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Although it is late and there is still a great deal of business to be discussed, I should be interested to hear the Minister's view of whether someone who is prepared to hand his allowances to his employer could be permitted additional time off. In other words, if someone gave up the notion of remuneration and instead passes it to his employer, would he be allowed additional time off to carry out his duties? As the Widdicombe report suggested--and, indeed, as was suggested as long ago as 1964 in the first Maude

recommendations--certain senior councillors inevitably must have time off to carry out their functions. Officials in councils are also clear about that need because without political guidance and the ability to liaise with politicians they would be in some difficulty. Of course, it would be nice from one political point of view if active politicians were kept out of the arena of spending time on policy formulation and monitoring, but wearing another hat we would all accept that that would not be right.

It is worth reminding the House that the secretary and solicitor of the county of Kent, one of the largest authorities in Britain, said on leaving that authority that he felt that the politicisation of local government came from attitudes imposed by the centre, not from the activities of elected members seeking to do their duties more effectively.

Mr. McAllion : Will the Minister take into consideration the different circumstances in Scotland? I know that he believes that there is a whole series of gross abuses, with people being paid by one authority to act as full-time councillors in another. I ask him to consider, for example, the Highland region, which covers an area of just under 10,000 square miles. It is the largest region in Scotland with about 40 per cent. of Scotland's land mass. Someone travelling from Durness, in the north-west of Sutherland, to Inverness, which is the centre of the Highland region, would have a four-hour journey each way. The Bill allows only four hours paid time off per week, so that person could not even attend one meeting at Inverness. The journey from Ardnamurchan peninsula in the Lochaber district to Inverness, which involves the use of ferries, takes about four and a half hours each way, so someone could not even get to the council meeting at Inverness in the time allowed. The journey from Skye to Inverness, which also involves a ferry, takes about three and a half hours each way.

People living in the rural areas of Scotland will be severely affected by the imposition of a maximum of 208 hours paid leave. I hope that the Minister will take that into account and try to be fair to councillors living in remote parts of Scotland. Unless he accepts the amendments he will be discriminating against them. I note that the Scottish Office Minister is on the Front Bench and I hope that he will support the amendments, which have been proposed by COSLA.

Mr. Gummer : The issue to decide is what is a reasonable amount of time off to allow an employee in local government to take part in council activities elsewhere. We have accepted the figure proposed by the Widdicombe committee. The 208 hours referred to in clause 10 equates with the 26-day limit that it proposed. It is about half a day a week. Of course, I know that there is a division in the House, not necessarily between the two sides, but between those of us who believe that local council activity is a part-time, unpaid activity for which certain allowances

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and restricted expenses should be paid, and those who want it to become something quite different. We heard the frank words of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) telling us what he sees local government work to be.

That is a distinction between us and would lead me to take a different view when it comes to what appears a reasonable amount of time off to work on the local council to which one is elected. I believe that this is about the right level. It is difficult for us to fix it, because, obviously, we all have different ways of looking at it and different approaches. However, we can be guided by the committee that was set up to look into the matter and the committee made that recommendation. On that committee was a very distinguished Scottish representative of local government, a man of very considerable worth. That is the figure upon which the committee decided. I believe that that is a reasonable one on which to agree. I know that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) would agree that it is one of those issues that we will differ on because we start from a different view of what local authorities should do. I have a view of the great importance of local authorities, but I see their elected members as playing a rather different role from the hands-on role that the hon. Gentleman believes they should have. We have different views of the role and, perhaps because of that, we have different views on the nature of the remuneration and the like. Therefore, it is not surprising that we disagree about how many days off a year it is reasonable for a public authority to give specifically for that purpose.

I believe that we are best to keep to the individual figure of the Widdicombe committee rather than any figure that we might dream up for ourselves. I know that some people feel that this is a lot to be given in the circumstances of someone who is paid for out of the public purse, but I believe that more or less a reasonable line has been presented by the committee. I suggest to the House that it would be best to keep with this rather than any alternative.

The committee took into account--and the very nature of its composition would make it necessary for it to take into account--all the varied differences throughout the United Kingdom. I recognise that in some parts of the United Kingdom the distances travelled and the time taken are considerable. It is difficult in those circumstances to make a special arrangement, because it is also true in some individual parts of England and Wales as well as in Scotland. It is obviously much more difficult in my constituency for district councillors to travel than it would be if they sat, for example, on some authority in London. With 54 miles of coastline, people obviously have to travel great distances. However, I think, in general, that this is not an unreasonable figure, and we are here supporting the independent recommendation of Widdicombe.

