Let me give the Minister one example to chew on. Greater Manchester is proposing to remove a significant number of beds from acute hospitals to put more money into preventive medicine and community- based services. The Minister will know that closing hospital acute beds is a very contentious issue up and down the country. Who will take that decision? Is not Greater Manchester at risk of saying, “Our population’s health would be improved by removing some of those acute beds and spending some of that money on preventive public health and community-based services”? Can the Secretary of State then simply overrule it, using his powers in the 2012 Act? That is a very practical, real example of where we could have conflict. I would like to know where the Government stand on that issue.

9.15 pm

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, Greater Manchester would work with clinical commissioning groups, et cetera, but would not itself deliver NHS services.

Lord Warner: That was not my question. Perhaps I could explain to the Minister what it is. The clinical commissioning groups in Manchester could all agree that they should take a large number of beds out of acute hospitals in Manchester—not anywhere else—because it was in the best interests of and would achieve better health outcomes for that population. Could they—all the interested parties, clinical commissioning groups and even NHS England, with the combined authority—agree that that is sensible to do? Could we then have a situation in which the Secretary of State, under pressure from some bits of the local community or from the acute hospital, declined to approve that well thought-out plan by the combined authority with the clinical commissioning groups? It is a straightforward question. Is the answer yes or no to whether the Health Secretary can overrule them?

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Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, perhaps I may clarify what exactly is being devolved. Greater Manchester will have the powers necessary to participate in a collaborative partnership which will develop health strategies for the place and commission health services. It would be a partnership arrangement. If within that partnership the Secretary of State thought that all of them collectively were making the wrong decision, I am sure that he would have something to say about it.

Lord Warner: So the result is the Secretary of State reserving unto himself all the authority to overrule a locally reached decision. We can talk about partnership till the cows come home, but is not the reality—and this is a critical issue—that the Secretary of State, as one of the partners but the partner with the power under the 2012 Act, can simply overrule them because he thinks that is the right thing to do?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I was not saying that the Secretary of State would overrule them for overruling’s sake, but if it was fundamentally a wrong decision, I am sure that he would have the power to intervene. I think that that is what the case would be. Does the noble Lord want to respond?

Lord Warner: I will read Hansard and come back on Monday, because this issue seems to me an Exocet under some of the principles in the Bill.

Lord Woolmer of Leeds: My Lords, surely devolution means giving power to the local level; it does not mean doing that—as long as the Government at the centre agree. Surely devolved authorities must in principle have the right to take local decisions, otherwise it is not devolution.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: Yes, my Lords, that is absolutely the case, but we have talked all along in this Committee about what happens if things go wrong and where the checks and balances are. We cannot have a situation where there is unfettered ability for people to do things without any checks and balances.

Lord Woolmer of Leeds: It is not a question of whether they have made a mistake or done something wrong, but of local choice. The Minister talked about a bad decision. To say that a local decision is a bad decision because it differs from a view that the Secretary of State takes does not seem to me to be in the spirit of devolution.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, perhaps I am not being clear enough. What I meant by bad decision is a decision that is made where the consequences are negative for the end user and have a detrimental effect, for example, on the patient or elderly person. The Secretary of State would have to intervene or call into question the decision of the collective bodies that had made it in partnership. Is the noble Lord more satisfied with that answer?

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Lord Warner: May I suggest to the Minister that we return to this on Monday afternoon because I do not think she will satisfy us this evening?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I know that we will return to it, and I look forward to that.

The noble Lord, Lord Warner, asked what legal advice had been received about the relationship between the MOU and the 2012 Act. NHS England and Greater Manchester have developed the MOU, and any draft order that the Government bring before the House to implement any arrangements agreed will of course be compliant with the relevant primary legislation. The noble Lord also asked about further change to the terms of agreement with Greater Manchester. We can envisage that, with the agreement of all concerned, devolution in Greater Manchester will develop.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked what the statutory roles of health scrutiny committees are in the context of devolution. Health and well-being boards will continue to exercise their statutory functions.

Lord Beecham: The scrutiny committee of the local authority is not the same as a health and well-being board. If the Minister does not have an answer now, perhaps she can advise me later.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I remember the health scrutiny committees in the context of AGMA and the combined authority. I am loath to deal with this point tonight, so I will come back with a firmer reply in due course and request that the noble Lord withdraw his amendment.

