Committee (2nd Day)
I remind the Committee that, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and will resume after 10 minutes.
Clause 2 : Democratic arrangements of connected authorities
24: Clause 2, page 2, line 19, at end insert—
“( ) the scope and operation of partnerships and other joint working of the authority (with or without any other authority) with connected authorities including by way of local area agreements as defined by section 106 of Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 (c. 28) (duty to prepare and submit draft of a local area agreement) or a multi-area agreement as defined in section 116;”
My noble friend Lady Hamwee is recovering but is not yet recovered enough to be here. Therefore, I rise to move Amendment 24, which is in her name and mine, and I shall speak also to Amendments 27 and 29. Given the nature of the amendments, I should probably declare an interest as a member of the local strategic partnership board in the London Borough of Sutton and as a member of the crime and disorder reduction partnership board in the same borough. Until a few months ago, I was on similar boards in the London Borough of Croydon for seven years as a representative of the Metropolitan Police Authority.
On Monday, we debated under Amendment 5 the nature of partnerships and the extremely important role that partnerships—the LSPs and the CDRPs, but also many other partnerships—now play in the local authority world. They are very much significant and major parts of the local authority landscape now; indeed, “local landscape” is probably a better expression. Yet 15 years ago, they were virtually unknown and they certainly played very little part. I know that the Minister recognises that, because she went to some length in her response on Monday to stress the important role that these partnerships play.
The partnerships are relatively recent developments and they are still little understood by local people—the public. Indeed, I suspect that most members of the public do not even know of their existence, let alone of the very important work that they do. I fear that that may be true of a number of councillors as well. An even more recent development arising through these partnerships is the local area agreements and much more recently there have been the multi-area agreements, which again are playing an increasingly important part in the work of local economic development and so on. My noble friend and I therefore feel that the fact that they are not specifically referred to in this part of the Bill is an important omission.
I know from the clues that we had on Monday that the Minister is likely to say that these partnerships are intended to be included under what is already in the Bill and that reference to them will be included in the guidance that will be forthcoming. I am sure that all of that is right. However, these partnership boards now play a greater role in their own right than any of the constituent members of the boards. Although the local authority may well describe the functions and arrangements of the local police service or the local health service, that is not the same thing as talking about the role of the local strategic partnership board, for example, never mind the other boards that are rather less well known.
The purpose of the amendment is not simply to rely on guidance—guidance is just guidance—but explicitly to put in the Bill our recognition that partnership working and the partnership boards, to which all local authorities now belong, are extremely important to the democratic life of every area of the country. The complexity of the boards and the fact that often they do not meet in public, or certainly not with the same degree of public understanding, make it more important that their functions, operation and arrangements are explained in a way that I suspect does not happen now in many areas.
I believe that this is the most necessary aspect of what this part of the Bill seeks to achieve. Most people think that they understand local authorities; even if they do not fully understand them, at least they are aware of their existence and have some idea of what they do. However, I suspect that the very existence of many of these partnership boards is not known, let alone understood. The Minister may not concede this point today—I am not that optimistic—but I hope that she will agree to think more seriously about how we address these very important partnership arrangements as we consider the Bill.
Amendment 27 is self-explanatory. It would simply add the words “(if any)”, to recognise that some of the bodies that are listed do not have democratic arrangements—that is a simple statement of fact—and by their nature never will have. The amendment proposes a simple addition to the Bill that recognises a reality.
Amendment 29 would allow a principal local authority not to have to duplicate work that may be and probably is already being done by a number of the connected authorities. If those authorities are already explaining their functions and their democratic arrangements, as many of them do, a simple reference to that fact from the principal local authority should be sufficient, to avoid the necessity of repeating the whole lot again. The amendment would make that explicit. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, is rightly approaching the same point as I raised earlier in the week, albeit from a slightly different angle. I hope that the Minister will be able to take on board his constructive criticism.
Amendment 27 would add a rather scathing caveat in relation to the democratic arrangements of connected authorities. The noble Lord is right to point out that these connected authorities may not have any democratic arrangements, which would make it difficult for the principal authority to promote those arrangements as democratic. I can think of only one justification for the provision, which is, as I suggested before, that the Minister would like the undemocratic nature of these unelected and unaccountable bodies to be fully exposed. If that is not the case, the duty in Clause 2 is nothing more than words. It allows the Government to claim that they are promoting democracy when they are doing nothing very much at all.
Amendment 29 is a sensible consideration. If the connected authorities are already promoting understanding of their functions and arrangements, there is little point in that work being duplicated by a principal authority.
I hope that the Minister will accept that many, if not all, of the amendments today are an attempt to sort out the legislation into a workable and meaningful form. I hope that she will be able to take the Bill away and consider these provisions in that positive light.
This is the first of four important groups of amendments that seek to make alterations in relation to the list of connected authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, suggests in Amendment 24 that we include partnerships and other joint working arrangements in the range of information to be provided about connected authorities. He also proposes in Amendment 27 that local authorities should provide information on democratic arrangements only where they exist and in Amendment 29 that local authorities should take into account the existing efforts of these bodies to promote themselves and their democratic arrangements.
Here is an opportunity to explain briefly and to put on the record what we seek to do in Clause 2, which is to require local authorities to provide information about the functions and democratic arrangements of connected authorities that provide or shape public services in the area. By connected authorities, we mean the police, health, schools, FE colleges and fire and rescue services, among others—all services that are designed and developed in close partnership with the local authorities, even if the local authorities are not finally responsible or accountable for them. They are all services that would benefit from closer engagement with and wider representation from local people.
I pay tribute to the role that the noble Lord has played on LSPs and CDRPs. He also rightly talked about the multi-area agreements. Having observed at close quarters the work of LSPs, I know that they are quite complex bodies. I have seen several of them. Indeed, I made a point of monitoring some of their work on local area agreements. They are often very large, are chaired by different sorts of people and make critical decisions about priorities in their local area. They can be quite elusive. We are absolutely right to take partnership seriously because we want local people to be involved in shaping services.
We have thought hard about what should be on the list of connected authorities and about the task that we are asking of them. I underline the fact that we explained to all the representatives of the bodies named what we are seeking to do. They have been very supportive of the proposal. The bodies on the list, whether we are talking about PCTs or the fire service, know that their work is more effective when it is better understood and when it is supported locally. They are therefore very keen to work with us on this. I also stress that the list does not limit the bodies with which a local authority may choose to work. It is also important to say that that list of public bodies is not the same as the list of those bodies that are subject to the duty to co-operate in LAAs. That is deliberate; indeed, it is why they are called connected authorities. They are the bodies with democratic arrangements that involve local people or their representatives.
I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, was slightly misleading about what we have taken as our defining point. We included a primary care trust because it delivers services to its local communities and takes decisions, but we did not include organisations such as Arts Council England because it is a national body with a regional presence, although it works with and advises local authorities. Above all—noble Lords surely support me in this—we want this duty to be appropriate and not to give local authorities a long list of every public organisation that has an interest in their area. That would be overly burdensome. We have discussed all the arrangements in the list with the Local Government Association, and the list has its support.
Amendment 29 implies that these organisations have their own requirements to produce information on their governance processes. That is right, but the organisations exist across a wide spectrum of places and deliver to very different standards and expectations. It is not always clear how people can find out about some of the services that they receive. How many people know, for example, how to become a school governor or a member of a foundation trust? We are trying to encourage a sensible approach to collecting the information.
Yes, we have committed to use guidance, because that is the proportionate and proper approach. The list in the Bill ensures that we will require local authorities to provide understanding of the connected authorities and their democratic arrangements only where that is relevant to the local authority. If the body has no relevance to the area, we do not expect them to do this. We would not expect any authorities outside East Anglia to provide information about the Broads Authority, for example.
We trust local authorities to take a sensible approach but there is a very important caveat to which I shall come back time and again as we debate these clauses. Nothing in this duty restricts local authorities to these bodies alone. If they want to go further and apply this duty to other bodies, they are at liberty to do so.
This is new territory for local government and its partners. As I say, that is why we are looking to provide exemplification in statutory guidance. We will work with local government representatives and the connected authorities to ensure that we get the pitch, tone and scope of all that right.
We also recognise that we may need to review the list of connected authorities under Clause 2(6) to ensure that it stays relevant and appropriate. That is why we are seeking a power for the Secretary of State to amend the list—we shall come to that on a later amendment—but only after appropriate consultation with local government and the bodies concerned.
Amendment 24 is important. We discussed elements of it when we discussed Amendment 5 in a previous group. We value enormously the role of partnerships and their critical role in shaping public services and amplifying the local voice, not least because so many agencies from the voluntary sector are represented. Where a partnership consists of a local authority and public bodies that are on the connected authorities list, the requirement to provide information about the functions and democratic arrangements of the council and connected authorities will ensure that information about the partnership will also be covered. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, anticipated my response. It will be covered and we will make that clear in guidance.
We recognise that these are important issues. They are part of an evolving local landscape. There are problems about definition, but I shall think about the argument that the noble Lord put forward and ask officials to wrestle further with this. I cannot make any commitments because this is a difficult legal area, but I shall take the matter away and think about its implications and how best we might approach it. However, I cannot make any promises because I genuinely do not know whether the approach that is suggested is achievable.
As regards Amendment 27, I reiterate what I have said. I appreciate the intent but the bodies on the list of connected authorities all have some form of democratic arrangement based on our broad definition. As I have made clear, we expect local authorities to interpret these duties intelligently.
Amendment 29 proposes that local authorities may consider the extent to which a connected authority promotes understanding of these matters. There is a reasonable challenge here to prevent duplication. For example, foundation hospitals take seriously the duty to provide information about themselves. We want local authorities to create a single point of contact and we want to encourage joint working. We want to bring different people into these bodies, which serve a diverse public. Therefore, putting information in one place opens up opportunities to people that they may not have at the moment. We shall use guidance to promote a sensible and pragmatic approach. I hope that, on that basis, the Committee will be satisfied that we have met most of these possibilities.
I am at a loss. I cannot agree that all these bodies have democratic arrangements. Where is the democratic arrangement in a primary care trust? I do not see it. As regards the argument that local strategic partnerships are distant from local authorities, nothing could be further from the truth. The local strategic partnership in Berwick produces plans which are then adopted by the council. Indeed, since these partnerships have been set up, it has become clear that unless you have extremely close working between local councils and local strategic partnerships, things do not work. The noble Baroness is right in the sense that the partnerships do not have very good democratic processes. In fact, I was absolutely appalled that an election to our local strategic partnership in Berwick was carried out through the local paper and people could be nominated to be chair of it through that means. Therefore, she is right in that respect. However, my noble friend has a good point and I hope that the Minister and her department will look carefully at the definition that they have given this afternoon, which I do not think holds water.
I am happy to write a detailed letter explaining the democratic arrangements as they are interpreted for each of the bodies set out in subsection (2). For example, strategic health authorities, which manage the local NHS, are a key link between the Department of Health and the rest of the local health arrangements. They work with local authorities’ overview and scrutiny committees and thus have a democratic link with them. Since April 2003, SHAs have been obliged to consult O&S committees. The DoH asked that SHAs be included along with PCTs, and we have responded to that request. PCTs have trust boards—
Appointments to PCTs are made by the Secretary of State; the appointments are of local people on the advice of local authorities. I would ask this: why should not this information be available to local people and why should local people not be able to put themselves forward? The noble Baroness has already said that some local authority arrangements, such as with PCTs, are in fact not sufficient or working well. I am equally at a loss to understand why the party opposite is hostile to our efforts in trying to open up opportunities for local people to take part. It is no good the noble Baroness shaking her head, because we need this on the record. As I have said, I am happy to write a detailed letter explaining how these arrangements work and should be improved.
I am not hostile to these things being included, but I am hostile to the interpretation. If the Government are going to include these important things, why are other elements that are actually quite important outwith the list? I understand that the noble Baroness will include them in guidance, but there seems to be a sort of hierarchy here. Our question centres on the fact that we do not understand the hierarchy. For that reason, I ask the noble Baroness to look at this again.
I have made two commitments. I will write to the noble Baroness and copy to all interested parties an explanation of the democratic arrangements as we interpret them in relation to the bodies that we have identified, along with the criteria that we have used. I will also consider again the partnership issue and see whether we can deal with it in some other way.
I thank the Minister for that reply, although at times I think that we were a little at cross purposes. We are not hostile to these arrangements. Indeed, we welcome greater understanding of all these arrangements—that is the motivation behind the amendments.
I am surprised, to be frank, that what I thought was the mildest amendment in the group, which seeks only to add the words “(if any)”, has created the most heat. Whether one likes it or not, it is a given that a number of the bodies listed simply do not have democratic arrangements in the sense that I would understand the phrase. Whether they should or should not have them can be debated another time, but in my opinion they do not. All that this tiny amendment sought to do was to recognise the reality, whether one likes it or not. I do not know why it has created so much heat. I am grateful to the Minister for her offer and I look forward with enormous interest to hearing about the democratic arrangements for each of the bodies in the list.
Before the noble Baroness writes, perhaps I may ask her to start with a definition of her understanding of what “democratic arrangements” means. I have to say that appointment by the Secretary of State, whether that is right or wrong, is not what I understand to be a democratic arrangement, certainly in relation to local democracy. We are talking about a Bill to promote local democracy. Whether this is the right way to do it is not the point; the point is that we cannot see how an appointment made by the Secretary of State is part of the local democratic process. However, we can pursue that argument another time.
I am grateful to the Minister for her commitment to look at partnerships in her response to our main amendment. Amendment 24 addresses an important issue and I was concerned when she almost compared a primary care trust with the Arts Council. There is no comparison at all. Primary care trusts and the other bodies listed in the clause are to varying extent statutory bodies. The Arts Council, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the entire range of voluntary bodies play an enormously important part in the local community and often in its democratic arrangements. I accept that it is not entirely appropriate to specify them in the Bill and I do not think that I suggested that they should be.
