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I turn finally to Amendments 1, 22, 59 and 60. Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord are suggesting that we do not require a local authority to do anything but have,
understanding. This undermines the intention of the duties and the power of what we are trying to do. It would not impose any duty on the local authorities to do anything. I imagine that the noble Lords have in mind a duty for local authorities to have regard to the desirability of promoting democracy, but this is not an adequate substitute for a clear and unambiguous duty, as my noble friends have said, to take specific actions. In any event, there are many functions of the authority which do not obviously lend themselves to the promotion of democracy, such as rubbish collection. We cannot accept these clauses, which would render the duty nugatory.
Amendments 2, 21, 23 and 61 on our requirement on local authorities seek to qualify the duty by adding that local authorities must use reasonable endeavours. We have been purposely silent on how local authorities will fulfil their duties in relation to promotion of democracy. That is right and responsive to local government itself. We want it to be as flexible as possible. The duties as drafted leave it to the local authority to judge how best to discharge this duty without incurring unreasonable cost. We have not prescribed how they will promote democratic understanding, or laterwhen we turn to Clauses 3 and 4promote the roles of lay justices, members of
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I apologise for speaking at such length but, as this matter is so fundamental to the Bill, it is worth having the debate. I quite understand that this is new territory and absolutely appropriate to raise
Baroness Andrews: It is new territory to put it in legislation in this form; it is clearly not new territory in the light of what many Members of the Committee have said.
It is absolutely appropriate for a duty on the new landscape in which we are working, across boundaries and in relation to the extension of local government autonomy that has been achieved and the huge and growing responsibilities that it undertakes. All that impacts on how local people are served, the range and type of services they can expect and how the place they live in is being shaped and changed. Indeed, it feeds the new appetite for influence. Members of the Committee are right when they say that people want to become involved. In my home town, which is a transition town, the community is alive to the sorts of decisions that local government must make if we are move to a low-carbon economy. People are looking for influence. This is about giving them some new choice and access. It is a proportionate approach. The duty plus the local discretion will achieve the right balance.
Lord Tope: I am grateful to the Minister for what she herself said was a full, but helpful, reply. First, I respond to the challenge of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, who suggested that because I had been a councillor for rather a long time, I am perhaps a little resistant to change. The record will not show that he said that with a smile on his face, and I hope that he was not too serious.
There is nothing in this part of the Bill that represents a challenge either to me or to the local authority on which I sit. Certainly, my authority has been undertaking all the significant measures in here since shortly after the Liberal Democrats won control of it in 1986. Most of what we implemented in the 1980s we probably took from a handbook written by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in a previous incarnation. There is no challenge here, and neither I nor my colleagues are in any way resistant to what is in it. Our resistance, if resistance it is, is to the fact that it is in a Bill, not to the suggestions of what we should do.
All good authorities, of all political persuasions and none, have, I hope, been promoting local democracy for many years. For many years, we have had increasingly better schemes for receiving petitions, as my noble friend Lord Greaves made clear. Certainly, over my time in local government, the opportunities for involvement in local democracy have increased hugely and people have taken advantage of that. We have had
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In all of this, my noble friends and I hope that we are not giving any impression of complacency or the feeling that we do not think there is a problem. I acknowledged at Second Reading and I will do so again now that there is a problem. My noble friends and I have spent most of our adult lives trying to promote active and participatory democracy. I certainly do not feel that I have succeeded yetfar from it. It happens much less than it ought to. In part, our difficulty is not in acknowledging the problem, which is widely recognised in the debate that we have had in Committee, but in identifying the best solutions. I am far from convinced, frankly, that doing what is in the Bill, which many good authorities have been doing in one way or another for years, sadly without enough effect, is actually the right solution.
Perhaps this is not the time and place for a long debate about the right solution, but our problem is not what is in the Bill but the fact that it is in a Bill. It is much better left to local authorities to continue to develop their own schemes for local participation and to strive for that end as all good local authorities do. I acknowledge that there are poor local authorities, probably under the control of all parties and they are as much condemned by the good authorities that they are letting down as by any Minister, civil servant or Member of either House of Parliament. We will continue this debate for many hours to come in some detail, but I hope that I have set out our position a little more clearly. I am pleased to see that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, is nodding in assent. I have achieved one objective, at least.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: I was not nodding off.
