Transfer of certain powers to make traffic regulation orders and experimental traffic orders and extension of powers to make experimental traffic orders
9.—(1) The following subsections shall be substituted for section 1(2) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967:—
"(2) Subject to subsection (2A) of this section and to section 82 of this Act, the authority having power to make traffic regulation orders—
(a) as respects roads other than trunk roads, shall be the local authority, that is to say, the county council in England or Wales and the local highway authority in Scotland; and (b) as respects trunk roads, shall be the appropriate Minister.
(2A) An order made by virtue of subsection (2)( a) above may relate to a length of trunk road if the order forms part of a scheme of general traffic control relating to roads at least one of which has a junction with the length of trunk road in question.
(2B) No order relating to a trunk road shall be made by virtue of subsection (2A) above without the consent of the appropriate Minister."
(2) The following subsections shall be substituted for section 9(2) of that Act—
"(2) Subject to section 82 of this Act, the authority having power to make an experimental traffic order—
(a) as respects any roads outside Greater London shall be the authority who would have power to make an order section 1(2) and 1(2A) of this Act in relation to them; and (b) as respects any roads in Greater London, shall be the authority who would have power to make an order under section 6(2) of this Act in relation to them.
(2A) No order relating to a trunk road shall be made by virtue of subsection (2) above without the consent of the appropriate Minister."
(3) In the said section 9—
- "(3) An experimental traffic order shall not continue in force for longer than 18 months.
- (3A) Subject to sections 84A, 84B and 84C of this Act—
- (a) where an authority have made an experimental traffic order for a period of less than 18 months; and
- (b) the order has not ceased to be in force, the authority may from time to time by order under this subsection direct that it shall continue in force for a further period ending not less than 18 months after it first came into force.";
10.—(1) The following section shall be substituted for section 21 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 (schemes for establishment of pedestrian crossings on roads other than trunk roads):—
"Powers of local authorities with respect to pedestrian crossings on roads other than trunk roads
21.—(1) Subject to subsection (2) below, a local authority shall have power—
(1) Before establishing, altering or removing a crossing a local authority—
(3) It shall be the duty of a local authority to execute any works (including the placing, erection, maintenance, alteration and removal of marks and traffic signs) required—
(4) in this section "local authority" means—
(5) Before the Greater London Council establish, alter or remove a crossing on any road under this section they shall consult any other council, being the council of a London borough or the Common Council of the City of London, within whose area the road is situated."
(2) Subsections (2) and (3) of the section substituted for section 21 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 by subsection (1) above shall cease to have effect in relation to the alteration and removal of crossings established under the said section 21 before the passing of this Act as they have effect in relation to the alteration and removal of crossings so established thereafter.
(3) Any regulations under section 23 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 (pedestrian crossing regulations) shall apply to crossings which may be established under the section substituted for section 21 of that Act by subsection (1) above as they apply to crossings established under that section before the passing of this Act.
(4) Any reference to a crossing in the said section 23 is a reference to a crossing established before or after the passing of this Act.
Abolition of Ministerial powers in respect of local authority orders prohibiting traffic on roads to be used as playgrounds
11. In section 26 of that Act (powers of local authorities to prohibit traffic on roads to be used as playgrounds) subsection (5) (which gives the appropriate Minister power to vary or revoke an order made under that section by a local highway authority) shall cease to have effect.
Orders preventing vehicular access to premises for more than eight hours in any 24
12.—(1) In section 84(B)(1) of that Act (requirement of ministerial consent for the inclusion of certain provisions in traffic regulation orders) after the word "except" there shall be inserted the words "in a case to which subsection (1A) or (1B) below applies or".
(2) The following subsections shall be inserted after that subsection:—
"(1A) This subsection applies where—
(a) it is proposed to include in the order any such provision as is mentioned in subsection (1)(a) above; and (b) either— (i) no owner, lessee or occupier of premises such as are mentioned in subsection (1)(a) above has submitted to the authority any objection to the inclusion of that provision in the order; or (ii) any such owner, lessee or occupier who has submitted such an objection has withdrawn it.
