Transparency (Supplementary) [1]

Session date: 
July 13, 2017
Question By: 
Gareth Bacon
GLA Conservatives
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Just a sweeping-up question, Mr Mayor, because I am a bit confused.  I have been a Member of the London Assembly for nine years now and my understanding was that in MQT the process was that Members came and they asked the Mayor questions and they received answers.  After that exchange, I now think that the process of MQT is that you will only answer questions that are subject to the FOI Act.  Is that correct?


Supplementary To: 


Answer for Transparency (Supplementary) [1]

Answer for Transparency (Supplementary) [1]

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  No.


Gareth Bacon AM:  No?  OK.  You started your answer by boasting about being so transparent.  I do not think there is a single person sitting in this room who thinks that that exchange was transparent.  The limit for responding to a FOI request question is £450 and the average cost - and people have looked into this - for responding to a Mayor’s question is £70.  Do you think it is a reasonable use of taxpayers’ money to not answer Assembly Members’ questions and ask for them to put a question in through FOI?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  There is a very good reason why we have FOI legislation.  It is important that officers who give advice are able to discuss that advice robustly.  That is the very important reason why, for example, we do not encourage members of staff to breach the confidences within an organisation.  What we have to realise is that if it is the case that a half-smart politician is trying to circumvent FOI legislation, there for a good reason, by asking questions that he knows contain ‑‑


Gareth Bacon AM:  Mr Mayor ‑‑


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Let me answer.  I have been asked a question.  I should be able to answer the question.


Gareth Bacon AM:  No.  Sorry, Chairman, he is not answering the question.  He is deflecting again, which, as Assembly Member Boff has just said, is a well-proven tactic of the Mayor.


The question I asked you was: is it a good use of taxpayer resource for you not to answer questions at MQT and ask people to submit FOIs instead?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  It is really important when you have rules that you abide by them.  I could very easily have given ‑‑


Gareth Bacon AM:  Mr Mayor, where is the rule that says that you cannot answer questions at MQT?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  The rules are that if there is, for example, a discussion and if legally privileged advice is received, if officers are giving advice to policymakers, for very good reasons, that ‑‑


Gareth Bacon AM:  I see.  Was that legally privileged advice, then?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I am trying to answer the question.


Gareth Bacon AM:  You are not trying to answer the question, Mr Mayor.  You are trying to waste time.  Was that legally privileged advice, the advice about Margaret Hodge, the advice about the Garden Bridge and not releasing transcripts?  Was that legally privileged?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Is it my turn now?


Gareth Bacon AM:  Yes.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  The issue is that we are well aware from previous questions raised by Assembly Member Boff that he has issues about the Garden Bridge.  He has concerns that we have uncovered the amount of taxpayers’ money wasted by the previous Mayor and he is embarrassed by the independent review from the former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.  What has happened as a consequence is this smoke and mirrors and he is trying to use a process point to hide his embarrassment.  Londoners are not being fooled by this.


Gareth Bacon AM:  No, Mr Mayor.  Sorry.  I have to interrupt you again, Mr Mayor.  If you do your homework properly, you will understand that Andrew Boff [AM] is on public record as opposing throughout the entire process the whole Garden Bridge process.  His concern specifically is around the transparency of Margaret Hodge’s report and your attitude to it.  After the exchange that we have just had, I think everybody in this room will now go away thinking that the only way to get answers from the Mayor of London at MQT is to submit an FOI in advance, which costs five times the amount of a Mayor’s question.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I am sorry if you do not like the rules but the rules are there for a reason.


Gareth Bacon AM:  Those are not the rules, Mr Mayor.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  By the way, my response to FOIs are far swifter than the previous Mayor’s.


Gareth Bacon AM:  Yes, you have said that about 10 times now.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ but it is really important to recognise that they are there for a reason.


Gareth Bacon AM:  Mr Mayor, I have already asked you and you are deflecting again.  I have asked you to show me where the rule is that says that you cannot answer a question unless it is subject to FOI legislation.  Can you point me to that rule?  Can you promise to write to me with that rule?  Or do I need to submit an FOI for that as well?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I will try to answer this question without being interrupted and I will try my best and look towards you to just give me the courtesy of answering a question fully without being interrupted ‑‑


Gareth Bacon AM:  Courtesy goes both ways, Mr Mayor.


Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman in the Chair):  Point of order.


Len Duvall AM:  Point of order, Chairman.  Look, can I just seek some clarification here?  Is it that the Member has been denied access by the FOI Act to one of the questions?  Then he is indeed trying to circumvent by asking questions in this forum when officers have turned him down.  He needs to rephrase it or get the information another way.  It really is not the purpose of Assembly Members’ question time to vent processes that exist within the GLA, if that is the case, because I am getting slightly confused ‑‑


Gareth Bacon AM:  You are not the only one.


Len Duvall AM:  ‑‑ by some of the aspects.  Is it that the Member has not been successful in accessing that information and has been denied that information appropriately and efficiently by GLA officers?  It is not the use of MQT to try and come back and have a second bite if you have been turned down.  You need to phrase the questions differently.  Chairman, in that sense, I am looking for a ruling ‑‑


Andrew Boff AM:  Chairman, my question was specifically about what the Mayor knows, not what the organisation knows.


Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman in the Chair):  Yes ‑‑ sorry ‑‑


Len Duvall AM:  In my point of order, Chairman, I am looking for a ruling that somehow we seek some guidance around the table about that to avoid this ever happening again and to be more productive and to get some answers in a two-way process.


Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman in the Chair):  Yes, I understand that.  Assembly Member Boff, as indeed the Mayor pointed out, attempted to ask the same question very many times, but one of the questions he did ask did relate to an answer that the Mayor gave today, which he could not possibly have asked by FOI, which was: how was the information that the Mayor was given transmitted to him?  That had not been the subject of an FOI.  Yes.


Andrew Dismore AM:  Chairman, I see that Assembly Member Boff’s actual tabled question is, “How transparent is your administration?”. If we are going to allow questions to go into all this detail about things that are not actually in the question, are we getting to the stage where you might as well ask what the Prime Minister’s engagements are rather than asking a specific question?  If Mr Boff wanted a specific question to be answered, perhaps he should have tabled a specific question rather than a very general, wide one.


Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman in the Chair):  I think I have been here longer than any of you.  That is in fact the way this place works.  This is our form of, “What are you doing today?”


Andrew Boff AM:  Which you have used yourself many a time, Assembly Member Dismore; many, many, many times.


Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman in the Chair):  Have you finished on this question?  Can I proceed to the next question?


Andrew Boff AM:  Yes.  The only thing I would say ‑‑


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Is it a speech or a question?


Andrew Boff AM: Mr Chairman, the Mayor did accuse you of partiality and said that this was not impartial.


Tony Devenish AM:  Outrageous.


Andrew Boff AM:  I would just like to say.  Does he think he gets a better deal from Jennette Arnold [OBE AM, Chair of the Assembly]?  I actually think she gives him a tougher time.