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If the Government had had the sense to accept Amendment 3, they might have got quite a bit of what they wanted but still kept some of the duties that they required. I am afraid that now we really must support Amendments 15 and 17 because, without going back to the debate that we had in Committee, we believe that the amount of detail and regulation that the Government plan to put behind these duties is—based on my long experience in local government—frankly absurd. I hope that the Government can think again on this. We all want to promote local government, but the regulation is so detailed that I request that the Government think again. That is all that I have to say; we have said it many times before. I ask the noble Baroness to persuade her colleagues to think again on this.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Tope, began his speech, I thought that I had persuaded him. He began by saying that he wanted more understanding of the functions in this clause and how people become involved, that the magistracy

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needs to be more diverse and that assistance from local authorities was desirable. Then he backed off from the notion that we should make sure that this happens by including a duty that is consistent with the rest of the Bill. I will try again to explain why it is so important that these functions are also captured by the duty.

I will state briefly what the clauses do and why. We had a long but—largely due to me—rather confused debate on this in Committee. I will make sure that this is now on the record. Very briefly, the information to be provided, which is captured in Clause 3, will include information about how the bodies function; what they do; how a person can be a member of, or take part in, these bodies; and what is involved in doing so. The duty does not require councils to explain the decision-making arrangements of the bodies.

The difference between these bodies and those listed in Clause 2 is that the bodies listed in Clause 2 have broad responsibilities and offer a wider range of formal and informal opportunities for ordinary members or sections of the public to be involved in their decision-making. The bodies listed in Clause 3 are different. Their functions relate to the administration of justice services, so it is not appropriate or necessary for their decision-making arrangements, other than their civic functions, to be included. In carrying out their functions, they simply seek to recruit ordinary citizens to serve on them and to fill the important lay judicial and inspectoral roles from the local community. These roles include monitoring the day-to-day life in local prisons or removal centres, ensuring that proper standards of care and decency are maintained as part of an independent monitoring board or making recommendations to improve the administrative services provided by the court as part of the court board.

These are important functions within the community. There has long been concern that the pool of people who take part is not broad or diverse enough. There is a genuine appetite among the organisations, and a real need, to ensure that a more diverse range of people put themselves forward. For example, the recruitment of new members is critical to independent monitoring boards, not least because many IMBs are currently understrength. The difficulties of recruiting new members, especially in low population areas, where many of our prisons are located, and of ensuring that membership reflects a broad range of ages and backgrounds are a constant challenge for IMBs. That is one good argument for why this should be a duty.

The aim, therefore, is to spread awareness of the work of the organisations among groups that are underrepresented and people who may be unaware that such opportunities are available. As I said, the people who do this work are not as representative of their populations as they might be. Only one-third of court board members are women, according to figures from June 2008. Nationally, 80 per cent of magistrates are over 50 and the average age is 57. Although the proportion of IMB members from black and ethnic minority communities is around 7 per cent, the proportion of members of these communities on individual boards hardly mirrors the composition of the local population.

The bodies named in Clauses 3 and 4—lay justices, IMBs, court boards and youth offending teams—are committed to the promotion of their lay roles. Their

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ambition is to attract a wide and diverse range of people to take up those roles. They or their representatives have all welcomed the opportunity offered by inclusion in this clause to further promote their lay roles, in addition to the work that they already do to attract a wider and more diverse range of people to take them up.

6.30 pm

In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, was concerned that the duty might have a perverse consequence, where the fact that the council was committed to promoting greater diversity or understanding of the bodies’ roles would demotivate the bodies themselves from doing so. I hope that I can address the question raised by the noble Lord. It is understood by the bodies concerned that we intend to build on what they do, amplify and enhance it and spread the word further, to ensure that the roles are promoted even more widely and to take a joined-up approach across different public bodies to make it more likely that citizens will be able to access information and get involved.

