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Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Volume 831: debated on Thursday 13 July 2023

Report (2nd Day)

Relevant documents: 24th and 39th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Legislative Consent sought.

Clause 8: Constitutional arrangements

Amendment 26

Moved by

26: Clause 8, page 8, line 4, leave out paragraph (f)

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would ensure that the duty to allocate seats to political groups to the executive of a CCA or to a committee of such an executive would continue to reflect the requirement for political balance defined in the Local Government and Housing Act 1989.

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 30, 31 and 43 in my name. On Tuesday, I spoke on Amendment 51; I share the concerns expressed on that occasion by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I am a signatory to that amendment, in the name also of the noble Lord, Lord Bach.

I have a particular concern in relation to Amendment 30. I should give the Minister notice that, assuming that the response I get is similar to the one I got in Committee, it is my intention to test the opinion of the House.

On Amendment 26, I expressed concern in Committee that the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 will be disapplied in so far as political balance is concerned on a combined county authority. All this group is about power structures in combined county authorities. Some of the proposals in the Bill are worrying because they will centralise power within a CCA. The disapplication of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, because it eliminates political balance on a CCA, could lead to dominance by one party in the combined county authority and encourage a further centralisation of power.

I also have a concern about centralisation of power away from CCAs into the Treasury. With Amendment 43—I raised this matter too in Committee—I am concerned that, in terms of the Government’s ambitions for devolution, of which a great deal is claimed, no further devolution of fiscal powers is planned that I can see. For example, in the recent West Midlands deal, there is provision for the collection of local business rates locally for 10 years, but other fiscal powers are missing from that devolution agreement. I therefore have a concern in respect of Amendment 43 as well. I do not plan to test the opinion of the House on it but I hope that the Minister will understand that it is important to have a system for power structures that will stand the test of public scrutiny. I fear that these do not.

The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, has two amendments in this group. I shall say nothing about those other than these Benches will support her if she decides to seek a vote on either Amendment 28 or Amendment 29.

Amendment 31 raises a fundamental issue of principle that the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, also address: the concept of a non-constituent member of a combined county authority. That is a body, not an individual member; I will come to associate members, which are about individuals, in a moment. It refers, of course, to district councils. My Amendment 31 tries to make it clear that, where a council is the local planning authority, it really ought to be a full member of a CCA. I do not understand why that principle is opposed by the Government. I can hear the objection to what I am saying, which is, “Well then, a county will be dominated by the districts”, but there is a power in the Bill to organise a voting system, weighting it appropriately by population, to solve that problem. As a matter of principle, a district council that is a local planning authority should not be excluded from full membership of a CCA.

I move briefly on to Amendment 30. As I have said, I have a concern about the centralisation of power. There should be a principle, understood and agreed by all parties, that voting members in a CCA should be full members of the CCA and not part-time or temporary members. For that reason, I am in favour of non-constituent councils being full members of a CCA, which I have tried to explain in the context of the local planning authority.

Amendment 30 in my name seeks to prevent one party with majority control of a CCA appointing individuals as associate members then giving them a vote when those individuals are not full members of the CCA. I cannot think of any parallel. I understand why there may be a category of associate member; what I have not understood is why a CCA would have the power to permit an associate member, an individual, to have a vote on an issue. I raised this matter in Committee. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, will forgive me if I quote to the House what he said on that occasion because I got very worried about this. He said:

“For instance, a combined county authority may have provided for an associate member who, for example, may be a local business leader or an expert on a local issue to enable the member’s input on matters on which they have relevant expertise in the CCA’s area”.—[Official Report, 27/2/23; col. 113.]

I understand totally that you may wish to hear from somebody who has expertise. It is a very different matter to say that that individual, for temporary purposes, could have a vote on an issue. Who decides who is a business leader? I served for seven years on a regional development agency. I was appointed by the Secretary of State. The business leaders who were on the regional development agency were appointed by the Secretary of State. Here the appointment will be made by the CCA.

As I try to point out in Amendment 26, the CCA’s structure as it is now composed, because it disapplies the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, means that the power structure is being heavily centralised and it is not necessary for associate members to be given a vote. It could lead to an abuse of power, and that is what I am seeking to prevent.

I will finish by quoting the noble Earl, Lord Howe, further, because there was quite a debate on this issue late in Committee. He said:

“The point I was seeking to make is that the CCA would in some, if not many, circumstances want to maximise the input from associate members by allowing in certain circumstances those associate members to vote on such matters. The amendment would prevent that happening and could risk undermining the combined county authority’s ability to work in collaboration with local experts who can contribute positively to the working of the CCA”.—[Official Report, 27/2/23; col. 113.]

I do not understand what that means. They can work “positively” alongside the CCA as an associate member. The question is whether they should have a vote. I submit to the Government yet again the view that they should not have a vote and that the only people who should have a vote are the full members of the CCA. I beg to move.

My Lords, I very much support the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, particularly about the district council situation. Noble Lords might recall that in Committee I raised the issue of Oxfordshire and Oxford City Council, of which I used to be a member, which would be a non-constituent member of the combined authority, but Oxford University could be invited to come in as a participating member under this thing, and that does not seem right.

The noble Lord also kindly mentioned my Amendment 51, which is related to my Amendment 53A, which we debated on Tuesday, albeit to a rather limited audience; the formal taking of the amendment comes up later. My Amendment 51 would retain the right of members of a combined authority to give their consent to a change in the membership of the combined authority. Currently, Clause 51, quite extraordinarily, takes that away from the members of a combined authority so that members of a current combined authority have no say whatever in whether the boundaries of that combined authority should be extended and a new member brought in, despite the consequences for the combined authority.

This takes us back to the West Midlands, I am afraid, because we know why this is being done. This is being done to gerrymander the boundaries of the West Midlands Combined Authority to give Andy Street, the Tory mayor, a chance of being re-elected next May, and the Minister tabled late amendments to make this easier. This is being done over 12 weeks. The cabinet paper to Warwickshire County Council, which I think was discussed this week, makes it clear that in order for this to be rushed through, it must undertake a governance review and publish a scheme with details of the proposed expanded area of the West Midlands Combined Authority and its membership, voting and other constitutional arrangements, functions and the way it would be funded. A public consultation also has to be undertaken—in August, essentially, because Ministers have told the county council that to meet the deadline for the May election an application must be submitted in early October. The paper to the council cabinet openly admits that this

“may require … urgent decisions being made during the process”;

in other words, the consultation is a sham because we know that the decision has already been made in the Minister’s department. So much is unknown, not least the financial consequences for Warwickshire. Indeed, what about the impact on the existing members of the combined authority, who have no say whatever in whether this should happen because of the Bill before us today?

On Tuesday, the Minister very kindly said that the Bill is a bottom-up process, but this decision has already been made. So why is her boss intensely engaged with the county council to persuade it to do it? Can she answer that question? Can she also tell me whether the MPs in Warwickshire have been consulted? One would have thought that when considering something as dramatic as putting Warwickshire into the West Midlands Combined Authority the Government might have asked all the MPs what they thought about it. I do not think that has happened.

I love Warwickshire. I live quite close to it, as the Minister knows. It is a delightful county. Do the people of Warwickshire really want to be absorbed into an urban combined authority? Do they really want a mayor situated in Birmingham to have such a key influence on their affairs? Indeed, the same could be said for Shropshire, where, again, I think Mayor Street seems to be very interested. I do not think so. I do not think the shire counties in the West Midlands want this, and we should change the Bill to make sure that it cannot happen without the consent of combined authority members as they are.

My Lords, I rise to speak to my Amendments 28 and 29 in this group and will make some brief comments on the other amendments. We completely understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in Amendment 26 that the current way that combined authorities are brought together means that they could very well not be subject to any political balance mechanisms and the power structures could be centralised, as the noble Lord outlined.

The Local Government and Housing Act 1989 provisions are designed to deal with, for example, political proportionality on council committees. Of course, the political balance of combined authorities will vary across the country depending on the make-up of the constituent members, who will have been selected by dint of local elections. Although it is not impossible to put a balancing mechanism in place, it is difficult to see how that could be addressed without introducing a considerable level of complexity. It may result in some areas being represented by members who were not leaders in their own council, for example, which might bring its own difficulties. We need to think about how we get a sense of political proportionality in these combined authorities.

My Amendments 28 and 29 and Amendment 30, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, seek similar objectives. In Committee, as far back as March, we had long discussions about the composition of combined authorities and the role of the respective councils on them in two-tier areas. I will not repeat all the points I made then but will focus on the key issues. First, the presumption in the Bill that only county councils deal with strategic issues is based on an outdated idea of district councils and is entirely wrong. As a brief example, the workstreams on the Hertfordshire growth board planning for the future of the whole county consist of town centre development, growing our economy, housing growth, tackling climate change, et cetera, and are all led by district leaders. It is hard to see how willing they would be to do that if they did not then play a full part in the work of the full growth board and were not allowed voting rights at its meetings.

