Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Clause 44 is a new registration entitlement. It is right to delay commencement for the practical reasons I gave earlier but those born outside the UK to a foreign and Commonwealth member of the UK Armed Forces will be eligible for registration as a British citizen under Section 3(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981, as is happening in the current case. They, too, will not suffer detriment in practice.

Clause 43 provides for an amendment to Section 4C of the 1981 Act, which provides for the registration as a British citizen of a person born before 1 January 1983 to a mother who could not, because of earlier discrimination in nationality legislation, transmit her citizenship status by descent to her child at birth. We wish to provide for this provision to be commenced by order so that we can put in place the necessary changes to UKBA nationality staff instructions, processes and training following Royal Assent to ensure that those seeking to exercise their rights under Section 4C of the British Nationality Act 1981, as amended, will be dealt with efficiently and comprehensively.

I am not in a position to comment on the individual case that the noble Lord raised. Given our success on earlier occasions of taking issues away and looking at the circumstances behind them, I should like to offer that facility to see whether there are ways of solving the problem without having to accept the amendment. As I understand the example, Mrs A has to nationalise to stay in the UK if Section 4C is not commenced immediately. I think it will be easier for me to write to the noble Lord and perhaps discuss it outside the Chamber to see whether we can find a sympathetic way of dealing with the individual problem. In the mean time, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, in view of the Minister’s track record in successfully resolving some of these issues outside the Chamber, I am very happy to accept the offer of discussions about Mrs A and people like her. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 59A withdrawn.

Amendments 60 and 61

Moved by Lord West of Spithead

60: Clause 56, page 46, line 13, leave out “section” and insert “sections (Trafficking people for exploitation) (trafficking people for exploitation) and”

61: Clause 56, page 46, line 13, leave out “comes” and insert “come”



1 Apr 2009 : Column 1152

Amendments 60 and 61 agreed.

Amendment 62 not moved.

Amendment 62A

Moved by Lord West of Spithead

62A: Clause 56, page 46, line 37, at end insert—

“( ) No order may be made commencing section 52(1)(a) or (c), (2)(a) or (c), or (3)(a) or (c) (transfer of immigration or nationality judicial review applications) unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”

Amendment 62A agreed.

Amendment 63 not moved.

The Schedule

Amendments 64 and 65

Moved by Lord West of Spithead

64: The Schedule, page 47, line 16, column 2, at beginning insert—

“Section 3(4).”

65: The Schedule, page 47, line 16, column 2, at beginning insert—

“In section 4B(1), the word “or” immediately before paragraph (c).”

Amendments 64 and 65 agreed.

Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill [HL]

Bill Main Page
Copy of the Bill
Explanatory Notes
Amendments

Report (3rd Day)

8.55 pm

Clause 68 : Leaders' Boards

Amendment 160C

Moved by Lord Hanningfield

160C: Clause 68, page 51, line 17, leave out subsection (8)

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 160E, 164B, 164D, 164F and 164J. First, however, I must declare my interest as leader of Essex County Council and past vice-chairman of the LGA.

We do not want to rerun the arguments that we put forward in Committee. These amendments are intended to get from the Government further information on how the leaders’ boards will work and what role the Secretary of State will play in scrutinising or, indeed, controlling them.

Clause 68(8) gives the Secretary of State the power to disband a leaders' board if it is not thought to be working. In paragraph 16 of its report on RDAs and

1 Apr 2009 : Column 1153

this legislation, the House of Commons Business and Enterprise Committee concluded that it was,

On these Benches, we share both these concerns.

There is huge uncertainty about how the leaders' boards will work, about whether they can work and the lack of clear guidance on their role. It would be incredibly naive of us to leave it entirely up to any Secretary of State to decide how they will operate. We need more clarity about this now. What criteria will the Secretary of State use to assess whether they are working? If the Secretary of State takes a dislike to them because they are of the wrong political party, could he or she disband them?

That brings me to the second amendment in this group. If the leaders’ board is disbanded, it will be entirely up to the RDA quango to decide the regional strategy. In this scenario, the Government would have removed all democratic accountability in the structure. It would be not so much a democratic deficit as a democratic absence if there were no leaders’ boards. Unless a leaders’ board—the only democratic element in any new regional structure—is established, unelected bureaucrats will decide the regional strategy. People know my feelings about regional government; but if we are going to have some of it, it must have a democratic element. I would like the Government to be clearer on how that might work. There should be no circumstances in which the RDA takes decisions without democratic accountability. That is what leaders’ boards are supposed to provide. How long will it take for the system to be sorted out? The Government want to square the circle by showing that there is some democratic choice, but it seems that the Secretary of State will have tremendous powers.

The Bill is also silent on the scrutiny process. It might be assumed that the new regional select committees will perform this function. They are not very democratic at the moment, because they have only one party on them. I am not sure that they will work very well anyway.

Without Amendments 164B, 164D and 164F, the Secretary of State would have power to amend any regional strategy that he or she felt did not fit in with their own ideas, which again would remove democratic accountability. There have been several recent disagreements between the regional assemblies and the Government. The Government might feel that by setting up this new process, they can remove any opposition to the government policy on area strategy. Again, I would like more clarity on that.

