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Moreover, I understand that several guilds have, over the years, made the same changes to their admission rights as those provided by the Commons amendment, and have been able to deal with any difficulties that arose. I am sure that all other guilds are capable of doing the same, especially now that there is a clear framework in place to make such amendments. There is time to prepare for the change, given that the relevant clauses are not commenced until two months after Royal Assent. Together with Clause 27, this amendment updates and helps to preserve one of our most ancient traditions, while providing equality of opportunity for men and women, a principle to which I know this House attaches great importance. I commend it to the House. I beg to move.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for having taken care in dealing with this matter more fully than he might have done. I had made known to him the concerns that had been expressed to me outside the House.
This could have been a joyous moment in my parliamentary life. Having spent almost six years seeking to assist the guilds of freemen in bringing their procedures into the 21st century; having successfully piloted three times through this House a Private Member's Bill with all-party support to do so; having seen it fall in the other place due to one voice shouting "Object!"; and then having the Minister and officials at the Department for Communities and Local Government draft a comprehensive Bill, only to have it handed out to a Member in another place-Derek Conway-who was unable to proceed with it, I was then able to present that department-drafted Bill as an amendment to this Bill. It had unanimous support from every Bench in this House. I took care to consult not only the freemen of England and Wales, but more widely. When the Bill left this place with good will all round, I considered that I had achieved a modest advance, especially for women in their desire to inherit rights enjoyed by their fathers within the guilds movement. It was not to be.
Sadly, a rift within the freemen has revealed that the Newcastle upon Tyne guild holds a different view from almost every other guild, to such an extent that when the Freemen of England and Wales embraced the comprehensive new clauses that I introduced, Newcastle asked its four MPs to table the amendment now before us. As I intend to show, what is put forward as a simple amendment, designed to bring equality for women, is seen by many freemen as running counter to a prime argument for my clauses, which was stressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who took the Bill through the Lords. That is, my clauses were permissive and it was an enabling Bill-not compulsory, taking fully into account the fact that guilds throughout the land are not uniform; they are embedded in their own history and heritage. My new
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I have no argument with either Newcastle or my parliamentary friends in another place, but I ask the House to try to understand the following. When this amendment was before the Committee in another place, Dan Rogerson, a Member of the Committee, said:
"The new clause was tabled by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Jim Cousins), who is not a Member of the Committee. I was contacted this morning by Newcastle City Council and told that councillors wished to raise a crucial question by way of this new clause".-[Official Report, Commons, 18/6/09; col. 273.]
"I very much hope that the hon. Member for North Cornwall welcomes Clause 27, which was introduced in the other place by Lord Graham. In our view, it meets the aims of the new clause in a more sustainable way".
"Perhaps a discussion between the hon. Member for North Cornwall and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central would be helpful, because I am advised that Clause 27 meets many of the new clause's aims and-crucially-in a more sustainable way".-[Official Report, Commons, 18/6/09; col. 274.]
I have learnt from bitter experience that this is a complicated matter and the implications of accepting the Newcastle upon Tyne amendments may well not have been fully understood. Nor was the fact that Newcastle was isolated within the Guild of Freemen. Last week I received a copy of a letter addressed to my noble friend Lady Golding, herself a freeman of Newcastle under Lyme guild, from Derek Miller, clerk to the trustees. It read:
"However at the very end of the passage of the Bill through the Commons an amendment was tabled which, if I understand it correctly, would make it mandatory for the daughter of a Freeman to be admitted to the Freedom where her brother would have the right to be admitted".
"If my understanding of the position is correct on this particular point affecting admission procedures this completely undermines the concept of ENABLING as opposed to REQUIRING as set out in the amendment proposed by Lord Graham. The Trustees feel that such an amendment is not in the best interests of the Newcastle under Lyme Trustees insofar as it requires admission no matter what the circumstances of any Body of Freemen might be: do they see it right in principle.
Some Bodies, including Newcastle under Lyme, may have land or other assets or investments involved, and a compulsory admission of women in these circumstances is effectively an expropriation of existing historic rights ... It is not that the Trustees feel that the admission of women is wrong in itself, but they believe it is appropriate for each body of Freemen to consider carefully the implications of such a move without it being imposed upon them in this way.
"All concerned are well-versed in the history of the failure of the previous 'Family Succession Bill' after being deemed 'unfit for purpose' so we are dismayed to see that Clause 4 effectively mirrors the terms of that failed Bill and is equally prescriptive. Our first point is that we see absolutely no reason or necessity in the new clause. The original clause perfectly conveyed the essence of the fact that the Freedom is differently constructed and operated in each place and is restricted there by differing customs and legal constraints by either charter or statute. The situation requires that an 'enabling Bill' is utilised to facilitate different amendments to admission criteria in each place without the imposition of a limited national ruling. Your clause covers not only the admission of women but also the problem of location of birth, date of birth, stepchildren and children-in-law. These facts were recognised and supported by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary and the Minister of State when they argued against the necessity for inclusion of the new clause in Committee".
