[1st Allotted Day]
[Relevant document: The Eleventh Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2006-07, Legislative Scrutiny: Fourth Progress Report, HC424.]
As amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.
New Clause 29
Reduction of regulatory burdens
‘(1) The Secretary of State must—
(a) for the period of one year, beginning with the commencement of this Act, and
(b) for each year thereafter,
prepare a report on progress during the period to reduce the number of local improvement targets, plans and other regulatory burdens in the responsible authority’s area.
(2) A report under this section must (in particular) deal with—
(a) ring fenced grants and funding;
(b) the volume of guidance;
(c) approval processes.
(3) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament each report he prepares under this section.’.—[Andrew Stunell.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 30—National Partnership Scheme—
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall, within one year of the coming into force of this Act, establish a body (“the Steering Group”) to draw up a National Partnership Scheme (“the Scheme”) between local government and national government, having regard to the European Charter of Local Self Government.
(2) The Steering Group shall comprise an equality of membership from central and local government, with an independent chair.
(3) The Scheme must set out recommendations about the respective powers and duties of local and central government in respect of (but not limited to) community engagement and participation, service delivery, finance and functions, and may set out such other matters as the Steering Group determines.
(4) The Scheme must include timetabled proposals for the transfer of functions and funding from central to local government where such transfer will—
(a) be efficient and convenient, or
(b) enhance local democratic accountability.’.
New clause 35—Local Government Act 2003: amendment—
‘Section 99 of the Local Government Act 2003 (c. 26) (categorisation of English local authorities by reference to performance) is hereby repealed.’.
Government amendments Nos. 20 to 22.
Amendment No. 254, in clause 80, page 55, line 10, at end insert—
‘(m) a registered social landlord which lets or owns houses in the area of the responsible local authority and which has been notified in writing by the responsible local authority that it is a partner authority.’.
Amendment No. 257, page 55, line 10, at end insert—
‘(m) Regional Offender Managers;
(n) Probation Trusts and providers of probation services’.
Government amendments Nos. 23 to 25.
Amendment No. 255, page 55, line 32, at end insert—
‘(4A) In this section, “house”, “let” and “registered social landlord” have the same meanings as in Part 1 of the Housing Act 1996.’.
Government amendments Nos. 26 to 28.
Amendment No. 253, in clause 81, page 56, line 13, after ‘area’, insert
‘, including targets relating to energy efficiency standards and microgeneration, as defined by section 82 of the Energy Act 2004 (c. 20) in buildings in new developments,’.
Amendment No. 171, page 56, line 17, at end insert—
‘(1A) In this Chapter “national improvement target” means a national target for improvement designated by the Secretary of State in respect of which there shall be a maximum number of 35.’.
Amendment No. 156, in clause 82, page 56, line 40, after ‘authority’, insert—
‘(ia) other non-statutory partners to the local area agreement;’.
Amendment No. 248, page 56, line 41, at end insert ‘; and
(iii) recognised trades unions.’.
Amendment No. 172, page 57, line 3, leave out ‘and’.
Amendment No. 173, page 57, line 4, at end insert—
‘(iii) the comprehensive area assessment which shall be phased in to coincide with the commencement date for this Chapter.’.
Government amendment No. 92.
Amendment No. 174, in clause 83, page 57, line 20,at end insert
‘only in respect of national improvement targets,’.
Amendment No. 175, in clause 85, page 57, line 38, leave out ‘local’ and insert ‘national’.
Amendment No. 176, page 57, line 42, leave out ‘local’ and insert ‘national’.
Amendment No. 177, in clause 86, page 58,line 16, leave out ‘local’ and insert ‘national’.
Amendment No. 178, page 58, line 27, leave out ‘or’.
Amendment No. 179, page 58, line 28, leave out subsection (b).
Amendment No. 180, page 58, line 31, at end insert—
‘(7) The responsible local authority may in its absolute discretion, with the consent of each person to whom the target in question relates, change, remove or revise a local improvement target.’.
Amendment No. 195, in clause 87, page 58, line 39, leave out ‘all’ and insert ‘either’.
Amendment No. 181, age 58, line 40, after ‘to’, insert ‘national’.
Amendment No. 182, page 58, line 41, after ‘of’, insert ‘national’.
Amendment No. 183, page 58, line 42, leave out subsection (c).
Amendment No. 184, page 59, line 2, after ‘a’, insert ‘national’.
Amendment No. 185, page 59, line 5, leave out subsection (b).
Amendment No. 158, page 59, line 9, after ‘authority’, insert—
‘(ia) other non-statutory partners to the local area agreement, and’.
Amendment No. 186, page 59, line 12, after ‘of’, insert ‘national’.
Amendment No. 187, page 59, line 12, leave out ‘, or additional local improvement targets,’.
Amendment No. 188, page 59, line 20, after ‘of’, insert ‘national’.
Amendment No. 189, page 59, line 20, leave out ‘, or additional local improvement targets,’.
Government amendment No. 93.
Amendment No. 190, in clause 88, page 59, line 42, after ‘a’, insert ‘national’.
Amendment No. 191, in clause 89, page 60, line 8, leave out ‘local’ and insert ‘national’.
Government amendment No. 94.
Amendment No. 157, in clause 90, page 60, line 34, after ‘authority’, insert
‘, other non-statutory partners to the local area agreement and’.
Government amendment No. 95.
Amendment No. 192, in clause 92, page 62, line 5, at beginning insert ‘national’.
Amendment No. 194, in page 90, line 9, leave out clause 127.
Government amendment No. 55.
The new clause is simple and straightforward and should be added to the Bill. The Government have repeatedly said that the torrent of targets, plans, guidance notes and approvals should be throttled back, and they have stated clearly that the Bill will do that by relieving local government of the burden of bureaucracy, red tape and financial costs and allowing it to get on with the business for which it was elected.
The new clause provides a way of measuring and taking stock of the Government’s performance. Just in case their rebuttal is that it may be perverse to add yet another target to their work load when we are arguing for the reduction of targets, I simply point out that given the burden they are taking from local government and from themselves, a small diversion to measure it would not go amiss.
I draw the attention of the House to some of the views of Sir Michael Lyons in his recent report to the Government. He said:
“Over the 1980s and 1990s, there has been an increasing centralisation across a range of local public services…it has also inhibited the ability of local government to respond to local needs and preferences, and to manage financial pressures…The weight of central controls—both formal and informal—can lead to local choices being crowded out…it can stifle innovation and experiment, both of which are promoted by decentralisation.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that Sir Michael’s contention about greater centralisation is reinforced by the answer to a parliamentary question I received recently, which reveals that the ring-fencing of local government budgets has risen from £1.6 billion in 1997 to £7.2 billion in 2005?
Obviously, I was aware of the answer given to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), which I considered carefully. Those figures included the dedicated schools budget, so that should be borne in mind when making a like-for-like comparison. They also showed that the recent trend is in the opposite direction.
The Minister makes a case, but it is not a particularly good one because many local authorities believe that the prescriptive way that school funding is allocated is not good either.
I want to draw the Minister’s attention to a briefing I received from the Local Government Association, which notes that the Audit Commission recently informed councils that an additional 54 performance indicators on economic regeneration should be collected “on a voluntary basis”. What is a council supposed to do when the Audit Commission says that it must collect a further 54 indicators on a voluntary basis? That is a weird sort of voluntarism. We are told that additional customer satisfaction indicators are being developed and that as neighbourhood performance management develops, indicators will have to be translated to lower levels, resulting in more data to collect.
The new clause would monitor the Government’s good intentions and would enable us to hear from them precisely how well they are doing—in the context not just of the point my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) drew to the attention of the House, nor of the LGA’s report that more and more indicators seem to be required every day, but of the rumours that reach us on the civil service grapevine. We know that a number of Departments meet the DCLG’s challenge to reduce their indicators and targets for local government by asking their staff to turn the indicators into sub-targets and sub-sub-targets; so there is a higher order target with, beneath it, exactly the same requirements as before—except that they are not called targets. We need to assess whether the Government’s intentions as a whole—not just the Minister’s good intentions—actually produce results.
In Committee, the Minister affected to be somewhat heartbroken when we showed occasional signs of distrust at his protestations of good will and innocence. However, there are many local government doubting Thomases out there. Over at least 20 years, they have been trained to doubt by the actions of different Governments at the expense of local government. The Minister has only to accept the new clause and he will allay their doubts and fears. Let us make it transparent that the targets are being reduced. Let us see the tide turn and watch as the burden is lifted year by year.
On Second Reading, the Secretary of State set out her stall. On targets, she said:
“There are currently up to 1,200. We envisage reducing that to 200 indicators, with around 35 targets, plus the existing statutory education and child care targets.”—[Official Report, 22 January 2007; Vol. 455, c. 1155.]
The new clause is designed to restore trust in the Government’s commitment on targets, to cut bureaucracy and to give the Secretary of State something to boast about every year when she publishes her annual report. It follows that we will also support new clause 35, which reflects the same way of thinking. I seek your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on whether it is in order for me to comment on the other new clauses and amendments in the group.
Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In that case, I draw the House’s attention to the further new clause standing in my name and that of my hon. Friends: new clause 30 on the national partnership scheme. My colleagues and I raised this matter twice in Committee, in different contexts. We are raising it again because of its tremendous importance to building a strong, healthy democracy in our country. We have an over-centralised country. It is a monolithic state with a one-size-fits-all approach to Government and local government. That issue relates strongly to the issue of targets. It is assumed that if something works in Northumberland it should work in Hackney, if it works in Hackney it should work in Plymouth, and if it works in Plymouth it should work in Braintree. Wherever one goes, the situation is supposed to be the same. We do not believe that that is the right approach for central Government to take and we want to see a much more decentralised state in the future.
Apropos of the hon. Gentleman’s last comments, is it not important for the Government to try to ensure universality and equity across the country in the provision of services? Sometimes that might be at the expense of local freedom, but equity is important too.
It is certainly right that there should be fair shares. I accept that. However, what many people find difficult to accept is the assumption that the way services are delivered, the volume of services, and even the price of services should be set by central diktat or regulation or be the subject of targets. The hon. Gentleman is not wrong, but there is always a tension between making sure that every person in the country gets exactly the same thing and allowing personal freedom and community choice some rein.
At the moment, there is no doubt that in comparison with western Europe, and even more so with our friends across the ocean in the United States, we have an excessively centralised country. I have sometimes used the example of Hampshire in this country and New Hampshire in the United States. The population of New Hampshire in the United States is less than the population of Hampshire in the United Kingdom, yet New Hampshire can set its own laws and taxes and can even set and vary its own criminal code up to and including the death penalty. I want to reassure hon. Members that I am not suggesting that Hampshire county councillors should have the liberty to impose the death penalty, although perhaps they would want that.
A flourishing local democracy is the way to get community and individual engagement with our society. One of the strongest factors in people’s failure to participate in democracy at a local level is that they think that it does not make any difference what they do or how they vote because councillors cannot do anything. I have to say that councillors tend to reinforce that view, because if things go wrong in their area, they always say, “It’s because the Government have stopped us.” We need to get out of having local government in victim mode and we need to restore powers to our local communities.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s objective—and that of the Government—of giving greater discretion and autonomy to local government. That is clearly a desirable objective and I am pleased that we are moving down that route. However, I can see a problem with his new clause. He has stressed that it is inappropriate to set national targets and expect them to apply across the country because different circumstances will apply in different locations. Does he accept that, as part of a proportionate system of regulation, in some areas it might be appropriate to have rather more in the way of regulatory requirements and indicators of performance? I was conscious of that when I was responsible for improvements in local authorities. In certain areas, which we were doing badly, there was clearly a need for more focus in order to get an improvement. If he agrees with what I have said, how is that compatible with a system that simply seeks to reduce the total number of targets across the country, regardless of local variations?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his contribution, which sounded just like the comments of local government Ministers and former local government Ministers through the ages. Obviously, if one is in the middle and wants to see changes at the periphery, the best way of doing that is to order people to make those changes, but that is the opposite of what a localist approach should be. New clause 30 is not specifically related to the issue of the number of targets; it is about defining the boundaries between central Government decision taking and local democracy’s decision taking. The new clause is about setting up a mechanism for establishing where those boundaries should be—on an equal partnership basis between local and national representatives—and about presenting a report that would lead to a much clearer line being drawn. That would prevent some of the interference, perhaps in both directions, that is such a bind to our democratic system.
The hon. Gentleman said that his measure was not simply about the number of targets, plans or other regulatory burdens. However, his new clause requires the Secretary of State to
“prepare a report on progress during the period to reduce the number of local improvement targets, plans and other regulatory burdens”.
That is the measure that he is adopting. How can that be compatible with the more proportionate approach that I suggested might be appropriate?
The right hon. Gentleman is quoting from new clause 29. I am more than happy to respond, although at the moment I am speaking about new clause 30. On the point that he has just raised, of course the reduction in regulation should be proportionate to the risks and benefits. It is certainly not our view that we should simply look at an alphabetical list and leave the top 35 targets and cross the rest off. There has to be discussion and negotiation about what is needed and what is not needed, and about what targets should be decided at a much more local level. In Committee, the Minister correctly argued that in some cases it would be right for partnerships of local authorities and other public bodies in an area to decide what targets should be. I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would think that that was desirable.
Does my hon. Friend believe that part of the problem is the fact that many local authorities are at a loss to understand why the targets are being set and what the end result will be if the targets are not met? The Government do not clarify what they expect and what the punishment is, or what the carrot will be. If there is to be a change, there needs to be greater co-operation between central Government and local government in evolving a set of targets that are both realistic and clearly defined, with a mechanism to give to those who achieve the target whatever end result the Government have in mind.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. Many people in local government find it difficult to understand the purpose of the targets they are asked to meet. Officers know that they have to meet the targets, because if they do not it would be difficult to go to another local authority and say, “Please can I have a job? I never met any of my targets in my last job.” If one is a councillor, it is difficult not to work towards achieving targets, because the council will be slagged off in the press for not having the right number of stars. Councils might even be penalised in terms of grants and freedoms. This morning, I met a group of councillors from a number of local authorities who made the point quite strongly that when the whole performance culture was introduced, a clear signal was given that those who achieved the targets would get extra power, responsibility and freedom. They said that now that they face the next generation of targets, they cannot see why they should try hard to meet them because they did not get anything worth while when they met the original targets—[Interruption.] The Minister will no doubt have the opportunity to explain not only what councils have had, but what they will get as the number of targets shrinks and they focus more accurately on things that matter.
New clause 30 would simply set up a mechanism for developing a proper relationship—a constitutional relationship, if you like—between local government and central Government. It could lead on to measures of decentralisation—indeed, it points in that direction—such as a cull of the quangos that take up so much of central Government spending. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington referred to a parliamentary question that he had asked about ring-fencing of funding for local authorities. Another aspect of the issue is the huge amount of spending from central Government that used to be channelled through local authorities, which had some discretion over its use, but is now spent by quangos of one sort or another. The Learning and Skills Council is often cited as an example.
We have been moved to bring the proposal back to the House for yet another go because we are not at all persuaded that the Government understand the need to set that constitutional framework and to protect both central Government and local government from all the distrust and misinterpretation in the current relationship. If the Minister rejects the new clause, what exactly does he propose instead? Are the Government really serious about the good intentions that have appeared time and again in his comments and those of the Secretary of State for a while?
I do not know whether amendment No. 253 will be pressed, but my hon. Friends and I certainly support the intentions of the Bill, which are the genesis of that amendment. If the opportunity arises, we will support it.
Given the grouping of the amendments, I shall not follow the specific issues raised by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell). Instead, I shall focus on my amendment No. 254, which deals with the inclusion of registered social landlords in the list of organisations that local authorities are required to consult as part of the preparation of a local area agreement.
Local area agreements are a very important part of the current local government agenda. They are a vehicle for enabling greater discretion to be devolved to a local level and, above all, for ensuring closer co-operation between a local authority and its partners in the area. That is the way forward for local government in ensuring more joined-up delivery of services and better planning, bringing together the range of organisations that contribute to a huge variety of services and strategies that impact on the local community. I strongly support local area agreements and had the privilege of introducing the concept when I was Minister with responsibility for local government.
I welcome the measures in the Bill that define more precisely the range of bodies that need to be consulted as part of the preparation of a local area agreement, but I am surprised that registered social landlords are not included, because they are hugely important to the delivery of one of the most important services to local communities—housing. They are responsible for about half the total social housing stock in the country; they are developing and improving large numbers of homes in almost every area of the country; and they have a crucial role to play as partners in a variety of initiatives that will affect local communities, not only in the provision of housing and regeneration but in other areas. I have noticed the participation of registered social landlords in my own area in various measures designed to reduce crime, to work more closely with the police and to improve health outcomes. They have an integral role to play in many different areas, and it is curious that they are not listed.
I can understand the argument, which my hon. Friend the Minister will probably use, that registered social landlords are not an authority. They are, in essence, individual bodies that do not have a statutory existence, so they should not be defined as an authority. However, given the huge range of bodies listed and the wide variety of services included, it seems odd that there is no reference to registered social landlords. I understand that this issue was raised in Committee, and I hope that my hon. Friend will give it some further thought. If he cannot accept the amendment to include registered social landlords in the list of bodies that must be consulted, I hope that some thought will be given to how local authorities will be advised to ensure that registered social landlords are not left out of an inclusive approach to better and more joined-up service delivery, to which they have a large contribution to make. I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend will give the amendment sympathetic consideration, even if he is not able to accept it.
Given the wide-ranging nature of the first group of amendments, I shall not follow the remarks of the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), although I will touch on the changes being made to the partnerships included in local area agreements.
May I say to the right hon. Gentleman how welcome it is, when I am running the London marathon, that he is always there, outside his constituency office in Greenwich, cheering on the runners? He has done that for many years; it is always a welcome moment, although I wish that next time he will have some alcohol available as I run past.
For my hon. Friend and me. I enjoy that contact with the right hon. Gentleman and I thank him for his support.
This is an opportunity to discuss a number of matters relating to the Bill, and I will not go on too long because time is limited and there is a lot to cover. Something has been missing, however, from the comments of Ministers, whom I welcome back to their places—we will enjoy this afternoon’s proceedings, as we enjoyed the Committee—and those of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell). I have been thinking about what it is and I have realised that this is the first opportunity we have had to discuss local government in detail since the local government elections the other week. We need to root this debate firmly in the context of what the public think about the local government performance of our respective parties.
I thought that it might assist the House if I reminded it that the Conservative party gained 39 councils at those elections and now holds 165. There were 911 councillor gains, and we now hold 5,315 council seats across the country. Labour lost eight councils and 505 councillors. The Liberal Democrats lost four councils and 246 councillors. The Conservative party is therefore the party of local government—full stop. The remarks that my colleagues and I make are bolstered by public confidence in our recent performance.
My hon. Friend will know that we made big gains in Shropshire, where we were all campaigning vehemently against a unitary authority. The Government said that they would take note of the outcome of the elections. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that it is important that the Government take that on board.
Indeed. I am grateful for your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend speaks well, and it is not the first time the people of his constituency have spoken about organisational arrangements. We will debate those arrangements later, and I do indeed share his hope that the Minister will listen to what the people have said—it covers a broad measure of public opinion, which he ought to take into account.
To speak more directly to the amendments in the group, I welcome, and thank the Minister for, the changes proposed in the Government amendments, especially those relating to the addition of national health service trusts and public health bodies. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee expressed the wish that those bodies be added to the list of partners in local area agreements. We think that the amendments make that list more complete. The Minister has responded to our concerns and honoured the pledge he made in Committee, which we appreciate.
Amendment No. 257, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and other colleagues, proposes the possible addition of probation trusts. The Local Government Association would welcome the opportunity to include those trusts. It believes:
“A duty to cooperate on all offender management and probation services would help move reducing re-offending closer to the mainstream of local partnership activity.”
I hope the Minister will take that into account.
