My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.--(Lord Whitty.)
My Lords, I do not intend to delay the House, nor, obviously, shall I oppose the Motion. However, I rise to express some concerns about this afternoon's business, of which I have given the Government Chief Whip some notice.
In response to requests from my noble friend Lord Roberts, the Government have brought forward a very large number of amendments dealing with the Welsh aspects of the Bill. I gather that there are some 115 new amendments being brought forward at this Third Reading. The amendments were tabled yesterday, the day before or even the day before that; but they were put down very recently. We all know that my noble friend will, with some difficulty, be able to assimilate and grasp the content of such a large number of amendments, but can that be true of all other noble Lords, bearing in mind the complexity of these issues and the timing with which they were tabled? As regards the future, I must say that I hope the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip can offer some guarantee that such a large number of amendments will not be tabled quite so late in the proceedings of a Bill.
That brings me to the second point that I wish to discuss. This afternoon we are debating two government Bills. I have no objection to that; indeed, I think that that is perfectly legitimate because, on certain occasions, the business managers should be able to complete two Bills in one day. Obviously, the first is the Third Reading of the Local Government Bill and the second is the Report stage of the Children (Leaving Care) Bill. The latter is a Bill that had its Committee stage in the Moses Room. I am sure that the House will agree that Bills which start their Committee stage in the Moses Room should have their Report and Third Reading stages at a convenient time of the day for the House and not be hidden away late in the evening, as is likely to happen on this occasion.
Therefore, can I have confirmation from the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms that if consideration on the Local Government Bill does not finish by 8.30 p.m., we will not proceed with the Children (Leaving Care) Bill and will leave it to be dealt with on another day?
My Lords, I should like to say a few words on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. I make no comment on the "Welsh amendments", if I may so describe them. However, on the second issue raised, does the noble Lord recall our conversation when I expressed serious disquiet about a Bill that had been considered in the Moses Room not getting prime time in this House? I believe that must be done if we are to continue to consider Bills in the Moses Room.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who told me just before Questions commenced that he was going to raise these points. He is correct to say that government amendments were tabled on Monday, and yesterday, on the Local Government Bill. The amendments tabled on Monday have all been brought forward in response to points raised by the parties opposite on Report. It was not possible to have them drafted and tabled any earlier. Although a large number of amendments were tabled yesterday, they all related to a single issue; namely, the application of the new ethical framework in Wales. I am advised that the vast majority of them are consequential and technical.
I understand that my noble friend Lord Whitty sent copies of the amendments to the Front Bench spokesmen of the parties opposite on Monday so as to give them slightly longer to consider the detail. I only became aware of the situation at the end of last week. In the case of the Welsh matters, they seem to require another layer of consultation. Noble Lords will know that, as Chief Whip, I have made a lot of effort to get amendments tabled in reasonable time. Indeed, as Chief Whip, I can say that that applies just as much to government amendments as to those from the Opposition.
As regards the timing of the Children (Leaving Care) Bill this evening, both noble Lords will know that it was agreed between the usual channels that we would take it as the second business of the day. However, if we have not completed the Local Government Bill by 8.30 p.m., we will not be proceeding with the Children (Leaving Care) Bill this evening.
On Question, Bill read a third time.
Clause l [Meaning of "local authority" in this Part]:
My Lords, I wish that noble Lords leaving the Chamber could do so quietly because we cannot hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, introducing her amendments.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention, though I was not suggesting that my words were so full of import that they needed silence in order to be heard.
The Bill introduces powers for local authorities that we on these Benches, the Opposition and the whole of the local government world outside this place have very much welcomed; namely, the new powers regarding social, economic and environmental well-being. However, the powers will not extend to all local authorities; they will extend only to those in the spheres above parishes in England and their equivalents--community councils--in Wales.
I believe that there are some 10,000 parish councils in England alone which represent nearly 16 million people. Those who have lived in areas that have been served by parish councils, as well as by those in other spheres--I have not had the benefit of this, having spent the whole of my adult life in London where we have no parishes or their equivalents--are very well aware in many cases of the huge benefits that parishes can bring. Of course, not every parish council is as good as the next, but many are energetic and bring together people who wish to contribute to their communities. Those people do a great deal of work at a very local level and often in a pretty much unsung fashion.
The importance of parish councils has been recognised across the board for many years. The Redcliffe-Maud Report in 1969 acknowledged the vital elements that they contribute to democratic local government. The report said:
"Their key function should be to focus opinion about anything that affects the well being"--
I stress the words "well being"--
"of each community".
Quite rightly, this Government's recent publications, including In Touch with the People, have recognised the essential part of the structure of local democracy in this country to which local authorities contribute. My amendments seek to extend the powers of well-being to that level of local democracy.
I am obliged to the National Association of Local Councils, which represents parish councils, for briefing me on this matter. We on these Benches, in our turn, very much support the work that it accomplishes. The association is concerned that the power to promote economic, environmental and social well-being excludes that sphere of local government. Many parish councils wish to be involved--indeed, many of them are--with partnership arrangements incorporating other parts of local government, and of course with the private, business and voluntary sectors. This is to the benefit of their local communities.
The powers of parish councils are limited. Section 137 of the 1972 Local Government Act will remain on the statute book. That gives parish councils a certain but limited freedom beyond the statutory duties to do the right thing for their communities, as they see it. The power to incur expenditure under Section 137 is limited.
If Section 137 were an adequate provision for local authorities to undertake the wider responsibilities and the broader powers that this Bill will provide in other spheres, it seems to me that the Government would have left it on the statute book, or perhaps raised the financial limits, and would simply have extended Section 137 to the whole of local government. For it to be repealed, save for parish and community councils, is, I think, a sad failure.
I realise that I should also have tabled an amendment to Clause 9 of the Bill which would be consequential on this amendment. We have skirted round the powers of parish councils at previous stages of the Bill. I do not believe that we have addressed the question quite as directly as the amendments I am discussing seek to do. I do not seek to divide the House on this matter because I note the technical deficiency in what I have tabled. However, I hope that we can be told why the Government have excluded parish councils from the provision. That will provide material for our colleagues in another place to take the matter further as they will also be concerned with the powers of parish councils. I beg to move.
My Lords, it may be appropriate to refer to the general content of the noble Baroness's remarks in relation to the importance of parish councils. We are not sympathetic to the amendment but we need to make clear that parish councils are an essential part of the structure of local democracy and that they will continue to play a vital part in the life of our towns, villages and rural communities, as they have in the past. I want to repeat again--as there has been a number of rumours to the contrary--that that remains government policy, and will continue to be government policy.
While we expect parish councils to play an important role in the community planning process, we do not expect them to be the leaders in that process. We would expect effective parishes to be one of the strategic partners engaged in community planning with other local government units. The guidance will make that clear. We would expect parishes to have a role in identifying needs, but we would expect the higher tiers of local government to be in the lead in matters of well-being and community planning, even though the parishes will have a role to play in the local partnerships which develop under those provisions.
In support of that role we shall continue to make use of the parish powers under Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 which allow them to support a wide range of activities for the local good. Parishes have developed a number of new approaches to delivering benefits to their communities, for example through funding citizens advice bureaux, sports and leisure facilities and so on.
The noble Baroness referred to the possible inadequacy of the limits under that section. We recognise that some parish councils feel restrained by the annual limit on expenditure, of £3.50 per elector, from playing a full role in local government. The Government have stated previously--I emphasise this again--that we realise that this is a difficulty, albeit for a minority of parish and town councils. We shall review the current limit on Section 137 as part of the wider local government finance review to which I have referred at earlier stages of this Bill.
The Government believe that parishes have an important role to play. But that is not the leading role, either as regards the power of well-being or in the preparation of community strategies. I hope that the noble Baroness will acknowledge that, and that parish councils will recognise that that is their role and that we have a positive attitude to their role. However, the amendment would not further that.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he comment on the Countryside Agency's proposal that it will help villages to prepare appraisals? I accept that district and county councils have the lead role in preparing overall strategy. However, I thought that the Countryside Agency had a well-funded programme to help villages to prepare appraisals which would be most unlikely to fit into an overall strategy to be followed by district or county councils. How will parishes regard these village appraisals in the light of the comments that the Minister has just made? Will that work be worth while, unless the Government view as important within the wider framework such work at a local level?
My Lords, the Countryside Commission's initiative would allow parish councils to engage in a range of initiatives, but to do so within their current powers. Village appraisals would be conducted in such a way that parishes could help play a part in the community planning which is being undertaken by the district or county. The manner of participation may differ from village to village. That is understood and forms part of the whole approach to parish activities which the Countryside Commission is endeavouring to nurture. However, that does not alter the point that the well-being power itself and the community planning strategy are not the responsibility of parish councils but of district or county councils.
My Lords, the Minister says that he expects parishes to play a full part in partnerships and that the guidance which the Secretary of State will issue will make that clear. I do not think that that quite answers the question, because the guidance will presumably primarily be guidance for levels of local government other than parishes.
I accept that parishes do not always play a primary role in their communities' well-being, but I do not accept that they never play a primary role. It seems to me that the Government have failed to answer the basic underlying question; namely, what harm can there be in extending these powers to parish councils? Simply leaving on the statute book Section 137, which is widely accepted to contain inherent difficulties, seems to go against the assurances that the Government have given about how they value parishes.
I did not make that point in my opening remarks as it did not lie behind the amendment. The amendment was not tabled to have a go at the Government but to support parishes. As we all agree that it is right to do so, I fear that I have not been given an answer to my question as to why the well-being power should not apply equally to that part of our local government and our local history. I hope that another place will be able to pursue this matter more effectively than clearly I have been able to do. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, first, I wish to place on record my gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Conwy and Lord Thomas of Gresford, for their understanding with regard to the difficulties that we faced in ensuring that the views of the Assembly were taken into account. We understand the strain that was placed on them in dealing with amendments that were tabled late.
These amendments make provision for the role of the National Assembly for Wales in respect of the well-being powers in Wales. Amendment No. 4 would give the National Assembly for Wales the power to make regulations under Clause 3(3) to place restrictions on the use of the well-being power by local authorities in Wales. It also makes it clear that the National Assembly may issue guidance to which Welsh authorities must have regard when using the well-being power.
Amendment No. 6 sets out the particular arrangements which must be followed when the Secretary of State proposes to use the Clause 5 power in a way that will affect Welsh local authorities. First, the Secretary of State must consult the National Assembly before making any provision that would affect Welsh authorities. Secondly, the Secretary of State cannot make any provision that would affect legislation that has been made by the Assembly unless the Assembly has given its consent for him to do so. These provisions will protect the legitimate interests of the National Assembly in matters relating to local government in Wales.
It is of course entirely possible that the Assembly will wish to see specific legislative changes made for the benefit of authorities in Wales. So Amendment No. 6 also provides a formal mechanism for the Assembly to make proposals to the Secretary of State for such changes to be made.
Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 9 make consequential changes to the detailed consultation and scrutiny procedures in Clause 8. These procedures will apply to any order that the Secretary of State proposes to make under Clause 5 or Clause 6 and which affects Welsh authorities. Amendment No. 7 requires the Secretary of State to consult the National Assembly on any proposal for legislation that affects Wales. Amendment No. 8 is a simple drafting change to reflect the new provisions of Amendment No. 7. Amendment No. 9 requires that the views of the Welsh Assembly, like those of other consultees, must be made available to the House alongside any proposed draft order.
Together these provisions will ensure that the Assembly is fully consulted and has ample opportunity to scrutinise any proposed changes to legislation in Wales. They will ensure that the views of the Assembly are available to Parliament when it comes to scrutinise any proposed orders made under Clause 5 or Clause 6. I beg to move Amendment No. 4.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness indicated, this is the first of a series of Welsh amendments to the Bill. I am grateful to the Government for tabling them--if not by Report, as once promised, then at least by Third Reading.
There was a time not so long ago when Ministers thought that they might not be able to table the bulk of these amendments until the Bill reached another place. They have clearly pulled out all the stops, and we had a deluge of amendments earlier in the week. Had we not received these amendments today, they would have had to be moved in the other place and we would have been able to discuss them only during our consideration of Commons amendments, with all the limitations that that involves.
The Government's difficulty arose because of continuing discussions, internally and with the National Assembly for Wales,
"both about the process which should be used to amend primary legislation affecting local government in Wales and about the procedures for implementing this legislation for Welsh local authorities".
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will recognise that a substantial part of what I have just said is a quotation from a letter which the noble Lord was good enough to send me on the 25th of last month.
I think that we have a right to know of major changes proposed by the Government before Bills pass through this House. I am glad that the Government have seen fit to table the Welsh amendments, albeit at a late stage. I think that that is an acknowledgement of the principle that we should be able to see changes proposed by the Government.
I detect a similar difficulty in connection with the Learning and Skills Bill, which occasioned my comment that the Assembly was out of step with the primary legislative process for which this Westminster Parliament is still responsible. I think that the Government have had a hand in this too; perhaps I was too heavy in my criticism of the Assembly. I shall come to that in a moment.
A similar difficulty seems to be arising in the case of the Care Standards Bill. Only last week, the Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy MP, intimated in the Welsh affairs debate that provision for a children's commissioner for Wales may well be introduced into the Care Standards Bill, which is in an advanced stage of its progress through this House. Of course, in that case there were special circumstances arising from the Waterhouse report. I am sure that this House will be understanding about that, as it always is.
I do not want to labour the point, but it is becoming increasingly clear that if we are to provide Wales with the legislation it needs, the Assembly and the Government must be in step with the legislative process here. I am not sure that this principle is, as yet, fully accepted and understood. I think that the Government understand it, but perhaps the message has not, as yet, got down to Cardiff Bay. I say this in a helpful rather than critical spirit.
I know that the Assembly is not yet a year old and that there are bound to be teething troubles and so on, and that the Government are well aware of the problem. My sole concern--I think it is a legitimate concern and I know that this is the Government's wish too--is to ensure that the primary legislation that this Parliament provides is not defective so far as it concerns Wales; that it is as sound and as comprehensive as we can make it; and that people will benefit from it and not suffer because of inadequacies.
The House will be glad to hear me say that I fully appreciate the purpose of the amendments, as outlined by the noble Baroness, which is, of course, to provide for the inclusion of the National Assembly in Clauses 3, 5 and 8. Clause 5 contains a very substantial power to amend or repeal enactments. In so far as it is right to grant such a power at all, it is appropriate that the Assembly should be consulted in Wales.
My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House or to oppose these amendments. My noble friend on the Front Bench supports them; who am I to oppose them? But I should like to make one or two observations.
I have never had unbounded admiration for the wisdom of Secretaries of State in giving guidance or in consulting. I think that Secretaries of State are--more than most people--open to error. The amendment seeks to substitute the Assembly for the Secretary of State and I wonder whether--I mean no disrespect to the National Assembly for Wales--perhaps an assembly collectively giving guidance and being consulted would produce an even worse muddle than that produced by a Secretary of State.
I may have completely misunderstood the amendments but I should be obliged to the noble Baroness if she could set at rest my burgeoning anxieties on this subject.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford wanted to be present and said that if we could keep going until 4.30 the debate on the first group of amendments, he would be. I decided that if I were to try to do that, it might not make these Benches entirely popular with the House. I know that my noble friend would like to have recorded his thanks to the Minister for the time he was able to spend with my noble friend discussing the Welsh amendments.
However, we must express our concern about improving the process. The Bill started life in this House not in the form in which the Government were promoting it. We debated a raft of amendments at the Committee stage to turn it into something more like the Government's preferred version. To treat the position of Wales as something of an add-on, whether to this Bill or to any other Bill, does not give proper acknowledgement to the role of Welsh government. I hope that we will very soon start regarding the involvement of our colleagues in Wales as integral to the initial process and not as something to be considered at a later stage. Wales is not an add-on. For Cardiff and the whole of Wales to have to sit back and wait for Westminster and Whitehall to sort out how they wish to express certain matters in legislation is not the right way to go forward. I am aware that the Government were consulting colleagues in Wales on how to express and deal with certain matters, but on this occasion I do not think that we have served them very well.
Like other noble Lords, I have had time only at a fairly unsocial hour to look at the amendments affecting Wales. Though they seem to be such as we would wish to see, I find it difficult to satisfy myself that they really are. I hope that longer consideration can be given if it is needed, as it may be. From these Benches we express our wish that Wales should be allowed to run its own affairs, as was the thrust of the legislation.
My Lords, I begin by repeating the offer that I made with the knowledge of the Secretary of State for Wales to arrange a meeting after Easter to look at the procedure and the processes that need to be followed to cover the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. Such a meeting would then be able to look at the processes and procedure that have been used both for the Learning and Skills Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred, and the Care Standards Bill. I am grateful to the noble Lord. We, too, wish to ensure that in future the procedure that is adopted is one of proper consultation and proper time for full parliamentary scrutiny following that consultation.
Perhaps I may say, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, that the settlement and the devolution arrangements provide under the Government of Wales Act that the Assembly is a corporate body which has delegated executive power to the cabinet. Consultation will be with the cabinet. The appropriate Assembly Secretary will be the one to issue guidance where the issue is one of guidance.
I thank noble Lords who have taken part in the discussion. I remind the House that the Assembly started to work using the powers which transferred only on 1st July. We are having discussions with the Assembly about the future legislative process and the Assembly is clear on the matter. I understand that it has suggested to the Secretary of State for Wales a protocol.
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I wonder why the arrangement as to who will give guidance and who will consult is not made clear on the face of the Bill. It looks so odd. We suddenly find guidance being given by an Assembly. Not even your Lordships' House would always give the most coherent advice. There might be a good deal of disagreement. I wonder at the idea of putting down an Assembly as the source of advice or guidance. If someone else is giving the advice or guidance, why not say so?
My Lords, I can understand that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, would be concerned were we to be in a process of offering guidance from a gathering as large as your Lordships' House. But the devolution settlement makes it quite clear that it is the Assembly which must be consulted. The Assembly can give to the cabinet that power of consultation to go ahead. That is a matter for the Assembly. But it is the Assembly as a whole which must be consulted before changes are made that are rightly in its power to decide on.
moved Amendment No. 5:
After Clause 4, insert the following new clause--
(" .--(1) Every local authority in Wales is to have a duty to prepare a strategy for promoting or improving the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area.