Lord Bradley: I am grateful to the Minister for the responses she has been able to make, and I am sure she will read the debate with as great an interest as we all will and write to us with further answers to the questions she has not been able fully to address this evening. I said at the beginning that this was the first, but I suspect not the last, debate we would have on health and social care. Our exchanges so far tonight have underlined that fact. We look forward to the next stage and further debate on Monday. In light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 36D withdrawn.

Amendments 36E and 36F not moved.

Amendment 36G

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

36G: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—

“Further devolution of powers and funding (No. 2)

(1) No later than three months after the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must consult combined authorities with a view to devolving powers and funding for strategic planning including in the areas of—

(a) mitigation of and adaptation to impacts of climate change;

(b) natural resource use including water management;

(c) delivery of low-carbon energy sources and infrastructure;

(d) landscape-scale conservation, including green infrastructure.

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(2) The Secretary of State may only make an order to devolve powers and funding in the areas outlined in subsection (1) with the consent of the combined authority.”

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I will be brief with this amendment because I anticipate that the Minister’s response will be that it is too prescriptive and that the Government want to leave everything off the face of the Bill and see what happens along the way.

The amendment was raised with us by the RSPB and it raises a particular point that I would like to address. Specifically, it causes the Secretary of State to consult combined authorities over a number of strategic planning areas, in particular areas of,

“mitigation of and adaptation to impacts of climate change … natural resource use including water management … delivery of low-carbon energy sources and infrastructure … landscape-scale conservation, including green infrastructure”.

The helpful briefing note reminds us that the NPPF contains very positive policies for planning for biodiversity, such as planning for the creation, protection, enhancement and management of networks of biodiversity and green infrastructure.

The point that the society makes is that to be effective, it is essential that devolved strategic planning powers enable combined authorities to address and plan for social, economic and environmental issues in an integrated way across England. It points out the failure of the duty to co-operate because it is simply not strong enough. The key point I would raise on this is that whether it is on a more proactive basis or just a wait-and-see approach with piecemeal devolution of some of these strategic planning issues, the opportunity actually to join up across the country will inevitably be limited. Some of these issues ought to be looked at on a basis which is wider than any particular combined authority. It seems to be a component of this debate which perhaps we need to reflect on a bit more. I beg to move.

Baroness Janke (LD): My Lords, I certainly support the amendment. Given that the combined authorities will cover quite large areas, I would say that it is essential that an integrated approach is guaranteed and not left to a kind of wider discretion, perhaps as part of a deal if it is less convenient for one combined authority—or, worse still, if there is disagreement within the combined authority. We need to know where these obligations will lie. There is a need for clarity here. I appreciate that we are talking about bespoke deals and that they will be different for different authorities. I am sympathetic to that because we do not have uniformity across the country. Nevertheless, these are important issues which have suffered from a piecemeal approach. There is now a real opportunity for a much more strategic approach and I am sure that the combined authorities will see this as an important matter, not least because some of these areas are quite controversial. So I hope that there will be some clarity around this, despite the need for the Secretary of State to have some kind of wider discretion. These are responsibilities and obligations, and we need to be clear about where they lie.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, will obviously not be surprised to hear me say that what we do not want to be in this Bill is prescriptive—but that is in no way to belittle the importance of the issues touched on in this amendment. For example, we expect local planning authorities to adopt proactive strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change, taking full account of flood risk, coastal change, and water supply and demand considerations. They must have a positive strategy to promote energy from renewable and low-carbon sources. While what we look for locally is set out in national planning policy and guidance, we have been very clear that local plans prepared by democratically accountable local councils are key to delivering sustainable development that reflects the vision and the aspirations of local communities.

Having said that, as we discussed in a number of our earlier debates, these prescriptive amendments go against the grain of the approach of the Bill, which is to start a conversation with each area about the powers and budgets that they would like to have devolved to them in order to improve their economy, deliver better local public services and build sustainable prosperity. We are definitely not in the position of trying to prescribe what they think they should be including and so we have no preordained list of powers which might devolve. In common with similar previous amendments, I am afraid that this amendment is out of step with the whole approach that the Bill is designed to deliver, and I would respectfully ask the noble Lord to withdraw it.

9.30 pm

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I thank the Minister for her reply and the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, for her support on this issue. I am not surprised and I do not think that the response takes us further forward. It seems to me that it does not address the fact that issues around climate change and water management do not stop at, for example, the boundaries of Greater Manchester. They transcend them, and as indeed they do international boundaries. The piecemeal approach being taken really does negate and make it more difficult to deal with these issues comprehensively and effectively.