I have concentrated primarily on local strategic partnerships and CDRPs but there are many others; I did not attempt to list them all. The point that I am trying to make is that in a Bill that seeks to promote local understanding of how democracy works and the wider role of governance, as distinct from government, in a local area—an objective that we fully support, although we have doubts about how this is being done—the role of these partnerships and the purpose and achievements of local area agreements and, even more, of multi-area agreements are enormously important. I suggest, and I do not think anyone would deny it, that they are probably least understood by the public and many of the participants, including many local councillors. That is partly because these partnerships are fairly new, partly because they are complex and partly because, rightly or wrongly, they tend not to be much in the public eye—the local media do not understand them any more than anyone else does, and tend not to report them.
I am sure that the Minister will think seriously about this: if anything needs better promotion and better understanding with regard to local democracy and local governance, it is the role of these partnerships and the agreements that go with them. For the time being, I rest my case that this is an important matter to be listed specifically and separately in Section 2(1), as suggested in the amendment. In anticipation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 24 withdrawn.
Amendments 25 to 30 not moved.
31: Clause 2, page 2, line 25, leave out “person” and insert “body”
It is inevitable that in a series of amendments on this clause we will have a series of interlinked debates, because they are all, in a sense, about a group of issues that relate to connected authorities—that is, bodies that in the Bill the Government think are sufficiently close to local authorities to require the council to include them when it is producing its documents or whatever to promote understanding.
Amendment 31 is grouped with five other amendments, which are in effect exactly the same amendment to different bits of this part of the Bill. I want to replace the word “person” as a description of connected authorities, or as a requirement to be a connected authority, with the word “body”. The reason for doing that is that “persons” are legal persons: they are corporate bodies, individuals or whatever. For all the reasons that my noble friends have just been talking about with regard to partnerships, which are sometimes not legal persons although sometimes they are, “person” seems to be an inappropriate term. We want to replace it with a neutral term and “body” was the best that I could come up with. If the Government have a better one, that is fine.
There is a lot of talk about these being authorities. I am not too happy with the word “authority” in these two lists of connected authorities. Perhaps the Government can look at that as well. Some of the bodies that we would like to see included as connected authorities are arguably not authorities. For the reasons that the Minister has given, they are voluntary partnerships rather than corporate bodies and we need a word that describes them.
The Minister, when she was describing what connected authorities are, on the previous group of amendments, said that they are those local organisations—she did not use that word—that have arrangements for involvement and deliver local services. It is our submission that there are a large number of bodies that have arrangements for involvement and, whether or not they technically deliver services, in practice, in the real world, they certainly make important decisions that affect the delivery of services. They may not be the people who go out and empty the bins—if we can talk about that again—but they are certainly people who have a real influence on what happens locally, which is what matters.
I shall digress slightly and talk about a partnership of which I am a member—I declare an interest. It is the Whitefield Regeneration Partnership, which had the privilege of a visit by the Minister last spring. She came to look at everything that we had not yet managed to do and things that we were hoping to do; things are moving slowly. The partnership is chaired with great distinction by my noble friend Lord Shutt of Greetland. That partnership has no powers to do anything, but it meets usually once a month. It consists of a series of partners, including the local authority, Pendle Borough Council, the other local authority, Lancashire County Council, important providers of funding, such as English Partnerships, and a number of heritage bodies. It covers a rather interesting area, where there is an attempt to regenerate an old 19th-century industrial area and terraced streets in a heritage-based way—a sort of mini-Saltaire, I suppose. There are also a number of other bodies. It includes local residents, representatives of local businesses and probably quite a few others that I have forgotten about. A number of other bodies that are not members come along to take part in the meetings and contribute to what happens.
In practice, the powers for a great deal of what the partnership does—such as for declaring a compulsory purchase order on an area of land, for, we hope, changing the pattern of the local streets, for traffic calming and for deciding on the materials and the nature of the local streets and so on—are by and large held by the two concerned local authorities: the district council and the county council. Some of them are not. Some of the powers are held by the funding bodies, because they decide what they will fund and what they will not fund. English Partnerships, in its previous incarnation, played a very important role in deciding what can and cannot happen. It has used some of its powers to provide funds for some of the schemes in the area.
The point that I am making is this: the partnership itself is not a corporate body and cannot go out and do anything, but it is the partnership that makes the decisions about what happens in the area. Therefore, it is wrong not to include the Whitefield Regeneration Partnership in a map of who makes decisions in the area and how decisions are made, as well as in relation to how people can get involved. The partnership has a local community forum in which all the local residents can be involved. Some of those residents come to the partnership meetings representing the forum. That kind of partnership is absolutely crucial to what we are talking about. If you are making a list of bodies in Pendle, my area, it is essential that the body should be included, and yet there is no requirement in the Bill that that body should be included.
The Minister may say, as she said on the previous amendment, that if local authorities or connected authorities are on a partnership, the provisions of the Bill will apply to the partnership. However, there is nothing to say that the authority has to say what the Whitefield partnership does, how it works, who the members are or how they have been appointed, other than those who relate directly to the council. We do not understand why the Government are so reluctant to put these pervasive partnerships, which have burgeoned in recent years, into legislation. There seems to be a total reluctance to do that. Are there legal reasons why it cannot be done? The Minister has said that she will take this away and look at it, so I shall say no more about it.
My amendment would simply change the word that describes the organisations in this list from “person” to “body”, which would allow non-legal persons to be listed. I do not want to go on at great length again about local strategic partnerships but, if you cannot put them into the Bill, these provisions are meaningless. You have to put them in if you are going to have these lists. I may not be proposing the right word, but you need a word to describe them. I beg to move.
There were recurring themes in the noble Lord’s contribution on the definition of partnerships, which points to the fact that it is difficult to define some legal terms, certainly partnerships. I will say no more, because my noble friend has agreed to look again at the important issue of the definition of partnerships.
The noble Lord’s Amendments 31, 42, 49, 50, 52 and 53 would change the references to “person” or “persons” to “body” or “bodies”. As he said, he wants to ensure that all the connected authorities in Clause 2 are covered, particularly the partnerships. However, the term “person” or “persons” is defined in the Interpretation Act 1978 and includes a natural person, or an artificial person such as a body corporate, and, most important, an unincorporated body, which would include local authority partnerships. The term “person” encompasses a broader range of legal entities than the proposed “body” or “bodies”. Specifically, “person” would include the chief officer of police, whereas “body” would not, and would be at least as apt to include partnerships.
There is a precedent throughout related legislation to the use of the term “person”. In particular, I draw the noble Lord’s attention to Section 104 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, which refers to persons in the list of partner authorities. He also commented on the use of the word “authority” in relation to the connected authorities in Clause 2. They are referred to as connected authorities because that is how we have defined them. It is simply a convenient term designed to sound less legislative than “connected persons”. I hope that that clarification will go some way towards reassuring the noble Lord, and I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
I am very grateful for that. I may have learnt something this afternoon that I was not quite clear about before. That is the problem with someone doing this who is not a lawyer, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who comes up with legal points that are all very valid. What you call these things is not the substantive issue; the substantive issue is whether it is possible to include in the schemes a sensible description of local governance. If the word “person” allows that and this is on the record, I am happy. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 31 withdrawn.
32: Clause 2, page 2, line 27, at end insert—
“( ) a joint board or joint committee of which the principal local authority is a member and which carries out any of its functions;”
We come to the part of the Bill that lists the connected authorities. There are two lists, in subsections (2) and (3). My amendment relates mainly to subsection (2), but not entirely. I shall speak also to Amendments 33, 35 and 56 in my name, and other noble Lords have amendments in this group.
First, I am not entirely clear why the two lists exist. I looked at them and thought, “What is the difference between them?”. Although the first consists of some slightly more important people, such as Secretaries of State, and the second list contains some less important bodies, such as parish councils—
I put those descriptions in inverted commas. I was trying to work out the thinking of the people who drew up the lists. List 2 is merely set up by the first item in list 1, so I do not understand the difference. Perhaps the Government did not want the list to be too long; I do not know. It is not clear why the lists are exactly as they are. It is very clear why some of the bodies or persons in the lists are included. It is clear why the local authorities, parish councils and the Broads Authority are there. A series of amendments in this group and the next group but one probes why some bodies are included and why some are not. I hope that the Minister will take the amendments in the spirit in which they were tabled; they are an attempt to understand why the lists are there and to obtain a commitment, which she has already given, to come back with a letter about all these issues explaining what the democratic arrangements are and why the lists are there. That would be useful and, as my noble friend said earlier, interesting, because we do not quite understand these lists.
Amendment 32 proposes the inclusion in the list of the joint board or joint committee of which the council is a member. In a sense, joint boards and joint committees are a bit old-fashioned; nowadays, they are called partnerships. Nevertheless, they are joint boards and joint committees and it is not clear why they are not included as a category. If a joint board or joint committee merely consists of local authorities, which is the traditional kind of joint board or joint committee, the Minister will tell us that the local authorities will have this duty and, therefore, they will have it collectively.
However, saying why each individual is represented on the list, and how they are related, is different from saying what that body does and how it functions as a body in its own right. One example that I can think of is Elevate, the housing market renewal partnership in east Lancashire, or Pennine Lancashire, as we are told to call it. This body started off as a traditional partnership but is now a company. It has a board that, deplorably, consists merely of officer representation from each council, and a wider managing committee that consists of the leaders of the councils as well. That is traditionally described as a joint board. It is certainly a joint body. It is a corporate body in its own right and it is very important, because it disburses a lot of government funding—some £50 million to £60 million a year—in east Lancashire. In doing that, it has a considerable influence over the policies of the five councils—one unitary and four districts—which receive this money and carry out housing regeneration and housing market renewal schemes on its and central government’s behalf.
However, the district councils are not just given the money; they get it on the basis of complex negotiated agreements to policies coming from the centre to the joint body, Elevate, and in turn from that body to the districts. If you do not agree with what the body is saying, you have to argue your point in negotiations. Elevate is an important public body that takes decisions which influence the way in which a lot of public money is spent, so it ought to be on the list relating to how governance works in Pennine Lancashire. On the basis of what is set out here, it is not clear that it would be.
Those of us involved in local issues could come up with hundreds of examples such as this. It is important that all these things are included. Our concern is that, by being so prescriptive in the list in the Bill, the Government are excluding everything else. The Minister might say that this does not have to happen, but in practice it will. An onerous duty is being put on councils to produce and propagate this information, so a lot of them will do the minimum; they will do what they have to do to comply with the legislation.
Amendment 33 probes how the functions of the Homes and Communities Agency fit in with bodies that have arrangements for involvement in and the delivery of local services. I am not sure how HaCA, as people are rather dismally starting to refer to it, fits in.
Amendments 35 and 56 are slightly teasing in nature because they refer to academy schools and seek to put them on the same footing as,
“the managing or governing body of a maintained school in the principal local authority’s area”.
We all know that academies are not maintained schools and do not have any democratic arrangements, but there seem to be some other bodies here that do not have them either. However, if we are referring to the system of publicly funded school governance in an area, why are they missed out? That is the question that the Government have to be asked. I beg to move.
I have one amendment in the group. It would remove Clause 2(2)(e), which includes in the list of connected bodies,
“the … governing body of a further education institution”.
I have tabled the amendment after being approached by the Association of Colleges, which has expressed its concern about this provision. I share that concern, but I want to raise a wider point, because it could apply to any of the bodies listed in this clause that are not controlled by the local authority.
Further education colleges were detached from local authority control by the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, which also established college governing bodies. In the past 15 years, colleges have worked as independent, autonomous, incorporated institutions. I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that self-governance has worked for these colleges and should be preserved. Part of this autonomy means that colleges are themselves responsible for selecting and appointing new governors to existing governing bodies, which always include representatives from the local community, local businesses, parents, staff and students.
In Clause 1(1), the Bill places a new duty on local authorities to promote understanding of the functions and democratic arrangements of public bodies and of,
“how members of the public can take part in those democratic arrangements and what is involved in taking part”.
I touched on this in an earlier amendment, but how do the Government define “democratic arrangements” in relation to further education colleges and, indeed, to all the bodies included in Clause 2?
Noble Lords will be aware that the children, skills and learning Bill to be introduced during this parliamentary Session will propose a new role for local authorities in funding education and training for 16 to 18 year-olds. However, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Department for Children, Schools and Families have stressed that colleges will remain autonomous and not come under the direct control of local authorities. Therefore, I would appreciate clarification from the Minister on what activities the Government expect a local authority to perform when promoting understanding of the democratic arrangements of colleges and the other connected authorities. Will the duty in reality amount to not very much at all, as I have suggested?
The debate so far has exposed the difficulties of being prescriptive. When you produce lists, you are always asked difficult questions about what you have included, what you have not and why. We are exposing that difficulty. I speak specifically to Amendment 41 standing in my name and that of my noble friend, which would add regional development agencies to the ever growing list. However, if the noble Baroness has her way, perhaps it will be a slightly reduced list. I look forward to hearing the answer to the probing questions asked by my noble friend Lord Greaves, because we are trying to get at what determines what is, or is not, on the list. I should have thought that understanding how an academy school functions—to take the example already mentioned—and what its democratic arrangements are, however they are defined, is at least as important in those areas that have them as understanding the role of maintained schools, which is probably better known, as maintained schools are not so new as academy schools. Therefore, why not include that requirement?
I was our party’s education spokesperson during the 1990s and had a long and good association with the Association of Colleges—indeed, I was president of its charitable trust for a while—and I have every sympathy with what it says. I lived through the period of incorporation when colleges moved away from local authorities and I well understand all the sentiments and emotions in that regard. That process ended some years ago, but in the context of the Bill I do not see why colleges should be excluded, given all the others that are included. I understand why the AoC is concerned about that and I am sure that other bodies have similar concerns for similar reasons. The problem with the list is how you make it all-encompassing, whom you include and whom you leave out. From our point of view, the answer is fairly simple: do not have the list in the first place.
