answer in reply to the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is that of course it is a permissive power. It can use it or not use it as the case may be, but it does mean that if it is a particular problem—particularly in city areas—then at least the local authority will have a mechanism to do something about it. That is why I support the amendment.

Baroness Hanham: I, too, would like formally to support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady O'Cathain. This issue is extremely important. Interestingly, the City of Westminster was the only authority which initially pushed for this procedure,

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but it was for very specific reasons, as my noble friend Lady O'Cathain pointed out. It is certainly true that once you deny something in one area and it is available in another, the problem begins to leap out. It is a problem with drugs, sex offences and with all kinds of things where there is prohibition in one area.

With regard to the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, licensing enforcement officers are already dealing, to some extent, with these establishments. So I do not suppose that a little more effort will cost all that much more. My feeling is that this provision would probably be widely welcomed, perhaps not everywhere, but certainly, as my noble friend Lady Blatch said, in those areas that are affected; and it would be a permissive power which the authorities could employ. So I am glad to support the amendment.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to all noble Baronesses who have spoken in this short discussion. I should start with two apologies. First, I apologise for not being my noble friend Lord Rooker. He is away on ministerial business. As we have had to slot in this extra session today he is unable to be here. I am afraid that I shall have to be a rather poor substitute.

My other apology, or perhaps note of regret, I should enter on the record is that we simply cannot accept the amendment which, as the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain says, is by way of a probing amendment. We recognise that the amendment raises important issues and deserves serious consideration.

It is simply too late to give proper consideration to wholly new proposals, even though of course they are to some extent tried and tested, at this very late and advanced stage of the Bill. The amendment in itself is also technically defective because the scope of the City of Westminster Act 1996 cannot be extended in the way in which the amendment suggests.

More importantly, the powers in that Act were chosen by that authority to meet its own particular circumstances. They might not necessarily be the right powers to meet the circumstances in other parts of the country, so, before legislation used locally is applied nationally, we would have to undertake some very careful consultation with local government and other interested parties. I was interested in the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about the Local Government Association. I was working for it back in 1976, so it fell in my area of responsibility. I do not actually recall that we had any national discussion at that time.

However, we recognise the importance of the issue that has been raised. For all those reasons, while the Government cannot support the current amendment or agree to bring forward their own in the present Bill, we are prepared to say that in the spirit of being helpful—and we do want to be helpful—we will endeavour to follow the issue separately outside the terms of the Bill and its discussions. We will be willing, for instance, to raise the issue directly with the Local Government Association and if it canvasses support and sees relevance in taking action along the lines suggested in the amendment, we are prepared to work

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with it, with interested parties, and, in particular, with those councils that have a lot of expertise in dealing with the difficulties, to see whether specific proposals might be developed for legislation at some future date. I am sure the noble Baroness will not expect me to be specific about when that might be. That is not something that Governments do: they do not commit themselves absolutely to parliamentary timetables for particular pieces of legislation.

However, we support the general thrust of the amendment. We can see the relevance and importance of the issue. We are impressed by how the Westminster City Council Act has worked. We are more than happy to be proactive in working with the LGA and those other interested associations—perhaps the Association of London Government which will have an interest in this and other parties—to see what proposals we can develop along the lines set out for future legislation.

Baroness O'Cathain: First I want to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. I also want to thank the Minister for the spirit of his reply. I want to put down two markers. As regards the comment that the proposal was too late, in reality this issue was flagged up on 3rd April. This is now 24th June, so I do not really buy that one. I just do not think that it was. I am glad that the Government see that the amendment has merit.

The other issue regards the Minister's comment that the amendment is defective because the Westminster City Council Act cannot be extended. Again, I have to put up a marker. I hope that this is not a delaying tactic by saying that this is in the "all too difficult" basket. There is a huge feeling that this must be tackled, and tackled now.

The Minister is wily enough—he knew perfectly well that I would ask him when they would do something about it—and he got in before me. He said that he knew I would not expect him to commit on that. But I was pleased that he used the word "proactive" because I hope that that means not more than a few months. I will tease this one out further, I suspect.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I have not contacted the Local Government Association but I do not think it would take a lot of time. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, spoke of the cost involved. Some local authorities have these people anyway but, whatever the cost, it will not be excessive and will surely largely repay the current difficulties. The situation makes it very difficult for local authorities to conduct business in their areas. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 221CA:

    After Clause 116, insert the following new clause—

(1) Section 52 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (c. 29) (meetings of the whole Assembly) is amended as follows.

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(2) After subsection (3) there is inserted—
"(3A) A meeting of the Assembly held under subsection (3) shall not be held within 28 days of the date when the last such meeting was held."
(3) In subsection (6)(b) for "28" there is substituted "14"."

The noble Baroness said: I have already declared an interest as a member, and currently chair, of the London Assembly. I wish to make it absolutely clear that neither this nor the following amendment are tabled with any degree of political animosity towards the current mayor. Members of the Committee may say that simply by saying that I am confessing to it, but that is not the case. I do not know how I can say it clearly enough.

Both of my amendments relate to matters which need rectification, if I can put it that way, from the position in the Greater London Authority Act. Amendment No. 221CA relates to the notice required to be given for the mayor's question time. Subject to a point I will make in a moment, the mayor is required to submit himself to questions from the Assembly on a regular basis. The Act provides that at least 28 clear days' notice of each mayor's question time has to be given. That in itself would not be a problem. Indeed, as Members of the Committee will imagine, the current practice is to set the diary at least a year in advance. However, notice cannot be given until after the previous mayor's question time has been held. This problem was spotted quite early on when GLA officers started working on the diary. It was raised with officials at the Government Office at a very early date.

As I believe and recollect, the legislation was designed to stop mayor's question times being bunched together. That is entirely appropriate. They take place so that the mayor is held to account on a regular basis throughout the year. One can imagine that if the mayor and the majority of the Assembly were, at some date, to be of the same political party, that party and the mayor might wish not to be held accountable regularly throughout the year at appropriate periods.

I have tried to design the amendment to meet this point by specifying the period of notice and the number of days which have to elapse between meetings—that is, by providing for 14 days' notice of a meeting and meetings not to be held within 28 days of each other.

The issue has become topical and practical and it is a matter only of good luck that the GLA has been able to deal with it. Because someone did not look in the diary, the mayor has booked a holiday this year at a date that coincides with the July mayor's question time. There is an irony in that because, although the Assembly is obliged to hold mayor's question time 10 times a year, the mayor is not obliged to attend. He must provide a written report beforehand and there are sanctions if he misses a string of MQTs, but he does not actually have to pitch up.

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This is not a new point. Whether or not my drafting is right, I hope that the opportunity—they come along infrequently enough—presented by the Bill can be taken to sort out this small, practical but difficult point. I beg to move.

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