Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

We have also consulted extensively on how to implement the proposals for scrutiny support that were set out in the White Paper Communities in Control. As I have said, views were mixed and we have chosen to strike the right balance in this process.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that my noble friend had commented on this resource being ring-fenced. I should make it clear that it is not. If the provision is enacted, we will ensure that resources are provided through future finance settlements in line with the wishes of local government, but the vast majority of government funding provided for non-school services is through general grants, such as the revenue support grant or the new area-based grant, so local authorities have considerable freedom to determine their spending priorities. The Government are committed to ensuring that local authorities have the flexibility to ensure that they can make local decisions on the provision of funding for the services for which they have statutory responsibilities.

We have no intention of taking particular measures against particular authorities. We will regulate in line with our response to the consultation on implementation of the 2007 Act.

These provisions considerably strengthen the arrangements for overview and scrutiny. I am grateful to noble Lords who brought to our attention the fact that joint scrutiny should be made. We have listened carefully to those views and I hope that the explanation that I have given will provide sufficient assurances on Amendments 99, 100 and 170 to 172 and that the noble Baroness will withdraw Amendment 98. I hope that I have covered all the points that she made. If not, I shall respond in writing.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I am not sure at what point I should speak on this, but it is important that I should clearly lend my support to the Government’s amendments. Both my noble friend Lord Hanningfield and I have put our names to the amendments tabled by the Minister. We have done so because the Government have clearly listened to what the Opposition and other noble Lords said in Grand Committee. I am grateful that the Government have heeded that advice and have been prepared to cede ground.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, it is not appropriate for the noble Baroness to respond to the Minister at this point.

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, perhaps I might assist the House. I think that the noble Baroness may be addressing Amendment 99 when we are still on Amendment 98.

23 Mar 2009 : Column 456

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, they are grouped together.

The Lord Speaker: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness. They are grouped together and she is absolutely in order to speak.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right that the two amendments are grouped together. However, it is appropriate, I believe, for me to establish that the Minister was speaking early in the debate. It is now appropriate for the noble Baroness to respond and to speak to her amendments.

3.30 pm

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her guidance. As one of the newer Members of your Lordships’ House, I look to your Lordships for guidance.

I am grateful that the Government have heeded our advice and I am delighted to support their amendment. Although the amendment does not go as far as we would like, the Bill is improved by its inclusion and we welcome that. We on these Benches, however, would like to see greater flexibility and a greater ability for councils to set up joint scrutiny committees on specific projects or schemes where joint working is needed, often across county boundaries.

I am sure that my noble friend Lord Hanningfield will approve of my using an Essex example. On matters involving Stansted Airport, for example, it will be a question of Essex County Council working with East Hertfordshire, whereas on issues surrounding the Thames Gateway the appropriate partners might be the GLA or Kent County Council. The Government recognise the logic of allowing the joint scrutiny but have stopped short of allowing a more organic creation of such committees. An enduring theme of our debates on this Bill is the Government’s apparent reluctance to accept that kind of bottom-up flexibility rather than top-down centralisation. However, when the Government try to make this a better Bill, we support their efforts.

Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for their support and I certainly heed the points that they have made. Before the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, replies, I would like to clarify the disclosure issue. Information that may not be disclosed, for example, would be information otherwise exempt under other legislation, such as data protection. Also, provision may be made to avoid duplication of requests. For example, if a partner has already provided such information, the same information might not be required a second time. Our proposals also set out the information that should be provided, such as on local area agreement matters to which the partners signed up. I hope that that helps to clarify what I said.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, perhaps I can take this in reverse order. First, on the points that I raised, I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that there will not be ring-fencing, as it was stated on 3 February

23 Mar 2009 : Column 457

at col. GC 173 that money would be ring-fenced. We are much happier that it should not be, although of course it is often quite difficult to identify whether there is any additional funding when it is not ring-fenced. This does not mean that there will be an extra officer. I fully accept that having a designated officer may raise the status of the work but it does not necessarily mean that there will be any extra officer resource.

I am reassured to hear what the Minister has said on disclosure under the government amendment, but the new clause is drawn very widely. I am sorry to bowl this at the Government without notice, but I wonder whether they might consider withdrawing this amendment now in order to use the period between now and Third Reading to reconsider this. I assure them that from these Benches we will be very supportive of the thrust of the amendment, which is a good amendment. I am waffling to give an opportunity for some thought, but the time until Third Reading could be used to draw up something more precise about the restrictions on disclosure. The noble Lord is quite right to remind the House that there is a positive and negative in the sentence on what must be provided, but the interests of transparency and open government have to be considered if we are to limit what must not be disclosed. If the Government would consider using the opportunity to improve their own legislation, we would welcome it.

Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, we cannot withdraw the amendment at the moment. We have consulted widely on it and consider it the most appropriate formulation based on the 2007 legislation.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am disappointed by that response; I thought that I was being constructive. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 98.

Amendment 98 withdrawn.

Amendment 99

Moved by Baroness Andrews

99: After Clause 29, insert the following new Clause—

“Joint overview and scrutiny committees

(1) In the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 (c. 28), for section 123 (joint overview and scrutiny committees: local improvement targets) substitute—

“123 Joint overview and scrutiny committees

(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision under which any two or more local authorities in England may—

(a) appoint a joint committee (a “joint overview and scrutiny committee”), and

(b) arrange for the committee to exercise any functions in subsection (2).

(2) The functions in this subsection are functions of making reports or recommendations to—

(a) any of the local authorities appointing the committee (the “appointing authorities”), or

(b) if any of the appointing authorities is a non-unitary district council, the related county council,

about any matter which is not an excluded matter.

(3) In subsection (2) “excluded matter” means any matter with respect to which a crime and disorder committee could make a report or recommendations—

(a) by virtue of subsection (1)(b) of section 19 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 (local authority scrutiny crime and disorder matters), or

(b) by virtue of subsection (3)(a) of that section.

23 Mar 2009 : Column 458

(4) In subsection (2) references to making reports or recommendations to a local authority include, in the case of a local authority operating executive arrangements under Part 2 of the Local Government Act 2000, making reports or recommendations to its executive.

(5) Regulations under this section may in particular—

(a) provide for arrangements to be made only in circumstances, or subject to conditions or limitations, specified in the regulations;

(b) in relation to joint overview and scrutiny committees, make provision applying, or corresponding to, any provision of—

(i) section 21(4) and (6) to (12) of the Local Government Act 2000,

(ii) sections 21A to 21D of that Act, or

(iii) section 246 of, and Schedule 17 to, the National Health Service Act 2006,

with or without modifications;

(c) make provision as to information which an associated authority of any appointing authority must provide, or may not disclose, to a joint overview and scrutiny committee (or, if the regulations make provision for the appointment of sub-committees of such a committee, to such a sub-committee).

(6) In subsection (5)(c) “associated authority”, in relation to any appointing authority, means—

(a) in the case of an appointing authority which is a non-unitary district council—

(iv) the related county council, and

(v) any person who is a partner authority in relation to the related county council;

(b) in the case of any other appointing authority, any person who is a partner authority in relation to the appointing authority.

(7) In subsection (6) “partner authority” has the same meaning as in Chapter 1 of this Part except that it does not include a police authority or a chief officer of police.

(8) Regulations under this section may not make provision of a kind mentioned in subsection (5)(c) with respect to information in respect of which provision may be made in exercise of the power conferred by section 20(5)(c) or (d) of the Police and Justice Act 2006 (guidance and regulations regarding crime and disorder matters).

(9) Any local authority and any joint overview and scrutiny committee must, in exercising or deciding whether to exercise any function conferred on it by or under this section, have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

(10) In this section—

“local authority” has the same meaning as in Part 2 of the Local Government Act 2000;

“non-unitary district council” means a district council for a district in a county for which there is a county council (and the “related county council”, in relation to a non-unitary district council, means that county council).”

(2) In section 21 of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) (overview and scrutiny committees), in subsection (2A)(e), for the words from “(joint” to the end substitute “(joint overview and scrutiny committees) appointed by two or more local authorities including the authority concerned”.”

Amendment 99 agreed.

Clause 30: Functions of joint overview and scrutiny committees

Amendment 100

Moved by Baroness Andrews

100: Clause 30, leave out Clause 30

Amendment 100 agreed.

23 Mar 2009 : Column 459

Amendment 100A

Moved by Lord Tope

100A: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—

“Local Government Act 2000

(1) Section 22A of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) (overview and scrutiny committee of certain authorities in England: provision of information etc by certain partner authorities) is amended as follows.

(2) In the heading after “authorities” insert “and other connected authorities”.

(3) In subsection (1)(a) after “relevant partner authorities” insert “and connected authorities”.

(4) After subsection (3) insert—

“(4) For the purposes of this section “connected authorities” shall mean authorities which are connected with the authority as specified by section 2 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 with the exclusion of chief officer of police.””

Lord Tope: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 100A —I think to everybody’s surprise at this point. We debated the amendment in Committee, but the Minister’s reply was disrupted by a Division, so I return to the subject now so that we might give our concentration to it.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee and I need no convincing of the importance of good and effective scrutiny. As I said in Committee, we each spent eight years of our lives on a body devoted almost entirely to scrutiny—the London Assembly. We need no convincing of the need to strengthen scrutiny. My noble friend has just spoken of the limited effect that the designation of a scrutiny officer is likely to have. This amendment, if enacted, would have more effect than probably any other single measure in strengthening the visibility, status and effectiveness of overview and scrutiny committees.

