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There is another complication. To have the GLA as a principal authority under Clause 1 would mean that it would be under the duty in Clause 2 to promote the functions and democratic arrangements of a wide range of local bodies in London. That would duplicate
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Baroness Maddock: I thank for Minister for his explanation. I am afraid that he has not really convinced me and I am not sure when he will convince my noble friends either. The people who can best explain how a local authority works are those actually running it. Certainly, the GLA is important to London, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, said. The various things that it does and the way that it operates are completely different. The role of the councillors is completely different. Therefore, you are expecting the London boroughs to be able to explain in detail how the GLA works, which I suspect they may not be able do well as the people who actually sit on the GLA.
I hear what the Minister says and I recognise that there is a difficulty because the GLA does not fit the parameters of any other authority, but I believe that my noble friends have a good point. I have a feeling that they will read what the Minister has said and may return to this on Report. The Minister certainly has not convinced me and I have a sneaking suspicion that he will not have convinced my noble friends. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: The amendments in this group discuss the place of Wales in the Bill. Why is it essential that Wales be included? Could the National Assembly for Wales and its Government not be given these responsibilities and be able to fulfil them more effectively in Cardiff than we do in this capital city? The Bill tries to involve more people and communities in their local affairs. To put Wales and its responsibilities in the Bill is a backwards step. The amendment gives the people of Wales full authority on the matters in this measure: devolution. If we accept these amendmentsI am sure that the Minister looks favourably on themit will be a step forward in the devolution process for Wales. Do we trust the National Assembly for Wales and its Government? Are we going to help them move forward? By withdrawing the references to Wales, we would be doing that. We would be trusting the National Assembly for Wales Government, which was set up by the Labour Government 10 years ago. Why not move forward a little more? England has enough problems of its own.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: Hear, hear!
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: I am glad that others agree with me. The National Assembly for Wales should be given the chance to look at its own situation and see how the people of Wales could in their own wayour culture is differentbe more involved in the
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Lord Graham of Edmonton: The noble Lord always has my respect for his defence and promotion of all things Welsh, but can he contemplate the situation prior to the Bill? Does he feel that, left alone, the National Assembly for Wales would, of its own volition, have taken some of steps that could be initiated by the Bill? He may have a point that there is a better place for the people of Wales to be as well served by legislation. It is government once removed if the initiative has to be taken here. However, we do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It is no good simply deleting Wales and leaving it unencumbered by any responsibility to do the kind of things that the Bill requires. I am intrigued by what the Minister might say. In his reply, will the noble Baroness indicate to us that he has in mind, or even knows, that there are moves afoot in Cardiff to do for the people of Wales precisely that which would have been done for them if Wales had been left in the Bill?
Lord Greaves: The noble Lord, Lord Graham, does not seem to understand what devolution is all about. We may think that it is a good thing for the National Assembly for Wales or Welsh authorities to do this or that, but the principle of devolution is that it is for them to decide within those areas where, by and large, the National Assembly for Wales has competence. Local government is one of those areas. It does not have complete competence over local government in the way that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government have over local government in Scotland, but it has substantial competence over local government. When Bills go through the Westminster Parliament, it is normal for the references to Wales to be permissive. Wales may be excluded completely, so that the Welsh Assembly makes the decisions. For example, we have the Planning Act, the Housing and Regeneration Act and a whole series of Acts under which Wales is graciously allowed to make its own decisions.
That is not happening here. In this legislation, it is being prescribed under Chapters 1 and 2 that Wales will have a system. The Bill says that it will apply in Wales unless the Welsh Ministers vary it. If they wish to vary it, they can, but they cannot not do it. We are not saying that the Bill should not apply to Wales, but that the powers of the Welsh Ministers and, therefore, the Welsh Assembly, should be completely permissive. In other words, the Bill says, This will happen in England. We are saying that it should say in relation to Wales, This may happen, and it may happen in this form or it may happen in a different form as agreed by the Welsh Minister and the Welsh Assembly. That is what is normally done nowadays in Wales. We do not understand why on these detailed provisions about the duty to provide this information and petitions, this Bill is different to what is now pretty well customary practice.
Baroness Andrews: It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to debate the devolution settlement with the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. We do not see him
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The amendments seek to disapply the provisions of the Bill so that the duty will not apply to county or county borough councils or connected bodies, or to community councils, in Wales; to achieve this by changing the process so that Welsh Ministers can make subordinate legislation in respect of the duty and to modify those provisions as they see fit; and to ensure that the petition will be equally valid irrespective of language. These provisions would give Welsh Ministers greater flexibility to make different provisions in relation to promoting democracy and to petition schemes.
There is absolutely no difference in principle in recognising that, in Wales as much as in England, local communities should have a greater understanding of the role of local government and public bodies, and that there should be a requirement on local government to do that. My experience in Wales is that people are more involved in local government in many ways because it is nearer the ground.