Mr. Blunkett : Clearly, I shall not persuade the Minister tonight. I hope that in the discussions on remuneration he will be willing to be more flexible and reasonable, because otherwise we will end up with a local government service that rests entirely on the rich and the retired, which would not be satisfactory for anyone.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made : No. 222, in page 15, line 29, leave out subsection (3).-- [Mr Gummer.]

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Clause 11

Confidentiality of staff records

Mr. Blunkett : I beg to move amendment No. 155, in page 15, line 43, leave out Subject to subsection (3) below'.

Mr. Speaker : With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 156, in page 16, line 4, leave out subsection (3) and insert-- (3) The following information shall be given with respect to the employees of the relevant body :--

(a) where a relevant body employs staff at a salary of £30,000 or more, that body shall be required to disclose the number of staff paid within each salary band as calculated in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 35(1) of Schedule 6 of the Companies Act 1985.

(b) the relevant body shall also be required to give information regarding the average number of persons employed by it in the financial year and the average number of persons employed within specified categories as determined by the Head of the Paid Service, in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 56 of Schedule 4 of the Companies Act 1985.'.

Mr. Blunkett : In Committee we were presented with an amendment that was supposed just to tidy up the situation in terms of securing rights for people's privacy. When we examined it, it turned out to be a permissive power for individuals to find out the salary levels of those whom they may suspect of undertaking political activity on salaries above £13,500. We were very concerned about that. We suggested that, while the pay of those categories of employees should always be available to public scrutiny, it was wrong that individual members of a local authority staff should be subjected to his salary level being available to someone who wished to investigate him. The Companies Bill now before the House offers us a different situation because the Government are determined that those employees earning more than £30,000 should be excluded from the provisions of that measure. Previously that information had to be available so that the public could see the gross number of people who were earning substantial salaries. Those salaries had to be declared. My colleagues who are considering that Bill are arguing not about the individuals, but that the existing powers should be kept.

It being Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.


That, at this day's sitting, the Local Government and Housing Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]

As amended (in the Standing Committee), again considered.

Mr. Blunkett : Just for one awful second I thought that something had happened, but then I realised that we were not to be visited. On 6 June, in the Committee considering the Companies Bill, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs argued that it was wrong for people to be as intrusive as to publish the numbers of those earning more than £30,000. The Minister for Local Government should consider the contradiction that now exists in terms of what is permissible and enforceable for local authorities for public employees, as opposed to those employed in the private sector.

We are not asking for an exact mirror image, but we are asking that the principles should be the same. Although

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the categories and numbers of employees should be available, the individuals should be protected from the danger of snoopers who, with the most well-meaning intentions, investigate the salaries of their neighbours or those who have irritated them in their locality. We do not believe that when the Government moved the original amendment it was their intention to create such a situation and we would like them to reconsider this matter.

Mr. Gummer : I have a good deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said. It was our attempts to restrict a little the material details that are brought forward that led to this discussion in the first place.

The fact that such salary information has been available in the past has meant that the public has been able to see that the activities of the local councils have been proper. As a result of such information being available for study, local councils have uncovered obviously unsuitable arrangements as the figures did not add up when seen by the public.

The problem is that, under clause 11, information about payments gross of any deductions made by an authority to each of its employees remains open to inspection. We have moved in the hon. Gentleman's direction as we did not believe it was right that an individual employee's deductions of one sort or another, which were taken away before the payment was made, should be seen by the public. There is no reason why that should be so.

We believe that it is necessary to keep the gross payments available for inspection. The clause fulfils an undertaking that we gave in April 1988, after consulting the local authority associations and other interested parties, to restore the legal position on public inspection rights to that which everyone had thought it was before a High Court ruling in April 1986. We tried to do what everyone had thought was true until then and which had all-party support. Everyone had accepted that such information was a necessary part of the protection of the public.

I do not think that there is an analogy with companies' accounts because provisions in the Companies Act 1988 relate to information to be shown in their published annual accounts, which authorities already show in a similar form in their published annual accounts. Clause 11 is about what should be made available in the far more detailed accounting records for the purposes of public inspection, for which in companies' audit regimes there is simply no provision. Clearly, no sensible analogy can be drawn in this way.

We believe that clause 11 offers a reasonable balance between safeguarding personal privacy and providing the level of information necessary for proper accountability. However, I have real sympathy with the way in which the hon. Gentleman has presented his points. At the moment I am not convinced that we can change this arrangement without significant difficulty as regards protecting the public purse in local government spending. There are some examples, which it would perhaps be better not to go through in detail, of its having been of use in detecting fraud.