All I can say is that if we did not have a list in the first place, we would certainly spend a long time discussing why we did not have one and what should be on such a list. However, I take the point raised in all the questions that have been asked. Members of the Committee are right to ask them and I am sorry if I exhibited an unusual burst of bad temper when responding to previous amendments. I shall try to be nicer in this response.
I was asked why there are two lists. That question is worth asking and I hope that noble Lords will understand the answer. The first list, in paragraphs (b) to (i) of Clause 2(2), comprises essentially the universal bodies which exist in respect of every area. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, rightly said that the second list was generated by the first. The second list is produced by Clause 2(2)(a). That makes it clear that bodies in the second list are included only where they exist in respect of the local area. For example, not every area has a parish council, so that applies only to a principal council that has one or more parishes in the area. The lists are related but they need to be included to cover both the universal and the specific instances.
The noble Lord asked me why the lists are as they are. That was a very interesting debate. I do not want to reiterate everything that I said in the previous debate. However, in conjunction with the LGA and the connected authorities, we tried to ensure that we took the 2007 Act and the duty to involve people as our starting point. Indeed, we spent a lot of time debating the list set out in that legislation by considering who would cover the main services that are designed and developed in close partnership with local authorities and those services that would benefit from closer engagement with and wider representation from local people. There was already evidence that democratic arrangements could be expanded by people being more widely represented and thus able to wield more influence. While I shall not go back to the principal debate, this is all about increasing the ability of local people to get involved in and be more broadly represented on bodies, so that they can become more influential in shaping and improving services. We thought hard about the lists.
The noble Lord mentioned Elevate as an example. He is quite right to say that that body has an enormous influence on the future of his area. The arrangements in place in other housing market renewal partnerships are fundamental to what areas will look like in future years. Elevate comes within the notion of partnership and is another example of the complexity of the issue. I hope that noble Lords are not cynical about this because, when we prompt them to do so through guidance, local authorities will be able to include in the range of bodies covered by this duty those that are not specifically set out in the Bill. They will differ around the country because, although we have nine HMR areas, in other parts of the country there are different sorts of partnerships working in different ways. The problem with lists, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has said, is that we can become involved in an exercise of “granulation”—or whatever the word is—because local authorities and local circumstances differ. Therefore, we have to be careful in our approach.
All public bodies have been included and, as I have said, we have sought to ensure that they are connected authorities which have links with the democratic arrangements of local authorities that involve local people or their representatives—of course, that covers FE colleges. That is the principle that we are following.
The amendments in this group are mainly prompts for debate, but some suggest removing bodies from the list of connected authorities, while others seek additions. I shall address Amendment 33 first. During the passage of the Bill last year, we had wonderfully thorough debates about the Homes and Communities Agency. It has been included in the list to raise the profile of its work and its significant powers to affect the supply and quality of social housing and thus the feel of local neighbourhoods. We want to ensure that local people know how the agency works and learn about its processes in relation to local authorities. There is joint working through investment programmes and the planning of the provision of housing. Putting this duty on the agency—one that it has itself sought and which local authorities have supported because it is such an important influence on the future shape of a local area—provides the means by which local communities can seek information on the governance, budget and decision-making arrangements of the agency in its work in their area. We expect the HCA to work closely with local communities; indeed, the chief executive, Bob Kerslake, has often spoken about how he wants to relate to local communities and the role that he sees for the agency in that form of conversation. We trust local authorities to take a sensible approach.
I turn now to further education and the important questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi. As she said, the governing bodies of these institutions include community representatives. In the main, FE colleges take students from their local areas and the fundamental point once again is that we want these bodies to be as widely representative of their communities as possible. That starts with asking people whether they understand the arrangements for how representatives are selected to serve on these bodies and know what opportunities exist for them to become involved. We hope that we have a definition of democratic arrangements that is restricted to those that involve local people but which is broad enough to cover formal and informal engagement.
I was asked about joint boards and joint committees—for example, we might be talking about the highways and transportation local joint committees or the joint boards established under the public health Acts. Those are already covered by the duty set out in Clause 1(1). We will make that clear in guidance.
When we come to the academy schools, I understand the intention of noble Lords. I am perfectly prepared to respond to as much teasing as possible. These are certainly educational institutions and they have governing bodies. From the very beginning, they were constructed with a different status and constitution. They are independently managed, state-funded schools. Their executive leadership is not with a public body but with a private sponsor. We have had this debate about academies since they were set up; indeed, we have had it in relation to many different pieces of legislation. As such, and in line with that general approach, we are not putting academies in the Bill, because it would be inconsistent to do so. Again, it is up to local authorities. If they want to work with academies and explore their arrangements for representation and the way in which local people might be able to get more involved in governance, they are free to do so.
On the regional development agencies—I am in danger of repeating myself—we have tried to put in bodies that are of direct relevance to local bodies, without having an unwieldy list of regional bodies, because of the burden. Again, if local authorities want to work with the RDAs in this sense, when they have high investment in local regeneration projects, there is absolutely no reason why they should not do so. In fact, when we discuss the duty to involve and the way in which that will be extended to RDAs and other bodies, there is another argument for treating them slightly differently.
Again, we should trust local authorities to involve and include the people whom they think are most relevant in terms of their area and whether they fit the criteria. If more people knew how these authorities worked—how their governance worked—they would want to get involved and one would have more diverse representation and closer connection with what the local community looks and feels like.
I want to return to the issue of academy schools, which I have not thought about much before. I am aware that it is being raised simply as an example. However, if the purpose of the Bill is to promote better understanding among local people, surely it should apply to academy schools—a relatively new and not yet very well understood concept. Why is this not to be explained? The Minister has talked about this and other examples and has said several times that nothing in the Bill prevents a local authority from doing this if it so wishes. The reality is that good local authorities are probably already doing most of what is in the Bill; as I said on Second Reading, most of this legislation is primarily intended for less good local authorities. I am being very polite. It is for those local authorities that are not as good as we would wish. We are perhaps already in a situation where a good local authority with an academy school may be doing these things. Surely the purpose of the Bill is to encourage those less good authorities to be doing them as well. If that is the case, why are academy schools not on the list?
I support the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in that. I declare an interest as patron of the Essex academies trust. Some areas of Essex—for example, Witham—are going to have only two secondary schools, which are going to be academies. Therefore, it would be ridiculous for the local authority not to provide information about those academies to parents. Obviously, we are involved in academies. The more we talk about this, the sillier it seems. We perhaps need to rethink it. This should be about services that are provided to the public, because where there are FE colleges or academies, they are not always provided by the local authority. It needs a little rethinking, because there could be total confusion. I support the academies point.
In a way, the noble Lord makes my point for me, because there is nothing to stop local authorities—it would be ridiculous, as he said—in their determination to have as wide a spread of representation in local education as possible. Academies are there as part of the pattern of local education. I can only repeat what I have said. The trouble is that the governance of academies is different; they have a different status and a different legal constitution. They are independently managed and sit outside the local authority arrangements and, therefore, do not fit into this Bill in the same way as other schools. However, we can make it clear in guidance that we would welcome local authorities going beyond the prescription in the Bill. We are trying to arrive at a position where we have not been too prescriptive and where we have left flexibility and discretion with local authorities to go beyond that, if they so wish and if they think that it is right for their area.
The last point was important and I thank the noble Baroness for dealing with it with great care. It is not clear in the Bill that what she says is true. The Bill states that the two lists involve connected authorities and she is right to say that it does not state that everything else is not connected. It is not clear at all that the local authorities have a duty to provide a comprehensive description of what happens and how people can get involved that includes these matters but also might include many other things as well. An amendment that we shall consider later tackles this matter. I do not wish to pursue this argument at this stage, but I would be interested to hear the noble Baroness’s justification for saying that it is clear to anyone reading the Bill that an overall general description is required, not just of those bodies included in the lists. Some local authorities will do the minimum and we do not want that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, wanted to remove FE colleges from the list and I wanted to include academies. In many ways, both are in the same category: they are independent incorporated bodies that are substantially funded by the state and provide local education services as part of the general state system but are not controlled by the local authority. Apart from what the constitution of any particular institution might state, they have no general democratic arrangements. The local authorities and other local bodies are not represented in them. Any local democracy that there might be will refer to staff and students and no one else. In many ways FE colleges and academies are similar, although ideologically they are at different poles. To include one and not the other is not rational.
This comes back to the lists. We are saying that there should be no list, but there should be general descriptions of the duties. The Minister says that, if there were no list, we would be probing what might be included; she is absolutely right, but we might be making suggestions for illustration and understanding, not because we wanted a list. However, once there is a list, there is an issue of prescription. The Minister said that the Government are not being prescriptive, but that is not true; they are being extremely prescriptive. I have not counted how many are on the list, but it goes from (a) to (m)—
Thank you. It is a long list—there is no doubt about that. Yet some bodies are not included. Therefore, in my proposal on joint boards and joint committees I am trying to put in a description of an organisation that would be included and would fit local circumstances. The Minister is including specific organisations and missing some out. There is a difference of approach and ours is much better.
I did not understand at all what the Minister said about the Homes and Communities Agency, other than that the aim is to raise the profile of what the agency does. That could apply to regional development agencies, regional arts councils or any number of organisations—it could apply to British Waterways. There are a huge number of organisations that are not going to be included, even though they have an important local impact in different ways. The reason for that, going back to what she said previously, is that they do not have arrangements for involvement locally—they are not democratic local organisations and do not deliver local services. The Homes and Communities Agency does not deliver local services but does what English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation did previously: it funds and supports people who do so. There is a real difference. The idea that there are democratic arrangements within the HCA that people might be interested in is slightly extraordinary.
On the other hand, the Minister might be saying, “Well, the HCA provides all this money to local housing associations and perhaps to local authorities, while its English Partnerships wing will provide money to regeneration projects, town centre projects and all the rest of it”. Of course it does. But money never comes from the Government without some sort of handles on it, and they will therefore have an influence on what happens. They will say, “We will fund this, but we won’t fund that”. The local authority might want to do the second instead of the first, but will do the first because that is what it will get the funding for. That is the real world, and no one is arguing about that. But if you put all that in, you are not producing a map of local organisations that have democratic involvement in how they do things; you are producing a map of the whole structure of government—all the government departments in the north-west, in Yorkshire and Humberside or wherever. They are in exactly the same position as the Homes and Communities Agency. Are we going to include all those? Of course not.
Frankly, I think that the Government are in a muddle. They need to think about this a bit more clearly. Our view is that this is much too prescriptive. The Government ought to look at giving the local authority a general duty to include everything relevant in their area and then have a description of what is relevant. That is a far better approach. We will return to this with a later amendment, but in the mean time I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I was trying to rise before the noble Lord sat down, but he is quicker than I am. I want to raise the issue of how prescriptive we can be. I hope that the Minister will look not just at method but at the purpose of the Bill. My understanding has been that the purpose of the Bill is to provide a connection between people, authorities and organisations so that there is more democratic involvement. My concern is that taking away responsibility—for example, colleges’ responsibility to promote themselves, or the fact that they may desire governors—and placing it on local authorities actually creates a disconnect and is therefore likely to result in arrangements that are less democratic. This follows a pattern that the Government have adopted: they have tried to make organisations and individuals more responsible by taking responsibility away from them and giving it to those who have no control or authority.
I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify this point if the noble Baroness is struggling with it. These duties will enable the local authority to provide a single point of reference for the range of governance organisations that cover the key services that are crucial to people’s well-being. We know that many of those bodies have very good arrangements for informing their local constituencies and wider constituencies about their democratic arrangements and what they do. Nothing is going to take away that responsibility; in fact, we would like them to do more of it. This is just an additional, simple, accessible, single conversation for people to have in relation to that wide spectrum of services.
I shall follow my noble friend on FE colleges. I know a lot of them well—again, I declare an interest, because for a long while I was the chairman of the Further Education Funding Council for the eastern region. Names change, so a prescriptive list is an issue. A few years ago, you had the Further Education Funding Council. What happens to the Bill when all the names have changed and a primary care trust, for example, becomes something else? However, that is not the point that I wanted to make. I back up my noble friend in that I know FE colleges very well. Some of them promote themselves very well and some of them do not. We want more governors of FE colleges; it is not for some local authority to have some representation. We are taking away from FE colleges some obligation to promote themselves. The Minister did not really answer that point, because there is a lot of variation. I wish that all FE colleges promoted themselves as well as some do.
I reiterate not only that we are not taking away any responsibility but that we are challenging FE colleges in particular to come forward with an explicit account of their arrangements to make them think more about their responsibilities to the wider constituency. One would hope that it would stimulate, as it is supposed to, a wider and more challenging representation from the community.
I am always amazed at the number of bodies that the noble Lord sits on, has sat on or is planning to sit on. His point about changing names and functions is absolutely right. When we come to the relevant amendment, we will talk about how, when the Secretary of State makes these changes, the lists can change and why we need that additional flexibility.
Amendment 32 withdrawn.
Amendment 33 not moved.
34: Clause 2, page 2, line 33, leave out from “school” to end of line 34 and insert “which—
(i) is in the area of the principal local authority, or(ii) is attended by a significant number of students who live in the area of the principal local authority”
Amendment 34 gives us a brief respite from lists to look at a particular problem with the Bill. I shall also speak to Amendments 37 to 39, which are in the same group in my name.
The amendments relate to what could be called over-the-boundary problems. One of the difficulties of the legislation is that it assumes that people who receive services from local authorities or become involved with local authorities do so with the local authority, the health authority or other public authority in the area in which they live—in other words, with public authorities that are organised strictly geographically. Clearly that is not the case.
Amendment 34 says that the inclusion in the list of a school should not necessarily be to do with where the school is located. A school in which a significant number of students are educated may be over the boundary in someone else’s authority. Nevertheless, the authority in which the students live should include it in their information about how people can become involved in the governing bodies of schools. This is common sense, but at the moment the Bill does not say that. The same thing is probably even more true of FE colleges, because they have bigger catchment areas, so Amendment 37 applies to FE colleges.