Why have we done this in this way? The answer is that Welsh Ministers asked us to. They requested that these provisions are applied equally to England and Wales. We trust the Welsh Government. We listened to what the Ministers asked for and we have provided it. So my response is predictable: Welsh Ministers are content with the provisions set out in the Bill. They have not sought changes or further flexibility. That is partly because they also appreciate that we are leaving the detail and the process to local authorities themselves to determine what is best for their local communities and relationships. We were in very close contact with the Welsh Assembly Government throughout this process.
I know that the amendments are there to provoke debate. However, just in case they should pass into law by accident, I should say that agreeing, for example, Amendment 133Awhich would remove community councils from the list of bodies which Welsh Ministers could by order provide had arrangements for handling petitionswould be a serious blow to democracy in Wales. There are 736 community councils, which are equivalent to English parish councils, and only 22 unitary councils. The community councils are the bodies which are closest to the communities and identify with them. It would be totally unreasonable if this requirement were not to apply to them. A major concern is the serious risk that these amendments, if some but not all were approved, could lead to profound inequality between England and Wales. As my noble friend has asked, why should Wales be at any disadvantage to England in its citizens right to information about how councils work and how local people can be part of the process?
There is a reason for the process as well, as Welsh Ministers were aware. These provisions can be commenced in Wales and England to the same broad timescale because they are included in the Bill. As noble Lords will know, the effect of the amendments would be that
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On the amendment on petitions, I assure noble Lords that a petition, no matter whether it was written in English or Wales, would be treated in the same way. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, will know that all local authorities in Wales already have their own Welsh language schemes under the Welsh Language Act 1993 that give effect to the principle that Welsh and English are treated equally.
I suppose that we are debating here the devolution settlement in different ways and what powers the Welsh Assembly Government require to deliver for the people of Wales. Noble Lords will understand the passion with which I say that I do not believe that Westminster should in any way ignore or override what the Welsh Assembly Government require. We should not second-guess what those requirements should be. If Welsh Ministers want greater powers for themselves or the National Assembly, the Government of Wales Act enables them to request them. They have not considered it necessary in this case; they are content with the wording of the clauses and the flexibility which the order-making powers and their power to commence offer them.
I draw the attention of the Committee to a technical procedure in relation to the petition provisions applying to Wales. Provisions relating to petitions are within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales by virtue of Matter 12(5)(b) in Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006. Noble Lords will be aware that the agreement of the National Assembly should be obtained when a parliamentary Bill makes provision that falls within the legislative competence of the National Assembly. The National Assembly will tomorrow consider a Legislative Consent Motion and Memorandum to give consent on that point.
Lord Greaves: Before my noble friend replies on the substantive matters, perhaps I may say how fascinated I was by what the Minister said about community councils, which are exactly what in England we call parish councilswe might call them all sorts of other things now, although I have not discovered any that have changed their name yet. The Minister said that it was vital that community councils in Wales are given these responsibilities. Is she saying that that will apply in England as well by way of the provision which states that the Secretary of State may by order apply the provisions in Chapter 1 to parish councils? Is it the intention of the Government that this will be done?
Baroness Andrews: The noble Lord will know that the configuration of local government in Wales and England is different. I know that an opportunity to debate the position of parish councils is coming up. I shall certainly look forward to giving him the full answer to his question at that point.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: What we have here is an echo of the old England knows best. It is going back to colonial rule. I do not withdraw that remark. We are going back to a time when it was said, We
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Welsh culture is different. We speak about the Welsh language and what we should do piecemeal instead of placing it in the whole context of a Welsh language Act. We have to do that: it is not a case of putting in an amendment here or another word there. It is part of a whole cultural approach. Bearing that in mind, and there is a lot more one could say, I suggest that we should not forget this in its entirety. We will come to discuss things later on such as the way that we elect local councils. We have already discussed that in the Assembly. Scotland has already taken its own decision and implemented it. We in Wales would like to have the authority.
In 2011, there will be a referendum on the powers of the Welsh Assembly. We are looking forward to that in a very positive way. Today, we will ask the Government to think again about this. Let us make the mistakes that we will make and take the positive steps that we have taken. Perhaps we can agree this amendment when we discuss it further. Regretfully, this afternoon, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Greaves: This is a more substantive group than the last one I spoke to. In moving Amendment 14, I will speak to Amendments 15 and 19 inclusive in this group. They concern the definition of local people in Clause 1(3). The definition applies to Chapter 1, which concerns the duty to promote understanding of local democracy and does not specifically apply to Chapter 2, which relates to petitions, which we will discuss in due course.
The issues relating to petitions are more important because a name or petition can be rejected if someone is not classified as a local person, whereas in Chapter 1, if information is being provided and promoted you cannot stop people receiving it. You cannot say that a person is not local and therefore cannot look at a website or whatever. It is more important later on. Nevertheless, the principle is first established here. It will be an important principle in any further legislation if the community empowerment stuff comes back in legislative form
My first approach to this would be to say that it is better not to try to define who local people are and leave that to common sense. As we have said several times this afternoon, central Government have put too much effort into trying to tie everything down. If it is to be defined in legislation, it needs to be sensible and it needs to have a clearer, more specific definition which, I would say, does not exclude people, or perhaps excludes people according to who needs to be excluded.