In response to the point I made on this in Committee on 15 March, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, responded that district councils

“cannot be a constituent member of a co-operative local government grouping whose membership is determined by reference to strategic functions and powers which are the primary province of upper-tier and unitary authorities. That is the logic”. —[Official Report, 15/3/23; col. 1342.]

I do not see the logic of excluding the strategic leaders of 183 councils that not only run services but are responsible for the planning, housing and economic development of 68% of the land in the UK from taking part in strategic functions and powers.

My noble friend Lord Hunt has set out his concerns about the proposals relating to boundaries. He rightly points to the dangers of these being used for gerrymandering. It is simply not acceptable to use primary legislation for that purpose; it is the very opposite of devolution. My noble friend used the example of Wiltshire the other day and Shropshire today. I think also of Hertfordshire, right on the borders of London, and the idea of it being scooped into a huge authority without leaders in those areas having a say is unthinkable.

The Government’s proposal in the Bill that combined authorities may give their associate members a vote but do not have to give that same ability to district council members or leaders leaves combined authorities in the unprecedented and very unwelcome situation of having democratically elected representatives on their body who cannot vote and appointed members who can. That is surely not tenable. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, recognises this issue and would restrict associate members from voting. We urge the Government to consider that, if other amendments in this group are not successful. If the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is minded to test the opinion of the House then he will certainly have our support on that.

My Amendment 28 would automatically confer voting rights on non-constituent members, but we would prefer that that was in the hands of the combined authorities themselves. Amendment 29 would establish a process for the Minister to introduce a mechanism that could allow combined authorities to give non-constituent members full member status. We feel strongly that this decision should absolutely rest with the combined authorities themselves. It is the opposite of devolution for the Government to determine which locally elected representatives should be permitted to take part in local decision-making and which should not. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has outlined clearly that weighted voting systems are perfectly possible. Therefore, unless we hear from the Minister that there has been a change to the Government’s view on this issue, we would like to test the opinion of the House.

My Lords, Amendment 26, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, would prevent the executive of a combined county authority being able to represent the political make-up of its members. As I made clear in Committee, that is not something that the Government can agree to. A CCA will be made up of members from each constituent council on a basis agreed by those councils through their consent to the establishing regulations, which will provide for the make-up of the CCA’s executive. It is essential that the CCA’s executive properly reflects the local political membership of that CCA, which this amendment would prohibit. It would also place the CCA’s executive in a different position from those of a local and combined authority, which do not require political balance under existing legislation. I do not believe I can say any more but I hope the noble Lord will see why I cannot accept his amendment and that, on reflection, he will agree to withdraw it.

Amendments 28 and 29 from the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, seek to allow a combined county authority’s non-constituent members to be able to be made full constituent members and to give non-constituent members the same voting rights as full constituent members. Conversely, Amendment 30 from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, would prevent associate members being given any voting rights, and his Amendment 31 would make planning authorities constituent members.

A key underlying factor of the CCA model is that only upper-tier local authorities can be constituent members and have the associated responsibilities. That is the key difference between it and the existing combined authority model, which, I remind the House, remains available to areas. A non-constituent member of a CCA is a representative of a local organisation; it will not necessarily represent a local authority. I make that point because, since a CCA is a local government institution, it would be inappropriate for any organisation other than an upper-tier local authority to be a constituent member. Constituent members are those who collectively take the decisions of the CCA and are responsible for funding it.

It would also be inappropriate for the same voting rights to be conferred on all non-constituent members, given the range of potential bodies. The CCA should have flexibility to vary voting rights to reflect its membership. We want there to be genuine localism in this area, as in others. Depending on the decision of the combined county authority, its non-constituent members can be given voting rights on the majority of matters.

As associate members will be appointed by a CCA for their expertise on a particular topic—for example, a police and crime commissioner on public safety—the CCA may deem it suitable for the associate member to be given voting rights on that subject. Again, in line with the Government’s policy, the model allows for genuine localism; it is down to the combined county authority to decide whether or not associate members should have voting rights on CCA matters and what those voting rights should be, rather than that being imposed by Westminster.

We believe that associate members should be permitted to be appointed to CCAs because of the expertise they have in certain matters, and that they should be able to vote on those matters if the CCA decides that that is appropriate. It is important to emphasise that the whole CCA has to agree to the decision to confer voting rights on non-constituent and associate members. It is not a mayoral decision, so it cannot be abused by one individual for their own gain.

While we appreciate the intention behind Amendment 31, it would undermine the CCA model, in practice removing any differences between it and the existing combined authority model. The result would be to prevent devolution in areas with two-tier local government.

Noble Lords should be reassured by two things. First, the drafting of Clause 16 means that planning functions, or indeed any functions, cannot be stripped from district councils and conferred on a CCA. Secondly, our arrangements provide for CCAs to be able to liaise with district councils on important matters, such as planning, via flexible methods that reflect local circumstances, without impinging on the role of district councils.

I turn to Amendment 43 by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. The Bill already provides mechanisms for fiscal devolution powers of local authorities and public authorities to be conferred on a CCA under Clauses 16 and 17. The Government trust local government and its strong and accountable local leaders. Level 3 devolution deal areas can look to finance local initiatives for residents and business through a mayoral precept on council tax and supplements on business rates, as set out in the levelling up White Paper. We are exploring further fiscal devolution, initially through the trail-blazer devolution deals with the Greater Manchester and West Midlands Combined Authorities, and we will consider putting power in the hands of local people through greater fiscal freedoms. We are currently doing so, as I have just explained, through those two trail-blazer deals.

Lastly, I turn to Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. Devolution deals are agreed and implemented over sensible geographies. Local consent under the new arrangements in Clause 57 would be given by the mayor and the council that wishes to join the combined authority. The mayor is democratically accountable to the whole existing combined authority area, so it is right that they should be the decision-taker on decisions on changes to that whole area.

Incidentally, we have not, as the noble Lord suggested, put forward any amendments to Clause 57. The noble Lord indicated his view that this was all about gerrymandering. I must emphatically repudiate that suggestion. Warwickshire County Council’s plans are part of a local process for the area—the county and district councils—to apply to join the West Midlands Combined Authority. If Warwickshire decides to pursue this, it must undertake a process.

Any proposal to expand an area of a combined authority comes from the local area. It must make a strong case that doing so will deliver real benefits to the local area and include a public consultation within it. Before making regulations to change the area, the Secretary of State must consider that doing so is likely to lead to an improvement in the economic, social and environmental well-being of some or all of those who live or work in the area, and have regard for securing effective and convenient local government, reflecting the identities and interests of local communities. This provision still requires the triple lock of consent: from the local area via the mayor and the submission to the Secretary of State, including a public consultation; the Secretary of State, on behalf of the Government; and parliamentary approval for laying the legislation enacting any such changes.

My Lords, I want to make two points. The Minister said that this is not about gerrymandering. I suspect he would say that, wouldn’t he? I am a resident of Birmingham, and Birmingham City Council is a huge local authority—a member of the West Midlands Combined Authority. Do we not get any say at all in whether the boundaries should be extended to Warwickshire? Surely the current constituent authorities have a legitimate role in consenting to the boundaries being extended.

The second point is that the amendment I referred to, government Amendment 34, allows work to be done in relation to this in advance of Royal Assent—which is a highly unusual move, I suggest.

I simply remind the noble Lord, in answer to his first point, that there has to be a public consultation. That is when the views of all interested parties can be taken into account. Retaining the present arrangements, which I guess the noble Lord would like to do, could mean that the expansion of a combined authority—where the evidence shows that would be likely to improve outcomes across the proposed whole new area—could end up being vetoed by one existing constituent council if the combined authority’s local constitution requires unanimous agreement from its members on this matter. That could happen, irrespective of support from the potential new member, the mayor and the great majority of constituent councils.

I hope the noble Lord appreciates why these provisions are framed as they are. I know that he believes there is an underlying malign motive. Again, I emphatically repudiate that idea. The current regime acts as a barrier to the expansion of an existing combined authority, even when there is a clear economic rationale in favour of it. The Bill will make it less difficult for combined authorities to expand into more complete and stronger economic geographies. For that reason, I ask him not to press his amendment when it is reached.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. He has not allayed my concerns about the dangers of greater centralisation of power in a CCA, and I am unconvinced by his argument about local planning authorities. I still think that a district council which is a local planning authority ought to have an absolute right to membership of a CCA. It should not be at the discretion of existing members of a combined authority. We may come to that issue in a moment, but for the time being I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 26.

Amendment 26 withdrawn.

Amendment 27 not moved.

Clause 9: Non-constituent members of a CCA

Amendment 28 not moved.

Amendment 29

Moved by

29: Clause 9, page 9, line 30, at end insert—

“(7) A Minister of the Crown may by regulations establish a process for non-constituent members to become full members.” Member’s explanatory statement

This intended to establish a mechanism for non-constituent members to become full members.

My Lords, I remain unconvinced by the arguments that have been put us, so I would like to test the opinion of the House.

Clause 10: Associate members of a CCA

Amendment 30

Moved by

30: Clause 10, page 9, leave out line 35

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment seeks to ensure that only full members of a CCA would have the right to vote.