I will give an undertaking to look again to see whether there is any way in which we can achieve that public accountability without having to ask for so much information on individuals to be on public show. I have

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great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman on this point. I do not like the circumstances which have made this necessary. At the moment I do not think that we can change it but if I can find a way I shall be happy to do so.

Mr. Blunkett : With that helpful and constructive assurance and referring the Minister to what his colleague said in the Committee on the Companies Bill on 6 June, in column 177, so that there can be discussions behind the scenes, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12

Voting rights of members of certain committees : England and Wales

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : I beg to move amendment No. 19, in page 17, line 15, at end insert--

(2A) Nothing in subsection (1) above shall require a person to be treated as a non-voting member of a sub-committee of a relevant authority if--

(a) the constitution of the sub-committee is governed by an agreement made before the passing of this Act between that authority and one or more other relevant authorities ; and

(b) the person concerned is a member of one of those other relevant authorities.'.

I tabled the amendment because I have been most anxious about the potential effect of clause 12. I believe that taking away voting rights in certain circumstances could amount to a gross unfairness that should be put right. I believe that agreements drawn up by relevant authorities setting up committees or sub-committees involving elected members of other relevant authorities being co-opted on to committees should be upheld under the terms of this Bill.

These agreements--and there are quite a lot of them, I believe--normally exist so that the present authority has available to it local knowledge of a specialised nature or because they refer to property administration following the transfer in the past of real estate between authorities for the convenience of everybody. I believe that the Bill should not encourage or permit such agreements, made in the past in all honour, to be broken and that this House should not, through this Bill, be a party to such possibilities. I will give the House an example of what I mean. In 1938 a private owner of the bed of Lake Windermere, in my constituency--I think I am right in saying that that private owner was the uncle of our old friend Shirley Williams, who was a Member of the House for a long time--gave the bed of the lake to "the people of Windermere". After this generous gift it was administered by the new owners through the then Windermere urban district council. Then, of course, we came to local government reorganisation in the early 1970s, Windermere urban district council went out of being and the bed of the lake was given to the new authority, South Lakeland district council. That was a satisfactory arrangement.

The gift was conditional upon the lake bed being administered by a sub- committee of South Lakeland district council--the authority's leisure and tourism committee--set up with 24 members, 16 from South Lakeland district council, five from Windermere parish council and three from the Lakes parish council, with the chairman coming from the 16 district council delegates.

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At that point of local government reorganisation, a formal, legalised and witnessed agreement was entered into by the three relevant authorities on 21 April 1975. Since then, all has worked satisfactorily. The agreement approved the transfer of ownership of the bed of Lake Windermere and there was a detailed constitution for the administering sub-committee. All the members of the committee have voting powers.

The trouble is that clause 12 could, in this case, enable the senior authority, South Lakeland district council, to remove the voting rights from those co-opted members of the parish council. Do not forget that we are talking about a gift to the people of Windermere, not to the much wider South Lakeland district council. There are many similar agreements and it would be wrong for such voting rights to be removed by the Bill.

I was most concerned about the situation until today. This morning I received a letter from South Lakeland district council enclosing a copy which was sent to my noble Friend the Minister for Housing, Environment and Countryside, in which Mr. Parkinson, the deputy clerk of the council, informed the Department of the Environment that at a recent meeting the council resolved to make application for exemption under clause 12(4)(g) with regard to the sub-committee.

That means that the council has decided, at a late stage--I do not know whether that had anything to do with my amendment--to seek to allow the co- opted members from the parish council to maintain their voting rights, which is a statesmanlike and welcome move and I congratulate and applaud the council on that.

The problem that caused me to table the amendment has now been resolved, but there are wider problems. That is why I suggest in the amendment that in such circumstances a sub-committee, such as the one that I have described governed by an agreement made before the passing of the Act, should not involve the taking away of voting powers. I believe that that is fair.

I am bound to admit to the House that my main motivation has been settled due to the statesmanlike behaviour and attitude of my council at a late stage. But there could well be a number of similar agreements throughout Britain where, unreasonably and in violation of previous agreements which have been solemnly undertaken, voting rights could be removed which would be a gross unfairness. I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State replies he will be able to tell us that my amendment is acceptable to the Government.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Nicholas Ridley) : Amendment No. 19 would enable councillors of one authority to continue to be co-opted as voting members of a sub-committee of another authority if that sub-committee was established under an agreement made before the passing of the Act.