(1B) This subsection applies in the case of any order proposed to be made under section 9 above where—
(a) it is proposed to include in the order any such provision as is mentioned in subsection (1)(a) above; and (b) the effect of the prohibition by the order of the use of the road to which it relates or of any restriction on the use of that road contained in the order would be to prevent vehicles, or vehicles of any class, being loaded or unloaded in that road or to prevent persons boarding or alighting from a stage carriage on that road; and (c) either— (i) no person has submitted to the authority any objection to the making of the order on the ground that it would prevent vehicles, or vehicles of that class, being loaded or unloaded in the road and no person being the operator of a stage carriage service (as defined in section 44(3) of the Transport Act 1980) has submitted to the authority any objection to the making of the order on the ground that it would prevent persons boarding or alighting from a stage carriage being used in that service in the road; or (ii) any such person who has submitted an objection on the ground has withdrawn it."
Traffic regulation in special areas in the country-side and traffic signs etc. on Crown roads
13.—(1) In section 32(4) of the Countryside Act 1968 (by virtue of which the appropriate Minister may only exercise the power of making a traffic regulation order conferred by subsection (3) of that section as respects a road if the Countryside Commission or, as the case may be, the Countryside Commission for Scotland have made submissions to him as to the desirability of making such an order) for the words from "except" to the end of the subsection there shall be substituted the words "unless—
(2) Subsection (9) of that section (power of appropriate Minister, after consulting the appropriate Crown authority, to give directions to the local authority concerned with any Crown road requiring them to remove, or cause to be removed, traffic signs etc.) shall cease to have effect.
Traffic on bridges etc.
14.—(1) The following enactments (which relate to the control of traffic on bridges and, amongst other things, give certain powers in relation to its control) shall cease to have effect—
(2) Nothing in subparagraph (1) above shall affect—
(3) From the passing of this Act any notice placed on a bridge by authority of a person such as is mentioned in section 6 of the Locomotive Act 1861 shall be deemed to have been placed there—
(4) Nothing in this paragraph affects a bridge which does not carry a road (within the meaning of section 104(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967).
15.—(1) Section 1(9) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 (power of appropriate Minister to repeal local Acts extending the powers of section 26 of the Road Traffic Act 1960) shall cease to have effect.
(2) Any order made under section 1(9) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 shall continue to have effect notwithstanding the repeal of that subsection.").
The noble Viscount said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Ridley, I beg formally to move the amendment standing in his name.
I think that we have already discussed Amendment No. 16A in connection with an earlier amendment. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, explained that this schedule originally appeared in the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 1) Bill and then it mysteriously vanished, like the smile of the Cheshire cat, as he put it, and that he was causing it to reappear. He was arguing that the Government had rightly included it in the original Bill and therefore it was suggested that it should be reincorporated in the No. 2 Bill. The Minister, in three or four sentences, agreed with his noble friend without giving any explanation of why the schedule had disappeared in the first place.However, some extremely important matters are dealt with in this new schedule, and perhaps noble Lords may not have studied it with the degree of intensity with which they studied the Bill itself because they were not sure that the Government were going to accept the proposals of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. They might have thought that the Government had every intention of leaving out these proposals when they brought forward the No. 2 Bill, and since some very substantial matters are there dealt with, I think that we are owed from the Minister a little more of an explanation than we had in answer to the previous amendment. I hope that the noble Earl will say why the Government saw fit to drop the proposal from the No. 1 and No. 2 Bills and why they now think it advisable, on the short recommendation of the noble Viscount, to reintroduce it with very little discussion.