As I said, we have the duty to co-operate in our planning framework but we know from practice that it is simply an insufficient mechanism and tool to address these issues. Given the hour, I shall withdraw the amendment, but there is a principle about how these broader national issues sit with devolution that we need to return to on some basis. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 36G withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed.

Schedule 3: Overview and scrutiny committees

Amendment 36H

Moved by Lord Beecham

36H: Schedule 3, page 22, line 15, after “taken,” insert “or under consideration,”

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Lord Beecham: My Lords, the amendments in this group relate to the overview and scrutiny committees of the combined authorities and concentrate on what can only be described as the extraordinary powers the Bill confers on the Secretary of State to prescribe, and indeed circumscribe, the way in which they may operate. The provisions are contained in Schedule 3 to the Bill.

Amendments 36H and 37B would establish that the committee may consider not only decisions made or action taken, which is the limit of the powers conferred by the Bill as it stands, but such matters as may be under consideration—echoing the current practice in local authorities, which can look forward as well as back. Amendment 37B applies this principle to mayoral combined authorities.

Amendment 39AA would require the guidance by the Secretary of State, which again is provided for in the Bill, on the functions of overview and scrutiny committees to be approved by the affirmative procedure.

Amendment 39C is a probing amendment to seek an explanation of the Secretary of State’s extraordinary assumption of the role of determining who may or may not chair an overview and scrutiny committee or be a scrutiny officer. It is remarkable that, in an allegedly devolutionary Bill, the Secretary of State should arrogate such a power as to prescribe who might or might not perform those functions.

Amendment 40A probes the Secretary of State’s power to make orders as to the publication of reports, recommendations and disclosure of information to the overview and scrutiny committee. Given that the Local Government Act 1972 already allows councils to go into private session if this should be required, subject to advance notice and public challenge, why do the Government not simply extend those provisions of the 1972 Act to overview and scrutiny committees?

Amendment 40B would require the affirmative procedure to be applied to orders relating to the membership and structure of overview and scrutiny committees, thereby ensuring continuing parliamentary scrutiny over the process. I beg to move.

Lord Shipley: My Lords, we have tabled Amendments 41 and 42. I will not add to what the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has said, but I subscribe to the views he has expressed.

Our amendments in this group relate to the membership of the overview and scrutiny committee. We said in the first day of Committee that we did not want to create one-party states, so we have been seeking ways in which we can propose amendments that will deliver that outcome. This is to take the proportion of votes cast for each political party at the most recent local government election for the combined authority’s constituent councils.

The reason why this matters is that, if you take seats only won under the first-past-the-post system, one particular party in most of the areas currently subject to or considering combined authorities would absolutely dominate the overview and scrutiny committee—indeed, the Conservative Party has very few seats in northern cities—so this would not be good for the democratic process. I think that the overview and scrutiny committees ought to have a significant number of opposition members

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and that that should be calculated on the basis of votes cast in the last election, rather than on the number of seats that they win under first past the post.

In terms of the chair, there are a number of examples in local government where scrutiny committees are chaired by a councillor who is a member of the opposition. That principle should extend to the combined authority. Amendment 42 says that the chair of such a committee must be a member of a political party other than the party of the mayor of the combined authority.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, the issue of effective scrutiny has come up a lot during the course of the Bill. As I said during the debate on the previous group of amendments, I am ready to have discussions with noble Lords across the House about their ideas for strengthening scrutiny.

Amendment 39C would remove the power for the Secretary of State to make provision about the chair of an overview and scrutiny committee and about the appointment of a scrutiny officer. I am not sure that removing the ability of the Secretary of State to ensure, if it were deemed appropriate, that all overview and scrutiny committees have a scrutiny officer, or to make provisions about the chair, would achieve our joint aim of strengthening scrutiny and safeguarding against a one-party state.

Nor am I clear that Amendment 40A would strengthen overview and scrutiny. The amendment would remove from the scope of the order-making provision on overview and scrutiny issues the publication of reports et cetera and the information which must or must not be disclosed to an overview and scrutiny committee. I am clear that strong scrutiny needs the overview and scrutiny committees to have access to all the information that they consider necessary to pursue their work. Equally, it is important that their reports and recommendations are public, transparent and properly taken into account by those making decisions. The following amendments essentially set out some of the ideas that may achieve these aims and the substance of which we will wish to consider carefully.