Amendments 38 and 39 apply the same principle to hospital services and other health services for people who go to a hospital that is over the border—it is out of their PCT area and the health trust area and is in someone else’s area. I am sure that we can all think of dozens, perhaps thousands, of examples. I put on record two or three, particularly in the Aire valley, which has a boundary between Bradford Metropolitan District Council and North Yorkshire County Council and is quite near the Lancashire boundary and the district council in North Yorkshire—Craven District Council.
There is a school there called South Craven School. It is a very successful big comprehensive school, the sort of school that the Government should be praising as a model of good secondary education. It is in North Yorkshire. When it was built, it was in the West Riding of Yorkshire, which included the whole of the Aire valley right up from Shipley and Keighley to Skipton.
When local government reorganisation took place in 1973-74, Keighley and some of the surrounding villages were—wrongly, in my view—included in, or hijacked into, the city of Bradford. As a native Bradfordian, I must say that they are not in Bradford; that has caused lots of problems, which I shall not discuss here. The particular cross-boundary issue is that South Craven School, which was built for all those old textile villages that are now largely commuter villages for Bradford and Leeds, is in North Yorkshire. Now, about two-thirds of its pupils come from villages that are still in North Yorkshire, such as Cross Hills and Glusburn, where the school is, and about one-third of the pupils come from villages such as Steeton, Sutton and Silsden, which are now in Bradford. People who live in those areas and who have children at that school ought to be told how they can get involved in that school, even though it is in North Yorkshire and the council drawing up the information will be the City of Bradford.
There is another school—I cannot remember its name—in Bradford that serves a similar old textile, now commuter, village on the edge of Bradford called Oakenshaw. The school built for Oakenshaw is now over the border—I suppose that it is in Cleckheaton, technically—in the Kirklees Council area and I am informed that the vast majority of its pupils live in Bradford.
Let us think about big cities, such as Manchester. In the urban area of Manchester, which everyone who does not actually live in Manchester thinks is Manchester but which covers the cities of Manchester, Salford, Trafford and part of Tameside, there must be lots of cross-border movement to schools. London is a different matter altogether. No one in London chooses their school according to which borough runs it.
They may do in Sutton, yes, but by and large people choose it according to the perceived quality of the school and the convenience of getting there. Those are essentially the two factors that cause people to choose a school. There is a huge amount of cross-borough movement in London; we all know about that. That principle ought to be written into the Bill.
On the health service, I very briefly mention the example of Airedale hospital, which is actually in Keighley in Bradford, but which serves the whole of the Aire valley, which is in North Yorkshire, and quite a chunk of Lancashire, including the eastern fringe of Lancashire. I must be careful abut what I say; I am talking about the eastern fringe of those areas now administered by Lancashire, such as Barnoldswick and Earby, where a lot of people still think that they are Yorkshire born and bred and live in Yorkshire but, nevertheless, are in the east Lancashire health authority system and are covered by the health trusts of east Lancashire.
So there is a cross-border issue. That has been recognised. Airedale hospital, in its submission for foundation status, came to talk to people in Lancashire, in the Colne and Barnoldswick areas. The hospital said: “Look, we know that you are an important part of our catchment area and, when we set up the foundation trust, we will want representation from your part of Lancashire on our foundation trust, even though you are across the border”. Those issues are important and should be written into the Bill. I beg to move.
I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord has said. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is in his place; I know that he will understand what I am going to say. My local government experience was fairly prescribed by the boundaries of the London boroughs of Enfield, Barnet and Haringey, which moved over that period. The illustration that I want to give is from Loughton, where there is a successful and popular college on which a lot of money has been spent so that it can expand. Whenever I go along the road past the college, I cannot get across the crossroads for pupils who are coming into the school by Underground into Loughton. They must come from a wide range of places. The college does a good job.
I do not know whether or not the Minister is able to say or do something in the Bill. I hesitate to think that responsible people in charge of education are so hidebound that they cannot use common sense. As I see it, the Government’s intention here is to augment or add to the efforts that other people are making. Essex County Council, Epping Forest District Council and Loughton Town Council are all made up of good people who are trying to do the best for their community. I would hate to think that the ability to give the best service would be prescribed, directly and precisely, by an Act of Parliament. We are talking about headmasters, teachers and people involved in the education system. I hope that there is not just common sense but practicality.
The point that the noble Lord has raised may be answered by the wording in the Bill; the Minister may well be minded to accept the sense of the amendment, one way or another. We should not have a situation where demarcation is so precise that people are denied the best possible opportunities. I know from my experience as a councillor—that was many years ago, but I am still in touch with the fine Latymer School in Edmonton, which has a good record—that when it comes to the question of secondary education, most parents these days, in contrast to when I was a boy, take a great deal of interest in the quality of the school, its academic record and so on.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say and to seeing whether it is possible to take account of the sense of what has been said. In practical terms, I can see the problem before my very eyes. Whether it is capable of being codified in words in a Bill rather than in any other way, I am not too sure.
The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, are interesting. I come from across the border and was born and raised in Kirklees. I see from the papers that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, has in his hands that he will be responding to this. I hope that this debate over territory has nothing to do with the fact that he, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and I are all Yorkshire folk.
This group of amendments reinforces points that have already been made. The noble Lord has sought to widen the scope of the connection that local authorities have with those institutions that in reality are used by people who may not live in that same local authority area. Schools and authorities are used in the main by those who live closest to them. Such catchment areas range across local authority areas; we have heard examples of that. This crossover inevitably means that, if local authorities stick rigidly to the prescriptions in the Bill, large numbers of people could miss out on the information that the local authority is expected to promulgate simply because their children are educated in a different area, or they are treated at their nearest hospital but that hospital is in a different local authority area.
The noble Lord is right to raise this issue. Where does the duty start and where does it end? Where should the line be drawn? The Government have tried to draw the line, but the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has pointed out some of the loopholes, and I am sure that there will be many others.
However, I am concerned that the amendments could create unnecessary overlaps. How exactly will local authorities determine, where individuals reside outside their areas but use their facilities, what would merit the promotion of understanding functions and arrangements? What are the practical implications of them having to do so? Would the noble Lord’s suggestion mean that two local authorities could end up promoting information about the same institution, or would they co-ordinate their approach?
I do not wish to be too negative, but I am concerned about the practicalities of both the original proposals set out in the Bill and the provisions of the amendments. I hope that I have highlighted some of the difficulties, but I fear that they may well prove hard to resolve while the basic aim of the Bill is to put a duty on principal local authorities to promote understanding of the arrangements of bodies that they do not fully control.
The problem has been well illustrated, but I do not want the debate to go entirely to Yorkshire folk such as my noble friend Lord Greaves. The problem is well illustrated by London—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, will agree with me. It is still the case that most schools in London were built during the time of the Inner London Education Authority and the former county councils, which before 1965 were the LEAs. In my own borough, one of our two girls’ grammar schools, which we still have and which since 1965 have been part of the LEA and Sutton educational life in its different forms, is physically located in Surrey, 100 yards outside the borough boundary. We can all cite examples like that. However, the school is and always has been one of the two principal girls’ grammar schools in the area, and one that many parents strive to get their daughters into.
Any good authority would continue to promote understanding of such a school but, as I keep saying, this legislation is not for the good authorities; it is for the less good ones. I hope that this will never happen, but there may come a time when an authority declares, in accordance with the letter of the law as set out in what will by then be the Act, that it does not have to promote understanding as regards a school because that school is not located in its area. That is not likely to happen in my authority for many reasons, but there is a lot of concern in some London boroughs about the number of children who travel to other boroughs because of the perception, real or otherwise, of the schools in one borough as compared with those in another. A situation could well arise where one council, for its own reasons, does not want to promote a school in another borough that is attended by many of its pupils because it wants those pupils to attend its own schools. This is not just an academic point. If a local authority wants to comply with the letter of the law as distinct from its spirit, it will be able to do so under the current wording of the Bill. That is the issue that we are trying to grasp.
I am from Yorkshire so I will be fine. This has been a helpful debate in which important points have been raised. I take on board the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Tope: this is not an academic argument, but a real issue. I take the point sincerely. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has addressed the important issue of geographical boundaries in relation to the duties that we are placing on local authorities. I will not go into detail about the position in Yorkshire because of conflicts of interest. I live in Bradford, I worked in Keighley as a social worker and last year I opened a very good new mental health ward in Airedale hospital. I drive regularly through all the villages and towns that the noble Lord talked about, so I understand where he is coming from.
These amendments would require local authorities to provide information on the functions and governance arrangements of schools, FE colleges or health services which are not within the local authority area’s boundaries but which are used by the council’s residents. I will recap on what we are trying to do. In Clause 2, we seek to place a duty on local authorities to promote the functions and democratic arrangements of the public bodies—that is, the connected authorities—that are responsible for the provision of public services in the area. It is important to remind ourselves that this duty is about promoting understanding of the democratic arrangements for public bodies set up to be influenced by citizens either directly or indirectly or run by lay citizen representatives. It is not designed to cover all conceivable information about public services in general. In practice, democratic arrangements have boundaries. Although citizens may on occasion use the services of a neighbouring council, they cannot vote in the elections for that neighbouring council.
As the noble Lord clearly stated, a number of core services are provided from outside any given local authority area. This is true for schools and certainly for FE colleges, and it is also increasingly true for health services. But we do not believe that this is a reasonable or practical requirement to place on local authorities. I will begin by setting out what we intend to include and I will then address each amendment.
As my noble friend the Minister outlined earlier, we are clearly aware of, and do not take lightly, the burdens on local authorities when they have new duties placed on them. We place such duties on them only where we truly believe that it is necessary and, in this case, we believe that it is. If we are to embed promotion of democracy deep into the culture of local authorities, we want to ensure that local people are being made fully aware of how they can get involved in shaping local services.
Inevitably, there is a fine balance to be made in addressing the needs of the community and minimising the burden on local authorities. In doing this, we are also very mindful that we do not want to increase duplication of information where that is not necessary. We are asking all local authorities to promote democratic understanding in this way. We do not only mean providing information by way of newsletters or leaflets and on websites, although that is crucial. We want local authorities to embed the promotion of democracy within their work. We want local authorities to work with schools, colleges and different communities in their areas to raise awareness and understanding of how they shape services. That may be through inviting schoolchildren to the town hall, shadowing schemes or working with people from a particularly underrepresented community to help to develop their skills and confidence to get involved in civic life. We are providing new money to cover this duty but this is based on working with local people.
The amendments would increase the responsibility on local authorities and duplicate information. Should we require Manchester to promote the democratic arrangements and health service in Salford, Bury, Trafford, Rochdale, Bolton and so on? The noble Lord provided the example of Airedale hospital. The increased responsibility would be a significant burden on local authorities.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, talked about the situation in London. In London, over one-fifth of children travel out of their home borough to attend school. When would a London borough stop in providing information on secondary schools? This is by no means unique to London, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said when he talked about the excellent South Craven secondary school. It would mean that many authorities would have to identify and promote the democratic arrangements of services that are located outside their area, even though the services would also be promoted where they are located as part of the duty.
Of course, people with an interest in these services, whether in or out of the authority in which they live, are entitled to information about their functions and democratic arrangements. This information would be available in the school, college or hospital itself. When you are in a foundation trust, you are actively going out of the borough to increase your membership and the membership of the governance board. Information would also be available from the council where the service is located. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will appreciate that defining “significant” is not straightforward.
To go back to our definition of local people, councils will be expected to promote this duty to people who study in their area anyway. We expect local authorities to take a sensible approach and to consider how imaginatively to promote democratic understanding, as we have set out in their duties, in a way that is relevant to their local communities. I take on board what the noble Lord said about the sense of what is meant here; that is crucial.
We will of course work with the LGA to ensure that we cover those issues and points in guidance. The debate today will help to develop that guidance, but the amendment would add nothing to the Bill.
I have to say that I do not know who writes the stuff for the Minister, but I was not terribly impressed with that. The amendment would add a great deal to the Bill. It would totally change the Bill. The Bill refers to,
“the managing or governing body of a maintained school in the principal local authority’s area”.
That is pretty prescriptive. I am trying to turn it round to say: do not define it according to the bureaucratic boundaries and bureaucratic systems, which people may or may not understand; define it according to what people elect. Go to the people first to say, “Which schools do you send your children to?”, or go to the children and the students at the FE college to say, “Which schools do you go to?”. Ask people, “Which hospital do you use?”. If the legislation is really about empowering citizens—to use some government language—start from the basis of the citizens, not from the basis of the bureaucratic structures.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the Minister asked how councils would determine which things to include and how to define “significant”. I would not define “significant”. We do not have to define “sustainable development” whenever it appears in Bills; we are not allowed to. Let us not define it. Let us leave it to the common sense of the councils concerned. That is what the Government will not do. They will not let go. They will not say, “Here, around the country, is a series of councils. If we treat them as sensible, intelligent people with common sense and trust them to do sensible things, by and large that is what they will do. If we try to tie them up in detailed prescriptive rules and regulations, they will behave less sensibly, because that is what people do”.
The Minister referred to the ward that he opened at Airedale hospital. Sometimes I think that the debates that we have here are driving me mad. I hope that I will not have to take advantage of the excellent facilities that he was responsible for introducing. I do not know.
If anyone goes to Barnoldswick and tries to issue a document telling people how to get involved in the health service but it is all about Burnley and Blackburn and does not mention Airedale, there will be a riot on the streets of that town. So Lancashire County Council and Pendle Borough Council, when producing such documentation, will say that it is common sense that they must include Airedale because they are local people and they know where people go. They do not have to spend money doing opinion surveys on where people go. We all know. That is what the Government do not seem to understand: people on the ground know these things and will do sensible and common-sense things.
Finally, given the way in which the Bill is written—that the hospital has to be in the district—some districts probably do not have a hospital any more, so they would be missed out altogether. Is that what the Government want? The Minister said that information will be available at the school, the hospital, the college and so on. I begin to think that that undermines the whole basis of this part of the Bill. I am not satisfied with the answer.
