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Local Authorities: Executive Arrangements

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: We have today laid before the House the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2000. These regulations govern meetings of the executive under new local authority constitutions, recording of executive decisions and access to papers relating to executive decision-making.

The regulations introduce a rigorous new regime of accountability. For the first time, the public will have a right to more than three days' notice of key decisions which will affect the local community. For the first time key officer decisions will be notified to the public in advance and be open to public scrutiny afterwards. In addition, the regulations are clear that where these key decisions are to be decided collectively by the executive or its committees, the public has a right to see those decisions being taken or discussed in advance with officers.

We have also today published the revised chapter of the statutory guidance under Part II of the Act which deals with access to information. This reinforces the intention of the regulations to ensure that there is a proper culture of transparency and accountability around executive decision-making.

Modular constitutions for local authorities are also published today. These are designed to assist local authorities which are drawing up proposals for new constitutions. Councils who follow the proposals in this document will be able to design a constitution which meets the aims of efficiency, transparency and accountability of decision-making which underpin Part II of the Local Government Act.

We are also publishing a direction under section 37 of the Act today. This sets out what a council's new constitution must contain and a revised chapter of the guidance has been issued to accompany the direction.

Copies of all these documents are available in the Library of the House.

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Light Rail Operators: By-laws

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are their proposals regarding the by-laws submitted to the Secretary of State by the railway companies, London Underground and other light rail operators.[HL223]

Lord Whitty: The national railway operators, London Underground, the Docklands Light Railway and Nexus Metro have submitted by-laws to the Secretary of State for confirmation. These by-laws, and the formal representations received from persons affected by these by-laws, have all been considered by the Secretary of State. We can announce that the by-laws, with a number of modifications, have been now confirmed, and 18 February 2001 has been set as the date that the new by-laws will come into force.

SEAC Annual Report

Baroness Massey of Darwen asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the 1999-2000 Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) Annual Report will be published.[HL197]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): The 1999-2000 SEAC Annual Report was published today and will be available in the Libraries of both Houses. The report will also be released on the MAFF website

Millennium City Status Competition

Baroness Howells of St Davids asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will announce the result of the competition for city status to mark the Millennium. [HL15]

Lord Davies of Oldham: We are pleased to announce that, on the advice of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, Her Majesty the Queen has commanded that city status should be granted to Brighton & Hove, Inverness and Wolverhampton to mark the Millennium.

Although the grant of the honour remains a rare mark of distinction, the Queen accepted the Prime Minister's recommendation to grant city status to more than one town to commemorate the Millennium. City status will be granted by Letters Patent, which will now be prepared for presentation to Brighton & Hove, Inverness and Wolverhampton in due course.

The unsuccessful applicants will, of course, be disappointed not to have been honoured on this occasion. The quality of the 39 applications received was very high, however, and demonstrated the pride in their communities felt by local people in towns across

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the United Kingdom. They will all have an opportunity for their applications to be considered again for the grant of city status to mark Her Majesty's Golden Jubilee in 2002. The Queen has agreed to the Prime Minister's recommendation that her Jubilee should be marked, exceptionally, by grants of city status to a suitably qualified town in each of Wales, Northern Ireland, England and Scotland.

My officials will now initiate a review of the procedures used in the Millennium competition. Further details of the Golden Jubilee competition will be announced during the first half of next year.

House of Lords: Public Gallery

The Earl of Sandwich asked the Chairman of Committees:

    Whether he has proposals to improve the facilities in the public galleries of the House as suggested by Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts in the House Magazine on 11 December. [HL187]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, wrote in the House Magazine on 11 December that Xthe Order Paper is unclear, the visibility of the House is poor and the audibility of the speeches in the Chamber is worse. In this audio/visual age it is surely not beyond the wit of man to provide for our fellow citizens a gallery which enables them to see,

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hear and understand what is going on in their name in the Chamber before them".

The Order Paper can certainly be difficult to understand for those unfamiliar with it. Every visitor to the Public Gallery receives an illustrated Guide for Visitors to the Galleries, which includes, among other things, an explanation of what the different items on the Order Paper mean. For the visually impaired, two Braille versions of the Guide are available.

I accept that in certain parts of the public gallery there is a restricted view of the Chamber. That is why there are two television monitors in the Gallery. One of the monitors shows the current business, while the other is tuned to the Lords' annunciator and records the business before the House and the name of the speaker in the Chamber.

On the question of audibility, a speaker system identical to the one used in the Chamber has been fitted to every bench in the Gallery and there is an induction loop for the hard of hearing.

Cabinet Committees

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the membership of each Cabinet Committee. [HL226]

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): A copy of the current list of Cabinet Committees, their membership and terms of reference has today been placed in the Library of the House. Details will also be updated on the Cabinet Office website.

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