House of Commons - Explanatory Note
Local Government And Public Involvement In Health Bill - continued          House of Commons

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Clause 123 - Information about performance standards of local authorities etc

317.     Clause 123 of this Bill repeals sections 44 - 47 of the Audit Commission Act 1998. Those sections gave the Audit Commission power to require local authorities to publish information about their performance.

Clause 124 - Reports on English local authorities

318.     This clause inserts a new section 47A in the Audit Commission Act 1998. It enables the Audit Commission to produce three types of reports on English local authorities: (a) reports on the risk that authorities may fail to perform their functions; (b) reports on the rate at which authorities' performance is improving; (c) reports on authorities' use of resources.

319.     This clause includes a power to report on all English local authorities, individual authorities or groupings of authorities. By virtue of subsection (3) the report can apply to a specific function or functions. English local authorities are defined in subsection (5). This clause does not confer any new information-gathering powers on the Audit Commission.

Clause 125 - Reports categorising English local authorities

320.     Clause 125 amends the requirement in section 99 of the Local Government Act 2003 for the Audit Commission to produce reports on its findings on local authorities' performance in exercising their functions which categorise the authorities. This clause provides that the Audit Commission will only need to produce a report if directed by the Secretary of State.

Miscellaneous

Clause 126 - Right to make objections at audit

321.     This clause amends section 16 of the Audit Commission Act 1998 (which gives local government electors the right to attend in person before the auditor to make objections) so that all objections are to be made in writing.

Clause 127 - Agreed audit of accounts

322.     This clause amends section 29 of the Audit Commission Act 1998 (which provides that the Audit Commission can undertake the audit of any body connected with local government or the National Health Service, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State and the agreement of the body concerned) to allow the Secretary of State to give consent to a class of body e.g. where there are a large number of bodies of the same type.

Clause 128 - Publication of information by the Audit Commission

323.     This clause will allow the Audit Commission to publish any information provided the publication will not prejudice the effective performance of its functions or those of an auditor.

CHAPTER 3 - AUDIT COMMISSION AND AUDITOR GENERAL FOR WALES: DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION

Clause 129 - Disclosure of information obtained by the Audit Commission or an auditor

324.     This clause amends the restrictions on the disclosure of information obtained by an auditor or the Audit Commission in the exercise of functions under the Audit Commission Act 1998 or Part 1 of the Local Government Act 1999.

325.     The amended provision enables-

    a)      a public authority (within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act 2000) to disclose information except where the disclosure would prejudice the effective performance of that authority's functions;

    b)      an auditor to disclose information except where the disclosure would prejudice the effective performance of his functions;

    c)      any other person to disclose information with the consent of the Audit Commission or an auditor, such consent to be given unless the disclosure would prejudice the effective performance of the functions of an auditor or the Audit Commission.

Clause 130 - Disclosure of information obtained by the Auditor General for Wales or an auditor

326.     This clause makes provision for the Auditor General for Wales and an auditor under the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004 equivalent to provision made by clause 129 for the Audit Commission and an auditor under the Audit Commission Act 1998.

PART 9 - ETHICAL STANDARDS

Introduction

327.     These clauses give effect to the Government's proposal for the reform of the regime relating to standards of conduct for local government. Proposals for amendments to the regime were included in the Government's discussion paper Standards of Conduct in English Local Government: The Future, issued in December 2005. Decisions on action to be taken were then announced in the Local Government White Paper.

328.     The proposals are aimed at devolving most decision-making on the conduct regime for local authority members to local authorities, with a revised, regulatory role provided for the Standards Board. The measures provide for local standards committees to make initial assessments of misconduct allegations and for review arrangements for those assessments which lead to no action being taken. The provisions also give powers for the Standards Board to suspend a standards committee's role in making initial assessments of allegations, and for the Board to issue guidance to standards committees and ethical standards officers.

329.     In addition, provision is made for decisions in respect of local authority posts subject to political restrictions to be undertaken by standards committees rather than, as now, by the Independent Adjudicator, and to enable the Secretary of State to issue an order to allow the maximum pay of political assistants to be linked to a point on a relevant pay scale specified by the order.

CHAPTER 1 - CONDUCT OF LOCAL AUTHORITY MEMBERS

Conduct of Local Authority Members: assessment of allegations

Clause 131 - Conduct that may be covered by code

330.     This clause makes amendments to sections 49, 50, 51 and 52 of the Local Government Act 2000 to provide that the principles which govern the conduct of members and co-opted members of relevant authorities and the provisions of the code of conduct which they are required to follow, are not limited only to members' conduct in their official capacity. It is possible that this provision may engage Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. For example, a member may receive a sanction (including suspension or disqualification from being a member) for statements made or actions undertaken outside the performance of his functions as a member. This clause is considered to be capable of being exercised compatibly with the rights set out in the Convention.

