Skip to main content

Local Government Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill

Volume 525: debated on Friday 18 March 2011

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This important Bill would extend the powers of the local government ombudsman to provide redress against local authorities that unreasonably ban events on the grounds of health and safety. The inspiration for the Bill comes from none other than Lord Young, whose commendable report to the Government on these issues last autumn resulted in a number of Government commitments. The Prime Minister wrote a foreword to the report stating that the Government agreed with all its recommendations and were keen to see them implemented. One of the recommendations that strikes a chord with people up and down the country—and certainly with hard-working voluntary organisations and charities—relates to local authority interference in charitable and other public activities based on arguments about health and safety.

As a suitable curtain-raiser for my Bill, and with wonderful timing, the edition of the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times published on Saturday 12 March carried the headline “‘Crazy’ safety rules ban running in pancake races”. The article went on to explain:

“‘Ludicrous’ health and safety rules have been panned for stopping competitors running along Beaulieu High Street in the traditional village pancake races. The annual event was flipped upside down as children and adults—including firefighters—were forbidden from going faster than walking pace on Tuesday afternoon. They were permitted to toss their pancakes.”

That was one thing that the health and safety people did not interfere with. The report went on:

“One eager youngster was even disqualified for infringing the ‘over-zealous’ rules by breaking into a run to cross the finishing line first. The road was closed to traffic and although the running ban was imposed to protect children, it was extended to adult races for the sake of ‘consistency’”.

Needless to say, my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who was not in Lymington at the time, made some very robust comments that were communicated to the local paper. Who would stand up and justify such a ludicrous state of affairs?

I am not going to do that, but I am going to ask my hon. Friend whether he has checked the veracity of that report. He will recall that a story went round the world about a head teacher who had banned children from taking part in conker competitions unless they were wearing goggles. It transpired that that had actually been a joke by the head teacher, and that it had turned into a “true story”, even though it was nothing of the sort.

I am sure that this story is correct. The reports in the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times have a reputation locally for always being very accurate. Its editor, Charles Curry MBE, is over 90. I think he is one of the oldest newspaper editors in the country and I know he is conscientious in ensuring that everything that appears in the paper is fully in accordance with the truth.

May I say how sorry I am that my hon. Friend did not move his Training Wage Bill? I would have voted for it, as I did for his sovereignty Bill, even though that needed some improvement. His second Bill did not need any improvement at all; I would have voted for it wholeheartedly.

On the present Bill, my hon. Friend has usefully drawn our attention to questions that need to be raised about local councils. We know that the Health and Safety Executive has tried to dispel the myths that have developed, and I pay tribute to the organisation. The conker incident was one it dealt with. As for local councils, however, my hon. Friend might want to turn his attention to the chilling effect of the questions that are raised. Too often, people ask whether there is a question that needs to be answered, but because they do not get an answer, they blame the local authority, which might not have taken any action and might not have been consulted. I hope that, whatever happens to the Bill, any local authority people reading our debate will agree to provide easy access to information and will try to let things happen rather than block them—unless there is an overwhelming reason why the organisers of an event need to be hindered.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention and for his indication of support for the Bill I did not move. I did not move it because the Government indicated that they would not support it, whereas they have expressed—informally, at any rate—some support for this Bill. It is important for Bills to make progress as well as be subject to debate, so I thought it would be better to move straight on to my Local Government Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill. I am sure that the issues raised in the Training Wage Bill can be debated on another occasion, as they are fundamental to our current record level of youth unemployment.

May I, through my hon. Friend, invite every employer—public, private or voluntary—to ask how many young people they employ and why the numbers are so few? If the numbers are few because the cost is too great and the effect of employing them not great enough, we can raise their effectiveness, lower the cost or both.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The message from it is that we need to do more preparation to ensure that the next time my Training Wage Bill or similar provision is brought forward, the Government have to face the pressure from employers and from youth organisations, which should help to see it carried through.

As far as local authority issues are concerned, I share my hon. Friend’s point that we must not tar all local authorities with the same brush. Indeed, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health showed its sense of humour and commitment to the game of conkers by sponsoring the conker championships after the incident mentioned earlier. It wanted to shrug off the spoilsport image and dispel the myth that it makes children wear protective goggles for a playground game. It also entered a team in the world conker championships held in Ashton, Northamptonshire back in 2008.

