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The noble Lord says that many authorities want this sort of model. I have to say that I wonder at their motives. Of everything which is in this Bill, this causes me the most concern. The temporary experiments to which reference has been made could last as long as 12 years. Yes, they are temporary in the great scheme of things, but it is still quite a long time.
I do not believe that committees which do not reflect proportionality and do not reflect the political make-up--I am repeating words which have been used within the answer--will enhance local democracy or open up local authority. Formal meetings involving members of the opposition and back benchers allow the opportunity for interaction between those members and the officers, even if the majority group has decided what it wants to do and is going to go ahead and do it. I have been a member of committees where, very properly, the proposals of the majority group have been put to the test. Quite often, of course, it helps the majority group. I am not suggesting that one should not allow them to undertake experiments or different arrangements because I know better than they do, but the fact is that if proposals are put to the test publicly by the opposition and talked through, then they are better decisions for that.
The Minister suggested that there are committees in authorities run by my own party which operate on this basis. I am not aware of any, but that is not to say that I know how every Liberal Democrat-run authority, of which I am happy to say there are now many, conducts itself. However, if they conduct themselves in this way they will be subject to the current rules. If they are subject to the current rules and they do conduct themselves in this way, there is no need for change, so I am a little perplexed by that. It may be that the operation is not quite the same as is now being proposed.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 3 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 4 and 5. These are relatively small amendments, designed to seek from the noble Lord further explanation as to how the committees will work.
The first pair of amendments suggest that where there is to be a cabinet committee it would require a majority of its members to discharge the functions of the authority, not, as I believe could be the case, some of its members. I may be technically wrong in saying that because, of course, it might require the majority of the committee to take a decision on behalf of that committee but, if that is so, then I wonder why the words "some of the members" are used here.
The third of the amendments seeks to understand the limits on the functions delegated to the committee. The wording of the Bill would allow the committee to discharge any of the functions of the authority. I assume that there has to be specific delegation by the authority in a full council meeting, but I may not be correct. This is a probing amendment to understand how the machinery would work and to seek to understand what the criteria are in designing how that delegation should be expressed in a committee resolution. I beg to move.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I believe that these amendments are still intended to prevent authorities adopting cabinet forms of decision-making. By that I mean models where individual members have responsibility for discharging functions of the authority acting alone, but who also meet together in the committee to take decisions corporately. At the risk of repeating myself I believe that such models could be very valuable as a response to the current committee structures which do not always serve authorities and their communities well. We do not want to see this whole family of models eliminated from the options available to authorities and we cannot therefore support the amendments.
As I believe that this is an important area, I hope I shall be forgiven if I go into more detail. The Government cannot accept Amendment No. 5, either with Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 or without them. It may be that the functions of an individual acting alone were given to him or her by dint of the proposals approved by the Secretary of State or by some subsequent delegation either from a committee or another member--the mayor, for example--if the approved arrangements permitted such further delegation. An individual acting alone would be discharging functions which had been given to him or her by some route or another, not necessarily merely those which had been first delegated to the committee of which he or she is a member.
I have spoken so far as to what I believe is the intent of these amendments. However, their actual effect would be that Clause 1(2)(d)(ii) would state that one or more ordinary committees of the authority or a majority of the members of which are able, acting alone, could discharge any of the functions of the authority delegated to that committee. This suggests that the actual effect of the amendments would be that the authority could give responsibilities to the individuals so long as they totalled more than the other members of the relevant committee without such responsibilities. This seems at variance with the intent of the other amendments, and the noble Baroness may wish to reconsider whether this is her desired result. However, even if it is, the Government would still feel constrained to oppose Amendments Nos. 3 and 4.
It seems to us to be unduly restrictive to prevent an authority creating a committee of nine, four or whom were also able to take defined decisions acting alone, for example. The authority's proposals under the cabinet system would set out who would be responsible for discharging functions. A cabinet would have functions which it could exercise as a committee, but it could also contain members who would be able to discharge some functions acting alone, no doubt in practice after discussion with the cabinet.
I am sorry for the length of my answer but I believe that it is helpful to have it on the record. This is clearly an area in which both the Conservative Opposition and Liberal Opposition groups have expressed concern.
Lord Hunt of Tanworth: I can add little to what the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, has said. I believe that the same arguments apply to the discussion that we had on some of the other models. The models which these amendments would prevent seem to me to be perfectly valid. They are used in central and local government across the world and should be available in this country to local government for experimentation as and when they fit local circumstances. I regret that I cannot accept these amendments.
Baroness Hamwee: I end the debate on this group of amendments more concerned than when I began. I do not believe that my amendments would have the effect which the Minister has suggested. Leaving that aside, as I understand it arrangements can be made for the appointment of a committee some of whose members can discharge functions. This is not dissimilar from the point that I made in the Committee earlier in relation to levels of delegation. It may be appropriate to delegate to a delegate, but for that delegate then to delegate on is a matter that should be viewed with some concern. I believe that that obscures the way in which the authority will operate.
The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 11, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 47. These are technical amendments which are intended to make explicit that authorities may design experimental decision-making arrangements, which include the delegation of functions of the social services committee, both to other committees and to officers of the authority. The need for these amendments arises only from the fact that there is specific legislation on the discharge of the social services functions in local government which differs from the general framework in the Local Government Act 1972, to which the schedule otherwise refers, and a desire to give local authorities scope to experiment in this area similar to that which they have in relation to all their other functions. I beg to move.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The Government support these amendments. They clarify that the starting position should be that similar scope for experiment applies in principle to each function of a local authority, including social services. In practice, it is possible that particular structures would not be appropriate for some services or functions. But we do not wish to see the room for manoeuvre in designing experiments unduly constrained by the initial legislation where this is avoidable, as we cannot at this stage predict the ideas for experiments that authorities may put forward should the Bill be enacted.