(2) In preparing any strategy under this section, a local authority--
(a) may consult or seek the participation of such persons as they consider appropriate; and
(b) must have regard to any guidance for the time being issued by the National Assembly for Wales.
(3) Before issuing any guidance under this section, the National Assembly for Wales must consult the Partnership Council and such other persons (if any) as it considers appropriate.").
My Lords, I introduce this new clause with the support of the Welsh Local Government Association and of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in absentia for the time being. The underlying principle has been previously discussed by your Lordships in an England and Wales context and rejected by the Government, but the new clause applies to Wales only.
As currently drafted, the Bill provides for each local authority in Wales and England to have a power to prepare a community strategy to promote well-being subject to guidance issued by the Secretary of State. The proposed new clause replaces the power with a duty upon local authorities in Wales to be fulfilled with regard to guidance issued by the National Assembly for Wales. In my experience, it is not often that local authorities ask for duties, but here is an exceptional case. The effect of the new clause would be to ensure that every local authority in Wales prepared a community strategy according to a timetable and with scope and procedures defined in guidance by the National Assembly after widespread consultation in Wales.
The Local Government Association wishes to develop an innovative and distinctive approach to the governance of Wales. The community strategy for each local government area is widely regarded within Wales as an essential part of the new governance, as is the partnership that is being constructed between the National Assembly and local government. It is urged that Wales needs a national framework for local community planning which can be achieved only by laying a duty on local authorities. It is envisaged that each local authority will work with local people, voluntary and business organisations and other public organisations to agree, in partnership, shared aims and strategies for the local community which can inform the more detailed planning and actions of each of the partner organisations. The National Assembly is currently developing a strategic plan for Wales through a process of partnership and consultation.
This national strategy proposes key priorities and targets for Wales in the medium and long term. The intention is that local government will collectively consider how its priorities match those of the Assembly, and where, as anticipated, there is congruence, the Assembly and local government will make a policy agreement, where both agree to pursue selected target outcomes. Local agreements will be informed by the national agreement as each local authority considers the circumstances of its community and its potential contribution to the national strategy. It is anticipated that the policy agreements, national and local, will inform the local partnerships that come together to develop a community strategy.
Much work has already been done on this innovative approach to partnership which has been developed in Wales through its unique statutory Partnership Council between the Assembly and local government. During the preparations, one of the key foundations was the Government's commitment in the Welsh Office White Paper, Local Voices, in 1998. They stated in the White Paper:
"There is a need for greater policy cohesion and coherence at local level between the public, business and voluntary sectors. The new duty will include a requirement for authorities to prepare overarching strategies for promoting the well-being of their areas ... It is important that all authorities should carry out community planning in a strategic and comprehensive way. The Government considers it essential that there should be a strategy for every area".
So the Government themselves spoke then, in 1998, of a "duty" rather than a power.
In 1999, the Welsh Local Government Association undertook consultation on the purpose and form of community planning. There was a full response from local organisations. All responses were positive on the need for community strategies and all expressed the view that the National Assembly should provide guidance on community plans which balanced the need for local innovation and diversity with the need for some consistency.
The Partnership Council, comprising the National Assembly and local government representatives, has considered the Welsh Local Government Association's consultation and responses. It has established a working group between itself and partners in the voluntary and business sectors to begin the preparations for national guidance in anticipation of the Bill being amended. We shall see whether they were wise in their anticipation.
I understand that the Welsh Local Government Association persuaded its English colleagues in the LGA of the merits of this amendment. As I said earlier, the House has debated amendments on two occasions which sought to substitute the term "power" with "duty", but on both occasions the Government opposed the amendments. But clearly a special situation has developed in Wales. I hope that the Government are as sympathetic to the proposal as I am. I beg to move.
My Lords, we on these Benches support all the reasons advanced by the noble Lord as to why Wales should place such a duty on its local authorities. I shall not detain the House by repeating the arguments that I advanced on the first day of the Report stage on 28th February (at col. 363). In reply, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that, on balance, he was not convinced that a duty should be placed on local authorities. Over the years I have learnt to regard "on balance" as sometimes being an optimistic sign.
If, as I hope, the Government are minded for reasons of good argument advanced previously also by the LGA and now by colleagues in Wales to rethink this matter, that will be widely welcomed. I hope that the same provision will apply to local authorities in England--without which they will continue to struggle with the many statutory plans that they must prepare. I believe the noble Baroness said that they number over 40. We should welcome a rationalisation of the position in regard to England as well as Wales.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, has spoken eloquently in favour of the duty of community planning in Wales. We have also heard a strong case put, both inside this House and in discussions outside, by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and her noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford.
As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Local Government Association have expressed similar views. Where a different approach to local government matters in Wales is justified, we are, of course, prepared to consider that.
So far as concerns a duty, it is fair to say that the views expressed in relation to Wales were no different from the general views which have already been expressed in this House and by organisations such as the LGA and the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development.
I think that there is widespread agreement within the House and beyond as to what could be achieved at local level through effective community planning. We have always said that community strategies--developed by local strategic partnerships, involving local agencies, the private and voluntary sectors and the community--have the potential to deliver real benefits for local people. They can improve local quality of life and enhance local pride.
We have always considered that effective community planning can help to deliver many of the changes that the Government believe are essential if local quality of life is to be improved. The legislation, therefore, has to be seen in the context of the Government's efforts to ensure coherent delivery of public services and to tackle such issues as social exclusion and neighbourhood renewal. Policy in these areas is developing rapidly. The Social Exclusion Unit is due to report soon on its national strategy for neighbourhood renewal. A crucial part of that strategy will be broadly-based, local strategic partnerships along the lines that we envisage here. It should come as no surprise to noble Lords that against that background we have kept the legislative provisions in the Bill under constant review.
We have always recognised that a duty to prepare community strategies would emphasise the importance that we attach to local action to tackle these issues and deliver sustainable development. Clearly, it would also provide the means to ensure that more reluctant local authorities also take action for the benefit of their communities. But equally, we have always believed that it is not a prerequisite for effective community planning.
Nevertheless, given the way in which the policy is developing and the critical role that we now see being played by local strategic partnerships, we are minded to reconsider the approach currently taken in Clause 4. We shall need to give careful consideration to the way in which a duty might be framed. We shall want to ensure that it does not preclude the sort of local flexibility that is crucial to the success of local partnerships; and the proposals will need to reflect the different structure of local government in England and Wales. We shall bring forward appropriate amendments for both England and Wales when the Bill passes to another place.
I thank the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Conwy and Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, for their interest and their explanations and comments within this field. I hope that on that basis the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Baroness on the Liberal Benches for her support. I also thank the Minister for the change of attitude that I detected. Her promise to consider further and bring forward amendments in the other place has been duly noted and welcomed. As I am speaking on behalf of Wales, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness whether, as I presume is the case, the promise to reconsider which covers Clause 4 extends to England as well. Perhaps she will confirm that. I understand the noble Baroness's change of heart in that it was a duty promised in the White Paper 1998. Indeed, the Partnership Council in Wales has gone ahead, as I said, to form a working group with local business and so forth. Therefore, I am glad that the work is clearly not going to be in vain. Perhaps the Minister would like to clear up the point about the impact of what she said on the English situation.
My Lords, I am sorry, but I may not have been as clear as I might. The proposals brought forward will need to reflect the different structures of local government in England and in Wales.
moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 3, line 23, at end insert--
("( ) In exercising the power under subsection (1) the Secretary of State--
(a) must not make any provision which has effect in relation to Wales unless he has consulted the National Assembly for Wales, and
(b) must not make any provision in relation to legislation made by the National Assembly for Wales without the consent of the Assembly.
( ) The National Assembly for Wales may submit proposals to the Secretary of State that the power under subsection (1) should be exercised in relation to Wales in accordance with those proposals.").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 8 [Procedure for orders under section 5 or 6]:
moved Amendments Nos. 7 to 9:
Page 4, line 24, at end insert--
Page 4, line 25, leave out ("subsection (1)") and insert ("the preceding provisions of this section").
Page 4, line 30, at end insert (", and
( ) where consultation has taken place under subsection (1A), sets out the views of the National Assembly for Wales").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 10:
Before Clause 9, insert the following new clause--
:TITLE3:LOCAL AUTHORITY TO DECIDE WHETHER TO INTRODUCE EXECUTIVE ARRANGEMENTS
(" .--(1) A local authority may make executive arrangements for the discharge of certain of its functions.
(2) Nothing in this Part shall have effect in respect of a local authority not making executive arrangements.").
My Lords, I regard Part II of the Bill as its heart. Therefore, it is right that at previous stages we have devoted considerable time to debating it; and it is right that we should do so again this afternoon.
For me, the prime reason for debating this again with great care and attention is not just because of the content of the Bill but, more importantly, because of what it says about the Government's attitude to local government, democracy, the electorate and regulation. On odd occasions when those on this side of the House have suggested that a small insertion might help the Bill or local government, we have had it thrown in our teeth that, in fact, it would be intrusive regulation which would not help and that therefore the matter should be left to local authorities to decide. This Bill is a huge series of regulations and, my goodness, they are intrusive. In this part of the Bill the intrusion is at its most prominent.
The Government say that this part of the Bill will support, strengthen and stimulate local democracy. I wish that there was some evidence that that might be the case. It is true that there have been pilot schemes, but they have not lasted for a sufficient length of time to show any impact at all on the electorate or the interest that local communities take in what their authorities do.
The Government have quoted national statistics in aid of this part of the Bill. I accept that they show that those surveyed--they are quite narrow surveys--in the majority of cases are in favour of the kinds of proposal that are envisaged. In particular, they say that if there were a local mayor they might be more inclined to vote at local elections. Perhaps that is not surprising.
But the bulk of the population is urban, not to say metropolitan. When one surveys many people on a national base, inevitably one will have a natural slightly urban bias. However, local government is about communities. Many of them are not urban, but they are included in the national figures. They might have been the 40 per cent who said "no" or who have not expressed very great interest. They might be 100 per cent of a rural community. Therefore, the basis of the statistical support for this part of the Bill seems flawed. If we are looking at stimulating local democracy, it seems to me that Ken Livingstone might be doing more about this matter in a real sense than are the Government.
The Government assert that these provisions will reinvigorate the interest of local communities and electorates. The loss of interest that has continued consistently for a very long time in local communities and among local electors about what happens to local government and local councils has been driven by increasing government control and regulation of what local authorities can and may do. This Bill does nothing to tackle that fundamental issue.
Even if the Government are correct and executive arrangements are in fact as virtuous and as good as they hold them to be--I have already said that they have no evidence which demonstrates that that is so; it is an assertion--I must point out that local authorities and councillors are not insensitive, and still less are they not keen, to see improved performance in their authorities. If these ideas are good, local councillors and local authorities will adopt them without the compulsion that this Bill imposes.
Even if local councillors were reluctant, and there were a better system, given that local electorates are neither ignorant, insensitive nor stupid, they would rapidly demand that the system be changed. Sadly, if one looks at the way the Bill is worded and what is done in other cases, one might suppose that the Government have little confidence in either local councillors or local electors.
Local electors are the same as those who vote in national elections; but that is all right and the vote is valid. But if those electors vote in a local referendum--an issue on which I pressed the Government that there should be a floor in the number of people voting in order to make sure that a sufficient number of electors support a proposal before it is made mandatory--the Government said that they do not need such a floor and that vote is valid. However, all of a sudden, when those same electors vote for a local councillor, that vote is discounted. The Government's attitude is just too inconsistent, and they cannot have it both ways. That is the difference between the Minister and myself. Whatever may have happened in the past--my position has not altered--we are now prepared to trust local communities, but the problem is that, as revealed by the psychology of Part II of the Bill, the Government are not.
That brings me to the amendments. Part II of the Bill as drafted will require local authorities to change their ways and operate under "executive arrangements". They are not given an option; they are required to do it. The Government may slide around the edges and say that there are a number of ways in which that may be done, which is perfectly true. However, the principle is there: it is a requirement. I have already said that sensible, sensitive and efficient local authorities will, if the principles are correct, adopt those arrangements. Amendments Nos. 10 and 12 are designed specifically to remove the compulsion and make it possible for local councils to decide for themselves whether or not to adopt those arrangements.
I do not oppose the suggested arrangements contained in the Bill. My opposition is to a provision that forces local authorities to adopt those arrangements on a time-scale that the Minister can determine, which is wrong. That represents a fundamental division between us. My amendments correct that flaw in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is added to the two amendments in this group which have been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. We on these Benches have tabled Amendments Nos. 11 and 13 to which the noble Lord has added his name.
During earlier debate on this matter the Government made much of the great variety of executive arrangements on offer. I still find it difficult to read into Clause 10 an almost infinite variety of arrangements, especially when the options on offer in future are subject to what regulations "may, in particular, provide for". In this context, I believe that, yet again, "may" means "shall". I find it even harder to appreciate what we are told is the open mind of the Government since local authorities must have executive arrangements. The strong term "must" is used in Clauses 9 and 10. In legislation one is accustomed to seeing the term "shall" or "may", which itself sometimes means "shall", but very rarely does one see "must". Here one sees "must" without allowing for an incremental approach and the experience of pilots in areas with different geography, demography, political history and background.
The noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, spoke powerfully about the differences between almost single-party-dominated authorities, perhaps in inner cities, and those in rural areas which involved members of all parties and of none. What is proposed will take place without waiting to see what may be learnt from the experience of London. I do not suggest that the Greater London Authority and local authorities which adopt executive arrangements are absolutely equivalent. We are, however, in the middle of a mayoral election at the moment from which lessons can be learnt--and not only on such matters as how best to adopt candidates!
It would be understandable if the Government's objection was based on the suspicion that those who are currently councillors simply seek to defend the status quo. It would be understandable if the Government regarded that with some cynicism. I referred at an earlier stage to the work undertaken by Camden council. I believe that that council has acquired beacon status from the Government in two areas: housing benefit and schools. That authority undertook major consultation with local people and rejected the proposals. I quote the resolution passed by that council which rejected the proposals,
"on grounds that they will reduce democracy, lessen effective decision-making and seriously weaken accountability".
Academics and commentators are not united behind the Government's proposals. It is not suggested that local authorities should not be allowed to adopt an executive/scrutiny split; rather, that there should be local choice. We on these Benches are very ready to acknowledge that the Government have moved on important matters, such as area committees and, to an extent, the role of the overview and scrutiny committee. Sadly, we have not yet succeeded in explaining sufficiently clearly to the Government our concern about the likely split into two classes of councillor. We believe that the proposals with which we are now dealing are flawed because of the Government's innate preference for a system that is centred on personality.
A few days ago I spoke at a meeting in London about the forthcoming elections. The view of a number of people who attended that meeting can be summarised as follows: they do not like something that is going on locally and want to be assured that the mayor will put everything right. It is very dangerous to allow people to get into a mindset about the position of an individual, even with the benefit of an overview and scrutiny committee to look at decisions and actions, who is in control of a large community. The Government's attitude encourages that rather disingenuous approach on the part of those who believe that a new type of government will somehow make all the decisions perfect.
The Government are concerned that councils which fail to modernise (to use their term ) will be the ones that opt out of the executive arrangements. I acknowledge that there is something in that. However, this is a matter of local choice. It is to be expected that if an authority is not a good one there will be opposition to the administration at the next election on the basis of modernising that authority, and that will allow for local debate.
Amendment No. 13 deals with the criteria for executive arrangements, if there are to be such, in addition to those which the Government propose. The amendment, which is the same as that tabled at the previous stage, proposes that the executive arrangements,
"may take such form as the local authority considers, after it has taken reasonable steps to consult local government electors and other interested persons in the authority's area, will ... enhance decision-making ... meet the principles of transparency, accountability and efficiency"-- as we have debated throughout the Bill, those matters should underlie good local government--
"and ... be appropriate to local circumstances".
The Minister dismissed the amendment on the basis that a local authority could, should it so wish, devise a form of executive arrangement which approximated very closely to the status quo. He talked about other enactments needing to be modified but it is not clear how that will be achieved. If there is a problem in drafting, let us face that problem and not dismiss the principle because putting it into effect is too difficult.
If the new executive arrangements are close to the status quo but meet the tough criteria, what is the problem? Why could not that model be adopted? The Government's answer at the last stage was that Clause 10(5) allows for other models. I do not regard that as a complete answer. We shall need the Secretary of State's model before a locally devised model can be put in place.
Your Lordships will understand the strength of feeling from these Benches. In the context of the good new powers for local government, we are sad that what is being given with one hand may be taken away by imposition by the other. We support the amendment.
My Lords, I apologise for not having intervened previously on the issue and for my presumption in making even a small speech. I do so because I live in Guildford, and Guildford justifiably prides itself on being one of the best local authorities in England. At present it is a hung council; it is normally Conservative. It treats its Labour members with immense respect and great honour. It is privileged enough to have a chief executive who would have been undoubtedly in earlier years a star in the Indian Civil Service. He would have been Watts' protector of the poor.
He wrote to me--it was too late for me to take an active role in past debates--of the view held by himself and most of the Guildford borough councillors. They believe that the new arrangements will have the effect of concentrating power more than occurs at present. If matters were to go seriously sour fewer people would need to be bribed. They say, "We are a good authority. Please could we have the right to continue as we are".
I am sorry that I have not intervened previously on the issue. I apologise on behalf of Watts protector of the poor because he, too, missed the opportunity. I wish to put into the public domain that a very good chief executive of a well run borough council is deeply unhappy about the proposed arrangements, as are the independent members of Guildford Borough Council. It is that factor which worries me about the Government's plan. To allow people to keep the status quo if it is good, subject to controls and checks, would not be a bad idea.
My Lords, I speak for myself, having had some experience of local government and having the honour to serve on the Joint Committee of your Lordships' House and another place under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, who is not in her place at present, were members. The point was discussed and an equivalent amendment moved to which the Joint Committee agreed. However, the Government did not agree with the Joint Committee.