Baroness Warsi: I thank the Minister for her detailed response. It has been an extremely informative start. We heard about the number of years that various Members of the Committee had served35 years by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and 31 years by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh. Indeed, there was reference to papers being written by the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Greaves, although we did not quite get to the bottom of who wrote which paper and who put their name to it. What interests and intrigues me is that papers were being written while I was still in nappies.
There was also reference to the wording of the amendments drafted by us. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that I do not think that there is a civil servant in me. I may have an inner lawyer in the way that I have drafted these particular amendments. However, I would say to the Minister that there may be an inner conflict in her comments. On the one
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3: Clause 1, page 1, line 8, at end insert
( ) the duty of members of the authority as democratically elected representatives;
Lord Tope: I shall speak also to Amendment 7 in my name. If Clause 1 is to be in the Bill, there is a striking omission: the role and duties of a local authority councillor. It was said in the previous debate that that is still little understood. In my experience, that is so in all sorts of ways. Good councils of all persuasions are now operating shadow councillor schemes. I have been shadowed myself by a number of people who are not necessarily interested in becoming a councillor but who are interested in knowing more about what is involved and how the system works. It seems to me, and to my noble friend in whose name the amendment stands, that a very important part of the duties here should be the duty to promote a better understanding of the work and role of a councillor, which is inherent in understanding the democratic functioning of local government. I believe that the Bill would benefit from an explicit reference to that.
Amendment 7 requires local authorities to set out, as part of this instructive process, their arrangements for consultation. I would make a distinction between consultation, conducted under a number of options, any one of which might be adopted, and public information, which is sometimes called consultation, but which is much more about explaining to people why something has to happen, whether they are wholly in favour of it or not. It is setting out arrangements, explaining to people how a local authority takes its decisions, who takes the decisions and how the public may express their views and influence decisions. That is the purpose of Amendments 3 and 7. I beg to move.
Lord Greaves: Apart from Amendment 77, which is slightly different, I have Amendments 4, 6, 13, 26 and 28 in this group. Effectively, they are all the same but relate to different parts of Chapter 1. I shall deal with Amendment 77 first, which I tabled because there appears to be some duplication in the Bill. In Clause 9
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I imagined that the definitions refer to Clause 1, but they do not. The definitions in Clause 1 refer to the full definitions of principal local authority, democratic arrangements and local people and apply to the whole chapter, so the definitions of those three phrases appear twice in the same chapter. To encourage the Government to make the Bill three lines shorter, I have tabled Amendment 77. The Government could make my day and accept it, although it would not make any difference to anything because it is there already.
The other amendments relate to adding the words and decision making to wherever the phrase democratic arrangements occurs in Chapter 1 to make it mean what the Minister has said it means. Clause 1(3) defines democratic arrangements as being,
There is a wide range of agreement in the Committee that we want to see the promotion of those arrangements, which in general terms is very good, but it is a slightly odd definition of democracy. There is no doubt in my mind that encouraging people to take part in local governance in all sorts of waysgoing to council meetings and taking part, going to public meetings and going to the kind of meetings which the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, was talking aboutis all part and parcel of democracy. But it is only part of democracy. The real bases for the structure of local democracy are elected local councils, as my noble friend just said. Without elected local councils, there would be no democratic structure for anyone to take part in. It is an odd definition of democratic arrangements, but I will not quibble because what is being put forward is a good thing.
However, it is clear from discussion on the previous group of amendments that what is being proposed here is a duty on local authorities to set out the map for the structure of local governance in the area. The decision-making systems have to be set out and explained and people have to understand them before they can sensibly take part in them. That is the noble Baronesss argument. But it does not say that here. It says that there is a duty to promote arrangements for members of the public to participate in the making of decisions. All that I am doing is adding the structure of the decision-making system to this part of the Bill that has to be explained and put forward to promote understanding of it.