Where do we go from there? If what I am being told by guilds of freemen is along the lines of the above, I sense that there is a storm brewing which bodes ill for good relations with the Government. I despair when I think of the enormous amount of time spent on this by people within the department and by Ministers. I pay full tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who tirelessly sought to draft an amendment that would achieve not what Parliament wanted but what the freemen themselves wanted. I am dismayed at the turn of events.
By virtue of the parliamentary timetable, with this Session concluding in three days' time, I cannot see that my seeking recourse to normal means of objecting would be practical or successful. However, it must still be within the Minister's power to withdraw this clause so that meaningful discussions can take place within the totality of the freemen of England and Wales to try to produce a change that will satisfy all parties. Clause 27 can still be used in the interim. Will the Minister consider my suggestion? If he does not wish to do that, I forecast that the department will hear from many puzzled and angry guilds and that all the good work done by officials will be set at naught.
Baroness Golding: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Graham for all the work he has done on behalf of freemen. I correct him in that I am an honorary freeman of England and Wales. In fact, I was proposed by the freemen of York, not by the freemen of Newcastle-under-Lyme, who are called burgesses, not freemen, which complicates things even further.
The clerk to the trustees of the burgesses of Newcastle-under-Lyme wrote to me and I have passed the letter to my noble friend Lord Graham. I received a further letter from them, explaining where they have difficulty with the Bill, although they have no difficulty with the principle of the Bill or with the enabling Bill of my noble friend Lord Graham. The clerk to the trustees wrote that he had,
That adds a further complication to what my noble friend Lord Graham has said. It is obvious that rules for many of these guilds of freemen vary from area to area. This matter has to be tackled constructively through discussion with the freemen, who know their own rules, and it has to be agreed. The freemen are not in principle against women being adopted as freemen but they believe that the clause is so flawed that it will not apply to some of them but may apply to others. Therefore, I ask that these fresh clauses be reconsidered, we have a general discussion on them and that, if necessary, we include the measure proposed by my noble friend Lord Graham. I believe that his proposal, which allowed each guild of freemen to deal with the matter as they saw fit, would be the best way to proceed.
Lord Bates: My Lords, I wish to comment on the new clause. I thank the Minister and his team for setting out its purpose so clearly and I register the apologies of my noble friend Lady Warsi, who is unable to take part in this important debate.
This measure draws to everybody's attention the difficulties that arise when we open up these ancient bodies to scrutiny in the modern day. We find that some strange things are happening that would not occur if these bodies were set up today. None the less, these bodies are important. Like the noble Lord, Lord Graham, I am from the north-east of England-from Tyneside. When we talk about the freemen of the City of Newcastle, a reverence is displayed that is not displayed when we talk about any other body, because these people are the custodians of that most hallowed turf of St James' Park and comprise the landowners and guardians of huge tranches of central Newcastle.
I seek clarification on the following point. I defer to the knowledge and extensive interest displayed by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Golding. It seems to me that the guild in Newcastle has the opportunity to appoint females and males to the position of honorary freeman. When I looked on the City of Newcastle's website, I found that Councillor Margaret Collins is an honorary freeman, as are Harriet Dunlop, Daisy Clark, Joan Silcox, Rachel Somerville and a number of others, so clearly there is an ability at present for males and females to be appointed to this position. Therefore, it cannot be argued that this is a male fraternity, because clearly it is not, although the stewards appear to be exclusively male.
It was interesting for me as a Conservative to note the remarks made in another place by Jim Cousins as he leapt to the defence of the hereditary principle. However, this is a serious matter on which people have strong feelings. I offer the following principles and thoughts from this side of the House. These local
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I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Golding: using general legislation to tackle particular problems in particular guilds constitutes a slightly heavy hammer. Our policy is one of localism. We approve of the idea of local people determining the terms of their area and we would very much like to see maximum flexibility given to local guilds-and, indeed, to the freemen of the City of Newcastle-to determine the composition and the order of succession of hereditary freemen in a way that they would see fit.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, when this debate started 24 and a bit minutes ago, I thought that it would be sufficient from these Benches to say that we welcome equality. I am not sure whether I can say much more than that, although I will confess to being a little puzzled. Although I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, was arguing, I am not clear whether it was for this new clause not to be included. As I read it, his original Clause 27 stays in the Bill; it is not as if we are knocking out what we did at the previous stage. I am also a bit confused by the terminology, because the term "admitted", to which the noble Baroness referred, is in the clause that is in the Bill. I accept that it is not "claim to be admitted", and that it may be the claim that is relevant rather than the admission. Having displayed such a wealth of ignorance, however, I shall go back to my point of principle: the greater the equality for women, the better.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. Perhaps I might start by addressing the concerns raised by my noble friends Lord Graham and Lady Golding. On the question that they posed to me, I do not propose to withdraw this clause. I have no authority to do that and I do not believe that it would be appropriate. My noble friend was possibly anticipating this as a joyous moment after six years of effort. I know that he has made a lot of effort, but he should not feel let down. His achievements in respect of that six years' work are embodied in the Bill; they remain there and contribute to supporting the guilds going forward.