I have always believed that there should be more flexibility. A great majority of local authorities have looked carefully into the matter and are applying the suggestions made by the Government as regards executive and scrutiny committees. (I have the Local Government Association report in front of me.) That is good news for the Government. But some local authorities want strongly to achieve the aim in a slightly different way.
That is all that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, are saying. The Government should listen to minorities--in particular independent councils--which feel strongly that they do not quite fit into the Government's three "musts". I support the amendment.
My Lords, we have cantered around this race track a number of times. I raise a point which has not been recognised in previous debates.
There is concern--the Government have put it forward--that electors should be more attracted to voting in local government elections. It is perfectly proper that that should be so; we all want to see it happen. However, the other side of the coin is that people must want to become councillors. If they do not want to become councillors because they are not attracted to the organisation in which they would work, no amount of change, as proposed in the Bill, will have the slightest effect.
People may want to become councillors because, first, they wish to serve their local community, and, secondly because they believe that it is proper that representatives should make decisions on behalf of that community. The proposals disfranchise more than half of any council from making decisions. Only those who are ultimately in the executive will make the decisions on behalf of a council.
No amount of overview, scrutiny, discussion and debate constitutes a decision. They are not binding on any group. A group can agree to decide on all manner of things but until the decision is made by one of the executives it is not a decision. I believe that many councillors will find this a very serious loss. Many individuals will believe it to be a real drawback from coming into local government to represent and make decisions on behalf of their local communities, after consultation. One can talk endlessly but at some stage decisions need to be taken, and taken in the open. We have discussed that previously. The Bill makes allowance for doing so. It must be right to allow people to decide.
There must be a mechanism within the Bill to enable local authorities to say, "We would like our members in total to take the decisions". I have heard all the arguments about it being a mere blind: that decisions are taken in back rooms before any issue is discussed in public. That is not a scenario I recognise. Many local authorities take decisions after discussion in committee. In my local authority we are often swayed by points put forward by the opposition; and decisions are then made.
The great sadness about the proposals is that that option will not be available. We may not wish to contemplate the spin-offs from that but as a result we may be picking up the pieces in the future.
My Lords, as a novice, I shall try to resist the temptation to recycle what was said at previous stages, but I want to make one or two points. I remain concerned that in our distractions there is a danger of missing the wood for the trees.
First, the Bill does not seek to enforce elected mayors on all parts of Britain. It is impossible for there to be elected mayors anywhere, even if the councils were in favour of that, unless the public vote for it. Secondly, there is no expectation in anyone who is realistic that a simple, single Bill can restore local democracy. I am confident that if it were that simple, the noble Lord's party would have passed such a Bill some years previously.
We need to recognise that there is a problem: the public have lost interest in local government. They by and large value the services of local government, but they do not believe that its political processes are particularly relevant or meaningful. They say so frequently and act so by choosing not to vote in local government elections.
If we choose, we can say that there is no problem and that the status quo is fine. However, I am convinced that the consequence of failing to modernise local government in a sensible fashion will be the progressive residualisation and marginalisation of its functions. During the past 20 years, we have seen that all central governments are prone to that disease.
Therefore, we must look at the central thrust of Part II of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is right in saying that it is central to the whole debate. The question is whether the existing committee system serves the public well. We have heard the criticisms of it: that the responsibility is opaque; that it undervalues the importance of representation; and that scrutiny is largely non-existent in most local authorities in which that system operates. There are problems which have frequently been affirmed by the Audit Commission. It is not true that the current system is adequate, satisfactory, or universally working well. It often works well because of the efforts of talented members and officers, but that is not because of the system itself.
The impression is being given that there is to be a monolithic imposition of a single system on all authorities across the country. That is untrue. Some of us might wish that there were more of an imposition of the stronger systems of executive governance, but that is not on offer. All that is required is that the local authorities must establish certain principles. First, they must consult their public on their executive arrangements. Secondly, they must make it clearer who is responsible for decision making. Thirdly, they must draw up a constitution which indicates where decision making will take place within the authority and the balance of power that will sit between the executive and the assembly. Finally, there must be a powerful, effective system of scrutiny. Those are the principles which the Bill and guidance set out--no more and no less.
Let us take the example of the non-party shire district council that is frequently talked about. Let us look what it can do. It must consult its public; and it is right and proper that it should do so. We are talking about the public and not about the traditions of officers and members and whether they are comfortable with that requirement. But if after that process of consultation that council decides that it does not want to have a strong executive system, it is perfectly able to establish arrangements in the following fashion. First, it can determine where most policy can be decided and it can put the weight of that determination in the full council, in the assembly itself. It can give only a limited scope for policy determination to the separate executive.
Secondly, it can determine that the executive will be a cross-party or non-party body which will always meet in public and that there will be a strong power of "call-in" to the assembly. In other words, before an issue is implemented, any member can call it in for full debate either in scrutiny committees or into the assembly itself. The executive members would not have individual portfolios, but would have to act in concert. The assembly could meet as frequently as it wished in order to ensure the tightest possible scrutiny over the actions of the executive. It could establish area committees and encourage the participation of the public in those processes.
In my view, that model would be an improvement on the current system. The public would know that there was a system of scrutiny. They would be clearer about who was responsible, yet the power of the executive would be tightly constrained and trammelled by the assembly. In my view, that is a cause not for fear, but, if anything, for excessively cautious incrementalism. Nevertheless, that is what the Bill offers to an authority, if it so decides.
Therefore, I cannot believe that it is necessary to force the amendment. It is hard to judge the need for it because of the consequences were we to do so. We are not talking about a minimalist escape clause; it goes to the heart of the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, had the courtesy to acknowledge. It would go to the heart of the desire, the necessity, for reform.
Last January, the LGA published research that had been undertaken by Strathclyde and de Montfort universities. It asked councils what were their preferred options. Thirty-nine per cent of councils stated that they wanted neither an elected mayor--fair enough--nor a separate executive. If the amendment were passed, it would undermine the heart and thrust of the Bill. One might say that that is good, but it will not serve the public well if we are serious about trying to move forward local government so that it has more relevance and enjoys more respect.
My Lords, I agree that we have cantered around the subject a great deal, but I want to support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that the feeling was strong on this side of the House. I believe that the feeling is strong in local government generally. If we were to survey our 20,000-odd councillors, we would find that barely 10 per cent support the executive/non-executive split. It does more to make councillors uneasy and unhappy with the Bill than anything I have known in my years in local government. One cannot underestimate the strength of that feeling.
There are more than 400 local authorities in this country and they vary greatly: from the small district councils to the large authorities such as Birmingham or my own, Essex County Council. They vary in the number of their members from perhaps 30, to 119 in Birmingham. I do not mind mayors if people want them. Judging by comments made in the past few days, it appears that I prefer mayors more than does the Deputy Prime Minister. I do not mind people having Cabinets, if that is what they want. However, the fault of the Bill is in imposing the executive/non-executive split. People see it as a two-tier system. It is an unnecessary part of the Bill.
We all want to see local government modernised and streamlined. When North Yorkshire was reorganised as North York it set itself up with four streamlined committees and meets very infrequently. That is the model many of us would want to see. However, to say that we have to have 10 people in Essex, say, out of my 79 members on the executive and 69 people on select scrutiny committees is not acceptable to most of my members.
Where experiments have been carried out, people feel that they have been excluded. A while ago I attended a meeting at which, unfortunately, my party was in a minority on the council. It had set up some scrutiny committees and every time my members raised an item, the rest of the committee moved for the next business, and we moved on. I believe that small representations of other parties will feel even more excluded. That is the whole thrust and problem of the executive/non-executive split.
It is all very well to be told that it will work better and will increase participation and voting, but it is not seen to be a democratic process. It is seen to be imposing something on local government that should not be necessary. I cannot imagine many other countries or parliaments imposing such detail on local government. I hope that tonight we shall give local authorities a clear message that although we want to see them modernising and moving into the 21st century, we want them to design their own systems best suited to their areas.
In many ways, voting is different in local government elections. Much of the low turn-out is in areas in which one party is dominant. In Thurrock in my county, where the Labour Party will romp in, there might be a 12 per cent turn-out. However, where three parties fight an election keenly, there will be a 55 or 60 per cent turn-out. That is the difference; that is what it is all about; and that is what we need more of. Therefore, I urge your Lordships to pass this amendment so that we can give local government the opportunity to design its own systems.
My Lords, I doubt whether it is helpful to say that the longer this debate goes on at the different stages, the more I feel myself being pulled in two directions. I agree very much with what the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, said. Because of local circumstances in a number of authorities--not a large number, but some--I am convinced that one of the proposed executive models would not suit, and that there should be an alternative form. On the other hand (and this is why I am pulled in the other direction), the amendments that we are discussing today, as drafted, seem to provide an escape clause for an authority that should be taking action to reorganise itself. The amendments seem to allow it to escape taking any action.
That is why at earlier stages of the Bill some of us pressed the Government to produce a fourth option. Provided that criteria of efficiency, accountability, transparency and so on were met, due to certain local circumstances that option would allow an authority not necessarily to retain the status quo but to produce a different option not necessarily based on the executive scrutiny split. I hope that even at this stage the Government will think again about the fourth option. I believe that the alternative of providing an escape clause for any authority which would prefer to continue in the same old way is unsatisfactory. Equally, the opposite is unsatisfactory.
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to some of the contributions made in this debate. I realise that it is a tradition of this House that everyone speaks in tones of sweet reason, even though their arguments might not be entirely reasonable in themselves.
However, I have noticed a number of contradictions in what has been said. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, seemed to argue that the arrival of an elected mayor in London would inspire a great deal of excitement and interest among the electorate. He contrasted that with the lack of excitement and interest that at present appears to exist in local government more generally. If that is the case, and if it is the case that a change in the system will inspire interest and excitement in London, that rather suggests that the existing system is not inspiring interest elsewhere within local government. It also suggests that we should look very seriously at the proposals before us.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his contribution. I believe that it highlights the exact problem that we are debating. If it is believed--it is certainly a belief that I share--that by introducing an executive scrutiny split one introduces clarity into local government decision-making, that in itself should produce greater interest and confidence in the processes. People will know who is responsible for what decision. It will not be possible for councillors to hide behind baroque committee systems in terms of where decisions are being taken. Of course, as has happened in so many authorities--I believe that people are being slightly disingenuous if they pretend that it has not happened--it will no longer be necessary for decisions to be taken by small groups and then processed through public committee meetings and public structures.
However, I am concerned that--
My Lords, I raise a point that later we shall come to more substantially with our amendment. However, will the noble Lord concede that where the executive is allowed to meet in private and to take decisions, no notice of which has been given to the public, the Bill as drafted will still allow that lack of clarity to continue because the public will discover those decisions only after the event?
My Lords, I do not accept that. Who is responsible for the decision will be absolutely fundamentally clear to the electorate. It will be clear where that decision has been made. A whole series of requirements will be set down in the statute regarding how it may be scrutinised and, if need be, called in by the full council. Therefore, I believe that the provision will aid clarity rather than otherwise. However, at the moment the public do not know which body may or may not be looking at a matter and do not know when that issue is resolved. This provision will at least ensure that there is a proper process, subject to subsequent scrutiny.
The noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, raised the point that some authorities will have very different circumstances and that those will require special consideration. That argument may have some force. Unfortunately, none of the amendments before us in this grouping allows us to examine that point. I do not say that I would have supported it, but if someone had put forward an amendment stating that authorities would be entitled to look at alternative models for district councils of that particular nature or those with no overall control, or councils with a variety of other definitions where that would be a problem, I believe that that would have enabled us to debate what I suspect is the real issue. However, the present wording of the amendments permits authorities which are not particularly keen, for whatever reason, on having a clear executive scrutiny split to get round this legislation. I believe that that is unfortunate.
I suspect that one of the reasons why this House encourages its Members to talk in tones of sweet reason is that it enables them to propose amendments which remove the heart of a piece of legislation in tones of such sweetness and lightness that perhaps it is hoped that the Government will not notice what is being proposed. However, I believe that what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, proposes on this occasion is fairly clear. He is aiming to take the heart out of this particular part of the legislation. I believe that it is unfortunate that we do not have before us an amendment which would test the question which the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and a number of other noble Lords have suggested they are concerned about; that is, the question of certain types of council where an executive scrutiny split is perhaps not appropriate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked how we can ensure that people will continue to want to be councillors. I suggest that if we put forward a structure which provides clarity about the role for which people put themselves forward for election, that is likely to induce a much greater degree of job satisfaction than does the existing arrangement. Under the current arrangement, even if people are in the party which wins the election, when they put themselves forward they do not know whether they will be part of a charmed circle which makes decisions or outside that circle. If, as is the case with some of the models which will be permissible under the executive scrutiny split, it is possible for people to put themselves forward to be executive decision-makers or, alternatively, to be local representative councillors involved in overview and scrutiny of policy, I believe that that will produce more clarity and will lead to better "job satisfaction" (if noble Lords will forgive the term) among local councillors.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, was right to say that there are strong feelings within local government about this issue. Those strong feelings often come from those who do not want to proceed to an executive scrutiny split. Yet it is precisely because so many of those people who do not even want to consider the executive scrutiny split will be given comfort by the amendments in this grouping today that I would urge noble Lords to reject the amendments in favour of something which at least allows us to provide clear and explicit roles for executive and scrutiny members.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down--I hope being sweetly reasonable, which I regard as a virtue rather than the opposite--does he not accept that my Amendment No. 13, which provides for executive arrangements which are, among other things, appropriate to local circumstances, is, if not perfect, at any rate a reasonable stab at addressing the difficulties of councils with a history of independence or where there is no overall political control? If the noble Lord is himself sweetly reasonable, as I am sure he will be, then rather than dismiss all the amendments in this group, he might seek to build on that approach.
My Lords, I gave a great deal of thought to the noble Baroness's Amendment No. 13 because I thought that might be the opportunity to address the concerns which had been raised by noble Lords on the Cross Benches. But I do not believe that it achieves that.
I would hope that in every case, people will put forward proposals which will enhance decision-making; which will meet the principles of transparency, accountability and efficiency; and will be appropriate to their local circumstances. Nothing in the Bill precludes that. But I do not believe that a subsection with the words,
"be appropriate to local circumstances", quite meets the requirements. Those requirements must be to address the particular circumstances of certain types of local authorities with a certain type of population and certain political make-ups. If the amendments had gone on to spell that out in some detail, then we could have had the debate which people claim they want to have today.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has explained why the system will work well. I can see from the point of view of his council, that it may be very helpful indeed. But I want to ask one question.
My noble friend Lord Onslow described the council of Guildford. In such a council, will the officials have the same role as they have now, vis-a-vis individual councillors? Among all the amendments, I cannot see any place where the Bill defines the role of the officials. I may have missed it because it is difficult to absorb them all. It certainly was not in the Bill before. Is there to be any legal requirement on officials to advise all councillors, whichever side of the divide they are on and whichever committee they are on? It is absolutely essential that in local government, every member has access to officials and to information from officials. I should be interested to know whether that is provided in the Bill or whether the Government are trusting to luck.
My Lords, I wish to support the views put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, views which I have expressed myself, as to the difficulty of recruiting people to be what you might call second-class councillors.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, attempted to defuse that argument by saying that it would clarify the situation. Yes, it would. But, for example, what would I have done in my early years in the county council? I should have had to go to the electorate of Dorking South and say, "Look, chaps, there is not a cat in hell's chance that I am going to be on the executive because I have only been on the council for a few years. So you will have to elect me in order that once decisions have been taken, I can query why they have been taken and what the costs of them will be".
I can tell your Lordships what happened when I was a councillor. First, quite often, even as a very junior councillor with a large Tory majority at that time, I was able to influence decisions as they were taken; for example, in the education committee, of which I was then a member, and later in the highways and transport committee.
Not only that, but I told people in my part of the world in which decisions I had been involved and what I had done about them. I did that either through the press or through the literature which I circulated. If they did not like what I had been doing, they had a very simple remedy: they could throw me out at the next election.
I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, when he said that where there are contested elections, the percentage of people who bother to go to the polls increases. As a Liberal and subsequently as a Liberal Democrat, my observation has been that every time we have made a really successful foray into local government elections, the percentage of people going out to vote increases, and the reason is that people have something to vote for or against, depending on their viewpoint.
The suggestion was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, that some of the disadvantages which the Government are suggesting could be overcome if the council was made the main decision-taker. We may all have had experiences of sensible decision-taking in committee, where people listen to the argument, decide and, to some extent, modify proposals in the light of argument. I have succeeded in modifying decisions in precisely that way. But I have seldom seen decisions taken seriously in full council because that is where every member makes either the speech determined by his group prior to the council meeting or--in some cases I have seen it happen--the speech handed down by party headquarters to make on that occasion on that subject. It is by far the most party-political part of the process.
In some councils there is a large majority of one party. They do still exist, despite our best efforts. I can remember some doubts expressed by my noble friend on the Front Bench when her council became not just a Liberal, as it then was, majority but a Liberal monopoly. Serious doubts were then raised as to the democratic nature of the vote, which was determined in the old-fashioned way and not by proportional representation, when the Labour Party and the Conservative Party were entirely excluded from the government of Richmond-upon-Thames. So the matter is as close and as relevant to us as it is to other people.
But where there are large overall majorities, it is extremely difficult to make sure that there is a fully public discussion of policy and that decisions are taken which reflect that debate. It is in relation to those councils which will be subject to all the regulations which this Government are trying to put in this Bill--which I consider to be, on the whole, bad for local government--that the effects will be the worst.
My Lords, as other noble Lords have said, we have been round this course before. I am not entirely sure that "canter" is the right term, but many points have been made at earlier stages of the Bill. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has been consistent on this and that he regards this as a central principle of the Bill. He has been consistent, but I am not entirely sure that his party has been consistent as regards the relationship it wants between central and local government. In the long term, once this change has taken place, the noble Lord and I will probably be closer as regards what the appropriate relationship should be.