We tabled amendments Nos. 156 to 158 in response to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ plea that there be a specific requirement to engage properly with non-statutory partners. We discussed in Committee whether such bodies were covered by the catch-all provision that such parties as the local authority thought fit should be consulted but, for reasons that have previously been set out, the NCVO believes that ensuring that local authorities engage and consult properly with non-statutory partners would strengthen local area agreements. In its briefing, the NCVO says:
“Whilst there are many examples of local authorities working effectively with the voluntary and community sector there are also many examples of local authorities refusing to engage and consult properly.”
Although we do not intend to press the amendments, I would appreciate it if the Minister considered the matter further as the Bill passes from this to another place.
If the hon. Member for Hazel Grove divides the House on new clause 29, we will support it. The relationship between central and local government and the increasing burden imposed by central Government over the years through targets, quotas, ring-fencing and the like formed much of the background to our debates in Committee and, indeed, to the interesting evidence sessions that preceded those debates, which were the first to be held on a Public Bill. I remind the Minister of the comments made by Simon Milton, who gave evidence in the first evidence session as a representative of the LGA. He commented on an amendment that we tabled in Committee and have tabled again on report. Amendment No. 171, as it now is, proposes an upper limit on the number of targets. Simon Milton said:
“We would like to see an upper limit expressed in the Bill, because there is a tendency, we suspect, despite the best wishes of Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government, to have target-creep over time. Therefore, we would rather have an upper limit in the Bill.”––[Official Report, Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Public Bill Committee, 30 January 2007; c. 24.]
I am not, but I am not surprised to hear that. The danger is that we can set formal limits, then along come sub-clauses A, B and C and, before we know where we are, there are new targets. I think that is what Simon Milton meant when he talked about “target-creep” and it is what we have in mind when we attempt to ensure that the Minister sticks to the Department’s first belief expressed in the White Paper—that there should be a maximum number of, say, 35 targets for local area agreements, rather than the unlimited number that became the norm as the Bill proceeded.
In that spirit, although we will not press amendment No. 171, we shall support new clause 29 as a symbol of the concerns of Conservative MPs and local government representatives throughout the country. The serious part of the earlier amusing diversion was to remind the House that, in terms of the number of councils and the number of seats held, the Conservative party represents more than all the other parties combined, including independents and others. When colleagues around the country speak of their concern about the burden imposed on them by central Government, they are speaking from a position of knowledge and significant authority. Taking new clause 29 as a symbol of the concerns expressed by local government about targets, burdens, regulatory creep and so on, we think it important to have a Division so that we can show our concern and, in so doing, express the hope that, as the Bill passes from this place to another, the Minister will consider further the legitimate concerns of local government representatives across the country and do more to address them.
We are well aware of the burden and impact of the targets. They imply a lack of trust that those working at local level will do their job. That affects government across the board. The misery of the Secretary of State for Health yesterday has surely been compounded by the fact that what the Government sought to do in medical training reflects their sense of not quite trusting the senior people who have been in charge of training over the years and their desire to impose a bureaucratic system instead. The stories heard over the weekend about the police chasing up insignificant offences to reach targets is a further symbol of what happens when people become motivated solely by mechanistic targets, rather than being allowed the discretion they need as professionals to judge what is important in a community.
Our aim is to attack the Government’s desire to work in a centralised, directive manner in relation to local government, and we have picked new clause 29 as a symbol of that. The Minister should not mistake the fact that many of the amendments tabled reflect the concern that there is too much national and not enough local, and too much determination to make decisions centrally in Whitehall rather than rely on local government expertise and what local people think to inform decisions. That is why we want to vote in support of the new clause.
We are also interested in amendment No. 253, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) and to which several of my hon. Friends have put their name. It represents an important extension of the sense of local government devolution. The Minister knows that in Committee we discussed the relationship between this Bill and the Sustainable Communities Bill—a private Member’s Bill. We believe that the latter represents genuine devolution of power, whereas the Government’s Bill does not go as far as the Government think it does. Representatives of Unlock Democracy gave evidence to the Public Bill Committee. Peter Facey said:
“The Bill devolves power by giving powers to parish councils, and in relation to byelaws, and that is to be welcomed. However, with respect to the powers of Westminster, and in most policy areas, it reorganises the powers of local government and gives local government the ability to administer things better, but it does not actually shift power significantly downwards to local authorities or communities.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Public Bill Committee, 1 February 2007; c. 69.]
We have previously debated the fact that we do not think that the Bill does what the Minister thinks it does. Amendment No. 253 provides an imaginative way for the Government to demonstrate that they really do believe in local community power by giving local authorities the ability to encourage more powerful energy conservation targets for new buildings in their area—targets that go beyond the national targets. The Government could extend discretion to the local level, enabling local people to express opinions on the vital issues of climate change and conservation.
We should bear in mind the strictures of the Minister’s colleague, the Minister for Housing and Planning. When we discussed home information packs yesterday, she made the point that our lack of support for the Government’s proposals on HIPs was in contrast to what we believe about energy conservation. I now put the same point to the Minister for Local Government: if he does not support amendment No. 253, which his colleague, the hon. Member for Gower, tabled, it calls into question the Government’s commitment to energy conservation and the like, and rather undermines the next Prime Minister’s attempt to establish eco-homes. The Chancellor is going around the country talking vehemently about the environment, which he did not start to do until very recently. We will be very interested to hear the Minister’s response on amendment No. 253, which we want to be accepted.
The amendments deal with a variety of concerns about the powers of local councils and communities and their entitlement to more of a say and to be included. We welcome the extension of partnership, through local area agreements, to the bodies that have been mentioned, but we want it to be extended further. The Government have sought a couple of new powers. In Government amendments Nos. 93 and 94, there is a power to “vary or revoke” directions that was not included in the original Bill. I should be interested to know in what circumstances that power might be used. When the Minister gets a chance to reply, perhaps he will explain what is behind those powers, and say why they were introduced at this stage of the Bill, and not earlier.
I shall conclude my remarks on this group of amendments in order to give others the chance to speak. I remind the Minister that there are amendments in the group that we could have pressed to a Division, but for reasons of time, we will not do so. We back new clause 29; we see it as a symbol of the feeling in the House that although the Government believe that their centralist, directive power is being devolved in the Bill, the process has probably not gone far enough. On behalf of local government, we would like it to go much further. As I say, we will use that new clause as a symbol of the House’s concern, and of the strength of the feeling among Conservative authorities and others outside the House that more needs to be done to demonstrate that the Government are truly devolutionist, and not centralist. Frankly, we just do not think that they can demonstrate that.
I rise to speak to amendment No. 253, which is in my name and that of 80 other Members from across the House. As has already been mentioned, the amendment is really the progeny of a private Member’s Bill that I introduced in the Chamber on 19 January, the Local Planning Authorities (Energy and Energy Efficiency) Bill, which, coincidentally, will return to the Order Paper tomorrow. That Bill is about enabling local authorities better to contribute to tackling the problem of climate change using planning policy. If enacted, it would allow councils, if they so chose, to set higher standards for energy efficiency in their development plans than those laid down in building regulations, and it would allow them to make provision for sustainable energy and microgeneration requirements in the same document. An early-day motion supporting the Bill has now been signed by 302 Members of the House.
Sadly, my Bill failed to find favour with the Government. In a number of meetings with Ministers, and in correspondence with me and other Members, we have been assured that the Government are sympathetic to its objectives, but we have been told that they will not give it a fair wind because they are consulting on their draft planning policy statement on climate change, and they think that it would be inappropriate to prejudge the outcome of that process by endorsing, implicitly or explicitly, my Bill. Secondly, they think that the subject would be better dealt with in Government legislation, rather than in a private Member’s Bill.
The consultation period on the draft planning policy statement ended on 8 March, and Ministers have had a fair amount of time in which to consider the responses. We now have the opportunity in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill to deal with the central issue in Government legislation, and that is what my amendment is intended to achieve. In part 5, chapter 1, which is on local area agreements, clause 81 deals with local improvement targets. My amendment specifies that energy efficiency and sustainable energy targets can be included in local agreements.
As with my private Member’s Bill, my amendment is about empowering local councils to meet the challenge of climate change, but it is also about encouraging them to act now; that is important. The clearest message to come out of the Stern review is the absolute need for urgency. We cannot afford to wait. The amendment is intended to give all local councils a green light, in every sense, to follow the lead of places such as Woking and Merton and set high environmental standards for new developments, both residential and non-residential.
I welcome the policy of all new homes being zero carbon by 2016, and I welcome the Chancellor’s proposals for new eco-communities, but to turn those concepts into reality, we need many more examples—and soon—of low and zero-carbon homes to add to the very small number of experimental buildings that exist or are about to be constructed. One way—perhaps the best way—of achieving that goal is to enable and encourage local authorities to set high standards for energy efficiency and sustainable energy generation. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said that she wants
“to see a scale of new development which will deliver economies of scale and bring down costs of environmental technologies”.
If the amendment were to become part of the Bill, and then the Act, it would help to stimulate exactly that scale of new development.
At the moment, there is a great deal of uncertainty in the local government family about whether local government can set the sorts of standards that I am proposing. Some councils have been allowed to specify high standards for energy efficiency and sustainable energy, but others have been slapped down by Government inspectors when they have tried to do exactly the same thing. For example, Reading was allowed to specify thermal performance requirements that were at least 12 per cent. higher than those required by building regulations. Cambridge, on the other hand, was made to water down its planning policy, which required large developers to provide evidence of how they had minimised energy consumption, maximised energy efficiency and considered the feasibility of using combined heat and power systems, even though that is surely exactly what we should be asking of developers in the face of the threat of global warming. However, the Government inspector said the policy was
“unreasonable to the extent that it imposes more onerous requirement than the building Regulations”.
Cambridge is set to increase its housing stock by 40 per cent. in the next 15 years. What impact has the inspector’s decision had on carbon dioxide emissions in that city?
Similarly, in its core strategy and rural issues plan, Bedford borough council wanted to reduce CO2 emissions by 10 per cent. more than the amount set out in building regulations for certain developments. The Government office for the east of England ruled that out on the grounds that the current planning system
“does not permit the setting of energy efficiency standards.”
At present, there is inconsistency and incoherence, resulting in inertia. We need clarity and positive encouragement to meet the highest feasible environmental standards. That is what the amendment is about.
Although clause 81 deals with targets in local area agreements, the only way that I can envisage targets on energy efficiency and low-carbon energy sources being met is through planning policy, and through the development plan process in particular.
I agree that that is part of the answer, and the Government have a good programme leading up to 2016, but we can go further. Empowering local authorities to use the development plan process will give us the threat of good examples, as it were, and will allow us to move faster. As I just explained, some local authorities have been permitted to move faster, but others have been slapped down. Surely that inconsistency is absolute nonsense. If there are examples where local authorities have moved ahead, and it has not deterred house building in their area or had any other effect, I suggest that others could be doing so, too, and we could be moving faster.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that for those involved in the manufacture of building materials and those planning the construction process, it is vital to have clarity some years in advance regarding the standards that will be sought, so that the production lines can be put in place to make the products that will deliver the higher standards? The construction industry is saying that the lack of clarity that would result from my hon. Friend’s proposal that local authorities have the freedom to set separate standards in separate areas would inhibit that process. Will he recognise that a balance must be struck between this perfectly proper aspiration to raise standards, and the maintenance of a nationally coherent framework that allows the industry to respond effectively?
That is certainly what the Home Builders Federation is saying. When I introduced my private Member’s Bill, the HBF was the only organisation that contacted me to oppose it. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Local Government Association, the Welsh Local Government Association and the various environmental groups all supported it. However, there is some substance in my right hon. Friend’s argument. In my discussions with Ministers, I suggested that we establish parameters, so that everybody knows what they are doing. We have already set higher standards in social housing, so it is perfectly possible to do it, but I accept the point that we should not necessarily have a free-for-all.
I heard that bit and it was very good. Does he agree that another answer to what the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) said is that if the public sector is setting higher standards—indeed, the Chancellor is requiring much higher standards in his eco-cities—the argument that the industry needs one standard cannot possibly be right, because there are already two?
That is absolutely right.
As for the consultation on the planning policy statement on planning and climate change, to which I referred earlier, we still do not know what position the Government are taking after considering all the responses, but I hope that Ministers will give weight to the issues raised by organisations such as the Association for the Conservation of Energy, which drew attention to serious weaknesses in the draft planning policy statement that, if unchanged, would effectively deter councils from trying to achieve better environmental standards. For instance, paragraph 31 of the draft PPS says:
“Planning Authorities should not need to devise their own standards for the environmental performance of individual buildings as these are set out nationally through the Building Regulations”.
That is the wrong approach. Building regulations should be minimum standards. Ministers have said that they believe that building regulations should be minimum standards, yet paragraph 31 implies that in fact, the Government believe that—most of the time, at least—they should be maximum standards. Councils should be free to go for higher standards; indeed, at this time they should be encouraged to do so.
On top of this, the draft PPS sets four hurdles for councils to jump before they can set even limited higher standards. They must identify local developments or site opportunities, ruling out authority-wide policies, as in Reading; they must set out their local approach in advance in a development plan document; they have to estimate the cost to possible developers; and the content of the local development documents and the reasoning for it have to be approved by a Government inspector.
I was vice-chair of a planning committee in a previous life and I am sure that, faced with these hurdles, very few local authorities will try for higher standards. The development plan process is tortuous enough, without extra complications. A fairer, simpler, far better and more effective approach is that taken in my amendment. It recognises the vital part that councils can and should play in limiting their local carbon footprints. It seeks to free them to do that and encourages them to act. I hope that in responding, my hon. Friend the Minister will recognise its merits.
I very much welcome amendment No. 253, tabled by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), which deals with a very important issue. Many Conservative Members have much sympathy for it, and I hope that we will have the opportunity to express that in due course. Having said that, I want briefly to discuss some of the other matters dealt with in this tranche of amendments and new clauses.
Many people are concerned that we have missed an opportunity to state a broad overview of the basis of the relationship between national and local government. Of course, the United Kingdom does not have a written constitution, but in most of our continental EU partner countries, there is such a formal statement of competencies, rights and responsibilities, and a measure of respect for the competencies on each side. It would perhaps have been a good idea to take that approach, in a different way, in the Bill, as was suggested by the Local Government Association and the Local Government Information Unit. I hope that Ministers will reflect on whether something can be done to set out such a statement.
The reason for taking such an approach was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) when he raised the issue of targets and centralism. I was in France the other Sunday for the second round of the French presidential elections. [Interruption.] I was very happy with the outcome, and I had the chance to catch up with a number of friends in local government in France. The point that struck many of us in our discussions, and which struck me during my time as a member of the Committee of the Regions, is that there is often a marked correlation between participation in democracy at local level and local authorities’ room for manoeuvre and local discretion. It is clear across the EU that the more local discretion that is given to local authorities—including, often, fiscal devolution—the larger the turnouts at elections and the healthier the state of local democracy. Despite what has been said, the Bill does not go far enough in that direction. That is why it is very important that we deal with the targets issue.
While we are having the history lesson, would my hon. Friend like to remind the House that because of the appalling behaviour of councils such as Newcastle, John Lewis paid four times the price per square foot in council tax in Newcastle than it did in Oxford street, and that something had to be done because members of the Labour party were milking the public?
I understand my right hon. Friend’s point, and I am now led to conclude that I was right to adopt my old careers master’s advice to become a lawyer, rather than a history professor. However, in the light of a changed set of circumstances, it is my and many others’ view that the business rate can now be returned to local authorities—along with the safeguards that can sensibly be put in place in order to avoid the abuse that my right hon. Friend refers to, and which I witnessed as a London borough councillor at that time.
The targets issue is important, because micro-management through targets undermines local government’s degree of discretion. I take France as an example because it is the European country that I know best. Not only are major towns there able to raise much more of their revenue locally, but they are much freer from interference by central Government in how they deliver services. I accept the need for equity on a national basis, but often that is effectively traded off against the greater ability to choose local solutions to meet local problems and local issues. Not enough attention is paid to that.
The police are a particularly good example, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire. I serve on the Metropolitan Police Authority, and when I talk to police officers of all ranks in my constituency and elsewhere in Greater London, when I talk to our partners in the crime and disorder reduction partnership locally, and when I talk to people in our police and community consultative groups, it is a recurrent theme that we have far too many centrally imposed targets. Very often these are targets for crimes, for example, which are not the top priority in our local borough, but they have to be fitted into a national template. That diverts attention from dealing with local policing issues. The same applies in a number of other areas.
A reduction in targets, as we propose in our amendments, seems not only to be right philosophically, but to go with the grain of the evidence on the ground. That is why in our amendment No. 180, which deals with locally determined improvement targets, we seek to give greater flexibility to make changes and amendments to those targets to reflect the changing situation on the ground.
On local area agreements, I am grateful to Ministers for having taken on board a number of points that were raised in Committee. I hope, and I reinforce as strongly as I can the message of my hon. Friend, that they will look again at the issue of probation trusts. All of us who have been involved in local government consider that important. In Bromley, as the London assembly and Metropolitan Police Authority member, I serve on the local crime and disorder reduction partnership, of which the probation service is a part. We are anxious to have the ability to involve the probation service much more widely in the overall local area agreements. I am glad to see that the Minister for Local Government seems to respond with some sympathy to that remark. That would build on the best practice in a number of places.
The same applies to the voluntary sector. Our umbrella voluntary sector organisation, Community Links Bromley, is a valuable part of our local strategic partnership. I should like to make more progress in finding ways in which it can be linked into the local area agreements. It contributes a great deal and where there is good working, we ought to be able to encourage that and facilitate it.
A practical and sensible set of issues is raised by the Local Government Information Unit in the briefing that a number of Members will have seen. Not only should there be a statutory obligation to co-operate, but we should be able to deliver that in practice. Fortunately, in my borough people co-operate willingly and well, but the experience of many of us shows that in London and elsewhere the level of co-operation is patchy.
Will the statutory duty to co-operate deliver what everyone wants to achieve? The example of primary care trusts appears in the commentary on the Bill. Withdrawal from the local area agreements due to a lack of funding is a problem that we face in Enfield, where the primary care trust has withdrawn a vital part of the area agreement concerning alcohol services and rehabilitation, and £80,000 has been withdrawn from alcohol screening in local accident and emergency units. Will the London health economy be able to deliver, given the problems with top-slicing of funding?
My hon. Friend raises a hugely important point. Although we have not yet reached the degree of crisis that exists in Enfield, the risk applies right across London boroughs, particularly those in outer London, where I regret to say that the health economy is strained and also, for reasons that we have discussed in the Chamber, the financial settlements to local government have been hugely constrained, so any withdrawal puts the whole of service provision into considerable jeopardy. We need to consider that.
It is interesting that we have some evidence of the extent to which the duty to co-operate works in practice from the audit of crime and disorder reduction partnerships carried out by the Audit Commission. In its 2002 report, its last work on the subject, the Audit Commission noted that
“co-operation across the country was variable from probation services, health and fire services, though all of these are covered by a statutory duty to co-operate”.
That did not always work on the ground. In the past, I have found that one or two of those services in my locality were not co-operating to the degree that we all wished. We were able to fix it, but it would be better if we had more tools to ensure that delivery.
It is also interesting to see a Home Office document, “Making Partnerships Work”, which again highlighted concerns at the CDRP level about failure to achieve co-operation in practice on multi-agency agreements, even though those agreements had been made through the statutory partnerships. That comes close to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes). Clear areas of concern are flagged up by such empirical evidence as we have.
It is against that background that I hope that Ministers will consider sympathetically two suggestions by the Local Government Information Unit. First, the Bill should specify a minimum standard of 12 weeks for responding to consultation. That would apply the Cabinet Office guidelines to those partnerships. A partner that did not respond within those periods could be considered to have breached the duty to co-operate. That would give the provisions some teeth—something to pull people together and get them round the table.