We are not in any sense imposing those requirements on the public bodies in question. We are not saying that councils are superior to those bodies. We are not saying that they will be able to come up with amazing feats to inspire people that the bodies are less capable of doing themselves. We are saying that giving councils that role means that there will be an additional opportunity, an additional focus, with greater attention generated and a boost given to the efforts that the bodies themselves are already making. There is an argument for additional effort in this area and for saying that that will be achieved only by imposing a duty. That will help to increase publicity about roles.

The council can provide a single point of contact for and will reach out to those who are not already aware of a specific role but who may be helpful to the organisations concerned and interested in finding out what is on offer. I am concerned that, if responsibility remains solely with the bodies concerned and that help is not provided, we will be stuck in the current situation where, in many cases, only people who already know about the bodies or have a professional interest can approach them for information. We want it to be made clearer to the public what those bodies do and how to take up opportunities. We think that requiring local authorities to promote information about their important range of local roles means that they can be promoted more effectively and coherently.

Clause 4 deals essentially with lay justices, commonly known as magistrates. The same arguments apply. The noble Lord asked me about the question raised by my noble friend Lord Borrie. We thought about that. He mentioned the fact that the tribunals were not mentioned in Clause 3. We have reviewed that since Committee. We have confirmed that, as they operate at national level, they do not meet our criteria for inclusion. The Tribunals Service at the Ministry of Justice confirms that it does not consider tribunals to be appropriate to be included in the duty. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising the point and for allowing me to explain why it is not included.

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Lord Tope: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. Let me start by making it clear that I was certainly not proposing that tribunals should be included—quite the opposite. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, was not here, I thought that I could at least give the Minister the opportunity to clarify that point, which arose in Committee.

We agree with almost everything that the Minister said in her reply, but it still did not address the key point. Of course it is desirable that there should be greater knowledge and understanding of the functions of all those bodies. Of course anything and everything should be done to encourage a wider and more diverse membership, although I had a little concern when the Minister appeared to be straying into suggesting that local authorities might help with recruitment. I think that she was probably talking about Clause 3, but she mentioned Clause 4, which concerns lay justices. I think that we are all agreed that local authorities must stop short of trying to recruit magistrates. That would be a dangerous path down which to go.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I want to correct that impression, if I have given it. The noble Lord is quite right; I would not want to suggest that. That was loose language.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I am grateful for that. We all agree that that is not a path down which local authorities should go. In moving the amendment, I said that I accept and believe that anything that a local authority can properly do in association with these bodies, especially local magistrates, to promote understanding, to encourage people to take a greater part and to bring about greater diversity is clearly desirable. Indeed, I think that I went as far as to say that, despite my misgivings about guidance, reference to it as a desirable action could be included in guidance. Voluntary assistance and even active engagement by local authorities are very different from placing a statutory duty on those authorities. If there needs to be a statutory duty, it should rest with the appropriate bodies, not with the local authority. That is the key difference between us and the Government and a point on which we will just have to continue to disagree. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 15 withdrawn.

Clause 4: Lay justices

Amendments 16 and 17 not moved.

Clause 5: Provision of information

Amendments 18 to 20 not moved.

Amendment 21

Moved by Lord Patel of Bradford

21: Clause 5, page 5, line 22, at end insert—

“(za) the county council must, at least once a year, request any authority, body or other person in relation to which the district council is also under a duty under section 2, 3 or 4 for the information that the district council needs in order to discharge the duty in that section,”

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Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, I shall speak to government Amendments 21 to 23. First, I welcome the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, on this set of amendments, which are intended to improve the arrangements set out in Clause 5. They explain how counties and districts can work together in county areas to provide information to the public on how they can participate in or influence local decision-making by bodies listed in Clauses 2, 3 or 4. We listened to noble Lords’ comments that it was not necessarily clear to councils that the responsibility for requesting and collecting information from the connected authorities and those bodies listed in Clauses 3 and 4 falls to counties in two-tier areas.