But at present, we do need change. I recognise also, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield and others have said, that there is unease and concern among councillors. But we are at a point where we wish to change the way in which local government operates. Those in your Lordships' House who believe that the status quo is appropriate are few and far between. They are saying that, in practice, most councils will choose to change. Does that not mean that there is a need for change in local government and does it not probably mean--not inevitably, logically--that that minority of councils which do not wish to change are probably the councils which really should change and need to change?
That, therefore, lies behind the whole of the Government's approach. We are seeking a quiet revolution in local government. I am not often allowed to use those terms from these Benches but I do so today. That requires all councils to look at change and decide which form of change they want.
The status quo, based on the committee system, which, at various points, has served local government well but is now creaking at the seams, is not an option and cannot be an option.
The Government believe that we need a whole new form of governance which rests, as we have said, on transparency in relation to who is taking decisions; what those decisions are; and what is the accountability for those decisions. Contrary to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and others have said, we believe that the fact that we can identify with clarity those decisions and those responsible for them will both enhance the appeal of local government for those who might wish to come into it and enhance confidence in local government among the electorate as a whole, as my noble friends Lord Filkin and Lord Harris of Haringey have said.
Therefore, the Government require, as a principle of the Bill, that all councils should change, and change to a system which involves an executive structure. The Bill also requires that those proposals must be put forward in consultation with local people and it gives local people the right to decide explicitly in relation to a directly-elected mayor, if that is the proposition. The key to accountability is a system of governance which people understand and support.
Having said that we wish to achieve a revolution, clearly in the best revolutions, once change is achieved, diversity follows. There is diversity within our proposals. Within the three categories of executive arrangements that the Bill makes available, there is great diversity and substantial choice, as distinct from the old system which specified one structure for committees which was stretched as far as possible by many local authorities, but nevertheless was laid down by countless Local Government Acts over the past century and a bit. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. I believe that most other countries would lay down more precisely the structure of local government in their written constitutions than we are attempting or wishing to do.
The Bill allows us also, by virtue of subsection 10(5), to make available other categories of executive if appropriate. If a council has a proposal for a further form of executive which meets our aims, the Secretary of State can use the power to establish such a form of executive. Our bottom line is that, whatever additional arrangements may be made, there must be a separate executive under our structure. The first three of these amendments, including the one moved by the noble Lord, in fact undermine that central principle of the Bill. There are a number of arguments that the division between executive and scrutiny, in whatever form it takes, will undermine the role of existing councillors and of councils themselves.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said that she did not recognise our view of existing local government; that on occasion decisions have been taken which are unaccounted for and completely lacking in clarity and transparency. I make no judgment on the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, but I know of councils represented primarily by my own party where that has been the case. In a neighbouring council to the noble Baroness's own, in which we currently sit, it was not long ago transparently the case that all decisions were taken behind closed doors; in fact, behind one particular closed door, if I recall. That was Westminster City Council. The rest of the Conservative group did not know what was going on, let alone the rest of the council as a whole.
I therefore believe that there are problems with the old structure and that there are probably more problems in those areas resistant to change. Our proposals will not mean that councillors are disfranchised or downgraded. The whole council will set the broad policy and the budget. Every councillor will be represented. If they are in scrutiny roles, they will be in a more powerful position to scrutinise the decisions of the executive than they were as junior members of the committee.
The Bill is a proposal for change. The role of councillors will be changed. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, asked whether the role of officers would be changed. That is not essentially the case. Officers will, of course, continue to serve the full council. We have explained in our guidance that councils will have to consider carefully the structure of support officers in relation to their own particular form of executive structure, but the principle remains that officers serve the whole council.
I turn now to Amendment No. 13, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred. I believe that she was hoping that it approximated more to the fourth option proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and perhaps also to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon. I do not believe that the amendment fulfils their purpose. As I understand the point made in the Joint Committee to which the noble Earl referred, it related specifically to councils which had no real tradition of one party control or dominant party control. The Joint Committee put that forward for that particular situation. The noble Baroness's option is of course a far more generalised option, but the members of the Joint Committee recognised that there should be arrangements for a council manager--in other words, an option which is already there and which already has a wide variety of forms.
The Bill explicitly provides executive arrangements for an elected mayor and a council. That will probably be appropriate in relation to the kind of council to which I believe the noble Earl referred. I do not believe that the amendment fulfils the fourth option ambitions of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, because it is too loosely drafted--as perhaps the noble Baroness herself was hinting--not to exclude entirely something which is close to backsliding to a committee-based structure.
We are at a crucial point in the Bill. For the Government, this is a crucial issue in the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord does not pursue his amendment. If he does, he needs to know and understand that he is challenging a central part of the Bill. The Government will resist the amendment and will continue to resist such amendments during the passage of the Bill. I therefore must oppose Amendment No. 10 which he moved. I oppose Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 for the reasons I have outlined. The Government would also oppose Amendment No. 13. I do not believe that Amendment No. 13, as drafted, achieves what a number of noble Lords were hoping for. I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue his amendment.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may take him up briefly on his last point. I shall not go down the road of speculating whether Lady Porter is a good example of what was close to an elected mayor.
The Minister referred to the question of local authorities with no overall control or where there is a tradition of independence, and commented on my amendment. Will he confirm that the Government have made no attempt themselves to come up with an amendment? I am perfectly happy to accept criticism of my drafting, but I should prefer to have drafting from the Government to which we could respond. I am glad to see support being indicated from the Cross Benches.
My Lords, the Government are not in favour of a fourth option. There are a whole range of options under our structure. In so far as we recognise that there may be other options, there are provisions in the Bill. If councils come up with further options which meet our requirements, we are prepared to regulate for them. We are not in favour of a specific fourth option, but in any case I do not believe that the drafting of the amendment confirms to our principles.
My Lords, we have had yet another long and interesting debate on this subject. It is right that we should have done so. In my opening remarks I said that we were at the heart of the Bill. The debate on these amendments is at the heart of the principles of the Bill and much more at the heart of the principles of democracy.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about not waiting for London and remarked on the work of Camden Council in that area. Its members came to the completely unanimous conclusion that the arrangements under the Bill would not help them forward much. My noble friend Lord Onslow was quite clear about the reaction of his local authority in Guildford. The noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, came out with the fact that the Joint Committee which considered the draft Bill before it came to the House was also of the view that compulsion was perhaps not the proper way forward.
My noble friend Lady Hanham mentioned the importance of councillors actually wanting to do the work and questioned whether under the new arrangements the job of being a councillor would be as attractive as it has been. The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, gave a good resume of the different systems available in the Bill. I have acknowledged that I have no complaint with any of them. But he did not address the issue of why the Bill has to compel local authorities to make a change. Therefore, I believe that he rather missed the point of the debate.
My noble friend Lord Hanningfield, who is vice-chairman of the Local Government Association and therefore intimately involved in what is going on in local government at the present time, talked about the lack of support that there is in local government among councillors for the executive scrutiny split. I am sorry for the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, who is torn two ways on this issue. When the matter comes to issue in the next moment or two, he will find he has to vote one way or the other. Of course, I hope that he will find himself able to vote with our side.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said that I seemed to be arguing that London was inspiring. Let us just deal with London. The inspiration that is coming out of the current interest in London has two causes. They are very simple. The first concerns the Government's machinations to try to produce a result that they thought was desirable, if necessary with complete disregard for the views of the members of the London Labour Party. I think that is arrogance of a high order. The second reason that is stimulating interest is the arrival of Mr Ken Livingstone on the scene as a candidate. Apart from the fact that we had a huge Bill, which brought this situation into being, neither of those two facts actually has any general relevance to local government. I agree that they have stimulated enormous interest, but I suspect that the Minister, who is smiling at me rather nicely, would agree that the interest is all of the wrong sort.
The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, rightly raised the role of the staff who work for local government. The changes that will come about as a result of this Bill are not, and cannot be, defined within it and local authorities will have to find a solution to that problem themselves. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, rightly questioned how attractive the role of a scrutineer will be to the electors, and I do not know the answer.
So we come to the Minister. He rightly said, as I did at the beginning, that these amendments go to the heart of the Bill. Of course they do: I do not doubt that. Nothing in these amendments does anything to invalidate any of the proposals that the Government are making--nothing--but these amendments do give local councils and local communities the right to make their own determination on the matter. That is a cause in which I believe in passionately, and it is one on which I think we should test the view of this House.
My Lords, I was prepared to accept that Amendment No. 11 can be seen as consequential to the previous decision but, although Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 were grouped for convenience with Amendments Nos. 10 and 11, we would not accept them as consequential.
My Lords, I am now puzzled as to how one should proceed. I certainly had no responsibility for the groupings. If we must vote again, so be it. The groupings for the amendments were put together by officials acting on behalf of the Government. It seems to me that under the conventions of the House a group would normally be taken together, but I am open to correction.
My Lords, the groupings are agreed for the purposes of debate, but procedurally it is correct to say that the only amendments in a group that automatically follow a victory or a defeat are those that are directly consequential. Although Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 are in the group for the purpose of debate, they are not actually consequential on the decision on Amendment No. 10.
moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 5, line 42, at end insert--
("( ) It may take such form as the local authority considers, after it has taken reasonable steps to consult local government electors and other interested persons in the authority's area, will--
(a) enhance decision-making,
(b) meet the principles of transparency, accountability and efficiency, and
(c) be appropriate to local circumstances.").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
My Lords, perhaps it is worth repeating, as some noble Lords are not always aware of the position, that these amendments are not directly consequential. Therefore, we have done the correct thing procedurally and in terms of the sense of the House.
moved Amendment No. 14:
Before Clause 12, insert the following new clause--
(" . Where a decision by or on behalf of an executive of a local authority requires immediate action by the authority, the decision and action shall be reported to the chairman of the relevant overview and scrutiny committee on the same day.").
My Lords, both Amendment No. 14 and the Liberal Democrat Amendment No. 16 deal with the issue of urgency of action and how urgent action is to be reported to the local scrutiny committee. In future, overview and scrutiny will become an important function because, despite what happened with the earlier amendment, we can be satisfied that the executive scrutiny split will increasingly be adopted by local councils. That being the case, the work of the scrutineers will become more and more significant.
However, there is always the problem of urgent action. On many occasions an executive working under the new rules may well be required to take a decision that requires immediate implementation. Amendment No. 14 seeks to deal with that situation simply by requiring that the decision and the action be reported to the chairman of the relevant overview and scrutiny committee on the same day as the decision is taken and the action takes place. I do not believe that that is an unreasonable imposition. It would ensure that transparency was improved. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment No. 16 is included in this group. Unless there are arrangements for allowing an overview and scrutiny committee to call in--to use the terminology--a decision by the executive, the powers of that committee are somewhat hollow. My amendment, which builds on one that I moved at the previous stage of the Bill, provides that unless a matter is urgent it should not be implemented in fewer than eight days. That would allow for it to be called in and referred to the council or a committee under Clause 19(3). The objection to the amendment in the form in which it was tabled at the previous stage seemed to be that to use a monitoring officer of the local authority to certify whether a matter was urgent was not appropriate and that decisions about obtaining advice, for instance, by the executive should not be delayed.
This new amendment seeks to meet both those points. It provides that,
"Unless the matter is certified by a proper officer of the authority"; and that officer will be the monitoring officer unless the authority designated another officer or officers. So it will be not only a "proper officer" technically, but also the appropriate officer. The amendment provides also that,
"This section shall not apply to decisions solely requiring the preparation of advice or the undertaking of research".
If the system is to be seen not to allow old-style decisions in smoke-filled private rooms, it must allow for call-in by the overview and scrutiny committee. The term "overview" is therefore important. It must allow for call-in on an effective basis.
The Government have been passionate in their advocacy of the good workings of their proposed new system. We will see what the outcome of the recent amendments is. If an overview and scrutiny committee is to do its job properly and take local authorities beyond the days when decisions were taken in private and were not questioned, and were not as transparent and accountable as we would like to see, a provision such as this must be included in the Bill.
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, is not in his place. When I was asking him about his view of executives during the last debate, he said that it would be fine if they met in public because they would be subject to subsequent scrutiny. Amendment No. 16 allows for exactly that. The Bill as drafted does not allow for subsequent scrutiny until the moment has passed.
The recent LGA survey--Local Leadership, Local Choice--shows that 60 per cent of councils are running their executives as a majority party executive. Amendment No. 16 would allow that decision to be open not only to local members, who would therefore be re-enfranchised in terms of knowing what the decision was and being able to take part in discussion on it, but also to opposition members. We have said a great deal about the disadvantages of the one-party state and the opposition not having a voice. It will not be much use if that voice can only be exercised weeks after the event to much less effect. I therefore support Amendment No. 16.
My Lords, I am afraid that I must oppose these amendments. I see some coalition politics opposite as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, regains his normal place.
My Lords, when a degree of co-operation operates between ourselves and the Liberal Democratic Benches, the Benches opposite usually remark on it. I am returning the compliment.
My Lords, I am afraid that I must oppose both of these amendments. Indeed, I am not entirely sure what Amendment No. 14 would achieve. Any decision would be recorded. It would be made publicly available for scrutiny and the overview and scrutiny committee could therefore decide whether or not to ask the executive to explain its actions. As it stands, the amendment suggests that if the executive asked, for example, for a bit of research to be done or for some further information to be gathered, it would need to inform the chair of the overview and scrutiny committee. That surely cannot be the intention, but it is the implication of the clause.
If the intention is to avoid decisions of the executive being called in, then it does not achieve that either. The overview and scrutiny committee has substantial powers. It could call in members of the executive at any time it wished. It could have them before it every day to explain their decisions and it could invite the press and the public as well. The overview and scrutiny committee does not lack powers in this area and the consequence of Amendment No. 14 therefore is not clear.
Amendment No. 16 would delay implementation by five days. As the noble Baroness said, we discussed a similar amendment on Report. I am relieved that the amendment was altered so that decisions that simply require officers to work up proposals for future action will no longer be delayed. However, the new addition, while sensible, does not remove my fundamental objection to it; namely, that urgent decisions should not be delayed while seeking a proper officer to confirm that the matter is urgent. Indeed, I am not sure that it should be the role of any officer to pass judgment on the urgency of decisions taken by the executive. It will be for the executive to justify the urgency of its decision, if required to do so, by the overview and scrutiny committee.
Noble Lords are anticipating problems which may not arise. We explained in our draft guidance that councils should set out in their arrangements how soon decisions should be recorded and made available and that generally there should be a delay between a decision being taken and being implemented so as to allow the overview and scrutiny committee time to call in decisions. To impose the kind of constraints implied by these amendments would not be appropriate in primary legislation. It is for councils to work out the best way of achieving that. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will not press the amendment.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, responded to my amendment by telling me that the consequences it would bring about are not clear. But the consequences are quite simple. First, there would be absolutely no delay; secondly, the scrutineering side of the authority would have immediate knowledge of what was going on. That is all that was intended.
The Minister said that it will be for the executive to justify the urgency to the overview and scrutiny committee. That may be right, but doing it one or two months later is really a bit late and would not be satisfactory. However, he offered the siren words, "It is for the local authority to decide how it makes the arrangements". That is something with which I am happy to agree. I make the blithe assumption, though it is probably sometimes incorrect, that proceedings in this House are valid and that even local authorities will pay attention to what is said in this Chamber. With that, I am happy to have had the debate and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, concern has been expressed by members of my party and the Welsh Assembly as to whether the prescriptive nature of Part II would act as a fetter upon the way in which local government is organised in Wales. Perhaps that fear has been overtaken by events and by the votes we had recently where some degree of discretion has been introduced into the English provisions.
Perhaps I may follow that through. The National Assembly for Wales would have power, under Clause 10(5) of the Bill, to prescribe a form in regulations by which executive arrangements are to be made. As I understand it there is cross-party agreement in the National Assembly for Wales that the form of executive arrangements for Wales should mirror the machinery that has been introduced into the Welsh Assembly. It is thought it would be useful if the 22 local unitary authorities in Wales operated in a way similar to that in which the Assembly itself works. Consequently, when one turns to Clause 15,
"Discharge of functions: s.10(5) executive", it is my concern that subsection (2) should not make it mandatory that the provisions referred to in that subsection should necessarily mirror the provisions of Clauses 12, 13 or 14.
I do not think that, as drafted, the subsection does that. I believe that it is the intention to put a straitjacket on the provisions to be made under those regulations. However, the purpose of my amendment to delete the word "includes" in line 22 and insert "may include" was to put beyond all question that the nature of those regulations would be within the discretion of the National Assembly for Wales and would not be bound by the terms of the primary legislation now going through the House.
If the Minister can give me an assurance that nothing in this subsection constricts in any way that discretion, I shall be happy not to pursue the matter. I beg to move.
My Lords, I believe that I can reassure the noble Lord. Clause 15(2) does not require provisions similar to Clauses 12, 13 and 14; it merely enables such provision to be made. The subsection in question states that such provision,
"may be made by regulations", not that it must be made by regulations. Moreover, Clause 15(3) states that nothing in subsection (2) restricts the general nature of the powers set out in subsection (1). That means that subsection (2), which the noble Lord seeks to amend, does not restrict the scope of the regulation power simply to applying or reproducing the provisions set out in Clauses 12, 13 and 14, with or without modifications. I believe that the objective of the noble Lord's amendment has been met in the Bill as it stands.
moved Amendment No. 16:
After Clause 18, insert the following new clause--
(" .--(1) Unless the matter is certified by a proper officer of the authority to be urgent, no decision by a local authority taken under its executive arrangements shall be implemented within less than five working days after the decision.
(2) The proper officer of an authority for the purposes of subsection (1) shall be its monitoring officer unless the authority has designated another officer or officers.
(3) This section shall not apply to decisions solely requiring the preparation of advice or the undertaking of research.").
My Lords, when the Minister responded to this amendment in a previous grouping he voiced his concern about delays while awaiting a decision of the proper officer. As is the case at present, nothing will be in place to prevent the executive from agreeing to delegation either to an individual member of the executive or to an officer. The overview and scrutiny committee is likely to agree to any sensible delegation.