I would be delighted to help the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in any way I can but I fear that the noble Lord's powers of concentration must have slipped somewhat. I did give a certain explanation as to why he accepted this. I explained, when Amendment No. 9 was first introduced, that the amendment had the effect of restoring parts of the No. 1 Bill which relaxes ministerial controls and highway regulation matters. They were omitted from the present Bill because of the pressure of time. They implemented proposals in the Government's White Paper, Central Government Controls over Local Authorities.I said to my noble friend Lord Ridley that I was grateful to him for incorporating in this amendment changes which my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport had agreed after considering representations which had been made in response to the White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said that the Government have introduced these amendments. They have not. It is my noble friend Lord Ridley. All I was saying was that as these were primarily things with which we agreed, as they were the result of wide consultation, as they were uncontroversial, and as they would relieve local authorities of burdens, inconveniences and limitations, which they would like to see the back of sooner rather than later, the Government would be happy to have this incorporated into this Bill. Had my friend not put it in, it would have been our intention to produce similar amendments at some later stage in some other legislation. As he has seen fit to put them in now, we are happy to accept them.
I think the explanations my noble friend Lord Ferrers gave were wholly satisfactory to my noble friend Lord Ridley. If he had been present he would have been glad to say so.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[ Amendment No. 17 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 18:
Page 3, line 8, leave out ("and").
The noble and learned Lord said: It might be convenient if I explained Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 together. Amendment 18 is simply a paving amendment to make way for Amendment 19. The purpose of Amendment 19 is first of all to extend to Scotland, and then to certain other bodies having a call on the rates, the provisions contained in Clause 2. In relation to Scotland, I should like to explain that at the time this Bill was first introduced in the other place my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland had hoped that it would be possible to make arrangements with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities concerning the publication of information. Consultations about the publication of financial information are still continuing, but the convention have made it clear that they are unable to reach agreement at the present time over the Secretary of State's wishes as regards the publication of information about manpower.
The latest manpower statistics for Scottish local authorities reveal an upward trend, in direct contradiction of present Government policy. It is of deep concern to the Secretary of State for Scotland that aggregate manpower levels seem to be about 4,000 above the level which pertained when he came to office, despite his exhortations to local authorities to reduce manning levels. The Secretary of State believes that those local authorities which have decided to pursue policies which are contrary to the Government's wishes should be held fully accountable for that decision, through the regular publication of basic information about manpower. In these circumstances my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland feels that he should now take the opportunity, provided by the consideration of this Bill in this Committee, to provide powers similar to those already in Clause 2 to affect local authorities in Scotland.
The initial focus of any code of practice prepared for Scotland would be on manpower levels and would be prepared in consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. He very much hopes that a code agreed by that association will be adopted by all Scottish local authorities and that regulations will not be necessary.
As regards the other types of authority included in this amendment, it is the Government's intention that police and fire authorities and the Inner London Education Authority should be held accountable for their decisions, as they affect ratepayers in the same way that is intended for local authorities in general. The special constitution of police and fire authorities require that there should be scope in legislation for separate codes of practice to be prepared specifically for the guidance of these bodies. Following representations from the Greater London Council and others, it is clear that the Inner London Education Authority should clearly be seen to be separately accountable for the provision of education in Inner London. Without this amendment, we are advised that this would not be possible. Accordingly, I commend this amendment to your Lordships.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 3, line 9, at end insert—
("(g) in Scotland, a regional, islands or district council; (h) a fire authority constituted by a combination scheme under section 5 or 6 of the Fire Services Act 1947, or in Scotland, a joint committee constituted by an administration scheme under section 36 of that Act; (j) a police committee constituted under section 2 of the Police Act 1964 or in Scotland, a police authority constituted under section 2 of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967; (k) a combined police authority constituted in accordance with the provisions of an amalgamation scheme under section 21 of the Police Act 1964 or in Scotland, a joint police committee constituted in accordance with the provisions of an amalgamation scheme under section 21 or 21A of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967; and (l) the Inner London Education Authority.").
The noble and learned Lord said: I beg to move.
May I ask the Minister a question about ILEA? There have been consultations with other councils, and so on, which have been asked to produce information. Can the Minister tell me whether there have been any consultations with ILEA?