These amendments provide a series of options. No doubt, when the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, has analysed them with her legal mind, she will tell me that some of them are contradictory, which they are. This is a series of options to find a sensible definition of local people. The definition in the legislation is,
That would make it exemplary and not definitive. In other words, I want to remove the word means and replace it with the word includes, which would mean that people are included, and not that others are not included. That would be perfectly reasonable.
A second logical way to do it, although not necessarily reasonable, would be to leave out the words work or study and just apply it to residents of the local authority area. There is a logical reason for saying that the residents in the area are people who apply specifically to that local authority. However, why should not the people who work in the local authority be included, particularly if they are entitled to stand for the council? People who study in the authorityfull-time studentsare perhaps a reasonable group of people to include. They might include people who go to school or who go to college over the border. In the next group of amendments but one we shall be discussing over-border issues. That widens the situation considerably, but it means that if you are a 17 year-old student who happens to cross a border to go to school, you are included, but if you live just the other side, you are not included, although you might be part of the same community and use lots of facilities provided by that council. It is not clear why the words or study are there. It also potentially includes part-time students, people who do just an hours night-school class or whatever. I do not think it has been thought out very well.
Amendments 16 and 17 add property owners. To use the words people who own property is probably not exactly the right wording; it should be people who have an interest in a property. Why should you not have a right in relation to a local authority if you own property in that authoritys area? You may well be a landlord who owns a dozen houses and have lots of dealings with the environmental health department or with the housing benefit department or whatever, or you might be someone who has interesting relationships with the local planning authority and you are trying to get planning permission for something. Why should you be excluded? If you are a property owner or a tenant, you have a right to stand for the local authority, so you already have a statutory right.
I am saying that the more you include, the more you think others should be included. The real purpose of the amendments is to try to take away all the
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Many councils provide all kinds of facilities such as schools, leisure facilities, parks, subsidised bus services or whatever which are used by people who do not live in the authority but who have a perfectly reasonable interest in what the authority does, in making their own representations and in taking part in the local democracy of the authority which makes the decisions. Those of us who are members of local authorities get petitions from people who do not live in the authority because what we are doing affects what they are doing and their lives.
Amendment 19 points out that the franchise is different from what the Government are proposing and that there are people who are entitled to stand for the authority who do not come within their categories. They surely have a right to make representations and take part in democratic debate in the authority. Indeed, there are people who are entitled to stand for the council who do not come within the category that the Government are putting forward.
The purpose of these amendments is to suggest that the Government should be as general and inclusive as possible and should reject my detailed amendments that suggest additional categories in favour of removing all categories. They should simply say local people and leave it to common sense.
Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has probed the meaning of local people quite extensively with these amendments. I agree that the definition is curious. It is restrictive but nebulous. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right to question how we define live. How much of the year must a person spend in his home to qualify? Is it six months and a day or all the year round? What about owners of second homes? I am sure many Members of the Committee will have something to say about how they would be defined because of where they live most of the week. What about people who own property but do not live in it for whatever reason? Are they included or excluded?
The noble Lord made other suggestions about people whose connection with an authority is just as substantial as those who are covered in the Bill. It seems that anyone with a connection to the services provided by a local authority could be said to have a sufficient local connection to warrant inclusion. A person who studies occasionally in a local authoritys area may have less interest in the working and functions of that authority than someone who regularly uses the service that the authority provides, even though he may live elsewhere. It could be argued that someone who chooses not to participate in the life and prosperity of a local authority does not need to have the local authority dutifully promoting itself to them. These are not arguments that I wish to pursue to a ridiculous degree because the Government could get themselves out of the tangle of definitions of who must be considered as a local person simply by removing the duty.
Lord Borrie: To my surprise, I find myself in agreement with quite a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said because he gave examples of people who have a connection with a local area but do not come within the Governments definition. However, I cannot agree with one general point he made. He would alter the word means to includes. As this arises out of a duty on the local authority to promote understanding, and the Government intend that to be a serious duty, the local authority must want a clear definition of to whom the duty is owed. To have it at large would leave a great deal of undesirable uncertainty. The noble Lord has made a case for examining closely, and perhaps altering, the definition, but I agree that there should be a definition.
Baroness Andrews: I am grateful to noble Lords for contributing to this debate. It is important that we understand the reasons for this definition as opposed to any of the other definitions suggested by the amendments or in debate. I shall explain the intention behind the existing definition of local people and the care that has gone into drawing it up.
Members of the Committee know that we are looking to require local authorities to help local communities to understand more about democratic processes, and so on. That includes all parts of the communityyoung people and old, those who are working and studying and those not in work, people with disabilities and all ethnic and faith communities. As I have said several times already this afternoon, this is about invigorating local democracy and the control that people feel they can exercise over everything from the quality of care for older people to their councils taking action to mitigate climate change. We have to balance that, as it is a large ambition, to ensure that we are fair to local authorities as well. We do not want to create a duty that is overly burdensome to local authoritiesand noble Lords would certainly try to stop us doing that. We also want to establish a clear and understandable definition, and we believe that these terms, live, work and study, in their normal understanding, do that for us.
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