Will the Government think about what happens when you are near the border, particularly with health authorities? My noble friend was talking about hospitals. If you live in Berwick-upon-Tweed, you might go to Edinburgh, Newcastle or the Borders General. In rural areas such as ours, border country, these things are very complicated. We are again looking at generalities rather than being too specific.
I am tempted to say that we should wheel in my noble friends Lord Wallace of Tankerness and Lord Livsey of Talgarth to discuss these border issues, but they are tied up in the marine Bill and doing work on behalf of some of us. I note the point made and, at this stage, I shall withdraw the amendment, but I beg the Government to look again at this. I do not think that it is a complicated or difficult matter. The Bill just needs a slight change of wording and we would all be very happy. In the hope that I will be happy, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 34 withdrawn.
Amendments 35 to 42 not moved.
43: Clause 2, page 3, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) a parish meeting;”
I shall also speak to Amendments 44, 45 and 46 in my name. These take us to the second list, which the Minister told us was the list of organisations, such as parish councils and national park authorities, which do not exist everywhere but exist only in some places. However, I see in the list,
“a police authority … a chief officer of police … a strategic health authority … a Primary Care Trust”,
“a local probation board or a probation trust”.
That drives a coach and horses through the previous explanation, although that is not a major or substantive point, is it?
Amendment 43 would add to the list “a parish meeting”. I have to say that I have not added this in the place that I had intended to, which was a line higher. I was probably drafting the amendment too late at night when I was in bed. Parish meetings were the first things that came to my mind when I thought of the previous amendment to change “persons” into “bodies”, because parish meetings are not persons. I may be wrong; it may be that the chairman of a parish meeting is a person and he can exercise at least some minimal functions on behalf of the parish meeting. Nevertheless, whatever the rights and wrongs of that, I am very clear that parish meetings should be included in the list. Parishes exist in many places and most parishes have a parish council, which, I was going to say, is like any other local authority, although many parishes are unlike other local authorities. None the less, they are still functioning, democratic local authorities. Parish meetings take place in parishes that are usually too small to have a functioning parish council. A parish meeting takes place once a year or whenever it is called according to the rules for calling such meetings. We set a limit in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act on the size of new parishes necessary for there to be a parish council. I think that the limit is 100, but I am not sure.
Some parishes have direct democracy in the form of an annual parish meeting and other special meetings, if required. Why should such meetings not be included in the description of the local system of democratic involvement? That is my first point, which is straightforward, and I hope that the Government will simply accept the amendment and put it in the right place.
Secondly, joint waste authorities set up under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act are included in the list. Amendment 44 is, for the moment, a probing amendment to find out what such authorities’ democratic features are. Given that the Minister is going to write to us to explain all these things, I will not pursue that further today. The same goes for waste disposal authorities under the Local Government Act 1985. They will come and we will be told what the democratic features are that require them to be in the list. That will be interesting.
Amendment 46 is a much more substantive amendment, which basically says that housing associations and ALMOs—arm’s-length management organisations for council housing stock—should be included in the list. It may be that an ALMO is sufficiently close to a local authority for the Government to say that it will be included anyway, but given that they are deliberately at arm’s length, that is not entirely clear to me. They are certainly unlike bodies that deal with council housing stock that has not been pushed out to arm’s length.
The main local housing associations nowadays are often in places where large-scale stock transfers have taken place—where the council has, in whole or part, divested itself of its council housing and transferred it to a housing association. Big authorities have in some cases done that in one area and not another, or perhaps they have two or three of these bodies. Housing associations are very much part of the provision of public services in an area. They get most of their money—not necessarily all, as they can raise money in the markets—from the Housing Corporation, or the Homes and Communities Agency. They are subject to a considerable degree of supervision and control through the provisions in the recent Housing and Regeneration Act.
These are quasi-public bodies, but there is no doubt that they are public bodies of some sort or other. Particularly where they perform the function of a local housing authority, in providing what used to be council housing and what is now public or social housing in an area, they are a public body, so it is not clear why they should not be in the list. They are certainly as much a public body as other bodies listed and in many cases they have very clear means of involving members of the public. Usually, those people are tenants, but there are sometimes residents on the estates who are not tenants. It is not clear to me why these should not be on the list. I should like to hear the Minister’s justification for that.
While we are looking at this list, it may be worth asking the Minister why she thinks that the chief officer of police is a person with democratic involvement and functions. Perhaps in a sense this is anticipating discussions on later parts of the Bill, but it is interesting to ask why the Government think that the economic prosperity boards—EPBs—will have democratic functions, since they all seem to be fairly undemocratic bodies. I do not understand why combined authorities have to be in here on the basis of the provisions later in the Bill, because the combined authority presumably will be a local authority and will be covered anyway. Why does it need to be included separately? That is particularly confusing given that the Government are saying that joint committees and joint boards of all kinds of things on a voluntary basis do not have to be in, because they will be covered by the fact that they consist of local authorities. I do not at all understand why combined authorities are here.
We kept discovering these things after we tabled the amendments. As far as the PCT is concerned, there is a series of bodies—the new LINk organisations—which surely ought to be in here. Those organisations are being set up to replace the patients’ forums, which had a short period of life after the abolition of community health councils. Why are the LINk organisations not mentioned here, when they are specifically set up to involve members of the public in the local health services?
Finally, on social services, there is a series of children’s partnerships and similar things within social services. Why are they not here? A lot of places now have new Sure Start centres or children’s facilities under the banner of Sure Start, which all have some kind of quasi-democratic local committee responsible for running them. Why are they not here?
The problem with these prescriptive lists is that, the more you think about things in different areas, the more you think should be in the lists and the more you question why the ones that are in them are in them. If only the Government would trust local authorities to take a common-sense approach to it all within a general framework, we would do far better than by producing these lists. Since we have them, however, we are probing them. I beg to move.
I have some general support for the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and his amendments in this group. If there has to be a list, it must not exclude obvious bodies. The parish meeting is an obvious body, because small communities are often not big enough to have a parish council, so the parish meeting is their democratic body. It is rather an insult to small communities to exclude the parish meeting. It is the only thing that they have, and they use it very democratically. If there is a big issue for the village or community, it is dealt with democratically at the parish meeting. I particularly concentrate on this, because, as I said, it is an insult to exclude it.
Briefly, the only local authority of which I have ever been a member is a parish council. I was a chairman of a parish council in Warwickshire—we were just about big enough to have a council, as distinct from a mere parish meeting—and it did some quite useful work. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would no doubt prefer Amendment 43 to follow list A rather than list B, but I thought that a parish meeting was excluded—I may be wrong; I am sure the Minister will respond if I am—because it has no separate existence from the electors, unlike any other local authority body. It is not democratically elected. It is not direct democracy—the phrase that the noble Lord used—because it has no separate existence. That is probably why it is not there.
I support my noble friend if we are going to describe what is in the lists. We have had a discussion about the difficulties surrounding that. People need to understand fairly carefully how social housing is provided in their area, which body they go to if they want to be on the list, where the money comes from, how they can become involved if they think it is important to have more social housing in the area, and who is responsible for other housing issues.
In my area, there is the issue of second homes. As the Minister knows, Northumberland has been reorganised, and the arrangements for housing will be completely different from the previous arrangements when we had a district council and a county council. This is quite important. If we are going to be prescriptive and have a list, I am not quite sure why it does not have something about housing in it, although I recognise that this is quite difficult. The local authorities still deal with lists and homelessness, but social housing is also important, and there is quite a connection between the two, so I hope that the Minister will take that on board.
I am pleased to say that I am going to bring great joy to practically everyone in the Committee. That will make a nice change. Parish meetings are very important. In fact, it was our intention that parish councils, as identified in the Bill, would cover them. However, the noble Lord makes an important point. I will take it away and think about how we can accommodate it, so I hope that that will help.
As regards the other issues he raises, for example in relation to joint waste authorities—when I write to noble Lords I shall certainly give as full an explanation as possible about the democratic arrangements as we see them—he has already argued that joint boards and joint committees should be included. I know that this is a probing amendment. We are agreed that this area is of great interest to people. I know from personal experience that nothing is more likely to exercise a local community than a decision on where to place landfill or incinerators. However, joint waste authorities are bodies on which local councillors sit. We believe it is very important that people are made aware of this and of how decisions about waste are made. People should be aware of the waste hierarchy and who they can talk to if they have concerns and issues. We think that these democratic arrangements are relevant. That is why they are included in the list. People need a greater understanding of this issue, because waste is one of those things that is divided up in terms of function in the two-tier authorities and there is a lot of confusion as regards collection and disposal. Therefore, there is a good case for including that.
Complicated issues arise as regards social housing. I take the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, made. We tried to address that in part by including the HCA in the list. Although it is not often a direct provider, it directly funds certain projects and developments. Therefore, there is a strong relationship with local authorities. Amendment 46 seeks to add ALMOs and other providers of social housing under the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. By the latter group, I believe he means “registered providers”. This is the term in the 2008 Act which refers to bodies registered with the regulator of social housing—whose trading name is the Tenant Services Authority—and it includes all current registered social landlords; that is, housing associations under another name.
We had very long debates during the passage of the 2008 Act and previous Acts on why it is not appropriate to treat housing associations as public bodies. Housing associations are non-profit, private bodies, often charitable, with a long history of independence. They are very anxious to keep that status and we are very anxious to ensure that they do. They are not connected with local authorities in any formal way and are not normally their agents or contractors. I invite the noble Lord to revisit the debates that we had on the Homes and Communities Agency during the passage of the Housing and Regeneration Bill, in which I went to great lengths to explain that principle. Indeed, noble Lords agreed with that principle on which that Bill was based. That is where we still stand. These bodies must retain their private status.
Having said that, because they are not public bodies, housing associations are not required to have democratic arrangements. However, during the passage of that Act, we also debated how housing associations could strengthen those arrangements to the benefit of their tenants. That was partly why we introduced the new regulatory functions. We are very clear that housing associations must have a responsive and responsible attitude to tenants, and involve them in the management of services. That Act was very much about promoting and supporting that. That was not the first time that we debated the status of those bodies. During the passage of the Local Government Act 2000, when we developed the duty to involve tenants, we had exactly the same debate on the same grounds about the importance of protecting the existing status of housing associations and the difficulty of including those non-statutory bodies in legislation.
ALMOs comprise a different configuration. They are wholly owned, monitored and controlled by local authorities. They manage and improve the local authority’s housing stock but they are housing managers only. The local authorities retain their landlord status. ALMOs are required to have local authority members sit on their management board. They have a very close relationship with local authorities, but are not part of the local authority. They are separate entities. Local information should be provided about how many councillors sit on the management board, how it is managed and the relationship between the local authority and the ALMO. Bearing in mind stock transfers, that is very important.
Members of the Committee raised other questions about the chief officer of police, and so on, and the links with other partners. In the interests of making progress, perhaps they will allow me to answer those questions in writing; that may be more satisfactory all round.
I again raise an issue of principle—it may well be that it is my understanding that is not clear. The noble Baroness appeared to suggest that the reason why housing associations were not included was because of recognition of their independence, whereas earlier, when I was trying to point out the independence of FE colleges, she made exactly the reverse argument.
Going back to the purpose of the Bill, my understanding is that it is to connect the people with local democracy, local decision-making and an understanding of how things work. One of the most talked about subjects in many local associations, organisations and pubs is housing: who gets what, when and why. When local housing associations sometimes determine who gets what, when and why, it is important that local people are aware of the democratic arrangements, if any, of those organisations, despite their independence. I therefore argue that the Minister, in talking about the independence of housing associations, defeats the purpose of the Bill.
There is a very clear distinction between housing associations, which are private bodies, and FE colleges, which are public bodies. When the local authority explains its governance arrangements to enable people to understand them, it is at liberty to explain its responsibility for housing and how housing is funded. Most social housing funding comes through those in communities agencies. Local authorities bid for funds, and they determine where those funds will be spent; whether they are for housing the vulnerable, normal housing stock, family homes, or whatever. They can explain all that as part of their responsibilities and they can explain their governance arrangements. There is nothing to stop them doing that.
The interesting issue that has come out of this, where there is a sticking point, is the question of housing associations. We will probably have to come back to this. Again, I start with the people out there rather than the structures and institutions. If you ask people who live in an area where the big associations run what people still think of or still call council estates: “Are those housing associations private bodies or public bodies?”, they will say that they are public bodies. Many people do not distinguish between the housing association and the council.
I accept exactly what the Minister said about the legal status, but we are not talking about legal status here. They may be private bodies, but I described them as being quasi-public bodies. The reason I did that is precisely for the reason that the Minister gave: most of their funding comes through the Homes and Communities Agency. The local authority still has the strategic housing responsibility for negotiating and discussing with the funding agencies, especially the HCA, the strategic needs of its area. The HCA will certainly negotiate directly with housing associations, but the local authority has a direct relationship with the housing association in agreeing the allocation of funds.
In many cases where there have been stock transfers, there are close financial relationships between the transferred housing association and the local authority involving millions of pounds that go in both directions. In many cases where there has been a transfer from the local authority, a significant number of the members of the housing association board are appointed by the council. It is not true to suggest that housing associations are completely private and have nothing to do with and are not connected with local authorities. In terms of their functions, there is no doubt that housing associations are quasi-public bodies.
The Minister referred to traditional, small, charity-based housing associations, which I accept are quite different. However, to be included in the Minister’s description of local governance and the local organisations, it is not a requirement, despite the fact she said that it was, to have democratic arrangements. Many of them do not have democratic arrangements, but they have to be included as part of the description of who does what and what happens, because if you do not include them, it does not make sense to people. They look at this and say, “You have missed out all of the council estates”, “You have missed out this part of the health service”, or whatever. The description of people providing services, even if they are not democratic or open to democratic processes and influences, is an important part of describing how local services are provided. If you do not do that, you are not providing a comprehensive document—which was a point that we made on Monday.
We have to come back to the question of housing associations, particularly the big ones and where there have been stock transfers. I ask the Government to think carefully about how it might be possible to include them in a sensible way, if we decide that that is what we want the Bill to do.