The amendment would give local authorities’ overview and scrutiny committees the power to require the connected authorities to give evidence, either in writing and/or in person. In an ideal world, those authorities would respond simply to an invitation and there would be no need for any statutory requirement; in good partnerships, that is what happens now. However, it is more likely to be necessary where the relationship is either not as good as it should be or the particular issues under consideration are rather more contentious. If those other bodies knew that, if necessary, a legal power could be used by the overview and scrutiny committees to require their information, their evidence and, if necessary, their attendance, that alone would raise the standing and status of those committees.

That is the purpose of the amendment. I hope that in moving it again we are giving the Minister an uninterrupted opportunity to give a considered response. I again stress that our purpose is wholly consistent with the Government’s intention of raising the status and effectiveness of scrutiny. I beg to move.

Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, I hope that I can give a response without interruption on this occasion. Amendment 100A is concerned with those partner authorities set out in Section 22A of the Local Government Act 2000 that must provide information to overview and scrutiny committees. The amendment

23 Mar 2009 : Column 460

would add “connected authorities”, as defined under Clause 2 of this Bill, to Section 22A so that those partners would be under a duty to provide information to overview and scrutiny committees once this provision and the necessary regulations came into force.

It would seem, from what the noble Lord says, that he believes that this amendment would provide overview and scrutiny committees with the power to require partners to attend. It would not. This issue of partner attendance was discussed at length during the passage of the 2007 Act. Parliament agreed that partners should be required to provide information but that attendance before a committee should be optional. We said at the time, and I say again now, that we firmly believe that it is not necessarily appropriate to impose a blanket requirement on partners to attend in person. Where councillors are working in partnership with such a broad range of public service providers, some of whom are not based locally, it is not necessarily appropriate to allow overview and scrutiny committees to compel attendance.

We must also be mindful of the potential burdens that are placed on partner authorities, some of which will have limited capacity to respond. It is, of course, important to provide overview and scrutiny committees with the powers that they need to carry out their work, but we must strike the right balance. We think that we have achieved this. This is evident from our recent Improving Local Accountability consultation. We have consulted on the regulations that will provide overview and scrutiny committees with the power to require information from relevant partner authorities. We are now in the process of drafting these regulations. The proposals that we set out in that consultation were broadly welcomed by local government stakeholders. In fact, a significant number of responses opposed overregulation on the issue of attendance, taking the view that such matters should be left to local discussion and agreement, on the basis that it would not always be necessary, or cost-effective, to require attendance in person by partner authorities.

Given my explanation and the evidence that I have presented from our recent consultation exercise, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment. A careful balance must be struck between giving overview and scrutiny committees the powers that they need to carry out their work and recognising the limited capacity of some partners to respond. Noble Lords will remember that this issue was discussed in detail during the passage of the 2007 Act. I believe that we have achieved the right balance of powers and that we should not seek to add partners outside those named under Part 5 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 without proper justification and detailed consideration of the potential new burdens. I hope that the explanation will be sufficient for the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving me a clear and uninterrupted response. If the drafting is inappropriate, I shall have a word with my parliamentary draftsmen, but I think that the purpose and intention of the amendment is clear. As things stand, if I understood the Minister correctly, these bodies may be required or requested to give

23 Mar 2009 : Column 461

information. However, there is an important difference between receiving information, desirable though that is, and the ability to question and cross-examine on that information, which is, of course, the principal purpose of an overview and scrutiny committee. I am, of course, disappointed that the Minister does not feel able to go just one more step along the road of making scrutiny effective, but under the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 100A withdrawn.

European Council: 19-20 March 2009


3.43 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the European Council held in Brussels last Thursday and Friday, which I attended with my right honorable friends the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary, and which, once again, emphasised the importance of European and international co-operation to address the financial crisis.

In October and November, all European and then G20 countries agreed to recapitalise the banks. In November, both the European Union and the G20 agreed on co-ordinated fiscal action to support employment and growth. Just as, at the last summit in December, Europe led the way towards a global climate change deal in Copenhagen later this year, so Europe has now made proposals in advance of the G20 to reshape the global financial and trading system and do what is necessary to build economic recovery across the world.

First, we agreed that the global challenges we face today cannot be met if nations turn inwards to a protectionism that, history tells us, in the end protects no one. Our agreement to,

requires monitoring by the World Trade Organisation. The Council agreed to encourage international trade by facilitating trade credits, and called for a,

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page