Amendments 36H and 37B seek to expand the scope of overview and scrutiny so that it includes the possibility of an overview and scrutiny committee examining not only decisions made or actions taken, but decisions made or actions “under consideration”.

Amendment 41 would require that any order made by the Secretary of State about the membership of an overview and scrutiny committee must ensure that such membership reflects the proportion of votes that each political party received at the most recent local government election for the constituent councils. Amendment 42 would require that any order made by the Secretary of State about the chair of the overview and scrutiny committee or committees must include provision that the chair is to be a representative of a different political party from the party of the mayor of the combined authority. Amendment 49 provides the definition of “party” for these two amendments. While I believe that there are some practical issues with Amendment 41, given that not all parties who receive votes at an election may have an elected member, I understand the concern that underpins the amendments.

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Finally, Amendments 39AA and 40B seek to introduce the affirmative procedure for orders and guidance about overview and scrutiny. Given the importance that we attach to overview and scrutiny, I have some sympathy with the aims of these amendments, and, indeed, in our wider consideration of how best to strengthen overview and scrutiny. We may consider that some matters might be better dealt with on the face of the Bill, rather than through secondary legislation. In our previous short debate I highlighted some of the important issues that we will wish to consider when looking at how to make scrutiny strong and effective in all areas. This, most importantly, includes those areas where the members of the combined authority come from one party.

Given this commitment, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Beecham: I take it from that that the Minister is offering discussions on all these amendments and not ruling any of them out.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I have given my view on certain amendments and certainly where I see there is scope in others.

Lord Beecham: That is welcome, and I am certainly prepared to withdraw my amendment. I have to say that I am not overimpressed with at least one of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, relating to the percentage vote of parties that may well achieve no membership at all of the local authorities they have contested but will somehow appear on the combined authority. Of course, that general view is consistent with the proposals that the Liberal Democrats made for the composition of your Lordships’ House, about which I suspect we will hear very little for the next few years.

Lord Shipley: You could actually have a minimum threshold of, say, 5% of the vote, which would remove some of the objections that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has.

Lord Beecham: It would not, because 5% of the vote across an area may produce absolutely no councillors elected to those authorities at all; their only role in local government would then be to be appointed to the combined authority. That seems a ludicrous outcome. However, the noble Lord and I have been on good terms for virtually the whole evening and I would not like him to go away feeling too disappointed.

We will see what happens on Report, but I look forward to the discussions with the Minister on those matters which she has indicated are subject to further consideration. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 36H withdrawn.

Amendment 37 not moved.

Amendment 37A

Moved by Lord Beecham

37A: Schedule 3, page 22, line 22, at end insert—

“(d) to appoint an independent chair of a committee to review and scrutinise the authority’s financial affairs;

24 Jun 2015 : Column 1682

(e) to review and assess the authority’s risk management, internal control and corporate governance arrangements; and

(f) to review and assess the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which resources have been used in discharging the authority’s functions”

Lord Beecham: My Lords, Amendment 37A is ultimately of some importance. It seeks to establish an audit committee for authorities created under the provisions of the Bill. I cannot claim to be as well qualified in respect of matters of audit as my noble friend Lord McKenzie, a former partner in PwC and a former leader of Luton Council, in which latter capacity he was presumably an auditee rather than an auditor, but I have served for a number of years as a member of Newcastle’s audit committee, which is politically balanced, with an independent chairman who is not a member of the council and two other independent members.

Given the potential role of the combined authorities, part of whose raison d’être will of course be to achieve economies of scale and ensure the most effective use of resources devolved by government departments and public bodies, something akin to a local version of the Public Accounts Committee would be a highly desirable addition to the role of overview and scrutiny, especially if independently chaired. The amendment sets out a job description which should facilitate proper oversight of the combined authorities’ management and governance. It is not unduly prescriptive and I would personally welcome the inclusion of additional independent members who might be drawn from business, academia or the third sector.

Again without going so far as to lay down a requirement, I hope that the combined authorities would eventually adopt a process of peer review across their whole field of operations. This has proved its worth in the local government world and would usefully augment whatever procedures are adopted in relation to this amendment.