People first need to know how decisions are made and who makes them. When people know that, they can settle to and try to influence those decisions. If they do not know how the decisions are made and who makes them, they just fire off letters to the local press attacking everybody regardless of who does what. The week before last, I went to a meeting of a body called Lancashire LocalPendle. I do not understand why Lancashire County Council puts adjectives and nouns the wrong way round these days, but it is a bit like Team GB, I suppose. Lancashire LocalPendle is a six-weekly meeting that Lancashire County Council
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At this meeting, a gentleman made a vitriolic attack on Pendle Borough Council and Pendle councillors for the appalling mess that we had made, he said, of clearing the snow and ice in the bad weather we had before Christmas. The service that was put forward in Pendle was appallingfar worse than it has ever been in the pastbut it was the responsibility of Lancashire County Council. It used to be run by Pendle. Two years ago, the county took the service back despite vigorous opposition from people including methe whole of Pendle Borough Council, in fact. Nevertheless, we had it taken from us. The county said No, well do it. Well do a much better job, and they made a complete botch of it. But the person who stood up and the various people who complained to the paper attacked Pendle Borough Council. Unless you know who does what, you do not know where, as the Government would say, to engage with the system. The purpose of the amendments is entirely constructive. It is an attempt to make this part of the Bill say what I understand the Government mean it to say.
Baroness Warsi: I have one amendment in this group, Amendment 25, by which I simply seek to build on my earlier comments and those of the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Greaves. Clause 2 places a duty on the local authority to promote understanding of the functions of connected authorities. The Bill then goes on to list a great number of bodies, organisations, agencies, authorities and, perhaps I may say, quangos. My Amendment 25 is designed to emphasise the tenuous democratic nature of all those organisations because they do not enjoy democratic arrangements at all. The nature of these bodies is that someone else controls them. Someone else appoints their members, and someone else controls their budgets and priorities. That someone else may be the Secretary of State, but it is certainly not local voters. If the Government wish local authorities to promote understanding of these bodies, it is not unreasonable to ask them to put an extra paragraph on the Explanatory Notes pointing out that neither they nor the voters have very much to say on what goes on in these authorities. Indeed, I was almost minded to champion this clause, rather than seek to amend it, because if an understanding of the true democratic nature of these bodies was enthusiastically and honestly promoted, a backlash would surely arise when voters were made fully aware of just how impotent they actually are.
We have consistently argued against the creation of new quangos and criticised their lack of accountability. If the Government are serious about engaging local voters, boosting local democracy and encouraging people to participate, this lack of accountability will have to be properly addressed. Until they are ready to address that real issue, we might as well be honest about the current reality.
Baroness Andrews: Again, this has been a very important debate and one with which I have a great deal of sympathy. May I say how pleased I am to see that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has joined us, and how much I appreciated working with him for so long? I am sure he will enjoy his Back-Bench career, being able to get involved in some of the things he was not able to before. It is very nice to see him taking part in the Committee.
This group of amendments focuses on the scope of the duties in Clauses 1 and 2. They seek to probe exactly what kinds of information councils should be providing. I am grateful for the opportunity to explore some of those issues, which have been very well raised for their salience.
The intent behind the amendments is, clearly, to ensure that the scope of the clauses is as comprehensive as is appropriate. I am happy to explain how I think the existing clauses already cover what noble Lords want to see. I shall do that very briefly, as I do not want to repeat anything that I said in the long debate that we have just had.
The intent behind Clauses 1 and 2, and the text, make it clear that, based on all the evidence that I have brought forward, we believe it is important for people to be genuinely and not just nominally involved in decision-making. That is why we have been so intent in our community empowerment White Paper on the need to shift power, influence and responsibility, and give communities more purchase on that. There is a long history behind that; the Councillors Commission showed that there is a fundamental failure of communication between most local councils in explaining how their councils work and what they are responsible forand I thought that the example of Pendle was extremely tellingas well as who takes the decisions, at what level and how they are taken. What are the processes? Is it a committee structure or a small sub-group, and is it possible to get into these meetings? How can decisions be changed? Those are clearly among the most insuperable barriers to people becoming more involved.