Secondly, the Bill should identify a performance improvement process that could be triggered when there is a breakdown. We do not want to watch a train crash in slow motion—we want a practical means of taking matters forward. The Audit Commission will co-ordinate inspection in localities across its four inspectorate areas, so it would not be too difficult for it to co-ordinate information on breaches of duty to co-operate, which could be fed to the relevant inspectorate of the partner organisation. That would have the advantage of giving an incentive to partner organisations to co-operate, because if its own inspectorate was aware of failures on its part, that could be reflected in its performance assessment.
Those are two straightforward, practical and not in the least bit costly things that could be done to improve the working of local area agreements and other partnerships. I hope that Ministers will consider them sympathetically.
The broad issues raised in this part of the Bill are very significant, but they have been well outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire. I hope that the practical points that I have raised flesh out his principal argument.
I shall speak briefly, because there is a lot of business to transact. First, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) on his powerful and compelling speech. I am pleased to be one of those who signed his amendment and hope that the Government will recognise the strength of his argument.
I wish to speak to my amendment No. 248 to clause 42, which, in essence, would insert a requirement to consult trade unions in drawing up local area agreements. I should perhaps declare an interest. I am a former employee of Unison and in receipt of a Unison occupational pension, and the union principally affected by my amendment would be Unison.
The amendment is about modernising staff consultation arrangements to keep pace with changes to public services. The Government propose the extension and formalisation of local area agreements, which do indeed have the potential to become powerful tools for transforming local services and are a welcome step towards a more joined-up approach. However, the change from single to multi-agency planning means that current arrangements for consultation of the work force will become outdated. The existing arrangements giving a voice to employees are based on the Employment Relations Act 1999, which introduced statutory trade union recognition, and the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004—the ICE regulations—which followed the private Member’s Bill that I introduced after the Vauxhall closure in Luton, and which called for consultation and information rights. I am pleased that the Government have finally recognised the value of that suggestion, although at the time they were unhappy about it and did not wish to support my Bill.
All the social partners, including the TUC and the CBI, signed up to the ICE regulations, recognising that consulting the work force was vital in order to achieve high-performance workplaces. However, both pieces of legislation apply only at the level of the individual employer. A consequence of introducing planning using local area agreements is that by the time consultation occurs at individual employer level, key decisions will already have been taken and staff will be faced with a fait accompli. Their contribution to the process will be hollow and meaningless.
To maintain the current level of consultation in practice, it is essential that the Bill require that recognised trade unions—the voice of the work force—be consulted when a local area agreement is being formulated. It already requires that local authorities consult partner authorities and
“such other persons as appear to be appropriate”.
However, that is inadequate, as trade unions are clearly not partner authorities, and it is possible that some councils—no doubt particularly Conservative councils—will not deem the work force “appropriate” to consult, especially if their plans are controversial, and will not consult trade unions unless they are compelled by law to do so. Nor is it sufficient for the matter to be covered in statutory guidance, which could be revoked or altered if another party came to power. The provision should be on the face of the Bill.
The amendment would require recognised trade unions to be consulted as of right, and would maintain the good practice already in place. I urge my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to accept it and include it in the Bill.
Let me start by dealing with some of the comments of the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who claimed to speak on behalf of his party as the party of local government. I have served in local authorities for 37 years, and the Labour and Conservative parties have made that claim many times. When in opposition, they claim to be the voice of reason and supporters of local government. Sadly, when they are in government, they spend the next four or five years doing all they can to harm local government.
The Conservatives ended their time in office by not being the party of local government. Their councillors and the number of councils that they controlled had been reduced dramatically. The cycle is there for all to see. If we were unfortunate enough to have another Conservative Government, I hope that they would live up to their promise to be the voice of local government, to defend and enhance it and give it the support that it deserves.
I also remind the hon. Gentleman that his party did not have anywhere near the success that it predicted in the city of Portsmouth. Indeed, the Conservatives barely held on to what they had. He should not be too quick to gloat and praise his colleagues, because the picture that he painted does not apply universally.
It is difficult for the hon. Gentleman, try as he might, from a position of having lost 246 councillors on the night of the elections, to pick the odd hole in our performance. Yes, we might have gained one or two more seats than the 911 that we won. However, if I were him, I would accept that I had had a bad night and leave it at that.
Fine. I only hope that that will translate into wholehearted support for local government and what it stands for—and I hope that Conservatives will start to relate to that when in office. For too long, I have seen Conservatives take office in local authorities, claiming that they will deliver all the benefits of reform at no cost, only to be disappointed in their own efforts at the end of their term, when they are wiped out at the following election.
I shall give way later, if time permits. Others wish to speak and I want to deal with the amendments.
I wholeheartedly support the thrust of amendment No. 255. It is nonsense not to include social landlords in the consultation in local area agreements. Without them, many of the plans are pointless. There is not an area in the country that does not perceive the benefits of close involvement with social landlords, of working with them and including them. Registered social landlords should be part of the family that plans the future of our country. I hope that the Government will recognise the essential part that they play.
I understand, as did the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) when he presented the amendment, that the Government have a get-out clause, and could say, “They’re not an authority, as such.” However, in most areas, registered social landlords constitute the housing authority and will deliver the sort of houses that the Chancellor—the future leader of the Labour party and future Prime Minister—advocates now. Without their playing an active part in the planning process, we will lose out considerably. I hope that the Minister for Local Government sees merit in that argument. If the amendment were pushed to a Division, I would support it.
Again, I support the thrust of the argument of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), who tabled amendment No. 253. He talked a lot of sense about the way in which the planning system is in denial. One authority is saying one thing and another authority is saying another, and the planning inspectorate comes up with bizarre contradictions of policy and no clear thrust about how it should operate. I am unclear whether there is any mechanism to give the planning inspectorate some sort of direction on such issues. How can their decisions be so contrary, as they are, when in some instances neighbouring local authorities with very similar applications can end up being diametrically opposed to each other? It is a bizarre situation that needs to be tackled. I, for one, will be very disappointed if that amendment is not pressed to a vote.
I now come to the key debates about the main provision in the group—new clause 29. I have always been sceptical and reluctant to accept that targets are likely to enhance the relationship between central Government and local authorities. The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire was right to suggest that there was an element of distrust built into these targets, and that Governments of all persuasions were not prepared to give local authorities the necessary trust. I am at a loss to know whether Ministers seriously understand the cost to some local authorities of having to carry out the work necessary to meet those targets—particularly the cost of the central internal workings required for authorities to deliver. It is not untrue to say that some local authorities have had to reduce services in one area in order to pay the costs of producing the sort of data that Governments require them to produce to satisfy their targets. That is bizarre, to say the least, and the problem needs to be recognised.
Every time we set a target, a price is associated not just with delivering the target itself, but with having to prepare the data for the target to be properly assessed. How many targets are understood by the public? Could the Minister enlighten us about what his Department received in the way of public feedback on the targets set for local authorities and the costs to those authorities—ultimately, to the public themselves—in meeting them? What is the benefit to the individual when these targets are met in any one local authority, and what are the disadvantages? There is no clarity there at all.
If we must have a system of target setting, I believe that the Government must be far more transparent about how they arrive at the initial stages. As I said in my earlier intervention, they should clearly indicate to local authorities what the prize—in the sense of added power and added resource—for meeting the target will be. My knowledge of local authorities leads me to believe that even if the target is met, few additional resources will ever come along. There are plenty more responsibilities directed at authorities, but few of the necessary resources are ever made available—and if they are, they apply for a very limited period, after which the authority is expected to continue to pick up the tab. Targets are fine, but they have to be clearly recognised as delivering something worthwhile to the community. Far too many targets that have been, and continue to be, directed at local authorities have no clear purpose at all, least of all to the people who are supposed to benefit from them.
I rise briefly to speak in favour of amendment No. 253, mainly to put on the public record my thanks to the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) for his sterling work on this issue, seen both in today’s amendment and in the private Member’s Bill that he is promoting. The need for that amendment and that Bill arose originally from instances in my own constituency of Cambridge, which the hon. Gentleman accurately described in his speech.
I have heard only two arguments against the proposal. The first, put forward by the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), is that it is better to act at national level than at local level. The second is the argument put forward by the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), which is that what really matters is building houses, that to build houses requires one to think about the supply chain, and that house builders need a guarantee of volume in order to bring down the cost of housing. Both those arguments are incorrect.
The argument about national standards misses the point about how we set good national standards. Central Government are often not in a position to decide the best standard without first taking into account the experience of local government. The role of local government in putting forward new ideas and allowing experimentation in policy is crucial, and we should value that role. If local authorities are prepared to go further than the national standards to see what the effects might be, I believe that that is a good thing.
The argument about the supply chain misses the important point that there is a difference between what happens in the public sector and what happens in the private sector. In the public sector, very high standards—much higher than in the planning system—are already being set. All housing financed by the Housing Corporation has to follow environmental standards much higher than those that are standard in the planning system. That means that there are already two standards being used. If the argument about the need for a single standard were true, the Government would have a problem, because there are already two standards. My view is that it is perfectly plausible to have two standards.
Is it not in ignorance of the way in which housing is built that the former Minister puts forward his view? Any house builder decides on what will be done in a particular area, usually within one local authority. It is perfectly easy for that builder to build to the higher standard that the hon. Gentleman is advocating.
For the avoidance of any doubt, I should make clear my declared interest in the Register of Members’ Interests as chairman of the Construction Industry Council.
The hon. Gentleman’s argument fails to take into account the fact that there is a difference between operating to two standards—a national standard adopted by the building regulations and another set by the Housing Corporation for all registered social landlords—and the possibility of some 400 different standards being set by individual local authorities, which would create uncertainty about the long-term supply of materials that are critical to the ratcheting up of standards. If the hon. Gentleman talks to people who know what is required, they will tell him that the increase in standards necessary to achieve the very high targets at level 6 in the code for sustainable homes will not be achieved unless there is absolute commitment by the entire supply chain, including the producers of the materials. If those producers are uncertain about particular elements as a result of a plethora of different requirements in different areas, there is a risk that the higher standards will not be met. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that?
I am afraid that I do not. That would be an argument against having different standards—level 6, level 5, level 4 and so on—in the first place. Furthermore, everyone in the industry knows in which direction this is going. We are not talking about standards that will be lower than the national standards. We are talking about standards that will be higher, and aiming towards a point at which everyone knows we will arrive in the end. I do not see how the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal would work in terms of the reality of the industry.
My final point is about the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s proposal for eco-cities. It has been mentioned before, and I support it. An interesting aspect of the proposal for Oakington, near Cambridge, is that the site is in public ownership. It is partly owned by the Ministry of Defence. It is also out of town, several miles from Cambridge. Were one to choose an ideal site for an eco-city experiment, it would not be there; it would be much closer to the existing built-up area. An important part of making a zero-carbon community is transport, especially public transport, and although there are proposals for public transport links between Oakington and Cambridge, they are not of the highest possible quality; they would get people from Oakington to the edge of Cambridge but no further. In contrast, Cambridge city council was attempting to apply higher standards, similar to those in the Chancellor’s eco-city proposal, to developments within the city, which would have been better, environmentally, than those at the Oakington site. One of the anomalies of the present situation is that central Government can randomly decide to go forward with such proposals at sites that may not be the best, while at the same time denying local government the right to do exactly the same at much better sites.
I hope that the Government will reconsider their view of the proposal, which has all-party support, and on which the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) has done a great deal of sterling work. It deserves support today.
I support the comments made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins). The whole agenda is about the modernisation of public services, and it concentrates on structures. The truth, however, is that people, not structures, make changes. Whatever we decide in the next few days, we will be reliant on ordinary working people to implement the changes and make them work for the people who send us here. We hear regularly from the Government the mantra, “What matters is what works.” It will not work if the work force is not consulted and does not have ownership of what is going on. If we ignore the work force, it will not support what we try to do.
We are looking for clarity in the Bill. It should say explicitly that recognised trade unions should be consulted—not, as it currently says,
“such other persons as appear…to be appropriate”.
Who will decide who appears to be appropriate? Will it be the local council or the local trust? If it is written into the Bill, there will be no ambiguity, and the people who deliver the service will be involved at all stages.
A consulted work force is a happy work force, even when faced with change. I represented social services in Newcastle long after John Lewis was no longer paying rates there. For 15 years, from 1990, I saw massive changes. Social workers moved from local government into the health service and home care workers competed with private firms that went into people’s houses at different times of day, with different people working there. Residential and day care services changed drastically. Yes, we tried to oppose the changes, but ultimately we had to work with them. Regular consultation and discussion, involving the work force and those who were being cared for, were key to that.
I make a plea to the Minister to insert into clause 82 words that would mean that recognised trade unions would be consulted at every level.
I apologise to the House for not being present at the beginning of the debate. I had not intended to speak until I heard the intervention of the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), because he raised an important issue. I declare an interest as I chair a company that does some advisory work in the building industry. I therefore know a little about the building industry, and I must disagree with the right hon. Gentleman— with whom I normally agree.
The fact is that, last year, nearly half the houses built in Britain did not meet the building standards. We have a system that does not deliver even the pathetic standards that we currently have. The reason for that is that they are input, not output, standards. We must do something about that rapidly. It would be different if the Minister said to us, “Please do not do this. We really are going to raise standards. Rather than introducing prescriptive building regulations that will never work but will merely pile Ossa on Pelion and produce an impossible system, we will set output standards. That will mean that new houses must have a thermal efficiency of x, and we are determined that the standard will rise in five years’ time.” If we knew that the Government would do that, we could take the action that the right hon. Gentleman suggests, but I do not believe that the Government will do it, so I want progressive local government to force it out of them.
The comparator is the United States of America. My praise for the USA is not always unalloyed, but it has got one thing right: its states have been forcing the federal Government into a more sensible position on climate change by taking steps themselves. That contrasts with the autocratic, centralising Government that we have in Britain today. Here, every power is brought up to the centre, often not for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins)—with whom, surprisingly, I often agree, so I hope he will not mind my saying that.
I made the point about Newcastle because I believe that the business rate ought to return to local authorities, but let me remind the hon. Gentleman why the change took place. It was because of a mechanism that enabled local authorities to precept on the taxpayer. They did that in many areas, and as a result the people who paid the bills increasingly moved out of our great northern cities. It was the change that took place in the hon. Gentleman’s party—and I give all credit to his party—that provided an opportunity for the improved relationship between the centre and local authorities that exists today. In that sense we want to empower local authorities, and one way of empowering them is to make them proud of the standards that they set.
The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich said that the construction industry could not manage that. The industry gives that same excuse in every circumstance: it is always “We cannot do this” and “We cannot do that”. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that in Kyoto the car manufacturing industry said that if we passed the protocol it would not be able to produce the vehicles that would fulfil its part of the bargain. Within six months, every car manufacturer in the United States had those vehicles on the market. I believe that the same is true of the construction industry. If it becomes clear that there is a movement throughout progressive local authorities, of all political parties, to raise the standards expected of buildings, the industry will say to the Government, “Please do not leave this to the local authorities; you must set the standards.” Then, at long last, we shall see proper pressure being exerted on Government.
If the situation were as the right hon. Gentleman has depicted it, his argument would have a great deal of force. As he will know, the House Builders Federation—which in the past has not been at the forefront in advocating higher standards—has committed itself to the Government’s target of reaching level 6 of the code for sustainable homes within 10 years. However, it has rightly added the caveat that meeting that objective will require certainty between now and then, rather than a proliferation of different requirements in different areas. The industry is committed, but it does not want a proliferation of targets that it cannot anticipate because they could change at any moment, destroying any chance of sensible forward planning.
The right hon. Gentleman would have my entire support were it not for my belief that if we allow that cosy deal, not the industry but the Government will let people down. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman will not say that, but in 10 years of this Government there have been only a few pathetic improvements in the building regulations. Part L is a disgrace. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary will not catch me out on part L. Let me point out that the Government initiated consultation on the new regulations for conservatories and extensions, received universal support for a raising of standards, and then not only refused to raise them but had the audacity to tell the public that they never meant to do so. So why the blazes did they initiate the consultation?
I heard the Under-Secretary’s colleague the Minister for Housing and Planning utter on the radio what I must describe as the nearest thing to a terminological inexactitude that I have ever heard from a Minister. She said that they had never intended it, yet there it was in a consultation documentation that suggested that the standards should be raised. I trust the right hon. Gentleman. If he told me it, I would have no doubt that we were moving in that direction. However, we have had 10 years of failure in doing what we need to do if we are to have any chance of meeting the climate change obligation. That is why I find the Government so difficult— they have all the right words but they do not actually do anything.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that he would trust me, but I was actually the responsible Minister during most of those 10 years in which he said there had been no progress. Rather than no progress, there have been substantial improvements, twice in the energy efficiency regulations, once on access for disabled people—something on which his Government had failed to act, despite pressure for a long time—and in many other building regulations that have been significantly improved in the past few years.
Yet 48 per cent. of the houses built last year did not meet the building regulations that the right hon. Gentleman had so substantially improved. I honour him for as much as he was able to do within a Government where doing is not a particularly popular activity. What he managed to do was remarkable. What is necessary now is a very large step forward. In order for me not to support the amendment, I want the Government to say that they will bring forward the agreement that the House Builders Federation says it is prepared to go along with—that in five years’ time all houses will be built to eco-standard 6. We would change only 1 per cent. a year in that way but it would be hugely important.
I want the Government to say that they will start doing something serious about the retrofitting of present houses in order that we can do something about the matter. I respect the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich enormously and I say to him simply that we do not have the time to fiddle about with the buildings of this country, given the threat of climate change. We have to act now. One could make an excuse five or 10 years ago because we were not quite sure, but we cannot do so after Stern. It is surprising that, following Stern, the Government have not proposed a range of changes to the Bill that would push us forward in a major way.
It is because they have not done so that I am bound to support the amendment. Otherwise, the hope of the right hon. Gentleman will not be fulfilled. We need a Government who are pressed on all fronts to do what is necessary in the built environment to deal with the real challenge.
I support Government amendments Nos. 26 to 28, which rightly recognise the role of transport in local area agreements. They relate particularly to London, but clause 55 relates to the passenger transport authorities in the metropolitan areas. They are vital, particularly in the Greater Manchester area and in the 10 districts that make up the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority. At the moment, we have tremendous plans to tackle congestion—guided busways that will come into Wigan borough through Leigh, congestion charges on major routes and the light rapid transit system within Greater Manchester.
One of the plethora of Acts passed by the Conservative Government ensured that those authorities with a large majority did not abuse that by putting all of their own members on to the joint boards such as the police, fire and passenger transport authorities. I accept that; it is absolutely right that there should be places on those authorities for opposition parties.
In Greater Manchester, the passenger transport authority is about to be taken over by a Liberal Democrat group that has lost seats in the recent local elections and whose total representation of councillors amounts to just over 25 per cent. Yet because of deals that it is doing with the Conservative party and minor parties, it intends to take over the Greater Manchester PTA.
May I declare an interest in that I am a member of Tameside metropolitan borough council? My hon. Friend’s point is correct. As nine out of the 10 constituent authorities in Greater Manchester are respecting the proportionality rule, it cannot be right for one council not to entertain the spirit of the rules establishing the PTA. Might an attempt be made to ensure that there is a spirit of co-operation through the local area agreements, as the PTA does not reflect either the political make-up of the 10 councils in Greater Manchester or the votes cast by the public in Greater Manchester on 3 May?
My hon. Friend anticipates the point I am about to make. As a result of the last local elections, 327 out of the 645 Greater Manchester councillors are Labour, 131 or 20 per cent. are Conservative and 162 or 25 per cent. are Liberal Democrats. Yet the Greater Manchester PTA is about to be taken over by the Liberal Democrats, even though they account for only 25 per cent. of councillors. That cannot be right. It will seriously undermine the ability of Greater Manchester PTA to work with the 10 districts to produce passenger transport arrangements that reflect not only the will of the councils, but the will of those who voted in May.
