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I regret that my cough is getting worse. I would be grateful if my noble friend Lady Andrews could take over at this point.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I shall carry on where my noble friend left off. The Bills provisions require that local people and stakeholders are consulted during a community governance review, and place a duty on principal councils to take into account any representations received. Recommendations must be published so that
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Perhaps I may pick up some of the pertinent questions asked by noble Lords. I hope that there is no question of local peoples views being ignored. That would certainly undermine what we are trying to do. Local people can petition the local authority to conduct a community governance review, and if the petition is valid a review must be conducted unless one has been completed in the preceding two years or a review is being conducted for the same area. My noble friend Lord Graham also asked whether the council could act capriciously and what would be the consequences of that. A council cannot act capriciously because that would be irrational and therefore unlawful. It must decide the review on the basis of the criteria set out in the Bill, and that is the greatest safeguard. It is also worth reminding the House that we have sent copies of the draft guidance, which sets out the form we believe the report should take. I believe that noble Lords already have the guidance, and it is available in the Library. However, if my noble friend or the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, want further information or other issues arise, I shall be happy to provide all I can.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I am grateful to the Ministers, both of whom have taken the trouble to answer the case I have made. I hope very much that my noble friend Lady Crawley did not choke on what I was trying to say. It is not an easy decision. I have pleaded all along during this Bill that local people and local councils should have the right to make decisions. However, while I do not say that they would act capriciously, if in their wisdom councils decide that the case has not been made, of course they have the right to come to that decision. I have argued that when they do come to a decision that they are able to justify, there ought to be a mechanism to allow the aggrieved person or persons the opportunity to have something like a public inquiry. However, I appreciate that there are some matters into which central government should not stray.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, alluded to the possibility of jealousy and of people in one area not taking too kindly to people in another area. I shall certainly ask my friends who have written to me on this matter to give me some hard, concrete cases, but I expect there will not be very many because it is all done by interpretation and by committee conclusions of that kind. I am grateful to the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness Andrews moved Amendment No. 170:
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Baroness Andrews moved Amendment No. 171:
Clause 108, page 70, line 21, leave out the notice required by 102(3) and insert the recommendations made in the review
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 111 [Local improvement targets: interpretation]:
Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 171A:
( ) In this Chapter national improvement target means a national target for improvement designated by the Secretary of State in respect of which there shall be a maximum number of 35.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this part of the Bill moves us on to the vexed question of targets. It is extremely welcome that the Government are lowering the targets, and that has been picked up by local authorities. However, they are very anxious that in reducing the number of targets, a cap is set on the number that the Government will be able to set. The number 35 has stuck in everyones mind as the maximum that should be imposed from above, though it is recognised that there will also be local targets.
Rather than leave the matter of how many targets are going to be set by the Secretary of State, we are proposing that there should be an upper limit of 35 in the hope that it will eventually come down to fewer than that. This would give a clear indication that the Government fully intend to see that the number is lowered, and will go below that, rather than leave it at an unspecified level for the foreseeable future. That is the reason for the amendment and I beg to move.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we had a very good debate on this part of the Bill in Committee, where the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, who is not in his place, were eloquent in describing the notion of putting upper limits on the face of the Bill. I am afraid that I cannot say very much that is new.
If we did provide upper limits I do not think that it would reinforce the principle of devolution, which is part of the argument. It does not follow that limiting the function of the Secretary of State in the foreseeable future would devolve power to local partners, and it would certainly destroy the flexibility that both central and local government will need in the future.
One of the pleasing aspects of the process which has been evolving over the summer as local area agreements have been negotiated in addition to the guidance and so on is that the arrangements for agreeing and implementing targets have been welcomed by organisations as diverse as the LGA, Sport England, the Environment Agency and so on. It is worth remembering that the LAA will now be the only place for central government to agree targets
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In Committee and in the other place, through the Minister for Local Government, we have made commitments that there will be an upper limit of 35 designated targets in the next round of LAA negotiations. That has been re-emphasised in the phase 1 operational guidance, which is in the Library. I recommend it because it is very clear and very good.