I have to tell the Minister that I do not believe that that criticism provides an adequate response to what I believe to be a very important issue. The Minister has been good enough to acknowledge that the rest of my amendment, at least in its spirit and intention if not in the technical sense, meets the points made by the Minister at the previous stage. If the Government, as I do, truly saw that the issue of delay while waiting for the certification of a proper officer is important, they would have brought forward a form of words to tackle that. I do not believe that this point cannot be addressed. In the hope that the Minister will be able to give me further reassurance, I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has alighted on one of my objections to introducing such an amendment to Clause 16 relating to the designation of an appropriate officer. It may well be that the overview and scrutiny committee or even the council as a whole may be prepared to delegate such responsibility to an officer, but I do not think that it is the role of primary legislation to require those bodies to do so. This is basically a procedural issue.
I simply repeat that different councils will arrange these matters in different ways. It is important that the Bill leaves them the flexibility to ensure that that is the case. If such a provision is prescribed on the face of the Bill, we will inhibit proper co-operation between the overview and scrutiny committee and the executive rather than enhance it.
My Lords, I fear that I am not convinced by that response. There is already a great deal of prescription in the Bill and I am not convinced when I hear the Minister say that it is not appropriate for primary legislation to prescribe in this area. I do not believe that this is a peripheral matter. It goes to the heart of how authorities operate. For that reason, I should like to test the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 13, line 7, leave out subsection (4) and insert--
("(4) An overview and scrutiny committee may discharge any functions imposed or permitted by the authority other than functions which are the responsibility of an executive of the authority under executive arrangements or functions specified by the Secretary of State in regulations.").
"may not discharge any functions other than its functions under this section".
At the last stage, we sought to tip the coin and reverse the matter so that certain functions were those which the committee could not undertake provided that they were designated by the Secretary of State. That would have allowed the committee to undertake other functions not so specified, provided that the local authority--the council--so designated them.
The Minister objected to that earlier version of the amendment because he said that allowing the overview and scrutiny committee to take on other functions would mean that it would take on executive functions, which would not be appropriate. I have sought to deal with that in this version of the amendment, which says:
"An overview and scrutiny committee may discharge any functions imposed or permitted by the authority other than functions which are the responsibility of an executive of the authority under executive arrangements or functions specified by the Secretary of State in regulations".
These matters that the overview and scrutiny committee may not take on have been dealt with as carefully as possible so as to accept the executive/scrutiny split that the Government are promoting, while still allowing the Secretary of State to specify functions--not necessarily executive functions--which he regards as not being appropriate for the committee.
I was concerned on the last occasion, and remain so, that the Government are so sure that everything is hunky-dory. When we debated the previous version of this amendment, the Minister acknowledged that there were still matters that the Government were considering. We talked a little about the client/contractor split and the noble Lord acknowledged that the Government are considering the implications involved and how they may be dealt with by the executive/scrutiny split. He said:
"There may be some edges which need to be made clearer in the final guidance".--[Official Report, 28/2/00; col. 430.]
I do not believe that it should be a matter for guidance; indeed, I do not even believe that it can be, given the way that Clause 19(4) is drafted. I said then that I admired the Government's confidence that they had got this Bill absolutely perfect.
I do not want to descend into un-parliamentary language, but I feel that the Government are being perhaps rather narrow in the way that they are approaching the matter. We are not trying by stealth to extend the powers of the overview and scrutiny committee; we are merely attempting by way of this amendment to ensure that, given our own responsibilities for scrutinising legislation, we are not storing up problems for the future when we discover something that an overview and scrutiny committee could usefully do but which no one in this House had thought of. I beg to move.
My Lords, if it has not been obvious, perhaps I may put on record the fact that the Government do not necessarily think that the Bill is absolutely perfect. Indeed, if that were so, we would not have brought forward a number of amendments at various stages in the passage of this Bill. Nevertheless, we think that this attempt by the Liberal Democrats to broaden the role of overview and scrutiny committees--even in the modest way that the noble Baroness suggests in the amendment--is the wrong approach. We need overview and scrutiny committees to deal with just overview and scrutiny. That role needs to be distinct and identifiable. People need to know what that role is and who holds the decision-makers to account.
I appreciate that the noble Baroness has modified her previous approach to this matter, but, nevertheless she seeks to allow overview and scrutiny committees to do what they are not expressly forbidden to do. There are areas of council responsibilities which are not the responsibility of the executive--for example, an exercise in policy review or in moving towards future decisions, or a more regulatory activity of the council--which an overview and scrutiny committee might subsequently wish to review or scrutinise. Had it already been party to that decision or had some responsibility for it, that would blur its role. We should not blur its role on the face of the Bill.
The noble Baroness referred to an earlier discussion on the issue of client contractor relationships for direct services. That is an area that we are considering in the light of the responses we have received to the draft guidance. That issue may need some clarification which I believe is appropriate for guidance. There is flexibility as regards this matter in Clause 11. However, an overview and scrutiny committee would not take responsibility for functions in such arrangements; an ordinary committee of the council appointed by the council would do so, as now.
We believe that to allow overview and scrutiny committees to discharge functions, including those which are not the responsibility of the executive but could be subject to overview and scrutiny, would blur their roles. I therefore do not think that we should open up that possibility in this clause. Flexibility already exists, but the essential role of the overview and scrutiny committee needs to be preserved. This amendment would put it in doubt; I hope that the noble Baroness does not pursue it.
My Lords, I shall not pursue the matter but I still have anxieties as to whether we shall get it right. It seems to me that the number of amendments that the Government have had to table and the number of provisions that will be dealt with by regulations makes my case for me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 18 I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 19 to 25 with which it is grouped and which stand in my name. Amendment No. 26, in the name of the Minister, is also grouped with it.
These amendments deal with access to information, the provision of information and the question of transparency, on which we have already touched. On Report the Minister said that my amendment failed to recognise the nature of executive arrangements. I recognise the structure that the Government are putting in place but I take issue with the proposal which sets up executive arrangements and then deals with issues of transparency and accountability as if they were somehow separate or at best semi-detached from the nature of the arrangements themselves. We on these Benches believe that the basic design must ensure transparency and accountability.
Amendment No. 18, refers to,
"a joint committee or a sub-committee of any such committee".
This is a matter on which I seek clarity. The point may have been answered as I believe that the amendment standing in the Minister's name allows for regulations to cover joint committees and their sub-committees. However, the Minister is merely allowing the application of Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972--which deals with access to information--by regulation; and not requiring its application.
Part VA deals fully with admission to meetings, access to agendas and reports, the inspection of minutes and documents after a meeting, the inspection of background documents and additional access for members. Much of this is touched on in Clause 20 of the Bill, but none of the provisions, with the exception of Clause 20(1), will certainly be applied. The other provisions are subject to regulation. Clause 20(1) simply states,
"Meetings of a local authority executive, or a committee of such an executive, are to be open to the public or held in private".
Therein lies our objection; namely, the only thing that is certain is that the meetings may be held in private.
The Department of the Environment, as it used to be called, undertook research in 1995 to evaluate the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985. A number of its findings appeared to give the Act a pretty clean bill of health, although I shall in a moment mention some of its recommendations for improvement. The summary of the document stated:
"The Act was found to be effective in establishing minimum standards for openness and accountability, with which all local authorities appear to be complying".
The document further stated that,
"the Act facilitated a transition to more open attitudes and working practices".
However, it also stated that,
"More could be done to facilitate access to information".
It further stated that,
"Members of the public and the press use their rights under the Act, although local authorities perceive the take-up to be low".
I accept that, although I emphasise that a low take-up does not mean that a provision has no merit; quite the contrary. The document further stated:
"Steps taken by local authorities to meet the requirements of the Act, and even to exceed them, had generally been achieved without incurring significant additional costs".
As I say, that seems to me to be a pretty good approval rating for the Act.
The document made a number of recommendations. It stated:
"Authorities should review their overall approach to ... take account of the different objectives of information provision: public relations, accountability and informing people about services".
The document proposed that,
"Authorities might benefit from a review of the extent to which ... they actively make information accessible ... Authorities might also consider their approach to public participation, involvement and consultation".
I do not take issue with any of that, but it seeks to improve on what is not too bad a position, although it can, of course, always be improved.
I believe that Clause 20(10) is the most important part of the clause. It defines "prescribed". That term crops up quite often in the clause. Clause 20(10) states that,
"'prescribed' means prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State".
Clause 20(6),(7),(8) and (9) refers to regulations. Clause 20(8)(a) gives the game away as it states that,
"The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision", with regard to access to meetings,
"including provision enabling such meetings to be held in private".
I believe that these matters should be dealt with in primary legislation, not by regulation, as this clause provides. To the uninformed reader it may appear to be rather a long clause; it covers a page and a half. The provisions of the Act are, of necessity, much longer. It seems to me that either the Government have not had enough time to draw up the detail which needs to underpin the provisions of Clause 20 as printed in the Bill--if that is the case, that is not good enough, although there will be an opportunity to rectify the matter in another place--or they are simply not sufficiently enthusiastic as regards the importance of the issue.
Access to information affords protection to the public. It affords protection to the media, who in turn pass information to the public. It is protection for other councillors, who serve the public and are part of the whole process. Access after the event to the decisions of a "strong mayor"--I put the term in inverted commas; we have been using it as jargon--and access after the event to the reasons for the decisions, are a poor substitute. Accountability every four years, or perhaps more frequently, at the ballot box will not rectify a lack of knowledge at the time that that knowledge would count. I beg to move Amendment No. 18.
My Lords, the Government have often quoted that the reason for bringing in the Bill is to improve the relationship between the public and local authorities. I should like to dwell for a moment on the fundamental role that residents see their local authority playing. They see their councillors as people who make decisions. Up until now, they have often been seen as not very accountable--here I agree with the Minister--because decisions have been made behind closed doors in smoked-filled rooms. Councillors' postbags are full of letters from residents who write in and say, "When you make a decision, will you please take this matter into account?". They have the agendas of meetings, not only on regulatory issues, which I know will not be subject to this same discipline, but on all manner of issues.
It is noticeable that usually it is one letter per citizen. Residents in a council's area do not write in frequently on all kinds of subjects; they will write in once about something on the council's agenda that particularly concerns them and on which they would like to have some influence. If the Government include in the Bill a provision for the executives to meet in private, particularly the executives of a majority party--which, as I said, will be some 60 per cent of executives--the public will be no better served in councils which operate such a system. For them it will be a very poor second to hear that the scrutiny committee will consider the views of other members of the council, which will probably include their elected councillor. They will question what they elected that councillor for, and the relationship between local authorities and the public will be further damaged. This process of modernisation has led people to believe that they will have a closer relationship with their local authorities and that they will be included more in meetings.
The more successful local authorities are those which have done their best to go out to meet the public in places to which they have easy access--community halls and so on--and to make their meetings public friendly. It is noticeable that the public will turn out when they feel they will have some influence on the decisions to be made. On the whole, the public are not interested in being part of the ongoing discussions about scrutiny and policy making. Why should they be? They have elected people to do that job. A remark often heard is, "You were elected to make that decision. I just want to put my point of view to you, as my councillor, and I hope that you will put forward my view to the council".
If an executive is able to meet in private, this cycle of events will not happen and many of the benefits of accountability that the Government believe will come out of the Bill will be lost. The public will see that important decisions are made by executives meeting in private, in those authorities that allow them to do so. The last time this matter was discussed the Minister said that the issue was not whether meetings are held in public or private but accountability. The kind of accountability the public want is where they can see, hear and be part of the process of decision making; they do not want to know who made the decisions and to receive some dry papers only after the event.
My Lords, I support my colleague's amendments. Grouped with them is a government amendment, and I should like to give the Minister an opportunity to clarify the Government's intentions in a number of respects.
I understand that the proposed regulations could not override subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 20 which allow executives to choose to make all formal decisions in private. Can the Minister say whether the Government intend to require executives to make any categories of decision in public?
There are other elements of the existing legislation which could be used. For instance, do the Government intend to use regulations to require public notice of the time and place of executive meetings to be posted at least three days before the meeting? Do the Government intend regulations to include the requirement that copies of the agenda and any reports for the meetings of the executive are to be available for public inspection at least three clear days in advance; and that copies of these agendas and reports are available to all members of the council at least as soon as they are available to the public? Do the Government intend regulations made on the keeping and publication of records of decisions to incorporate aspects of Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972? Do the Government intend the regulations to define enforcement and penalties as they are defined in that part of the Local Government Act 1972, and so on?
I hope that when the Minister responds he will be able to answer some at least of these questions, and perhaps write to me on others. I hope that he will be clearer about the Government's intentions for these regulations, should their amendment be successful.
My Lords, it might be helpful if I speak first to Amendment No. 26, which stands in my name. In a sense, that will cover some of the aspects, including some of those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tope.
Regulations made under Clause 20 as a result of my amendment, if adopted, will be able to apply parts of the existing access to information provisions--including those in regard to issues such as penalties, timings and so on-- to, for example, meetings of the executive held in public. We have already set out on the face of the Bill the key provisions we should like to apply to meetings and decisions of the executive. The executive may choose whether to meet in private or public. Where it meets and takes decisions in private, or where decisions are taken by an individual member, such decisions must be recorded and made public, together with the reasons and the relevant background papers. It is made clear in subsections (3) and (4) of Clause 20 that the prescribed decisions must be recorded and must be made publicly available.
My amendment would assist also in the making of broader regulations. It would allow us to specify in regulations that where an executive chooses to meet in public, the existing access to information regime covering public meetings would apply, as it would to other council committees. On Report, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked me for explicit confirmation on that point. I am glad to reassure him and to reiterate our intentions. This amendment should satisfy his concerns.
The noble Baroness's amendment, in effect--she would probably not dispute this--seeks to apply the existing Part VA of the Local Government Act regulations to decisions taken under the new structure. The whole point of the executive structure is its flexibility. Reading across those provisions directly would not ensure, for example, that where an individual member of the executive takes a decision, that individual is held to account for that decision or even has to make a record of it. That is one example of where the traditional provisions would not be appropriate and would not meet the enhanced accountability that we are seeking for our decision-takers.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked whether agendas would be circulated in advance. Again, to some extent that misses the point of the committee. Certainly one might make regulations in relation to the agenda of the committee, but many of those decisions will be taken by individual members of the executive. We shall be consulting on the regulations for the procedure of the committee--whether it should be private or public--but the point about agendas misses the implications of how the executive would function in many respects.
The whole of the debate, at earlier stages and today, misses the point that the totality of the new executive arrangements will identify both the decisions and the persons responsible for those decisions in a much clearer way than is the case at the moment. The totality of the arrangements brings greater transparency than the present arrangements where accountability and clarity of decision-making are not apparent. Simply applying the traditional access to information regime under the 1972 Act, as the noble Baroness's amendments intend, would fail to recognise the nature of the executive. My amendment would allow us to use some of the existing provisions, so that, for example, meetings were held in public subject to the same provisions, but we would need different kinds of regulations in relation to the other aspects of decision-making and accountability. I do not think that the noble Baroness's amendment would be appropriate and I ask her not to pursue it.
My Lords, the Minister has told us that the point of the executive is flexibility. But--and I have probably said this before in the course of the proceedings on the Bill--local authorities are not the same as plcs. There are different standards and different criteria. I do not believe that one should read over into local authorities the imperatives for immediate action that directors of a company might often feel would be overriding criteria.
My Lords, I do not know what it was in my remarks that implied that I was reading across into local government the regulations for company directors. I certainly was not.
My Lords, I am glad to hear that. I made the point because it seems that many of these arrangements seek to reflect how life is carried on in different sectors.
The Minister said that I missed the point. I do not think that I missed the point. I disagree with the point. He told us that different regulations are needed under a new regime. As I have said before, the 1985 Act succeeded in spelling out what was required as a matter of primary legislation. I do not believe that it is adequate or appropriate to leave to regulations a matter of such importance, particularly given the framework of a clause which states that meetings can be held in private--there may be provisions under the regulations for meetings to be held in private. That is not appropriate. I do not for a moment suggest that the Minister is attempting to hide anything from the House or that there is any malign motive, but I think that the Government are misguided in their approach to this important matter. We believe that proper access to information and real transparency will go to the benefit of local government. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 26:
Page 15, line 15, at end insert--
("( ) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision which, in relation to meetings of--
(a) local authority executives or committees of such executives, or
(b) joint committees, or sub-committees of such committees, falling within subsection (8)(a), applies or reproduces (with or without modifications) any provisions of Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972.").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 23 [Proposals]:
moved Amendment No. 27:
Page 15, line 39, after ("area,") insert--
("(aa) must consider the extent to which the proposals, if implemented, are likely to assist in securing continuous improvement in the way in which the authority's functions are exercised, having regard to a combination of economy, efficiency and effectiveness,").
My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 which are grouped with it.
We brought forward Amendments Nos. 27, 28 and 29 in response to the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in Committee and on Report. The noble Lord raised a number of important points in speaking to his amendments during the previous stages. I believe that these amendments will meet the substance of his concerns and will not, therefore, be seen as controversial.
We believe that the new forms of constitution available in Part II of the Bill will lead to more efficient, transparent and accountable local government and that they will reinforce the best value regime in the Local Government Act 1999 for delivering value for money and high-quality services.
At the end of the day, it is outcomes that will be the test of new constitutions. It is right, therefore, that in drawing up proposals for executive arrangements councils should be required to consider how their proposals will affect outcomes.
Amendment No. 27 places exactly such a requirement on the face of the Bill when councils draw up "first time" proposals for executive arrangements. Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 import identical requirements if councils need to draw up detailed fall-back proposals in the event of a "no" vote in a referendum.
The amendments draw directly on the wording of the duty of best value in Section 3 of the Local Government Act 1999. They therefore make a direct link between two very important strands of our programme of local government modernisation: best value and new constitutions. I beg to move.
My Lords, although I understand what has led to this proposal and, indeed, the need for councils to consider their best value duty, will the Minister confirm that, in drawing up proposals for executive arrangements, local authorities should consider all of their statutory duties and not merely the best value duty?
Yes, my Lords. The reason that we have included this provision is that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, was concerned that we should be explicit on this specific item.
moved Amendment No. 30:
Page 22, line 5, at end insert--
("(1A) In this Part "elected executive member" means an individual elected as a member of a local authority executive by the local government electors for the authority's area in accordance with the provisions made by or under this Part, but does not include an elected mayor.").