Clause 5 currently establishes how the duties will work in two-tier areas and clarifies the responsibilities between counties and districts. The arrangements are that the duty applies to districts as well as counties, which means that if citizens go to districts for the information it will be available there and they will not need to be directed to the county instead. Counties will be required to explain how they work, how district councils work and what they and their councillors do. That will also apply vice versa, with districts having to explain about counties. To avoid duplication, in two-tier areas the county will be taking on the burden of collecting the information from the connected authorities and will be required to pass it on to the districts. Should the county not pass the information on to the district, the district will not be deemed to have failed in its duty. Districts can also request and collect additional local information from bodies that they may think are particularly relevant in their area, if they so wish.

The county responsibility for requesting information from the connected authorities was therefore implicit in our drafting of the Bill, which explicitly required both counties and districts to promote understanding of democracy and required counties to pass on any information that they received to their districts, but did not explicitly say that counties must take on the role of requesting the information from connected authorities. We agree that it would be useful to make that role explicit, so that there is no room for doubt. Counties must be clear that there is an expectation being placed on them, and districts must be clear that this is not an onerous duty requiring them to take on work beyond their capacity. Government Amendment 21 therefore makes explicit the requirement for counties to request information from the connected authorities at least once a year. It states that counties must request the relevant information from their districts, connected authorities and the bodies listed in Clauses 3 and 4 at least once a year. The provisions already require that the county must then pass on that information to its districts.

County councils are clearly best placed to take on this role. They have greater capacity, enabling them to put resources into the role, and as they cover all of the area covered by each of the individual districts it makes sense for them to request the information from the connected authorities, which will in many cases be the same for each of the districts. That will ensure that connected authorities are not burdened with multiple requests for the same information.

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We have recognised that role in our allocation of funding for this new burden, which assumes that more work will be carried out by the county than by the district. For that reason, we think it unlikely that many districts will choose to collect information themselves, although they can collect information from other bodies that they may feel are particularly relevant to the local area if they so wish.

I remind noble Lords that districts in two-tier areas are required in the same way as counties to promote understanding of their council, their connected authorities and their roles in Clauses 3 and 4. They are far from being excluded from duties relating to the promotion of democracy and we fully expect them to take as proactive a role as the counties in going out to their local people to ensure that awareness and interest are raised.

Clause 5 simply clarifies the arrangements for the information-gathering required to fulfil one aspect of the duty. All we are doing is making that aspect the responsibility of counties so that the burden on districts in two-tier areas, and the number of requests for information, is minimised.

Most districts would find having to collect and update information from the entire list of connected authorities burdensome, considering their size and capacity. We do not wish to create such a burden. Consequently, the Bill is drafted to recognise that this will be far easier for the counties to take on. Districts will also bear in mind that they will not have been allocated funding to take on this role; therefore, it is unlikely that they will want to carry it out for the entire county. However, as I have said, we recognise that districts may want to collect information from local organisations.

Amendments 22 and 23 are consequential on Amendment 21. Amendment 22 removes the time limit of at least a year that had been attached to the requirement upon counties to pass information on to the district, in Clause 5(6)(a). Its purpose is to avoid repeating the time limit which would also appear in new paragraph (za), should Amendment 21 be accepted. Logically, it makes more sense that the requirement of “at least once a year” is attached to the requirement to request information in paragraph (za).

Amendment 23 is also consequential on Amendment 21. Its purpose is to remove text which would become unnecessary were Amendment 21 accepted. This ensures that paragraph (a) cross-refers to the new paragraph (za) rather than repeating its text clarifying the type of information and bodies referred to. I am sure that that is crystal clear to everybody.

Noble Lords will see, therefore, that we have listened to their concerns about the clarity of different roles in two-tier areas. Consequently, I hope that they will accept our amendment. Once again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for supporting these amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, the Minister might have been surprised when he saw that my noble friend Lord Hanningfield and I had added our names to the government amendment. I assure noble Lords that we

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have not been bought off. We still have serious doubts about many aspects of this Bill. However, when the Government have made a concession—and the noble Lord may not like that word, but that is what it is—it is important to recognise that they are taking steps in the right direction.