My Lords, I find myself unconvinced by the Minister’s reply on associate members’ right to vote. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Clause 11: Regulations about members

Amendment 31 not moved.

Schedule 1: Combined county authorities: overview and scrutiny committees and audit committee

Amendment 32

Moved by

32: Schedule 1, page 280, line 33, leave out “at least one member of an audit committee is” and insert “a minimum of three members of an audit committee are”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would help ensure a strong presence of knowledgeable, independent persons on an audit committee thus avoiding too great a dependence on members of constituent councils.

My Lords, I have two amendments in this group. It is not my intention to speak at length about them or to test the opinion of the House.

I have a great concern about the role of audit. I do not think that the existence of Oflog is sufficient to address the problems that we have experienced recently around processes in local government being inadequate to prevent excessive expenditure—particularly capital expenditure—which has spiralled out of control. There is a big issue for local authorities and combined authorities to address in terms of their ability to undertake an audit effectively. We are aware that a number of local authorities have not had their audits signed off for some time. There seems to be a capacity problem across local government in terms of the audit function.

All that said, my amendment is not a matter on which I will divide the House. I just hope that Ministers will try to address the issue of capacity in the audit function on audit committees where they exist. There will be audit committees for a CCA. I would like to think that enough expertise will be there to do the job properly. Simply to have at least one member is not enough. I have proposed a minimum of three. This is very important. When councillors are members of an audit committee, they have many demands on their time. What is required is a more professional focus of those who are trained in the area.

The second amendment relates to the ability of an audit committee, where it exists, to publish a report. At the moment, it is required to report to the CCA. I do not know what will happen if the CCA decides that it does not like it or does not want to publish it. Does the CCA have the power to prevent publication? I hope to hear from the Minister that something can be done to reassure me that an audit committee of a CCA can publish a report, even if the CCA does not wish it to do so, where the audit committee believes it to be in the public interest.

These two amendments are as simple as that. I am very happy for the Minister to take the issue away, to see what might happen when some of these statutory instruments start to come through your Lordships’ House. I beg to move Amendment 32.

My Lords, I shall be very brief. I want to express our support for the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and to reiterate our concerns around audit and Oflog and how that will operate within its responsibilities. We need to ensure that there is a sufficient set-up to deal with the huge problems facing local authorities regarding audit. We know that some authorities have not had an audit for years, so this is clearly a real problem. We thank the noble Lord for tabling the amendments and hope that the Minister and the department will look carefully at his concerns and constructive suggestions, as we really need to resolve this issue.

My Lords, Amendments 32 and 33 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, seek to increase the transparency of CCAs. Greater functions and funding must come with strong accountability, but that must go hand in hand with decisions being made at the most local level possible. I can deal with this quite briefly and, I hope, to the noble Lord’s satisfaction.

As the Bill is drafted, a CCA’s audit committee can appoint three independent members, should it wish to, but it should be a matter for the CCA to decide exactly how many above one. The regulations that will establish the combined county authorities will set out the audit committee arrangements. They will provide that, where practicable, the membership of the audit committee reflects the political balance of the constituent councils of the combined county authority. Membership may not include any officer from the combined county authority or the combined county authority’s constituent councils. The regulations will provide for audit committees to appoint at least one independent person.

As regards transparency, in addition, Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972 provides powers to require the publication of reports of a committee or sub-committee of a principal council, including audit committees. Schedule 4 to this Bill already includes a consequential amendment to apply Part VA to CCAs.

I hope that that is helpful. The noble Lord has already kindly said that he will not press his amendment, but I hope that what I have said will reassure him.

I thank the Minister for his assurances. I think there may be a way forward here—I hope very much that, at the very least, we will have strong guidance. When the statutory instruments come before the House—assuming that they do—I hope they will ensure that the ability to have three members is translated into having three, as opposed to having at least one person. There has recently been developing concern among the public as to what has happened in some local authorities whose audit systems simply do not seem to be strong enough to prevent capital investment going wrong. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 32 withdrawn.

Amendment 33 not moved.

Schedule 2: Mayors for combined county authority areas: further provisions about elections

Amendment 34

Moved by

34: Schedule 2, page 286, line 39, at end insert—

“(5A) The requirements in sub-paragraphs (4) and (5) may be satisfied by things done before the coming into force of this paragraph.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment enables the consultation and recommendation requirements relating to regulations made under paragraph 12 of Schedule 2 to the Bill (conduct and questioning of elections for the return of mayors) to be met by steps taken before those provisions come into force on Royal Assent.

My Lords, in moving government Amendment 34, I shall also speak to Amendments 40 to 42, 44 to 50, 55 to 57, 290, 297 and 306.

Amendments 34 and 306 give those preparing for and running the proposed east Midlands CCA mayoral elections in May 2024 early clarity as to the rules. Amendment 306 commences Clause 25 and Schedule 2, which contain the relevant powers upon Royal Assent. Amendment 34 enables the statutory consultation with the Electoral Commission, and the commission’s recommendations as to candidate expense limits, to occur before commencement in the east Midlands.

Amendment 50 amends Schedule 4, the current drafting of which provides only for mayoral combined authorities and mayoral combined county authorities to input on local skills improvement plans covering any of their area. However, the devolution framework in the levelling up White Paper states that this will be available to all CAs and CCAs and individual local authorities with a devolution deal. This amendment will allow all CAs and CCAs, including those without mayors, as well as local authorities with devolved adult education functions, to have their views on the relevant local skills improvement plans considered by the Secretary of State. These alterations will allow devolution deals in areas with devolved adult education functions to be fully implemented.

Amendments 55, 56, 57, 290 and 297 seek to amend Clauses 65 and 231. In its 24th report, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended that any regulations regarding the membership of CAs and CCAs, as made through powers confirmed by Sections 104C and 107K of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 or this Bill should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure rather than the existing mixed resolution procedure, whereby only the initial statutory instruments made are subject to the affirmative process. I thank the committee for its work in relation to the powers in the Bill. These amendments accept that recommendation and will ensure that an appropriate level of scrutiny is achieved for regulations relating to membership of CAs and CCAs.

The remaining government amendments in this group are all consequential, amending the Equality Act 2010 and the Localism Act 2011 to apply provisions in these Acts to CCAs to allow the model to work in practice. Given their importance in allowing CCAs to operate as a local government institution, and to enable the first CCA mayoral election, I hope that noble Lords can support these amendments.

My Lords, I begin, as I generally do, by reminding the House of my relevant interests as a councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I wish particularly to speak to government Amendment 34. I was quite astonished when I read it; it brings to the Bill a new issue that has not been discussed previously either at Second Reading or in Committee. I was also astonished because the amendment attempts to bypass the independence of the Electoral Commission. The commission was established to improve trust in our electoral arrangements. That is its function, and we rely on it to provide its stamp of approval for the arrangements made for elections.

To use a strong word, this is quite a pernicious amendment because it attempts to bypass the independent consultation of the Electoral Commission. I will tell the House what it says. The Bill, in its Schedule 2, currently expects the Electoral Commission to be involved in setting the arrangements for mayoral elections. On page 286, paragraph 12(4) states that

“the Secretary of State must consult the Electoral Commission”

and in sub-paragraph (5) that

“the power of the Secretary of State to make regulations … is exercisable only on, and in accordance with, a recommendation of the Electoral Commission”.

Government Amendment 34 states that the requirements in the two sub-paragraphs I have just quoted

“may be satisfied by things done before the coming into force of this paragraph”.

In other words, the Government are going to bypass those requirements. That cannot be right.

In our democracy, which is precious in this country, we must abide by independent views: the consideration of and consultation with the Electoral Commission, which is independent, to say that the arrangements made are proper and in line with our democratic principles. I am sad to say that government Amendment 34—maybe for reasons of practicality—has the effect of undermining the independence of the Electoral Commission. If it is bypassed once it will be bypassed twice, and if it is bypassed twice we will have lost an independent Electoral Commission that ensures that our electoral arrangements are trustworthy and fulfil the democratic requirements that we in this country set great store by.

I hope that the Minister will be able to explain why the Electoral Commission is not going to be allowed to have a say on these elections, and why the Government want to bypass it and appear to want to undermine its independence. This is serious stuff, and I look forward to what she has to say.

My Lords, most of these amendments are technical and non-controversial, so I would love to have repeated the famous 10-word speech given by my noble friend Lady Hayman on Tuesday and simply agreed with them. However, we share with others on these Benches some concerns with government Amendment 34. The Bill currently allows the Secretary of State to make regulations for the conduct of mayoral elections, such as regulations relating to the registration of electors and election expenses. While we do not oppose this power and see it as an inevitable part of the process for mayoral elections, the Government should absolutely involve the Electoral Commission as part of this.

We therefore welcome that sub-paragraphs (4) and (5) state that before making these regulations

“the Secretary of State must consult the Electoral Commission”.

It was widely assumed that such consultations would take place following Royal Assent, but Amendment 34 means that the consultation can begin prior to commencement. Can the Minister explain why this is necessary and confirm that it will not reduce the Electoral Commission’s vital role in this process, as rightly set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock?