I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to examine whether, when the Bill moves on to the House of Lords, he might amend it so that the Liberals cannot subvert the democratic will of the people of Greater Manchester in this way, and so that we can have the progress that was agreed between the other two major parties in Greater Manchester in respect of essential transport measures. They should be included in our local area agreements so that we can have our busways, tramways and congestion charges, for which the vast majority of the people of Greater Manchester have voted. If we do not have them, the point of the elections will be lost.
At some point in the future we should also look into proportionality. I favour there being a strict basis for that, so that one in three councillors must be an opposition member even if one party has as much as 60, 70 or 80 per cent. of councillors. One third of representation should come from the opposition party, rather than the smaller proportion that it currently has. Perhaps we should take an overall look at proportionality.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will look into this issue closely and make sure that we are not put into the position that we appear to be about to be put into even though five of the Greater Manchester councils are Labour controlled, one is Conservative and only two are under Liberal Democrat control.
I apologise for not having been present for the opening of the debate.
I wish to speak briefly about my support for amendment No. 253, tabled by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), of which I am a sponsor. I am keen to do so because I endeavoured to introduce a similar measure last year when a private Member’s Bill on climate change was in Committee. Unfortunately, the Government voted it down and continue to set their face against empowering local communities to go further and faster than central Government have so far been prepared to allow them in requiring higher eco-standards in our homes.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) that it would be far better if we were to concern ourselves with outcomes rather than standards that will never be enforced. However, in the absence of a wholesale review of the system—it is unlikely that we shall get one under this Government—if we are to make standards the benchmark by which we operate, we must empower local communities to make the decisions that are right for their new developments and give local people a sense of shared responsibility for eco-friendly developments in their communities.
All too often people ask, “Why are the Government not doing more on climate change to put the Prime Minister’s fine words into action where I live? Why do we struggle to see any difference in the types of development that we see springing up? We see it on the television and we hear politicians talking about it at Westminster, but when we try to do something locally, it just does not happen.”
This small, innocuous amendment would allow progressive councils of all colours—I readily accept that not just Conservative councils but others could take advantage of this measure—to do something outstanding. They want to set a new benchmark for eco-friendly homes, to put microgeneration into practice in their community and to encourage greater energy efficiency. They do not want to be lectured by the House Builders Federation or their lackeys.
We should listen to local people and empower local communities to do something about climate change.
I want to comment briefly on four amendments. First, I welcome the amendments in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) that recognise the role of registered social landlords. As he rightly pointed out, RSLs play an important part in the local scene in many areas and are often actively engaged in their local communities and local councils. The amendment would ensure that they were properly included in partnership working in their areas.
I must, however, fundamentally disagree with my right hon. Friend on amendment No. 253. The clause gives local councils and local communities the freedom to drive up standards in energy efficiency and microgeneration. I add my voice to those of people who feel that that is important. Local partnerships already exist in many areas and are committed to dealing with the climate change issues that challenge us all to drive standards up locally. They would warmly welcome that freedom, which could be built on. Others have referred to the United States, where local communities have led the field and induced national Government to follow.
The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) introduced the two Liberal Democrat amendments. The mechanism proposed in new clause 30 on relations between central and local government is incredibly cumbersome. He described his approach as simple; I would say it was simplistic. It assumes that the wide range of contacts between central and local government—on community engagement, participation, service delivery and so on—can be brought together annually in a single grand scheme and subject to discussion in a single steering group. The relationships between central and local government are far more complex than the amendment implies and do not lend themselves to a single grand scheme that would seek annually to encompass all the complex relationships that exist.
Finally, although the new clause has received considerable attention from Members, I want to set it in the context of a warm welcome for the steps in the Bill that significantly reduce the burden on local government of targets and inspections. I warmly welcome the moves that the Government are taking to establish the Audit Commission as a gatekeeper for inspection, as well as the provisions that will get the Audit Commission, other inspectors and, indeed, the Government off the back of local government, enabling it get on with the job it was elected to do.
The Bill will result in a worthwhile and praiseworthy story for the Government to tell about reducing the burden of inspection on local government. The mechanism proposed in the new clause is likely to be both unnecessary and cumbersome, so when my hon. Friend the Minister responds to the debate I encourage him to consider whether there might be mechanisms for reporting the doubtless excellent progress that the Bill will ensure in reinvigorating and regenerating local government.
I sincerely thank Members on both sides of the House for contributing to our well-informed and constructive debate, which built on our discussions in Committee. With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall set out the context for part 5, as the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) asked, which deals with the relationship between central and local government.
In the light of the Lyons report, my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) made, as we would expect, a wise comment about local government finance. He said that changing the financial relationship between central and local government finance is a marathon, not a sprint. That is equally true in changing the whole relationship; although we can change structures and statutory frameworks, as we are under the Bill, it is—as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) said in relation to the trade union amendment—people, not structures, who change relationships.
We are trying to bring about a culture change in the mindset of central and local government, which is why I am keen to build political consensus in the Local Government Association and in the House, so I shall not respond to the party political points of Opposition Members. Suffice it to say that this year, like last year and the previous 10 to 15 years, discrepancies in local results are increasingly not following national trends; local factors are increasingly coming into play.
My second point is that the Government are criticised from all sides for the target regime—the performance regime under the best value programme and the comprehensive performance assessment. The Government’s case is not that we feel it is right to reduce the number of targets because of mistakes in the past, but rather that local government performance has improved as a consequence of the performance regime, the significant extra resources provided for local government and the hard work and professionalism of local government staff and employees. That is not to say that public satisfaction with local government services, which is an entirely different point, has always improved—it varies from area to area—but objectively, as measured not by the Government but by the Audit Commission and others, the performance of local government has vastly improved.
The intervention strategies set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich are used much less nowadays because of that success. The number of councils enjoying improved performance has increased remarkably. More than 100 councils are now members of the improvement partnership, which is for three and four-star councils. To go back to a party political point, it makes me laugh when Opposition spokesmen criticise the performance regime yet ensure that their leaflets include their councils’ star ratings, which they pray in aid.
It is right to loosen and to devolve. That raises a central paradox that a number of the new clauses and amendments, welcome though they might be in principle, bring to light. If one accepts the premise of the Bill and its devolutionary approach—hon. Members on both sides might wish us to go faster—there is the question of whether one can support amendments that impose targets and provide standardisation across the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) said, there is a dichotomy between equity and devolution. Hon. Members—particularly Liberal Democrat Members—will just have to accept that. The challenge we face is how we square those circles.
It is incumbent on me to put on the record the purpose of the Government amendments and to respond to the debate. I think that the other place would require me to do that, as well, but I shall do so as briefly as possible. On the whole, the amendments respond to requests made in the Public Bill Committee and arise from commitments I have given. There is consensus and I thank the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) for welcoming the additions to the list, particularly in relation to the health service. Amendments Nos. 20 to 28 and amendment No. 55 will add a number of bodies to the list of partner authorities in clause 80.
I know that my hon. Friend is in full flow, so I thank him for giving way. He mentioned the addition of partner authorities. Given the title of part 5—“Co-operation of English authorities with local partners, etc”—does he accept that it is incumbent on local authorities to work with their existing partners? Plymouth city council, which is now Conservative-led, has said that, within two weeks and without consulting local police, it will impose a curfew on all 16-year-olds.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point and rings a bell of warning about what might be going on in the local authorities of which the Conservatives strained to gain control. She made her point effectively. I shall watch with interest to see how the 16 and 17-year-olds vote in two years’ time. I can imagine that the measure will be a good way of increasing youth turnout. I can guess which way those young people will vote—and it will not be for the party of the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire.
I was saying that the bodies will be subject to the duty to co-operate in determining targets in local area agreements. I fear that those are dry-sounding words, but that measure, along with clause 108, which covers the duty to involve, consult and inform, changes the statutory framework within which local government operates. That is a significant development. The consultation will have regard to local area agreements. Given that a local authority prepares not just an LAA but a sustainable community strategy, there is a relationship between the Bill that we are discussing and the Sustainable Communities Bill—a private Member’s Bill that is in Committee at the moment.
Agreements and strategies will be crucial to capture the vision and agreed priorities in local areas, but it is the engagement and negotiation between local partners, and the way in which they put strategies and agreed targets at the heart of their business, that will make them a success. That is a rather long way of saying, “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”—the proof of the pudding, in other words. [Laughter.] That is enough metaphors. I will stick to common sense ones in future, as the Committee asked.
The duty to co-operate to determine local improvement targets will ensure that all the key partners in an area take those obligations seriously. It is therefore important that the list is comprehensive in naming the main public sector bodies that deliver or co-ordinate local services. Amendments Nos. 20 to 28 and 55 reflect a number of commitments that I made in Committee to add further bodies to the list. They also deal with other bodies, which I shall briefly discuss.
Amendments Nos. 20, 23 and 28 will add NHS trusts and foundation trusts to the list. In Committee, we enjoyed a good discussion on the merits of including those bodies in the duty to co-operate, and I made a commitment to do so through Government amendments. I made it clear, however, that by including them we did not wish to place on them, or the responsible local authorities, any unnecessary burdens, and I am satisfied that the amendments will not do so, but will instead ensure that NHS trusts and foundation trusts are involved in negotiations only where they operate hospitals, establishments or other facilities in the area covered by the LAA—what we refer to as the Great Ormond Street problem.
A further commitment that I made in Committee was to add Transport for London to the list of partner authorities, and that will be the effect of amendments Nos. 22 and 27. I made it clear that I consider that the duties of co-operation most sensibly rest on the Greater London authority’s functional bodies—the Metropolitan Police Authority, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, the London Development Agency and Transport for London—rather than on the authority itself, which of course has its own accountability function.
I remember the discussion in Committee. The one concern that I am left with is the degree to which the Greater London assembly will properly scrutinise the work of the functional bodies when they are carrying out these arrangements. Assembly members have frequently encountered difficulty in getting as much information as they would wish from the Mayor’s functional bodies. In particular, there are constraints on the summoning of the functional bodies’ officials that do not apply to the summoning of GLA officials. Will the Minister look again at the matter to ensure greater transparency and accountability in the working of the arrangements?
I will of course do as the hon. Gentleman asks. We do not want to over-burden public authorities with scrutiny. We want the right and appropriate level of scrutiny, and the Bill talks about overview and scrutiny at some length.
The amendments that I have described so far will fulfil the commitments that I made to add bodies to the list. However, I wish to add several further bodies that we did not have the opportunity to discuss in Committee. Amendment No. 21 deals with the arrangements for joint waste authorities, which might in future be established under clause 165(1), while amendments Nos. 24, 25 and 55 will add the Arts Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council to the list. The amendments will ensure that all the key bodies delivering or co-ordinating waste services and cultural resources in an area are fully involved in partnership working through the negotiation of LAAs and sustainable communities strategies.
Amendments Nos. 92 to 95 are technical measures that will permit the Secretary of State to vary or revoke a direction made under clauses 82 and 87, and to revoke a direction made under clause 91, about which the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire asked.
I turn now to the Opposition amendments, and in particular new clause 29. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) said, the new clause would place a highly prescriptive, unnecessary and bureaucratic burden on the relationship between central and local government. It would require the Government to produce a report every year for each local authority responsible for producing an LAA. The report’s objective would be to chart the Government’s progress in delivering the greater devolution promised in the White Paper. Although of course I agree with the sentiment behind the new clause—the desire to hold the Government to account—there are far better mechanisms than this prescriptive proposal.
The new clause would ensure that information on the number of local improvement targets and ring-fenced grants and on the volume of guidance and the degree of approval processes was made available to localities area by area. However, the point that I emphasise—particularly to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South, who raised this point and whose attention I hope to get—is that the 35 targets set under the new regime will vary from one local authority area to another. They are not national targets imposed on every council, but targets selected by the local authority in agreement with its partners. Placing a duty to co-operate on the partners, as the Bill does, is the right to way to deliver the changes.
A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House supported amendment No. 253. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) should be commended—and has been—for his work. I ask him to be patient slightly longer. We are debating a local government Bill. Although his proposals prompted a debate today, including a fascinating and revealing exchange between the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, they are in large part about planning as well as about the relationship between central and local government. Again, the paradox is that all the speakers who referred to the amendment welcomed the devolutionary approach, yet we are discussing the imposition of targets because they happen to be targets that we all like.
Whatever is done, should we not recognise that we are a long way behind those on the continent of Europe in terms of the energy efficiency of homes in particular? Germany has 100 times more homes with solar heating panels on the roof than the UK has. Does my hon. Friend recognise that the Government must take a more forceful approach?
The proposition is that we are a long way behind our partners in Europe. I accept that. However, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is significantly changing that, and we have started to discuss it.
Amendment No. 253 is, in principle, supported by the Government. We too feel that energy standards and microgeneration for new buildings are key to the long-term environmental development of our communities. That is why in the last Parliament we introduced the Bill that became the Energy Act 2004. We have also stated that the Government intend to legislate to set out clearly the role of local planning authorities in improving energy efficiency and tackling climate change. That will allow us to make legislative proposals in the light of the responses to the consultation on the planning policy statement and within the wider context of the measures that we will set out in the planning White Paper on continuing our reforms to the planning process. That will be done shortly. We are also committed to changing from the community strategies that the Local Government Act 2000 obliges local authorities to produce to the sustainable community strategies required by the Sustainable Communities Bill—a private Member’s Bill currently in Committee.
Those three measures all reflect the growing importance of sustainable development issues and emphasise the leading role that local communities have in managing their environment. I hear the words of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal about time, but the Government are making their proposals. We do not believe that it is right to bolt such measures on to the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill. We believe that our proposals, when hon. Members have seen them in the round, will be warmly welcomed—especially in the beautiful constituency of Gower, represented by my hon. Friend who made such a compelling case.
I hear what the Minister says, and we understand that he is in earnest, but we have heard it all before; we have heard it said that the Government are committed in principle but wish to shelve the measure before us. The fact is that he is talking about yet more iterative consultation, and there have been no guarantees. We legislators have the ability to make a difference today. We cannot hang around waiting for things to happen when it comes to climate change; we have to act now. There is a real imperative to make changes, and this afternoon is an opportunity to do so.
I have watched the hon. Gentleman’s progress since the election with interest. He needs to learn that legislating is not writing press releases. He referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich as a lackey of the building industry; my right hon. Friend wisely, and with typical generosity, did not respond to the accusation. My right hon. Friend made a point on behalf of people who know what they are talking about.
Let me finish my point before Opposition Whips start heckling, as they usually do when a point is made that they do not like. The commencement date for the Bill is next April. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) does not know what the commencement date will be for the measures introduced under planning legislation. He misses the point of the code for sustainable homes, which is perhaps not the most advanced in Europe but which the environmental lobby recognises is one of the best. It is right that when we legislate we do so in the round. It is also contradictory for him to call for further and proper consultation and the involvement of communities, only to say that we should act today. Perhaps we should consult on what we propose; that is the spirit of the Sustainable Communities Bill, which he supported.
I am grateful to the Minister; I know that he wants to move on, but I want to make an important point. Taking the personal exchanges out of the matter, am I right in thinking that the Minister does not intend to accept amendment No. 253 today? As my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) said, that would be a further example of delay, delay, delay. The Minister has the opportunity to commit the Government to a measure to which an awful lot of Members have signed up. We should bear in mind the history: some time ago, the Government killed the Local Planning Authorities (Energy and Energy Efficiency) Bill, and the amendment reflects the substance of that Bill. Putting personalities aside, surely this is the opportunity to take a clear and definite step. I will be concerned if the Minister indicates that he will not accept the amendment.
The hon. Gentleman is a reasonable man, but on this occasion he has clearly not listened to my response on the amendment. It is a bit unfair to say that the Government are dragging their feet and not taking the opportunity before them, given that I have clearly outlined the measures that we propose to take, which include a commitment to legislation, as I have said. He is right that we are asking the House to resist the amendment if it is pushed to a Division, not because we disagree with its objective but because we want to get the measures right, using the proper processes. I do not think that he addressed the point—I apologise if he did—that planning policy and planning law is the other side of the coin.
Let me bring my remarks to a conclusion, because there are other amendments to discuss, and we have provided a generous amount of time to discuss the amendments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner) mentioned Greater Manchester passenger transport authority and the commitment to balance and proportionality—principles that are sometimes found on leaflets, but sometimes not practised. I know that Liberal Democrat Members will listen carefully to this next point: my hon. Friend asked me to look into the Liberal Democrats’ subversion of the democratic will of the people of Greater Manchester. I have devoted my political life to addressing that issue, so I certainly undertake to do as he says.
My hon. Friends the Members for Luton, North and for Blaydon asked about trade unions. They said that employees were key to the change, and they are. Let me make it perfectly clear that clause 108, which is the second pillar of the change to the statutory framework, applies to trade unions. We not only welcome employee involvement and consultation, but believe that it is essential to improve services. Our attitude is that if we want to improve services, it is best to ask the people who deliver them; that is a better way of doing things. So, again, the intention behind the amendment is covered.
I think that I have dealt with all the specific issues that were raised. We have other groups of amendments and new clauses to consider, so I ask the House to resist new clause 29 and I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Gower to consider withdrawing his amendment.
There is much that we can welcome in what the Minister said, particularly the extension of the list of bodies to include NHS trusts and foundation trusts—they were serious omissions from the original Bill—and the Arts Council, museums, libraries and archives. However, given that such organisations were missed, I wonder whether in months to come we might find others that should have been included.
We had a passionate debate on amendment No. 253 and a number of Members made very strong cases, particularly the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton). If he presses the amendment to a vote, he will receive our support and he will also receive it if it appears in another place. I think that the Minister said that the Government were already working on this issue—or that the Chancellor is, at least, in the form of eco-homes. I remind the Minister that so far, the Chancellor has issued a press release, so there is still quite a lot of work to be done. [Interruption.] It was doubtless an important press release—but just a press release.
New clause 30 would establish within a year a representative body from local and central Government, which is surely achievable, even given the difficulties experienced in moving matters forward apace in this place. The Minister said that there were better ways of achieving a reduction in regulation than new clause 29, but he did not outline what they were. I certainly did not get from him today the sense of urgency that we, local councils and councillors feel about the need to reduce the regulatory burden quickly. On that basis, we will press new clause 29 to a vote.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
Application of Chapter: partner authorities
Amendments made: No. 20, page 54, line 31, after ‘area;’ insert—
‘(aa) any person mentioned in subsection (2A) who provides services at or from a hospital or other establishment or facility which falls within the responsible local authority’s area;’.
No. 21, page 54, line 39, at end insert—
‘( ) a joint waste authority established under section 165(1);’.
No. 22, page 55, line 3, at end insert—
‘(ha) Transport for London;’.
No. 23, page 55, line 10, at end insert—
‘(2A) The persons referred to in subsection (1)(aa) are—
(a) a National Health Service trust;
(b) an NHS foundation trust.’.
No. 24, page 55, line 11, at end insert—
‘(za) the Arts Council of England;’.
No. 25, page 55, line 16, at end insert—
‘(ea) the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council;’.
No. 26, page 55, line 40, leave out ‘relation to’ and insert ‘the case of’.
No. 27, page 55, line 41, at end insert—
‘(d) in the case of Transport for London, Greater London.’.
No. 28, page 55, line 43, after ‘(2)’ insert ‘(2A)’.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]
“Local improvement targets”: interpretation
Amendment proposed: No. 253, page 56, line 13, after ‘area’, insert
‘, including targets relating to energy efficiency standards and microgeneration, as defined by section 82 of the Energy Act 2004 (c. 20) in buildings in new developments,’.—[Michael Fabricant.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The House divided: Ayes 153, Noes 247.
Order. We must deal with the amendments before points of order.
