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The Government's intention to prescribe the information that the mayor and the Assembly could require from its functioning bodies was laid out in the Greater London Authority Bill, but I am not aware that it attracted a great deal of attention at that time.
What now appears to have happened is that, following two consecutive consultation processes on the matters to be prescribed, the Government have apparently encompassed areas, which the noble Baroness has outlined, which could reasonably be seen to be legitimate information for the Greater London Authority to have. The noble Baroness has identified some of these areas and one wonders what objection there could be from a functioning body to either supplying the information requested or being open to questioning about it.
The passage of the Freedom of Information Bill has opened up the amount of information which can reasonably be protected by a public body. It is plain that the functioning bodies--which, again, the noble Baroness has detailed--are just such authorities. For them to be able to protect information from the Greater London Authority on matters which affect the latter's modus operandi seems to be drawing the net too wide.
The Greater London Authority can, in any event, protect the information by using Section 12 of the Local Government Act 1979 to discuss sensitive issues in private. The level of prescription in this order seems to be moving in the wrong direction to the intentions of the Freedom of Information Bill and against "the cultural change to openness" to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, referred in this House the other day.
There may and probably should be a constraint on some information, such as the personal details of staff, contract negotiations while they are in progress--but even here it is difficult to see why they should not be shared in private with the Greater London Authority or with the mayor who may be overseeing them--legal proceedings which are sub judice, matters of security or sensitive criminal investigations. No one disagrees that matters such as these should continue to be prescribed as not being open to even the Greater London Authority's eyes.
Paragraph 7 seems to be drawn unduly wide. As the noble Baroness said, local government leaders used to meet the Receiver of the Metropolitan Police to discuss the budget--not other matters. While one would not want national security to be jeopardised, many aspects of the police service--such as the budget--could be safely disclosed.
In the two consultation processes the Government will no doubt have received conflicting advice--it would be odd if they did not. They will therefore, not unreasonably, have charted a middle road in deciding what should be prescribed in this first order. It is unfortunate that, although it was one of the consultees, the only way the Greater London Authority can now see to further influence what it sees as being the adverse aspects of this order is by this Prayer.
I hope that the Minister will be able to provide some indication that further discussions between the Government and the elected members of the Greater London Authority can take place quickly to try to iron out a practical and sensible way forward. The order is now issued. Perhaps the best that can be achieved is for such an undertaking to be given in this House today.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, when the Greater London Authority Act 1999 was going through Parliament, Ministers consistently made clear that Section 63 and Section 395 orders would be used to establish appropriate arrangements to protect privacy and confidentiality.
They also stressed that categories of information defined by the orders would be a subset of those categories that local authorities may, but are not obliged to, disclose to the public as set out in Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972. We believe that this is the appropriate use of Section 12A, and we do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
During the progress earlier this year of what is now the Local Government Act 2000, Ministers undertook to review the categories of exemption listed in Schedule 12A with a view to ensuring that councils could not use the categories to withhold information unnecessarily that should properly be open to the public. This consultation paper will be issued later this year. I assure both noble Baronesses that its findings will be taken on board in the review of this order.
The basis for our case is clear and lies in statute. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is aware, Section 58 of the GLA Act makes it clear that the Assembly is treated as a principal council for the purposes of Part Va of the Local Government Act 1972. I appreciate that the Assembly and the elected mayor are the first of their kind in the country. We are breaking new ground. However, we consulted widely with the GLA before the order was made and both sides agreed that this was the most appropriate vehicle.
The provisions in Part V of the Local Government Act 1972 mean that the Assembly can exclude the public from meetings at which there might be disclosure of exempt information of the sort listed in Schedule 12A to that Act. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, used that as an underlying part of her argument as to why the Assembly should receive information. But the Assembly is not obliged to withhold such information from the public. It can choose to make it available. So the only way in which the functional bodies can guarantee that information does not become public is not to provide it in the first place. That was the basis for laying the protected information order.