The practice of one authority being represented on a committee or sub- committee of another is not a new one. One example of such an arrangement that is enshrined in statute is the national parks committees, for which we provided a specific exemption in the Bill. Where local authorities make such arrangements on a non-statutory basis, as in the case cited by my right hon. Friend, it is usually by establishing a joint committee. Elected

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members from the constituent authorities of such committees would not be affected by the voting restrictions in the Bill.

10.15 pm

Where current arrangements provide for the co-option of members of one authority to a committee or sub-committee of another, normally it should not be difficult for the authorities concerned to alter those arrangements to provide for the relevant functions to be undertaken by a joint committee. Where for some special reason that course does not prove possible I will be prepared to consider granting a special exemption by way of regulations under clause 12(4)(h).

I do not think that there are a large number of cases similar to the special one my right hon. Friend cites, where the bed of Lake Windermere was granted to the citizens by a kind benefactor. As I said in my letter to my right hon. Friend, it is still open to South Lakeland district council to form a joint committee with the two parish councils. However, I accept that there may be special circumstances making that difficult, because of the unusual nature of the agreement under which the existing sub-committee was established and if no other acceptable solution can be found we shall be prepared to provide that special exemption in the regulations under clause 12(4)(g). It is under that provision that I heard tonight for the first time that the council proposes to make an arrangement to let itself through the net, as it were--and I confirm that I shall be happy to sanction that in the regulations when they are drafted, which effectively meets my right hon. Friend's point.

Clause 12 is drafted wide enough to meet any similar, rather unusual situations of the kind that my right hon. Friend described. I shall be very surprised if any genuine committees of that kind could not use one of the ways through to preserve its voting rights, which are in no way designed to disturb a situation such as that mentioned by my right hon. Friend. In the light of that solution to my right hon. Friend's particular problem and of my general assurance that the Bill is wide enough to deal with unspecified but similar cases, I hope that my right hon. Friend will withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Jopling : I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for that full explanation of the Government's attitude. My only concern is that other authorities may not take the statesmanlike attitude adopted by the South Lakeland district council and will say, "This seems a good opportunity to disfranchise those people to whom we previously, under a solemn agreement, gave voting rights." I hope that such cases do not arise. I know of no others, and as that is so it would be churlish of me to persist with my amendment. As my particular problem is solved, and as my right hon. Friend has added to the letter I received by saying that he is prepared to allow South Lakeland district council to do what it has asked, which is very welcome news, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 13

Voting rights of members of certain committees : Scotland

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye) : I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 20, line 5, at endinsert--

(aa) a committee appointed under section 57(1) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 at least two-thirds of the members of which are members of the appointing authority and the other members of which are members of another relevant authority ;'.

Mr. Speaker : With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 21, in page 20, line 14, at end insert--

(dd) a committee appointed under section 57(1) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 by the Highland Regional Council to discharge functions of a general planning authority, at least two-thirds of the members of which are members of the Highland Regional Council and the other members of which are members of a district council within Highland Region ;'.

Mr. Kennedy : The amendments propose the insertion of two new subsections in clause 13.

The background to this specific aspect of the legislation is that the Government's proposals are being applied to a situation which is unique to the Highland region. Clause 13 will, with some exceptions, deny a vote to members of sub-committees, other than the elected members of the parent council involved.

I see that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is present. I shall take a moment to put on record the anxiety which this has provoked within the Highlands of Scotland in local government circles, both at regional and, particu-larly, district level. If the proposal remains unamended when the legislation passes on to the statute book, it will strike directly at the continued operation of a divisional planning committee system within the Highland region.

Following local government reorganisation after the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, the district councils in the Highland region, Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders, were denied the local planning functions of that Act. The district councils involved have always found that unsatisfactory and, in an ideal world, would like those functions to be devolved to them on a wholescale basis. However, we are not dealing with that this evening.

The Highland region district councils are, in effect, sub-committees of the regional council's planning committee and are comprised of regional and district councillors, all of whom are entitled to vote on the various planning matters which come before the divisional committees. Not all the district councils are satisfied with that status quo. However, within the geography of the Highland region that is better than the obvious alternative, which would be for all planning matters, from the most insignificant to the major, to be handled at regional level. Therefore, in many cases, regional councillors would have to make decisions about comparatively small, local planning matters from which they may be extremely far removed.

