Moved by Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston
178C: After Clause 77, insert the following new Clause—“Amendments to constitutional arrangements of statutory bodies consequential on electoral changes(1) Section 67 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (consequential and supplementary provision) is amended as follows.(2) After subsection (2) insert—“(2A) The purposes for which an order may be made under subsection (2) include making changes to the constitutional arrangements of any statutory body with a locally or regionally defined remit which are required as a consequence of the making of an Order under section 59.(2B) An order under subsection (2) made for the purposes described in subsection (2A) may be made by the statutory body in question as well as by the Secretary of State.” (3) In subsection (5), at the beginning insert “Subject to subsection (6),”(4) In subsection (6), for “containing any other order under subsection (2)” substitute “containing an order under subsection (2) made for the purposes described in subsection (2A) (even if it also falls within subsection (5)) or containing any other order under subsection (2) that does not fall within subsection (5)”.(5) After subsection (6) insert—“(7) In this section, “statutory body” means a body established by or under any enactment.””Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would enable an order to be made to alter the constitutional arrangements of a statutory body if required as a consequence of an electoral changes order made under the local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. The statutory body itself would be able to make such an order.
My Lords, this amendment adds a new clause after Clause 77 and amends Section 67 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. It deals with constitutional arrangements of statutory bodies consequential on electoral changes. In essence, it provides for an order to be made to alter the constitutional arrangements of a statutory body if required as a consequence of an electoral change, and the order can be made under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. The important thing is that the statutory body itself would be able to make such an order.
I will briefly give some illustrative explanation as to why this is required. The amendment deals with an old constitutional anomaly that can arise when boundaries are redrawn following Electoral Commission reports. One such example is the case of local ward boundary changes for Malvern Hills District Council and the consequential impact on the Malvern Hills Trust, which has elected conservators and is charged with protecting and managing the Malvern Hills and the surrounding commons. The Boundary Commission has changed the Malvern Hills District Council ward boundaries. As a result we will have two wards, with some residents who can vote for conservators and pay the levy while others cannot. This is not an ideal situation, and will probably be subject to judicial review and legal challenge for the returning officer as a consequence. This amendment would allow for the changes to be brought about by the Malvern Hills Trust, and it would bring its boundaries in line with the district lines.
In moving this amendment, I declare an interest: I am a resident of Malvern Hills District Council, and my late father-in-law was a Malvern Hills conservator.
My Lords, I support the noble Baroness. The Malvern Hills are of course an outstanding place of beauty in the West Midlands, and it is important that the trust is allowed to do its job as effectively as possible. This is yet another example of the way in which the Boundary Commission has been forced do its work, because of the constraints put upon it, where it goes across natural boundaries. In the case that the noble Baroness raised, the management of the Malvern Hills Trust is vital. It is also clearly important that residents have confidence in the arrangements of the trust and in the fairness of any levies they may have to pay. I hope that the Minister may be prepared to take a look at this and possibly come back on Report with a sympathetic response.
My Lords, I am grateful. The problem has a wider resonance than the Malvern Hills Trust, although that is important. Coterminosity of local government and parliamentary boundaries is important, as is coterminosity of local government and National Health Service boundaries and, in this case, of the integrated care boards. If the Minister has any influence in other government departments, I ask her to impress on them the significance of residents who may be split between integrated care boards, like residents where I live in the Kirklees district of West Yorkshire, who are now being moved into a new Wakefield parliamentary constituency. This creates more problems than we sometimes recognise. Coterminosity and looking at the local implications of the lines we draw on a map are important and ought to be done only following detailed consultation with local people.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing this to our attention. As she knows, I know the Malvern Hills area very well; it is beautiful. It is important that the Boundary Commission respects local boundaries and allows organisations such as the Malvern Hills Trust to operate as they are intended.
Does the Minister agree that one problem we have at the moment is that the Boundary Commission cannot carry out interim or minor reviews, as it simply does not have the resources to do so? That means that any kind of review could take up to 20 years to look at a problem or something that is not ideal, which is clearly not an ideal situation. Perhaps the department could look into this.
My Lords, Amendments 178C and 509ZA, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Stuart of Edgbaston, seek to enable any statutory body to amend by order its constitutional arrangements consequential on an electoral changes order made under Part 3 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. That legislation enables the Local Government Boundary Commission for England to implement by order recommendations for changes to an area’s electoral arrangements.
I am aware of the specific case at the moment where such a statutory body, the Malvern Hills Trust, considers that the new warding arrangements established by an electoral review order in respect of Malvern Hills District Council is incompatible with its constitutional and governance arrangements as provided for in several private Acts dating back to 1884. It is understandably concerned that such changes might raise questions about the ongoing legality of its constitutional and governance arrangements, and it wishes for something that it can address itself in a timely way.
I fully understand why the Malvern Hills Trust might wish to be granted powers to alter the constitutional or governance arrangements to ensure that they remain lawful and relevant to changing circumstances. However, I regret that we cannot support the amendments to the Bill. While they have the intention to resolve a specific local constitutional issue, the amendments are of general application to any statutory body affected by an electoral review carried out under Part 3 of the 2009 Act. In a practical sense, it is difficult for us to estimate how many bodies may be affected and wish to pass orders of this sort, or the impact on parliamentary time in dealing with them.
As drafted, the amendments would allow for secondary legislation to make amendments to primary legislation using the negative resolution procedure—the lower level of parliamentary scrutiny—and we do not think that this is appropriate. If the amendments were redrafted so that the orders were subject to the affirmative procedure, the potential would remain for significant impact on parliamentary business and on getting vital government business done.
More fundamentally, we cannot accept that it is right or prudent for the Bill to contain provision to allow for non-governmental bodies to be able to make orders that would amend primary legislation, as is the intention of the amendments. That must rightly be the role of government Ministers, except in exceptional circumstances, as with the Local Government Boundary Commission for England.
The commission is a parliamentary body accountable to the Speaker’s Committee. Such powers are appropriate in the case of the commission, given its status and vital independent role in ensuring fairness and confidence in the local government electoral system. Even if the scope of the amendment were narrowed so that any order could be made only by the Secretary of State, I am afraid that we could not accept it. While I understand that the purpose is to have a provision of general application, the concept used of the statutory body seems to be unclear. For example, does the definition of a statutory body include a local authority? On the face of it, this seems to be the case. If this is so, introducing this new provision would potentially create—
If the noble Lord can wait one minute, I shall say what the Government are prepared to do.
For all these reasons, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment—but the Government have been talking to senior officials of the trust to understand the issues that they face as a result of the electoral changes order. We have discussed various options that they can pursue, which include the Charity Commission making a scheme under Section 73 of the Charities Act 2011 and for the trust itself to pursue a private Bill to make the amendments that it thinks necessary. We are also exploring whether the Secretary of State has the vires to make an order in consequence of an electoral changes order, to amend or modify primary legislation, such as the Malvern Hills Act 1924. So we are working with the group. In realisation of that, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.