In Grand Committee, noble Lords rightly raised the question of district councils. I said:

“If the duties in Part 1 are to become law, the Government should recognise the importance of district councils and the key role that they play in promoting democracy”.—[Official Report, 26/1/09; col. GC 13.]

I went on to express my concerns that we should not, however, encourage the unnecessary duplication of work. The noble Lord took those comments on board. The Government’s proposals are not yet perfect but they are an improvement on the original wording of the Bill. However, the wording might, once again, need to be changed at Third Reading.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I, too, welcome these amendments. I welcome the Minister’s speech a great deal more than his previous one. I will give him one cheer at least, maybe one and a half out of three cheers for this one—well, perhaps one and three-quarters.

I do not regard these as concessions, except in the technical sense. Government Ministers and their civil servants—the Bill team—listened to the debate in Grand Committee and no doubt went away and discussed it with other people and agreed that the Bill, as it stood, was not perfect. No Bills are perfect when they come to this House, particularly when they start here. I am not going to jump up and down and say “Concession, concession”. I will say thank you for going some way towards the case that some of us put forward in Grand Committee. The Government have not gone far enough. However, we can perhaps draw a line under it now.

I have one or two questions. I am still concerned about how the county council will collect information at a very local level unless it is able to involve the district councils. In some places, the county council might have local people with all this information. However, in many places districts will have much better local knowledge to bring it all together and about which organisations ought to be included among the connected authorities that should be on the list of ways in which people can get involved.

The county will know about the schools and education system, and they may know about the social services system but they will not know about many of the local groups and organisations which, nevertheless, ought to be included as connected authorities, because they have a financial relationship with the council, because they have council representation on it or are in a partnership—in one sense of that word— involving the council

I will not go through the list of local organisations in Colne, with which I entertained—or otherwise—the Grand Committee. I remembered about 10 or 11 of them, without thinking very hard. All are genuinely connected organisations because they have links, quite close ones in many cases, with the council. I am a member of quite a few of them and go to their meetings. The district council has this information at

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its fingertips. If the district council has information anyway, can it be included in the information that the county council is collecting?

6.45 pm

The Minister suggested that districts could help in collecting information, where it was a sensible thing to do by co-operation with the county council. Will districts be prevented from doing this because it is not in this legislation or in practice? Again, local authorities, in general, are fairly sensible organisations doing things in a fairly sensible way, given the opportunity. Will a county and a district be able to get together in a district and work out, between themselves, how they will collect this information and which organisation should be collecting it? If so, it does not matter what the legislation says about where the responsibility lies; it is a question of whether there will be a sensible outcome.

If the information handed down by the county to the district is incomplete, what does the district do, before publishing its document regarding how people can get involved? Does the district send it back to the county with a list of organisations that ought to be in it and are not, or can it write them down on a piece of paper and send them to the printers with its document? Can the district add things without any onerous burden? As the Minister said, we do not want onerous burdens. Can the district add things to the document from the county council?

My final question is quite important. Will the information that a citizen gets, if he goes to the district council—the town hall—be identical to the information he gets if he goes to the county council information office just down the road, or perhaps even in the same building if they are really joined up? Will the document the county produces and puts on its website be identical to the one published by the district and put on its website? That seems a fairly crunch issue. They clearly ought to be identical. However, they can only be identical if the district is involved in collecting some of that information and if the county is able to take it from the district.

I welcome the amendment relating to the 12-month period. The Minister undersold it. Originally, the Bill said that the county would only send the information to the district every 12 months. It now says that the county will collect the information every 12 months but will pass it to the district when it gets it. I made that point in Committee and am grateful that it was picked up. However, there are some important questions and I wonder if the Minister can answer them.

Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, the noble Lord raises important questions and points of detail. Some elements of this will be about common sense and the counties and districts sitting down and talking this through. Nothing prevents the districts from collecting lots of this information, as I have said, but one of the important points for us is that it is clear who is accountable for collecting the information and how it is done. However, the noble Lord raised issues that are probably worth reflecting on in Hansard, and if there is something on which we can elaborate further I am happy to write to him in more detail.

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