My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 31 to 42 in this group. They are all designed to respond to a request put forward in the form of an amendment at Committee stage by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and in response to those amendments that were designed to extend the Bill's electoral provisions in relation to elected mayors to the election of members of directly elected cabinets, were they to be pursued under Clause 10(5).
In response to those amendments my noble friend Lady Farrington indicated that the Government were sympathetic. The amendments provide for the definition of an "elected executive member" as a person who is elected to a local authority executive by the electors for the whole of the authority's area. These are the directly elected cabinets in the various guises that we have talked about in relation to the possible types of new executive structure that might emerge from local authorities deciding to trigger the provision under Clause 10(5) and the Secretary of State agreeing.
For the avoidance of doubt, I should make it clear that these amendments would not mean that directly elected cabinets would become an option on the face of the Bill. The situation will arise only if Clause 10(5) is triggered. If such regulations were to be made, the amendments to Clauses 35 and 38 will provide that directly elected executive members will have the same electoral franchise and term of office as elected mayors. The amendments to Clauses 36 and 39 will extend the regulation-making powers in those clauses to enable those regulations to deal with the timing and conduct of elections for directly elected cabinets. The amendments would, therefore, cover the contingency of directly elected cabinets emerging under Clause 10(5). I beg to move.
moved Amendments Nos. 32 to 35:
Page 22, line 14, after ("mayors") insert ("or elected executive members").
Page 22, line 15, at end insert ("or elected executive members").
Page 22, line 16, after ("mayors") insert ("or elected executive members").
Page 22, line 17, at end insert ("or elected executive member").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 38: [Entitlement to vote]:
moved Amendments Nos. 37 to 41:
Page 23, line 3, after ("mayors") insert ("or elected executive members").
Page 23, line 4, after ("mayors") insert ("or elected executive members").
Page 23, line 14, at end insert ("(including elections for the return of elected executive members), and
( ) for the combination of polls at elections for the return of elected executive members and other elections (including elections for the return of elected mayors).").
Page 23, line 23, after ("mayors") insert ("or elected executive members").
Page 23, line 28, after ("mayor") insert ("or elected executive member").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 43 [Interpretation of Part II]:
My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 44 to 51, 53 to 91, 93 to 117, 128 to 156, and 158 to 175, which are grouped with it.
The justification for devolution of power to the National Assembly for Wales is to enable the enactment of legislation tailored specifically to Welsh needs and circumstances. The most significant of the government amendments that I propose today reflect the National Assembly's preference for conferring the powers which in England will be exercised by the standards board on the Commission for Local Administration in Wales.
The difference in approach in Wales is driven by the smaller scale of the task there. It is clear that there is unlikely to be a sufficient number of breaches to justify the creation of a separate body. Secondly, following the consultations with local government, the National Assembly concluded that the task of investigating allegations of breaches of the code of conduct would be more efficiently and effectively carried out by the local commissioner and his team of investigating officers and that such a one-stop shop would be more accessible to the public. The amendments are also intended to give the National Assembly the flexibility to make regulations to implement the legislation in a way that reflects Welsh circumstances and requirements.
The inclusion of the specific Welsh provisions and the need to group them also gives rise to a substantial number of consequential and drafting amendments. These have taken the form of distinguishing between the situation in England and Wales and substituting the local commissioner or the Commission for Local Administration in Wales for the Standards Board in England.
I shall now go through the amendments in turn. Amendment No. 43 removes from the face of the Bill the requirement for the Partnership Council to prepare a model code of conduct. This is a superfluous provision as the Government of Wales Act gives the Assembly the power to maintain a Partnership Council. These provisions are sufficient to enable the National Assembly to engage the Partnership Council in the way envisaged to draw up a code of conduct for elected members in local government. The code will be issued by the National Assembly. Amendments Nos. 44, 45 and 46 are consequential drafting amendments to Clause 45.
Amendments Nos. 48 to 58, excluding Amendment No. 52, are consequential amendments resulting from Amendment No. 59 which bring together the provisions relating to standards committees in Wales in a new subsection (13) to Clause 48. This amendments gives the Assembly the power to make regulations governing the operation, size, composition, procedures, chairing etc. of standards committees in Welsh councils.
Amendment No. 60 enables the National Assembly for Wales to issue guidance to standards committees of local authorities in Wales on the exercise of their functions.
Amendment No. 62 allows the standards committees or sub-committees of such committees to discharge functions in relation to community councils and their members which are situated in the area of the county or county borough council concerned. It also requires the principal councils to consult their community councils on whether to use the council's main standards committee or to set up a specific sub-committee to hear allegations against community councils. Amendment No. 61 is a minor consequential drafting change to Clause 50.
Amendments Nos. 47, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69 and 70 through to Amendment No. 85 are minor consequential and drafting amendments resulting from Amendment No. 86. That amendment confers the role of the Standards Board in England on the local commissioner in Wales (local ombudsman). It also provides for the Commission for Local Administration in Wales to issue guidance to local authorities on issues relating to the conduct of elected and co-opted members on councils.
Amendment No. 87 allows the local commissioner in Wales to investigate written allegations of breaches of the code of conduct made against councils' elected members and co-optees. The four possible outcomes of these investigations are the same as those set out in Clause 53(5) for the Standards Board in England.
Amendment No. 88 enables the National Assembly to make orders modifying the restrictions on the disclosure of information in the Local Government Act 1974 to provide the local commissioner with the powers of investigation available to the ethical standards officers in England. This amendment also permits the local commissioner to cease an investigation at any stage before its completion and, where appropriate, to refer the matter to the council's monitoring officer.
Amendment No. 89 applies the existing Clause 58 which applies only to England to Wales as well. It lays out what action the local commissioner should take, including the preparation of reports, depending upon the findings of the investigations.
Amendment No. 90 replicates existing Clause 59, which applies to England. It permits the local commissioner in Wales to issue an interim report if his investigations reveal matters that are sufficiently serious that it is in the public interest to do so. The local commissioner may recommend in such a report a maximum period of suspension of six months on the member concerned. Before any suspension is effective it has to be decided by an interim case tribunal.
Amendment No. 103 provides that when a person who is subject to an interim report appears before an interim case tribunal, the local commissioner will be able to continue with his investigations following a decision of the interim case tribunal.
Amendment No. 91 replicates the existing Clause 60 which applies to England only. It enables the National Assembly for Wales to make regulations in relation to the way in which local authorities' monitoring officers undertake their roles. These regulations could also enable the standards committees of authorities to consider monitoring officers' reports and to take appropriate action, subject to the existence of rights of appeal against their decisions. Amendments Nos. 93 and 94 make minor drafting amendments to Clause 61. Amendments Nos. 95 to 100 are minor drafting amendments to Clause 62.
Amendment No. 101 enables the National Assembly for Wales to fund the secretariat and administrative support for the adjudication panel. This would ensure that it is separate and independent from the local commissioner and the Commission for Local Administration in Wales, whose investigations it will adjudicate upon. Amendments No. 102 and 104 are consequential drafting changes to Clause 64. Amendments Nos. 105 to 110 are consequential drafting amendments.
Amendment No. 112 enables the National Assembly to prescribe in regulations the circumstances in which standards committees may grant dispensations to members to speak and vote at council meetings when they have declared a pecuniary or other interest in the matter being discussed. Amendments Nos. 113 to 115 make minor consequential drafting changes to Clause 69.
Amendment No. 117 provides for the functions of the monitoring officer for community councils in respect of the new ethical framework to be discharged by the monitoring officer of the county or county borough councils in whose area the community council is located. Amendments Nos. 128 to 175 are minor consequential and drafting amendments to Schedule 3.
As currently drafted, the Bill does not include all the Welsh provisions. We shall bring two further Welsh amendments in the House of Commons to extend the local ombudsman's remit to enable him to hear complaints of maladministration against combined fire authorities and registered social landlords such as housing associations. The proposal to extend the ombudsman's remit to hear complaints from the tenants of registered social landlords in Wales was the subject of consultation and agreement between the National Assembly and the UK Government.
I am very grateful for the courteous, helpful and patient consideration which, in particular, the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Conwy and Lord Thomas of Gresford, have shown towards me personally. I apologise again. I shall set out a proper procedure for ensuring that this sort of thing does not happen in future. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for taking us through what is, according to my calculation, a total of 115 amendments in this grouping. As the noble Baroness explained, some are more important than others. She will be relieved to know that at least I agree with the main purpose of the amendments and the decision to hand over the functions of the standards board in Wales to the Local Government Commission. The commission already has the ability to deal with complaints from the public about maladministration in local government. The commission has a close and intimate knowledge of the 22 local authorities in Wales. The present commissioner, Mr Moseley, enjoys a high reputation for integrity and fairness, and I believe that the proposed extension of powers to cover the field of standards sits well with his current duties.
I am glad to hear that the duties of the commission are to be extended further by later amendments in the other place. The commissioner is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Secretary of State and, therefore, has an independent status. By way of reminiscence, there was a time when local authorities did not always accept his judgment in cases of maladministration when he was critical of them. I understand that those days have passed with the advent of legislative changes that require authorities to publish their reasons if they disagree with the commissioner's findings. In short, I believe that to take over the functions of the standards board is to complement the powers of the commissioner by virtue of his present office. I commend the National Assembly for its decision, I believe that it is right in its recommendation.
Currently, if a councillor behaves badly he can be named and shamed by a mention in a commission report. Under this Bill he can be punished under the adjudication panel procedure. If he breaks the code to be laid down in model form by the National Assembly, after consultation with the local authorities and other bodies as specified in Clause 44(4), the punishment is suspension under an interim report with possibly worse to follow. At the moment, the commissioner has a small staff of about half a dozen researchers and a similar number of secretarial typists. I hope that we shall not see a huge increase in staff as a result of the additional duties imposed on the commission. However, like other Members of your Lordships' House I should like to see the commission well able to carry out its functions.
I have noticed one substantial difference. In Wales we shall not have ethical standards officers but the commission will have the powers which attach to those individuals. I am sure that through his staff the commissioner will be able to carry out equivalent or similar functions. There is a further extension, in that community councils are also brought into the frame. It is quite right that, limited though their powers may be, those councils, which are equivalent to parish councils in England, should be brought into the frame. About 800 community councils in Wales are in receipt of council taxpayers' money which is raised by the county authorities. Therefore, I believe that there should be an arrangement whereby the county standards committee, or a sub-committee, has oversight of the community councils. Community councillors should be subject to the same standards as councillors of other authorities.
In Amendments Nos. 86 to 91 there are some very important new clauses which spell out how investigations are to be conducted. On first reading what emerged was the importance of the local authority monitoring officer and the need for him or her to be a person of unquestionable integrity and independence and to have the trust and backing of the authority's standards committee. Regrettably, in Wales there are certain local authorities where low standards have become the norm. I have in mind one South Wales local authority where half, if not more, of the elected members were subject to police investigations at the same time. I hope that the National Assembly makes regulations, in accordance with Amendment No. 91, to indicate how matters referred to a monitoring officer are to be dealt with. He will require strong backing from outside the authority in certain circumstances. He may also be directed by the Local Government Commissioner as to how matters should be dealt with.
I have studied the amendments as closely as I can in the time available. I acknowledge the help provided to me by the Government at a late hour. It is, nevertheless, welcome for all that. I agree that the amendments improve the Bill in one way; namely, they place the onus for issuing a model code squarely on the National Assembly, following consultation with local authorities, the Audit Commission, the Commission for Local Administration and other appropriate bodies. It would have been wrong, surely, to leave the partnership council with the initiative to produce the model code, because that body includes members of local authorities as well as members of the National Assembly. It is much better that the National Assembly alone bears a clear responsibility for producing the model code.
We shall study these changes further, as will others in Wales who no doubt will in time give us the benefit of their views. Some of these are key amendments which reflect the procedures to be followed by the standards board in England. We benefit from the extensive debates which have taken place in your Lordships' House on the duties and responsibilities of the board in England. If there are defects in the amendments which have been tabled at a fairly late stage--the bulk of them yesterday--I hope that the Government will bring forward any changes that they feel are necessary. I am sure that any defects will be pointed out to us and Members in the other place by the Welsh electorate when it has had time to study the matter. Meanwhile, we are prepared to give these amendments a fair wind.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for the advance notice of the amendments and the helpful discussions. As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, mentioned, the path of local authorities in Wales has not been entirely smooth over the past two or three years. I am grateful for the assistance given in Wales by my colleague Michael Farmer QC, in one of the authorities where problems emerged. I welcome the provision of a model code which I hope will ensure that such matters do not arise again.
I am also grateful for the widespread consultation on the provisions with the National Assembly for Wales. It is unfortunate that these matters come forward at a late stage. I hope that through discussion we shall be able to create a machinery which does not give rise to such problems. It is important that this House should have the opportunity for advance notice and full consideration of these matters. I hope that by discussion we shall be able to arrive at an agreed procedure.
I look to the National Assembly for Wales being able to consider in draft form legislation which affects Wales, a situation provided for somewhat more concisely than in the Bill. Providing that the National Assembly for Wales should replace the Secretary of State as expressed in various parts of the Bill is a confusing procedure. I am happy to say that in subsequent Bills the position of Welsh primary legislation is more clearly stated. The more we can proceed along those lines, the better it will be for clarity and the good governance of Wales. As does the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, I welcome the amendment.
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords. We must all work together to ensure that the saying, "Better late than never" is replaced by ensuring that we are never late.
All institutions and organisations need to be vigilant against corruption and malpractice. The code of conduct in Wales and its enforcement will be rigorous. The Assembly is committed to the maintenance of the highest standards of conduct in local government. The code will be produced by the Assembly in consultation with Welsh local government.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, rightly drew attention to the staffing issue. We are confident that the proposals for Wales will ensure that there will be opportunity for additional staff, but not as many would have been needed had the two bodies remained separate. The commissioner for local administration will have all the powers available to ethical standards officers in England. In the smaller organisation in Wales it would be clumsy to set up a separate and distinct role for ethical standards officers.
We accept that the monitoring officer role is crucial, and believe that the Assembly is well aware of the need to monitor what is happening.
I thank noble Lords for their support. If I have not covered any point of detail, I shall write to the noble Lords. I commend the amendment.
moved Amendments Nos. 44 to 46:
Page 27, line 23, leave out ("or National Assembly for Wales (as the case may be)").
Page 27, line 27, leave out ("or the Partnership Council (as the case may be)").
Page 27, line 30, leave out subsection (7).
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 46 [Duty of relevant authorities to adopt codes of conduct]:
moved Amendments Nos. 48 to 51:
Page 30, line 4, after first ("authority") insert ("in England").
Page 30, line 5, leave out ("or (7)(a)").
Page 30, line 6, after ("authority") insert ("in England").
Page 30, line 10, after ("authority") insert ("in England").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
My Lords, when we debated the amendment at Report stage we did so in general terms. The Minister indicated that he did not think that the behaviour prohibited in the amendment was what the Bill intended, but thought that the matter was appropriate to local authorities and that they should decide these matters for themselves. It is a sentiment with which I agree.
I would not have put down the amendment had I not had written communication from a member of one local authority indicating that his authority was planning to act in breach of the prohibition I have tabled. I do not apologise for bringing back the issue. It seems right to give the Minister the opportunity to reconsider the matter and either give a clear assurance that the behaviour prohibited by the amendment would not be acceptable to the Government, or accept the amendment.
It is a narrow point. I agree with the Minister that it is unlikely that most authorities will act in this way. When discussing legislation, we have to consider the individual who may wish to behave in a way that normal people would regard as aberrant. That is the reason for the amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is our intention in this part of the Bill to provide maximum flexibility. That maximum flexibility allows conceptually for the outcome against which the noble Lord's amendment is directed. However, that can be achieved only with the full agreement of the council. The executive cannot determine that it will be in the majority. The full council would decide that. Councils need to have flexibility to decide what is best to uphold standards of probity without our laying it down too precisely. There may be strong arguments for the majority of the standards committee to be councillors, even if there is not a strong argument for them to be executive members. Once one starts prescribing, one has to go into other prescriptions.
There is a fall-back power. Although our preferred approach is not to be prescriptive, under Clause 48 the Secretary of State has power to make regulations if he should so wish on the size, composition, proceedings and membership of standards committees. So if this proves to be a serious problem leading to abuse, we have the power to deal with it. I hope that that sufficiently reassures the noble Lord.
moved Amendments Nos. 53 to 59:
Page 30, line 21, leave out subsection (7).
Page 30, line 33, leave out subsection (9).
Page 30, line 38, after ("authority") insert ("in England").
Page 30, line 41, after ("authority") insert ("in England").
Page 30, line 44, leave out from ("England") to end of line 1 on page 31.
Page 31, line 2, after ("authority") insert ("in England").
Page 31, line 4, at end insert--
("(13) The National Assembly for Wales may by regulations make provision--
(a) as to the size and composition of standards committees of relevant authorities in Wales (including provision with respect to the appointment to any such committee of persons who are not members of the relevant authority concerned),
(b) as to the persons who may, may not or must chair any such committees,
(c) as to the entitlement to vote of members of any such committee who are not members of the relevant authority concerned,
(d) for or in connection with treating any such standards committees as bodies to which section 15 of the Local Government Act 1989 does not apply,
(e) as to the proceedings and validity of proceedings of such committees,
(f) for or in connection with requiring relevant authorities in Wales to send to the Commission for Local Administration in Wales statements which set out the terms of reference of their standards committees.").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 62:
After Clause 50, insert the following new clause--
(".--(1) A standards committee of a county council in Wales is to have the same functions in relation to--
(a) the community councils which are situated in the area of the county council, and
(b) the members of those community councils, as the standards committee has under section 49(1) and (2) in relation to the county council and the members of the county council.
(2) A standards committee of a county borough council is to have the same functions in relation to--
(a) the community councils which are situated in the area of the county borough council, and
(b) the members of those community councils, as the standards committee has under section 49(1) and (2) in relation to the county borough council and the members of the county borough council.