I am sorry, I cannot answer that question immediately but I hope I shall be able to do so in a little while.
Should we not have this information? I am sorry I missed the short speech of the Lord Advocate on this point. It is strange to have a second thought at this very late stage in the Bill and to introduce something applying to Scotland which was not there originally. As I understand it, there has been no agreement with the Scottish local authorities about this. I find it difficult to justify this sudden thought by the Government that they should be able to demand information from local authorities, at a time when they are seeking to restrict the expenditure of local authorities. Can we be given clear information about the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and their attitude to this?
I perhaps should say that the information for which the noble Baroness, Lady David, asked is not quite the same information as that which is asked for by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. So far as the information that he has asked for is concerned, I tried to give that and explained that the Secretary of State for Scotland tried to reach agreement with COSLA and had gone reasonably far along the road. As at present advised, however, it does not seem likely that he would be able to achieve complete agreement on what is required. In view of that position, therefore, he felt it was right that the Committee should be asked that these powers should be added to the Bill.Regarding the information for which the noble Baroness, Lady David, asks, so far as I can ascertain—and it is fairly provisional—there was discussion, but not with ILEA itself.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but of course it is far from satisfactory. Can he please tell me if there will be proper consultations with ILEA?
There are certainly to be consultations with ILEA about the form of information required. So far as this particular proposal is concerned, it is a proposal which would lead only in the first instance to a code affecting ILEA. There will of course be consultation about the form of information that might be provided.
This would apply to the Scottish local authorities, too?
There has certainly been a good deal of consultation with the Scottish local authorities already on this subject.
Yes, but there has been no agreement so far.
I accept that, but the consultations will certainly go on. The Secretary of State for Scotland is very anxious to proceed by agreement if possible. That has always been his object in this particular exercise. It is the reason that these powers were not sought in the first instance. At present it looks as though agreement may not be possible and therefore it is wise to take these powers. It does not at all mean that consultation will not continue.
Consultation is right and proper with the Scottish authorities, whether you get agreement at the end of it or not. Who are the people who have been consulted about ILEA? Why have not the representatives of ILEA been consulted about ILEA?
I think that the primary consultation about ILEA was with the GLC, and from that it seems to have emerged that there was considerable scope for separating the functions of ILEA in relation to information from the others. Indeed, from Amendment No. 17 which was put down I had rather taken it that this was a view which was shared by noble friends of the noble Baroness opposite, and it certainly seems to me to be a reasonable idea in the circumstances.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 20:
Page 3, line 10, leave out ("It shall he the duty of the Secretary of State to") and insert ("The Secretary of State may").
The noble and learned Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to remove the provision that the Secretary of State shall have a duty to make codes and to replace it with a discretion. This seems particularly appropriate in view of the fact that the provisions of Clause 2 have been extended in the way that I have just described; and, if I may make a particular reference to Scotland, it is to make it perfectly plain that the Secretary of State for Scotland will have no duty to make a code if he can reach agreement with the local authorities without that.
The result of this amendment will be to ensure that the Secretary of State will have the flexibility which is necessary to devise codes of practice and any supporting regulations which are designed with either a general or limited coverage of authorities, as seems most appropriate in the particular circumstances. Discretion appears better than duty in this context, and I therefore commend this amendment to your Lordships. I beg to move.
I think this is a slight improvement, and we would welcome this amendment.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 21:
Page 3, line 14, at end insert—
("(2A) In relation to the Inner London Education Area functions conferred on education authorities by the Education Acts 1944 to 1980 shall be treated for the purposes of this section as conferred on the Inner London Education Authority.").