Is it possible that that team used plastic protective gloves when dipping conkers in vinegar to harden the outside in order to get a better chance of winning?

I do not have that sort of information. Since this is all mythical, I am sure that could not have happened in any case, any more than people would have put their conkers in the oven without using protective oven gloves. Obviously, my hon. Friend has great experience in dealing with conkers. One of the most dangerous aspects is using the skewer to make a hole through the centre of the conker, as people need to make sure that they do not puncture themselves at the same time. This all goes down to experience, and why should we not allow people to gain experience in the normal way in the hurly-burly of everyday life and have a bit of fun at the same time? Why are we creating a health and safety culture in which people over-react or fail to act responsibly?

I am distressed to hear about the Shrove Tuesday fun deniers in Hampshire. When we are putting through a Localism Bill, it might initially sound counter-intuitive and centralising to give more powers to the local government ombudsman, but we must remember that localism devolves powers to, and through, individual citizens and communities. What we are discussing is a great example of protecting the individual celebrations that enrich the lives of many of our communities.

I share my hon. Friend’s misgivings. It is extraordinary that a national Parliament should have to intervene, and that we cannot have common sense applied at the local level, but if that is how it is, that is how it must be. In his report, Lord Young hoped that it would not be necessary to introduce too much legislation to implement his recommendation, but said that legislation would have to be introduced if there was no other way of ensuring a sense of perspective and proportionality.

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government will respond to the debate, and I am grateful to him for his informal communications with me over the last couple of days about the Bill. The Bill was drafted as an attempt to implement Lord Young’s recommendation. Clause 2 states:

“Where a local authority bans or imposes restrictions on any event on the grounds of health and safety, the local authority must provide the event organiser with written notification of the decision on the day on which the decision is taken…The written notification must include…the details of the ban or the restriction, and…reasons why the ban or the restriction has been imposed…On receipt of a written notification an event organiser may ask the local authority to review the decision and the local authority must conduct such a review within two weeks of the request being received and issue written notification of its further decision to the event organiser.”

If the local authority must justify its decision in the first place, and give reasons for it, it will probably be a lot more cautious about seeking to ban such events. An individual officer could not use his discretion or apply his prejudice to ban such events, as he would be brought to the attention of the chief executive and councillors of that local authority and have to provide justification. If the matter had not been dealt with satisfactorily within a fortnight, it could ultimately be referred to the local government ombudsman. The Bill would not impose an enormous extra burden on the local government ombudsman, but, in effect, would use his office as a long-stop to ensure that sanity prevailed in relation to health and safety issues.

The Beaulieu pancake race is only the most recent example. The examples that hit the headlines are inevitably the tip of the iceberg, as many other organisations are inhibited from even embarking on such activities because of fear of health and safety problems. I have various press cuttings, one of which, from Tameside, states:

“Town hall chiefs have denied being killjoys after they banned sparklers from Bonfire Night celebrations. Families going to the Richmond Street fair and firework display in Ashton have been told the children’s favourite is prohibited”,

because of

“health and safety considerations…A sparkler can reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees centigrade.”

I am surprised that we still allow sparklers even to be sold in the shops and that so many Members of the House have managed to get this far in life without being burned by a sparkler or having our children burned by sparklers.

There are many examples, including one in my constituency in Ferndown, where the erection of Christmas lights was banned not on the grounds of religion, fortunately, but on the grounds of health and safety. In another cutting, the BBC reported on 1 December that a west Wales town in Cardigan was told that it must go without Christmas lights in the main street because of health and safety concerns. Then, there is an example from the Virtual Festivals website, which reported that at a Devon rock festival last July a band was told that it would have to be without one of its props for an upcoming performance, because the use of a UFO—a fake spaceship—was banned on health and safety grounds,

“which deemed the elevated object a hazard to those in attendance.”

Sometimes, councils or organisers get around such bans by being imaginative. When a rugby club was told that it could not have a big bonfire on bonfire night, it showed its initiative by having a virtual bonfire. The club erected large screens so that people could see a picture of a big fire, and it had sound effects, giving people the impression that the fire was burning strongly. They had quite a lot of liquor to go with it, and I think that it was a very successful event. So it is not all bad news, but, because of the current ludicrous regime, people have had to use their initiative to try to get around such health and safety bans.