My final point is to read out another list. The names of bodies that I am about to read are not all partnerships, but it is clear to me that if this plan is to work properly and not be too onerous a burden on local authorities, there will have to be a hierarchy of information. If this simply applies at a local, unitary or even a district council level, you will miss out a huge amount of the information that people who want to get involved ought to have in a community or a small town.
I have made a small list from the small town in which I live, Colne in Lancashire. I thought about this on Monday when my noble friend obtained information on more than 100 bodies in Calderdale. A noble Lord opposite said, “We do not want all these local organisations”. I thought, “Of course you don’t”. If you live in Halifax, you do not want to know about what happens regarding the trusts and partnerships in Todmorden. If you live there, you do not want to know about what happens at the other end of the borough in, say, Sowerby Bridge. However, you need to know what happens in your patch. If the local authority in its offices, town hall or libraries has a sensible set of information, they will not be in the Government’s lists.
I looked at the list in Colne. There is Colne in Bloom, which is a voluntary group that does very well. The community safety panel is the local panel from Pendle’s crime and disorder partnership. Underneath that, there are monthly PACT meetings —Police and Communities Together—which take place in each ward, at which people turn up to talk about crime and disorder and antisocial behaviour. They are well attended.
Yes. The noble Lord should go to his local PACT; I am sure that he has them in Essex. We have a neighbourhood management organisation, which meets every two months; it is called a NAG—a neighbourhood action group—to which sometimes 30, 40 or 50 people turn up and which keeps the more deprived parts of the area in a decent condition.
We have a new town council that holds loads of meetings for the public. We have a town centre regeneration forum. We have an organisation called Colne Connected, a market town partnership with five or six different subgroups on all kinds of things, such as schools, parks and employment. We have Sure Start, which has its own committee. We have the Lancashire local committee, which I talked about yesterday. We have a market panel that looks after the council-owned market hall. The two local parks have friends groups, which are full of active people. We have two other nature reserves, which also have friends groups. And we have the customer panel, the tenants’ representational organisation within what is now Housing Pendle, the housing association from the large-scale voluntary transfer.
Those are just the ones I thought of while I was writing them down; there are probably lots of others I have forgotten about. There is nothing special about this; Pendle is a normal town with lots of thriving local organisations—and many other organisations that are not thriving but do their best to keep going. This is the level at which people will get involved.
It is all very well talking about the primary care trust, the strategic health authority and the Homes and Communities Agency, but if you really want to get people involved it is these organisations that you have to promote. They are the first layer on the ladder. People come and get interested in what is happening in their area, and then some of them move on to these other organisations, but it takes time. I put Pendle forward as an example, but almost any town you look at in the north of England could provide a similar list of local organisations. Unless what the Government are doing includes all those, the thing will not work.
That was a bit of a diversion, but I thought that it was something the Committee ought to know about. Pendle is a nice town, and a lot of people get involved. Let us get more of them. I am supposed to be begging leave to withdraw Amendment 47.
Amendment 43 withdrawn.
Amendments 44 to 46 not moved.
47: Clause 2, page 3, line 15, at end insert—
“( ) a local strategic partnership;( ) a crime and disorder reduction partnership established under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c. 37);”
Amendment 47 brings us back to partnerships, which we have discussed to a large extent. The Minister has promised that she will look at them and see whether she can come back with something that makes sense and that will appease at least some of our concerns. The amendment would include in the list a local strategic partnership and a crime and disorder reduction partnership established under the Crime and Disorder Act. We thrashed those out previously, so I will not pursue them further at this stage. Amendments 48 and 57 attempt to define a partnership, and are worth looking at briefly. Amendment 57 would define a local strategic partnership as,
“a non-statutory, multi-agency partnership which cover the areas of a principal local authority which is a member of that partnership”.
Local strategic partnerships have become such important bodies that the Government have to grasp the nettle and start including them in legislation. If they do that, they will have to find a definition for them. Here I offer a first approximation of what might be a reasonable definition of an LSP.
As my noble friends said earlier, we all know that LSPs form an important part of the local political and governance landscape. For the Government to continue to pretend that they are just voluntary organisations set up at the local level, that people can have them or not and that they do not have to be considered in legislation, is no longer remotely tenable. One of the consequences of not including them is that some of the regulation they ought to be subject to cannot be put on a statutory footing. A further infuriating issue is that the rules and regulations covering declarations of interest that councillors have to make under the strict standards regime in place for elected councillors does not exist in relation to members of LSPs—unless, of course, a member also happens to be a councillor. Councillors on LSPs are subject to quite different rules than everybody else, and that cannot be right. This is just one example of the consequences arising from the fact that LSPs are not defined in legislation in a satisfactory way.
LSPs are not going to go away, although some of us might wish them to do so. They will be there for at least the foreseeable duration and therefore they ought to be on the statute book. Here I am offering the Government a definition of what they are. If they think it is wrong, I would like to know why because I am very interested in what they think these bodies actually are. I beg to move.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his creativity. We shall certainly look at his definition. I am also grateful that he recognises that we have debated most of the elements concerned with partnership, and I know that he is as anxious as I am to get on to petitions. Let us make all good speed towards them.
I cannot add to what I said earlier, which is that we shall certainly look at the complex and challenging issue of a set of definitions that might come within this area. I cannot promise anything, but we will try to discuss the matter with the noble Lord between now and Report.
Amendment 47 withdrawn.
Amendments 48 to 50 not moved.
51: Clause 2, page 3, line 37, at end insert—
“( ) A principal local authority may by a resolution made at a meeting of the authority amend the list of authorities that are connected to it by the provisions of this section so as to add to that list any public bodies or class of public bodies which—
(a) are established in the area of the principal local authority;(b) provide services or facilities to persons who live in the area of the principal local authority on behalf of that authority or another local authority; or(c) provide services or facilities to persons who live in the area of the principal local authority which are significantly provided by the use of public funds.( ) Before passing such a resolution, the principal local authority shall give not less than two months’ notice by public advertisement and by notifying each body that it thinks the resolution affects.”
In moving Amendment 51, I shall also speak to Amendment 58, which is grouped with it and is also in my name.
Amendment 51 is an attempt to redress the top-down nature of the Government’s scheme. Provisions in this part allow the Government to change the lists of connected authorities by removing them, adding them or doing what they like with them. For some of the reasons that I gave in our debate on the last but one group of amendments, a great deal of the decisions about which authorities should be connected authorities for the purpose of drawing up these schemes of public involvement and understanding should be made at the local level by people on the ground who know what they are talking about and who know the circumstances.
The amendment therefore says that the council can amend the local list of connected authorities, and it sets out three criteria that the council should use in deciding which organisations or persons should be on the list. In a sense, I offer these criteria to the Government as a way of simplifying this whole thing. We would be a lot happier if all we had was half a page that described a general duty and described in general terms what the outcome had to be and the kind of organisations that should be involved. We would not have all these detailed discussions and arguments, because fundamentally we agree—certainly the Liberal Democrats agree—that producing a description of local governance and how people become involved is a good thing.
The criteria that I have set out are that the organisations on the list should be organisations that are established in the area, that provide services or facilities to people who live in the area, or that provide services or facilities significantly through public funds and therefore not necessarily through their or another local authority. Those may or may not be the right criteria, but they are quite sensible.
Amendment 58 is a by-product of this and says simply that projects that are funded by the National Lottery should be included in this scheme. In every area now, a lot of projects get their funds from the National Lottery, and although the funding and governance of them may be open and transparent to the people involved in them and in the National Lottery, they may not be to the rest of us because they are not done publicly or transparently and there is little way in which local people can hold anyone to account for the way in which the money is spent. There is a real problem here, which Amendment 58 simply highlights.
The main purpose of Amendment 58 is therefore to transfer powers to local authorities from central government. That is what the Government keep telling us they want to do, but whenever we ask them why they do not do it, they say that they cannot because they cannot trust the local authorities. I invite them to trust them on this occasion. I beg to move.
I am not sure whether I have misunderstood the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—I hope not—but the amendment seems to suffer from the examples that he has given several times of local authorities up and down the country doing what the Government want them to do by explaining democratic arrangements and how you can participate, and of the various forms of participation that have not been imposed by the Government but have emerged in local areas to a useful democratic degree.
The trouble with the amendment is that the worthwhile desire of the Government to ensure that the best of what goes on goes on throughout all local authorities as far as possible is damaged by the amendment. It suggests that at a whim any particular local authority can amend,
“the list of authorities that are connected to it”,
as it pleases. That could mean that up and down the country there could be a diversity of approaches to the obligations placed on local authorities by the early clauses, especially Clause 2.
You could have local authorities next door to one another, one of which followed all the best requirements and the best practice—which I know that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, desires—and another could restrict it. Of course, it gives local authorities greater opportunity to do what they want rather than what central government wants, but the whole purpose of central government intervening here at all—which I know the noble Lord is not very keen on—is to ensure that best practice covers the whole of the country, not just part of it.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, wants to transfer the powers of the Secretary of State to local authorities to make sure that principal local authorities can promote information relating to the democratic arrangements of local organisations which may not be covered by the current list of connected authorities.
We recognise that the list may not be comprehensive for all time, but to keep it to those that we know for certain would be relevant for the duty, the Bill allows for additions to the list to be made by the Secretary of State where a clear case has been made for such an addition.
It is important to remind ourselves that this duty is about promoting understanding of the democratic arrangements for public bodies set up either to be influenced by citizens, directly or indirectly, or run by lay citizen representatives. It is not designed to cover all conceivable information about public services in general.
Before we look at Amendment 51, we should note that this has important links with Amendment 65, which we will debate later in another group. By giving principal authorities the power to add to the list in Clauses 2 and 3 for their respective areas, it could allow principal authorities to impose a duty and significant new burdens on any organisation that they select to provide them with the information they request.
As for the aim of Amendment 51 to allow principal authorities to seek and promote information relating to the democratic arrangements of any body operating in their area, as we have heard many times today, it is in their discretion to do this, and they can do so without Amendment 51. The noble Lord will not be surprised to hear me say that. What Amendment 51 would do, however, is to give principal authorities the power to add to the list of connected authorities any public body, which is not defined, and so could include an organisation in the voluntary sector, as long as it receives public funding.
That means that the scope of the duty to promote democracy could go beyond what the Bill is intended to cover. Each principal authority could then claim that it has a statutory duty to ask any public service provider that it chooses to supply information on how citizens can participate democratically in their decision-making, even where they are not meant to be set up to facilitate such democratic input.
For example, organisations such as inspectorates provide a valuable public service, but to be independent in their assessment means that their decisions are not open to public influence. There will also be voluntary organisations which, although they are in receipt of public funding, are run by a group of volunteer trustees not necessarily elected from the local area.
The noble Lord is right to suggest that lottery funding contributes significantly to some bodies providing publicly funded services. However, in the context of the Bill, it is unclear why receiving public funding should mean that a body should then be susceptible to a local authority requiring it to provide information on its democratic arrangements.
The Bill’s aim is to set out public bodies which have a clear remit in facilitating democratic participation in their decision-making and ensure that they share that information with the relevant local authority for it to promote to local people. It is not its aim, however, to include those without such a remit. Without a clear rationale for what bodies other than those listed in the Bill should also be included as connected authorities, there is a real risk that many public and voluntary bodies could end up being required to provide information on arrangements which are not part of their remit. Therefore, we cannot support the amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, which I shall come back to in a minute.
The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said that our case is that lots of local authorities are doing this already. With regard to the reference in Chapter 1 to the duty to promote public understanding, we are not particularly making that case. Some authorities may do it very well and most will do it to some extent, but what is proposed in the Bill is quite new for most local authorities. That is why we are keen that it should be done as well as possible. It should not be overly onerous—an issue we might have to raise another time—and it should provide useful information to people, not useless information. That is the basis of what we are saying. We are in favour of the fundamental principle behind Chapter 1, but we are against these five pages of detailed prescription. We do not think local authorities are doing this already.
The noble Lord also talked about diversity of approach and best practice. He said that we have to ensure that best practice covers the whole country. The problem is that if central government ties down local authorities and councils to the degree it always want to, you never find out what best practice is because everyone is doing something the same way—the way the Government think is best practice at the time they impose all this detailed regulation. The only way you can find out what is best practice is by allowing what the noble Lord described as a diversity of approach across the country. We are in favour of local democracy and the diversity of approach that it brings, along with the understanding that some councils will do things well and some less well. That is a matter of local democracy which cannot be avoided, but it also produces best practice in some areas. There might be different best practices, a best practice here and a best practice there, and both may be good—the rest of the country could learn from them. The government approach, however, is a top-down Stalinist system where everyone ends up with something that is probably fairly good but lacks vision and diversity, and never moves on. That is our view.
I accept that the amendment is at the slightly extreme end of the spectrum of what I am trying to say, but for goodness’ sake tell councils what you want them to do and let them get on with it. Stop trying to tie them down in detailed rules and regulations. And, yes, if an elected council believes that some local organisations should be put under the duties set out in the Bill, that should be their right; they know their situation and they know which local organisations need to be on the list. I do not see what is wrong with that. Equally, they will look at this list and say, “Some of these organisations do not apply here, and therefore we are not going to do it”.
It may be that this argument can be pursued better under the scrutiny sections. I do not know; we will look at that. For the time being, I am disappointed in the Government’s response, although not terribly surprised. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 51 withdrawn.
Amendments 52 and 53 not moved.
54: Clause 2, page 3, line 43, at end insert “but this power shall only be used if the authority ceases to exist”
We finally come to Amendment 54, which seeks to restrict the powers of the Secretary of State under Clause 2(6). Clause 2(6)(a) states that the Secretary of State can add persons to the list of connected authorities. I am not challenging that. Clause 2(6)(b) states that the Secretary of State can,
“cause any person to cease to be”,
such a connected authority. However, if they comprise a valid authority, why should the Secretary of State be able to remove them?