Clause 132 - Assessment of allegations

331.     This clause inserts section 57A of the Local Government Act 2000 which provides for individual local standards committees of authorities to undertake the role currently exercised by the Standards Board for England of conducting the initial assessment of allegations of misconduct which relate to one of their members or co-opted members.

332.     It sets out the courses of action open to a standards committee where such an allegation is received. The options are either to refer the allegation to the authority's monitoring officer for consideration; to refer the allegation to the Standards Board; or to take no action in respect of the complaint.

333.     It also provides that a standards committee has discretion, where the subject of the allegation is no longer a member or co-opted member of the authority in question and has moved to another relevant authority, to refer the allegation to the monitoring officer of the member's current local authority.

334.     The clause requires that, if a standards committee decides to take no action over an allegation, it should write to the person who made the allegation informing them of the decision and the reasons for this.

335.     The clause also makes provision for the Standards Board to issue guidance and give directions to a standards committee with respect to the exercise of these procedures.

336.     The clause also inserts section 57B to the Local Government Act 2000, to provide, where a standards committee of an authority has made a decision that no action should be taken regarding an allegation, for the person who made the allegation to be able to ask the standards committee to review its decision. The request for review must be made within 30 days of the date of the notice of the original decision. Following receipt of such a request, the standards committee must undertake a new assessment of the allegation.

337.     The clause also inserts section 57C to the Local Government Act 2000, to enable the Standards Board to direct that a standards committee's power to undertake initial assessments of misconduct allegations should be suspended, and to direct that any allegations the standards committee receives must be referred either to the Standards Board or to a specified standards committee of another authority. The clause provides a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations concerning the circumstances in which the Standards Board can exercise this power, and also for the Standards Board to issue relevant guidance.

338.     A new section 58 sets out the courses of action open to the Standards Board when an allegation is referred to it for consideration. The Standards Board must either refer the allegation to an ethical standards officer of the Board, or decide that no action should be taken, or refer the matter back to the relevant local standards committee. Where it decides to take no action, it should write to the person making the allegation of the decision and the reasons for the decision.

Clause 133 - Information to be provided to Standards Board by relevant authority

339.     This clause requires a standards committee of an authority to furnish the Standards Board with periodic information on the allegations of misconduct it has received, any requests received to review its decisions to take no action in respect of allegations, and the exercise of any functions by the standards committee or the monitoring officer. The authority must comply with the request for information by such date as the Standards Board may specify.

Clause 134 - Chairmen of standards committees

340.     Section 53(4) of the Local Government Act 2000 is amended to provide that standards committees of authorities should be chaired by a person who is neither a member nor an officer of a relevant authority.

Clause 135 - Sub-committees of standards committees

341.     This clause provides that a standards committee may appoint a sub-committee to undertake any of its functions, including any functions concerning parishes.

Clause 136 - Joint committees of relevant authorities in England

342.     This clause inserts section 56A into the Local Government Act 2000 to empower the Secretary of State to make regulations under which two or more relevant authorities may establish a joint committee and arrange for functions otherwise exercisable by their standards committees to be exercisable by the joint committee.

Clause 137 - Standards Board for England: functions

343.     This clause amends section 57(5) of the Local Government Act 2000 and Schedule 4 of that Act to provide that the Standards Board may issue guidance to ethical standards officers with respect to the exercise of their functions, and to enable the Board to be able to take action to facilitate the functions of standards committees or monitoring officers.

Clause 138 - Ethical standards officers: investigations and findings

344.     This clause makes amendments to sections 59 and 62 of the 2000 Act, amending the description of two of the findings which an ethical standards officer can make and providing that his access to documents will not be limited, as now, to documents relating to a relevant authority. It also extends section 63 to provide that information obtained by an ethical standards officer in the course of an investigation may be disclosed where the disclosure is made to allow the monitoring officer to carry out his duties or it is made to the Commissioner for Local Administration or to the Electoral Commission for the purpose of their functions. An order making power is also provided for the Secretary of State to allow for such disclosures to be made to other people.

Clause 139 - Ethical standards officers: reports etc

345.     This clause amends sections 64 and 65 of the Local Government Act 2000 to provide that a report by an ethical standards officer on the outcome of his investigation can be passed to the relevant standards committee in order to assist it in carrying out its functions.