Yes, it is a permissive regime that is encompassed within the amendment that your Lordships previously accepted, but that sits together with those particular areas that have been carved out where there is a mandatory requirement. My noble friend asked whether it was correct that it would be mandatory for daughters to be admitted if sons could be admitted. It would not be mandatory, but the amendment says that, if the daughter should seek admission, it is mandatory to allow her to become a freeman. That is absolutely what this amendment enshrines.
My noble friend also referred to the expropriation of rights. If the concern is that of having a dilution of assets if a greater number of members joined the guild, I am sure that there would be ways to address
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The noble Lord, Lord Bates, said that it is always difficult when you are opening up parts of ancient history. Part of what we are trying to do in this Bill is to help the guilds to ensure that they have a future as well as a past and to facilitate their moving forward by addressing their rights and responsibilities. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, outlined some of those. To be clear, again, I think that the noble Lord referred to Newcastle freemen as being honorary freemen. However, they are hereditary freeman. There are different arrangements for honorary freemen. Those will, in fact, be covered by Clause 28, not the provisions that we are addressing tonight.
My noble friend Lady Golding referred to seeing how the amendment that we are discussing fits with the requirements in some of the guilds' rules at the moment. This, again, goes back to the amendments brought forward by my noble friend Lord Graham in the schedule that was introduced in your Lordships' House. I stress that that is what gives the wherewithal to make the consequential changes, so that the mandatory provisions of this amendment can be encompassed and made whole within the context of the guilds' rules. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that she welcomed equality; there is an extra component of that in these circumstances. I readily accept that it could be achieved under a permissive regime, but this amendment makes it mandatory and puts daughters in the same position as sons. Surely in the 21st century we should welcome that. I hope that that has addressed the concerns of noble Lords.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: Does the Minister take on board the dismay that must be felt throughout the guild of freemen movement? The Freemen of England and Wales had, almost unanimously, accepted the thrust and principle behind what I would clumsily call my amendments. All but one of them were embraced. At the end of the day, the Bill will show that that one view prevailed. I simply fear for the fact that, after six years of my time, the department and its officials-for whom I have the highest respect in seeking to do that which I and others conveyed to them-will find that they have insufficient time for the next period, until the explanations that the Minister has given are worked through. It is not that they cannot work them through; indeed, they might do so. However, they were wrong-footed, as I was, in that, having passed my amendment,
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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I take the point that my noble friend is making. I think that he is absolutely right to say that this amendment came fairly late in the process, possibly without the opportunity of more detailed discussion. If the guilds are concerned about this and if there is a potential storm brewing, clearly we have to engage to work through it and to ensure that we can move forward with these provisions.
I should say to my noble friend that the respect that I know that he has had, in all the work that he has done over those six years, is still enshrined in the amendment that will form part of this important piece of legislation. It will be part of the way in which one can implement the so-called Newcastle upon Tyne amendment with the other opportunities that his permissive regime presents to the guilds.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 2 and 3 en bloc and speak to Commons Amendments 7 and 10. This group of amendments brings forward amendments agreed in the other place to give powers to local authorities and other best-value authorities in relation to mutual insurance.
In July, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government published the consultation paper Strengthening Local Democracy. This sought views on the scope of local authority powers, in particular around their powers to undertake mutual insurance arrangements. The consultation attracted 96 responses to the specific question on mutual insurance, with 82 per cent agreeing with the proposed power.
The amendment adds a new clause to provide permissive powers for named authorities to enter into mutual insurance arrangements should they wish to do so. These authorities, which are described as "qualifying authorities", are local authorities-other than parish and community councils-fire and rescue authorities, police authorities and other best-value authorities in England and Wales. Authorities exercising the power will need to ensure that any proposed arrangement meets the duty of best-value as laid down in legislation. While it seems unlikely that all qualifying authorities will wish to establish or participate in an insurance mutual, clear and specific legal powers will be available for those for whom it makes good business sense to do so.
The amendment provides that best-value authorities may establish and become members of a corporate body whose objectives are to provide insurance to those authorities who are members of the mutual. Other qualifying authorities may be members of the mutual and the mutual may also provide insurance to other bodies, which will be prescribed by regulation and which I will call affiliates. Affiliates will be those which have some association with qualifying authorities; for example, in the case of local authorities, arm's length management organisations (ALMOs), academy schools or wholly-owned subsidiaries. Broadly, the intention is for a qualifying authority to be able to sponsor an affiliate to bring it within the mutual's insurance cover as we understand that many local authorities already arrange insurance cover for ALMOs and some schools. However, affiliates will not be able to become members of the mutual.
The qualifying authorities are provided with a power to pay premiums and other payments to the mutual insurance body and can agree to make any such payments as may be necessary in future. They can also assume financial obligations in respect of their affiliates.
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