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Amendment No. 197B is a carry-over from the previous group and concerns why the provision about the chairman not being an appointed councillor should not apply also to the vice-chairman, since the vice-chairman might well be in an important position of taking the chair. At the annual meeting, if the chairman is being re-elected, it may be that the vice-chairman will take over while the election is taking place. Because the most important job of a vice-chairman is to substitute for the chairman when he is not there or is otherwise unable to act, why does it not apply to the chairman?

The second and fourth amendments in the group are about regulations and guidance, and there seems

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to be some confusion in saying that the Secretary of State “may” make regulations. It seems to me that, having appointed councillors, you have to make regulations; otherwise goodness knows what might happen. It then says that they have to take account of guidance. I think that the guidance should be struck out and that the regulations should be clear. How the system, with which I do not agree, works needs to be set in stone.

Amendment No. 199 is to probe who the Government think are appropriate people to be appointed. Should they have to be local government electors? Should they be people who are qualified to sit on the parish council, which is a wider group than electors because it extends beyond the boundaries? Can it be people who are involved in the parish in some other way through membership of a local organisation, people who have given distinguished service or whatever? The Government say, “Well, perhaps all these things”. In that case, why can these people not stand for election in the normal way?

How many appointed councillors can you have? I am probing that question in new subsection (3)(b) of Amendment No. 99. Can it be more than a third, less than a third or what should it be? How will they be appointed? Should they be appointed at the annual meeting? Should they be subject to confirmation by the parish meeting? All parish councils have to have an annual parish meeting where everyone who lives in the parish can turn up to vote on propositions. Should appointed people at least be subject to some democratic confirmation at the annual parish meeting? Do they have all the rights of parish councillors or should they be non-voting? Local authorities can co-opt people to any of their committees, but they have to be non-voting, which works very well in some local authorities.

These are important matters. Just because we are referring to parish councils at a very local level, we should not think that these are not important issues. The idea of appointing people to positions in democratic authorities in the local government structure is a very serious matter which needs probing.

I put down the amendment about the alderman with tongue-in-cheek, as the Minister will have realised. Yet, whenever I explain this matter to people, they say, “Oh, it’s parish aldermen. Why do we want those?”. I am not putting down a serious proposition, but it is a serious point. It will be difficult to persuade some of us that this is a sensible and not a bizarre proposal. I beg to move.

Baroness Hanham: I should like to know what is to be included in regulations. I have never come across a situation—I do not suppose it exists—where appointed councillors are part and parcel of the council scene. I hope that it will not be extended elsewhere in the system, otherwise we will be discussing this for the next 10 years.

The principle of what has been proposed is that there will be appointed councillors. Issues such as who may be appointed and the number, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, will be left to regulations. One of the most salient issues is how many people can

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be appointed to a council. Can you have an overwhelming majority of appointed councillors? Perhaps we do not need to have council elections at all: just one or two people could be elected and they could appoint all the rest. What are they there to do?

I hope that the Minister will put some flesh on the bones of the provisions. We need to understand them because by the time we get to the stage of regulations, it will be too late.

Baroness Crawley: I thank Members of the Committee for their contributions. On the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, on the first of the appointee provisions, we intend to make regulations applying to the code of conduct to appoint councillors. I will come to the points she has made, but I shall start with some of the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, have raised. As a former councillor, I believe that this is a very important part of the Bill; we must all be clear about what appointed councillors can do, and the rules and regulations that surround their role.

The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has reviewed the proposed power for the Secretary of State to make regulations about the appointment of councillors. The committee recommended that an exercise of the power which permits a majority of the parish members to be appointed, or which enables an appointed member to be treated as an elected member for the purposes of the chairmanship or vice-chairmanship, should be subject to the affirmative procedure.

We have responded to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, declaring our intention to assure the Committee—as I now do—that we will make regulations which will prevent either situation arising. On that basis, we have told the committee that we felt that the negative resolution procedure still provides an adequate level of parliamentary scrutiny.

Several of the noble Lord’s amendments deal with matters in primary legislation that we propose should be handled later, in the regulations. I therefore suggest that the amendments are not necessary and should be rejected.

The details of the regulations are being discussed with the organisations representing the sector, but I am happy to give Members of the Committee the assurances they have asked for on some of these points.

First, regulations will ensure that a substantial majority of the council—for example, two-thirds—rather than a simple majority must be in favour of any appointment. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred to numbers. This provision will not therefore be used to tip the balance of power within a council where members disagree on some issue. It is important to make that clear.

Secondly, the regulations will maintain the principle that councillors must meet citizenship requirements and have a strong connection with the parish. I have a list of those requirements before me and if noble

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Lords wish me to go into them, I will do so. Basically, with some flexibility, they are very much the same as the citizenship requirements in place at present. Thirdly, we intend to ensure that the code of conduct will apply to all appointees just as much as to elected and co-opted councillors. Fourthly, the regulations we will bring forward will ensure that the number of appointees in any parish council can only be small. By small, I mean no more than one or two in most councils. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, talked about larger market town councils. We would consider a figure of three or four appropriate for such councils.