Duty to prepare and submit draft of a local area agreement
Amendment made: No. 92, page 57, line 14, at end insert—
‘( ) A direction under subsection (1) may be varied or revoked.’.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Designated targets: revision proposals
Amendment made: No. 93, page 59, line 30, at end insert—
‘( ) A direction under subsection (1)(b) may be varied or revoked.’.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Duty to publish information about local area agreement
Amendment made: No. 94, page 60, line 26, leave out ‘by a further direction under that subsection’.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Health and social care: joint strategic needs assessment
Amendment made: No. 95, page 61, line 7, at end insert—
‘( ) A direction under subsection (2)(a) may be revoked.’.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Health Services and social services: local involvement networks
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 76, page 121, line 23, at end insert ‘and to patients and the public’.
Government amendments Nos. 33 and 34
Amendment No. 77, page 122, line 10, clause 173, at end insert
‘and who does not commission or provide local care services’.
Government amendments Nos. 35 and 36
Amendment No. 78, page 123, line 4, clause 175, leave out ‘view’ and insert ‘inspect’.
Amendment No. 131, page 123, line 8, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b).
Government amendment No. 37
Amendment No. 132, page 123, line 17, leave out subsection (3).
Government amendment Nos. 38 and 39
Amendment No. 79, page 124, line 5, clause 176, leave out ‘social’.
Government amendment Nos. 40 to 54
Amendment No. 80, page 126, line 32, leave out clause 179.
Amendment No. 81, page 127, line 24, leave out clause 180.
Amendment No. 82, page 129, line 5, clause 182, leave out ‘significant’.
Amendment No. 83, page 129, line 7, leave out ‘significant’.
Amendment No. 84, page 129, leave out lines 9 to 14.
Amendment No. 249, page 129, line 14, at end insert ‘, or
(c) the means by which the users of those services can scrutinise the provision of those services.’.
Amendment No. 85, page 129, leave out lines 15 to 20.
Amendment No. 75, page 129, line 29, at end insert—
‘(1GA) A relevant English body in proposing a significant change in services delivered in a way likely to affect patients’ physical access or transport to a service must consult with—
(a) the local involvement network,
(b) relevant patient groups, and
(c) the appropriate transport authority,
and report in such manner as the Secretary of State may prescribe prior to implementing those changes on the results of such consultation.
(1GB) For the purposes of subsection (1GA), a change in services is “significant” if implementation of the change would have a substantial impact on—
(a) the manner in which services are delivered to users of those services, or
(b) the range of health services available to those users.’.
Order. I must deal with the Question that I am putting to the House. [Interruption.]
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House has just voted on an amendment about energy efficiency that completely contradicts the position taken by the Minister for Housing and Planning yesterday, when she castigated my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) for his position on—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is attempting to start again the debate that we have just completed. We must now move on to the next business.
Order. The matter is one for debate. It is not a matter for the Chair to deal with at this point.
I apologise if I contributed to the confusion, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Part 13 fits with the overarching themes of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, in ensuring greater opportunities for local people to influence and shape services in their areas, and to hold local authorities and service providers more accountable to them. The inclusion of the provisions tells a coherent story of the Government’s efforts to promote public engagement. Part 13 has three components: first, the establishment of LINKs; secondly, the abolition of the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health and patients forums; and thirdly, the clarification and strengthening of requirements to consult patients and the public.
LINKs will enable far more people to be genuinely involved than is currently the case, ensuring that local communities have a stronger voice in the commissioning and provision of health and social care, and enabling them to influence key decisions about the services that they both use and pay for. LINKs take an important step beyond the existing powers of patients forums by enabling local people to have a greater say in social care as well as health services. They will build on the good work of the forums, making possible genuine involvement in a much wider range of ways than is currently available. They will ensure that local communities have a stronger voice in the process of commissioning health and social care and becoming involved in decisions about their local health and social care services.
Local authorities will have a duty to make contractual arrangements for the involvement of people in the commissioning, provision and scrutiny of health services and social care. That will allow the funding stream to go straight to the local level, ensuring that as much money as possible is available to fund front-line activity. The abolition of the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health is one element of the overall drive to reduce the arm’s length body sector, releasing centralised funding to the local level.
I am grateful to the Minister for his courtesy, as ever, in giving way to me.
I understand the way in which the funds will reach local authorities—I see the logic behind that—but perhaps the Minister could help a constituent of mine, who feels that if the purpose of LINKs is effectively to scrutinise social services and their involvement, that will be difficult if social services departments are brought into the organisation and the setting up of the LINKs. What safeguards will be provided to ensure that that process is genuinely arm's length, and LINKs have enough robustness and capacity to ensure their independence in such circumstances?
As ever, the hon. Gentleman has made a measured contribution. There are two answers to his question. I have thought about this a good deal.
The first answer is that the local authority establishes the host, which is independent. The host is then responsible for ensuring the existence of the LINK, so the process is at two removes. It could be argued that the existing arrangement, whereby central funds effectively fund the commission, means that it is not independent from Government, but that is not my experience. It is robust in its independence, and rightly so.
The second answer is that the same argument could be used in relation to overview and scrutiny. It could be said that local authorities hold themselves to account through overview and scrutiny committees, whose activities are funded by local authorities. I think the hon. Gentleman will just have to trust local authorities, as I do.
I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful reply. The only difference, I think, is this. The people who make up the LINKs are often in the voluntary sector, and will not always have the same degree of experience and support as back-bench councillors, or the leverage that they can employ in dealing with overview and scrutiny arrangements. What safeguards can be introduced to ensure that the LINKs are not overwhelmed by the host?
That too is a reasonable point. I think independence can be guaranteed though the active encouragement of the voluntary sector that is behind the measure. The relationship will require the local authority to establish a host, and the host will be required to ensure, through a fair process, that a LINK is established. But there is an interface, and if we are to involve the voluntary sector, as I think we all want to do, we must reconcile the issues.
Part 13 of the Bill clarifies and strengthens the current legislation on health service consultation, and requires NHS organisations to involve and consult. We intend to give primary care trusts a new statutory duty to respond to local people, explaining the activities that they are undertaking as a result of what people have said throughout the year. There will be a structured process whereby commissioners will publish regular reports of what they have done differently as a result of what they have heard, and explain why they may not have pursued some of the suggestions.
I can, and I know of my hon. Friend’s interest in the matter. The Bill does the opposite; it strengthens the obligation. In developing these LINK bodies, and in the wider context of bringing together local authorities and other agencies, we are trying to provide a much stronger interface between the voluntary sector and the statutory sector. In committee, I described it as the interface between participative democracy and representative democracy. This is why I earlier described the process as a marathon, not a sprint. However, the general direction of travel is that which my hon. Friend desires.
Amendment No. 32 would add to the activities that it is proposed LINKs will be able to undertake. It will enable LINKs to monitor and review the commissioning and provision of local care services. In Committee, the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) proposed that LINKs should have a role in monitoring services, much as patient forums did before. It was suggested that the role of monitoring was proactive. I agree. We have always thought that LINKs should be proactive in seeking the views of people, promoting their involvement and monitoring the commissioning and provision of services. The amendment is intended to clarify that role. LINKs will be able to monitor the range and quality of care services using the intelligence that they have gathered as well as their power to enter and view services. They will be ideally placed to make reports and recommendations to those responsible for care services.
Amendment No. 33 alters the power given to the Secretary of State in clause 172(3), so that the Secretary of State has the power only to add to the activities of a LINK and not to remove or vary those activities. I hope that Opposition and Government Members will welcome the announcement. That was one of our early champagne moments; I have not forgotten my obligation—[Interruption]—when we receive Royal Assent. As I said in Committee, the Department of Health will be asked to contribute.
The regulation-making power was originally included to allow adjustments to be made to the role of LINKs where necessary to reflect future changes in the nature of health and social care. We felt that it was important to have this flexibility as we know that patient forums have suffered from being too rigidly prescribed in primary legislation. That has made them, on occasion, unable to adapt to changing circumstances around them. Again, this issue was raised in Committee. The concern was that the power could be used to restrict the role of LINKs at some future date. That was far from our intention; the clause was intended to safeguard the role of LINKs for the future while making them able to adapt.
Further, it was intended that the regulation-making power would be subject to the affirmative procedure to reassure Parliament that it would not be used without appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. In other words, we would need to get the endorsement of the House to make such a change. As this has proved to be of concern to Members, we have reconsidered the clause. We are eager to demonstrate our commitment to LINKs and we do not feel that it would be necessary or desirable to remove any of the functions of the LINKs as they are currently drafted. Therefore, we are happy to reassure hon. Members by removing the power to vary and omit these activities. The power to add to the activities of LINKs has been retained to ensure that their roles can be adapted in the future.
Amendments Nos. 34 to 54 cover two distinct, but related, areas; Nos. 34 to 41, 49 and 54 relate to what can constitute a LINK. Nos. 42 to 48 and 50 to 53 concern the annual reports. In Committee, concern was expressed that the existing clause 173(2)(b), which states that a LINK could be
“any other means put in place under the arrangements for the carrying-on in A’s area of activities so specified for that area”
could allow a LINK to be an entirely virtual entity. When I first heard of that point I was amused by it, but on considering it I thought that an issue had been raised, in the context of this modern world. The amendment addresses that.
The clause as drafted would allow for virtual LINKs, but it is of course not our intention that that is how their activities would be carried out. The Bill was drafted in this way to allow some flexibility and to provide a fall-back position in the unlikely scenario that there was no one in an area who wanted to participate in a LINK. It allows a local authority to contract with a host organisation and for the host to provide opportunities—or the means for people—to carry out the LINK activities. In light of the concerns that were expressed about the virtual entity possibility and given that it is not our intention that LINKs should take this form, I introduced amendment No. 34, which removes the possibility of there being “any other means” to establish a LINK. Therefore, they will be populated by people, which is of course what everybody wants—real people, as opposed to virtual people.
This proposed change has led to some significant redrafting of associated clauses; as ever, I am grateful to officials and parliamentary counsel for their diligent work. Amendments Nos. 35 to 41, 49 and 54 are all consequential amendments needed to reflect the change to clause 173(2). They remove references to “any other means”.
The second group of amendments relates to LINKs annual reports. Provisions in clause 177 to do with LINKs reports have also been amended. Amendment No. 44 in particular adjusts the requirement for arrangements to make provision in respect of annual reports. The responsibility for writing the report will usually rest with the LINK. However, if the LINK does not produce that report—for instance because it has been in place for only a part of the year—it will be the host’s responsibility to produce the report for any missing period. If a host has not been successful in establishing a LINK, the host will report on any activities that have been undertaken for the purpose of ensuring that there are means by which the LINK activities are carried out. It will also report on what sums it has spent in its efforts to establish a LINK.
Although the amendments might appear to take some working through, many of them are consequential amendments that aim to address the concerns expressed by Committee members that a LINK could take an entirely virtual form. They also seek to clarify who should be responsible for the annual report. That is an important point. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Patrick Hall) raised the issue about the timing and scheduling of the establishment of LINKs and the overlap with the existing arrangements. I hope that Members will be reassured by our proposed changes and what I have said about them.
I welcome some of the Minister’s amendments; it is clear that the Government have, to a certain extent at least, listened in Committee, particularly in respect of amendments Nos. 32 to 34. However, it should be said that the measures in part 13 of the Bill would bring about a radical change in the NHS. They would fundamentally alter the structure of public and patient involvement in health, notably by scrapping patient forums. Therefore, it is unfortunate that these measures have been included at the fag-end of a Bill dealing with local government—a Bill that does not even have the word “patient” in the title. Some might conclude that that shows the low priority that patient and public involvement has been given under this Government.
Many would consider this yet another pointless reorganisation. Ministers abolished community health councils in the face of widespread opposition and replaced them with a myriad of costly, fragmentary bodies. Now, only four years after setting up patient forums, the Government are abolishing their own reforms at a cost of about £120 million to the taxpayer. Those figures have been audited. Hard-working volunteers up and down the country are appalled that yet another reorganisation is on the cards, believing it to represent a weakening of the patient’s voice and public scrutiny. We know that they have told the Government as much, but Ministers have still not published the submissions from forums to the document, “A stronger local voice”.
My remarks on the Bill, which reflect the amendments tabled, will focus on a number of key concerns. My first concern is with regard to the role of LINKs as defined in clause 172. The Government have introduced several amendments in respect of points that we raised in Committee. As I said, I welcome those, but we believe that an opportunity has been missed to make the Bill even better. Government amendment No. 32 would add the words:
“enabling people to monitor, and review, the commissioning and provision of local care services”
to the list of local activities. Before that, according to the Government, LINKs would have been nothing more than a conduit for people expressing their views. As we argued in Committee, LINKs should be about much more than that, and I am pleased that the Government agree.
It was always a role of patient forums to monitor services, and that should be allowed to continue. The amendment allows the public to have a proactive role in reviewing and, ultimately, improving the quality of services. That is to be welcomed. Without that function, the right to enter and view premises would be simply another means to gather views, and not a remit to inspect and critically assess health and social services.
There is one further activity that needs to be included in the Bill, and that is what we hope to achieve with amendment No. 76. It would require LINKs to report back to local people as well as to other bodies, such as primary care trusts. The Government’s view is that LINKs are primarily a conduit for local people to express their views about the commissioning and provision of services. We believe that the flow of information needs to be two-way. That is especially important if Government amendment No. 32 is passed, as it is likely to be. LINKs will then have a proactive role in monitoring and finding out about services. The findings should be brought to the attention of local people. They need to hear back about how they are being represented, while the sharing of information generally facilitates patient choice and promotes accountability in the broadest sense. I therefore invite the Minister to accept our amendment.
Government amendment No. 33 is a step in the right direction. It is another concession in response to the point that we raised in Committee, in that it denies the Secretary of State the power to restrict the activities of LINKs. Our fear was that the definition of patient and public involvement included in the Bill could be rewritten entirely by the Secretary of State without having to return to the Floor of the House. It would certainly make a mockery of our careful consideration of the Bill if the House were to approve this part in its current form.
My second concern is about the composition of LINKs, as covered by clause 173. This is one of the vaguest parts of the Bill, and has been the cause of confusion among patient volunteers about future arrangements. Government amendment No. 34 helps because, as the Minister has already highlighted, it removes the possibility of a LINK being a purely virtual arrangement—that is, one without individuals or organisations being directly involved. Clearly, that would be unacceptable. I know that the amendment has been tabled following probing by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) in Committee, and I welcome it.
The Government amendment, however, still leaves too many questions unanswered, in particular about the rules for membership and the arrangements for governance of the LINK. The Government’s aspiration is clearly to get as many people as possible involved in health and social care by giving them the freedom to drop in and out of patient and user involvement. However, the larger the LINK becomes, the more infrequently some of its members are involved, and the more difficult and unwieldy it becomes for it to decide on programmes of work and undertake a proactive role in monitoring services.
Therefore, we believe that there needs to be a core group of dedicated members who have training, expenses and support to give leadership, drive and focus to the work of the LINK. Current members of patient forums are good candidates for such a role, but that is not being delivered by the legislation. At the moment, the Bill leaves such matters to chance. There will be some vague arrangement, whereby the host organisation and the LINK will somehow put such arrangements into place. In short, Parliament will vote a large sum of money to set up LINKs without knowing what we are getting in return—and that takes me to my third concern.
It is still not clear how much influence the host is meant to have over the LINK—for example, in determining the governance arrangements—which leaves the way open for a possible conflict of interest. Our amendment No. 77 would ensure that the host organisation was not a provider of local services to be monitored by the LINK; otherwise a clear conflict of interest might arise, because the host organisation would on the one hand be providing a service for the local authority, while on the other hand it would be part of an organisation whose responsibility it was to monitor the effectiveness of that service—my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire made a related point earlier. That would be nonsense, and the conflict of interest problem needs to be addressed. If the Government object to our amendment, it is for the Minister to explain exactly how they intend to require prospective host organisations to demonstrate an ability to manage such a conflict of interest.
In Government amendments Nos. 42 to 52, the Minister introduces the concept of non-networked activities carried out by the host organisation and requires the host to report on them annually. Exactly what are non-networked activities? It is not clear in the measure. Are they activities relating to the formation of a LINK, and if so, will the Minister confirm at the Dispatch Box that they are the only activities that host will be able to undertake independently of the LINK? If not, we shall be creating much uncertainty.
My fourth point is extremely important, and it relates to the right of LINKs to enter and inspect premises. The opinion of current forum members is particularly vexed on that subject; indeed, the Government agreed to include a limited power—to view premises—only after the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) was ambushed at a meeting of irate volunteers last autumn, at which I was present. Where patient forums have been successful—for example, in putting the spotlight on cleanliness or the quality of hospital food—the power to enter and inspect premises has often been key. However, the Bill contains only a watered down version of that power—to enter and view.
Our amendment would replace the word “view” with the word “inspect”, because there is a fundamental difference between the two. In our book, “to view” means that one is simply collecting information, whereas “to inspect” suggests something more—that services are being monitored against set guidelines. The reason given in Committee for the Government’s opposition to our proposal was:
“LINKs members are not inspectors or regulators as covered by the inspectorate regime.”––[Official Report, Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Public Bill Committee, 6 March 2007; c. 545.]
A fair comment, one might think—but the Government’s approach completely misses the point. I ask the Minister to address this point: there is such a thing as lay inspection, influenced by patients, which is what patient forum members around the country have been doing. They are a critical friend rather than a formal regulator; they build up relationships with members of staff and the management, and their visits are more frequent and spontaneous than those of the Healthcare Commission. That approach has worked well, so it is a shame that the Government are blind to the excellent work of patients forum members in that respect.
I commend my hon. Friend’s case for the importance of a statutory definition of the word “inspect”. In Committee, we had an interesting debate about the need to pay close attention to definitions, so should the Minister not explain why there is no such definition in the measure? He tried to reassure us that to all intents and purposes LINKs would have the power of inspection as part of their function, but why is there no definition in the Bill?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. We probed the Government on that point in Committee, but as yet we have not had a satisfactory answer, although I hope the Minister will put that right today. In fact, I would suggest that the Government are so blind to the benefit of this approach that their own draft regulations subordinate the few inspection rights that LINKs members have to the work of the regulator—for example, by requiring LINKs to obtain the agreement of the regulator before making a visit and to co-ordinate their work.
Amendments Nos. 131 and 132 might provide an opportunity to restrict the ability of the Secretary of State to impose limitations on the rights of LINKs to enter and view or inspect premises. However, there is still time for the Minister to make a commitment at the Dispatch Box not to fetter the right of LINKs to make spot checks on premises that they are entitled to enter. It is absolutely right to say that we have not had a satisfactory explanation of why the Government seem so concerned about the ability of LINKs to enter and inspect. I would welcome the Minister’s response to that point.
I now turn to perhaps the most important part of the debate. Conservative amendments Nos. 80 and 81 would save patients forums from abolition. They reflect a number of concerns and observations that we have about the manner in which the Government are proceeding. There are too many questions about LINKs that the Government seem either unwilling or unable to answer. Issues such as the composition of LINKs, the potential conflict of interests and the right to inspect have not been properly addressed. For that reason, we believe that it is unwise to abolish what presently exists, and works increasingly well, and to replace it with a structure about which we have many doubts.
First, let us not be fooled by the talk of building on forums or turning forums into LINKs. The truth is that forums are being abolished and LINKs are being created from scratch. When community health councils were abolished, many hard-working volunteers were lost to the system. Too little of that expertise made the transfer to patient forums. I fear that the same mistake will bedevil LINKs. Ministers have said that they hope that patients forum members will be included in LINKs. I have heard that many times from the Minister. But such inclusion cannot be guaranteed. It is in the gift of the host organisations. We do not want to lose the body of expertise that has been built up over the last four years.