Other examples include sack races being banned because the children might fall over and hurt themselves and donkey derbies being banned because the children might hurt themselves. In May 2008, in the donkey derby at Llandudno in Wales, children were replaced as riders by inflatable animals because of health and safety laws, and there is the well-reported story of children not being allowed to wear swimming goggles in the pool on the basis that the goggles might snap and damage their faces. And so it goes on.

We have a killjoy atmosphere and a defensive approach to health and safety, and that is linked—this is obviously not part of my Bill, but part of the background to it—to Lord David Young’s concerns about the creation of an atmosphere in which people feel that they must not take risks because, if they do, they might open themselves up to significant compensation claims. Another of his recommendations is to try to deal with the so-called compensation culture, which I think lies behind many of these crazy examples.

In almost complete contrast with the first Bill today, which deals with reaffirming the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament, this is very much a niche Bill designed to make our country a happier and more joyous place, to encourage more local participation and voluntary activity and to increase the range of activities in which children and adults can participate voluntarily, so that, when the history books come to be written, people do not find that all those traditional activities, which are held in villages and towns throughout the country each year, have been reduced to the lowest common denominator and can be exercised only virtually rather than in reality.

I propose that the Bill be read a Second time, and in so doing I thank the Minister for his indication that the Government are quite supportive of it. If it were ever to go into Committee, it would be some sort of record for myself, because, although I have spoken on numerous Bills in the Chamber on a Friday, I have yet to get a Bill into Committee, so I live in hope that this might be the one that breaks the mould.

I have a few points to make and questions to ask. The Minister may be able to respond to some of them.

One question is whether measures such as this are “localist” or “centralist”. While we have been dealing with the Localism Bill, what I have considered to be sensible amendments and suggestions have been rejected by Ministers on the grounds that they would impose burdens and extra costs on local authorities. We must be careful not to do that in this Bill. Has the Bill a centralist aspect, and should that be avoided? Perhaps the Minister will tell me what he thinks.

Another question is whether the proposed measures could be contained in guidance rather than a Bill which, potentially, imposes burdens on local authorities. Given that the Localism Bill confers 142 order-making powers on the Secretary of State, it would be surprising if there were not some way of incorporating this Bill’s provisions in them.

Clause 2(1) requires a local authority to

“provide the event organiser with written notification of the decision”

to ban or impose restrictions on an event

“on the day on which the decision is taken.”

I find that rather peculiar. In my experience of local government, we hold our meetings in the evenings. It does not strike me as feasible to require a local authority to give written notification on the day on which a decision is taken. It is just a question of wording. I think that some reasonably short time should be specified instead.

It might be more helpful if the hon. Gentleman allowed me to run through my questions first.

Clause 1(3) uses the word “unreasonably” in relation to decisions to ban on the grounds of health and safety. It also appears in the Bill’s long title. The question of what is reasonable and what is unreasonable is a tricky one, although I think we all recognise that, over time, some silly decisions have been taken. The hon. Gentleman cited some of them. Anyone whose event is banned for any reason will feel that the decision was unreasonable, and I fear that burdens would be imposed on local authorities if every decision were challenged.

Clause 2(3) requires a review to be completed

“within two weeks of the request being received”.

Again, I am concerned about the possibly unnecessary extra burdens that that might impose on local authorities. A good event organiser would tend to seek permission for an event a long time before organising it. In my locality, such events as triathlons and marathons are often organised a year in advance.

We hear many stories about decisions that are taken for health and safety reasons, but I think it important for us not to denigrate health and safety entirely. At the time of the Young report on health and safety, a TUC health and safety officer, Hugh Robertson, said:

“For sure, silly things are sometimes done in the name of health and safety and the behaviour of some claims firms can be reprehensible. But the real health and safety scandal in the UK is the 20,000 people who die each year due to injury or diseases linked to their work. A serious review of health and safety would put far more emphasis on dealing with this avoidable death and suffering.”

I think it important for us to bear that in mind.