The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment is really technical in character, to make possible the amendment which I referred to earlier so far as the Inner London Education Authority is concerned. It is to make it possible to treat it for the purposes of this particular clause, and this particular clause only, as the education authority. As noble Lords will appreciate, the Inner London Education Authority is, strictly speaking, a committee of the Greater London Council, and it is for that reason that it is necessary to make this amendment. I would ask your Lordships to accept it, and I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 22:
Page 3, line 14, at end insert—
("( ) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) above an authority to whom this section applies shall publish in respect of each financial year such information as the Secretary of State may prescribe about the arrangements of that authority in that year for the recruitment and training of disabled persons and for the employment, training and advancement of disabled employees.").
The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 22 and to speak to Amendment No. 27, which is related to it. During the Committee stage in another place on what is now the Companies Act 1980, the Government accepted an amendment which required companies to provide for the Secretary of State each year information about their arrangements during the preceding year in respect of the recruitment and training of disabled persons, and of the employment, training and advancement of disabled employees. Regulations implementing that are now in force.
During the Report stage in this House of the Health Services Bill, I moved an amendment designed to place a similar obligation on statutory health authorities. In his reply, the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, re-affirmed that the Government were concerned that all employers in the public and private sectors should accept their proper responsibility for employing disabled people. He said, further, that the Secretary of State for Social Services would be drawing the attention of health authorities to the obligation being laid on companies to provide this information, and that he would be discussing with health authorities in what way they could best meet the Government's objectives. In the light of those assurances I withdrew the amendment. These amendments, to which I now speak, would place upon local authorities an obligation similar to that placed on companies.
The record of local authorities is not good in this matter of employing disabled persons. During the four years 1976 to 1979, no English metropolitan district and no English non-metropolitan county satisfied the 3 per cent. quota. In 1976, 32.8 per cent. of English non-metropolitan districts satisfied the quota, but by 1979 this figure had fallen steadily to 17.2 per cent. Throughout the four years, only one Greater London authority satisfied the quota. Among the Welsh counties the position is much the same, although the Welsh districts have a better record. Scottish regions and Scottish Island authorities all failed to satisfy the quota, while only a quarter to a third of Scottish districts did so. It is clear that there is very great room for improvement, and it seems appropriate to arrange, as these amendments do, for progress to be carefully monitored. I beg to move.
We should like to support this amendment.
too, welcome the amendment in the sense that it draws to our attention the need for public bodies, local authorities in particular, to account for their performance as employers, particularly in relation to the disabled. In the course of the public consultations which we have held on the publication of information initiative, we have received submissions on a wide variety of local authority activities which are felt to be worthy of public attention, including the views of organisations representing the disabled, and from various trade unions. We will take due account of all these suggestions in framing the codes of practice specifying the information which is to be published, within the confines of our concern not to overburden local authorities with additional, unnecessary administrative procedures.However sympathetic we are to the noble Lord's intentions, the clause as already drafted would enable us to achieve all that the amendment seeks if it were decided to do so. At present, by the clause the Secretary of State is given complete discretion to specify the information which authorities should publish, and if necessary to secure such publication by making statutory regulations enforcing all or part of the relevant code of practice. Strictly speaking, therefore, the amendment is unnecessary to achieve its intentions. When it comes to preparing codes of practice on publication of information of the appropriate type, I can assure noble Lords that we will take account of the views expressed in relation to this amendment. I think, however, that we should have to have regard to the degree of detail that it is appropriate to go into in the various codes of practice, and I would not wish today to give a firm commitment to including detailed information about employers dealing with the disabled, since this might be out of keeping with the more general type of information that will be the focus of the codes to be prepared. Therefore, sympathetic though we are to the spirit of the amendment, we consider it unnecessary, and for the reasons I have given I hope the noble Lord will see his way clear to withdrawing this amendment.
I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord for his reply. I welcome the fact that he re-affirmed once again the Government's concern in this matter and their desire that public bodies should play their proper part in employing disabled people. I am not altogether happy that the arrangements which he suggested could be put into force under the Bill will actually achieve this end. He said that the Minister could take action, but he did not say that he would take action. We shall have to wait to see what he does under the powers already in the Bill if we do not press this amendment. However, I should like to consider further what the noble and learned Lord has said, and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved manuscript Amendment No. 22ZA:
Page 3, line 14, at end insert:
("(2A) Any code issued under this Section shall not require the publication of information more frequently than annually except for the following categories—
(a) manpower statistics; (b) progress in dealing with planning applications; (c) land holdings and land transactions; (d) progress on housing construction projects.
