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Clause 8 — Membership of overview and scrutiny committees

Prayers – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 12th March 2010.

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

With this we may consider amendment 2, page 5, leave out lines 26 to 30 and insert-

'(a) allow an overview and scrutiny committee of a local authority (or a sub-committee of such a committee) to co-opt members of the authority's executive as non-voting members of the committee (or sub-committee) for the purpose of considering a particular matter that does not involve it exercising functions in relation to the executive; and'.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Amendment 2 was tabled by Mr. Raynsford. Although it is an improvement on the existing wording of clause 8, the solution to the problem is better resolved by the proposal of my hon. Friend Justine Greening to remove clause 8 in its entirety.

The clause deals with the membership of overview and scrutiny committees, and it seeks to amend section 21 of the Local Government Act 2000 by adding a regulation-making power that would enable the Secretary of State to make regulations to

"allow an overview and scrutiny committee of a local authority, or a sub-committee of such a committee, to include members of the authority's executive when the committee (or, as the case may be, sub-committee) is not exercising functions in relation to the executive; and...make such provision as appears to the Secretary of State about any conflict of interest arising."

The key to the problem is in the final phrase,

"any conflict of interest arising."

Either we effectively go for separation of powers and have an overview and scrutiny committee for a local authority executive, or we have the old-fashioned system, which I prefer, of committees, so that all members of the local authority have the same status in holding one another to account-obviously, some will run the council or be the leader or chairman of a committee.

I am not sure that the overview and scrutiny process is the right solution, but I would not wish to be prescriptive. Rather, I would like less prescription, and to allow more local authorities to revert to the old committee structure if that is what they want to do. However, if we are going to have overview and scrutiny committees, it would be wrong to allow the executive to take places on them, certainly if they had voting powers, as envisaged in clause 8.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

It might help the hon. Gentleman if I tell him that that is exactly the effect that amendment 2 would have-to prevent the executive members having a place by right on the committees. It would allow executive members to be invited in a co-opted role to the scrutiny committee when the committee believes that their expertise might be useful in relation to some outside matter, but not in relation to scrutiny of the authority or its executive. I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees that amendment 2 would achieve the objective he wants.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

As always, the right hon. Gentleman is very persuasive, and I can see the advantages of amendment 2 over the clause as it stands. However, my preference-not just out of loyalty-is for the solution proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, which is to stop yet another regulation-making power being given to the Secretary of State. He should keep his nose out of such things and leave the arrangements for overview and scrutiny committees as they are, under the terms of section 21 of the Local Government Act 2000. That system seems to have been working. I have never heard a member of an overview and scrutiny committee saying, "Ah, but life would be much better if we'd been able to get the advice of a member of the executive." The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's point is that an overview and scrutiny committee would only rarely decide that it is necessary to seek advice from a member of the authority's executive.

This is therefore an academic argument. My view and those of the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Putney are close. We are basically saying that we think clause 8 is a load of nonsense. If one is being generous, as the right hon. Gentleman is, one says, "Well, let's amend it and completely negate it, but not directly." The approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney and I is more direct: we say, "It ain't worth including in the Bill, so we want to remove it."

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

I hope the House will not accept the amendment.

Amendment 25 negatived.