346.     It also provides a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations concerning the withdrawal of a reference by an ethical standards officer of matters which are the subject of either his report or interim report to the Adjudication Panel.

Clause 140 - Disclosure by monitoring officers of ethical standards officers' reports

347.     This clause inserts section 65A of the 2000 Act to provide for a monitoring officer to inform any member or officer of an authority of the outcome of an ethical standards officer's investigation into an allegation, and also to furnish them with a copy of the report or any part of it where this will help to promote high standards of conduct by members and co-opted members of the authority.

Clause 141 - Matters referred to monitoring officers

348.     This clause amends section 66 of the Local Government Act 2000, to provide for regulations to enable a monitoring officer to refer back cases referred to him by a standards committee and set out the circumstances in which such a referral back may be made. Regulations may make provision with regard to access to and disclosure of information.

Clause 142 - References to Adjudication Panel for action in respect of misconduct

349.     This clause inserts section 66A, which provides for regulations to be issued in respect of the referral by standards committees of a case to the Adjudication Panel where it considers the sanction available to it would be insufficient. The Adjudication Panel's members will then decide what sanction, if any, should be imposed against the person.

Clause 143 - Consultation with ombudsmen

350.     This clause extends to standards committees the provisions in section 67 of the Local Government Act 2000 to provide that the Local Government Ombudsman may consult the standards committee (as well as the Standards Board) about a case if he believes that the complaint he is considering relates partly to a matter which may be of concern to the committee.

Clause 144 - Interim case tribunals

351.     This clause amends section 78 of the Local Government Act 2000 to provide that, where an interim case tribunal decides that a member should be suspended, the effect of the tribunal's notice is to suspend or partially suspend the member, rather than, as currently, requiring that the authority should take action to put the notice into effect. In addition, new provision is made for an appeal to the High Court against a decision by an interim case tribunal only to be possible where the permission of the High Court has been given.

Clause 145 - Case tribunals: England

352.     This clause inserts sections 78A and 78B into the Local Government Act 2000 Act in respect of case tribunals in England. This provides a new power for the Secretary of State to make regulations concerning the sanctions which a case tribunal can impose. In addition, new provision is made for an appeal to the High Court against a decision by a case tribunal only to be possible where the permission of the High Court has been given.

Clause 146 - Case tribunals: Wales

353.     This clause amends section 79 of the Local Government Act 2000 to make provision in respect of case tribunals in Wales, including defining what is meant by the term 'Welsh case tribunal' and providing that provisions with respect to decisions made by case tribunals should apply in respect of Welsh case tribunals.

Clause 147 - Exemption from Data Protection Act 1998

354.     This clause provides that under section 31(1) of the Data Protection Act 1998 personal data processed by a monitoring officer, an ethical standards officer or the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales for the purpose of discharging any function under Part 3 of the Local Government Act 2000 are exempt from the information provisions of the Act to the extent to which the application of those provisions to the data would be likely to prejudice the proper discharge of that function.

Clause 148 - Supplementary and consequential provision

355.     This clause makes supplementary and consequential provision, including allowing for the disclosure of information obtained by the Audit Commission or an auditor for the purposes of the functions of a monitoring officer.

CHAPTER 2 - EMPLOYEES

Clause 149 - Politically restricted posts: grant and supervision of exemptions

356.     The Local Government and Housing Act 1989 provides that a person is disqualified from becoming a member of a local authority if he holds a politically restricted post. This clause amends the 1989 Act so that the granting and supervision of exemptions from the political restriction will be the responsibility of the standards committee of each local authority in England, rather than that of the Independent Adjudicator.

Clause 150 - Political assistants' pay

357.     This clause provides for the Secretary of State to make an order in relation to England which will specify the maximum pay of political assistants by reference to a point on a relevant pay scale. Welsh Ministers may make such an order in relation to Wales.

PART 10 - THE VALUATION TRIBUNAL FOR ENGLAND

Introduction

358.     Valuation Tribunals (VTs) are independent bodies established under Schedule 11 to the Local Government Finance Act 1988 (the 1988 Act), although they have existed in one form or another since 1948. In particular, they hear appeals in relation to business rating and council tax valuations and liability. There are 56 Tribunals in England, administratively served by the Valuation Tribunal Service (VTS) that was established under the Local Government Act 2003 (the 2003 Act).

359.     VTs in England are organised broadly on a county or metropolitan area basis. Members of each VT are appointed jointly by local authorities and the relevant VT President. Chairmen and VT Presidents are elected by the serving membership of the relevant VT.