(3) A standards committee of a county council or county borough council may appoint a sub-committee for the purpose of discharging all of the functions conferred on the standards committee by this section.
(4) In deciding whether it will be their standards committee, or a sub-committee of their standards committee, which is to discharge the functions conferred by this section, a county council or county borough council must consult the community councils which are situated in their area.
(5) Regulations under section 48(13) may make provision in relation to sub-committees appointed under this section.
(6) Subsections (5) and (7) of section 49 apply in relation to sub-committees of standards committees appointed under this section as they apply in relation to standards committees.
(7) In relation to a community council, any reference in the following provisions of this Part to the standards committee of a relevant authority is a reference--
(a) to the standards committee of the county council or county borough council in whose are the community council is situated, or
(b) where that standards committee has appointed a sub-committee under this section, to that sub-committee.").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 51 [Standards Boards]:
moved Amendments No. 63 to 66:
Page 33, line 19, leave out subsection (2).
Page 33, line 23, leave out subsection (4).
Page 33, line 35, leave out subsections (7) and (8).
Page 34, line 1, leave out ("each of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board for England").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 52 [Written allegations]:
moved Amendments Nos. 68 to 72:
Page 34, line 18, leave out ("of the Standards Board for England").
Page 34, line 20, leave out ("Board") and insert ("Standards Board for England").
Page 34, line 26, leave out subsection (2).
Page 34, line 34, leave out ("Each of the Standards Boards") and insert ("The Standards Board for England").
Page 35, line 2, leave out ("relevant Adjudication Panel") and insert ("Adjudication Panel for England").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 54 [Conduct of investigations]:
moved Amendments Nos. 76 to 80:
Page 37, line 31, leave out ("the Standards Board for Wales,").
Page 37, line 32, leave out ("of either of those Boards") and insert (", a Local Commissioner in Wales").
Page 37, line 46, leave out ("of the Standards Board for England").
Page 38, line 7, leave out subsection (3).
Page 38, line 15, leave out ("or (3)").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
moved Amendments Nos. 81 and 82:
Page 39, line 2, leave out ("relevant Adjudication Panel") and insert ("Adjudication Panel for England").
Page 39, line 5, leave out ("relevant Adjudication Panel") and insert ("Adjudication Panel for England").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
moved Amendments Nos. 83 to 84:
Page 39, line 39, leave out ("relevant Adjudication Panel") and insert ("Adjudication Panel for England").
Page 39, line 45, leave out ("relevant Adjudication Panel") and insert ("Adjudication Panel for England").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
moved Amendments Nos. 86 to 91:
After Clause 60, insert the following new clause--
(".--(1) A Local Commissioner in Wales is to have the functions conferred on him by this Part and such other functions as may conferred on him by order made by the National Assembly for Wales under this subsection.
(a) may issue guidance to relevant authorities in Wales on matters relating to the conduct of members and co-opted members of such authorities, and
(b) may arrange for any such guidance to be made public.
(a) functions of a Local Commissioner in Wales under Part III of that Act as including his functions under this Part,
(b) functions of the Commission for Local Administration in Wales under Part III of that Act as including functions of the Commission under this Part, or
(c) expenses of the Commission for Local Administration in Wales under Part III of that Act as including expenses of the Commission, or a Local Commissioner in Wales, under this Part.
(4) The provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (3) includes provision which modifies, or applies or reproduces (with or without modifications), any provisions of Part III of that Act.
(5) In this Part "Local Commissioner in Wales" means a Local Commissioner (within the meaning of Part III of that Act) who is a member of the Commission for Local Administration in Wales.").
After Clause 60, insert the following new clause--
:TITLE3:INVESTIGATIONS BY LOCAL COMMISSIONER IN WALES
(".--(1) A Local Commissioner in Wales may investigate--
(a) cases in which a written allegation is made to him by any person that a member or co-opted member of a relevant authority in Wales has failed, or may have failed, to comply with the authority's code of conduct, and
(b) other cases in which he considers that a member or co-opted member of a relevant authority in Wales has failed, or may have failed, to comply with the authority's code of conduct and which have come to his attention as a result of an investigation under paragraph (a).
(2) The purpose of an investigation under this section is to determine which of the findings mentioned in subsection (3) is appropriate.
(3) Those findings are--
(a) that there is no evidence of any failure to comply with the code of conduct of the relevant authority concerned,
(b) that no action needs to be taken in respect of the matters which are the subject of the investigation,
(c) that the matters which are the subject of the investigation should be referred to the monitoring officer of the relevant authority concerned, or
(d) that the matters which are the subject of the investigation should be referred to the president of the Adjudication Panel for Wales for adjudication by a tribunal falling within section 62(1).").
After Clause 60, insert the following new clause--
:TITLE3:INVESTIGATIONS: FURTHER PROVISIONS
(".--(1) The National Assembly for Wales may by order make provision with respect to investigations under section (Investigations by Local Commissioner for Wales) (including provision with respect to the obtaining or disclosure of documents or information).
(2) The provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (1) includes provision which applies or reproduces (with or without modifications)--
(a) any provisions of sections 54 to 57, or
(b) any provisions of sections 28, 29, 32 or 33 of the Local Government Act 1974.
(3) A Local Commissioner in Wales may cease an investigation under section (Investigations by Local Commissioner in Wales) at any stage before its completion.
(4) Where a Local Commissioner in Wales ceases an investigation under section (Investigations by Local Commissioner in Wales) before its completion, he may refer the matters which are the subject of the investigation to the monitoring officer of the relevant authority concerned.").
After Clause 60, insert the following new clause--
(".--(1) Where a Local Commissioner in Wales determines in relation to any case that a finding under section (Investigations by Local Commissioner in Wales)(3)(a) or (b) is appropriate--
(a) he may produce a report on the outcome of his investigation,
(b) he may provide a summary of any such report to any newspapers circulating in the area of the relevant authority concerned,
(c) he must send to the monitoring officer of the relevant authority concerned a copy of any such report, and
(d) where he does not produce any such report, he must inform the monitoring officer of the relevant authority concerned of the outcome of the investigation.
(2) Where a Local Commissioner in Wales determines in relation to any case that a finding under section (Investigations by Local Commissioner in Wales)(3)(c) is appropriate he must--
(a) produce a report on the outcome of his investigation,
(b) refer the matters which are the subject of the investigation to the monitoring officer of the relevant authority concerned, and
(c) send a copy of the report to the monitoring officer, and the standards committee, of the relevant authority concerned.
(3) Where a Local Commissioner in Wales determines in relation to any case that a finding under section (Investigations by Local Commissioner in Wales)(3)(d) is appropriate he must--
(a) produce a report on the outcome of his investigation,
(b) refer the matters which are the subject of the investigation to the president of the Adjudication Panel for Wales for adjudication by a tribunal falling within section 62(1), and
(c) send a copy of the report to the monitoring officer of the relevant authority concerned and to the president of the Adjudication Panel for Wales.
(4) A report under this section may cover more than one investigation under section (Investigations by Local Commissioner in Wales) in relation to any members or co-opted members of the same relevant authority.
(5) A Local Commissioner in Wales must--
(a) inform any person who is the subject of an investigation under section (Investigations by Local Commissioner in Wales), and
(b) take reasonable steps to inform any person who made any allegation which gave rise to the investigation, of the outcome of the investigation.").
After Clause 60, insert the following new clause--
(".--(1) Where he considers it necessary in the public interest, a Local Commissioner in Wales may produce an interim report on an investigation conducted by him under section (Investigations by Local Commissioner in Wales).
(2) An interim report under this section may cover more than one investigation under section (Investigations by Local Commissioner in Wales) in relation to any members or co-opted members of the same relevant authority.
(3) Where the prima facie evidence is such that it appears to a Local Commissioner in Wales--
(a) that the person who is the subject of the interim report has failed to comply with the code of conduct of a relevant authority,
(b) that the nature of that failure is such as to be likely to lead to disqualification under section 65(4)(b) or (5)(b), and
(c) that it is in the public interest to suspend that person immediately, the interim report may include a recommendation that that person should be suspended or partially suspended by the relevant authority concerned from being a member or co-opted member of the authority.
(4) The period of suspension or partial suspension which may be recommended under subsection (3) must not exceed six months or (if shorter) the remainder of the person's term of office.
(5) Where a Local Commissioner in Wales produces an interim report under this section which contains such a recommendation as is mentioned in subsection (3), he must refer the matters which are the subject of the report to the president of the Adjudication Panel for Wales for adjudication by a tribunal falling within section 62(2).
(6) A copy of any report under this section must be given--
(a) to any person who is the subject of the report,
(b) to the monitoring officer of the relevant authority concerned, and
(c) to the president of the Adjudication Panel for Wales.").
After Clause 60, insert the following new clause--
:TITLE3:MATTERS REFERRED TO MONITORING OFFICERS
(".--(1) The National Assembly for Wales may by regulations make provision in relation to the way in which any matters referred to the monitoring officer of a relevant authority--
(a) under section (Investigations: further provisions)(4), or
(b) as a result of a finding under section (Investigations by Local Commissioner in Wales)(3)(c), are to be dealt with.
(2) The provision which may be made by regulations under subsection (1) includes provision for or in connection with--
(a) enabling a monitoring officer of a relevant authority to conduct an investigation in respect of any matters referred to him,
(b) enabling a monitoring officer of a relevant authority to make a report, or recommendations, to the standards committee of the authority in respect of any matters referred to him,
(c) enabling a standards committee of a relevant authority to consider any report or recommendations made to it by a monitoring officer of the authority (including provision with respect to the procedure to be followed by the standards committee),
(d) enabling a standards committee of a relevant authority, following its consideration of any such report or recommendations, to take any action prescribed by the regulations (including action against any member or co-opted member of the authority who is the subject of any such report or recommendation).
(3) The provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (2)(a) includes provision for or in connection with--
(a) conferring powers on a monitoring officer of a relevant authority to enable him to conduct an investigation in respect of any matters referred to him,
(b) conferring rights (including the right to make representations) on any member or co-opted member of a relevant authority who is the subject of any such investigation.
(4) The provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (2)(d) includes provision for or in connection with--
(a) enabling a standards committee of a relevant authority to censure a member or co-opted member of the authority,
(b) enabling a standards committee of a relevant authority to suspend or partially suspend a person from being a member or co-opted member of the authority for a limited period,
(c) conferring a right of appeal on a member or co-opted member of a relevant authority in respect of any action taken against him.
(5) Nothing in subsection (2), (3) or (4) affects the generality of the power under subsection (1).
(6) Where a Local Commissioner in Wales refers any matters to the monitoring officer of a relevant authority--
(a) under section (Investigations: further provisions)(4), or
(b) as a result of a finding under section (Investigations by Local Commissioner in Wales)(3)(c), he may give directions to the monitoring officer as to the way in which those matters are to be dealt with.").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 61 [Adjudication Panels]:
moved Amendment No. 92:
Page 41, line 17, leave out ("on such terms and conditions as he may determine").
My Lords, in moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendment No. 157, both of which are technical. It is our policy that a Secretary of State should appoint the members of the adjudication committee and should determine the terms and conditions on which those appointments are made. Members of the adjudication panel will, however, be paid any such remuneration fees or allowances by the standards board because payment is not made directly by the Secretary of State. The amendments help to clarify that so that although it is the Secretary of State who sets the terms and conditions, he is not responsible for payment. I beg to move.
moved Amendments Nos. 93 to 111:
Page 41, line 22, leave out from ("determine") to end of line 23 and insert--
("( ) The National Assembly for Wales--
(a) must appoint one of the members of the Adjudication Panel for Wales as president of the Panel, and
(b) may appoint one of those members as deputy president of the Panel.").
Page 41, line 34, after second ("president") insert ("(if any)").
Page 41, line 41, after (" 58(3)") insert ("or (Reports)(3)").
Page 42, line 2, after (" 59(5)") and insert ("or (Interim reports)(5)").
Page 42, line 7, at end insert--
("( ) Where there is no deputy president of the Adjudication Panel for Wales, the reference in subsection (3) to the deputy president is to be treated as a reference to such member of the Adjudication Panel for Wales as the National Assembly for Wales may specify.").
Page 42, line 10, at end insert ("or (Reports)(3)").
Page 42, line 13, at end insert ("or (Interim reports)(5)").
Page 42, line 34, at end insert--
("( ) The National Assembly for Wales may incur expenditure for the purpose of providing administrative support to the Adjudication Panel for Wales.").
Page 43, line 29, after (" 59(3)") insert ("or (Interim reports)").
Page 44, line 7, at end insert--
("( ) A decision of an interim case tribunal under this section shall not prevent a Local Commissioner in Wales from continuing with the investigation under section (Investigations by Local Commissioner in Wales) which gave rise to the interim report concerned and producing a report under section (Reports), or a further interim report under section (Interim reports), in respect of any matters which are the subject of the investigation.").
Page 44, line 18, after (" 53") insert ("or (Investigations by Local Commissioner in Wales)").
Page 45, line 43, leave out ("Standard Board for Wales") and insert ("Commission for Local Administration in Wales").
Page 46, line 17, leave out ("Standards Board") and insert ("person").
Page 46, line 21, leave out ("Standards Board") and insert ("person").
Page 46, line 27, leave out ("Standards Board") and insert ("person").
Page 46, line 29, leave out ("Board") and insert ("relevant person").
Page 46, line 32, leave out ("Standards Board"") and insert ("person"").
Page 46, line 35, leave out ("the Standards Board for") and insert ("a Local Commissioner in").
moved Amendment No. 112:
Page 47, line 28, at end insert--
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendments Nos. 113 to 117:
Page 48, line 24, leave out ("or (8)(a)").
Page 48, line 29, at end insert--
Page 48, line 34, leave out ("of the Standards Board for England").
Page 48, line 36, leave out ("an ethical standards officer of the Standards Board for Wales") and insert ("a Local Commissioner in Wales").
Page 49, line 2, at end insert--
("( ) In relation to a community council, the functions of a monitoring officer under any provisions of this Part are to be discharged by the monitoring officer of the county council or county borough council in whose area the community council is situated; and any reference in this Part to the monitoring officer of a relevant authority which is a community council is to be construed accordingly.").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 118:
After Clause 75, insert the following new clause--
(" .--(1) The Representation of the People Act 1983 shall be amended as follows.
(2) After section 36(2B) there shall be inserted--
My Lords, I shall not spend long on the amendment, but it takes us to the topic of freepost for candidates for elected office and in particular elected mayors. I thought that it might be inflammatory to raise the issue in the context of the Bill while the situation in London is still being negotiated. Nevertheless, I believe that there is an issue to be addressed.
I have tabled an amendment to permit the Secretary of State to make regulations to allow the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1983 to apply to elections for executive mayors not least because colleagues in another place may want to consider the matter. I hope that the passage of the Bill can be eased if we can hear the Government's view now. At least we shall have done our job to that extent. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am pleased that the noble Baroness has refrained from being inflammatory. The amendment is a nice try, but we are discussing elections in a different context. There is a long tradition of local government rules which do not include free mail shots. The elections of mayors under the Bill will be local government elections. Admittedly they will be of a special and novel kind and we expect that special electoral rules will need to apply. That is why we are preparing a further consultation paper in the regulation of mayoral elections.
As I stand at the Dispatch Box, I am not convinced of the need to prescribe free mail shots within those regulations, but the consultation will proceed. Of course, the House having accepted the provisions within the Representation of the People Bill, which allows for the experiment on free mail shots for local elections that is being conducted in Watford, we have the ability legislatively to provide for that in certain circumstances.
Rather than put anything on the face of the Bill which I must strongly oppose, I believe that we should leave the matter to consultation and to the possibility that at some future date we might move down that road. However, I suspect that were we to do so, the view would not be that we should provide the full parliamentary mail shot. We might have to have a more compromise position of the kind referred to, if not the actual outcome, in our discussions on the provisions of the GLA Act.
I am straying too far into that territory and I hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue the amendment tonight.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down and with the leave of the House, I understand the position relating to the pilot scheme in Watford, but can he remind the House when the consultation will end and how it is likely to fit in with the timetable for the rest of the Bill's passage?
My Lords, at this point I cannot give a closing date for that consultation, but I understand that it would be some time in the summer and therefore beyond the likely passage of the Bill.
My Lords, this amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 20 standing in the name of the Minister. The fact that my amendment comes first allows me to thank him for taking up the matter of allowances for cycles and other non-motorised forms of transport, referred to in his amendment. We are pleased to have achieved a little during the Bill's passage through this House.
I want to ask the Minister a question about his new clause and the regulation-making provision dealing with allowances. Subsection (4) states:
"The provision which may be made under this section includes provision which amends or repeals any provisions of sections 173 to 178 of the Local Government Act 1972".
While I welcome the provision and understand the pressures on parliamentary counsel, I believe it is a pity that we seem to be drifting into a position in which perhaps because of pressures of time a short-cut is being taken. We have in primary legislation a power for the repeal or modification of other primary legislation by regulation. Ideally, if matters are important they should be in primary legislation so that one can follow them. The Government are ambitious about the amount of legislation they are going to get through Parliament and I deplore what I regard to be a short-cut, although I have no doubt that pressure of time brought it about.
Having made that point, I thank the Minister for taking on board our concerns about cycle allowances. If the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, were here I am sure that he would be making points about payment to members of parish councils. However, for the record I repeat that we remain concerned about the distinction between members of the executive and members of the overview and scrutiny committee as regards certain parts of the remuneration, in particular pensions, which we see as divisive. I beg to move.
My Lords, my Amendment No. 120 introduces a new clause enabling the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to make regulations regarding parish councils for only general allowances. The point was raised by my noble friend Lord Graham and others during the Report stage of the Bill. The regulations also relate to all councils as regards travel and subsistence allowances, including cycle allowances, allowances for attending conferences or meetings and the reimbursement of expenses. The reason the provision is not as definitive as the noble Baroness may have liked is that we are currently conducting a review. We have sympathy with the objectives referred to by the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Smith of Leigh.