It would also be helpful if the Minister could make clear exactly how the Secretary of State intends to exercise these powers. I hope she will understand the concerns that the expedited process is being introduced to facilitate a certain mayoral election—I am not referring to the east Midlands. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses for their input on these government amendments. These amendments, particularly Amendments 34 and 306, will ensure that those tasks we are planning for in running the May 2024 election for the east Midlands combined county authority mayor have real early clarity as to the rules for the conduct of the election.

The Government are absolutely clear about the role of the Electoral Commission. It has an important role in scrutinising all draft electoral legislation. It is therefore essential that it has sufficient time to undertake this role without causing unnecessary delay to the legislation itself. I will make it very clear: consultation with the Electoral Commission will still take place in full, and will still bind the regulation making. This amendment is just changing the timings for that.

Amendment 34 agreed.

Amendment 35 not moved.

Amendment 36

Moved by

36: After Clause 31, insert the following new Clause—

“Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners: future relationships(1) Within 30 days of this act receiving Royal Assent, a Minister of the Crown must publish a statement on plans for the future relationship between Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners.(2) The statement must include details on their distinct responsibilities and whether there are any plans to transfer functions between the two roles.”Member’s explanatory statement

The amendment intends to ensure that the government provides clarity over the future role of Mayors and PCCs.

My Lords, my Amendment 36 is designed to provide clarity over the future relationships, roles and responsibilities of elected mayors and police and crime commissioners. The number of elected regional mayors has grown in recent years, and the Government clearly want to create more. At the same time, it also appears that the Bill’s proposals will allow these mayors to take over, rather than run alongside, the role of PCCs. Is it the Government’s intention to gradually phase out the elected PCCs?

This matters, of course, because policing has never been under more scrutiny and public confidence in some forces is, unfortunately, at rock bottom. Although PCCs do not have operational control over local forces, being watchdogs rather than police chiefs, the hiring and firing of chief constables is among their powers. Some mayors would quite like those powers for themselves, so may seek a mandate to take them when they are next up for election. We know that the next PCC and mayoral elections are due in 2024—next year—and that there are already strong feelings in some areas as to who should have the job of holding the police to account.

Current legislation allows for a CCA mayor to apply to become the PCC, first, if the majority of their constituent councils agree and, secondly, following any consultation. The Bill removes those conditions, even the need to consult. Clearly, consultation should be essential for a change as big as this.

In Committee, the Minister said that

“councils do not deliver any of the services required by the PCC. That is the job of the local police. Therefore, there is no crossover in that way”.—[Official Report, 13/3/23; col. 1143.]

There was concern about that statement at the time. As my noble friend Lady Taylor and others said, this is simply not the case. Councils look at anti-social behaviour; they look at domestic abuse work with their police colleagues. They have issues related to local area policing. Councils set priorities with local policing teams and deliver services jointly to address these priorities. District councils have a community safety plan, a committee and a chair, with constant interaction between the PCC’s office and the councils, including the county council.

To say that there is no crossover between councils and PCCs is, we believe, a false argument to justify what is planned as a simple takeover of functions. I say this to make it clear that we support the amendments in this group in the name of my noble friend Lord Bach, Amendments 54 and 307A, which I understand are to be spoken to by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I also assure my noble friend Lord Hunt that if he wishes to push his Amendment 53A to a vote, he will have our support.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Hayman. My noble friend Lord Bach is addressing a memorial meeting in Leicestershire for the late chief constable with whom he worked very closely as police and crime commissioner.

To bring it back to my local patch, my concern is that Clause 59 means that the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority can become the police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands Police whenever he wants, without consultation or an open debate about the consequences for the West Midlands. That is a local example of what my noble friend Lady Hayman has just described. I recognise that a mayor can become a police and crime commissioner if he or she has general support, as I think has happened in Manchester and West Yorkshire, but in the West Midlands that support has not been forthcoming. The local authorities did not agree to it.

We have got used to voting for a police and crime commissioner. As it happens, it has been for a Labour one each time—most recently in May 2021, on the very same day that we voted for a Conservative mayor. There is no suggestion that the two postholders cannot work well together. Both were elected. I do not understand what the argument for change is. What is the argument for essentially nullifying the result of an election if it does not seem to suit one party?

This is compounded by Amendment 307, which allows the West Midlands mayor to take on PCC powers on Royal Assent—this could happen in September. What is the rush? If the Government are determined to go ahead with this clause, surely it should be done in a seemly and orderly fashion?

My Lords, this amendment is really important for democratic overview of policing in a combined authority area. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has said, West Yorkshire already has a mayor and a non-elected police and crime commissioner, because the arrangement for West Yorkshire—sadly, in my view—was that the two roles would be combined. The elected Mayor of West Yorkshire is therefore also responsible as police and crime commissioner. The consequence of combining those two roles has been that the Mayor of West Yorkshire was able to appoint a police and crime commissioner for West Yorkshire.

The whole concept of police and crime commissioners was that there would be democratic accountability for the oversight of policing in a police service area. In West Yorkshire and other places, I think including Manchester, that democratic accountability has disappeared because the mayors in those places—I live in West Yorkshire so I know the situation well—have appointed people they know as police and crime commissioner.

That is no reflection on or criticism of the job that that individual does, but it is a criticism of the lack of democratic accountability. If the oversight of police and crime in a very large area—2.5 million people—is given to an appointed person and the electorate cannot vote them out of office, there is something fundamentally wrong with the system. That is why Amendment 54 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is so important. The Government have gone in the wrong direction on this one. If we are to have police and crime commissioners, they need to be elected, as they are everywhere else in the country.

In introducing her amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, described how local authorities have direct involvement in significant parts of policing in an area, in particular in domestic violence but also in all sorts of neighbourhood policing issues. An alcohol and drugs unit in a council can work closely with the addiction section of a police force. There are lots of issues on which the democratically accountable council has to work together, we hope, with a directly accountable and elected police commissioner. That accountability is being removed, so we support the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.

It is quite wrong to combine the two roles. We need to hold on as much as we can in this country to democratic accountability, because it is seeping away; the creation of bigger councils, meaning that they represent many more people than they used to, is removing elected representatives from the people they represent. That is not right and we must say so at every opportunity. I hope the Government will move away from that, because it is not right.

On the last point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on Amendment 53A, we think the case has been made and will support it if she pushes it to a vote.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for outlining her rationale for tabling Amendment 36: to clarify the relationship between PCCs and mayors, and their respective roles and responsibilities. She asked if the Government want to phase out PCCs. There is no intention to do so. The intention is to allow mayors only in some areas to exercise PCC functions. Some areas will never have mayors who do so because only in coterminous areas can mayors take those functions.

The levelling up White Paper set out the Government’s aspirations for—

The noble Baroness said that you could have a combined police and crime commissioner and mayor only where there is coterminosity. If combined authorities are now able to expand, will that undo that requirement?

No. I hate to bring up the West Midlands—I know the noble Lord opposite will be very pleased that I am—but the Mayor of the West Midlands has a choice: he can either agree to pursue the expansion to include Warwickshire, which has its own PCC, so he could no longer take the PCC role, or he can take the PCC role and therefore not Warwickshire. That is the reality of what we are doing. I hope I have explained that.

I think that is right, because you cannot be PCC over two police forces; I fully understand that. What I would say is that if I were in Warwickshire, I would think, “At some point, they will merge West Midlands Police with Warwickshire”. That is just an option for the future, but the Minister is absolutely right about the fact that the mayor cannot oversee two forces.

I hope I have clarified that point. What happens in the future happens in the future; we are talking about this Bill, and the Bill does not change that at all. As I said, the levelling up White Paper set out the Government’s aspiration for, where policing and combined authority boundaries align, combined authority mayors to take the lead on public safety and take on the role of the PCC—and to take steps to remove the barriers to more CA mayors taking on PCC functions.

In an area where a devolution deal is agreed and the policing and CA boundaries are not coterminous, the Government wish to encourage close co-operation between the combined authority mayor and the PCC. While it is important for the area to shape exactly what strong partnership looks like in practice, one way of achieving this would be to use the non-constituent or associate membership model being established via provisions in the Bill. This could allow the PCC a seat at the table and allow the combined authority to confer voting rights on the PCC on matters relevant to public safety. The information and clarifications sought by this amendment are, we believe, already available, and we do not agree that there is any need for a further statement.

I turn to Amendment 54. Clause 59 amends the existing provisions concerning the local consent requirements for the combined authority mayors to take on the functions of a PCC. This reflects that this transfer is merely a process whereby functions are transferred from one directly elected person to another, without any implications for the local authorities in the area. Clause 59 maintains the triple-lock model for conferring functions. That triple lock is that any transfer or conferral of powers needs local consent, the agreement of the Secretary of State and approval by Parliament.

The change which Clause 59 makes is that in future, local consent will be given simply by the mayor, who is democratically accountable across the whole area. The transfer of PCC functions to a mayor in no way diminishes the role of local government in community safety. The local authority’s role in community safety partnerships remains the same and the police and crime panel will still exist, being responsible for scrutinising the mayor as the PCC in the same way it scrutinised the PCC.

