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Lord Tope: My Lords, I share the concern expressed. Having led a local authority for 13 years, I understand well the mayor's need at times to receive advice known to be given in confidence. Most of us would understand that. The same must be true in government. These proposals go beyond that.
If the mayor believes in a regime of openness, there is probably no problem. However, from time to time, when the mayor and the functional bodies are under pressure, that will not be the case. My fear is that the provisions provide a cloak of respectability behind which to hide, and the temptation to do so is too great.
Lord Bowness: My Lords, I support my noble friend on the Front Bench and the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I, too, understand, and have argued before the Widdecombe Committee, the desirability of local authorities and their policy leaders having the ability to receive advice in private. There is a difference to be drawn between private and secret advice. We run into difficulties with the suggestions in the amendment because the advice is becoming preciously close to being secret rather than private. I hope that the Government will reconsider the provisions, which in the wrong hands could be dangerous to say the least.
I also believe that we are placing an extraordinary burden on the officers named in the amendments. I understand that they are employees of the authority, even the mayor's own appointments, and not the mayor's own employees. A considerable conflict of interest and loyalty will arise if the measure is enacted as it stands.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, during the debate I realised that we had a recent and tragic example of the kind of incident which might be the subject of advice within the proposed provisions. Transport for London will have responsibility for certain transport services within London. After the accident at Paddington, the Deputy Prime Minister made a careful point of being seen to be as open as possible as to its likely causes. He is to be applauded for being bold in allowing, facilitating and encouraging statements to be made and making a statement himself about the likely causes. It would be ironic, as well as worrying, if in pushing the amendments at this stage the Deputy Prime Minister's own department were thought to be allowing Transport for London and the mayor to act in a different fashion.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, throughout the Bill, we have made it clear that the mayor is a unique creation and he or she will require a great deal of political judgment and advice. In that sense, the mayor must be treated more as a Minister than other local authority officers. We believe that, although it was not appreciated in some quarters in the House, the original clause accepted that the mayor would require private and detailed advice which would not be subject to what is generally an open access of information to the
Having established that the mayor is in that position, we needed to consider which advice would fall into the capacity of private advice equivalent to that received by Ministers from civil servants. It is not reasonable to confine that to people employed by the authority; it should also extend to people in an equivalent capacity in the functional bodies. It is therefore simply a question of reflecting across from what has been agreed in relation to GLA staff to staff from other authorities who are giving advice to the mayor.
Therefore, I do not agree to take away any suggestions made here because that would be reopening an argument which in principle has been debated. The Government have made their position clear. It is our contention that such advice, whether from functional bodies or the GLA, should not be subject to disclosure provisions.
However, an additional point relates to the definition of advice in subsection (8) in Amendment No. 136 and is repeated in Amendment No. 228. The form of words gives me cause for thinking that we do not have an adequate definition. If I agree to take that away and consider it, I must make it clear to noble Lords that it is only in relation to the definition that I am prepared to look at these provisions again. I do not wish to raise expectations. The other aspects follow on from the way in which we have already regarded the mayor. What was intended in the definitional clauses was to narrow the definition of advice, but, as noble Lords have interpreted it, it could be read to extend that advice into areas which would be dangerous were they covered by the provision.
Lord Bowness: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he accept that in considering this matter it is necessary to distinguish between policy advice and general political advice and advice which is given and forms the background against which an executive decision is made and implemented?
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, before the Minister stands to comment on my noble friend's question, we on this side of the House are pleased that he is prepared to look again at subsection (8) of Amendment No. 136 because the definition of advice" is much wider. When the Minister was responding to me in the first instance, he talked about political advice and that became rather mixed up with this. The fact is that in Clause 56(1)(a) and (b) it says that,
However, what we find absolutely appalling at this very late stage is that the Government have come forward and asked for these other exemptions--a functional body, a member of a functional body, or a member of staff of a functional body. Again, I do not wish to labour yet another point with the Minister, but this Bill has been through the other place. It went through all its stages there and at no stage was that provision found to be something which ought to be brought into the arena. Moreover, it has been through the Committee stage in this House. Therefore, if we let this amendment pass today because the noble Lord will not withdraw it, even if he takes out subsection (8) which deals with advice, it means that advice from any of these three bodies, whatever its description, will be on the statute book and will be exempted in the same way as private political advice. That is improper. I really think that the Minister ought, once again, to take a step back and reconsider this point. It is a very serious matter.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, perhaps he could reply to the question that I posed concerning Amendment No. 226. Does the phraseology which relates to" in the amendment imply that members of functional bodies will, in effect, not have to reply to any questions presented to them by the assembly?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have indicated that I am prepared to take one step backwards, but I am not prepared to take several steps backwards. The intention is absolutely clear: we wish to provide the mayor with the ability to take advice from senior members of staff who will exist in the functional bodies as well as in the GLA. The distinction between political advice and policy advice is not one which is made in that sense for Ministers, and we do not intend to make it here. I thought that I had clearly indicated to the House that I believe there is a problem about the definition in subsection (8) of this amendment and also in Amendment No. 228. However, I am not convinced by the arguments relating to the general principle of extending such advice from officials for the GLA to those from the functional bodies. I believe that that extension is both sensible and logical; and, indeed, flows from what we said in relation to the principal matter here.
As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I have to confess that, although I have received advice on it, I am not entirely clear that it clarifies the matter. Therefore, if he will indulge me, I am prepared to write to him--it is to be hoped--within three days.
I am in a slight difficulty here because I do not wish to withdraw these amendments. I feel strongly that they should stand. However, I should like to look again at subsection (8) of Amendment No. 136 and Amendment No. 228. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 136 to enable me to do so. But, if I return with the rest of it intact, I think noble Lords are clear as to where I stand on these matters.
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