The outcome of the review is unlikely to be known by the time the Bill has completed its parliamentary stages. Therefore, the new clause allows the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to make provisions--perhaps regrettably from the noble Baroness's purist point of view of how we change primary legislation. It might mean changing the appropriate clauses of the Local Government Act. This is the only way we can make the change without coming back to yet another piece of local government legislation. I hope that in that context the noble Baroness understands why we have done it that way and that my amendment can be agreed.
moved Amendment No. 120:
After Clause 80, insert the following new clause--
(".--(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision with respect to--
(a) allowances payable to members of a parish council,
(b) travelling and subsistence allowances payable to members of such relevant authorities as may be prescribed,
(c) allowances payable to members of such relevant authorities as may be prescribed for attending conferences or meetings,
(d) the reimbursement of expenses incurred by members of such relevant authorities as may be prescribed.
(2) For the purposes of this section a member of a committee or sub-committee of a relevant authority is to be treated as a member of the authority.
(3) The provision which may be made under subsection (1)(b) includes provision with respect to allowances in respect of travel by bicycle or by any other non-motorised form of transport.
(4) The provision which may be made under this section includes provision which amends or repeals any provisions of sections 173 to 178 of the Local Government Act 1972.
(5) Before making any regulations under this section, the Secretary of State must consult such representatives of local government and such other persons (if any) as he considers appropriate.
(6) In this section--
"prescribed" means prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State,
"relevant authority" means--
(a) a body specified in section 21(1) of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989,
(b) a body on which a body falling within paragraph (a) is represented,
(c) a parish council.
(7) In its application to Wales this section has effect as if--
(a) for any reference to the Secretary of State there were substituted a reference to the National Assembly for Wales,
(b) for any reference to a parish council there were substituted a reference to a community council.").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 121:
After Clause 82, insert the following new clause--
(".--(1) Subject to provision made by or under any enactment, a local authority shall not cause or permit discrimination as regards the provision of facilities or services, which are not generally available, for the exclusive benefit of any group of persons.
(2) Subject to subsection (4), in any proceedings in connection with the application of this section a court shall draw such inferences as to the intention of the local authority as may reasonably be drawn from the evidence before it.
(3) The Secretary of State may make and, from time to time revise, a code of practice on the discharge by local authorities of the duty under subsection (1).
(4) Any provision of a code of practice under subsection (3) which appears to a court or tribunal to be relevant to any question arising in any proceedings in connection with the application of the duty under subsection (1) shall be taken into account in determining that question.
(5) A code of practice or a revised code of practice under this section shall be contained in a statutory instrument which shall be laid before, and subject to approval by resolution of, each House of Parliament.").
My Lords, this amendment has been spoken to in principle on more than one occasion. It has been redrafted in the light of debate on Report. It is concerned with the prohibition of expenditure of public funds by local authorities. It is free-standing in the sense that if Clause 82 were to be rejected by another place, which is on the cards, it would be complementary to the provisions of the Learning and Skills Bill and assuredly not in conflict with such provisions. It would also afford substitute prohibition on the local authority in place of Clause 82. That, if not now but looking ahead, is the way forward. It is of crucial consequence, and that is one reason why I move the amendment.
I must say at once that it does not have the support of my noble friend Lady Young or my party, but that is of no great consequence to me. I am convinced that it provides the way forward for a substitute prohibition if and when Clause 82 comes back. However, prohibition there must be. It is a provision which prohibits positive discrimination, save as afforded under statute, secondary legislation and, in particular, a code of practice having legal efficacy. It is wholly in conformity with the European Convention on Human Rights, which Section 28 as amended by Clause 82 is not. It does not discriminate against any group of persons, whether homosexual, heterosexual or of no particular sexual orientation.
The amendment provides an entirely new approach to an old problem. That problem manifested itself when certain urban local authorities made provision for facilities and services from public expenditure at the behest of the pro-gay and lesbian lobby for the exclusive benefit of such persons. It was a problem which led in part to Section 28 of the 1988 Act which has been effected to contain such conduct and expenditure for some 12 years. Whatever may be provided in any other amendment, surely it is essential that some prohibition should remain and be made in the Local Government Bill, such as perhaps proposed by this amendment.
As matters stand, under Clause 2 of this Bill a local authority may again make the type of discriminatory provision which led to Section 28, unopposed in another place, if it is considered likely to improve the social well-being of the area. What kind of protection or prohibition is that? None. It is a massive delegation of power under Clause 2 which would not be amenable to judicial review, save in wholly exceptional circumstances. All of us recognise that under our domestic law, and having assimilated the European Convention on Human Rights, homosexuals are entitled to respect for their private life and quality of treatment without any form of discrimination against them.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said on Report that this amendment would cut across the whole activity of a local authority so that it would not be able to discriminate in favour of the elderly, the disabled and (he mentioned it) the gay and lesbian lobby. That is not the case. Facilities or services for the elderly are generally available; for the disabled, they are under statute. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, it is true that provision for the gay and lesbian community would be prohibited--and why not?--as, indeed, would any provision for the exclusive benefit of any other group of persons. I beg to move.
My Lords, we had a full debate on similar amendments during the Report stage of the Bill. Amendment No. 121 seeks to prevent local authorities from causing or permitting discrimination in the provision of their facilities or services which are not generally available for the exclusive benefit of any group of persons. It is not clear what that means in practice or how it would be interpreted by the courts. Even if I accept that it means what the noble Lord says, which I believe is debatable, the Government would be opposed to it on principle.
As I said on Report, the services that local authorities provide depend on their being able to discriminate legitimately between the different needs of different sections of their community. It is important that they should be able to tailor services to meet the particular needs of different groups and to devise specific interventions to improve the quality of life of different sections of their community, whether that be the young, the elderly, the social excluded or the gay and lesbian community. This amendment would seriously curtail their ability to do that. The Government are opposed to it in principle and I hope that the noble Lord will now be persuaded not to move it.
As I believe I made clear at Report stage, Amendment No. 122 singularly fails to acknowledge the respective legal responsibilities of school governing bodies and LEAs. It seeks to ensure that a local authority does not cause or permit material of a sexually explicit nature to be made freely available in schools, except with the approval of the board of governors. It seeks to prevent local authorities from doing something that, in fact, they cannot do. I repeat what was said on Report. As a result of the Education Reform Act 1988, it is a matter for school governors and schools to decide what material is used.
An authority could produce material with the intention of it being used in schools, as could any other person. However, since the Education Reform Act 1988, it is for teachers and governors to decide whether that material should be available in the school and used as a teaching resource.
My Lords, I apologise. I understood that the noble Lord had not challenged the grouping and therefore I assumed that he was relying on his earlier references to the matters contained in Amendment No. 122.
With regard to Amendment No. 121, perhaps I should place on record an imminent potential personal interest in this matter. When I reach my birthday later this year, I shall be favourably discriminated in relation to public transport in London.
My Lords, this is neither the occasion to reason nor to argue. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for dealing with this issue. But I must say, with the greatest respect, she has not begun to take the essence of the argument on the amendment as revised. She has gone back to Report and Committee stages and rehearsed the same arguments, although those arguments have been met by the amendment.
I make no complaint but I merely place on record that this is not a reasoned refutation of the argument which I have advanced for this amendment. In view of the hour and the attendance of the House, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 122:
After Clause 82, insert the following new clause--
:TITLE3:SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL IN MAINTAINED SCHOOLS
(".--(1) After section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 insert--
"Sexually explicit material in maintained schools.
2B.--(1) A local authority shall not cause or permit material, which in the opinion of the Board of Governors of a maintained school is of a sexually explicit nature such as ought not to be made freely available in such schools, to be made so available unless it has consulted and gained the approval of the Board of Governors.
(2) The Board of Governors may delegate their functions under subsection (1) to any member of the Board.
(3) In any proceedings in connection with the application of this section a court shall draw such inferences as to the intention of the local authority as may reasonably be drawn from the evidence before it.
(4) In subsection (1) "maintained school" means a maintained school or maintained nursery school within the meaning of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998."
(2) In section 12(3) of that Act, after "Part II" there is inserted "(other than section 2A)".").
My Lords, this amendment was spoken to in principle and has been redrafted in the light of the debate on Report. I beg the noble Baroness to take on board that it recognises that it is for the board of governors to decide which material is sexually explicit and whether, if so, it should be made available in the schools. That is for the board of governors.
A duty is imposed upon the local authority not to make such material available in the schools--such as, for example, all the junk that we have seen in that exhibition--without having consulted the board of governors and having obtained their approval. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the board of governors may delegate that function to any member or members of the board.
Again, this is a new approach. It is complementary to the Bill as accepted by the Table. It is free-standing to Clause 82 and complementary to such amendments as may be made to the education Acts under the Learning and Skills Bill which, in Committee, I have already accepted.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, took the point that this amendment was not appropriate for a local government Bill. That was an entirely bad point and I propose to show why. As my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth said,
"we are discussing initiatives which might be taken by local authorities. I understand that that has happened on many occasions in the past, they have produced material, spent money on producing it and then presented it to the schools".
My noble friend ended by saying:
"It seems to me that this is a local government issue, not an educational issue".--[Official Report, 2/3/2000; col. 738.]
I suggest that my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth is wholly right on this issue, as indeed I maintained in my reply.
Also in this context, for some 12 years the prohibition under Section 28 served its purpose. I do not pretend that it did not cause confusion nor that it was perfectly drafted. But it served a purpose. There is now a case for the continuance of some prohibition. That is the principle which the Government will not accept. Such a prohibition is provided by the amendment. In view of the massive delegation of power afforded under Clause 2, to which I have already referred, I suggest to the House that such a prohibition is absolutely essential. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness would deal with the amendment on the basis on which it has been redrafted. I beg to move.
My Lords, I genuinely believe that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is trying to be helpful to the House and, indeed, to the nation. He speaks for many in this concern. But I must say to him--as I say to the many who write to me and to the lady in one of the villages who decided she should give her bishop an "ear-wigging", as she described it today, on the basis of information, I gather, gleaned from the Daily Mail--that there is great misunderstanding in the country about the effect of the 1996 Education Act.
I believe that it undermines the proper authority of the governors of schools to say that we need to adopt a belt-and-braces approach so that there is a prohibition on the local authority. I much prefer this amendment to the previous amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and I am grateful to him for redrafting it. But I believe that it undermines the power that has been given to governors of schools.
Also, I think it is time that somebody said that a good deal of this explicit material does not, in the 1990s, as it did in the 1980s, come from a few local authorities. It comes very largely from health trusts which use it because they are dealing with the sharp end of this problem and want it for training purposes; and it is then circulated.
However, I wish to reiterate that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, speaks for many in this country who are worried about this matter. But we must get the message across that responsibility for it rests with governors. Therefore, it is not appropriate to deal with the issue in this Bill. But I am 100 per cent with the sentiment which the noble Lord is trying to express in this amendment.
My Lords, since the Education Reform Act 1988, it is for the teachers and governors to decide whether and which material should be available and which should be used as a teaching resource.
I can only repeat to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, that these matters are now entirely outside the local authority. Whether Section 28 is retained or repealed makes no difference in terms of what may be taught in schools and who has authority as to what is taught in schools. In those circumstances, this amendment is unnecessary.
I completely support the point raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn that it would be extremely helpful for governors up and down the country were everyone to say that the debate about Section 28 is not about what happens in the classroom. That is a matter for governors alone. It is extremely important that that is said.
Finally, I am aware of the material that has been on display in your Lordships' House. I have yet to see any evidence of any individual item of material having been approved by any member of any school governing body at any time.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. I am absolutely foxed as to how to deal with it. The noble Baroness says that it cannot make any difference whether Section 28 is repealed. It makes the whole difference because it is only if Section 28 is repealed that this effectively provides a new approach for a new way forward. The fact that the substratum of the argument has not even been understood leads me to a protest of amicable despair--and it is amicable and always shall be.
I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. At least he understood what I was trying to do and to be understood is everything, even if one is disagreed with. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 123:
Page 62, line 22, leave out sub-paragraph (4) and insert--
("(4) In the case of a relevant English authority which maintains one or more Church of England schools, an overview and scrutiny committee or sub-committee to which this paragraph applies must include at least one qualifying person.
(4A) A person is a qualifying person for the purposes of sub-paragraph (4) if he is nominated by the Diocesan Board of Education for any Church of England diocese which falls wholly or partly in the authority concerned's area.
(4B) In the case of a relevant English authority which maintains one or more Roman Catholic Church schools, an overview and scrutiny committee or sub-committee to which this paragraph applies must include at least one qualifying person.
(4C) A person is a qualifying person for the purposes of sub-paragraph (4B) if he is nominated by the bishop of any Roman Catholic diocese which falls wholly or partly in the authority concerned's area.").
My Lords, in moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 124 to 127.
These are relatively minor amendments to paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 dealing with Church representation on overview and scrutiny committees which deal with education in English education authorities. On Report, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, while welcoming our policy on that issue, questioned the language we had used in referring to representatives of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church on overview and scrutiny committees. We have reconsidered the wording, and Amendment No. 123 reflects our further consideration.
I hope, therefore, that the right reverend Prelate's concerns are now largely met. The amendment makes it clear, as he requested, that the relevant bishop or bishops for Roman Catholic schools and the relevant diocesan board or boards for Church of England schools will nominate representatives to be appointed to those committees of the local education authority. The remaining amendments are tidying-up amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am enormously grateful for the Minister's response. It is simply a question of bringing into what is the contemporary practice of both Churches the manner in which representatives are chosen. I need say no more except to thank the Minister for his consideration.
moved Amendments Nos. 124 to 127:
Page 62, line 31, after ("(4)") insert ("or (4B)").
Page 62, line 40, leave out ("such of").
Page 62, line 40, leave out ("in the authority's area") and insert ("maintained by the authority").
Page 62, line 41, leave out ("as may be") and insert ("but which are").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Schedule 3 [Standards Boards]:
moved Amendments Nos. 128 to 175:
Page 65, line 4, leave out ("Neither of the Standards Boards is") and insert ("The Standards Board for England (referred to in this Schedule as the Standards Board) is not").
Page 65, line 6, leave out ("each of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board").
Page 65, line 7, leave out ("each") and insert ("the").
Page 65, line 10, leave out ("Each of the Standards Boards") and insert ("The Standards Board").
Page 65, line 21, leave out first ("a") and insert ("the").
Page 65, line 32, leave out ("for England").
Page 65, line 33, leave out sub-paragraph (2).
Page 65, line 37, leave out ("either of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board").
Page 65, line 39, leave out ("for England").
Page 65, line 42, leave out sub-paragraph (3).
Page 66, line 2, leave out ("for England").
Page 66, line 5, leave out sub-paragraph (5).
Page 66, line 9, leave out ("either of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board").
Page 66, line 10, leave out ("that") and insert ("the").
Page 66, line 11, leave out ("or (5)").
Page 66, line 12, leave out ("either of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board").
Page 66, line 15, leave out ("Each of the Standards Boards") and insert ("The Standards Board").
Page 66, line 18, leave out ("Boards for England") and insert ("Board").
Page 66, line 21, leave out sub-paragraph (3).
Page 66, line 24, leave out ("either of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board").
Page 66, line 28, leave out ("concerned") and insert ("for England").
Page 66, line 29, leave out ("each of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board").
Page 66, line 32, leave out ("for England").
Page 66, line 37, leave out sub-paragraph (2).
Page 66, line 42, leave out ("for England").
Page 67, line 4, leave out sub-paragraph (4).
Page 67, line 13, leave out ("or (4)").
Page 67, line 15, after ("the") insert ("Standards").
Page 67, line 16, leave out ("Standards Board concerned") and insert ("Board").
Page 67, line 17, at end insert--
Page 67, line 19, leave out ("Each of the Standards Boards") and insert ("The Standards Board").
Page 67, line 21, leave out ("each of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board").
Page 67, line 29, leave out ("either of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board").
Page 67, line 41, leave out ("for England").
Page 67, line 47, leave out sub-paragraph (2).
Page 68, line 7, leave out ("concerned").
Page 68, line 11, leave out ("for England").
Page 68, line 16, leave out ("for England").
Page 68, line 18, leave out ("for England").
Page 68, line 24, leave out sub-paragraphs (5) to (7).
Page 68, line 36, leave out second ("each") and insert ("the").
Page 68, line 38, leave out ("for England").
Page 68, line 41, leave out sub-paragraph (3).
Page 68, line 45, leave out ("each of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board").
Page 69, line 3, leave out ("either of the Standards Boards") and insert ("the Standards Board").
Page 69, line 8, leave out ("entries are inserted") and insert ("entry is inserted").
Page 69, leave out line 11.
Page 69, line 12, leave out ("entries are") and insert ("entry is").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
An amendment (privilege) made.
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Whitty.)
My Lords, I cannot let this moment pass without a few brief remarks. It is a remarkable fact that there have been 438 government amendments to the Bill. The Bill, as it came to us, had 51 pages. If one analyses it, there has been one government amendment for every five and a half lines of the Bill as it came to the House. I used to think of this Chamber as the Government's "think again" Chamber. I am desperately afraid that it is becoming the Government's thinking Chamber. The Bill is the better for the amendments, but it might have been better if a little more care had been taken beforehand.
I should like to place on the record my gratitude to the Government Front Bench for the way they have treated us as their opponents across this Dispatch Box. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is invariably courteous. For a man who does not have local government experience, he has a remarkable grasp of detail. He has picked up the subject extraordinarily well. Indeed, he is difficult to catch up. I am grateful to him and to his colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, for the courtesy they have shown us and the attention they have paid to the arguments we have presented. I am happy to support the Motion.
My Lords, if I take only 15 seconds to thank all noble Lords involved in the Bill, I am sure that they will not feel that they have gone unthanked, but will probably thank me more for allowing us to proceed.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their courtesies. I believe we are all agreed that the Bill is the better for the provisions agreed in this House--with one rather notable exception this afternoon, if I may introduce a controversial note. Although, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, it is true that I have no local government experience, I did actually spend, along with my friend and noble friend Lord Burlison, 13 years representing a large number of workers who had the misfortune to work for a number of local authorities. I therefore have some knowledge of the subject, although from a different end of the telescope. I commend the Bill to the House.
On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.