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Local Audit and Accountability Bill [Lords] (Instruction)

Volume 569: debated on Monday 28 October 2013

I beg to move,

That it be an instruction to the Local Audit and Accountability Bill [Lords] Committee that it has power to make provision in the Bill about:

(1) polls consequent on parish meetings, and

(2) access to meetings and documents of local government bodies.

The motion seeks to widen the scope of the Bill to provide for the measures to be introduced. I take this opportunity to thank the Opposition, who have offered their support for the motion. I look forward to working with them in Committee.

Modernising parish polls is a long-standing issue that was raised during the passage of the Bill in the other place by the Earl of Lytton. It was agreed to consider amending the Bill in this House to include a power for the Secretary of State to make provision in regulations to modernise the rules on parish polls. We need to define more tightly what constitutes a legitimate topic for a poll, and modernise the archaic way polls are conducted, not least to ensure that all electors in the parish have an opportunity to vote. This will allow all local people to have a say on issues that genuinely affect their parish.

On openness, we want to increase levels of transparency to make it harder for councils to make decisions out of the sight of those they serve—something hon. Members touched on this afternoon. In particular, we want the public to be able to film, blog or tweet at all meetings where they are allowed to be present. Some councils are still refusing to allow people to do this, preventing local people from using modern technology to hold their elected representatives to account. Councillors should not be shy about the public seeing the great work they do for their local communities. We have already legislated on this matter for meetings of a local authority executive. The new provisions will allow us to extend that level of openness to other council meetings, closing the loopholes that councils are using to refuse the public access.

I welcome you to your new role, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is the first time I have spoken under your chairmanship.

I refer the House to my remarks on Second Reading on the instruction issued to extend the scope of the Bill. I repeat my thanks to the Minister for the constructive dialogue we have had in recent days. We support the Government’s intentions on this matter. We will, of course, want to look at the detail and hope there will be strong consultation with many organisations and interest groups, not least the National Association of Local Councils, which made representations on parish polls. We should also spend some time referring back to the excellent debate in the other place, led by the Earl of Lytton.

On modernising practice in council chambers, in this world of blogging we support the principle. We are all concerned to ensure that it will enhance, not disrupt, democratic proceedings. I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) that it may enable the public to turn off council meetings when they choose, but I am sure we all hope that it will encourage the public to tune in and take more interest in local democracy.

Question put and agreed to.