We have heard about firework displays being abandoned and pancake-tossing races being restricted, but let me make a serious point. On Sunday morning I was at a schools rugby tournament watching my nephew playing for Glasgow Academicals. He and his team played very well, but one of the boys suffered a broken leg in the game. That schools tournament was being held at a ground with proper facilities, and an ambulance safely transported the injured young player. He was able to rejoin his team with his leg in plaster, and be a hero on the way home. We must bear in mind, however, that there can be terrible injuries in rugby matches. This match was being played by 11-year-olds, and they were engaging in contested scrums. If a young person were to suffer a serious neck injury, for example, we would not want them to be a long way from medical help with no suitable transport or paramedics to deal with it. In some sporting events, such as fast contact sports or those involving water, there can be terrible injuries, and there must be a sensible consideration of health and safety to ensure that any such injuries are dealt with properly.

I ask the Minister and the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) to address the concerns I have raised and the points I made about localism and centralism.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) for having brought this important issue before the House. As he points out, it is a great concern of the coalition Government. We think that the balance between enabling events to take place and health and safety considerations may well have got out of kilter over the years. Reference has been made to the 2010 report by our friend Lord Young “Common Sense, Common Safety”, the purpose of which was to look across Whitehall to identify those health and safety laws that had got out of kilter with the reality on the ground.

I know that my hon. Friend is keen to break with his track record of not necessarily getting his private Member’s business through this House, and I shall turn to that topic later. First, however, I want to address some of the key issues he raises, in particular with reference to local authorities, which are the main focus of his Bill.

The Government believe that local authorities have become overly cautious in respect of health and safety—not on all occasions, and not necessarily right across the country, but certainly in individual instances. It is not difficult to find stories that demonstrate that. Indeed, my hon. Friend highlighted many such stories during the debate. Examples include banning sparklers because they are supposedly so dangerous that no child should be allowed, even under supervision, to go anywhere near one, and banning conker fighting. Most people will recall conker fights from their school days.

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. He obviously was not a conker-fighting champion, and it is clear that he carries the burden of that to this day. He should know, however, that conker fighting is a long-established sport in many schools. The notion that we can remove all danger—all possible injury or risk—from every circumstance is a concept whose time has past.

Does the Minister agree that health and safety is sometimes used as an excuse? For instance, schools banning conker fighting is probably more about staff not wanting to clear up all the broken conkers that litter the playground—I remember that from when I was child—than any particular health and safety issue. We must always be careful when conker fighting, however: a friend of mine had a stone that looked remarkably like a conker, and he won many fights using it.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out that conker fighting can sometimes be done in the wrong way. I well remember the many tricks, some of which have been mentioned in the debate, including baking the conker in advance.

Yes, that is a chosen way to try to harden the conker, but I must bring the hon. Gentleman some bad news in that regard: I do not believe that vinegaring conkers does make them sturdy for the purposes of conker fighting.

To be fair and balanced, I must add that there are genuine reasons why activities—conker fighting or otherwise—can and may be banned. The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) rightly pointed out that there are significant health and safety concerns about deaths that happen in the workplace and she cited a figure of 20,000 deaths each year. One death is too many, so health and safety has an important role to play.

However, this debate is about whether health and safety is used as an excuse to prevent perfectly legitimate activities taking place—my hon. Friend suggests that it is—and whether people are overcompensating for the possibility of danger in almost every activity. I am familiar with the stories we hear each year of local authorities choosing to be overly prescriptive and cautious whenever any festival is celebrated—one thinks of the royal wedding that is coming up next month. A woman was recently in the news as she had been told that she could not put bunting up outside her house because it attached to a lamp post across the way. She was told that even though she had been doing this for decades—suddenly this was deemed to be dangerous. I had heard the stories of the Christmas lights that are not put up. I had not heard about the Devon rock festival and the UFO spaceship prop, but those examples sounded bizarre.

An issue has arisen through health and safety being used as a backdrop in order to ban things. Lord Young of Graffham published his report in October, rightly pointing out that more needs to be done to rein back the overzealous use of health and safety laws to ban things. This brings us to the nub of my hon. Friend’s argument, which is that the local government ombudsman could be provided with powers, through this amendment to the way in which he operates, so that he could pare back the more extreme health and safety excesses. The Government are sympathetic to that idea, and I have indicated privately to my hon. Friend that we would like this to be done in time.