All in all, we need to know a lot more about the leaders’ boards, about what they are going to do, the Secretary of State’s power over them and how they are going to operate in an integrated democratic system within each region. I beg to move.

9 pm

Lord Tope: My Lords, my party’s views on devolution and decentralisation have been consistent and well known for a long time. In view of the hour of the

1 Apr 2009 : Column 1154

night, perhaps I do not need to rehearse them now, but I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, in his amendments. I would have had the same sympathy in the years 1979 to 1997.

Amendment 171A in this group relates to Clause 144 at the end of the Bill, the commencement clause. Subsection (10)(a) refers to,

Our amendment would add, “or for different areas”. It may be that “different purposes” includes different areas, but that is far from clear. If the words were in the Bill, they would make it crystal clear; as it is, the Minister has the opportunity to say that, even though that is not what it says, it is what it means.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I wish to speak about Clause 75, which Amendment 164J would remove. I read with disbelief subsection (6) of the clause, which says:

“If the Secretary of State thinks it necessary or expedient to do so the Secretary of State may at any time revoke all or any part of a regional strategy”.

I can understand—although I do not think it necessary—the Government wanting to change part of a regional strategy. For example, the regional strategy might say that we want four airports in our region, which does not fit in with government policy. I can understand that type of issue, but exactly what circumstances would have to occur for the Secretary of State to think that they had to revoke all of a regional strategy? It makes a complete nonsense of the Bill and all the talk about localism if the Secretary of State has that power. I cannot envisage the circumstances in which that would be true.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, noble Lords have been very patient in waiting for our turn to debate this Bill. I tried to cut down my speaking notes, but the questions raised in the debate require me to go into a bit more detail than I envisaged.

Clause 75 sets out two reserved powers of the Secretary of State: first, the power for the Secretary of State to prepare a regional strategy if the responsible regional authorities fail to do so; and, secondly—these are the same powers as presently exist for regional spatial strategies—the power to revoke all or part of the regional strategy if that is considered necessary or expedient. I mention that in relation to what the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, has just said. Without such a power, the strategy could be revoked only through a further revision and there may well be circumstances in which a revision might not be appropriate and a revocation would be the only choice. For example—this may meet the point that the noble Baroness raised, but if it is not sufficient I shall have to write to her, because it is a somewhat hypothetical situation—if a reference in the strategy to a nationally significant infrastructure proposal became factually incorrect in the light of new policy, set out in a national policy statement on infrastructure, it might be important to revoke that part of the strategy to avoid any doubt. Whether there would be such circumstances that required the revocation

1 Apr 2009 : Column 1155

of all the strategy is unlikely; I suspect that the provision is there as a safeguard. If the noble Baroness will allow, I shall think about that and write to her, because it is a perfectly reasonable question.

On the leaders’ boards, I briefly restate the commitment that we have made on the joint role of the regional authorities and the extent of their competence. The noble Lord will know that we are committed to the joint role of the leaders’ boards. It is very much to the credit of all those who have prepared the White Paper and responded to the consultation that we have ended up with such an equal partnership. Certainly, we see joint working as the most effective way of delivering the regional strategy. That is why the legislation provides such a flexible framework for the responsible regional authorities to operate within. It is very much our expectation that the partnership arrangements will anticipate and deal with problems as they arise, but there must be a fallback position and it is important that the Secretary of State should have powers in reserve.

The amendments tabled by the noble Lord in relation to leaders’ boards would remove the power of the Secretary of State to withdraw approval for the scheme. The noble Lord asked how we envisaged the leaders’ boards working. In terms of the regional patterns that are emerging, each of the leaders’ boards is looking at a different political geography—indeed, a different physical geography—and they are coming to a determination of what they need in their regions to deliver the sort of representation, competence and scope that they want to achieve. It is up to the leaders’ boards themselves to settle those problems and to determine their own ways of working.

We have certainly not laid down any prescription. Noble Lords often ask us why we do not trust the local authorities. This is very much a case of trusting the experience of strategy making in the regions that those local authorities have developed over the years. Certainly, the Local Government Association has always emphasised, and rightly so, that local authorities are capable of making decisions and working together. How they create a process to make that regional strategy work will be up to them.

We are happy to provide guidance. We will be taking advice from local authorities and the LGA on the nature of the guidance and what would be most helpful, but we expect that local authorities will build up their working practices on their knowledge of what already works. We are all agreed that local authorities in the region are perfectly capable of establishing an effective leaders’ board that reflects regional circumstances.

The noble Lord asked about the role of the Secretary of State. It is simple. We must be prepared for the unlikely and extreme circumstances when the leaders’ board arrangements fall apart or where discussions in the region do not lead to that sort of fruition. It is very much a reserve power. For example, if an intractable dispute means that a leaders’ board has effectively ceased to function, it is important that the Secretary of State can step in. It is important that we are not left without any safeguards, but we do not expect to have to use these powers.