Secondly, I remain concerned that funding from the Department of Health might be prevented from reaching the front line of patient and public involvement. The money given to local councils will be targeted, but crucially, it will not be ring-fenced. The expert panel that developed or helped to develop the idea of LINKs did not propose that funding would be handled in that way. Money intended for health could end up being siphoned off by local government, which could be under financial pressure in relation to a whole range of issues. I challenge the Minister to explain, even at this late stage, how that can be guarded against. If the Government are serious about targeting the money, why should it not be ring-fenced?
Thirdly, although the focus of LINKs is understandably local, the Government have shown a complete lack of leadership on the question of a national voice for patients. Ironically, after years of delay, the patients forums have finally persuaded the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health to help them to develop a national organisation, but if patients forums are abolished, it looks as if that national organisation will be abandoned. LINKs would put nothing in its place.
Finally, questions of accountability have not been answered. It is not clear what sanctions exist if the LINKs are not performing well. Patients forums are ultimately responsible to the commission, which is an independent body. I accept that we do not want to give too many organisations a lever of undue influence over the LINK or the host organisation, but clearly there must be accountability when it comes to the use of public money, and what is done in the name of local people. That accountability is sadly lacking. Patients forum volunteers up and down the country have worked hard, despite some of them being badly served by patchy administrative support and hesitant leadership from the commission. Given our reservations, I would like to test the opinion of the House on amendment No. 80.
I should say a few words about amendments Nos. 82 to 85, which seek to challenge the inclusion of the word “significant” as a qualification on the duty to consult. Our fear is that that represents a mechanism by which consultation can be restricted, rather than enhanced. Ministers have said that a threshold is needed to prevent mischievous or vexatious interpretations of the duty and to avoid consultation fatigue on trivial changes. However, I am aware of no specific examples—none at all—of that being a problem under the current arrangements, which, as far as we are concerned, do not include such a qualification.
Indeed, it is difficult not to be a little sceptical about this measure, because the definition of what is significant is often controversial; it is a very subjective term. Some of the examples given by the Minister in Committee, such as a reduction in the number of beds in a hospital or changes to a GP’s opening hours, might well be considered significant by patients, but not by the health service bureaucracy. The last thing we ought to be doing is setting the scene for legal wrangling, when the promise of the document “A stronger local voice” was to clarify the duty to consult.
In conclusion, the Government have failed to make the case for LINKs. Too many of our questions remain unanswered. There may be a need to improve patient and public involvement in health by enabling more people to get involved in more flexible ways and to join up health and social care. However, that could and should have been achieved by reforming patients forums and building on their expertise, rather than abolishing them and starting from scratch. Too much taxpayers’ money is being wasted, and perhaps more importantly, too much expertise risks being wasted.
Instead, the Government seek to abolish the system that they put in place only four years ago. They are betraying the hard work and dedication of volunteers, who do not understand what they have done wrong or why they are being got rid of. If the system of patients forums has failed, it is only because Ministers have made mistakes. They should not be allowed to walk away from those mistakes without being called to account in the Division Lobbies of this House.
We have sought to improve LINKs and make them workable, and I believe that the Government’s amendments would, to a certain extent, help to do that. However, key questions still have not been answered about the composition, membership and governance of LINKs, about their rights to enter and inspect premises and about the relationship between them and the host organisations. Crucially, I do not believe that LINKs represent continuity and retention of expertise within patient and public involvement in health. They represent careless reorganisation and uncertainty—something that the NHS has had far too much of in recent years. For that reason, Madam Deputy Speaker, and with your permission, my colleagues and I will call on the House to vote against the abolition of forums by supporting our amendment No. 80.
I support amendment No. 249 to clause 182, in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson), for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) and for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor). This simple amendment is about fairness, accountability and ensuring a level playing field in consultation. In Committee there was a welcome acknowledgement by Ministers that the Government would ensure that health commissioners included clauses in contracts with independent health care providers, obliging them to allow LINKs access to premises. That is important, and we look forward to seeing the guidance that will accompany the legislation.
As we know, however, there is a difference between providing guidance and having something in black and white in the Bill. Unfortunately, the Bill does not achieve a level playing field regarding the scrutiny to which health providers will be subjected, whether by LINKs or by local authority overview and scrutiny committees. The Government’s choice agenda will mean that health services are increasingly likely to be run by providers from the private and voluntary sectors. I have strenuously opposed the privatisation of our health services, and will continue to do so; nevertheless, it is happening. I want to ensure that local people can hold service providers to account, because that has never been more important.
We need to strengthen health scrutiny arrangements, not weaken them. In contrast to what my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government said earlier, last month the Health Committee’s report on patient and public involvement highlighted a number of the problems in the Bill. Arguably the most important point made by the Committee was that the Bill weakens consultation by restricting to “significant” decisions the obligation to consult local communities under section 11 of the Health and Social Care Act 2001, now section 242 of the National Health Service Act 2006.
Clause 182 concerns the definition of “significant”. Two areas are already included: the manner in which services are delivered and the range of health services available. That is helpful, but it is not enough. The amendment would add a third tier to the definition: whether the ability to scrutinise services is affected. In effect, that would mean that if provision of a given health service was to be transferred to an organisation or company that was not subject to the same levels of scrutiny as the NHS, the public would have the right to be consulted on whether they wanted the change.
The Select Committee also criticised the fact that too many sham consultation exercises are carried out in the health service. Patients and the public want and need to be actively involved in the delivery of their health care, and engaged by meaningful consultation. The more that we as Members of Parliament can do to facilitate that, the better.
I, too, have been concerned about the changes in patient representation. I was more than uncomfortable about the abolition of community health councils. In Luton, we had a shop front in the town centre where patients could go in and talk to people; they did not have to write a letter or engage in any difficult communication. What they wanted to talk about was dealt with face to face over a counter in the town centre. That has now gone, replaced to some extent by the patient advice and liaison service in the hospital and by PPI forums.
Luton has a strong PPI forum, led robustly by my very good friend and constituent, Mrs. Josephine MacLean, who keeps the local health service on its toes; that is her job. However, her position is to disappear and I am concerned about that. I want to make sure that the replacement is at least as robust, and that people like Mrs. MacLean, who have the interests of patients and my constituents at heart and fight for them, will have a role in the new arrangements and will be able to take a strong position on both the remaining public sector part of the national health service and on any services that move to the private sector.
I suspect that the private sector is not keen on having strong patient representation. It does not want to be so accountable. Perhaps it prefers to rely on market forces—after all, under the choice agenda, if something does not work with one provider, one goes to another—but that is not good enough. Private providers will get away with murder unless they are held to account through some sort of local patient representation. We must have robust representation. I hope that the Government will take note of that point and accept my amendment.
I shall not go over arguments made in Committee about LINKs and their funding, representation on those bodies, the fact that there is no national umbrella organisation that will be able to pull together issues that individual LINKs identify, and the fact that it appears that lessons have not been learned from the abolition of community health councils. I shall comment on our amendment No. 75, but first I confirm that if the official Opposition press amendment No. 80, which would delete the clause that provides for the abolition of patients forums, to a Division, we shall certainly join them in the Lobby to support it.
We intend to press amendment No. 75, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Southport (Dr. Pugh) and for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), to a Division. The Times today contains a topical article that refers to Conservative research on the possibility that half of all A and E units may be marked for closure. That is what our amendment is specifically about. I see the Minister shake his head to indicate that that is not the intention, but I suspect that he would confirm that, according to current Government guidance, the population figure that such units are required to cover is in the order of 450,000. Given the number of A and E departments operating today that do not have a catchment population of that size, we can extrapolate how many the Government might, in an ideal world, want to be taken out of the system.
Amendment No. 75 provides that if a significant change is proposed to health services that would affect their accessibility, all the relevant parties—LINKs, patient groups and transport authorities—should be consulted and they should report the impact in a way that the Secretary of State may determine and thereby put the focus on the impact on patients of reduced accessibility to services.
When the Minister responds, he will no doubt refer to the debate in Committee and simply say that the matter is covered by proposed new subsection (1D)(a) of section 242 of the National Health Service Act 2006, which is set out in clause 182(2). Our amendment would ensure that there was a much greater focus on the subject, and it would mean that the issue of the accessibility of services was not hidden away in the Bill’s small print. I hope that the Minister will say something positive about the amendment and will accept it; it has been put forward in a constructive manner. If he cannot or will not accept it, it is our intention to press it to a Division.
I shall touch on three issues that hon. Members have already raised. The first is the abolition of patient forums. I am glad that we all resisted the temptation to rehearse the history of community health councils, but I share the view expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the questionable wisdom of abolishing forums. To repeat a point that the Select Committee on Health spelled out clearly, now that we have abolished CHCs and are moving towards abolishing forums, I am left confused about what local involvement in health networks will be like and how they will operate in practice. I am particularly concerned about that. It was certainly true of CHCs and patient forums that people could see what they were getting. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) about the expertise that was developed by CHCs and passed on to forums. That may be lost if we are not careful to give LINKs the sort of focus that hon. Members have talked about.
My second point is about the significance of the word “significant”—a subject that was discussed by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron). As I tried to point out in my brief intervention earlier, there are outstanding concerns about whether there will be a great shift in emphasis, as regards both the right to be consulted and the impulsion on health bodies to carry out consultation. Like the hon. Gentleman, I fear that under this part of the Bill some issues for consultation might fall under the radar, either inadvertently or deliberately.
I crave hon. Members’ indulgence while I give a recent example. Wharfedale hospital is not in my constituency, but it serves a great number of my constituents. It has existed for many years, but under the Conservative Government it deteriorated, decayed and lost services. From time to time it was earmarked for closure and we had to fight campaigns against that. Under this Government, it has been rebuilt and it is one of the great achievements that we can point to locally. The new building opened two years ago, but unfortunately, instead of it being used to maximum capacity, its progress has been characterised by the gradual withdrawal of services.
In autumn last year, a 16-bed ward for older people was closed without any consultation. The explanation given by the trust was that it could provide the same level of service to older patients with fewer beds. That may or may not be true, but in the context of the gradual removal of services, and given what local people saw as the diminution of the hospital’s functions, that ward closure was an extremely significant issue for them. Back in the autumn, under existing legislation, it was questioned whether there should have been consultation on what local people regarded as a major issue, so I wonder whether use of the word “significant” in the Bill would allow such issues to drop even further below the radar.
Finally, I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North about amendment No. 249, to which my name is attached. There is a real fear that—and it will be so argued—under the Bill as it stands, the simple transfer of services to the private sector will not necessarily trigger a consultation. Let me give a hypothetical example that might become a practical one in due course. I am certainly of the view that independent sector treatment centres, given their very nature, should not be introduced without major public consultation. It might be argued that that is not so, because there is a level transfer of service and no reduction in capacity. However, on looking at the proposals for an ISTC in west Yorkshire—thankfully, they were ultimately withdrawn—I was very concerned about the implications of their implementation.
The issue was not the level of patient care and capacity—that would certainly have been there—but the proposed transfer of services from the NHS acute trust in Leeds, which would almost certainly have had a wider impact. Resources would have been transferred out of the trust and there would have been implications for its ability to meet its fixed costs, so that would have been an extremely significant move. Perhaps Members can call to mind other such examples of transferring NHS services to the private sector. I therefore seek an assurance that my amendment is not necessary and that this issue, about which I am very concerned, is dealt with in the Bill.
I want to make two brief comments in support of the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron). The Government have succeeded in upsetting a large body of volunteers through the manner in which they have abolished patients forums and given up the expertise that was so willingly given in the past two years. That has been a great mistake, and the Government should have recognised that and sought to build on the success of what had been established, rather than abolishing it.
Secondly, I want to support what the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) said a moment ago. What is “significant” in one area might not be in another. Let me give a local example. Last year, Shropshire went through a consultation exercise, set in train by Shropshire County primary care trust, on the future of services in three of our community hospitals, all of which are in my constituency. The saving of £150,000 was sought from Bishop’s Castle community hospital, which could have led to its closure. It is a small hospital, and in the context of the PCT’s revenues—probably of any PCT’s revenues—£150,000 is a relatively insignificant sum. However, it was hugely significant to the people of Bishop’s Castle. Similarly, a saving of £300,000 was sought from Ludlow hospital, which would have resulted in the closure of half its beds and two of its wards. So, what is significant in a national context when drafting legislation, and what is significant in a local context when implementing that legislation, are very different. Amendments Nos. 82 and 83, which would delete the word “significant”, are therefore entirely relevant. If they are accepted, local areas would be obliged to undertake consultation on matters relevant to them. I therefore urge the Government to accept the amendments.
I rise to point out concerns that were drawn to my attention by my local patients forum at a recent meeting. It was a lively, extremely thoughtful meeting, and the forum acknowledged that many good measures are being introduced as part of this change. However, it still has anxieties and it has asked me to voice its concerns directly to the Minister and to seek clarification.
It needs to be borne in mind that the south-west is an enormous region, taking in Cornwall and Devon and the wider area, as well as Plymouth itself, so it is difficult for local authorities to monitor and review the commissioning of local services and their delivery in the locality. The patients forum has done good work in that area. Recently, for example, Cornwall county council scrutinised the work carried out at Derriford hospital in Plymouth. The patients forum gave evidence, but it is their belief that under the new structures that will no longer be possible because of the definition of the area. Forum members are also extremely concerned that only two of the existing members live in the Plymouth local authority area, and that other existing members of the forum will no longer be able to participate in the LINK, which will be based in and around Plymouth and around Derriford hospital, which, because of its size, meets the needs of a much wider area across the peninsula of the south-west.
The second issue is how well the patients forum is embedded in the day-to-day running of the hospital. Members of the forum are involved in the infection control committee, the valuing people group, Plymouth health and well-being overview and scrutiny panel, as well as the care standards group, the bus users forum and so on. They are proactive and therefore on the ball and able to flag up immediately issues that arise in the hospital or are linked to the hospital. They are worried that the new LINK will not be able to be as proactive and responsive because the new arrangements for access and inspection are thought to be far too formal. I would welcome the Minister’s comments.
I shall speak particularly to amendment No. 78, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron). Without rehearsing the arguments advanced in Committee about the removal of the defined right to inspect, I shall focus on one definition that is important because it goes to the heart of the message from the Government about how they value the new LINKs.
The Minister reassured me and others in Committee when he said that it was not the intention to change any powers by removing the word “inspect”. He went on to say:
“There is no restriction, limitation or curtailment of the powers of the patients forum in connection with the word ‘inspect’ as opposed to the powers of LINKs in connection with the words ‘view’ and ‘observe’.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill Committee, 6 March 2007; c. 546.]
That confirmation is helpful but, even if that is the Government’s intention, it is the practice that concerns forum members and the public. People such as the present forum members of Barnet and Chase Farm and Enfield look to the Department’s draft document for the guidance and how it will be followed through in constituencies such as mine.
The document states that LINKs members will not be able to visit
“until they have written to the relevant regulator, indicating their intention to visit a facility, and received a reply—this is to ensure that there is coordination of activity at local level; it may be that the regulator already plans a visit in which case it will have the ability to request that the LINk holds off, or just as possible joins in with its review.”
One can understand the practical need to ensure co-ordination, but one can also understand why, in evidence to the Health Committee, the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health expressed unhappiness with the draft document and stated:
“In effect the proposals make a mockery of the visiting rights of the new LINks. It appears that before any visit can take place, they will have to write to, and obtain a reply from the regulator, i.e. the Healthcare Commission! This gives the lie to any notion that the LINks will be able to be free and independent in the way that they work, and other proposals will severely curtail the locations which they will be permitted to enter and observe services in delivery.”
The issue is the value placed on the proposed LINKs, and that is at the heart of the amendment. What has attracted hard-working members of forums in my area, and has enabled them to carry out spot inspections of cleanliness and patient management across a variety of services, is their valued freedom and independence. The essence of the Government’s practical guidance is that it challenges the assurance properly given by the Minister that there will be no change in any powers. That is what people care about. That reassurance is vital if we hope to attract many of the same members who have done such sterling work in constituencies such as mine and many others.
Even at this 11th hour, I invite the Minister carefully to consider the amendment that would retain the word “inspect”. It is not just a question of wording. I am worried that the operation of LINKs is being mainstreamed and absorbed, and that the value of hard-working volunteers will be lost for ever. I ask him at least to review the draft document and guidance to provide the proper freedom and independence that will allow the forums to do their sterling work.
The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) began by saying that there were still unanswered questions. I am sorry he feels like that. Having kept a careful note, I suspect that it is not that I have not answered the questions but that I have answered them and he disagrees with some of my answers. However, if any specific points remain I undertake to follow them up.
One of the specific questions that I put to the Minister concerned conflict of interest. Under the Bill, a host organisation could provide services yet be part of a body that assesses its own effectiveness. How do the Government propose to address that conflict of interest, about which we have heard relatively little?
There is a huge difference between the host organisation and the LINKs organisation. Were there to be a perceived conflict of interest, it would be for the local authority, in making these decisions, to rule on that. The Bill is devolutionary, because it creates a bottom-up structure that places trust in local authorities. What is important is any conflict of interest between the LINKs organisation and the host organisation. I shall give further information on that.
I accept that the local authority will have a say, but that still does not address the central issue regarding conflict of interest. An organisation that provides services may be involved in assessing the effectiveness of its services, and it must be borne in mind that the money that the local authority has been given to fund the operation is not ring-fenced. That adds a certain twist to the whole issue of conflict of interest.
Half an hour ago, the hon. Gentleman voted for an amendment to prevent ring-fencing, yet now he is trying to provide for a ring-fenced budget. My difficulty as Minister for Local Government—I suspect that this has been the case with all my predecessors, and will be the case with all my successors, too—is that Members are happy to argue against ring-fencing in general, but that we should have it in a particular case. At last year’s Local Government Association conference, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) said that he would abolish all ring-fencing—I will believe that when I see it. The money is provided for the local authority. In the round, based on what we know, we believe that it is sufficient. The Government are not ring-fencing the money because we trust local authorities and believe that by not ring-fencing we will achieve better value for taxpayers’ money.
I am in danger of repeating myself about conflicts of interest. Local authorities, like Governments, face the potential for conflict of interest across the piece. If we devolve more power to local councils, that increases the chances of a perception of conflict of interest. At the moment, the commission is, in effect, funded by the Government, yet its independence is not questioned. Indeed, that independence is one of the virtues that Opposition Members have cited in arguing for its retention. However, the same applies to what the hon. Member for Billericay said about local authorities.
Any organisation that bids to be a host must demonstrate that it is best equipped to win the contract. That must include being able to declare its interests and manage any potential conflicts of interest. The host will be accountable to the LINK and required to follow its direction, irrespective of its own interests. The sort of organisations that we expect to become hosts deal with such issues all the time, as do local authorities. Many of the current providers of staff support to patients forums also provide health and social care services. We know that potential conflicts of interest do not mean that support is compromised in those cases. The quality of the performance is what counts. I accept as a debating point that there may be circumstances in which there appears to be a conflict of interest. However, in practice, one has to strike a sensible balance.
There is a national body and centre of excellence to improve public and patient involvement. However, it will be open to LINKs, if they so choose—I imagine that they will—to create regional and, indeed, national bodies. Their virtue is that they will be bottom-up bodies that provide even greater independence to the national umbrella body.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck) was worried that people who live outside a local authority area cannot join a LINK. I know that she has taken up the cudgels on their behalf and met the relevant body. A LINK is established to consider all the services that are provided in its area. Those outside can join the neighbouring LINK. Provision will be supplemented by the many interested people in Plymouth who are not currently in the forum. We described the position as the Great Ormond Street problem, whereby services are provided outside the local authority area. Our proposals are an improvement on the current situation.
My hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) and for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) made important points, which were raised in Committee, about the word “significant” and the impact on public-private relations. A change in the service provider rather than in the service provided—for example, the contract to run a GP’s surgery changing from one provider to another—would not significantly change the service. Another example of that is dealing with overcapacity, whereby—taking account of peaks and troughs—five beds are removed from a 10-bed ward in which only five are ever used. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North is therefore right that the definition of “significant” is important.