Reference has been made to the whims of councils. I sometimes talk about the whims of Secretaries of State whose decisions often seem to become erratic over time. That is not because they change their mind but because Secretaries of State change so often. Who knows, we may have a change of government before too long. I say “may” because personally I would not count on it. People ought to understand that Secretaries of State change. We say that if an organisation is valid and the list is valid, the organisation should not be removed, and that the Secretary of State should be able to remove organisations only if they cease to exist. If the Government want to remove an organisation, they should legislate for that. The Bill says that the Secretary of State can change functions. We argue that he should be able to do so only if the functions of the authority change, and in order to introduce more functions. This seems fairly straightforward. We are trying to give local authorities more power and the Secretary of State less, and this is one of a series of amendments which try gently to achieve that aim. I beg to move.
I apologise for jumping up to speak. I am anxious to support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, as regards a change of government. This amendment is very similar to several that Conservative Members of the Committee moved right at the beginning of the Committee stage. We feel that this legislation gives too many powers to the Secretary of State. We therefore endorse this amendment, which seeks to curtail those powers. I would still advocate limiting the powers of Secretaries of State in this regard even if a change of government occurred. I agree with the noble Lord that successive Secretaries of State within the same Government can adopt different attitudes. Local authorities should decide this matter rather than the Secretary of State.
Amendments 54 and 55 clearly seek to limit the Secretary of State’s—or, in the case of Wales, Welsh Ministers’—order-making power in Clause 2, which allows government to amend the list of authorities that are considered connected authorities for the purposes of the duties to promote democracy.
The purpose of the list at Clause 2 is to ensure that councils are clear on the minimum list of connected authorities about which we want citizens to be provided with information. We want citizens to be informed about the key decision-making bodies in their area, how they can influence them and how they can get involved in helping to make important local decisions. The order-making power included in Clause 2 allows the Secretary of State to keep the list up to date and relevant. We believe that this is a balanced and sensible approach. Similar order-making powers can be found in other legislation and the power builds in an important flexibility in relation to the duties related to the promotion of democracy. The power gives the Secretary of State the flexibility to add new connected authorities or remove them where principal local authorities no longer think a connected authority is relevant to them.
To some extent I understand the noble Lord’s concern that the Secretary of State should not be able to remove bodies from the list willy-nilly, perhaps as a result of one of the bodies lobbying the Government because it is not happy with the effort involved in providing information. I appreciate the concern, but that is exactly why we have built into Clause 2 a requirement that any change to the list is consulted on with the local government sector and other relevant bodies; councils’ views on the matter will be clearly sought and listened to and changes will not be made in the face of obvious opposition from local government. In addition, any proposed change to the list of connected authorities will also be subject to the negative procedure. It will be scrutinised by Parliament, and noble Lords will be able to raise objections and have them debated in the House. In any event, as a matter of law the Secretary of State must act reasonably, and so would have to have a reasonable justification for any change.
My main concern is that the amendment fails to recognise that there may be circumstances where removing a body would be perfectly legitimate. For example, local government itself might decide that a body is not relevant to the community and that it is actually burdensome on the council to have to continue collecting information that is no longer useful to local people. We also make the more technical point that if an authority ceases to exist in statute, references will be removed consequentially from the legislation, so the order-making process will not need to be used for this purpose.
Amendment 55 seeks to amend Clause 2(6)(c). Let me explain what this paragraph does. The background to the wording is that one of the activities we have included in the list of connected authorities, the National Offender Management Service, is a function that is carried out by an agency of the Secretary of State rather than by a separate connected authority. This is brought in by reference to the functions of the Secretary of State under the Offender Management Act 2007, as set out in Clause 2(2)(c). Clause 2(6)(c) simply gives the Secretary of State the same power to add or remove activities from the list as she has in relation to other connected authorities. In this case, however, instead of adding or removing persons, the Secretary of State is able to add or remove her own functions. The legislation enables changes in the functions of the Secretary of State or for local circumstances to be taken into account, ensuring that information remains relevant and up to date. The amendment seeks to limit this power so that it can be used only if the functions of the Secretary of State change, but it ought to include the functions carried out by the authority in the local area.
The aim here is the same as in the previous amendment—to limit the occasions on which functions can be added or removed from the list. Again, we think that this amendment would limit the legislation unnecessarily. Clause 2(6)(c) is needed so that should changes in circumstances in the future make it desirable to add additional functions to the Secretary of State, it could be done. We may want to add functions that are not new and which were not previously considered relevant to this duty, or to remove functions that no longer seem to be relevant to it. The amendment would not allow us to do either. Our intention is to ensure that the information remains as relevant to the local community as possible and that any such change is also subject to the requirement of consultation and, as I said earlier, to the parliamentary process to be undergone before the change can be made. Of course, the legal requirement to act reasonably also applies. With those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
I shall certainly withdraw the amendment in a moment. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for his support. I have to confess that I did not understand a word the Minister said in relation to Clause 2(6)(c). I hope that he understood it when he read it out. I shall have to wait until it is in print and take it to bed with me and try to understand it. What a happy life I lead. As I listened to the explanation, I became convinced that there was a good reason for tabling the amendment, which was to get him to explain what all this means, otherwise I do not think that any of us would have realised the thinking behind these provisions. We hope to understand it all at some point.
On the main point, which relates to the first amendment in the group, I repeat the basic argument. The noble Lord said that there is no problem in setting up a huge, convoluted, bureaucratic, time-wasting, money-spending system for one connected authority or one local authority because it will be done only if local government decides that it is a good thing to do.
That was the implication of what he said. It will not be done because the organisations do not like it, or whatever. It will really be done only if local government wants those changes. If local governments want those changes, let us accept my amendment and let them do it. It will be done without all this convoluted bureaucratic system of consulting everyone in the world, going round in circles, producing a parliamentary order and everything that that involves—all the people who you have to employ to do it and all the cost.
This is a wider question: the present system of government in this country is crackers. I blame computers, because they make it possible. The whole thing takes far too much time, far too much bureaucracy and far too much organisation, and far too many people are employed to do it. One hopes when the economy gets better that they can be doing useful jobs. I despair about the whole thing. In that sense of despair, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 54.
Amendment 54 withdrawn.
Amendments 55 to 58 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
Clause 3 : Monitoring boards, court boards and youth offending teams
Amendment 59 not moved.
Debate on whether Clause 3 should stand part of the Bill.
We have given notice that we feel that Clause 3 should not stand part of the Bill. We have spent much of today discussing what should or should not be on the list and what should or should not be included. We feel that independent monitoring boards, visiting committees and court boards are going too far from the roles and functions of local authorities and local governance and really have no part in the Bill.
As with every part of the public sector, it would certainly be better if the public were better informed and had a better understanding of its role and function, to the extent that it is possible; and if they were more involved in what it is doing, to the extent that it is possible. That is not what local authorities should be there to do. In some ways, it is even misleading to suggest that local authorities might have some influence over that. Local authorities are not usually in a position to be able to answer questions that will arise in relation to those bodies. For those reasons, this clause should not be part of the Bill.
I feel a little differently about youth offending teams, not least because in another life I am an executive councillor for community safety and I have political responsibility for a youth offending team in my local authority area. I simply do not understand why the work of the YOT would not be covered more than adequately by the earlier parts of the Bill and therefore why it needs to be in this clause. So for rather different reasons, I include that in our wish to remove the clause. Amendments 63 and 67 are consequential on Clause 3 not being part of the Bill. For as long as it remains part of the Bill, obviously they will not be moved.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in his opposition to Clause 3 standing part of the Bill. I had not added my name to his on the Marshalled List, as I had hoped that my earlier amendment, which altered the duty on local authorities to promote understanding of the functions of these bodies, might have been seen as a kind of halfway house. However, I was denounced from the government Benches as being destructive. We on these Benches have never been opposed to the spread of information about services, but we do oppose the imposition of a duty on local authorities to promote such information.
That duty becomes even harder to justify when the services in question have only a tenuous link to the functions of the local authorities. I am interested in understanding today the similarities between the three bodies listed in the clause, other than the obvious one that they relate to criminal justice. What is the reason for including these bodies, and what is the link between them and the local authority? Is it a link of control, authority or finances? Why should local authorities promote these organisations or their democratic arrangements?
The purpose of the Bill is to promote involvement. How far is public involvement allowed in each of these three bodies? How far can members of the local community get involved in them? Is the extent similar for all three bodies? Again, to return to the very basic point that I made earlier today, does the Minister accept that taking responsibility from individual organisations that rely on public involvement to demonstrate transparency and giving it to local authorities is disempowering local communities? The best way to empower local communities and get them involved is to ensure that there is a direct link between them and the organisation in which they seek to get involved, rather than having a third organisation, such as a local authority, on whom a statutory duty is imposed to promote that organisation’s role.
I am grateful for the opportunity offered by the clause stand part debate to explain why we have included these bodies and, I hope, to answer the questions that have been raised by both noble Lords. I hope that I did not offend the noble Baroness by describing her amendment as destructive. I certainly did not intend to denounce her—she is far too reasonable to invite denunciation—and I apologise to her if she felt that I did.
I shall explain why the clauses are there as they are. I take the point about the amendments, too, and will address them in what I am going to say. In Clause 3, we seek to require local authorities to promote an understanding of what people in these roles do, how a person can be a member of these bodies or take part in them, and what is involved in doing so. The noble Lord said that he did not think that local authorities should do that in respect of these bodies, and he asked why the youth offending teams were not included. The three bodies identified in the clause all have lay civic roles, so there is a distinction between them and the youth offending teams. We can talk about those teams outside the Committee if he is concerned about that.
It is very important to distinguish between the two types of duties that we are discussing. The duties in Chapter 1 are aimed at citizens’ understanding of two things: first, the democratic arrangements of those public bodies—the governance and decision-making arrangements—which we discussed yesterday and which are covered in Clauses 1 and 2, and, secondly, the civic opportunities for citizens to play a role as a lay person on a range of public bodies, which are covered separately in Clauses 3 and 4. I want to be clear that we are looking not for information about democratic arrangements but for participation.
Why have we included these bodies? Quite simply, they are important local bodies. What they do has an impact on the local community. We are dealing with independent monitoring boards, which help to monitor the day-to-day life in local prisons or removal centres and ensure that proper standards of care and decency are maintained; and with courts bodies, which make recommendations to improve the administrative services provided by the courts. We want the public to be aware that they can serve as magistrates or IMB members. There are an important number of lay roles that can be filled by people from the local community. There are quasi-judicial or inspectorate roles or roles that relate to the administration of justice.
It is the same challenge again: to ensure that a more diverse range of people put themselves forward for these significant posts. These are the people who ensure that prisons and immigration centres are properly run. The posts are created to give people from the local community an input to reflect local values. If we mean to do this, surely we should get people on to these bodies who reflect the full range of the local community: young and old, a wider range of ethnic and faith groups, disabled people and so on.
At the moment—
Not at all. I was just about to say that at the moment that is not the case. All these bodies are keen to achieve better levels of representation in the communities they serve; so much so that they have been busy working to attract more people. In 2007, there was a clustered recruitment programme to assist recruitment to independent monitoring boards—in particular, those that had experienced difficulties in attracting new, or a sufficiently diverse mix of, applicants. They have a network of IMB members who go out to talk to local communities, professional groups and local colleges, but the different bodies have been doing that separately. The reason for local authorities to get involved is to help those bodies, not to supplant them or reduce their presence. It is to broaden their opportunities to reach a wider group of people as well, in addition to what they do. It is supporting them. Local authorities are in the Bill because our discussions with the relevant bodies showed that that is what they want.
Will the Minister explain the ways in which the local authority could go further? Some of these cluster recruitments have involved people going out, speaking in the community, holding public meetings, putting out information and literature and running mentoring and pilot schemes. How would the local authority go further than that? If that has not worked, how will the local authority’s arrangements work?
That is a good question. We are not imposing these requirements on the public bodies. In our dialogues, their representatives have invited the local authorities to assist them in this process. They welcome this approach as another way in which more people will know about what is possible, how they can be involved and how to take up these roles; it will promote more joint working and joint information. How the local authorities do that will be up to them, but a single point of information and contact could well alert people who are really interested in these sorts of bodies, and for whom an involvement in them would be a natural extension to what they are interested in—those who are working with victim support, for example, or who are doing other things in the community—to how they can be connected to local organisations. Is the noble Baroness saying that that is not worth doing, I wonder?
Such is the narrow spectrum of the community from which these roles are normally drawn that anything we can do will be positive and helpful. The more effectively that we can promote opportunities, which we can do in different ways, the more likely we are to ensure that local people are informed and come forward. We can take a step forward and ensure that the roles represent the communities. Local authorities support our proposals to promote the possibility of taking part and becoming involved and to reach out to communities in different ways, particularly those that are currently underrepresented. Making the links between the different initiatives that aim to encourage people to take on civic roles is admirable and necessary.
With regard to the clauses, we have tried to move the barrier and act with a light touch, whereas the effect of Amendment 63, for example, would be that the council would be required to promote understanding of these bodies, whether or not the information supplied by the bodies had relevance to what we have just said. The suggestion is that councils should promote the relevant roles without needing to bother the bodies concerned. We think that the way to make sure that the information is as accurate, relevant and useful as possible is to ensure that they work together.
Amendment 67 would remove monitoring boards, courts boards and youth offending teams from being subject to the order-making power, but as I argued earlier, the provision is provided simply for the contingency—we do not expect this to be the case—that for some reason there is a lack of co-operation. Again, this is very much a power of last resort.
I hope that my explanation has reassured the noble Lord that we have not just invented yet more work for local authorities in the area of civil responsibility where it is not needed. These bodies have a particular role to play in the community and for their own reasons want to be more diverse in their representation. This is simply a way for local authorities to assist them.
I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation, although I do not think that we have yet covered my point about youth offending teams. My question is why they are included here, rather than being covered earlier. As someone responsible politically for youth offending teams, of course I have a deep interest in the intentions of the Bill. Perhaps the Minister would like to come back to me on that point.
