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Lord Hunt of Tanworth moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, leave out lines 28 to 30.

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 2, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 7, 9, 14, 19 and 26. These amendments very much reflect what has always been the intention of the Bill. We have throughout emphasised that the power to experiment with arrangements differing from the traditional committee system must include safeguards for propriety and the rights of minority parties. The spirit of these amendments was in the Bill all along. But a number of concerns were expressed at Second Reading and in Committee and have emerged from discussions involving all quarters of this House. I believe that the Bill will be much improved by the amendments and I wish to thank all those who helped in the discussion and formulation of them.

There are two main strands to the amendments: to clarify the nature and role of the scrutiny function and to reinforce the role of the guidance it is intended the Secretary of State should issue under the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 make it clear that where there is a separate executive arm created within the authority in experimental arrangements under the Bill there must also be scrutiny committees set up to hold that executive, be it a committee or an individual, to account. They also provide for that scrutiny function to include the ability to recommend to the executive, before a decision is taken or implemented, that the matter should be considered by the full council. There is already provision in the Bill to ensure that the scrutiny committees have all the information to enable them to do that. I envisage that such a mechanism would in practice be used only occasionally as it could otherwise become a brake on any decision taking. Nevertheless, I believe that it is a valuable and necessary part of the scrutiny function and I commend the amendments to the House.

Amendment No. 26 places a duty upon the Secretary of State to consult the Local Government Association before issuing any guidance under the Bill. Amendment No. 9 requires that guidance to cover a number of issues including freedom of information, access to information, the functions of scrutiny committees and the circumstances in which the scrutiny mechanism I have mentioned will come into play. Finally, in assessing whether to approve an application to experiment or to change an experiment, the Secretary of State will be required, under Amendments Nos. 14 and 19, to have regard to the extent to which the application is framed in line with the guidance issued. This framework represents a clear guide to local authorities on what will be acceptable under the Bill. The Bill is much improved because of it. I commend the amendments to the House.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I welcome the amendments, in particular the proposal that a scrutiny committee should become a requirement rather than an option. I welcome the attention given to points raised at the last stage, in particular the role of looking forward, and--if I may call it in shorthand--the power to call in proposals, referring them to the authority.

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At the previous stage, I raised the issue of freedom of information, having little expectation that a way could be found to refer to it on the face of the Bill before we have a freedom of information Act. I am delighted that the draftsman has found the mechanism to do so. That is welcome. It is an important point.

In discussing how scrutiny arrangements can work, I realise that considerable energy will be required, in particular from leaders of the opposition. We should not be too casual in our references to scrutiny. It will be a difficult process. Much of the provision will require a change of culture; and that is not generally easy. But since these proposals are designed to recognise that some councillors are by nature, and given the time they have available, more suited to taking executive decisions, others--I say it in no way pejoratively--are more suited to the role of back-benchers dealing with constituency ward matters.

If there is to be an executive cabinet, that will by definition attract from the party running the administration those who have the time, energy and talents. It will require a great deal of effort, I suspect, by the leaders of the opposition parties to fulfil the scrutiny role that this model demands. I wish them luck.

Perhaps I may ask one question. It refers back to an amendment at the previous stage. Am I right in thinking that if the amendments are incorporated in the Bill it will be possible to give part of the scrutiny function to neighbourhood or area committees? As I said last time, if there is a neighbourhood structure it is important that the scrutiny fits into that structure. I do not know whether the Minister or the noble Lord, Lord Tanworth, will be able to confirm that.

This point is not intended to be carping. I wonder whether the word "and" needs to be inserted at the end of subsection (3)(c) since it has been omitted at the end of subsection (3)(d). I shall be happy to be told that the provisions are alternative rather than cumulative. That may be the reason that the word is not inserted at the end of the previous paragraph.

Lord Bowness: My Lords, the Bill deals with potentially major changes as to the way local government in England and Wales is run. I expressed reservations at Second Reading about a Bill which contains such major changes not being a government Bill. I am sure the Minister will understand that some of those reservations exist. Nevertheless, without in any way derogating from the thanks, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, for the discussions which they initiated. They enabled a number of us to contribute improvements to the Bill which I think have been worthwhile. I should like to take this opportunity to put those thanks on the record.

Clearly, these amendments are among the major changes to which I refer. I certainly welcome and support the safeguards that are implicit in the amendments, particularly Amendment No. 3. Although the changes may well be welcomed by local government--and we can all see the need for improving the decision-making process in local government--the

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safeguard that is built in by these requirements is most important. I am therefore happy to support the amendments.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I, too, am happy to support these amendments. I am grateful to noble Lords who contributed to improving the quality of this important piece of legislation. The new Clauses 2, 3 and 4 are very important. They begin to define the role of members within a new system of local government. Indeed, it might be argued that they begin to empower members and define the role of the new councillor that these arrangements will put in place.

The scrutiny function within local government has a good way to go yet in terms of the development of a model for the future. This provision will also require new skills on the part of elected members. It will probably begin to improve the quality of decision-making. Scrutiny is all too often looked upon as something that takes place after the event. I fancy that elected members will now look on scrutiny as tending to prefigure and work out future policies. The scrutiny function, as it is beginning to be defined in the clauses, will offer a great deal of help to those who wish to see greater checks and balances within local authorities. I rather suspect that with the recent publication by the Government of their consultation document on improving the quality of local democracy, all councils will seek to have a scrutiny function built into the way they work. This will add considerably to the quality of local government and perhaps begin to enhance the quality of local authority members, strengthening, I hope, their ability to act and define the interests of their constituents.

There is a further issue that relates to scrutiny. As this provision takes form in the future, and as part of the longer debate as to how we view local government in the future, I should like to see the scrutiny role of the individual councillor more closely defined, perhaps as providing a right of scrutiny for individual councillors.

I am therefore very happy to support the amendments. It says a great deal for the collaborative efforts that Members of this House can make to improve the quality of legislation. I am pleased that we have progressed together on this matter. I trust that our colleagues in another place will learn from this and that the Bill's progress will not be conducted in an adversarial spirit but in a spirit of co-operation, so that the improvements made in this House can be taken forward into the operation of local government.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I can add little to what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and other noble Lords have already said. The Government support these amendments and are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and to those noble Lords whose names are to the amendments, for the support that has been given.

On the particular point regarding the role of neighbourhood or area committees and the scrutiny function, the authority is free to choose which elected members are appropriate in its eyes to serve on the scrutiny committee. However, as a result of our deliberations, such a scrutiny committee must reflect political proportionality. It is not my experience that area

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or neighbourhood committees have ever exactly matched that, and they should choose between elected members who have time, detailed knowledge, and so on. However, it could be argued that area committees could inform the scrutiny process and play a very important role.

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