(2B) The categories mentioned in subsection (2A) above may be extended by Order subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament.").
The noble Viscount said: I beg to move the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Ridley. All the local authorities that I know are in favour of full disclosure of information; the more the better. It is in their own interests that their electorate should be fully informed of what they are doing and the reason why. Therefore, we are in favour of codes of practice. I think the reservation of those authorities that I have been in touch with is about the degree to which there should be central direction in this manner.
The Government are proposing that there should be three codes of practice issued under Clause 2. The first deals with information to be published with rate demands; and this code has already been issued. The second deals with information to be provided in annual reports on financial and non-financial performances together with key indicators for main local government services. That seems to be sensible. The third deals with information published quarterly or at more frequent intervals than annually. It is there, I think, that there are reservations. The first two objectors seem excellent. This third one, at quarterly intervals, seems to involve an unnecessary degree of central Government direction and would very likely involve local authorities in additional expense. As the main committees of most local authorities are held in public, a great deal of information already gets out through those normal channels; so that the object of this amendment, while approving of the first two of the circumstances in which codes of practice are proposed by the Government, is to suggest that in the case of more frequent reports than annual reports there should not be any statutory direction made. I beg to move.
I should like to support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Amory, because it incorporates a number of misgivings which I myself share. I have other reservations about this clause which I shall deal with in my own amendment which follows; but I think it is important that we stick strictly to the principle which the Government have now accepted: that all this should be done by way of voluntary codes devised by the associations in co-operation with the Government and issued by the Secretary of State but not, on the whole, prescribed in detail by statute through Parliament. The restrictions and constraints that my noble friend's amendment recommends would fall in line with my general approach to the whole matter.
I welcome the amendment moved by the noble Viscount. I think that generally most local authorities probably already provide a fair amount of information voluntarily. There are local authorities which are obscurantist and do not do so and for that reason mainly I welcome from these Benches the concept of the publication of information by local authorities. However, what worries me is the public being inundated with almost continual reports and indications of what the local authority is doing when they do not want that kind of information. I have a letter from the Wye Forest District Council in the Midlands in which they say:
They go on:"Ever since we came into being we have published an annual report of our activities over the past 12 months and our corporate plans showing our proposals for the next three years. We distribute copies of this document to all our members, our local county councils, the county council, all other district councils of the county and a long list of local organisations. We also make it known that it is available for any member of the public who may request a copy. The solid fact is that we are very rarely asked for a copy".
The abstract of accounts is one medium proposed for the dissemination of information in this Bill. This council and other local authorities which have contacted me, suggest that, if this amendment is not accepted, to comply with the provisions of the Bill would not add to the sum of human information and knowledge in the districts and the county but would add considerably to the cost—which is contrary to the expressed desire of the present Government. Therefore, I think this amendment (if the Government can see their way to supporting it) would retain a very important part of this Bill—that is, the implementation of public information provisions about things which are important to the public—would make certain that recalcitrant councils fell into place and at the same time would prevent local authorities having to take on extra staff at extra cost to distribute information at a frequency which I am sure the average member of the public would not want. I hope the Government will accept this amendment."A further and more relevant example of public interest is that we sell an average of only one copy of our abstract of accounts to the public each year".
I should like to ask two questions. Having had this manuscript amendment only this afternoon, I should like a little longer to think about it. I should like to ask if it comes from all the associations or whether this is just from the ACC. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, gave his support to it. I know he is not supposed to be speaking for the ACC, but I should like to know if they support this. I thought, from the amendment he has down next, that he would not like short-term indicators like this more frequently than annually. I should like to hear whether this comes from all the associations or only from the ACC with modified support perhaps from the ADC.