The real problem is that legislation is drafted to stand the test of timewe always think very carefully about what we put in Bills in this Houseand I do not think that it would be advisable to limit government or local areas in the number of targets they may want to designate for years to come. I understand noble Lords concerns that the number of designated targets may increase over time if we do not limit the number, but the whole thrust of the Bill and where we are going is to make a real shift towards light-touch steering. It is a real step back by central government from the affairs of local government.
We are therefore going to maintain the devolutionary trajectory of the White Paper in the Bill to ensure that the burden of reporting targets is confined to key national priorities in each area. We do not want to limit the scope for responding to challenges by putting a long-term statutory limit of 35 in the Bill. However, the noble Baroness has our assurance that we do not want the number to be higher, and we have said that it is an upper limit.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I think that the assurance was almost given within what she saidwhich was that, irrespective of the number of 35, the entire thrust is to push the figure down. Since the figure of 35 has been bandied around for many weeks, we will assume that it will be the upper limit. There is enough on record to suggest that that would be what it is without putting it in the Bill. I thank the Minister for that and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 112 [Duty to prepare and submit draft of a local area agreement]:
Lord Dixon-Smith had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 172:
The noble Lord said: My Lords, there has been some confusion over groupings at this point in the Bill. Amendments Nos. 172, 173 to 175 and 176 to 187 will therefore not be moved tonight and will be taken at Third Reading. The usual channels have agreed to that process, unusual though it is.
[Amendment No. 172 not moved.]
Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 172A:
Clause 112, page 73, line 13, leave out , a responsible local authority and insert a responsible local authority, or a responsible local authority resolves to prepare a local area agreement, that local authority
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this grouping is very confusing. My noble friend said that he will not move his amendments, but Amendment No. 172A is in this group. It may help the Minister if I tell her that Amendment No. 172A is linked to Amendment No. 177A, which is standing alone. If the Minister is happy for me to do so, I shall speak to them together.
These amendments ensure that local authorities, as well as the Government, can create LAAs, making changes to local improvement targets without the consent of the Secretary of State. We have already discussed this, but as it has become apparent that the Government are not going to give local authorities the power to make entirely autonomous decisions, local authorities should have the right, along with their local partners, to make LAAs. When the Minister discussed this last time she asked us not to make a meal of it and sought to reassure us that she did not want to have a heavy hand, but there is no guarantee and we would like more reassurance in her response. I beg to move.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment No. 172A and will link it to Amendment No. 177A. The group of amendments in which Amendment No. 172A is buried raises many of the same issues and leaves the initiation of the local authority entirely at the discretion of the responsible authority. I alluded to this problem earlier. This is the only place where the Secretary of State, in the form of the government regional officers, can negotiate what are essentially local targets that reflect national priorities. This is the process that we have arrived at. If we were to accept Amendment No. 172A, we could not guarantee, for example, that a local area agreement would be negotiated to a particular timetable. It is important to keep the Secretary of State in the frame in this proportionate but proper way, otherwise local authorities would be left to negotiate their own targets without the national framework, which is very important. We have stripped out many of the national partners. We are now talking about only 200 targets, not 1,200, and looking at a much smaller number of specific indicators, so we need a framework that involves the Secretary of State as one of the negotiating partners. For that reason, I have to resist the amendment.
Would the noble Baroness like me to talk to Amendment No. 177A now, or is she going to move it separately?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I think that Amendment No. 177A is near enough to Amendment No. 172A for the Minister to respond.
Baroness Andrews: Indeed, my Lords. Amendment No. 177A inserts pre-eminent into the text, and I take it that it is a probing amendment because the noble Baroness is really asking what it means to have regard to a target and how LAA targets will sit within the wider work. It would limit the discretion of the partner authorities in what they could prioritise. They will have to give priority to the LAA targets to which they have signed up.
I see what the noble Baroness is getting at here, but because of the implications we would end up with an unsatisfactory situation. Essentially, to start at the beginning, the amendment concerns the role that partner authorities will play in delivering the LAA targets after the negotiations have concluded. Noble Lords have argued for a stronger definition. They are wrong to do so, because if partners must have regard to their LAA targets over and above the other work they do in exercising their functions, that would remove some of the important flexibility that they need in order to respond to unforeseen circumstances.