However, amendment is unnecessary. Significant changes include changes in: patients’ convenience; availability and quality of service; and geography, thereby affecting travel arrangements, and possible eligibility. Statutory guidance, which has the power of statute, will be issued after we have consulted on the changes.
I am trying to make the point that the change in the service rather than that in the service provider is important. Let me reassure my hon. Friend. One of the difficulties in the debate is that we are comparing existing scrutiny arrangements in the health service with proposals that cover health and social services. Points have been made about inspection and viewing. At the moment, patients forums do not view social services. We are talking about going into people’s homes—residential, shared homes and individuals’ homes. The comparison is therefore invalid.
We are trying to create a scrutiny and accountability structure that considers the patient, not the building or institution. All Members of Parliament recognise that, when constituents come to us with a problem, the interaction between public agencies and other providers most often causes the problem—for example, a stroke victim’s treatment by the ambulance service, accident and emergency, the hospital, those responsible for aftercare, the benefits office and so on. We are trying to provide for accountability and scrutiny in the round in terms of patient and public involvement.
May I take the Minister back to the example I cited of the independent sector treatment centre? The concern in west Yorkshire about such a centre was that it would be a transfer not just of services but of resources, which would undermine the ability of existing NHS trusts to provide services to other patients. The Minister seems to argue that people would not regard that as a significant change, but I have to tell him that people in west Yorkshire and Leeds would view it as a significant change.
But that is not the argument that I am pursuing. We are not debating the entirety of how health and social care should be held to account. What we are debating is the best mechanism for looking at the provision of services from the patient’s point of view. It is therefore the provision of the service, not the service provider—effectively, the interface with the patient—that we believe is important.
Time is pressing and other hon. Members want to speak—[Interruption.]
Let me make some progress and we will see whether I have failed to cover the relevant points.
Some hon. Members made a point about the difference between inspecting and viewing, but I rather think that this is dancing on a pinhead. Patients forums and the proposed LINKs are not inspectors of services in the sense that the statutory inspectorate is. Again, however, hon. Gentlemen cannot have their cake and eat it. They cannot on the one hand complain about intrusion into private life, while on the other allowing unfettered access, particularly in the area of social care, but also in respect of medical care.
Secondly, we hear complaints about over-intrusion by inspectorates. Assuming that patients forums and LINKs were inspectorates, it would be quite right and proper for them to act as gatekeepers to ensure that organisations were not over-burdened. Indeed, Conservative Members supported that proposal. One of the big themes of debate on the Bill has been the allegation—true on many occasions—that there is over-burdensome inspection. One of the measures that we have put in place is the gatekeeper role, so that the main inspectorate—for local authorities, the Audit Commission—can co-ordinate the other inspectorates. Surely the same principle has to apply to LINKs. The hon. Member for Billericay said that we had wasted £120 million in establishing patients forums and then abolishing them. The £120 million that he quotes is indeed the recurrent costs of the years of activities—not the costs of establishing the bodies, so I think that the analogy is unfair.
Let me bring the Minister back to the issue of inspections. With all due respect to him, he is creating a number of Aunt Sallies and then knocking them down. Does he not accept that where patient forums have been successful—for example, in putting the spotlight on cleanliness or quality of food—the power to enter and inspect premises has often been the key? The major concern of a number of patient forum members is that if we do not allow that power to inspect, LINKs will in many respects become toothless organisations, because they will not have the power to monitor services against set guidelines that should apply to patient care. As many Members have argued, if we take away the inspection powers, it makes for a meaningless organisation.
Let me make two points. First, the debate is being conducted on the false premise that patients forums are perfect organisations, yet by the hon. Gentleman’s own admission the situation is patchy. I supplied figures to the Public Bill Committee and I will not delay the House further by running through them all—[Interruption.] That is not my whole point. The hon. Member for Billericay intervenes from a sedentary position before I have reached the conclusion of my premise. I wish that Conservative Members would listen to the argument rather than to who is saying it.
I have looked into this issue and we debated it in Committee. I strongly believe that the powers of LINKs to enter premises and look at what is going on—whether we call it inspection, observation, viewing or whatever—are still available, but I do not accept the idea that patients forums or LINKs should be inspectors in the formal sense that the Audit Commission is an inspector. They are not—and neither should they be, because they are not qualified to be. They are looking at this from the point of view of lay viewing or lay inspection—let us not have an argument about semantics. The point is that what was asked for was that LINKs should be given the right to enter premises. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that they have that right, and the right to view, observe, monitor and make reports. But we are talking about social care as well as the NHS. We are talking about people’s homes. I know what fun Conservative Members have when anyone dares to suggest that a valuation officer should check that people are paying their full council tax, and it really is going too far to say that there should be unfettered access.
I reject those amendments, and I have made concessions on the points raised in Committee by tabling amendments to satisfy some of the reasonable points that have been made. It is now time to move on, to establish LINKs, to trust local authorities, to have flexibility and to create a body that can hold to account our national health service and the social services from the point of view of the patient, not the provider.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 33, page 121, line 25, leave out ‘,varying or omitting’.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Arrangements under section 172(1)
Amendment made: No. 34, page 122, line 6, leave out from second ‘area’ to end of line 8.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Duties of services-providers to respond to local involvement networks
Amendments made: No. 35, page 122, line 41, leave out from ‘done’ to ‘activities’ in line 42 and insert
‘by a person who, in pursuance of arrangements made under section 172(1), is to carry on’.
No. 36, line 42, at end insert ‘; and
(b) it is done by that person in the carrying-on, under those arrangements, of activities so specified.’.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Duties of service-providers to allow entry by local involvement networks
Amendments made: No. 37, page 123, line 14, leave out from ‘network’ to end of line 16.
No. 38, line 35, leave out from ‘network’ to end of line 38.
No. 39, line 41, leave out from ‘172(2)’ to end of line 43.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Local involvement networks: referrals of social care matters
Amendments made: No. 40, page 124, line 23, leave out from ‘done’ to ‘activities’ in line 24 and insert
‘by a person who, in pursuance of arrangements made under section 172(1), is to carry on’.
No. 41, line 24, at end insert ‘; and
(b) it is done by that person in the carrying-on, under those arrangements, of activities so specified.’.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Local involvement networks: annual reports
Amendments made: No. 42, page 125, line 5, after ‘provision’ insert ‘—
No. 43, line 6, after ‘preparation’ insert ‘by the network’.
No. 44, line 9, at end insert—
‘(ii) requiring the preparation by H of any report that is required, under provision included in the arrangements in pursuance of sub-paragraph (i), to be prepared by a local involvement network but is not prepared by the network; and
(iii) requiring the preparation by H, for each non-networked financial year, of a report in relation to the non-networked activities;’.
No. 45, line 12, leave out paragraph (c).
No. 46, line 26, after ‘report’ insert
‘, if it is a report required to be prepared by a local involvement network (even if actually prepared by H in compliance with provision included in the arrangements in pursuance of subsection (2)(a)(ii)),’.
No. 47, line 27, leave out ‘local involvement network concerned’ and insert ‘network’.
No. 48, line 29, at end insert ‘; and
(c) that the report, if it is a report prepared by H in compliance with provision included in the arrangements in pursuance of subsection (2)(a)(iii), includes—
(i) details of the amounts spent by H in the year concerned in respect of the non-networked activities; and
(ii) details of what those amounts were spent on.’.
No. 49, line 30, leave out subsection (4).
No. 50, line 45, leave out from ‘subsection’ to ‘(so’ and insert ‘—
(a) in the case of a report required to be prepared by a local involvement network (even if actually prepared by H in compliance with provision included in the arrangements in pursuance of subsection (2)(a)(ii)), if any activities of the network’.
No. 51, line 47, at end insert ‘; and
(b) in the case of a report prepared by H in compliance with provision included in the arrangements in pursuance of subsection (2)(a)(iii), if in the year concerned any of the non-networked activities are relevant to the functions of the committee.’.
No. 52, line 47, at end insert—
‘(6A) In subsections (2) to (6) “the non-networked activities” means the activities specified in section 172(2) for the authority’s area so far as they—
(a) are activities for whose carrying-on in the authority’s area the arrangements make provision; and
(b) are not, under the arrangements, activities whose carrying-on is within the remit of a local involvement network.
(6B) For the purposes of subsection (2)(a)(iii), a financial year is “non-networked” if there is a time in the year when an activity falls (to any extent) within the definition of “the non-networked activities” given by subsection (6A).’.
No. 53, page 126, line 1, leave out ‘(6)’ and insert ‘(6B)’.
No. 54, leave out lines 4 to 6.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Abolition of functions of Patients’ Forums
Amendment proposed, No. 80, in page 126, line 32, leave out clause 179.—[Mr. Baron.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
Duty to consult users of health services
Amendment proposed: No. 75, page 129, line 29, at end insert—
‘(1GA) A relevant English body in proposing a significant change in services delivered in a way likely to affect patients’ physical access or transport to a service must consult with—
(a) the local involvement network,
(b) relevant patient groups, and
(c) the appropriate transport authority,
and report in such manner as the Secretary of State may prescribe prior to implementing those changes on the results of such consultation.
(1GB) For the purposes of subsection (1GA), a change in services is “significant” if implementation of the change would have a substantial impact on—
(a) the manner in which services are delivered to users of those services, or
(b) the range of health services available to those users.’.—[Andrew Stunell.]
Question put: That the amendment be made:—
It being after Six o’clock, Madam Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.
New Clause 8
Joint overview and scrutiny committees: local improvement targets
‘(1) For the purposes of this section, “group of partner authorities” means—
(a) a county council in England; and
(b) one or more district councils which are partner authorities of it.
(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision under which a group of partner authorities may—
(a) appoint a joint committee (a “joint overview and scrutiny committee”); and
(b) arrange for any functions of making reports and recommendations falling within subsection (3) to be exercisable by the committee.
(3) A report or recommendation falls within this subsection if—
(a) it concerns a matter which—
(i) relates to the attainment of any local improvement target specified for the time being in a relevant local area agreement; and
(ii) is not an excluded matter; and
(b) it is made to—
(i) the county council, or
(ii) the county council and one or more district councils,
in the group of partner authorities.
(4) In subsection (3)—
(a) “excluded matter” means any matter with respect to which a crime and disorder committee could make a report or recommendations—
(i) by virtue of subsection (1)(b) of section 19 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 (c. 48) (local authority scrutiny crime and disorder matters); or
(ii) under subsection (6) of that section;
(b) the reference to a report or recommendations being made to a county council or district council is, in the case of a local authority operating executive arrangements under Part 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22), to be read as a reference to a report or recommendations being made to the local authority or its executive.
(5) Regulations under subsection (2) may in particular—
(a) provide for arrangements to be made only in circumstances, or subject to conditions or limitations, specified by 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 (c. 22),
(ii) sections 21A to 21D of that Act, or
(iii) section 246 of, and Schedule 17 to, the National Health Service Act 2006 (c. 41),
with or without modifications;
(c) make provision—
(i) as to relevant information which associated authorities must provide 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); and
(ii) as to information which may not be disclosed by an associated authority 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) For the purposes of subsection (5)(c), in relation to a joint overview and scrutiny committee—
“associated authority” means—
(a) the county council in the group of partner authorities which appointed the joint overview and scrutiny committee; or
(b) any person which is a partner authority in relation to that council other than—
(i) a police authority; or
(ii) a chief officer of police;
“relevant information”, in relation to an associated authority, means information which is relevant to a local improvement target in a relevant local area agreement which relates to the associated authority;
and section 81(2) or (3) applies for the purpose of determining whether a local improvement target relates to an associated authority.
(7) 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 (c. 48) (guidance and regulations regarding crime and disorder matters).
(8) In this section—
(a) “relevant local area agreement”, in relation to a joint overview and scrutiny committee, means a local area agreement of the county council in the group of partner authorities which appointed the committee; and
(b) “local area agreement”, “local improvement target” and “partner authority” have the same meanings as in Chapter 1 of this Part.
(9) Any group of partner authorities and any joint overview and scrutiny committee must, in exercising or deciding whether to exercise any functions conferred on it by or by virtue of regulations under this section, have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 9
Overview and scrutiny committees of district councils: local improvement targets
‘After section 21D of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) (inserted by section 97) insert—
“21E Overview and scrutiny committees of certain district councils: functions with respect to partner authorities
(1) This section applies to any district council which is a partner authority in relation to a county council (“the related county council”).
(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision under which a district council to which this section applies may confer on their overview and scrutiny committee, or any of their overview and scrutiny committees, power to make reports and recommendations to the related county council, or that council’s executive, which relate to any local improvement target which—
(a) relates to a relevant partner authority, and
(b) is specified in a local area agreement of the county council.
(3) Regulations under subsection (2) may make provision applying or reproducing any provision of section 21B, 21C or 21D (with or without modifications).
(4) For the purposes of this section—
(a) “relevant partner authority”, in relation to a district council, means—
(i) the related county council, or
(ii) any other authority which are a partner authority in relation to that county council, other than—
(a) a police authority, or
(b) a chief officer of police,
(b) “local area agreement”, “local improvement target” and “partner authority” have the same meanings as in Chapter 1 of Part 5 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, and
(c) section 81(2) or (3) of that Act applies for the purpose of determining whether a local improvement target relates to a relevant partner authority.” ’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 10
‘In section 21 of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) (overview and scrutiny committees: authorities operating executive arrangements), at the end insert—
“(16) In exercising, or deciding whether to exercise, any of its functions—
(a) an overview and scrutiny committee of a local authority in England, or a sub-committee of such a committee, must have regard to any guidance for the time being issued by the Secretary of State; and
(b) an overview and scrutiny committee of a local authority in Wales, or a sub-committee of such a committee, must have regard to any guidance for the time being issued by the Welsh Ministers.
(17) Guidance under subsection (16) may make different provision for different cases or for different descriptions of committee or sub-committee.” ’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 11
Overview and scrutiny committees: consequential amendments
‘(1) In section 21 of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) (overview and scrutiny committees)—
(a) in subsection (4)—
(i) after “this section” insert “, sections 21A to 21C”; and
(ii) at the end insert “or any functions which may be conferred on it by virtue of regulations under section 21E”; and
(b) omit subsection (8).
(2) For section 32(3) of that Act (alternative arrangements) substitute—
“(3) Regulations under this section may make provision with respect to committees or sub-committees falling within subsection (1)(b), including—
(a) in the case of regulations made by the Secretary of State, provision which applies or reproduces (with or without modifications)—
(i) any provision of sections 21 to 21D or paragraphs 7 and 9 to 11 of Schedule 1,
(ii) any provision made under section 21E or 22A,
(iii) any provision of section 246 of, or Schedule 17 to, the National Health Service Act 2006, or
(iv) any provision made under section 244 of that Act, and
(b) in the case of regulations made by the Welsh Ministers, provision which applies or reproduces (with or without modifications)—
(i) any provision of section 21 or 21A(1)(a) or (b) or (2) or paragraphs 8 to 11 of Schedule 1,
(ii) any provision of Schedule 17 to the National Health Service Act 2006,
(iii) any provision of section 186 of, or Schedule 11 to, the National Health Service (Wales) Act 2006, or
(iv) any provision made under section 184 of that Act.”.
(3) In section 245(3)(b) of the National Health Service Act 2006 (c. 41) (joint overview and scrutiny committees etc)—
(a) in sub-paragraph (i), for “(15)” substitute “(17)”; and
(b) after that sub-paragraph insert—
“(ia) sections 21A to 21D of that Act,
(ib) section 22A of that Act,”.
(4) In section 185(3)(b) of the National Health Service (Wales) Act 2006 (c. 42) (joint overview and scrutiny committees etc)—
(a) in sub-paragraph (i), for “(15)” substitute “(17)”; and
(b) after that sub-paragraph insert—
“(ia) section 21A(1)(a) or (b) or (2) of that Act,” ’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
Reference of matter by councillor to overview and scrutiny committee
Amendments made: No. 96, page 62, line 29, leave out from beginning to ‘insert’ in line 33 and insert
‘After section 21 of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22)’.
No. 97, page 64, leave out line 6.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Powers to require information from partner authorities
Amendments made: No. 98, page 64, line 38, at end insert—
‘(4) The Secretary of State may also by regulations make provision, in relation to a relevant district council committee—
(a) as to information which associated authorities must provide to the relevant district council committee, and
(b) as to information which may not be disclosed by an associated authority to the relevant district council committee.
(5) In subsection (4), references to information do not include 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).
(6) For the purposes of subsection (4)—
“relevant district council committee” means—
(c) an overview and scrutiny committee of a district council which is not a responsible local authority (“the district council”), or
(d) a sub-committee of such a committee;
“associated authority”, in relation to a relevant district council committee, means—
(e) the county council which is the responsible local authority in relation to the district council, or
(f) any person (other than the district council) which is a partner authority in relation to that county council, other than—
(i) a police authority, or
(ii) a chief officer of police;
and for this purpose, “responsible local authority” and “partner authority” have the same meanings as in Chapter 1 of Part 5 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007.
(7) Regulations under this section may make different provision in relation to different persons or committees or descriptions of person or committee.
(8) The power conferred by subsection (7) does not affect the power conferred by section 105(2)(b).” ’.
No. 99, page 64, line 39, leave out subsection (2).—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Overview and scrutiny committees: reprots and recommendations
Amendments made: No. 100, page 66, line 33, leave out ‘Primary Care Trust’ and insert ‘health service body’.
No. 101, page 66, line 36, leave out ‘Primary Care Trust’ and insert ‘health service body’.
No. 102, page 66, line 36, at end insert—
‘( ) In subsection (5), “health service body” means—
(a) a National Health Service trust,
(b) an NHS foundation trust, or
(c) a Primary Care Trust.’.
No. 103, page 69, line 4, leave out ‘local authority executives’ and insert ‘executives of local authorities in England’.
No. 104, page 69, line 4, at end insert
‘, or under any provision of regulations under section 21E which applies or reproduces (with or without modifications) any provision of section 21B,’.
No. 105, page 69, line 12, leave out subsection (3).—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Amendment made: No. 106, page 69, line 16, after ‘applies’ insert
‘(in addition to the cases mentioned in subsection (1) of that section)’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
New Clause 2
Registered social landlords
‘(1) In section 40(1) of the Audit Commission Act 1998 (c. 18) (studies relating to registered social landlords), omit “(other than registered social landlords in Wales)”.
(2) In section 41A of that Act (inspections of registered social landlords), omit subsection (1A) (registered social landlords in Wales).
(3) After section 41B of that Act insert—
“41C Advice and assistance for registered social landlords
(1) The Commission may, if it thinks it appropriate to do so, provide advice or assistance to a registered social landlord for the purpose of the exercise by the registered social landlord of its functions.
(2) Advice or assistance under this section may be provided on such terms, including terms as to payment, as the Commission thinks fit.”
(4) Omit section 42 of that Act (consultancy services relating to audit of accounts of registered social landlords).
(5) For section 43 of that Act substitute—
“43 Meaning of “registered social landlord”
In sections 40 to 41C, “registered social landlord” means a body registered as a social landlord under Part 1 of the Housing Act 1996, other than a body mentioned in any of paragraphs (a) to (c) of section 56(2) of that Act (bodies registered in Wales).”’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 7
Registered social landlords in Wales
‘After section 145C of the Government of Wales Act 1998 (c. 38) insert—
“145D Advice and assistance for registered social landlords
(1) The Auditor General for Wales may, if he thinks it appropriate to do so, provide advice or assistance to a registered social landlord in Wales for the purpose of the exercise by the registered social landlord of its functions.
(2) Advice or assistance under this section may be provided on such terms and conditions, including conditions as to payment, as the Auditor General for Wales thinks fit.
(3) This section has effect without prejudice to paragraph 21 of Schedule 8 to the Government of Wales Act 2006 (arrangements between Auditor General for Wales and certain bodies).
