Third Reading

Part of Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 21st July 2015.

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Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 5:30 pm, 21st July 2015

My Lords, I refer to my local government interests, one of which is being a member of Newcastle City Council’s audit committee. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for accepting the thrust of my amendment that there should be such an independent committee. I join the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in expressing thanks to the Minister, who is, like me and, I think, seven other Members present in your Lordships’ House today, a member of the distinguished union of ex-council leaders—in my case, very ex.

The Minister has been very helpful and patient as we have gone through the Bill, but I should like to make a couple of points. First, while I welcome the inclusion of a reference to an independent person as a member of the audit committee, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, my original amendment referred to having the chair as an independent member. Perhaps that is something that the Government could look at when the Bill goes to the House of Commons. It would seem right for that provision to be made. We will obviously not press that point today, but perhaps the Minister will take it back to colleagues.

The other point is a question that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, touched on when he mentioned the need to effectively scrutinise the performance of government departments and other public agencies. I think I understand the position but it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm it for the record. The powers of the scrutiny committee to call before it any public body would apply, as it does in local government at present, to the overview and scrutiny committee constituted by a combined authority because there would be government agencies—we have referred several times to Highways England in that context but there may be others and I am thinking of health and social care, the role of NHS England and so on—which at the level of the combined authority may need that degree of scrutiny. I take it that that is the case, but it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that for the record. I repeat my grateful thanks for all her help, and I am happy to support these amendments.