A mayor having PCC functions will, we believe, be able more successfully to pursue their other ambitions and secure better overall outcomes for their community. A deputy mayor for policing and crime is appointed who can take on certain day-to-day responsibilities for this role, ensuring that the mayor can continue to focus on all their other priorities. The Government are clear that we expect mayors to discuss any proposal seeking a transfer of a PCC function with their combined authority in advance of submitting a request for such a transfer to government. This is in line with the existing expectation that mayors seek the views of the relevant PCC, whose consent is not required in legislation.

There is evidence of the considerable benefits that a mayor having PCC functions brings. For example, in Greater Manchester, following Greater Manchester Police’s escalation to “Engage” by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, and the resignation of its former chief constable, the mayor appointed a new chief constable to develop and lead the force’s transformation programme, the result of which has been to ensure that the force focuses on getting the basics right and improving outcomes for the region. Under the leadership of the chief constable and with oversight and support from the mayor, Greater Manchester Police is now responding faster to emergency calls, and the number of open investigations has halved since 2021, and the inspectorate released the force from “Engage” in October 2022 on the strength of the confidence in its improvement trajectory. The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, was clear that he, as the PCC for Greater Manchester, was accountable if things did not improve and that he should be held to account at the ballot box.

And finally, my Lords—although I think that says it all—government Amendment 307 provides for early commencement of Clause 59, which would allow for the statutory requirements that enable a transfer of PCC functions to CA mayors to be undertaken from the date of Royal Assent. This will enable the timely implementation of secondary legislation required for PCC function transfers to mayors to take place in time for the May 2024 elections.

The Government’s intention is to align as far as possible with the Gould principle relating to electoral management, which would suggest that any statutory instruments transferring PCC functions to mayors for May 2024 should be laid six months ahead of the elections in early November to provide notice to candidates, the electorate and the electoral administrations of any changes. It is for these reasons that the Government are unable to accept Amendment 307A proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. It would time out any PCC transfers in time for mayoral combined authority elections in 2024 where there is a local desire for this.

I hope that noble Lords will feel able to accept the early commencement amendment for Clause 59 and that, following these explanations, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Amendment 36 withdrawn.

Clause 40: Alternative mayoral titles

Amendment 37 not moved.

Clause 41: Alternative mayoral titles: further changes

Amendment 38 not moved.

Clause 42: Power to amend list of alternative titles

Amendment 39 not moved.

Clause 43: Proposal for new CCA

Amendment 40

Moved by

40: Clause 43, page 39, line 27, leave out subsection (9)

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment removes Clause 43(9) on the basis that it overlaps with the power in Clause 231(1)(c) for regulations under the Bill to make consequential etc provision.

Amendment 40 agreed.

Clause 44: Requirements in connection with establishment of CCA

Amendment 41

Moved by

41: Clause 44, page 40, line 23, leave out “Part” and insert “Chapter”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment means that the definition of “local government area” in Clause 44(6) has effect for the purposes of Chapter 1 of Part 2 rather than Part 2 as a whole.

Amendment 41 agreed.

Clause 45: Proposal for changes to existing arrangements relating to CCA

Amendment 42

Moved by

42: Clause 45, page 41, line 28, leave out subsection (10)

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment removes Clause 45(10) on the basis that it overlaps with the power in Clause 231(1)(c) for regulations under the Bill to make consequential etc provision.

Amendment 42 agreed.

Clause 48: Boundaries of power under section 47

Amendment 43 not moved.

Schedule 4: Combined county authorities: consequential amendments

Amendments 44 to 50

Moved by

44: Schedule 4, page 296, line 6, leave out “(1)” and insert “(1F)”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendments corrects a cross-reference in the amendment to insert subsection (1G) into section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972.

45: Schedule 4, page 296, line 36, leave out sub-paragraph (3)

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment removes the amendment which inserts a reference to a combined county authority into section 146A(1ZB) of the Local Government Act 1972 on the basis that it is inconsistent with the amendment to insert new subsection (1ZEA) into section 146A.

46: Schedule 4, page 315, line 23, leave out “5” and insert “7ZB”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment corrects a cross-reference in the amendment to insert paragraph 7ZD into Schedule A1 to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

47: Schedule 4, page 316, line 27, leave out paragraph 158 and insert—

“158 In section 50 of the Children Act 2004 (intervention - England), after subsection (7) insert—“(8) If any functions of a local authority in England which are specified in subsection (2) are exercisable by a combined county authority by virtue of section 16 of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023—(a) a reference in this section to a local authority includes a reference to the combined county authority, and(b) a reference in this section to functions specified in subsection (2) is, in relation to the combined county authority, to be read as a reference to those functions so far as exercisable by the combined county authority.””Member's explanatory statement

This amendment replaces the current amendment to section 50 of the Children Act 2004 with an amendment that contains the correct cross-reference to Clause 16 of the Bill.

48: Schedule 4, page 318, leave out lines 20 to 22 and insert “or

(b) section 65Z5 (joint working and delegation arrangements).”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment updates the amendment to section 75 of the National Health Service Act 2006 to reflect changes made elsewhere to that Act by the Health and Care Act 2022.

49: Schedule 4, page 323, line 36, at end insert—

“Equality Act 2010 (c. 15)

196A In Part 1 of Schedule 19 to the Equality Act 2010, under the heading “local government”, after the entry for a combined authority insert—“A combined county authority established under section 7(1) of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023.”Localism Act 2011 (c. 20)

196B In section 27(6) of the Localism Act 2011 (duty to promote and maintain high standards of conduct), after paragraph (n) insert— “(na) a combined county authority established under section 7(1) of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023.””Member's explanatory statement

This amendment makes a consequential amendment to the Equality Act 2010 and to the Localism Act 2011 relating to the provisions about combined county authorities in Chapter 1 of Part 2 of the Bill.

50: Schedule 4, page 327, line 30, leave out paragraph 218 and insert—

“218 In section 1(7) (views of relevant authority in relation to local skills improvement plan), for paragraph (a), and the “or” at the end of that paragraph, substitute—“(a) a combined authority within the meaning of Part 6 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (see section 103 of that Act),(aa) a CCA within the meaning of Chapter 1 of Part 2 of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 (combined county authorities) (see section 7 of that Act),(ab) a local authority that has functions conferred on it by regulations made under section 16(1) of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 (power to transfer etc public authority functions to certain local authorities), or”.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment substitutes the amendment made to section 1(7) of the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022 by paragraph 218 of Schedule 4 to the Bill to make provision ensuring that the Secretary of State must be satisfied that due consideration has been given to the views of all combined authorities and CCAs (and not just mayoral combined authorities and CCAs), and local authorities which have functions devolved to them under section 16 of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 before approving a local skills improvement plan for an area that covers any of their area.

Amendments 44 to 50 agreed.

Clause 57: Consent to changes to combined authority’s area

Amendments 51 to 53 not moved.

Amendment 53A

Moved by

53A: Clause 57, page 49, line 15, at end insert—

“(3AB) An order under this section, laid within nine months of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 being passed, which adds a local government area to an existing area of a mayoral combined authority may be made only if—(a) the relevant council in relation to the local government area consents,(b) the mayor for the area of the combined authority consents, (c) the combined authority consents,(d) the statement of a consultation with the residents of the local government area asking their views on the order has been laid before each House of Parliament, and(e) the Secretary of State has consulted, and had regard to advice provided by, the Boundary Commission for England.”Member's explanatory statement

This adds additional requirements which must be satisfied before local government areas are added to an existing Combined Authority within nine months of Royal Assent. This follows reports that areas may be added to the West Midlands Combined Authority prior to the 2024 Mayoral Election.

Clause 59: Consent to conferral of police and crime commissioner functions on mayor

Amendment 54 not moved.

Clause 65: Regulations applying to combined authorities

Amendments 55 to 57

Moved by

55: Clause 65, page 63, leave out lines 4 and 5

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment to Clause 65 in the Minister’s name which provides for any regulations made under section 104C(1) or (4) of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (as inserted by Clause 61 of the Bill) to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

56: Clause 65, page 63, line 6, after “section” insert “104C(1), 104C(4), or”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment has the effect that any regulations made under section 104C(1) or (4) of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (as inserted by Clause 61 of the Bill) are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

57: Clause 65, page 63, line 11, leave out “subsequent regulations under section 104C(1) or (4), or”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment to Clause 65 in the Minister’s name which provides for any regulations made under section 104C(1) or (4) of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (as inserted by Clause 61 of the Bill) to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

Amendments 55 to 57 agreed.