It would be interesting to learn what the Government have in mind for assessing their own relationships with combined authorities and the workings of the partnerships between government, public bodies and the combined authorities collectively. In any event, I urge the Minister to consider sympathetically the proposal for an audit committee, preferably one that is independently chaired, because the role is not quite the same as that of an overview and scrutiny committee. I serve on both types of body in my own authority. They have different roles and I think it is critical, given the importance of the subject matter and the amount of money that will be spent, that there should be that function embedded in the new system. I beg to move.

Lord Shipley: My Lords, in broad terms I very strongly support Amendment 37A. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, talked in terms of the Public Accounts Committee, which is slightly different from a committee that will simply review and scrutinise the authority’s financial affairs. It is actually about the efficient and effective use of public money, and one of the objectives of devolution is to ensure that local areas spend money more appropriately so that the spending is more effective in the outcomes it achieves.

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That has to be audited in some way. The only way that that can be done is in something like a public accounts committee for the area of the combined authority. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will look at that suggestion as I think that it would help enormously, first, in ensuring that the Government’s objectives are being delivered but, secondly, in giving the public confidence in the expenditure of the money that they are paying for through taxation.

9.45 pm

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that it is always very difficult to know who should appoint an independent chair, but I think that I heard him talk about a number of independent members. I would be happier with a situation in which there were a number of independent members of such a committee because I think then you would get a spread of expertise and experience that would enable the public to have confidence in its deliberations.

There are three amendments from these Benches in this group—Amendments 38, 39 and 40. Broadly speaking, they seek to give two powers to the overview and scrutiny committee. The first is the power to delay a decision in order to enable further public consultation to be carried out where the overview and scrutiny committee believes that that is necessary, often because information that is required has not been given to it. Secondly, Amendment 40 gives the overview and scrutiny committee powers to compel other bodies, including the combined authority, to provide information to the committee and to specify what form this information should take.

I am very heartened by the Minister’s response to the last group of amendments because, if the public are to have confidence in the functioning of the combined authorities, which is, in practice, an additional layer of local government, we have to get the overview and scrutiny right. Judging by what the Minister said, I think that is now the Government’s intention, so I hope that between now and Report we can have the necessary discussions to progress on that.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I thank both noble Lords who spoke to these amendments and will say pretty much what I said in response to the last group of amendments—namely, that we have considerable sympathy with what noble Lords are saying. Therefore, I reiterate my willingness to have discussions and hope that the noble Lord will be willing to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Beecham: I am delighted with the Minister’s usual co-operative stance. I am happy to accept her acceptance of my suggestion and look forward, together with the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and others perhaps, to see whether we can get something agreed between now and Report. In the circumstances, of course, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 37A withdrawn.

Amendments 37B to 39 not moved.

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Amendment 39A

Moved by The Earl of Lytton

39A: Schedule 3, page 23, line 31, after “persons” insert “, including representatives of parish councils in the area of the combined authority,”

The Earl of Lytton (CB): My Lords, in speaking to this group of amendments standing in my name, my intention is to ensure that the community or neighbourhood voice is heard. I pay tribute to the National Association of Local Councils for the assistance I have received from it in preparing the amendments.

The Bill is largely silent on this next level of devolution and my amendments are designed to ensure a discussion on how we see the neighbourhood level input developing alongside the new structures it proposes. Given the hour, it may be a one-way dialogue, but I flag it up anyway. I say in advance that I do not expect a detailed reply from the Minister tonight. Devolution must not stop at the strategic, combined authority level, any more than it stops at the principal council level. We will miss an important opportunity if we overlook the neighbourhoods and do not build community capacity and engagement with the more local matters that impact directly on people’s lives. A twin approach of devolution, to the strategic on the one hand and the neighbourhood on the other, is required here.

I seek to follow the direction of travel of localism and the empowerment of the 9,000 community, neighbourhood, parish and town councils up and down the country—the first tier of local government and the backbone of local democracy in England. That policy was to devolve the process of government and with it, responsibility for action to improve areas to the most local, practical level consistent with adequate standards of delivery. To the many principal councils that take their responsibilities towards the spirit of that seriously, I give due credit and many thanks. Sadly, in some principal council areas localism is taken to mean central government devolving powers to them, along with the pounds that go with that, but no further—or, if it is any further, then only devolving responsibilities shorn of the pounds that once financed them. That will not do.