In reply to the noble Baroness, I cannot answer her question exactly. I myself have been in touch with county councils and one district council in the matter. I had a most amiable conversation, sotto voce, with my noble friend sitting beside me which makes me think that, speaking for his body, he would say it does have their support. But I hasten to say that perhaps he will wish to add to what I have said. I can only speak for those authorities with which I personally have been in touch.
The attitude of the Government to the manuscript amendment is that it appears to be acceptable in principle. The object of the clause has been welcomed in various parts of the Committee and I appreciate that. It has been said that this particular amendment might help achieve the object of the clause, at the same time cutting out unnecessary duplication and unnecessary bureaucracy in trying to implement or achieve that objective. The noble Baroness, Lady David, said she would like some further time to consider it and I should like to have the same. So my attitude to this is that we should like to have the opportunity to consider it. The principle appears very acceptable and I should be glad if the noble Viscount feels able to withdraw the amendment on that understanding.
I quote understand what my noble and learned friend says, that he wishes to have more time to consider it. I am very grateful to the Committee for considering a manuscript amendment in this way. I am sure that in the circumstances my noble friend would wish to withdraw his amendment in view of what my noble and learned friend has just said.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 22A:
Page 3, line 20, leave out subsections (5) to (13) and insert—
("(5) If the Secretary of State is satisfied that an authority to whom this section applies has failed to comply with the terms of a code, he may direct that authority to take such steps to secure compliance with the code as he may specify").
The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, may I speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 25A and 26A. I will not cause any inconvenience to Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25 because if my noble and learned friend can say in respect of my amendment that he will consider it at the same time as he has promised to consider Amendment No. 22ZA, I shall be able to withdraw it.
I believe that all the associations are glad that the Government have agreed that this publication of information should be handled by way of a voluntary code devised by the associations in consultation with the Secretary of State and just issued by him. If that is to be the character of the code, we do not want to start by prescribing in legislation in as much detail as is set out in subsections (5) to (15) inclusive what it should contain. That goes a long way to making it a statutory code and not a voluntary one. That is the first point I want to make.
The second point is that the fall-back power to make regulations which is included at the moment in those subsections is such that if it turned out that a small number of local government bodies, county councils or district councils, were failing to comply with the voluntary code, all that the Secretary of State needs to do is to exercise the powers which will be conferred upon him by the wording of my amendment. That is to say, he can take powers in respect of a particular authority that has failed to comply with particular parts of the code and direct that authority to take such steps to secure compliance with the code as he may specify. If he did that, then all the associations will be satisfied because the great bulk of the local authorities could then continue to operate under the voluntary code, which we all hope will be the situation that will pertain in the future in the great majority of cases.
We do not want the fact that a few individual local authorities fail to comply to become an excuse for the Secretary of State to take powers over all authorities and thereby convert a voluntary code to which he has just agreed back into a statutory one. That is the purpose of this amendment. I am not wedded to the particular form of it, and if my noble and learned friend will say that he will consider it at the same time as he considers Amendment No. 22ZA, I shall be glad to withdraw it for the time being. I beg to move.
We have a good deal of sympathy with this amendment. It seems to make it a little less hard for the councils in the information that they have to give and it gives them a little more freedom. Again, we do not like the making of regulations so strictly, so we would support these amendments.
I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, can clarify one point. He is anxious not to have the statutory code. If the voluntary code is not complied with then the Secretary of State can require it. That seems indistinguishable from a statutory code.
