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Despite the clearly stated reservations of the delegated powers sub-committee, the negative procedure will be used when the secondary legislation comes through. That means very low level parliamentary scrutiny of the details of the Bill. We on these Benches feel that it would be better to have in the Bill at least the modest provision that the number of appointed councillors will always remain very small. I beg to move.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, we are not wholly against appointed councillors, and we have not been. However, we need to be sure that safeguards about this will appear in secondary legislation. I assumebut maybe I am incorrectthat there is a difference between co-opted and appointed members. In general, members are co-opted on to specific committees, such as social services or education, because they have specific expertise. Appointed members could be used to fill places when there is a not a full slate of candidates at an election. We want reassurance that appointed councillors will not be supernumerary to the council to any great extent and that they will make up gaps that have not been filled during an election or there will be a cap on the number that can be appointed. We need reassurance.
I am not as strongly against this as the Liberals, and I shall not support them if they go to a vote, but we need to be sure that secondary legislation will spell this out in the sort of detail required to answer the questions that have been raised. I do not think you can have appointed councils. If there is a parish council of 25, it is clearly ridiculous to have 25 appointed councillors. You either have to have a limited number to make up the 25, or it has to be said
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Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I hope that I can offer the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, the reassurance that she is looking for, but I feel that I will disappoint the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. I am aware that she is unhappy with these proposals, and I hope that I can reassure her. We had full discussions on this matter in Committee and on Report, and I support the comments made by my noble friend Lady Crawley at earlier stages of the Bill. I shall reiterate a couple of her comments, but we have discussed this principle.
We have also said that we are working with the sector on the regulations. I believe that they will offer the proper safeguards and controls that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, is looking for. It is important that they are being developed with the sector. That is continuing, and we want to establish a clear view on this before bringing regulations to this House for full and proper scrutiny, if that is what the House wants to see. In those circumstances, having stressed that we have discussed this extensively already, I am not persuaded that it is either necessary or desirable to put these specific rules in the Bill.
I believe that there is actually not very much between us. I understand that the noble Baroness does not support this measure, but, given that we have already decided that the measure is staying in the Bill, I would prefer it if the Government could work through the details properly with organisations representing parishes and town councils.
I will deal with some of the specific points raised. We need to be clear that co-optees are co-opted to a vacant parish council position, and that appointeesalthough we are talking about a small numberwould be appointed for a shorter period of time. On the point that an under 18-year old is not under 18 for very long, we would not expect them to be appointed for more than a year. I think it is very clear that councillors who are co-opted become councillors, whereas with the development of the regulations we would envisage that appointees would not, for example, be expected to chair important committees.
The role of the appointed parish councillor is, as we have said in the past, to ensure that particular skills can be brought to the council where it feels they
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The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, particularly pointed out that the National Association of Local Councils does not approve of this measure. I am advised that, particularly when we are talking about the involvement of young people, 16 to 18 year-olds, there is support for the use of the appointed route to promote the involvement of young people.
There is support for this measure. I recognise noble Lords concerns that we need to have in place proper controls and safeguards. That is why the Government are working with stakeholders to develop regulations that will be brought before both Houses. We are talking about small numbers. I understand that people would be concerned if parish councils were going to be swamped by appointees; but that is absolutely not going to be the case. This is about adding value to parish councils should they wish to do that.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can she clear up a slight confusion over whether these regulations will be under the affirmative or negative procedure? The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, was quite clear that it would be negative and therefore the matter would not come back to the House. The Minister has now said that it will be considered by the House. It would help to know what the procedure is going to be.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee certainly had something to say about the fact that these changes would be brought forward without the House having a full opportunity to debate them.
I want to remark briefly on the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. Her experience on principal councils is the reverse of the situation in parish councils in that they do not co-opt people to serve on sub-committees but do so in order to make up the numbers where an insufficient number of people have put their names forward. I am not clear from our debate about the status of these new councillors with regard to the number of councillors on a parish council. Parish councils cannot increase or decrease their size willy-nilly they are set in local statutes. They have to apply to the district council to vary the numbers. None of our debates has made it clear where appointed councillors would fit in. It is very clear where co-optees stand, but this is a new category and we do not know the position. I am concerned not just about the principle of appointment, but the practice. It may be possible for appointed councillors to replace elected councillors. We have not had a full debate about that.