My amendment serves to remind the Government, and thereby I hope the new mayoral combined authorities that will be created under the Bill, of their duties. There is good reason for this. One has only to look at the difficulties faced by the residents of Queen’s Park in Westminster in gaining their historic parish council status and the continued resistance of many London boroughs and principal councils outside London to the very notion of new parish councils, with their independent money-raising powers, giving people a voice and taking action to improve community well-being and local vitality. It is not just a London issue; Andover Town Council in Hampshire also gained its status in the face of stiff principal council opposition.

I know how some principal councils are reluctant to devolve powers to local level and work more closely with our important first tier of local government. It is as if the message was, “We know that we don’t really

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capture the very local community element of our electorate. We aren’t going to allow people to get together and do it for themselves, either”. That is bad for society, democracy, political stability and the image of local government. There is every reason to be cautious as to whether the new mayoral bodies will adopt evolution through devolution or simply become centralist in their own terms. If it is the latter, localism stops midstream, the neighbourhood plan becomes a work of fiction and “community” simply a matter of a wholly owned and controlled subsidiary of some city hall that might just as well be somewhere in Whitehall.

I turn to the detail of my amendments. Amendments to Schedule 3 provide for parish and town council engagement and involvement in overview and scrutiny committees, the purpose of which is outlined in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill. Parish councils are part of that family of local government, growing in number, role and importance. I maintain that they are about the most accountable and democratically responsive part of that family. The provision for the creation of new local councils to meet the aspirations of communities is already enshrined in legislation. I add that the more recent reforms to that process are most welcome. Amendments 39A and 39B serve as a prompt for the duty to include parish council representatives in any overview and scrutiny function. This can only strengthen the process, add value and ensure a more robust future, making sure that the strategic also relates to the local.

On Amendment 44E, I would explain that Clause 10(1) makes provision for the Secretary of State to make regulations regarding three areas: governance; constitution and membership; and structure and boundaries. My amendment would add a fourth measure to require principal councils within a mayoral combined authority area to conduct,

“a community governance review … within two years of this Act coming into force”.

The combined authorities will be afforded greater powers precisely because they feel they can serve their community better by that means. I hope that it will be seen that this amendment tries to build on precisely that point.

Amendment 50 is very much on the same tack. Schedule 4 amends, inter alia, the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. My amendment would insert a further criterion in relation to Section 23 of that Act. Noble Lords with instant recall will know that Section 23 relates to the, “Duty of public authorities to secure involvement”. I paraphrase, but it specifically refers to “information” about the “exercise” of functions, consultation over that exercise and involvement “in another way”.

Section 23(2) goes on to list the bodies to which this applies. My amendment would simply add a further reference to extend the application to the mayoral combined authorities that will be created by the Bill. I hope that the Minister will see the merit in the principle and that this is not insisting on some obsessive parish council creation approach. Instead, I hope that it will discourage some of the less satisfactory blocking procedures that seem to have been created and make sure that this goes forward as a genuine partnership within the family of local government. I beg to move.

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Lord Beecham: My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of parish and town councils and to their national organisation, the National Association of Local Councils, I think it is called—NALC. Having said that, I do not think that the proposal that the noble Earl has made is really a very practical one. The area I live in, which I am afraid I keep citing, is enormous, and there are others like it. I do not know how many hundreds of parish councils and therefore parish councillors there are in the area between the Tees and the Tweed, but I suspect that there will be a very large number. Quite how you would appoint people from there to an overview and scrutiny committee, I am not entirely sure.

I also do not think that this is really what is needed. I have an alternative suggestion to make to the noble Earl, which perhaps will be considered by the Minister. Should there be parish councils in the area of a combined authority, there should be a requirement on the combined authority, and on the mayor if there is one, to meet at least annually with representatives of those parish councils. After all, we are talking here essentially about large strategic issues, not very specific local ones. Although there should be a local voice at some point in the process, I do not think that it is realistic to add them to an overview and scrutiny committee. It could not be very representative anyway unless you had large numbers of such people on such a committee; it would not cover the whole area.

