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Lord Rooker: Speaking off the top of my head, there is no way in which we would agree to money being paid in secret. A list must be available somewhere, but the information on how those 8,000 parish councils are divided up administratively for payments and contact is not before me. Whether they are grouped as parish councils under their respective councils, I do not know. A list should be available. I shall find out the answer to this and certainly report back to the noble Baroness in due course.

Lord Hanningfield: I thank the Minister for that reply and I was pleased to listen to his last point. Obviously this is a good policy and we support it. Indeed, we are keen to see the initiative enjoy wider publicity. If some way could be found of making the process more public, that would add to its value. I am sure that either the Minister or we shall return to this point at a later stage with an amendment that would seek to ensure more publicity for this process. With that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 36 agreed to.

Clause 37 [Best value grant: communities]:

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 100:

"( ) Any payments made by the Secretary of State under subsection (1) must not be financed by monies recouped from debt free councils via capital receipts."

The noble Lord said: At this point we move on to the position in Wales. This amendment aims to ensure the transparency of any grant paid to a best value community council under the terms of Clause 37 by the National Assembly for Wales by ensuring that it is scrutinised by Parliament. This is a similar issue to that raised by the previous amendment.

Again, we welcome the Government's good intention to reward good performance in all kinds of councils in England and in Wales. We support awarding grants to enable councils to meet the requirements of best value status once it has been attained.

However, as we discussed under Amendment No. 99 in relation to parish councils in England, we would prefer all best value grants to be scrutinised by Parliament. If that cannot be done, let us introduce some form of process by which the award of grants is made more transparent. However, we also want to see how the Welsh Assembly may deal with the issue.

This amendment will ensure that grants paid under Clause 37 by the National Assembly for Wales are reported to Parliament in the appropriate manner. This will maintain the transparency and the credibility of such transactions and, as we discussed during the

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previous amendment, it will provide a clear incentive for those councils striving to improve their performance. I beg to move.

Baroness Hanham: I shall be interested in the Minister's reply, in which I hope he will explain whether this too is a devolved matter. Nothing in the Bill enables the scrutiny we seek. However, again it is important that these details are published in some form. People in Wales have a right to be able to see what grants are being paid to which local authorities. I presume that in the case of Wales, Section 88B of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 will pertain. If it does not—the Minister is shaking his head, suggesting that since Wales is not a local authority, it is not subject to the local government regime—will he let me know how Welsh community grants are reported?

As with the English parish councils, such information will help us towards greater transparency.

Lord Rooker: We are entering dangerous territory because of the devolution settlement. First I want to put it on the record—I am repeating what I said earlier, but it is relevant to this amendment—that Section 88B of the Local Government Finance 1988 does not apply to Welsh community councils. They are outside that legislation and therefore it would not be possible to make such determinations. There are around 750 community councils in Wales. In any event, as I said previously, the absence of a special grant report provided under Section 88B does not mean that Parliament is no longer involved because approval is needed under the ambit of the share of resources for the National Assembly for Wales. Furthermore, appropriate safeguards will be put in place in Wales to cover the payment of the grant.

However, it would be quite inappropriate for grants made by the National Assembly for Wales to be reported in a special grant report to Parliament. That would be inconsistent with the devolution settlement. This is a matter for the Welsh Assembly. It will put procedures in place and safeguards will be set up in relation to the payment of the grant. So we must leave this to the Welsh Assembly.

Lord Hanningfield: As we discussed during the previous amendment, I wonder whether it would be possible to make the process more transparent. Since Wales is included under the terms of the Bill, surely a form of guidance could be added. As with the previous clause, we would like the same transparency for Wales that we sought for the English parish councils. Even though this is a devolved matter, here a new national policy is being implemented. Surely it would be wise, for the reasons we have already set out, for the same to apply in Wales.

Lord Rooker: I shall take advice on this, but I think it would be inconsistent with the devolution settlement if we were to seek to instruct the Welsh Assembly. It must be accepted that this is a grey area. We are still in the early stages of devolution; it has been in place for only a few years. Many times it will appear that the

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boundaries look as though they are moving on the devolution settlement, but Wales is not the same as Scotland and the powers are totally different. However, in this case and at the community level, to be frank, it has nothing to do with us. We should not seek to give advice to the Welsh Assembly.

This legislation is necessary to make available the statutory procedure for this public money to be paid. Furthermore, the Welsh Assembly will not keep these matters secret from the citizens of Wales.

Lord Hanningfield: The Minister has said that he would look again at the powers of devolution to Wales. Perhaps he will let us know how they stand in relation to these areas.

Lord Rooker: I have not said anything of the kind.

Lord Hanningfield: The Minister said that he would look at this again.

Lord Rooker: No, I have not said that and I do not intend to do so.

Lord Hanningfield: I am sure that we shall return to this matter because it is relevant to my next amendment. For the moment, however, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 100A and 100B not moved.]

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 101:

    Page 17, line 26, leave out paragraph (c).

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall depart from my notes. I do so because they are totally inconsistent with what the noble Lord said about my last amendment. He said that in the matter of community councils we can give no directions to the National Assembly for Wales. The matter is devolved and it is up to the Assembly. However, Clause 37(6)(c) allows the Assembly to vary or revoke the grant, as we pointed out earlier is the case for the English Parliament. Surely, therefore, the response the Minister made on the last amendment means that we need to remove the power of revocation or variation from the Welsh Assembly because it would nevertheless have the power to do whatever it wishes.

I do not understand the position. Surely these two provisions in the Bill are totally inconsistent. The Minister said that we cannot tell the Welsh Assembly what to do, but here is a provision that does tell them what to do. I am absolutely sure that the Minister will not be able to respond. The reason why I am seeking more clarity in this area is because I knew that we were about to reach this amendment. What he said in his last reply will not be consistent with this provision. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall attempt to achieve consistency across Ministers. I do not agree with the noble Lord that the provisions are inconsistent. When he has heard my response, he will realise why that is the case. We have some sympathy with the amendment,

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not least because it is our hope that only one straightforward determination will be needed for each financial year.

It is not our intention to use the power to revoke or vary a determination of best value grant in an arbitrary way. That is not what we seek, but we believe that it is right to be able to compensate a council that had lost a significant amount of best value grant through no fault of its own, perhaps as a result of an administrative error.

There may be circumstances when some Welsh community councils become subject to best value duties—and hence become eligible for best value grant—perhaps quite late in the day and after the initial determination of grant had been made. The power would allow a replacement determination to be made to allow them to receive grant. This provision has been included as a helpful measure, offering a degree of flexibility so that we could make an extra determination if it were to become clear that a community council had qualified to become subject to best value duties and thus required eligibility.

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