Clause 2

Local Authorities (Overview and Scrutiny) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 3rd March 2010.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich 10:15 am, 3rd March 2010

I shall be brief. Clause 2 sets out the circumstances in which the scrutiny powers in part 1 of the Bill do not apply. There are some necessary exclusions because there is existing legislative provision, for example in the Police and Justice Act 2006, the National Health Service 2006 and the Flood and Water Management Bill, which is currently before the House.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

My right hon. Friend mentioned NHS scrutiny, and I recognise that there are existing scrutiny powers. May I draw to his attention a problem that he must experience in London, just as I do? A consortium policy has developed in all the regions of London in which the local authorities decide on a major reorganisation covering, in most cases, five or six London boroughs. The London boroughs have scrutiny powers within each borough but not beyond it, which means that a significant part of health planning is outwith any acceptable or effective public scrutiny. I have experienced this in the London north central area, which covers the five local boroughs, but I am sure that my colleagues in other parts of London have the same problem. I realise that this Bill is limited, but can he offer me any hope on this matter?

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

When we reach clause 7, my hon. Friend will see the specific provisions relating to the scope for joint scrutiny. It is clearly appropriate for authorities to work together across a wider area where such circumstances apply. One of the important principles that has been maintained is coterminosity between the primary care trust and local authorities, which means that London has avoided some of the problems that have occurred elsewhere. However, I take my hon. Friend’s point. It is certainly an issue that should be considered in relation to joint scrutiny and the use of the powers in the Bill to cover a wider range of bodies than just those directly delivering specific services, because there is a wider impact.

As I have been reminded, health scrutiny is subject to separate legislation. That remains, but there is provision later in this Bill, so that where there is any doubt about the variable impact of different measures, the provisions in the Bill will be overriding. We are trying, in an interesting way, to extend scrutiny power, which has developed in a rather piecemeal way over recent years. This is helping to create a more coherent framework than the somewhat piecemeal approach that has followed legislation relating to specific services areas.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

This is a very interesting point. My first thought when the right hon. Gentleman began to outline the powers in the Bill was that there would be duplication of scrutiny. Would he be prepared to accept an amendment to the Bill to explore whether the overview and scrutiny committees would thereby repeal all the other scrutiny legislation that affects bodies such as health authorities, because they will just be swamped by people scrutinising them and not able to focus on patient provision?

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

I hope that I can reassure the hon. Lady by saying that there is absolutely no intention of creating additional layers of scrutiny that would have the effect she fears. The Bill will ensure that there is scope for scrutiny in those areas where it is not currently possible for overview and scrutiny committees to require information or attendance. The powers are important, as her hon. Friend the Member for Putney recognised on Second Reading.

There is certainly no wish to duplicate measures. The way in which the Bill is drafted builds on existing legislation, rather than substituting for it. It would be difficult to accept an amendment that gets rid of all other powers, because that would leave a series of new holes. I am more than happy to talk to the hon. Lady between now and Report to see if we need an amendment to clarify the objective that I am absolutely in favour of, which is seamless scope for scrutiny without imposing additional and unnecessary burdens. With those comments, I hope that members of the Committee will accept the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.