360.     Part 10 of this Bill makes provision to replace the 56 VTs in England with a single Valuation Tribunal for England (VTE). It creates the new positions of VTE President and Vice-Presidents, which may be remunerated, and provides that appointments to the VTE be made by the Lord Chancellor on the advice of the Judicial Appointments Commission.

Clause 151 - Establishment of the Tribunal

361.     Clause 151 establishes the VTE (by giving effect to Schedule 12 to the Bill), abolishes the 56 VTs created under the 1988 Act and provides for the transfer of jurisdiction.

Clause 152 - Consequential and transitional provision etc

362.     Clause 152 makes consequential amendments relating to the establishment of the VTE (by means of Schedule 13 to the Bill). It also enables the Secretary of State to make regulations which supplement or give full effect to the establishment of the VTE, including (in particular) the power to make arrangements for appointing VTE members until the Lord Chancellor, on advice from the Judicial Appointments Commission, takes over the role of making those appointments.

PART 11 - PATIENT AND PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT IN HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE

Introduction

363.     Section 237 of the National Health Service Act 2006 (''the 2006 Act'') requires the Secretary of State to establish Patients' Forums for NHS trusts, Primary Care Trusts and NHS foundation trusts. The principal role of Patients' Forums is to monitor and review the provision of health services on behalf of patients.

364.     Section 243 of the 2006 Act provides for the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health ("CPPIH"). The principal role of CPPIH is to advise the Secretary of State on arrangements for public involvement in, and consultation on, matters relating to the health service. CPPIH also represents, and manages the performance of Patients' Forums.

365.     Part 11 of the Bill makes provision for the abolition of CPPIH and Patients' Forums. In their place, it imposes a duty on local authorities to make contractual arrangements for the involvement of people in the commissioning, provision and scrutiny of health services and social services. The means put in place under the contracts for involving people in this way are referred to as "local involvement networks".

366.     Section 242 of the 2006 Act provides for public involvement and consultation on the planning of the provision of health services, proposals for change in the way that those services are provided and decisions to be made affecting the operation of those services. Part 11 of the Bill amends section 242 as it applies to certain English health-service bodies. Section 242 also applies to NHS trusts all or most of whose hospitals, establishments and facilities are in Wales: the Bill does not alter the way in which section 242 applies to those trusts.

367.     Part 11 also imposes a new duty on each Primary Care Trust to report on consultation arrangements and the influence that the results of consultation have on commissioning decisions.

368.     Although the 2006 Act does not come into force until 1st March 2007, as it is a consolidation of the existing law, its provisions have the same effect as the provisions which it replaces.

Clause 153 - Health services and social services: local involvement networks

369.     Clause 153 requires a local authority (as defined in clause 159) to make contractual arrangements for the purpose of ensuring that there are means by which the activities specified in subsection (2) can be carried out.

370.     Those activities are:

  • promoting and supporting the involvement of people in the commissioning, provision and scrutiny of local care services as defined in subsection (5);

  • obtaining the views of people about their needs for, and experiences of, local care services and making these views known to people responsible for commissioning, providing, managing or scrutinising those services;

  • making reports and recommendations about how local care services could be improved, to people responsible for commissioning, providing, managing or scrutinising those services;

371.     Subsection (3) provides that the Secretary of State may by regulations add to, omit or vary the activities specified in subsection (2).

Clause 154 - Arrangements under section 153(1)

372.     Clause 154(3) requires arrangements made under clause 153(1) to be made with a person who is not a local authority.

373.     Clause 154(4) provides that a local involvement network must not be one of the bodies there specified. One result of this is that a person who contracts with a local authority under clause 153(1) will not be a local involvement network but will be responsible for ensuring that one or more local involvement networks are put in place. Clause 154(2) refers to the fact that a local involvement network could be a body (whether a body that takes on being a local involvement network in addition to its existing activities or a body set up specially to act as a local involvement network) or could be some other means of carrying on activities specified in clause 153(2).

374.     Clause 154(5) enables arrangements to include the making of payments by the local authority.

375.     Clause 154(6) provides that arrangements must include the required provision about annual reports (see clause 158).

Clause 155 - Duties of services-providers to respond to local involvement networks

376.     Clause 155 provides that the Secretary of State may, by regulations, impose a duty on a services-provider to:

  • respond to requests for information made by local involvement networks;

  • deal with reports or recommendations made by local involvement networks.

377.     Subsection (4) provides that the Secretary of State must consult such persons as he considers appropriate before making regulations under this section.

378.     In clauses 155 and 156 "services-provider" includes: certain NHS bodies; and local authorities as defined in clause 159.

 
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Prepared: 13 December 2006