I think I did make it clear that Amendments 63 and 67 were consequential on Clause 3 leaving the Bill. Obviously that is not going to happen today. I hope that nothing I have said suggests that the work of these boards is not important, because it is. There should be much greater public understanding and, to the extent that it is possible, public involvement in this work. I am all for that. If local authorities working in co-operative arrangements with these bodies can help with the promotion of those aims, of course that is a good thing and no one would stand in the way. Our concern is that the Bill does not just say that it is a good thing, it makes it a duty—a requirement regardless of circumstances and the local situation. That is our worry about this clause and why we think it should not be in the Bill.
Listening to the Minister has actually raised a personal concern. It occurs to me that I have two prisons closer to me than my own local civic offices.
They happen to be located in Surrey, not in the London Borough of Sutton or in Greater London. At the risk of reopening a debate we had a while ago, they are not in my local authority area and I have no idea, to be frank, what the independent monitoring board does. Indeed, my own local authority is not going to tell me because, although the prison is only half a mile up the road, it is over the county boundary, not just the local authority boundary, so I shall remain in ignorance. However, perhaps we should not reopen an earlier debate. It is a point that my noble friend Lord Greaves missed, but no doubt he will correct it at Report stage.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4 : Lay justices
Amendments 60 and 61 not moved.
62: Clause 4, page 4, line 38, at end insert—
“( ) For the purposes of this section, the duty extends only to those functions of a public nature which are connected with the principal local authority.”
I should say that I really wish to oppose the Question that Clause 4 should stand part of the Bill for similar reasons to those we have just discussed and which I shall not rehearse again. Let me put on the record, however, that we recognise that lay justices play an enormously valuable and important role and that they are very much part of a local community. They are drawn from the local community and for a very long time there has been a pressing need to make them much more representative of local communities than is normally the case. I certainly accept enthusiastically any activity that a local authority can undertake to help to promote these issues.
I have no problems with any of that, and I do not need to be told how important it is. Again, however, it should not be the duty of a local authority to do it. If the Government feel the need to legislate in this area, let them do so. Otherwise it is the duty of the magistrates’ authorities, not the local authorities, to promote these issues.
I do not want to exaggerate this, but I see some dangers in a local authority doing that, given the interrelationship between local magistrates and local authorities. A great deal of a local authority’s work—it is not often very much publicised, unless something goes very wrong—is with and in relation to magistrates’ courts. There might be some cause for concern if a local authority has a duty to be promoting and trying to get people engaged as local magistrates at the same time as it has to use those magistrates’ courts for its proper business. I do not want to exaggerate that or suggest that it is a major problem, but it is a small issue.
Amendment 62, which clearly would not apply if I were successful in removing this clause, says that, if the clause is to remain part of the Bill, the duty of the local authority in this respect should be limited to those functions of a public nature that are actually related to the work of the local authority. In other words, it is not the whole wide-ranging role of a magistrate in the criminal justice system but that which particularly relates to the local authority. It is a limiting amendment on the powers of Clause 4, should it remain in the Bill. Amendment 64 is consequential on Clause 4 not remaining in the Bill and, as today the clause is likely to stand part, I shall not move Amendment 64 when we get to it.
I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said. I recall that in the past there has been too much connection between magistrates’ courts, the appointment of lay justices and party politics in local government. That was not just about the appointment of someone rather than another person because of his political label, but sometimes there was the rather more subtle point that because there are already too many Conservatives, we had better have some Labour people appointed as magistrates. It was often said that that kind of balance was necessary, whereas to my mind I am not sure why membership or activity in a political party should necessarily have anything to do with the qualities of someone who should be a magistrate.
Points which are relevant here were also mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, on the previous amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, takes the same view—that there are a number of bodies, in particular the Ministry of Justice, seeking magistrates. It is their job and the job of local magistrates’ organisations, rather than that of local government. I do not really mind the addition of local government having this responsibility if it brings into the picture a number of people, especially from more diverse backgrounds, who might not otherwise be brought into the picture of lay magistrates.
If that is so, and if that is part of the Government’s answer to this amendment, I have one question for the Ministers: if it is desirable that local authorities should have this Clause 4 duty in relation to lay justices, why do we omit administrative tribunals? Good heavens; there are employment tribunals and national insurance tribunals. Tribunals were reorganised by the Government only a couple of years ago in statute. There is a great need—for diversity as well as for the quality and merits point—to have people to serve on such bodies. No doubt the Ministry of Justice takes a major role in that. If you are going to say that one bit of the judiciary, lay magistrates, should be an obligation of principal local authorities to promote, what about tribunals?
I add my support to the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Amendment 62, as I read it, has two elements. The first is that, if the clause is to remain in the Bill, there must be a limit to the extent of information made available. The second is that there must be some connection to the local authority. Although the amendment is especially pertinent to the clause, which deals with lay justices and therefore may touch on information of a sensitive nature, the caveats expressed in the wording could equally be applied to all the other bodies for which the local authority will assume a duty.
There must be no accidental publication of sensitive information as a result of the duty in this part that would otherwise not be available in the public realm. I hope that that goes without saying; but I do not yet accept the Government’s idea that any local authority should have a duty to promote understanding of things not connected to it—in this case, lay justices. Not only does that place a burden on the local authority, it creates a relationship that may not be appreciated by those who have been compelled to become involved. In this instance, I am thinking of magistrates’ organisations, such as Magistrates in the Community, which already goes to great lengths by going into schools, for example, to explain its role and function to the public.
As I said earlier, if the local authority is merely to publish that on a website, how does that go any further than the local magistrates’ association publishing it on its website? I am also concerned about whether the people who will be visiting the local authority website may be the people who already sit on many local authority organisations. I am concerned that we may end up with a local area with the usual suspects on everything.
Once again, I fear that the Bill creates the risk of overlap and duplication and the risk of sensitive information ending up where it should not. I hope that the Minister will be able to assuage those fears and provide justification for the inclusion of Clause 4.
I shall try not to repeat anything that I said in our previous debate, although many of the same issues have arisen. I shall try to allay some of the fears that have been raised in relation to the magistracy.
In Clause 4, we are trying to require local authorities to promote understanding of what people in the role of lay justice do, how a person can become a lay justice or magistrate and what is involved in doing so. We are concerned only with promoting the civic governance roles listed in Clauses 3 and 4. I say to my noble friend Lord Borrie that it is very important that we make a distinction. Local authorities are not recruiting magistrates; they are simply promoting the role and opportunities for people to put themselves forward to become magistrates if they so choose. I leave to stand all the arguments that I deployed on the previous debate about how that was seen as useful by the bodies representing magistrates. I take the point raised by the noble Lord; I will read carefully what he said about some of those relationships.
Amendment 62 is about ensuring that the information provided about lay justices is appropriate for dissemination—that it is relevant to the local area. The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, took up the same point. Of course we want that to be the case. We will be setting out in guidance that we do not expect anything more than the general role of a lay justice—what they do and how to become one—to be disseminated. The clause does that. The amendment is intended to ensure that the functions of a lay justice are explained by a council only where the functions are of a public nature connected with the principal local authority. As the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, said, that is intended to address the concern that judicial case-specific functions, which would not be appropriate to be explained publicly, should not be included in the duty. We agree.
As I said, the clauses distinguish between public bodies that are meant to reach out to citizens and involve them and others, such as inspectorates or lay justices, who should make decisions independent of public preference. That is one reason why Clauses 3 and 4 differ from Clauses 1 and 2. That is why they focus on promoting information about specific civic roles.
No, it is not about promoting involvement as in earlier clauses; it is about explaining the civic governance roles of these bodies and how you can put yourself forward to be part of that lay team. I have made that distinction now in several ways.
Lay magistrates are included in Clause 4, as I said. We are not interested in the democratic arrangements here; we are interested only in what the role entails and in how people can become a lay justice. The amendment could limit the information about what magistrates do to the point where the public could not gain the information that they need. We have consulted closely with the Ministry of Justice on this, and it is content that the clause does not require councils to go beyond what can be acceptably publicised.
My noble friend makes an important point about administrative tribunals, which I will take away and think about. My concern is that there is quite a variety of tribunal arrangements in the local community. We should bear in mind that the requirements must be proportionate. Incidentally, I was very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, say that this role was new and to have his implied support. We must get the balance right between a reasonable expectation on local authorities and a change in the culture to make it more open.
Finally, Amendment 64 would do much the same as Amendment 63, so I will not discuss it because it is taken care of by the debate on Amendment 63.
I may need to go back a step and reiterate what I said. In Clauses 1 and 2, we are concerned that people know about the governance arrangements of these bodies. In Clauses 3 and 4, we are concerned to ensure that people have information about how they can get involved and how they can become a magistrate. Therefore, the question of the civic governance role of the magistrate does not arise. I hope that I am making that distinction clear and that the noble Lord can see what we are trying to get at in these clauses.
Now I am totally confused, but that might be my fault; it is getting late and my brain is getting fuddled. I distinctly heard the Minister in her reply to my noble friend refer positively several times to the civic governance role. All I can do is read Hansard and try to understand it there, and perhaps have some discussions about it.
To take that point further, my question moments earlier was what duty is being placed here—the duty to give information or the duty to promote involvement? I will have to look at this in Hansard, but my distinct understanding was that the Minister said that it was not a duty to promote involvement, whereas her answer just now to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was, I think, that it is. I would like clarification of the duty in the clause.
The noble Baroness is quite right to pick me up on that. My language was loose. I will say what I said in the previous debate and at the beginning of this debate. There are two specific duties. In Clauses 1 and 2, we propose that people need to understand the democratic arrangements of public bodies so that they know how things work, how decisions are taken, how they can influence what happens, and how they can stand for the council. Clauses 3 and 4 focus on civic opportunities in which citizens can play a role as lay people. Therefore, this is not about governance arrangements; it is about the way in which they can get involved. The noble Baroness is right to pick me up on that. I hope that that is clear, and that the record will show that.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. In the light of it, I go back to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. If there is a duty to promote involvement, surely that duty falls on magistrates and the Magistrates’ Association. If we take that duty away by placing it on local authorities, we take away a very important function that lay magistrates should, and do, perform in courts up and down the country.
I have sent a reply to this point about four times. We are not taking anything away from the constituent bodies that we are addressing in relation either to this clause or to the connected authorities. They have this responsibility. All we are saying is that Clause 3 offers a new opportunity for the local authority to help to,
“promote understanding of … the functions of the bodies … how a member of the public can become a member of, or take part in, the work of those bodies”.
Nothing is being taken away from the responsibility of further education colleges, magistrates’ bodies or any other body. This is an addition. It will support, and we hope incentivise, those bodies which do not perform this function very well.
I thank the Minister for that reply. I understand that this measure is not taking away the duty; it is belt and braces. It is “in addition to”. But if that is the case, I return to my earlier question: what will the local authority do that is not being done, and how will it do it better? What is the practical outcome of this duty? If there is no practical outcome and it will be merely a line on the local authority’s website, why are we placing this duty on it?
I can give the noble Baroness some general argument and a specific example of the sort of things we would like to see. When the local authority takes it upon itself to act as a single point of contact, it will be able to bring together information about a wide variety of roles. That will bring people into contact not just with the thing that they are interested in or know about but with a large number of related opportunities that they may not know about. That is added value. Many people will go to a local authority website first rather than try to seek out individual organisations and their information points. It will be much easier for them to be rerouted via a local authority single point in relation to myriad opportunities that may be more or less obscured by other things.
Bristol has used such an opportunity in relation to its Operation Black Vote. This scheme involved people from the Bristol black and minority ethnic community shadowing local councillors. The aim was to encourage these people to stand as councillors. It became a very well regarded scheme. Some participants felt that they could take a role in local politics but others went on to take up other civic roles, such as school governors or magistrates. Because the information that was put in front of them in one place was brought together and opportunities were pointed out, they were signposted towards other opportunities. It was not a failure of the scheme that they did not stand as councillors; it was a bonus of the scheme that they wanted to serve in the community in a civic role that suited them. They might well not have found out how to do that had the scheme not been in place. That illustrates that people who want to get involved often find out about other things that suit them and other matters that interest them, which they might not have come across had the relevant information not been brought together at a central point. I hope the noble Baroness does not feel that she has to labour this point because the obverse is to say that there is no point in giving anyone information. As she well knows, we simply do not have enough young, diverse, representative people in these crucial roles, particularly as regards the criminal justice system. I hope that she welcomes what we are trying to do.
I am sorry if the Minister thinks that I am labouring this point. I am aware of the Operation Black Vote scheme in Bristol. It was an extremely successful programme, but, with all due respect, the people who then went on to get involved in other civic opportunities did so because they were involved in the scheme on a one-to-one basis, including a mentoring scheme that was detailed and organised over a period of time. It was not a simple signposting exercise by the local authority, which is what I think is being proposed in the Bill.
I am grateful to the Minister for trying to explain this fully. I think I understand the purpose of the clause; what I do not understand is why we have it, and why this process is being made a duty. All the things we have talked about are good and desirable, and if a local authority, in co-operation with a magistrates’ authority, is able to help, that is all to the good. I took part in a similar scheme to Operation Black Vote. I spent many hours with people of all ages, including one who attended the whole of one of my councillor’s surgeries. Indeed, one or two of them went on to become school governors—non-aligned, not as part of any political process. All that is good, and it happened without the direct involvement of the local authority.
I come back to this point: we wish the clause to be omitted from the Bill because the duty rests with the magistrates authorities. Of course the local authorities could and should assist where that is appropriate. I know the duty is not being taken away from the magistrates authorities—I never thought it was—but we need to be clear about that. I still do not know why this is included in the Bill as a duty on the local authority.
I was interested to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, giving what I might risk saying was his qualified support for my concerns. He rightly raised the question of various tribunals, and the Minister undertook to look at that. It was at that point that I thought, “We’re forming another list”. We want to encourage people to be lay justices; we want them to serve on tribunals; I would like to see a lot more independent custody visitors; we are always short of appropriate adults—I could go on. We have spent enough time on lists today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 62 withdrawn.
Clause 4 agreed.
Committee adjourned at 7.26 pm.