Clause 7

Local Authorities (Overview and Scrutiny) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 3rd March 2010.

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Consequential amendments

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

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

Once again, I would not normally wish to speak on a clause about consequential amendments. However, for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, who raised the issue of joint scrutiny of health services, I want to highlight the provisions in the clause that amend section 123 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 to enable the Secretary of State to make provision in regulations for the appointment of joint overview and scrutiny committees of two or more local authorities that may discharge their powers in that respect. I hope that that gives my hon. Friend the assurance for which he was particularly keen.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

That is helpful. However, my right hon. Friend may be able to help me on what might be a slightly arcane point. I was told by councils in my local authority last week that if they formed a consortium of north London authorities to scrutinise the London strategic health authority’s plans for the north central area, they would lose their ability to scrutinise the same  plans at an entirely local level. It became a type of either/or situation, which seems a fairly ridiculous way of proceeding, because there are clearly regional implications, as well as very local implications, for any plans made by any health authority. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend can help me with that point, or whether he just wants to think about it.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

I certainly want to think about it, because that point takes us right back to the key issue throughout our debate, which is the importance of achieving a balance between ensuring that there are not gaps in the scrutiny process and avoiding the risks of duplication and creating unreasonable burdens. That is the balance that must be achieved. I believe that what the clause does is correct, because it closes a gap; there was not the scope for the joint committees before. I would have thought that the right way forward on the issue—I am just thinking aloud at this point—

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Very dangerous. [Laughter.]

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

It is always a dangerous thing to do, but those who know me know that I have form in that particular area.

My thought is that the sensible thing would be to have a joint overview and, in the course of that joint overview process, issues that are uniquely of concern to individual areas should be highlighted as part of the joint review, rather than there being a separate and duplicated scrutiny process.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I accept that, and it sounds sensible. In some cases, the views of two local authorities might diverge completely, for example on the location of a specialist health facility—the sort of issue that is familiar to all of us. We would not want a consortium of, say, five local authorities agreeing a majority consensus—if such a thing is possible—while a minority consensus is ignored. Those in the minority cannot ultimately make their point to the Secretary of State on behalf of the people whom they represent. That could become a real problem in some areas.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

My response to my hon. Friend on the classic issue of the entitlements and rights of minorities in situations where they might be overridden by the majority view, but where they have a real local concern, is that their recourse is probably to options other than scrutiny. Ultimately, we are being taken into the political arena, and the ability of a public authority to highlight its concerns politically and to raise them with the electorate is probably a more powerful weapon.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

May I take the opportunity to raise an issue on which I would appreciate my right hon. Friend’s comments? In my area, Newham is responsible for London City airport. It may agree, under its process, a change to flight times or arrangements. As part of that planning process, Newham consults around the airport, but not in neighbouring areas such as mine, which the planes go over. That causes some aggravation. Would it be appropriate for the local authority, under local pressure, to say, “We want to look at Newham’s consultation process, because it didn’t apply to our area, even though it affected our area”? Would it be legitimate for a  scrutiny committee in Waltham Forest or Redbridge, for example, to do that, even though the decision was made in Newham?

J

Harry Cohen is right to highlight the fact that decisions on airport matters often impact more on the residents of neighbouring authorities than they do of the authority making the decisions. An example is Crawley that makes decisions about Gatwick whereas Horley suffers more of the noise and pollution.

Wider interests are also overlooked such as climate change and dwindling oil reserves.

Action is needed to bring neighbouring and wider interests into account.

Submitted by John Byng

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

I will be cautious in response, not least because, as my hon. Friend knows, I have a similar interest, in that I live in and represent a constituency that lies under the flight paths to Heathrow and to London City airport. I am well aware of the issues in areas that are afflicted by aircraft noise but that are not themselves directly part of the consultation process.

My gut instinct—it is always dangerous to voice it, and I probably should not do so, but I will—is that the establishment of a joint scrutiny body might be the right way to overcome those fears and concerns. However, that is very much off the top of my head, rather than an official response.

On health, my hon. Friend the Minister might wish to have some words with her colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure clarity about how the scrutiny functions are properly discharged.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.