I think not. The associations have had long discussions with the Secretary of State about this. It was his original intention to introduce a statutory code which would be binding and have the force of statute on all local authorities that make up all the associations, and he would have powers to enforce it. All are now agreed that a voluntary code devised by the associations in consultation with the department, issued by the Secretary of State, is a much better way of approaching it. The first two codes have already been issued so we are well on the way. The principle has been agreed. We are having a certain amount of discussion and argument about the next one. There can be a whole succession of codes covering different subjects agreed to voluntarily by the associations.I think that the hope of most of those involved is that those authorities concerned will abide by that. Of course, some sanctions are required. The sanction proposed by my amendment will enable the Secretary of State to identify individual authorities which have departed from the code and apply the powers incorporated in the phrasing of my amendment to those authorities only, leaving the rest of them governed, guided but not statutorily controlled by a voluntary code. That is the situation that we are seeking to achieve. The Secretary of State's proposals in subsections (5) to (13) go too far, in our view and in the view of the Association of County Councils, towards reinstating a statutory code with statutory sanctions applied by him.
I think that it is apparent that my noble friend Lord Sandford and I are agreed that there is a great deal of force to commend the codes in this area being voluntary codes. There is nothing in the later part of the clause which departs from that except in the event that these voluntary codes do not manifest themselves in the general practice of local authorities. Accordingly, where we differ is really on what happens then.May I first of all say that Lord Sandford's amendment seeks to leave out subsections (5) to (13) of the clause as drafted. Subsections (5) to (9) are important subsections in connection with codes of practice. For example, the provision for different codes to relate to different authorities in different areas is a valuable provision in relation to the codes which I would have thought ought to be retained, even assuming that one was to go along with the idea that the mode of enforcing the code against an authority that did not comply with it was of the kind that my noble friend has indicated. On that point—that is to say, the method of enforcement—we would say that the purpose of these codes and the purpose of the regulation-making power is not so much related to individual authorities but is related to general standards. On the matter of regulations, in order to assess the need for individual directions instead of general regulations the Government would have to employ a considerable number of civil servants for the purpose of evaluating the publications produced by each and every local authority under a code. This is certainly not our intention; and it would in addition be completely contrary to the objective of placing the responsibility for local affairs on the local community. In our view what is presently proposed is much better. First of all, voluntary codes and—hopefully—nothing more. If these voluntary codes are not honoured in practice, then regulations can enforce the provisions of the codes; and these regulations are to be of a general character. Only if that stage had been reached would there by any question of taking action against a local authority. In the view of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, that is preferable to a provision which would seek to take action against a local authority immediately on the basis of a voluntary code. I hope that possibly, in the light of that explanation, my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I am sorry that the Government seem to set their face against all sides. There is no doubt that the detail of the Bill, as it now stands, makes what is called a voluntary code into what is almost a statutory one. By the words of my noble friend's amendment we shall achieve all that we want, and we shall keep it in the realm of a voluntary code. There has been support from both sides and I am rather sad that the Government have set their face against the amendment. The point made by the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches was that this would be statutory and not voluntary. That is the only point. So I should have thought, in view of the experience of noble Lords on all sides, that this is really an occasion for my noble and learned friend to say, as he has said on previous amendments, that he will look at this again. Perhaps the words are not ideal, but the detail of the Bill as it now stands means that this will not be a voluntary code. I wonder whether my noble and learned friend can find it in his heart to go to the Dispatch Box and say that he will have second thoughts. That would bring joy to the whole Chamber. I think he ought to do that and it is a good idea.
Unless my noble and learned friend wants to comment further, may I suggest, having heard Big Ben signal the time for supper, that we withdraw both of these amendments now and think again about the matter. I am afraid I feel that the wording of the clause at the moment makes it too much like a voluntary code in a pretty firm statutory framework, whereas I should like to see a voluntary code freely devised by the associations and the Secretary of State, and then issued by him with very limited statutory sanctions. This has been a useful discussion. There are two amendments—my own and that of my noble friend Lord Ridley—and I should prefer to withdraw this amendment and return to it in consultation before the next stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
This might be a convenient time for this Committee stage to be adjourned. May I, possibly for elucidation, say that the Committee stage will be resumed, with your Lordships' permission, at eight o'clock tonight. I beg to move that the House be resumed.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.