However, I now have to inform my hon. Friend that we do not think the Bill goes far enough. Lord Young’s recommendations were clear on this matter. He made a number of recommendations about the compensation culture; the low-hazard workplace; raising standards; insurance; education; health and safety legislation; and local authorities. In particular, he recommended that when local authorities ban or curtail events on health and safety grounds, the official banning the event should write about those reasons and allow them to be presented to the organiser of the proposed event. The hon. Lady rightly pointed out that hearing a decision only on the day may not provide sufficient notice if a meeting takes place in the evening. That well made point demonstrates at least one of the things that needs a little further thought and investigation.

Lord Young says that his approach would allow citizens to have a route for redress when they want to challenge local officials’ decisions. He said that local authorities should conduct an internal review of all refusals on the grounds of health and safety. In other words, he proposes that we go even further in order to provide redress, saying not only that councils should provide a written statement, which would not put the event back on and which would not make any difference at all, but that there should be some kind of process whereby citizens can see what has happened and why, and have the opportunity therefore to challenge it, perhaps through the local media.

Lord Young also says that citizens should be able to refer unfair decisions to the ombudsman and have a fast-track process to ensure that decisions can be overturned within two weeks. Again, this all depends very much on timing. The hon. Lady made the important point that some events are set up months, if not years, in advance, so putting in place some kind of fast-track process, perhaps taking no more than a couple of weeks, to examine and potentially overturn a bad decision would be a very good idea. Again, it would need to be incorporated in this legislation.

The point that I was trying to make earlier was that councils use health and safety as an excuse. If it is not that, they will find some other reason to say that they cannot do it, because they did not want to do it in the first place.

That is a wise and well made point. Far too often, that is precisely what happens. As the hon. Gentleman said in his first intervention, there is an attempt to hide behind health and safety legislation in wanting to ban something while in fact having a completely different agenda. It is important that there are some powers of redress that go beyond the local authority merely explaining in writing that it has banned it, because it will trot out the usual reasons for the ban—it thought the event was dangerous for traffic, and so on—but will not give the proper and full redress that is required.

I had some slight experience of local government in the past. Does my right hon. Friend agree that he needs to look at the possibility that the local authority will, so to speak, fund it out? In other words, in order to close a road for a function—I will not name any councils, but I know of a few that tend to do this—it will come up with some exorbitant fee as an excuse, and then try to land that fee on the organisers.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Indeed, there are often reports of precisely that, and I have seen it happen. It joins up with what the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) said about how it is possible to hide behind the health and safety legislation in a variety of ways. When a local authority does not want an event to happen—perhaps it feels that it is in competition with something that it is doing—one way of avoiding it is to describe the problem as one of health and safety, but the other way is to price people out of the market. That goes completely against the spirit of localism, which I will talk about in a moment. There is an idea that local communities do not know best and that only a local authority can make these decisions, and they can hide behind excessive sums of money, making it almost impossible for organisers to put on the event. That is completely wrong, and it is something else that we are keen to address that is not yet encapsulated in the terms of the Bill.

I know from my own experience of a case where the council said that the police had raised objections, for a whole host of reasons. People often then say, “Well, okay, the police have a problem, so we won’t do it.” When one follows it through and contacts the police to find out what is going on, they say they do not know anything about it. That goes back to the fundamental point that the council will try to price it out of existence or say that it is somebody else’s fault, whereas the bottom line is that they simply do not want it to happen.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Too often apparently insurmountable blockages are placed in the way of organisers who, rightly, want to get out there and represent their communities. Perhaps they want to have a street party to celebrate the royal wedding or another festival, or just to bring the community together on their estate or in their neighbourhood through a community day, yet they are constantly blocked. At every turn there is a cul-de-sac—a reason why it cannot be done.

Often those reasons are entirely spurious and trumped up. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside mentioned the interesting situation in which the police apparently did not even know that they were being used as the excuse, or alibi, and cited as the fundamental blockage. Of course, that sounds very convincing. When a local authority officer tells someone that the police have banned the event, it is very hard to challenge that. It has an air of realism or likelihood about it—it sounds official—and of course that puts off all but the most tenacious citizens. Again, that is wrong.

The Minister says, and I am grateful to him for it, that there is much in the Bill that he is content with, and that he wants it to go further. Will he explain how the Government propose to deal with the legislation arising from Lord Young’s recommendations? I have proposed a number of private Members’ Bills on individual items from that list of recommendations. How will the Government proceed with the overall implementation of the recommendations?