I should like to address the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about timing. As she knows, the authority only fully took up all its powers on 3rd July. We took the view that the most important process would be that of consultation. The order is subject to negative resolution and can, therefore, be laid when Parliament is not sitting. We felt that that was important in order to allow for a proper period of
The Minister in the other place, Keith Hill, was conscious of the newly formed status of the GLA. He has offered to review the order in six months, which will be in January next year. That may answer some of the points raised also by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. We shall review how well arrangements have worked and whether any changes are required. That offer was welcomed by the chair of the Assembly, Trevor Phillips, in writing on 14th August on behalf of all Assembly members.
Ministers made it clear to the Assembly and to the mayor that government tried to balance the interests of the mayor and the Assembly on the one hand with those of the bodies and individuals that would be required to hand over documents and information on the other.
The order as laid takes on board a number of the changes that the GLA asked for. I should like to deal in particular with the point about the allegation that the categories of information are too broad. The power in Section 61 of the GLA Act, the Assembly's power to require attendance at assembly meetings, does not limit the Assembly just to ordering the functional bodies to hand over information. It extends the remit to organisations which receive GLA grants and those providing services to the GLA. As such, we were urged in the consultation process to balance the Assembly's right to obtain information with ensuring that these organisations are protected against unreasonable demands made on them by the GLA.
Other changes were requested by the GLA, particularly with regard to police and crime matters. I think all noble Lords will agree that this is a sensitive issue. The Home Office felt that it could not accept any changes that might undermine protection for certain information held by the Metropolitan Police Authority, for example, on the investigation of particular crimes. We had strong representations from the functional bodies during the consultation process and felt it important to take those on board. There is nothing in the order to prevent the Metropolitan Police Authority voluntarily giving general information on provision of police services for national or international purposes. I am quite sure that the members of the GLA will wish to monitor carefully how successfully that works.
We know that the Assembly and the mayor can receive information in confidence but there is a concern about the openness regime. We have watched with interest the degree to which the GLA has conducted its business in public. We fear that it may be difficult for the Assembly to change this stance and to start holding more meetings in private--the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, mentioned this--just to address the concerns about confidential and sensitive information being examined in public. However, I am quite sure that that is the kind of issue that the GLA will wish to consider most carefully in the review.
We believe that the mayor should be entitled to the maximum reasonable disclosure from the GLA's functional bodies. In defining what is reasonable, we undertook to include what we regarded as particularly sensitive. I refer to the kind of examples that we seek to protect. Examples are information that would constitute a breach of confidence if disclosed, information that relates to the prevention, investigation or prosecution of a particular crime, or that constituted advice, information or action connected to legal proceedings.
I note the examples that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, gave with regard to a trend in a particular area. I shall want to consider that point carefully and write to the noble Baroness. We do not want to prevent the Assembly doing the job it was elected to do but deep concerns were expressed by the functional bodies during the consultation.
The noble Baroness mentioned information that would constitute information about contracts of employment. I remind the House that the GLA is merging together very different contracts of employment. During the consultation it was stressed strongly that former employees who were transferred under TUPE are entitled to have their privacy maintained in this regard if that is written into their contracts. I have no doubt that the noble Baroness will want to consider that matter further in due course. Just because we have prescribed a category in this order does not ensure that information within it will be kept secret. The body may still give it to the mayor or the Assembly voluntarily.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred to freedom of information. Clause 38 of the Freedom of Information Bill makes clear that the Data Protection Act 1998 will remain the key legislation for the regulation of personal information held by authorities and other bodies. In Clause 41 we exempt information which constitutes a trade secret or information whose disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person.
We believe that we have established within this order a delicate balance between the interests that were expressed during the consultation. As I said earlier, we are dealing with a very new kind of body. For that
I stress that the order does not prevent an open exchange of information on a voluntary basis. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her objection. I thank those who have taken part in the debate.
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