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Lord Lucas: I am delighted with that, but I hope that when it comes to the noble Lord drafting whatever clauses he does draft, he will bear in mind the necessity to mention the Welsh separately and to give them due place in the Bill, which, as I understand it, will result in them operating the powers of the Secretary of State, and, presumably, having a separate interest in consulting the Welsh, whereas our Secretary of State will have no interest in consulting the Welsh. It will be a parallel consultation rather than a cross-consultation.

I await with interest the noble Baroness's letter. I shall be fascinated if it contains as little as she has been able to say to me this evening because I had presumed that the Government had thought out what they intend to do rather than leaving it to the last minute. However, in anticipation that the letter will contain everything I need to know, I am content to leave the matter there for now.

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Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Approval of applications under section 2]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 31:

Page 4, line 29, at end insert ("and
( ) he has considered the implications for freedom of information").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 37. These amendments are concerned with freedom of information. Clause 3 deals with the Secretary of State's actions on receipt of an application and with the matters to which he must have regard. We are in a period when freedom of information is firmly on the legislative agenda. I welcome that. I would have hoped to be able to propose an amendment which provided for consultation with the information commissioner, which I believe is the term given in the White Paper to the officer who will be charged with overseeing the application of freedom of information regulations. However, we do not yet have legislation.

My amendment, which is a rather poor relation of that suggestion, proposes that the Secretary of State must have,

    "considered the implications for freedom of information".

I hope that, with this probing amendment, I will be able to obtain from the Minister assurances that those implications will be seriously considered.

I mention them because of the concern about the opportunities for doing things in smoke-filled rooms--that is the way anything about which one is suspicious is often characterised--and actions being taken where scrutiny will not be wholly adequate because the best type of scrutiny may fall down. We talked earlier about the need to look at actions before decisions are taken. I remain concerned that scrutiny will be a backward looking process and that information surrounding an authority's decisions, whoever takes those decisions, may not be as free as one would like it to be. I have therefore put down the amendment in the hope that the Minister can give assurances that the implications for freedom of information will be very much in the Secretary of State's mind. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Heaven forfend that I should ever hanker after smoke-filled rooms for decision making! The Government are committed to the principles of freedom of information. We have proposed that there should be a freedom of information Act applying right across the public sector, including local government. The Government therefore fully support the sentiments behind the amendments.

As my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster explained in another place when announcing our White Paper on freedom of information, we have now embarked on an extensive and open consultation on our FOI proposals. This will continue through much of this year. First, we will be consulting on the proposals in the White Paper. That will be followed by draft legislation, again for consultation.

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Our intention is that when considering applications from local authorities to operate experimental arrangements, my right honourable friend will have regard to the developing FOI regime and the detail of its application to local government. In the draft guidance, which we have placed in the Library of the House, we state that proposals put forward by local authorities should,

    "be consistent with statutory requirements for access to information, and will need to take account of moves towards 'Freedom of Information'".

The point raised by the noble Baroness is an important one. We do, however, need to be careful that any reference to freedom of information introduced now into legislation will not cut across any wider developments as we, in our consultations, work up our wide and robust FOI regime. I would suggest, therefore, that if it would be helpful to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I would be happy to discuss with them what might be the most appropriate form of an amendment, encapsulating the concept of the noble Baroness's currently proposed amendments on FOI, which could be brought forward at Report.

Lord Hunt of Tanworth: I agree that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has correctly identified an important area which local authorities will need to address in their applications to operate experimental arrangements. If she is willing to take up the suggestion which the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, made, I shall be happy to do so. It should then be possible to prepare an appropriate amendment on freedom of information for Report, which I shall be happy to see brought forward, if that is the wish of the Committee.

Baroness Hamwee: Of course I am willing. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 5, line 4, after ("State") insert (", after consultation with the local authority,").

The noble Baroness said: I spoke to this amendment earlier and an indication was given that it would be accepted. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Applications for extension or variation of experimental decision-making arrangements]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 33:

Page 6, line 31, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Baroness said: With my last group of amendments I shall be even quicker than I have been on previous groups. I tabled these amendments because, as I read the Bill, any extension or, more particularly, variation of the arrangements requires the consent of any executive member or executive mayor who may be in

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place. It seems a very dangerous proposition to give that individual an in-built right of veto of any variation. I do not believe that I need expand on that. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Amendments Nos. 33 and 45 would remove the duty on a local authority with an executive mayor to obtain the written consent of their mayor before applying to the Secretary of State to extend, vary or terminate the operation of experimental arrangements.

If this duty were to be removed and the application successful, it would allow the council to discharge some of the functions, which by virtue of the arrangements the mayor may discharge, or even remove the mayor without his or her consent. In extreme cases it would be possible for the council to seek to use this power as a means of conflict resolution. Clearly, this represents an inappropriate way of resolving a conflict between the mayor and the council. It would appear particularly inappropriate for a council to be able to remove the powers of a directly elected mayor with his or her own mandate from across the authority.

We, the Government, would much prefer that local authorities should operate within the framework for conflict resolution they set out in their original proposal. As noble Lords may be aware, the need for such a framework is highlighted in the draft guidance which has been placed in the Library of the House. It is our belief that both local authorities and the Government are likely to learn far more from the operation of experimental arrangements if conflicts are resolved through a predetermined set of procedures rather than the removal of an element of that experiment. I therefore ask the Committee to oppose Amendments Nos. 33 and 45.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Tanworth: I, too, am reluctant to accept these amendments. I have little to add to what has been said, but I should like to expand a little on the area of consent, which I believe is central to this Bill.

Before making any application to the Secretary of State, an authority is required to pass a resolution of the full council. In doing so, consent is rightly sought from the council to undertake an experiment. When an authority undertakes an experiment with an executive mayor, it is equally important that consent is sought from the mayor before his or her role is changed or even abolished. As the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, pointed out, this is particularly relevant where the mayor has been given a direct mandate from the electorate of the authority to exercise certain powers. The removal of the principle of consent in this case would appear to undermine the basis for experimentation under this Bill. It is on those grounds that I must oppose these amendments.

Baroness Hamwee: I am unpersuaded but, as there is pressure on time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 34 not moved.]

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