I know that as the noble Baroness comes out of local government, she will understand what I mean by that. If, for example, a police force agreed to sign up to a target with other local partners to reduce anti-social behaviour in an area, should it then give greater priority to meeting that target than to dealing with a terrorist attack for which it does not have an LAA target? If the Environment Agency signed up to a target for improving leisure and tourism facilities, should it have to have greater regard to itin terms of time, effort, resources and so onthan to dealing with a catastrophic flood? It is important to retain flexibility so that judgments can be made. It is important that partners themselves have that flexibility to prioritise at any given time, rather than having their options closed off by the amendments.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response to both amendments. I see the response to Amendment No. 177A as more realistic. We are quite anxious to see the Secretary of State removed from local area agreements as much as we can, and Amendment No. 172A was another attempt to do that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 173 and 174 not moved.]
Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 174A:
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we are getting tired. When are we going to have this guillotine?
With this amendment we are trying to ensure that the voluntary and non-statutory sectors are put on the same footing as other partner authorities. Again, we have discussed this. The voluntary and community sector is becoming very strategic in the delivery of services. There are many examples, particularly in social services, where they are contracting with local authorities to provide those services, so while they have always been an important aspect, they are now becoming even more important. As time goes on, that importance increases. It does therefore not make sense for the Bill to designate just,
We would like to see the voluntary sector put on the same footing as other partner authorities and included in the Bill. I beg to move.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I entirely sympathise with the spirit in which the amendment is moved. The Bill lays a new foundation for partnership working in local areas. Clause 110 lists a number of bodies which should act as partner authorities, with various statutory duties placed on them to co-operate in the negotiation of LAA targets and to have regard to them in the course of their business. We know that those arrangements are suitable for some bodies. In previous debates, we went through the nature of those contractual arrangements with public bodies. However, I know that the noble Baroness agrees with me that they are not suitable for all. We agree also that there must be no closed doors. Those bodies which are not named as partner authorities must have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully.
In moving Amendments Nos. 174A and 187A, noble Lords argued that the existing clauses give insufficient opportunity for non-statutory organisations to be involved in the drafting of LAAs and sustainable community strategies. The amendments would require the responsible local authority to consult such non-statutory partners, of which no definition is given, when they make up their LAA. As I said, I understand the intention behind them.
Clause 112(2)(a)(ii) already provides that the responsible local authority,
during preparations. I stress that the Bill states must rather than may consult, because it will allow authorities to exercise discretion. There is a balance to be struck. We want local voluntary organisations to be involvedit is essential that they arebut we do not want them to be placed under an intolerable, compulsory burden; nor do we want local authorities to be placed under such a burden to consult all non-statutory organisations in their area, regardless of their relevance. The amendment would force them to do so. It would be a duty with which they could never comply. It would be impossible to track down each and every non-statutory organisation to consult it, as some of them, as we know, are very small.
It is certainly our intention that consultation must include representatives of local third-sector bodies and of local business if local partnerships are to succeed in delivering on the new deal. We will emphasise that through the statutory guidance that accompanies the Bill. Having a background in the voluntary sector, I am serious about it.
This model reflects arrangements for existing statutory partnerships such as childrens trusts. It has been agreed in consultation with national representatives of third-sector organisations. Local authorities and their partners know that if they are to deliver on the targets that they negotiate, they will certainly need the assistance of business and third-sector organisations. It is in their interests to make sure that those consultation processes are open and serious. I hope that, with that assurance, the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, as the Minister spoke, I realised that the amendment was too wide. I am happy to accept that if the Minister ensures that the third sector is included with other non-statutory bodies in statutory guidance. I accept that one cannot consult everybody. My intention was to draw attention to the third sector and ensure that it was included, particularly in view of the role that it now plays in local authorities. I thank the Minister for her reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 175 not moved.]
Clause 113 [Approval of draft local area agreement by Secretary of State]:
[Amendments Nos. 175A and 176 not moved.]
Clause 114 [Duty to have regard to local improvement targets]:
[Amendments Nos. 177 and 177A not moved.]
Clause 115 [Designated targets]:
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