(4) In this section, “registered social landlord in Wales” means a body which is—
(a) registered as a social landlord under Chapter 1 of Part 1 of the Housing Act 1996, and
(b) mentioned in any of paragraphs (a) to (c) of section 56(2) of that Act.”’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
Interaction of the Audit Commission with other authorities
Amendment made: No. 29, page 86, line 13, after ‘before’ insert ‘the italic heading preceding’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Studies at request of particular bodies
Amendment made: No. 30, page 89, line 8, leave out from ‘Authority)’ to end of line 13.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Reports on English Local Authorities
Amendment made: No. 31, page 90, line 5, at end insert—
‘(5) The Secretary of State may by order amend the definition of “English local authority” in subsection (4) by adding any authority or body which is a best value authority, other than—
(a) an authority or body which is a Welsh best value authority for the purposes of Part 1 of the Local Government Act 1999;
(b) a police authority for a police area in Wales.
(6) The Secretary of State may by order remove from that definition any authority or body for the time being mentioned in it.
(7) The powers in subsections (5) and (6) may be exercised to add or remove an authority or body to the extent that it acts in a capacity, or exercises functions, specified in the order.
(8) Before making an order under subsection (5) or (6) the Secretary of State must consult the best value authorities concerned or persons appearing to him to represent the best value authorities concerned.”’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Disclosure of informaton obtained by the Audit Commission or an auditor
That the clause be transferred to the end of line 37, page 91.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
New Clause 3
Pre-commencement invitations etc
‘(1) In this section a “pre-commencement invitation” means an invitation given by the Secretary of State before the commencement of this Chapter which, after that commencement, could have been given under the power in section 2.
(2) If before the commencement of this Chapter—
(a) a pre-commencement invitation was given,
(b) guidance as to what a proposal should seek to achieve, or as to matters that should be taken into account in formulating a proposal, was given by the Secretary of State in connection with such an invitation,
(c) a proposal was made in response to such an invitation, or
(d) consultation was carried out by the Secretary of State in relation to such a proposal,
it is immaterial that the invitation or guidance was given, the proposal made, or the consultation carried out, before rather than after the commencement of this Chapter.
(3) Accordingly (and without prejudice to the generality of subsection (2))—
(a) any reference in this Chapter to an invitation under section 2 includes a pre-commencement invitation;
(b) any reference in this Chapter to a proposal made by virtue of section 2 includes a proposal (whenever made) made in response to a pre-commencement invitation;
(c) any reference in this Chapter to the Secretary of State’s receiving a proposal in response to an invitation under section 2 includes his receiving before the commencement of this Chapter a proposal made in response to a pre-commencement invitation.’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
Invitations and directions for proposals for single tier of local government
Amendment made: No. 1, page 2, line 43, at end insert—
‘(9) Subsection (1) is subject to section 3(1).’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Invitations, directions and proposals: supplementary
Amendments made: No. 2, page 3, line 2, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
‘(1) A direction under section 2—
(a) may not be given after 25 January 2008; and
(b) may be given on or before that date only where the Secretary of State believes that giving the direction would be in the interests of effective and convenient local government.’.
No. 3, page 3, line 24, at end insert—
‘(8) But a direction under section 2 may not be varied after 25 January 2008 if—
(a) the direction as originally given required the making of a Type A or Type B proposal; and
(b) the direction as varied would require or permit the making of a Type C or combined proposal.’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Procedure on receipt of proposals
Amendments made: No. 4, page 3, line 26, leave out from ‘proposal’ to ‘under’ in line 27 and insert
‘in response to an invitation or direction’.
No. 5, page 3, line 29, leave out subsections (2) to (4).—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Implementation or proposals by order
Amendment made: No. 6, page 5, line 30, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
‘(2) But where the Secretary of State has made a request under section 4 in relation to the proposal received in response to the invitation or direction, he may not make an order or decision under this section before the end of six weeks beginning with the relevant date (as defined by section 6(7)).
(3) The Secretary of State may not in any case make an order under subsection (1)(a) implementing a proposal unless he has consulted the following about the proposal—
(a) every authority affected by the proposal (except the authority or authorities which made it); and
(b) any other person he believes to have an interest.
(4) For the purposes of this section an authority is “affected by” a proposal if it is a principal authority for an area which is, or any part of which is, in an area that the proposal suggests should have a single tier of local government.
(5) Subsection (3) does not apply if the proposal was made jointly by every authority affected by it, and in that case the Secretary of State may before making an order under subsection (1)(a) consult any other person he believes to have an interest.’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Implementation of recommendations by order
Amendment made: No. 86, page 7, line 21, at end insert—
‘(3) Before doing as mentioned in any of those paragraphs the Secretary of State may request the Boundary Committee to provide him with additional information or advice.
(4) Where they receive such a request the Boundary Committee may provide the information or advice requested.’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Implementation orders: provision that may be included
Amendment made: No. 7, page 8, line 17, leave out ‘7’ and insert ‘7(1)(a)’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Agreements about incidental matters
Amendment made: No. 8, page 11, line 27, at end insert—
‘(6) In this section “public body” includes a parish council.’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Correction of orders
Amendment made: No. 9, page 13, line 26, at end insert—
‘(3) In subsection (2) “public body” includes a parish council.’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Pre-commencement invitations etc.
Amendment made: No. 87, page 13, line 27, leave out Clause 21.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
New Clause 12
Responsibilities of Commissioners
‘(1) Section 23 of the Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7) (appointment and removal of Commissioners) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsections (8) and (9) (allocation of cases by geographic area) substitute—
“(8A) The Commission must—
(a) divide the matters which may be investigated under this Part of this Act into such categories as they consider appropriate, and
(b) allocate, or make arrangements for allocating, responsibility for each category of matter to one or more of the Local Commissioners.”
(3) In subsection (10)(a), for “to accept cases for which they are not responsible” substitute “to deal with matters for which they do not have responsibility pursuant to subsection (8A)”.’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 13
Power to investigate
‘Before section 25 of the Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7) insert—
“24A Power to investigate
(1) Under this Part of this Act, a Local Commissioner may investigate a matter—
(a) which relates to action taken by or on behalf of an authority to which this Part of this Act applies,
(b) which is subject to investigation under this Part of this Act by virtue of section 26, and
(c) in relation to which subsection (2), (3) or (5) is satisfied.
(2) This subsection is satisfied if, in relation to the matter, a complaint which satisfies sections 26A and 26B has been made to a Local Commissioner.
(3) This subsection is satisfied if, in relation to the matter—
(a) a complaint which satisfies sections 26A and 26B has been made to a member of an authority to which this Part of this Act applies, and
(b) the complaint has been referred, or is treated as having been referred, to a Local Commissioner under section 26C.
(4) Any question whether subsection (2) or (3) is satisfied in relation to a matter shall be determined by a Local Commissioner.
(5) This subsection is satisfied if—
(a) the matter has come to the attention of a Local Commissioner, and
(b) section 26D applies to the matter.
(6) In determining whether to initiate, continue or discontinue an investigation, a Local Commissioner shall, subject to the provisions of this section and sections 26 to 26D, act in accordance with his own discretion.
(7) Without prejudice to the discretion conferred by subsection (6), a Local Commissioner may in particular decide—
(a) not to investigate a matter, or
(b) to discontinue an investigation of a matter,
if he is satisfied with action which the authority concerned have taken or propose to take.”’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 14
Authorities subject to investigation
‘(1) Section 25 of the Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7) (authorities subject to investigation) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (4), for paragraphs (b) and (c) substitute—
“(b) to a committee or sub-committee of that authority (including a joint committee or joint sub-committee on which the authority are represented),
and (for the avoidance of doubt) subsections (4ZA) to (5) apply for the purposes of this subsection.”
(3) After subsection (4) insert—
“(4ZA) Any reference to an authority to which this Part of this Act applies also includes, in the case of a local authority operating executive arrangements, the executive.”
(4) In subsection (4A) (Greater London Authority), omit paragraphs (b) and (c).
(5) Omit subsection (4B) (sub-committees of the London Transport Users Committee).
(6) In subsection (5)—
(a) in paragraph (c), after “constituted” insert “by the authority”;
(b) in paragraph (d), after first “school” insert “maintained by the authority”;
(c) in paragraph (e), after “constituted” insert “by the authority”.
(7) After subsection (5) insert—
“(6) Subsection (7) has effect where an authority to which this Part of this Act applies exercise a function entirely or partly by means of an arrangement with another person.
(7) For the purposes of this Part of this Act, action taken by or on behalf of the other person in carrying out the arrangement shall be treated as action taken—
(a) on behalf of the authority, and
(b) in the exercise of the authority’s function.
(8) Subsection (7) does not have effect where, by virtue of another enactment, the action would be treated as action taken by the authority.”’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 15
Matters subject to investigation
‘(1) Section 26 of the Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7) (matters subject to investigation) is amended in accordance with subsections (2) and (3).
(2) For subsection (1) substitute—
“(1) For the purposes of section 24A(1)(b), in relation to an authority to which this Part of this Act applies, the following matters are subject to investigation by a Local Commissioner under this Part of this Act—
(a) alleged or apparent maladministration in connection with the exercise of the authority’s administrative functions;
(b) an alleged or apparent failure in a service which it was the authority’s function to provide;
(c) an alleged or apparent failure to provide such a service.
(1A) Subsection (1) is subject to the following provisions of this section.”
(3) Omit subsections (2) to (4) (procedure for making complaints).
(4) In Schedule 5 to that Act (matters not subject to investigation), for paragraph 3 substitute—
“3 (1) Action taken in matters relating to contractual or other commercial transactions of any authority to which Part 3 of this Act applies relating to—
(a) the operation of public passenger transport;
(b) the carrying on of a dock or harbour undertaking;
(c) the provision of entertainment;
(d) the provision and operation of industrial establishments;
(e) the provision and operation of markets.
(2) Sub-paragraph (1) does not include transactions for or relating to—
(a) the acquisition or disposal of land;
(b) the acquisition or disposal of moorings which are not moorings provided in connection with a dock or harbour undertaking.
(3) Sub-paragraph (1)(a) does not include action taken by or on behalf of the London Transport Users Committee in operating a procedure for examining complaints or reviewing decisions.
(4) Sub-paragraph (1)(e) does not include transactions relating to—
(a) the grant, renewal or revocation of a licence to occupy a pitch or stall in a fair or market, or
(b) the attachment of any condition to such a licence.”’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 16
Complaints and matters coming to Commissioners’ attention
‘(1) After section 26 of the Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7) insert—
“26A Who can complain
(1) Under this Part of this Act, a complaint about a matter may only be made—
(a) by a member of the public who claims to have sustained injustice in consequence of the matter,
(b) by a person authorised in writing by such a member of the public to act on his behalf, or
(c) in accordance with subsection (2).
(2) Where a member of the public by whom a complaint about a matter might have been made under this Part of this Act has died or is otherwise unable to authorise a person to act on his behalf, the complaint may be made—
(a) by his personal representative (if any), or
(b) by a person who appears to a Local Commissioner to be suitable to represent him.
26B Procedure for making complaints
(1) Subject to subsection (3), a complaint about a matter under this Part of this Act must be made—
(a) in writing, and
(b) before the end of the permitted period.
(2) In subsection (1)(b), “the permitted period” means the period of 12 months beginning with—
(a) the day on which the person affected first had notice of the matter, or
(b) if the person affected has died without having notice of the matter—
(i) the day on which the personal representatives of the person affected first had notice of the matter, or
(ii) if earlier, the day on which the complainant first had notice of the matter.
(3) A Local Commissioner may disapply either or both of the requirements in subsection (1)(a) and (b) in relation to a particular complaint.
26C Referral of complaints by authorities
(1) This section applies where a complaint about a matter is made to a member of an authority to which this Part of this Act applies.
(2) If the complainant consents, the complaint may be referred to a Local Commissioner by—
(a) the member of the authority to whom the complaint was made,
(b) any other member of that authority, or
(c) a member of any other authority to which this Part of this Act applies which is alleged in the complaint to have taken or authorised the action complained of.
(3) Subject to subsection (4), a referral under this section must be made in writing.
(4) A Local Commissioner may disapply the requirement in subsection (3) in relation to a particular referral.
(5) If a Local Commissioner is satisfied that the complainant asked a member of an authority mentioned in subsection (2) to refer the complaint to a Local Commissioner, he may treat the complaint as if it had been referred to him under this section.
(6) In this section, references to a member of an authority include—
(a) in relation to a National Park authority, a member of any of the councils by whom a local authority member of the authority is appointed;
(b) in relation to a joint board, a member of any of the constituent authorities of the joint board;
(c) in relation to a joint authority established by Part 4 of the Local Government Act 1985, a member of a constituent council of that authority.
26D Matters coming to attention of Local Commissioner
(1) This section applies to a matter which has come to the attention of a Local Commissioner if—
(a) the matter came to his attention during the course of an investigation under this Part of this Act,
(b) (subject to subsection (3)) the matter came to his attention—
(i) before the person affected or his personal representatives had notice of the matter, or
(ii) in any other case, before the end of the permitted period, and
(c) it appears to the Local Commissioner that a member of the public has, or may have, suffered injustice in consequence of the matter.
(2) In subsection (1)(b)(ii), “the permitted period” means the period of 12 months beginning with—
(a) the day on which the person affected first had notice of the matter, or
(b) if the person affected has died without having notice of the matter, the day on which the personal representatives of the person affected first had notice of the matter.
(3) A Local Commissioner may disapply the requirement in subsection (1)(b) in relation to a particular matter.”
(2) In subsection 27 of that Act (provisions relating to complaints)—
(a) for the title substitute “Members of the public”;
(b) in subsection (1), for the words before paragraph (a) substitute “In this Part of this Act, “member of the public” means an individual or a body of persons, whether incorporated or not, other than—”;
(c) omit subsection (2).’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, and read the First time and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 17
Reports and statements of reasons
‘(1) Section 30 of the Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7) (reports on investigations) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsection (1) substitute—
“(1) If a Local Commissioner completes an investigation of a matter, he shall prepare a report of the results of the investigation and send a copy to each of the persons concerned (subject to subsection (1A)).
(1A) If, after the investigation of a matter is completed, the Local Commissioner decides—
(a) that he is satisfied with action which the authority concerned have taken or propose to take, and
(b) that it is not appropriate to prepare and send a copy of a report under subsection (1),
he may instead prepare a statement of his reasons for the decision and send a copy to each of the persons concerned.
(1B) If a Local Commissioner decides—
(a) not to investigate a matter, or
(b) to discontinue an investigation of a matter,
he shall prepare a statement of his reasons for the decision and send a copy to each of the persons concerned.
(1C) For the purposes of subsections (1) to (1B), the persons concerned are—
(a) the complainant (if any),
(b) any person who referred the matter under section 26C(2),
(c) the authority concerned, and
(d) any other authority or person who is alleged in the complaint, or who otherwise appears to the Local Commissioner, to have taken or authorised the action which is or would be the subject of the investigation.”
(3) In subsection (2), for “the complaint” substitute “a complaint about the matter”.
(4) In subsection (2AA)(a), for “the duty imposed by subsection (1)(c) above” substitute “the duty to send a report or statement to the Authority under subsection (1), (1A) or (1B)”.
(5) In subsection (3)—
(a) after “report” (in each place) insert “or statement”;
(b) for “the interests of the complainant and of persons other than the complainant” substitute “the interests of the complainant (if any) and of other persons”.
(6) In subsection (3AA), after “report” insert “or statement”.
(7) After subsection (3A) insert—
“(3B) Subsections (4) to (8) apply in the case of a report under subsection (1).”
(8) In subsection (7), for “the interests of the complainant and of persons other than the complainant” substitute “the interests of the complainant (if any) and of other persons”.’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 18
Power of Commissioners to make recommendations etc
‘(1) Section 31 of the Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7) (further provisions about reports on investigations) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsection (1) substitute—
“(1) This section applies where a Local Commissioner reports that there has been—
(a) maladministration in connection with the exercise of the authority’s administrative functions,
(b) a failure in a service which it was the function of an authority to provide, or
(c) a failure to provide such a service.”
(3) For subsection (2B) substitute—
“(2B) Where the report relates to maladministration, those recommendations are recommendations with respect to action which, in the Local Commissioner’s opinion, the authority concerned should take—
(a) to remedy any injustice sustained by the person affected in consequence of the maladministration, and
(b) to prevent injustice being caused in the future in consequence of similar maladministration in connection with the exercise of the authority’s administrative functions.
(2BA) Where the report relates to a failure in, or to provide, a service which it was the function of the authority to provide, those recommendations are recommendations with respect to action which, in the Local Commissioner’s opinion, the authority concerned should take—
(a) to remedy any injustice sustained by the person affected in consequence of the failure, and
(b) to prevent injustice being caused in the future in consequence of a similar failure in, or to provide, a service which it is the function of the authority to provide.”
(4) In subsection (3)(b), for “maladministration” substitute “the maladministration or failure”.’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 19
Publication of reports etc by Commissioners
‘After section 31A of the Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7) insert—
“31B Publication of reports etc by Commissioners
(1) A Local Commissioner may—
(a) publish all or part of a report or statement under section 30,
(b) publish all or part of a report under section 31,
(c) arrange for further publication of a statement published under section 31(2D) or (2G), or
(d) publish a summary of a matter which is the subject of a report or statement under section 30 or 31,
if, after taking into account the public interest as well as the interests of the complainant (if any) and of other persons, he considers it appropriate to do so.
(2) A Local Commissioner may—
(a) supply a copy of a report, statement or summary mentioned in subsection (1) to any person who requests it, and
(b) charge a reasonable fee for doing so.
(3) Subsection (3) of section 30 applies to a summary mentioned in subsection (1)(d) of this section as it applies to a report or statement prepared under that section.”’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 20
‘(1) Schedule 4 to the Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7) (the Commission) is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph 1(1) (disqualification for being Local Commissioner)—
(a) in paragraph (a), for “any of the authorities mentioned in section 25(1) of this Act” substitute “any authority to which Part 3 of this Act applies”;
(b) in paragraph (b), omit “or is a member (by co-option) of a committee of any of those authorities”.
(3) In paragraph 1(2) (restriction on Local Commissioners conducting cases), for the words from “has been a member of that authority” to the end substitute “—
(a) has been a member of that authority,
(b) has taken action on behalf of that authority in the exercise of any of their functions, or
(c) has taken action which, by virtue of an enactment, is treated as having been taken by that authority in the exercise of any of their functions.”
(4) For paragraph 2 (disqualification of Local Commissioners for appointment to paid office by authority) substitute—
“2A A Local Commissioner shall be disqualified for being appointed to a paid office by an authority to which Part 3 of this Act applies—
(a) while the categories of matter for which the Local Commissioner has responsibility pursuant to section 23(8A) include—
(i) matters relating to the authority, or
(ii) matters of a description which may include matters relating to the authority, and
(b) for three years after the Local Commissioner ceases to have responsibility for such matters pursuant to section 23(8A).”’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 21
Minor and consequential amendments
‘Schedule (The Commission for Local Administration for England: minor and consequential amendments) (minor and consequential amendments) has effect.’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
Making complaints etc electronically
Amendments made: No. 108, page 96, line 3, leave out subsection (1).
No. 109, page 96, line 5, after ‘32’ insert
‘of the Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7)’.
No. 110, page 96, line 8, after ‘34’ insert ‘of that Act’.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee, to be further considered tomorrow.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Have you received any notice from the Secretary of State for Health that she intends to come to the House to make a statement to correct the record in the light of the statement made to the High Court today by Nicholas Greenfield, an official at the Department of Health, in the judicial review proceedings on the medical training application service, to the effect that one of the primary causes for the abandonment of the system for appointing junior doctors was that the IT system could not be relied upon to deal with appointments properly or effectively? In other words—the Department had no alternative but to abandon the scheme. That is a highly embarrassing fact and a key point that she omitted to mention in her written statement and in her response to this week’s urgent question.