As we heard in an earlier debate on a different subject, the land mass of the Highland regional council is colossal and it would not make local planning sense for regional councillors alone to adjudicate on extremely local planning issues. It would not be sensible to expect regional councillors, either in isolation or with a number of

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colleagues from perhaps south-west Lochaber, to know whether to grant permission to erect a bed-and-breakfast sign in north-east Caithness. That was why there was a hybrid divisional planning function, which has managed to marry together the two remits involved. One of those is that the regional tier has the ultimate planning authority and legitimacy, but the district tier is wholly involved and therefore councillors on district councils are able to exert influence and have a direct vote on issues in their own locality.

What will the position be as a result of clause 13? The local authorities in the Highlands would wish for a complete exemption of their divisional planning committee system from the operations of clause 13. As the Scottish Office Minister will be aware, there have been discussions between the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Highland region, Inverness district, representing the various districts in the Highlands, and his own Department.

I understand that the matter was considered too complex to be dealt with by amendment at this stage. In saying that, I may be anticipating part of the Minister's response to my remarks. I gather, however, that Scottish Office Ministers are not themselves opposed to such an arrangement, at least in principle. There may be more serious resistance from within the Department of the Environment, but I hope that both the present Secretary of State for Scotland and his immediate predecessor--and I see that a former Secretary of State is present--will be able to reassure the Department of the Environment that an exemption of this type within the specific geographical context--the contours perhaps--of Highland regional councils would not strike at any serious principle underlying the legislation. I understand that Scottish Office officials have suggested that the problem for district councils might be overcome through the use of powers under section 56(1) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. The districts, however, do not accept that that would be a reasonable course, and have therefore come up with what they consider appropriate alternatives, the spirit of which-- along with some of the substance--is contained in these amendments.

If district councillors are disfranchised in their planning function in the area covered by Highland region, serious difficulties will be created. That would be a retrograde and impractical step, causing problems in the administration of the bulk of planning detail within the various district councils which together make up Highland region. To deny district council representatives a vote in that way would be to deny the areas that they represent and the communities from which they come a sense of belonging and of being slotted into what is frequently, on a day-to-day basis, one of the most lively, controversial and--in terms of public interest--engaging aspects of the local government function : the debate that arises as a result of planning applications and opposition to them.

On a number of occasions--in particular following the publication of the Stoddart report--Inverness and Ross and Cromarty districts sought a review of the allocation of planning powers within Highland region. At that time the present Secretary of State for Scotland, then Minister of State, felt unable to support their request. Nevertheless, I hope that, if he is unable to achieve that kind of recasting, the Minister will concede that to pass the clause unamended would be a backward step. Far from being a

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further enhancement of district input to the divisional planning function, it would retreat significantly and leave us all with poorer planning procedures and control and with a much poorer democratic say.

I hope that, if he cannot accept the substance of the amendments, the Minister will tell us that the Government will act in accordance with their spirit, perhaps in another place.

10.30 pm

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) has described expertly the present position. I do not believe that there is any difference of principle or of purpose between us. The system of regional planning committees, established by the Highland regional council, is very sensible and it has worked extremely well. We see no reason why it should be disrupted. The Stoddart committee, as the hon. Gentleman said, came to the same conclusion, and the Government supported that conclusion.

The amendments are not needed to achieve that aim. Paragraph (e) of subsection (5) of clause 13 provides, in effect, for the exemption of a committee which is established exclusively for the discharge of such functions of a relevant authority as may be prescribed by regulations. The whole purpose of the provision is to make it possible for particular local committees to be exempted from the effect of clause 13(1). I am confident that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will be able to make the requisite regulations. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. and learned Friend has every intention of doing precisely that. To make quite sure, I give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking that I shall look carefully at the drafting that will be required. I anticipate no difficulty in that connection, but if any technical problem should emerge I am sure that the correct solution will be to amend the regulation-making power so as to remove it. If such an amendment should prove to be necessary, we shall table it at a later stage. With that assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will concede that the amendments would serve no purpose that we do not already intend to achieve.

Mr. Kennedy : It is not often, particularly in Scottish politics, that an Opposition Member can wholeheartedly thank a Scottish Office Minister for a speech. However, I do so on this occasion. I found the Minister's speech constructive and reasonable. It offers the type of commitments with a view to the future stages of the Bill that we seek.

On behalf of the local authorities and my parliamentary colleagues who have brought the matter to the attention of the Minister and his Department's officials, may I take this opportunity to thank him for his extremely welcome speech and for the positive way in which the Government have responded to our request. [Interruption.] I hear some hon. Members saying, "Check it tomorrow." With that final proviso, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Schedule 1

Political Balance on Local Authority Committees etc.