1 Apr 2009 : Column 1156

Amendment 160E would remove the provision whereby the RDA would act on its own when there was no leaders’ board in a region. I have some sympathy with the concerns behind this amendment because I appreciate that there is an underlying anxiety that the Secretary of State might use this provision to delay approval of leaders’ boards indefinitely and instead require the RDAs to lead the strategy work alone. That was the loophole that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, referred to in Committee. It is inconceivable that the Government should wish to prevent the establishment of the leaders’ boards in these regions but I am taking that concern seriously. My officials are currently considering that risk and looking to clarify in guidance both our commitment to setting up leaders’ boards and how that will be realised. I hope that that will reassure the noble Lord in relation to both those amendments.

Amendments 164B, 164D and 164F deal with the final stages of preparing strategy under Clause 74. In the policy document on regional strategies that we issued in January, we set up the roles of both the responsible regional authorities and the Secretary of State in signing off the strategy. The policy document dealt with the circumstances in which the Secretary of State wishes to make further modifications to a draft regional strategy on top of any changes already made by the regional authorities in response to the examination in the public panel recommendation.

On the publication of the report, I dealt with some concerns by tabling amendments to reinforce the idea of ownership resting with the joint authorities, which were welcomed. However, it is important that the Secretary of State should reserve the right to make further modifications in addition to any changes proposed by the regional authorities. For example, one could envisage a situation where the regional authorities did not take on board clear recommendations of the independent panel that the Government considered to be important, or where the revised draft still did not reflect clear national policy on changing imperatives or evidence, such as the need to allocate enough capacity for renewable energy to meet our climate change obligations.

It is also important that the Secretary of State should have the power to arbitrate if the RDA and the leaders’ board cannot agree on the changes arising from an EiP. As we have said, we would expect the RDA and leaders’ board to make the Government aware as soon as possible of any aspects of the strategy where they are likely to disagree with the panel report, or where their proposed draft may contain policies that are contrary to key government policy expectations. We would also want to be aware of any issues where the regional parties disagreed among themselves. That would help to avoid any unnecessary intervention by the Secretary of State later in the process, which we want to avoid.

I fear that the amendments would introduce an additional stage to the process, where the Secretary of State decided that further modifications were required and would then be required to ask the regional authorities to make those further changes. That would be a recipe for confusion. We have learnt from the regional strategies to the extent that, compared with the RSS, we have already improved the process. The Government will

1 Apr 2009 : Column 1157

provide clearer up-front guidance, for example, about regional strategy outcomes. Crucially, the regional authorities—not the Secretary of State, as with the regional spatial strategies—will be primarily responsible for considering the recommendations made by the EiP panel and for amending the strategy accordingly. Although I hope that the amendment has prompted a useful debate, I do not think that in practice it would add value; it would serve to complicate and confuse, and even delay, the system. I hope that the noble Lord feels that that has helped to address some of the issues.

The problem with Amendment 171A—I know why noble Lords have raised this issue—is that it affects the whole Bill, not just Part 5. It seeks a wider commencement power in relation to provisions of the Bill that come into force on a day appointed by the Secretary of State. As the noble Lord said, it would give the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers the power to appoint different days of commencement for different areas. This would be an unusual power, neither necessary nor helpful.

I recognise what the noble Lord is trying to address and the issues around it. We recognise the variation in progress in shaping new arrangements in the regions. However, I assure the noble Lord that Part 5 serves the purpose that he wants to achieve. The Bill does not require any particular timetable, nor does it set deadlines either for establishing leaders’ boards or for revising strategies. It therefore already recognises that pace is different in different regions and will enable regions to proceed at slightly different times in making the arrangements. We need to allow for that, while promoting an early move to the joint working arrangements. If we were to accept the amendment, we could be creating all sorts of complications.

Part of the complication is that, in addition to Part 5, Amendment 171A would apply to other provisions in the Bill where there is power to commence provisions on an appointed day. In the interests of clarity and simplicity, we would want to commence the different changes—whether that relates to the promotion of democracy, the petition clauses or whatever—in the simplest, clearest way possible. That would not include providing for different commencement dates for different areas of the country, which would be a recipe for confusion. I hope that it helps the noble Lord to have that on the record and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

9.15 pm

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for those comments. I also thank her for her offer to clarify the Government’s thinking on this issue. I should be grateful if that clarification could be made available before Third Reading. This is a crucial part of the legislation. The leaders’ boards are the democratic element of the new regional strategy and they will play a very important role. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for stressing the partnership that will exist between the RDAs and the leaders’ boards. However, we still have to consider exactly how they will work. I will read what the noble Baroness has said. I am sure that we shall return to this discussion at Third Reading because, as I say, this is a crucial part of the legislation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 160C withdrawn.



1 Apr 2009 : Column 1158

Amendment 160D

Moved by Baroness Andrews

160D: Clause 68, page 51, line 20, at end insert—

“(9) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for Part 5A of the Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70) (public admission to meetings of principal councils, public access to documents, etc) to apply in relation to Leaders’ Boards as it applies in relation to principal councils (within the meaning of that Part).

(10) The application referred to in subsection (9) may be with such modifications as the Secretary of State considers necessary or expedient.”

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the issue in this group is one that we discussed in Committee and concerns the openness of the proceedings of leaders’ boards and RDAs, including their joint activities in preparing regional strategies.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page