My hon. Friend should be under no illusion that we are a fundamentally deregulatory coalition Government who are keen to sweep away burdens. We want to allow people to break free, particularly in their own communities, in order to put on street parties or to change their communities through things such as neighbourhood plans. The direct answer is that we will implement the recommendations in a variety of ways, including through the Localism Bill, which has been referred to. The Bill takes forward many of Lord Young’s ideas and concepts, including through neighbourhood plans, which will allow neighbourhoods to come together and describe the kind of place that they want to be. That cannot necessarily be blocked by the town hall. Suddenly, we will find that there is the flexibility to do many more things.

I would not want this discussion to pass without saying something in defence of my local council. Hon. Members are very unfortunate in their experiences of local councils. Salford city council runs a lot of large community events, so it must be very different. It runs proms in the park, Christmas ice skating and many firework displays. We are obviously not as risk averse in my neck of the woods as those other places. I have found that the factor that does get in the way of events such as triathlons and charity fundraising runs, which I am very interested in, is clashes with TV football schedules, and I would be grateful if the Minister commented on that. If Manchester United are scheduled to be on TV at 3 pm, one can forget about a fun run. What is a council meant to do when the police say, “You can’t have your run and this football match”?

Again, the police and the local authority have a legitimate role in, for example, crowd management and in ensuring that events go off smoothly. The hon. Lady mentioned her authority, so I will take the liberty of mentioning mine. Welwyn Hatfield council generally does a superb job on this sort of thing. It allows fun runs and each year there is a festival called Kaleidoscope, which now attracts upwards of 10,000 people. It started as a small, grass-roots, neighbourhood festival and has grown into something much larger. I pay tribute to the many local authorities that get this right. Of course, they do have to make judgments, along with the police and other authorities, about the safety of each individual event.

I hope that the Minister, in putting the legislation together, will consider the other side of the argument. When I was a council leader, we had a file labelled “N.U.T.T.E.R.”. There were vexatious individuals who used to plague the local authority for absolutely everything. The local authority has to be in a position to say no and, if the individual is persistent, to say no firmly once and for all.

I think that the whole House is grateful to my hon. Friend for his experience not only as a local authority leader, but of the residents who made up his local authority.

One reason I feel it is necessary to look further at this Bill, rather than rush into it, is that it raises some interesting points, such as those made by my hon. Friend just now and the shadow Minister. The question is, when is a decision reasonable and when is it not reasonable? Does the local government ombudsman have the position, knowledge or expertise to make such judgments? This is a serious point. The point of having the local government ombudsman is to provide redress for a problem that has happened, just as with the parliamentary ombudsman. Like other ombudsmen, the local government ombudsman does not usually judge whether something is within health and safety rules. To ask the ombudsman to do that would, I fear, be to ask it to create a new structure or back-office function. After all, knowing what is health and safety and what is not is usually the product of experience. It comes from the development of procedures and from an awful lot of work by the Health and Safety Executive, local authorities, safety officers and so on. If the ombudsman were suddenly plucked out to make that judgment, that would go much further than its usual role of redress. For that reason and several others, I do not feel we have our ducks in a row as far as the Bill goes.

On that point, I think my right hon. Friend misreads the Bill. I want the ombudsman to adjudicate and to intervene where the process has not been complied with. I rely on the transparency of the process to bring to public attention the reasons for banning something, in the hope that there would not be any need for further adjudication.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend again. His intervention demonstrates that there is quite a bit more work to be done before we all feel that sufficient procedures are in place and that the ombudsman would not overstep into a role of judgment on health and safety grounds, which I think would be taking things too far.

In the few minutes remaining, I wish to address some of the other comments that have been made. The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South was interested to discover how we thought the Bill fitted with the idea of localism. I know that she has gained good experience—or at least experience—from the Localism Bill Committee, and that she has examined the matter carefully. We believe that localism can flourish only if we put a framework in place. If we say to people, “Just go and do whatever you want”, but there are no rules, no framework and no guidance—nothing in place at all, not even a skeleton—that is not a route to localism. The natural order would regain control and local authorities and central Government would revert to type.