A better way might be to require the combined authority and/or the mayor to meet on at least an annual basis—it could be more often than that—with a representative group from across the whole of the parish and town council interest in the area concerned, to discuss the overall position. It would be part of the consultations that those bodies would be having with a variety of bodies, but recognising the particular position of those who have been elected to their very important but very local office. That would meet the more important aspirations of those people better, if I may say so, than the attendance of perhaps one person, representing so many hundreds of others, on an overview and scrutiny committee. I am not moving anything at this stage, but we and the Minister may want to consider it as a possible alternative to the noble Earl’s amendment when we get to Report.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I say at the outset that we value very greatly the work that parish councils do up and down our country. As the tier of local government closest to their communities, they provide a democratically accountable voice for taking community action. Parish councils provide services to their communities and have also played an important role in neighbourhood planning, setting the priorities for their local area in line with the local plan.

It is entirely right that a wide range of people from the community are able to participate in scrutiny of the combined authority in one way or another. An overview and scrutiny committee can invite parish council representatives to its meetings. We do not see, however, that it is necessary to name them on the face of the Bill, as the Bill already provides that an overview and scrutiny committee may invite any persons to attend its meetings.

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We must balance the wish to have a wide involvement in overview and scrutiny with the need for a committee to be of a suitable size to be effective. Having parish councillors as members of an overview and scrutiny committee may not be the best way to achieve that, but there may be other ways to encourage parish council involvement. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made a good suggestion which good practice might dictate that a mayor, combined authority or scrutiny committee might wish to take up.

10 pm

I would be happy to include the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, in conversations about ensuring strong scrutiny, notwithstanding what I just said. As I said in our earlier short debate on scrutiny, I am ready to have discussions with noble Lords across the House about their ideas for strengthening scrutiny. I hope the noble Earl will therefore be happy to withdraw his amendment and take part in discussions about scrutiny.

Let me move on to Amendments 44E and 50. In essence, Amendment 44E would mean that the Secretary of State could make provision in secondary legislation about all local authorities in the area of a mayoral combined authority undertaking a community governance review within two years of the Act coming into force. In essence, this is about the regulations under Clause 10 being able to modify the existing provisions about the procedures that lead to the creation of parish councils.

Whatever the merits of parishing an area, I do not believe that this amendment is necessary or appropriate. It is open to local authorities today, if they want, to undertake a governance review and consider whether their area should be parished. The legislative reform order, or LRO, that the Conservative-led coalition Government made in the last Parliament streamlined these processes. There is nothing to prevent what the noble Earl wishes to see happen if the local authorities concerned want to do that. Moreover, the regulations under Clause 10 can be made only with the consent of the local authorities to which the regulations apply. Hence the proposed amendment would add nothing.

If it is the noble Earl’s intention that the proposed amendment should in some way require councils in the area of a combined authority to undertake these governance reviews, then that is something that we could not agree to. It would be an imposition on an area. As I have made clear, we do not intend to impose anything on anyone anywhere. Having said that, let me make clear that we are not in any way opposed to parishes. Indeed, where areas wish to form parishes, there should be a simple and streamlined process for them.

On Amendment 50, again I am clear that this would be unnecessary central prescription. I appreciate the underlying intention that there should be effective

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democratic involvement of local people in the decisions taken by the governance institutions of their area, including combined authorities. It is open to any combined authority to involve the communities and businesses of its area in any way it feels appropriate. It does not need this amendment to be able to do that, and the amendment does no more than that. It would mean that, where a combined authority considered it appropriate that representatives or interested persons should be involved in the exercise of its functions, it should take such steps as it considers appropriate to secure that.

With those words, I hope the noble Earl will be happy to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for that. I would certainly like to take her up on her suggestion of further discussions. I hope to be in touch with her shortly in relation to that. I am grateful for her reply generally, which was much more extensive than I had expected given the hour.

I have just a brief word on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. I quite understand his point but think that he assumes that somehow underneath NALC as a national association there is nothing other than the 9,000 foot soldiers forming the parishes. That is not how it is structured; there is a series of district and county associations, and some of the county associations have come together in larger collectives. There is now a good deal of encouragement from within NALC towards such working practices.

For instance, when representatives are selected to go to national council, we cannot have 9,000 people in one room as there would be nowhere big enough to house them, so there has to be a selection process. There would be no difficulty with, for example, something the size of a county association or a multi-county association. In Sussex, I am involved with a triple association consisting of East Sussex, West Sussex and Surrey. They have come together and do a lot of these things jointly. So there would be no difficulty in arriving at a sensible way of providing a representative to be part of the discussion process, as I suggested.

The hour is late and I have spoken for long enough. I thank the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for their comments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 39A withdrawn.

Amendments 39AA to 42 not moved.

Schedule 3 agreed.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10.06 pm.