Lastly, we have it in mind to limit the term of any appointment to one year. Appointments will have to be reconfirmed at an annual meeting of the parish council, and of course will automatically come to an end at an ordinary election. We do not want appointed councillors to be mere advisers to councils or observers of their procedures. Noble Lords know that that is already open to councils. We therefore anticipate that appointed councillors will have the same voting rights as elected councillors except in so far as the appointment of further councillors is concerned, which is the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. They will not be allowed to vote for more appointees like themselves. We do not think it right that an appointed councillor should have a hand in bringing in more appointees. We intend that the Secretary of State will issue guidance on the subject of appointed councillors to which parish councils will be under a duty to have regard. Amendment No. 200 seeks to delete the provision empowering the Secretary of State to issue guidance. We think it would be an unfortunate loss, and I am sure that parish councils would prefer to have access to authoritative guidance on the exercise of the power that we are proposing they should have. Having given these assurances, I suggest that it is not necessary for us to go into more detail in the Bill about what the Secretary of State must put into secondary legislation.

9.15 pm

However, perhaps I should highlight a few more points. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, wishes to prevent more than one third of councillors being appointed. We had in mind a rather smaller proportion than that, so I hope that we have met his concerns. Our thinking on the duration of appointments is that they should run from year to year, very much as the noble Lord has suggested. I am pleased to see that we have common ground there.

I turn now to Amendment No. 197B, which seeks to prevent an appointed councillor holding an office under this section. Section 112 of the Local Government Act 1972 requires local authorities generally to appoint such officers as they think necessary for the discharge of their functions. That applies to parish councils, but subsection (5) further allows parish councils to appoint one of their own number to be an officer of the council without remuneration. We see no reason why an appointed councillor who is prepared to act as an officer without remuneration should be prevented from doing so.

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We do not have in mind to allow the appointment of persons on the grounds that they have in the past given distinguished service, even less to revive the somewhat archaic notion and title of “alderman”, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, explained to us. This is intended to be a modernising change aimed at enabling parish councils to be more effective and more inclusive. Distinguished past service must be acknowledged and appreciated, but not by continuing it into the future for no other reason.

I have a little more to say about the positive case for this measure. We expect that parish councils will want to appoint additional people to be councillors when they feel it could increase the parish’s effectiveness in the service of its citizens. That might include people who could help by virtue of the role they have in the community. We expect that sometimes the parishes would like to be able to bring in an additional councillor for a limited period to help with a particular project, or they might feel that the relationship between the parish council and a community group active in the area—a development trust, for example—would be improved if they could make such an appointment.

An example of the potential value of this flexibility, and a possibility we are still considering, was recently put to us in a letter from the chairman of the National Association of Local Councils. The proposal was that a provision could be used to enable parish councillors to connect better with young people in their areas by appointing people under the age of 18, which is the new minimum age for election as a councillor. NALC has suggested that such a power would enable a council to appoint the chair of its youth council or the winner of an election in local schools to the full council. NALC believes that it would be a radical and positive contribution to the inclusion of young people and that many councils would enjoy an opportunity to exercise such a power in that way.

I do not want to commit the Government to this at this stage. The proposal is at a very early stage, not least because important consideration needs to be given to ensuring the welfare of any children appointed as councillors. I would value noble Lords’ observations on the suggestion.

The flexibility the clause will bring to parish councils will also enable them to tackle social exclusion in an innovative way by bringing in, with full participation, representatives of other groups who traditionally do not participate much in local democracy. The Campaign for Racial Equality has welcomed the proposal for that reason.

I hope the assurances that I have given will assuage the doubts that have led to these amendments and I therefore ask for them to be withdrawn.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that full explanation but it still leaves some queries in my mind. I do not feel that I have heard anything today to help me understand what a co-opted councillor is unable to do at the moment and why someone has to be appointed. I

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cannot see why all the advantages applied to the new category of appointed councillors cannot apply to co-opted councillors.

The situation could be a step backwards because, at the moment, a co-opted councillor representing, say, a community group is able to speak about that community group quite openly at the parish council. If councillors are appointed and have a vote, they may have to declare an interest in discussions, particularly financial discussions, and absent themselves or not vote on the one issue they are there to deal with; while, on the other hand, they will be able to vote on all manner of other issues about which they do not know anything. From that point of view, an appointed member might end up at a disadvantage compared with someone who had been co-opted from the same body. I hope the Government will take a look at these provisions and give that some thought. The question of declaration of interest and representation on outside bodies has exercised local councillors for as long as I have been involved in local government.