Amendment 58

Moved by

58: After Clause 70, insert the following new Clause—

“Local authorities to be allowed to meet virtually(1) A reference in any enactment to a meeting of a local authority is not limited to a meeting of persons all of whom, or any of whom, are present in the same place and any reference to a “place” where a meeting is held, or to be held, includes reference to more than one place including electronic, digital or virtual locations such as internet locations, web addresses or conference call telephone numbers.(2) For the purposes of any such enactment, a member of a local authority (a “member in remote attendance”) attends the meeting at any time if all of the conditions in subsection (3) are satisfied.(3) Those conditions are that the member in remote attendance is able at that time—(a) to hear, and where practicable see, and be heard and, where practicable, seen by the other members in attendance,(b) to hear, and where practicable see, and be heard and, where practicable, seen by any members of the public entitled to attend the meeting in order to exercise a right to speak at the meeting, and(c) to be heard and, where practicable, seen by any other members of the public attending the meeting.(4) In this section any reference to a member, or a member of the public, attending a meeting includes that person attending by remote access.(5) The provision made in this section applies notwithstanding any prohibition or other restriction contained in the standing orders or any other rules of the authority governing the meeting and any such prohibition or restriction has no effect.(6) A local authority may make other standing orders and any other rules of the authority governing the meeting about remote attendance at meetings of that authority, which may include provision for—(a) voting,(b) member and public access to documents, and(c) remote access of public and press to a local authority meeting to enable them to attend or participate in that meeting by electronic means, including by telephone conference, video conference, live webcasts, and live interactive streaming.”Member’s explanatory statement

This new Clause would enable local authorities to meet virtually. It is based on regulation 5 of the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020, made under section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

My Lords, I will speak to and move Amendment 58 in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Hayman of Ullock; I thank them warmly for their support for it.

The legal basis relies on the previous Regulation 5 of the regulations made under Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020. During the pandemic, it was generally felt that remote meetings of councils worked very effectively, and the change has been a source of great disappointment and increasing irritation to local councils, to those elected to represent their constituents at that level and to professional clerks. I received some powerful briefings from the two organisations especially concerned: the LGA and the SLCC, which represents the professionals who man the councils.

I listened carefully to my noble friend Lord Howe’s response in Committee. He clearly stated:

“The Government are of the view that physical attendance is important for delivering good governance and democratic accountability”.—[Official Report, 15/3/23; col. 1392.]

He went on to say that it permits the public to “view proceedings remotely” but that he was prepared—indeed, he promised—to keep the matter “under review”. I urge my noble friend to use this opportunity to review the regulations, to reintroduce them, to revise the law and to agree to Amendment 58.

The lifting of the Covid regulations that permitted councils to meet virtually has been a retrograde and undemocratic measure. The Government removed councillors’ right to democratically represent their constituents when they are temporarily unable to attend or, as I found on many occasions while trying to nurse a constituency in North Yorkshire, when they find that they are physically unable to attend meetings given the climate, particularly in the bad-weather months from December through to March, owing to snow or ice on the roads. They may also have care responsibilities towards an older or a younger generation and they could fulfil those duties if they were able to attend the meetings remotely. They may also suffer from a moment of temporary infirmity that prevents them attending.

In Committee, I mentioned distances to travel. The 57 miles from probably the furthest point in my former constituency, Filey, to the county town of Northallerton would take at least an hour and a quarter on a good day, so you are looking at something approaching a three-hour round trip. In the summer months, you have additional traffic, which delays matters, and I mentioned the inclement weather in the winter months.

These regulations worked perfectly well during Covid; all I am asking my noble friend and the Government to agree to do is revert to them. The particular weakness in my noble friend’s argument is that the House of Lords permits committees to meet virtually, so we have a situation where, regrettably, there appears to be one rule for those of us who are fortunate enough to serve on a House of Lords committee and another for those who are elected to councils, who are unable to meet remotely and virtually. I believe that that is unfair and undemocratic.

I received some powerful briefings in this regard; I will briefly share them with noble Lords. Following an extensive survey, the Local Government Association recently published a report showing that 95% of those responding from principal councils indicated that they wanted to reintroduce virtual meeting technology as an option at statutory meetings. They have suffered an impact on the recruitment and retention of councillors, and barriers have been created since the removal of these regulations permitting virtual attendance, particularly where there are work and caring commitments or health and disability issues.

I had not appreciated that, in certain circumstances, some committees, particularly licensing ones—I declare an interest in that I chaired both the original committee looking into an inquiry on the Licensing Act 2003 and the subsequent follow-up inquiry—are currently convened under legislation other than the Local Government Act, such as for licensing hearings, schools admission appeals panels and regional flood and coastal committees. These have been able to continue to use virtual meeting options to hold their meetings. In the view of the LGA, this has created a two-tier system, where councils can reap the benefits of virtual attendance at some meetings but not others. This demonstrates that councils already deliver accountability and good governance in hybrid meetings.

The Government confirmed in Committee that they are prepared to keep the matter under review. I believe that there is no time like the present to review it. You cannot have a situation where some council meetings can be virtual but others cannot and where we meet virtually in committees in our own House. There are very good reasons for hybrid or remote meetings in certain circumstances; the flexibility that was enjoyed during the Covid pandemic should apply where councils choose to use it.

With those few introductory remarks, I beg to move.

My Lords, I disagree wholeheartedly with my noble friend. In the lockdown period, I thought it was awful when people had to vote remotely and were charged with being on a beach somewhere. I believe that, in politics, we need each other; we need debate and discussion and to hear other points of view. I believe that doing that in person is right for a healthy democracy.

My Lords, I make clear that this amendment, to which I have added my name, is about local authorities having the option to make some of their meetings virtual or hybrid. It is not about going back to having all meetings held virtually; it is about having the option to do so where that makes sense in local circumstances.

During the Covid pandemic, we learned that virtual meetings could be conducted and worked well, in accordance with local authority conduct of meetings. There is no problem with the legality of how they were conducted. I accept the noble Baroness’s point about how we need to be together in a democracy but that is difficult on some occasions, and some people will be excluded if we do not provide an option for local authorities to make meetings accessible by making them virtual.

For example, people with disabilities find it more difficult to travel to a meeting in person—and then there are those with caring responsibilities and those with demanding work schedules. In many parts of the country now, people have long commutes to work. That option of a virtual meeting means that they can fulfil the responsibilities of being a local elected councillor as well as being in work. We do not want to revert to a situation in which local councils attract only people who are retired, because they are the only ones who have time or are able to go to meetings. We want as broad a selection as we can of people from our communities to become councillors, including the young and old, people with disabilities and people with caring responsibilities. We need them on our councils so that those voices are heard. That is one reason why the option—and it is an option—of holding meetings virtually is important.

The second is the huge size of some of the councils that the Government have now created. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, used the example of North Yorkshire, which is now a unitary council. People know where Selby is now, so I will use the example of Selby, which is in the south of the southern tip of North Yorkshire. To travel to a meeting in Northallerton, where the county headquarters is, means covering a distance of about 53 miles, which would take probably an hour and a half—so it is a three-hour round trip to go to a council meeting. Think of how many people that will exclude: those who cannot drive would not be able to get there, as there are no buses and no trains, or very few. This is not like London. In the winter North Yorkshire has snow, which makes it even more difficult to get physically to meetings, which is when a virtual option makes really good sense. There is also the example of this House, which has managed perfectly well holding its Select Committees virtually. If we can do it here, surely local authorities should be allowed to do it.

My last point is that this amendment is to a part of the Bill on devolution. If devolution means anything, it means that local authorities and local councils should be able to make the decisions that matter to them—to have the flexibility to make decisions appropriate to their situation. We know that the Local Government Association, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, is fully supportive of this amendment and this approach. We will obviously listen very carefully to the response by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, but if the noble Baroness is not satisfied with the response and wishes to test the opinion of the House, we on these Benches, for the reasons I have given, will fully support her.

My Lords, one thing that we have heard in the debates in Committee and today is that councillors are a vital part of our local democracy; they represent the needs of their residents and they work to improve outcomes for their local communities. But it is also important that any good decision-making is done by people who reflect their local communities and bring a range of experience, backgrounds and insight. As we have heard, by law, councillors have to attend meetings in person at the moment. We have also heard how important Zoom and Teams were for councils to continue to meet and the public to continue to take part during lockdown and the pandemic. It also brought people together and involved more people than previously in many cases.

We debated at length in Committee the benefits of continuing to allow virtual attendance at council meetings. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, thoroughly introduced that when she spoke to her amendment, and I am very happy to support her in what she is trying to do. Unfortunately, the Government withdrew this ability. We know that it supports a large range of people, as the noble Baroness laid out: the parents of young children, carers, disabled people and people with long-term illnesses. It enables them to come forward and represent their communities and encourages wider public participation, which is surely a good thing.

When we think about access to participation, why would the Government not lower barriers to that participation? Why can we not have virtual participation in council meetings as an option? We think that councils should have the flexibility to decide for themselves whether this is a useful tool that they can use. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, also mentioned, as have others, the option that we have in this House for virtual participation by those with disabilities and health issues. As others have asked, why at the very least can we not have the same dispensation for local councils that we have here in this House? The Government need to look at this again. If the noble Baroness wishes to test the opinion of the House, we will support her.