We know that people want to know these things and think that there should be involvement. I saw some extremely interesting new polling from Ipsos MORI just last week, demonstrating the sheer enthusiasm that people have for getting involved. I do not think that it has been published yet, but it was extremely graphic about the real interest there is in local issues and involvement. That is not something that we are struggling with alone in Britain. The Councillors Commission reviewed international evidence. I was in Australia over Christmas and spent a morningwhich I did not expecttalking to councillors in New South Wales about their attempt to try to re-engage better with local communities.
The only people who can make this happen are councillors. They have new forms of access to information that have completely revolutionised the way in which they communicate with local people. But where access is denied, people are being left out of the loop. Increasing and improving information on what they do, how and why is the business of this Bill and of local councillors.
Let us begin with the information that can and should be made available. I pay tribute to the many excellent councillors who are doing their best, but we need to ensure that in democratic arrangements we have all the elements necessary to make the difference as regards what people know and how they can use the information. On Amendment 77, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right that it is not essential to have the provision in lines 23 to 25. It was merely intended to be helpful and to put all the definitions together in the same place. If he will leave the matter with me, I will see whether there is a point to be addressed. I can assure him that I am game for anything that can shorten the Bill.
I sympathise with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, wanted to achieve in Amendments 4, 6, 13, 26 and 28. I assure him that the scope of the definition in subsection (3), which defines democratic arrangements as,
already meets his intentions. It will certainly mean that councils have to act to increase public knowledge and understanding of how public bodies approach and make decisions; to make it clear who is making which decisions on behalf of the public; and the way in which people can get involved. By requiring councillors to explain how people can get involved in the decision-making process, it must necessarily involve an explanation of what the processes are and who takes which type of decision. The provisions also specifically require councillors to explain their rolewhat is involved in being a councillorand the functions of the council. Departing from my brief, I think that subsection (1)(b), relates also to the decisions taken by a principal local authority and the way in which it takes them.
Amendments 26 and 28 seek to ensure that councillors explain what kind of decision-making arrangements a connected authority has. That, too, is covered by the general set of definitions, but I shall say more about that on Amendment 25. I have to advise the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that some of the amendments may have the unintended consequence of widening the duty of explanation for areas which are inappropriate. The amendment seems to suggest that the council will have to explain its mechanisms for all types of decision-making, not just those of a policy nature which affect the public. Our policy is limited to the types of decision that, under Clause 1(3), fit under the definition,
When you broaden those types, you can bring in decisions which may be commercially sensitive or deal with disciplinary actions. We must therefore be extremely careful to draw that provision as specifically as possible. We do not want to catch a vast number of everyday decisions; for example, when to send out the gritting lorries.
Lord Greaves: I am sorry, but that is exactly the kind of decision that gets people most worked up. In the previous debate, the noble Baroness said that the
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Baroness Andrews: I must confess that as soon as I heard myself saying that, I realised that it was a very bad example, as most probably was gritting lorries. Members of the Committee have already urged me to think about the matter, and I have said that the balance we are trying to achieve relates to it. We are not going to go into detail about the decisions, the areas of policy and so forth; we are making general requirements about the process. Clearly, the way in which it impacts on the different types of services and decisions will vary, but we are dealing with the way in which the decisions are taken. We must therefore be careful that we do not broaden the clause inappropriately and accidentally.
Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, extends the argument into the detail of the councillors work to add to the main duty in Clause 1 the requirement to promote the understanding of the duty of members of the authority as democratically elected representatives. He is right that it is important that that is understood. I believe that any duty to promote democracy worth its salt would include a requirement to explain to people about this role. We have already included it in Clause 1(2)(b) which requires councillors to promote the understanding of what councillors do. I believe that that is properly encompassed there and will include an explanation of their formal responsibilities and duties.
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