We need to put limitations in place, and the Bill is in that spirit and is intended to do exactly that. It is intended to put in place a degree of control, with the possibility that citizens will have power over their local authorities rather than the other way around.

I am fascinated to hear that the Minister thinks we should have frameworks. Perhaps he would like to tell me—it might be slightly out of context, but he has brought us on to this point—why we do not have a national planning policy framework when we do have legislation that will bring in neighbourhood plans. If neighbourhood plans can be linked to the Localism Bill, that will be important, but that Bill has almost reached Report without having a framework in it.

I do not want to try your patience by taking us too far off the subject of the local government ombudsman, Mr Deputy Speaker, but the simple answer is that we will have a national planning framework. It will be consulted on by the summer, and it will be put in place as precisely what Members are arguing for this afternoon—a framework within which everyone can operate fairly.

There is certainly a lot that is good about the Bill that we are discussing today. The intentions behind it are certainly in the right direction, but my concern is that we have not yet gone far enough for it. We have not had the opportunity to work out how the local government ombudsman would make the decisions set out in the Bill, particularly if it had a quasi-adjudicatory role, which I think it almost certainly would.

Does the Minister agree that when people go to the ombudsman, they perhaps do not realise that, as the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) pointed out, it is about process? It is not about outcomes, it is about whether people have been treated fairly and whether the correct steps have been taken. People who have come to me have often thought that it is more about the outcome than the process.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and he is absolutely right. It is often misunderstood that the ombudsman is there to look at process and not to sit as judge and jury or make up or develop case law. The Bill as currently drafted misses that point, although I take the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch that that is not intentional. We need to do further work to ensure that the ombudsman’s role is appropriate—if, indeed, that is the way to go.

We want not only to resolve the issue and peel back the layers of health and safety, which all too often stop good community activities taking place, but to go further. We want to ensure that, throughout the country, come next month, there are street parties wherever people want them. The cost has already been mentioned, and we do not want people to pay for, for example, closing the road on the eve of the royal wedding. Some groups might want to hold a celebration on the day itself, and they have to go through the whole process and fill in all the documents again.

I am sure that many Members have been involved in such events, but for those who have not, they are not insubstantial pieces of work. The documents that must be completed before any public event can go ahead often run to 20 to 40 pages. They ask a range of questions, many of which are way beyond the remit or knowledge of the individuals who fill them in. More often than not, they are nothing to do with the type of event that is put on. Too often, they are not accessible online and people still have physically to go to the town hall to pick up the paperwork. The bureaucracy is sometimes way out of kilter with the size of the event, which can often be small and involve people in only a few dozen houses. Again, we reach the uncomfortable position whereby people are simply prevented from taking part in the big society around them. That should not happen.

The Government’s view is that local authorities should help. They should not only accept that such events can take place and that people ought to be able to do things without unnecessary intervention from the ’ealth and safety police, but encourage the events. An important part of living in a local community is having the ability to do things, not because the Government have said that people have to do them, or the local authority has decided to stage a fun day, although that is perfectly legitimate, but because local residents—the community—have got together and made the decisions. Nothing could be more powerful in helping a community develop and produce better community relations than people coming together and doing those things themselves. I call it my painting the wall test. If people paint their own wall, they have some pride in the work; if somebody else does the job, it is just another wall. Community events, which bring the entire residential community together, are enormously important.

We must sweep away the health and safety culture that far too often prevents that. The Government will seriously consider introducing plans. We need a little more time to ensure that some of the loopholes that we have identified in the important debate this afternoon are ironed out. However, I give my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch an undertaking that we will endeavour to do that. I would welcome the opportunity to work with him and other hon. Members to ensure that we get it right.

We believe that implementing Lord Young’s recommendations is an enormously important part of ensuring that health and safety regulations are pared down to the point where they pass the common-sense test: is the risk involved in proportion to the benefit from the activity? That is a simple test, which can easily be applied and accommodated. However, we need to go a little further, and not just write something to the event’s planner to say that it is out of order for whatever reason, but ensure that citizens have a right of redress. They should know why their event was unable to go ahead and how many such events the local authority or those nearby are cancelling. We should consider whether a power ought to be vested somewhere, notwithstanding the complications that we have discussed about the ombudsman and others—

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 13 May.