My Lords, this amendment seeks to replicate the situation created by the time-limited regulations that the Government made during the pandemic using powers in the Coronavirus Act 2020 that gave local authorities the flexibility to meet remotely or in hybrid form. Those regulations expired on 7 May 2021, and since that date all councils have reverted to in-person meetings. The Covid regulations, if I may refer to them in that way, were welcomed when they were issued for very good reasons, but they were nevertheless reflective of a unique moment in time, when a response to exceptional circumstances was needed. That moment has now passed, and the Government are firmly of the view that democracy must continue to be conducted face to face, as it has been for the last two years and for most of history prior to the pandemic.

Noble Lords have argued with some force as to the benefits of meeting remotely, and I completely understand why those arguments should be put forward. In the end, however, they are arguments based on one thing alone—expediency. With great respect, those arguments miss the point.

That is only from the perspective of the councillors. What about the public? They have the right to listen in to the council meetings without travelling, and they are losing that right. Of course, it was left to Mrs Thatcher to get the council meetings open anyway, with her Private Member’s Bill. This is an opportunity for the public not to participate but at least to be part of it and to listen without the need to travel.

My Lords, I greatly respect the noble Lord, but it is Report and I hope he will understand that point—but I am also coming on to the very point that he has raised. He is absolutely right about the expectations of the public.

I suggest that the point at the heart of this issue lies in one of the core principles of local democracy, which is that citizens are able to attend council meetings in person and to interact in person with their local representatives. To allow for a mechanism that denies citizens the ability to do this, ostensibly on grounds of convenience, is in fact to allow for a dilution of good governance and hence a dilution of democracy in its fullest sense.

Councils take decisions that can fundamentally alter the lives of people. Where an elected authority comes together to impose such changes, it should be prepared to meet in the presence of those whose lives are affected. I shall exaggerate a little to make a point, and I do not mean to cause offence to anyone—

With great respect, I hope that the noble Baroness will hear me out. I will address that point.

I was going to exaggerate a little to make a point; I will do so. I do not mean to cause offence to anybody, but someone whose life is directly affected by a planning decision, let us imagine, would not wish to find that the councillors concerned had taken the decision from their respective living rooms with test match coverage playing in the background. The same principle applies to the interaction between local councillors. If a council meets either in committee or in full session—especially if it meets to take decisions—councillors are entitled to expect that they will be able to deal with their fellow councillors face to face, debating with them, challenging them and taking decisions in the same room.

No, I will not give way, I am sorry. To put that another way, anyone who has chaired a remote online meeting—whether in a local council or any other context—will know that the internet, accessible as it is to most of us, is nevertheless, by its very nature, a barrier between people. To chair a council meeting online is therefore to experience the considerable responsibility of trying to ensure that debate is both reactive and interactive, that the right balance between different arguments is achieved and that decisions are taken in the light of arguments that have been presented to those assembled in the most effective fashion.

I do not for a minute deny that the ability to conduct virtual meetings during Covid served a useful purpose—but we were making do. We have only to think of how things were in this Chamber during that time. Did we really think that a succession of prepared speeches transmitted from noble Lords’ kitchens or armchairs constituted the kind of effective debating that we experience in Committee or on Report for a Bill?

I am trying to follow the Minister’s logic, but I am afraid that my intellectual capacity prevents me doing so. I therefore ask a simple question. By all logic of his argument, there should be no hybrid Select Committee meetings in this House, yet there are. Does he think that that therefore devalues those Select Committee meetings?

That point is very similar to one made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and my noble friend about an option of virtual attendance in case of illness or disability—as we have in this Chamber—but that option is on an exceptional basis. With great respect, that is a far cry from the terms of the amendment that my noble friend has tabled. We know what effective debating looks like: it is when we can stand in this Chamber and look each other in the eye—as at present—as active participants.

No limits are placed on authorities broadcasting their meetings online, and I would encourage them to do so to reach as wide an audience as possible. However, I hope that my noble friend Lady McIntosh and other noble Lords who have aligned themselves with her position will understand why I am coming at this from the point of view of a principle: that it is our duty to safeguard democracy as fully as we can and not to short-change it. I hope therefore that my noble friend will not feel compelled to oppose that principle by dividing the House today.

My Lords, I regret that I have had no reassurance whatever, and my noble friend did not even repeat the assurance we got that the Government would keep this matter under review. I find it unacceptable that, under legislation other than the Local Government Act, licensing hearings, school admission panels and regional flood and coastal committees can meet and take decisions that affect people’s lives. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, made the very valid point: why should it be acceptable for the public to access physical meetings remotely but not those who are temporarily or permanently unable to travel because they cannot get access to public transport? I also find it unacceptable that we have established a very good principle that we can meet remotely in Select Committees of this House but we are not extending the same right to democratically elected councils. I would like to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 59

Moved by

59: After Clause 70, insert the following new Clause—

“Dependents carers allowance for parish councillors(1) The Local Authorities (Members' Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003 are amended as follows.(2) In regulation 7 (dependants' carers' allowance), in paragraph (2), at end insert “or a parish council”.”Member's explanatory statement

This new Clause would add parish councils to the list of local authorities in England which may have a scheme to provide for the payment to members of that authority. The allowance would be in respect of such expenses of arranging for the care of their children or dependants as are necessarily incurred in the performance of their duties such as attending meetings.

My Lords, I rise to move this amendment, to which I have added my name, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market, who cannot be in the House today. It gives me great pleasure to speak to this important amendment, given the support it received in Committee. Because it was debated well then and we do not intend to test the opinion of the House, I will be brief-ish.

This is another amendment that echoes what was said in the previous amendment, because it seeks to address a fundamental inequality: in short, town and parish councils do not currently have the power to award a carer’s allowance to their councillors, even if they want to and can afford to, yet every other councillor at every other level of local government can. This amendment asks simply for the decision to rest with the councils themselves—these are their councillors, their choice and their budget.

In my time in local government it was apparent, and still is, that all the parties struggle to get high-calibre people standing for council and, more importantly, to encourage them to stand again. The drop-off rates are quite alarming. There are lots of credible statistics on this; I will not drag things out by citing them, but they are there.

We all know that the LGA, the Fawcett Society, the Electoral Commission and others have worked to improve the diversity of elected representatives, so we know how important it is that councillors reflect the community in which they live. That is very pertinent to town and parish councillors, who really are at the sharp end: they are the closest to those whom they represent and meet them in the pub or the park or at the school gates. I believe that the laws governing the current situation reflect the attitudes of decades ago—the village do-gooder stepping up and speaking for the humble folk, as a community service and a bit of volunteer work—so town and parish councils do not have the power to give their councillors a carer’s allowance. Surely we do not see the role that way now. Times have changed, and roles and responsibilities have changed.

I argue that those closest to people can best say what the impacts of big decisions are on the lives of those whom they represent. We should be removing barriers and obstacles that prevent people stepping up and serving their communities, and encouraging all councils to embrace the diversity within their communities.

Personally, I would not be standing here today if I had not been able to pay a babysitter when I became a councillor. I just could not have afforded it, and there will be other women in that position. It is, sadly, still true today that the majority of carers are still women.

I know that in Committee, Ministers said that they were concerned about the cost burden this would place on local council budgets. Yet, when asked what the costs would be, they did not know. We do know that since the dependent carer’s allowance was introduced in Wales, there has been no impact on the budgets of community and town councils. We know from the information gathered by the National Association of Local Councils that many councils would meet these modest additional costs out of existing budgets. Surely it should be a local matter if councils want to increase their tiny precepts to invest in attracting, retaining and supporting councillors? That is local democracy in action.

Finally, in 2019, Weymouth Town Council made a proposal to the Government under the Sustainable Communities Act to extend the carer’s allowance to parish councillors. It is still waiting for a decision, despite the rules stating that it should have received one from the Secretary of State within six months. Could the Minister agree at least to chase this up, please?

Parish and town councils are out of step with the rest of local government. This important amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market presents the perfect opportunity to right this wrong, to help level up local democracy and to give those councillors with caring responsibilities just a little much-needed help to perform their important civic role. The Bill is in part about handing powers down from the Government to the many and various forms of local government—real devolution. It is right to do so, and proud to do so. Why not devolve further down to parish councils and give them this right? I hope the Minister will give this real consideration. I beg to move.

My Lords, our network of over 10,000 community, neighbourhood, parish and town councils provides that invaluable first tier of services that people care about, notice and see every day. This is because they impact so very close to their front doors. During discussions on the Bill, it has been a feature to hear Members across your Lordships’ House championing these councils, which illustrates their vibrant contribution to our democracy. Amendments in this group are no exception.

We welcome Amendment 59 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Scott and Lady Thornhill, which would make provision for parish councils to be able to meet carers’ expenses. I welcome the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, about taking down barriers and increasing diversity at all levels of council activity. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, if I had not been able to have carer’s allowance for babysitting fees for my daughter, who was just eight when I first joined the council, I would not be here today. These are very important steps that we can take.