My second concern echoes the point made by my noble friend Lord Greaves throughout these proceedings that bodies are not strong because we say they are strong, and they do not have democratic strength because we say they do; their strength comes from how they operate and the way in which they work. There is a danger that there will be councils where the power of appointment will be used to appoint people who are known to the appointer. It is just one of those things; it will happen. That will reduce the credibility of the parish council. At the moment people do not feel that way because councillors are elected; if they are not elected there is a danger that, in some areas, the credibility of the council will be undermined because people in the community will feel it has been overtaken and become a kind of old boys’ network—or even an old girls’ network; I am not gender blind in these matters. However, we have to think carefully about this notion of popular mandate and popular support.

I have a briefing from the National Association of Local Councils which says:

If the National Association of Local Councils has reservations about appointing councillors, from where has the idea come? Does not the fact that the national association representing the whole tier not give the Government some pause for thought?

Lord Greaves: I am grateful not only to my noble friend for what she just said—with which I agree—but to the Minister for explaining this in such detail. We will want to go away and read carefully what she said, with Hansard as our bedtime reading over the coming weekend. That is a genuine thanks for that information.

This clause makes provision for both guidance and regulations. The point I was trying to make is not that councils with some appointed councillors should not have authoritative guidance but that they should have something stronger than that—it should be clearly set

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out in regulations. What we are doing here is interfering—I use the term in a non-pejorative sense—with the democratic system. The Government are saying that some members of local authorities will not have to be elected in future but can be appointed by the local authority in the way that aldermen used to be appointed. Clearly no one wants to go back to aldermen—as I said, the inclusion was tongue in cheek. It is an odd suggestion and a little bit of ridicule sometimes does no harm. Should it be regulations or authoritative guidance? At the moment it is not clear because both are there. I think that it should be clear.

I welcome the information that it might be only one or two people as that alleviates some fears that the number might be substantial. As was pointed out when the House of Commons discussed this, the great majority of parish councils say that they are non-political, and they are. However, some parish councils, especially the larger ones, are very party political indeed. But that reflects local circumstances and is up to the voters to decide. The concern was that a party with a very narrow majority could bolster its majority by appointing a lot of people. If it is only one or two then the fear is perhaps a little less.

I welcome the year-to-year arrangement. I do not think that the Minister responded to my suggestion that it should be subject to confirmation by the annual parish meeting but perhaps the Government will think about that. In a future group we will discuss the existence and the role of parish meetings, which are quite different from anything else in the local government system.

There was a very interesting suggestion that very young people—those under 18—might be involved in this way. We will certainly want to go away and think about that. I thank the Minister very much for her very comprehensive reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 198 to 201 not moved.]

Clause 78 agreed to.

9.30 pm

Clause 79 [Extension of power to certain parish councils]:

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 201A:

The noble Baroness said: I have four amendments in this group—Amendments Nos. 201A, 202, 204A and 204B. They seek to widen the scope of those parishes that can promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their areas. Although we welcome the Government’s thrust on this issue and see it as a minor devolutionary measure, we do not entirely understand the provision that:

Perhaps the Minister will tell us what that prescription is.

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By stating that a parish council can promote the power of well-being only if it is eligible, the criteria determined by the Secretary of State makes this measure extremely restrictive. The power of well-being should not be a gift from the Secretary of State. It is a principle of localism that we wish to see taken from the hands of the Secretary of State and given to the local people. The amendment would see the power extended to all councils that had been elected through contested elections whether they are eligible under the Secretary of State’s definition or not. This is in line with our approach of being as permissive as possible in relation to devolved powers.

The Under-Secretary of State stated that she rejected this Conservative amendment because,

and that it should be restricted to those who satisfy the criteria based on the quality parish and town council scheme. However, approximately only 3 per cent of parishes throughout the country qualify under that scheme, so that would heavily undermine the Government's ability to promote well-being at the grassroots level.

That is the main thrust of the amendments. Many parishes are democratically elected bodies that deliver local services to their communities. Whether parishes satisfy the criteria of the quality parish scheme or not, they are the bodies that are close to the heart of their communities. They are the backbone of community involvement and thus an important part of community life. Why do the Government feel that the powers should be limited by this quality-qualifying criteria? I beg to move.

Baroness Andrews: I am happy to respond to the amendments spoken to by the noble Baroness. I appreciate what she is trying to do and I will give as much background as I can about why we have arrived at this position. Essentially, we wish to extend the empowerment of parish councils, giving local people as much freedom as possible to enhance their own well-being. That is the purpose of Clause 79.

Among the long list of parish councils’ current powers is that given by Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 to undertake actions which will bring “direct benefit” to the parish or its inhabitants. As the noble Baroness knows, I am sure, power is limited in effect, not least because there is a ceiling on the extra amount per head that parishes can spend. It is currently £5.64, although few councils spend that much.

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