Local Government Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 10th July 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 6:30 pm, 10th July 2003

My Lords, Amendment No. 23 brings us to quite a different topic—access to information in relation to the Mayor of London. I should again declare an interest as a Member of the London Assembly and currently the chair.

The amendment is not attempting to impose detailed provisions at this point. It simply proposes a regulation-making power to enable the Mayor of London, currently the only local authority executive—a technically correct term, although I use it in the wider sense here—not subject to the access to information provisions in the Local Government Act 2000, to be made subject to them.

I wrote to the mayor when I tabled this amendment in Committee assuring him that it was not an attack on his style of government and I repeat that now. It is attempting to use a rare legislative opportunity to rectify what I believe is perhaps an oversight in the drafting of the Greater London Authority Act. There are so few opportunities for amending primary legislation that I could not let this opportunity pass.

The amendment is intended to be a regulation-making power. The application of legislation in the area of access to information is changing fairly fast. Freedom of information provisions will come into effect quite soon. At that point I believe that the Mayor of London, whoever he may be, will have to have in place arrangements to ensure compliance, which will include a flow of information, a particular context for reporting, and making the decision-making process open and transparent.

Although I appreciate that there are difficulties inherent in the access to information provisions which apply to executives now concerning when important key decisions are to be made, nevertheless, it does not seem appropriate that a single executive is exempt from the regime. There are provisions in the Act which enable the Assembly to require the mayor, the staff, the chairs of the functional bodies and their staff, to produce information and to appear before it and be questioned.

As a matter of practice, they are matters which the Assembly regard as being like a sledgehammer. It would be far more appropriate to have a routine arrangement in place which would enable the Assembly, elected to fulfil a scrutiny role, to have sight of those decisions and warning of them, and allow the public to have access to them.

I do not believe that I could ever be accused of crawling to the mayor so I have no fear of repeating it. This is not an attack on the way in which he conducts matters. He has committed himself to the GLA being the most open and transparent government that the UK has ever seen. I do not believe that this is the time to debate whether he has yet achieved that. It is not an attack on what he is doing at the moment. I beg to move.