Amendments made : No. 237, in page 134, line 39, leave out from is' to end of line 41 and insert --

(a) a joint board within the meaning of section 235(1) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 ;

(b) a board or committee appointed by one or more relevant authorities in exercise of a power conferred by a local enactment, being a board or committee seats on which are required to be filled by the appointment of members of the authority or of those authorities ;

(c) a joint committee appointed by two or more relevant authorities under section 57(1)(b) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.'.

No. 238, in page 135, line 40, leave out regional, islands or district council' and insert local authority'.-- [Lord James Douglas- Hamilton.]

Clause 16

Exceptions to and extensions of political balance requirements

Mr. Matthew Taylor : I beg to move amendment No. 204, in page 23, line 35, at end insert--

( ) No party or group representing 10 or more of a nominating body shall be totally excluded from the committee or sub-committee to which nominations are being made.'.

We strongly support the principle that underlies proportionality on committees. That point is dealt with in this clause. To that end we have tabled amendment No. 204. Despite Ministers having made their intentions clear, the Bill does not specifically provide for the protection of minorities. There are some local government politicians who are determined to frustrate the Government by ignoring the spirit of the clause.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the example that I shall use to illustrate my point. It concerns Cambridge city council and Cambridgeshire county council, though it is by no means the only example. In Cambridge there is a joint traffic management sub-committee, consisting of councillors from both councils. This year an arrangement has been reached between the majority city Labour group and the majority county Conservative group to exclude Democrats and to share the 10 seats equally between themselves, despite the fact that we hold seven of the 42 city seats and 10 of the 77 county seats.

A motion was put to the city council supporting the principles that are included in this clause, but Labour and Conservative members united to defeat it. Socialist members claimed that the Bill would not apply to that committee and therefore we seek to amend the Bill. I hope that the Minister will accept that the amendment would strengthen the Bill because clearly there are those who intend that these provisions should be held in contempt. It is not always the Democrats who are in danger of being squeezed in that way. Other parties in other local authorities are in similar circumstances. It is not a partisan point. Presumably the Minister accepts that, otherwise he would not have produced the provisions in this part of the Bill. Amendment No. 204 seeks to ensure only that the Government's intentions are adhered to. In that spirit, I hope that the Minister will accept the intention of the amendment.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. David Trippier) : I am anxious to respond in the same spirit which has been evinced by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor). I am very happy to look at the specific example which he has given the House.

My purpose is to convince the hon. Gentleman that his amendment is unnecessary. The Bill is being considered on Report and the legislation has not been enacted, so it will be interesting to discover whether the example which he cites will be caught by the legislation.

On the amendment which he tabled, simple arithmetic shows that any committee consisting of more than 10 members would be expected to include at least one representative of a party which comprises 10 per cent. or more of council members. Such an individual would be excluded from smaller committees of fewer than 10 members--and the amendment refers to sub- committees.

Mr. Matthew Taylor : The Minister is wrong about that. If there were fewer than 10 committee members, there would still have to be at least one representative of a group that represented 10 per cent. of the council. That group would then be disproportionately represented. Under the amendment at least it would be represented.

Mr. Trippier : I understand the purpose of the hon. Gentleman's amendment. He kindly paid tribute to the fact that the Bill was seeking fairer proportional representation--if I dare use that expression--in terms of membership of committees.

Mr. Tony Banks : I have never fully understood the concern about representation of minority parties on committees such as local authority policy committees. Why are the Opposition not invited to have representation in Cabinet, for example? Why is it that Opposition parties are not represented in Cabinet? Why is it that we have a system in Westminster that totally excludes any Opposition Members on the policy- framing body of Government--the Cabinet--yet we impose it in local government? I do not understand that.

Mr. Trippier : I caution the hon. Gentleman not to press his point too far. If he is suggesting that he or right hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench would like to be members of the Cabinet or its Committee, given that there is collective responsibility among Ministers, he would have to be prepared to share responsibility for decisions which the Government take. I wonder whether that would be stretching credulity to breaking point. If that is official Labour party policy, let us hear about it, preferably from the Leader of the Opposition. I doubt whether we shall hear much more about it.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : When I was Conservative leader on a London borough, one of the things which most annoyed me was the fact that we, as the major opposition party, were excluded from the policy committee of the council which actually fixed the rate. The difference between a local authority committee and the Cabinet is that a local authority committee is an executive

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