I also know one councillor in Stevenage whose husband is profoundly disabled following a stroke. She benefits from carer’s allowance. Another councillor has a severely learning-disabled son. The fees for looking after him are over £80 an hour; a contribution to that from the council means that she can participate in council activity. The input these women provide on issues of disability, as well as many other issues—and their long experience—is incredibly helpful to our council. That should be extended to parish councils too.

It is vital that we do all we can to encourage a wide range of people to engage in the democratic process at all levels of government. It is often the responsibility of caring that deters people. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response, and I hope that the Government will keep this under close consideration.

My Lords, I wish, of course, to support my noble friends Lady Thornhill and Lady Scott of Needham Market on Amendment 59. But I wish to address my remarks to government Amendment 60, which I do not support and urge others to do the same. Along with other consequential amendments, this seeks to disapply Part I of the Local Government Act 1894 from affecting any parish council powers conferred by other enactments. Section 8(1)(i) of the 1894 Act prevents parish councils funding works relating to the church or held for an ecclesiastical charity. This would enable such funding under the Local Government Act 1972. In simple language, as I read it, it enables parish councils to pay money for the upkeep of churches.

I want to be clear about what I am objecting to. I am not opposed to churches—quite the opposite, actually. I want to uphold freedom of religion or belief for all. I also do not want to see church buildings become run down. I do not deny or undermine the good work of churches and other faith and belief groups around the country. Instead, I want to make sure that, where public money is being spent, it is done in a considered and appropriate manner that does not discriminate against groups that do not have churches. Funding buildings owned and operated by churches would, in my view, be an inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money, given the extreme wealth of most churches, especially the Church of England. The Church of England is the largest private landowner in the UK and has a £10.1 billion investment fund. Its assets were valued in 2016 at £23 billion, since when the fund has grown by £3.4 billion. I would be grateful if the Minister could say whether she knows why these dilapidated buildings cannot be restored by the church itself.

We know that part of the problem is declining congregations. The British Social Attitudes survey shows not only that the majority of the population is non-religious but that less than 1% of those aged between 18 and 24 say they are Anglican. But that is not the full story—not by a long chalk. My own local parish church recently embarked on a project to put the church back at the heart of the community by opening a shop and café in the church premises itself. It is closed to the public for only one hour a week for Sunday worship. Villagers got together to raise the money and make the whole thing work. My husband, himself a dedicated humanist, chipped in financially and helped with the construction, and I have aspirations in the Recess to learn how to become a barista.

Where church buildings are in decline, an alternative approach, adopted by some countries such as the Netherlands, is that where a religious group declines in number to the point that it can no longer maintain a building, the state then agrees to maintain the building on the proviso that it takes ownership. That enables such buildings to become community spaces equally open to all, rather than controlled by some.

Many would oppose the idea of giving taxpayers’ money to an organisation that discriminates against people of no faith. About a third of schools in England and Wales are faith schools and people of other faiths—and, worse, of no faith—might see their children or grandchildren denied a school place because of preferential admission policies. There is also discrimination against gay people who want to marry in a church, yet the Church of England continues to deny them. These discriminatory practices continue, quite legally—for the moment—so as a taxpayer, until churches become more inclusive, I for one do not think that they should receive public money to restore their buildings. They knew a thing or two in 1894. Please keep things as they are.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull. I will not repeat the arguments that she has laid out before your Lordships.

I have not spoken before, so I apologise to your Lordships, but I have been motivated to do so by what I believe is potentially an unfair subsidy to one of the wealthiest landowners in the country, the Church of England, with, as the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, outlined, assets that are currently valued at £23 billion. I also believe it is discriminatory. If we are going to do this for churches, can we equally support mosques, the rather beautiful Buddhist temples around the country, the amazing synagogues and, equally, the Quaker meeting rooms? What applies to one should apply throughout.

If, as we have heard and has been accounted through the recent census, church attendance has diminished severely and churches are not being used, the parishes should be conserved as local hubs and the churches handed over to local authorities. There is a really good model that I know personally: St Matthias, the oldest church in Poplar, east London. It was deconsecrated and handed over to the local community. I am a trustee. Neighbours in Poplar and others have turned it into a thriving hub that serves those of all religions and none. That is a really good model, and it is why I am speaking against government Amendment 60. This is a potentially unfair subsidy that discriminates, and there should be no place for that in a Bill that is about levelling up.

My Lords, Amendment 59, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, seeks to allow parish councils to pay allowances for dependants’ care costs to their councillors. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this important issue again, and I recognise the admirable aim of her amendment.

It is important that local communities are properly represented by their local authorities at all levels, including parish councils. Giving parish councils the option of paying these allowances, though, would create an expectation that they would be available to all their members, and that would place an unknown, unfunded and potentially significant burden on the modest finances of parish councils. It is not the policy of the Government to place such burdens on local authorities at any level, and we believe it would be irresponsible to do so.

We do not have, and have not been provided with, any evidence of the scale of the demand for care allowances by parish councillors, nor of the likely costs to their councils, and we cannot be confident that the benefits here would outweigh the costs to the local taxpayer. We have a responsibility to ensure that we take action that could increase council tax further, and put extra pressures on residents, only where absolutely necessary. But I am happy to have further discussions with any noble Lords or noble Baronesses and to consider any evidence that they may have at a later date. However, until we understand this issue better, the Government cannot support the amendment.

Weymouth was brought up. Weymouth council came to the Government, as was said, but there was insufficient information for Ministers to make an informed and substantive decision at the time. Our concerns about the impact on parish councils’ finances remain, and we will respond shortly to Weymouth town council’s proposal.

Moving to government Amendments 60 and 308, we have listened carefully to the concerns that were expressed in Committee that some parish councils believe that they are prohibited from providing funding to churches —to answer the noble Lord, Lord Cashman—and other religious buildings. I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, my noble friend Lord Cormack and the noble Lord, Lord Best, for bringing this issue to the House’s attention. I am pleased to say that the Government wish to move this amendment to clarify that there is no such prohibition.

We have heard that stakeholders’ confusion comes from the Local Government Act 1894. That Act set out a clear separation of powers between the newly created civil parishes, which exercised secular functions, and what are now parochial church councils, which exercise ecclesiastical functions. In setting out the scope of the powers conferred on civil parishes, the Act gave parish councils powers over

“parish property, not being property related to the affairs of the church or being held for an ecclesiastical charity”.

Some stakeholders appear to see this wording as a general prohibition which prevents parish councils doing anything in relation to church or religious property, even under their powers in other legislation. The Government did not agree with this interpretation. Their view was that this wording simply sets out what is and is not a parish property for the purposes of the powers of the 1894 Act. This is supported by the Hansard record for 1 February 1894, when the then right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London explained why he had proposed including this wording by way of amendment.

The Government do not think that there is any general or specific provision in the 1894 Act which prohibits parish councils funding the maintenance and upkeep of churches and other religious buildings. Therefore, this amendment does not seek to make any substantive changes to the existing legal provision. Instead, it clarifies that the 1894 Act does not affect the powers, duties or liabilities of parish councils in England under any other legislation. This will give councils the comfort that, even if they disagree with the Government’s interpretation of the 1894 Act, it cannot prohibit them using their other powers to fund repairs or improvements to local places of worship, if they choose to do so. Government Amendment 308 makes provision for this new clause to come into force two months after Royal Assent.

I listened very carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. In reality, this is going to allow something that in many areas is happening already, and we have heard examples of that. In churches and other religious buildings across this country many community activities are taking place, from coffee mornings to luncheon clubs, knitting circles and toddler groups. I think it is correct that we make it very clear as a Government that parish and town councils are legally able to support those sorts of activities and can help such facilities along a bit—often the only community facility is the church or another religious building—if the parish council or the town council agrees that it is the right thing to do on behalf of that community.

I thank the Minister for her considered response. However, it saddens me that the Government feel that this is not a decision that a parish council can make for itself. I will be blunt and say that it is stunningly patronising. It has been dressed up as an overwhelming regard for a parish council’s budget when, on a daily and weekly basis, the Government take decisions that increase council tax. That is another debate for another day. We are just asking for parish councils to have the power to make their own decisions.

What evidence do the Government feel would be acceptable? Lots of parish councillors might say, “We can’t get people unless we do this”, or, “Actually, there’s only one or two that ever need this but they’re really good people and we’d like to be able to give it to them”. Can I reverse that and ask the Government what evidence they feel would be needed? The bottom line is this: why can parish councils not make the decision for themselves? I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 59 withdrawn.

Amendment 60

Moved by

60: After Clause 78, insert the following new Clause—

“Powers of parish councilsAfter section 19 of the Local Government Act 1894 (provisions as to small parishes), insert—“19A Powers under other enactments(1) Nothing in this Part affects any powers, duties or liabilities conferred on a parish council by or under any other enactment (whenever passed or made).(2) This section does not apply in relation to community councils (see section 179(4) of the Local Government Act 1972).””Member's explanatory statement

This amendment inserts a new section into the Local Government Act 1894 to clarify that the powers conferred on parish councils under Part 1 of that Act do not affect any powers, duties or liabilities of parish councils conferred by or under any other enactment (whenever passed or made).

Amendment 60 agreed.

Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 3.50 pm