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I should like to try to make this clear. We do not envisage that appointed councillors will replace co-opted councillors. A co-opted councillor takes a full councillor position. Appointed councillors are not the same; they have a shorter term of office which will be set out in regulations. They are extra to the council and will be there to add skills and experience and to enhance diversity. They are not there to replace co-opted councillors, and certainly not in any way to replace elected councillors.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for clarifying the point. Nevertheless, I and my colleagues on these Benches remain concerned that what we have here, albeit on a micro scale, is a constitutional change. It introduces appointees to what have previously been democratically elected bodies, and to leave all the detail to regulations is not satisfactory. This provision has been brought in with just a few lines in the Bill, with the detail left to secondary legislation. As we know, parliamentary scrutiny is not always of the quality that your Lordships would like to see. Therefore I wish to test the opinion of the House.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a technical amendment to give effect to the policy that my noble friend Baroness Crawley set out in Committee and on Report. At Report, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, tabled Amendment No. 163A, to what is now Clause 94, on recommendations to create parish councils. My noble friend explained to the House that Clause 94(3) does not apply to existing parishes and, therefore, where an existing parish with a parish council has 150 or fewer electors, it would be able to continue to have a parish council.
The noble Lord also asked at Report whether an existing parish, if it were altered, would be treated as a new parish or an existing parish. As the Bill is drafted, an altered parish would in most cases be treated as an existing parish, because the alteration of existing parishes is dealt with under Clause 88. However, a loophole in Clause 87 has been brought to our attention, principally by the noble Lord and his thorough questioning, whereby an existing parish which has an unparished area added to it would have been treated as a new parish. We are therefore amending Clause 87 to close this loophole, so that an existing parish that has an unparished area added to it will be treated as an existing parish under Clause 88.
This is all very technical, and I hope that I am not being boring and confusing, but I can assure the House that the effect is to ensure that where parish councils currently exist in a parish with 150 or fewer electors, the parish council can continue in existence. The amendment ensures that the Bill delivers the policy objective that we set out in earlier discussions. I hope that noble Lords will find the amendment acceptable. I beg to move.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I read these government amendments and thought they were fairly sensible. I could not explain the detailed technicalities as the Minister has done but I congratulate the Government on seeing sense on the matter. This kind of thing will affect only a few people in a few places on a few occasions, but it is important. In view of what the Minister said, I shall definitely keep on file a copy of todays proceedings in Hansard.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I want to emphasise on behalf of my noble friends that we take the Governments intentions as stated very seriously and at face value. Their words at least are encouraging. We want to be sure that there is recognition of what they are intending for the important future relationship between central and local government. I have attended the House throughout various stages of the Bill and have noted how often the Minister, who is in her place, prayed in aid flexibility. I have not done a check but I suspect that that word has been used on almost every occasion that she has come to the Dispatch Box. Now we turn to the vital question of how flexibly the Government intend to treat the local area agreements. As I am sure noble Lords will recognise, this issue is a crucial part of the Bill at this stage of its parliamentary consideration.
If local area agreements are to be as flexible and effective as we must all hope they will be, they must be dynamic, locally responsive and constantly monitored by the partners themselvesnot by the Government or outsidersto ensure that they are appropriate to changing local needs. That must be true especially for the new unitary authorities. The Minister will recognise that the Bill had its inception and most of its consideration before we were even aware of who might be considered for new unitary status. It is therefore extremely important that this exercise proceed with careful consideration alongside that
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Although I have in mind specifically my own part of the country, Cornwall, what I have to say may be appropriate also to Durham, Northumberland, Shropshire and Wiltshire, which are all major county councils with considerable responsibilities. As they attain unitary statuswhich is not yet confirmed, though we hope it will be in a matter of weeksthere will be a very good case for ensuring they are able to take full advantage of the Bills provisions on LAAs.
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