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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, at the previous stage of the Bill the thrust of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, was supported by these Benches. I share his views on this issue. Rather than repeating the arguments, I shall ask the Minister a question. In Schedule 2, which deals with the constitution of agencies, paragraph 1(1) refers to members holding and vacating office in accordance with the terms of their appointment. Can the Minister clarify whether the terms of appointment of individual members would go any way towards meeting the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness? I agree with the noble Lord that the position of local authority members is different from that of other members. Is there scope within the appointment to provide for the vacation of office upon an individual ceasing to be a member of the local authority?
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I participated in the debate on this issue on the last occasion and spoke not only from my own experience of serving on a council but prompted by the views of the Local Government Association. Whenever one moves to another stage of any Bill, one should reflect on not only what a Minister said at a previous stage. To be fair, one should also reflect on the situation. I start from the basis of hoping that when councils and councillors in a region are given the opportunity, by whatever method, to produce four people from their midst to serve on a RDA, the people chosen will look upon their appointment as a very high responsibility. It is not, like many other appointments, "Buggins' Turn", or something which should be taken lightly. I hope that those in local government will be very careful about the people they put forward and nominate people who are likely to stay in the race for a very long time. We know that in a democracy people who have every confidence that they will last a long time fall at the next hurdle. That has happened to many people. It has happened to me more than once. As I am now a Member of your Lordships' House, thankfully it should not happen again.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I am all for reform. As I understand it, when we reform this House, the issue will be about the place of hereditary Peers. Without making any further comment, I happen not to be an hereditary Peer.
Reflecting on what the Minister said, even if there is nothing laid down--either in my previous amendment or in this amendment which makes removal mandatory--I sense that the Minister and his colleagues recognise fully the blemish that would be incurred if there were to be people in the circumstances mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. In such a situation--where very early into a four-year period board members cease to be members of a council--it should be possible, not for pressure to be applied, but for ministerial advice and guidance to be given.
I would hope that the colleagues of the person affected would say "Look, George, Mary, Joan or Charlie, we are sorry that you have lost your place on the council or have decided to retire from the council because you have other important business interests, but do you not understand that we would like someone closer to us after such events? Can we talk about your resigning?" I hope that councils will not put forward people as members who are not receptive to the views of their colleagues. My experience is not recent; it goes back a number of years. I can recall situations where positions were coveted and looked for. I hope that people in local government will respect that.
In view of what the Minister said at the previous stage of the Bill, if he and his colleagues have dug their toes in--which they have--then one will not get very far if one pushes this point. I am a great believer in seeing how things work out. I believe that the Minister is saying in good faith that he and his colleagues have reason to believe that, if the situation we have discussed arises, there are ways of dealing with it other than having it written onto the face of the Bill. Unlike those opposite who are shaking their heads, I say that this is a case where we can give the Minister an opportunity to prove to us, in the light of experience, that his advice at this stage is sound.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I would in spirit like to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. I regret that he has put it rather in the negative so I am unable to do so. It is not constructive to think of the Secretary of State removing someone from office because they have ceased to be a member of their local authority. I would have preferred the wording to say that that person may be allowed to stay on in exceptional circumstances. If they are there by virtue of being a local authority member, they should cease to represent local authority membership on the board when they are no longer a councillor. However, I can imagine what a hornet's nest will be opened up. The noble Lord is right. These positions are sought after, with many applicants for all of them.
There was also discussion about political proportionality and so on. Given that elections for districts, counties and unitaries do not all happen at the same time, the electoral process is not clear at the moment; we may be going to annual elections and so
The spirit of requiring members to resign when they no longer represent their local authorities is correct, but to require them arbitrarily to stand down is probably wrong at this stage. We should not leave it in the hands of the Secretary of State to remove a member. That might be viewed incorrectly in the region from which that member had come, however good the intentions were. I would welcome a statement from the Minister outlining the criteria that he would imagine using in such circumstances.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I appreciate the tone of the remarks on this issue. We debated it in Committee when a similar amendment, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, was defeated. I understand the objective of the amendment of the noble Lord. We obviously share a substantial amount in terms of the objective. We wish to see local government fully represented, in the broadest sense, on the board in that people with local government expertise should be members of the board. We have committed ourselves to appointing four members out of a 12-board executive, which is a very sizeable minority. But they are not representative in terms of the accountability in the sense in which the word has been used in this debate. They are not representative of local authorities. They owe their position not to their local councils or, in the last analysis, to their electorate. They are appointed by the Secretary of State and in that sense are the same as all other members of the board. One of the important points of our argument is that we wish to treat all members of the board in the same manner.
That is still entirely consistent with our intention that appointments made from local government should be of serving councillors. We intend to appoint to boards local government members who can bring the best possible local government expertise to bear on the work of the RDA. That must be best done by people who are serving councillors. Given the wealth of talent in local government, we should have no difficulty in appointing such councillors. However, that expertise is not wiped out automatically the day after councillors are defeated and cease to be members of the council. Election defeat does not make such people unfit to serve. In addition, I have a particular, almost technical, quarrel with the noble Lord's amendment in that the provision in Schedule 2 deals with people who are unfit to continue to serve because they are not willing to turn up, are bankrupt or are incapacitated in some way which makes it impossible for them to continue on the board. I do not think that that situation fits into the same category.
A recently defeated councillor will not suddenly become unaware of what local authorities are, what they do and what relationship they will need to have with the RDA. The Government wish to create balanced boards which reflect the range of interests concerned in the region. They must be kept to a manageable size and
However, I think I can bring some comfort to the noble Lord. As he recognised, I said in Committee that we would need to ensure that there was a continuing current reflection of local government in the membership of the board at all times. If, for example, all four members from local authorities who were on the board lost their seats at the same time, which was the situation referred to in a slightly different context by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, one might wish nevertheless to keep some of those on, but the total result would be that one would need to take some steps to ensure that local government was represented. Depending on the circumstances, we might invite some or all of those members to put their RDA places at the Secretary of State's disposal; or we might make additional appointments if we were below the 15 ceiling; or, as my noble friend Lord Graham indicated, we might look at other ways, in consultation with the local authorities, to ensure that the board continued to benefit from current local government experience.
I more or less said that on the previous occasion, but I shall go slightly further than that now. This is in reference to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. In this context we would still be treating all members of the board formally and contractually in the same manner. I am now able to say that all RDA appointment letters will include a provision enabling the Secretary of State to terminate the appointment of any member, local government or otherwise, within a given period of notice. The Secretary of State would have the means to change the composition of the board in such cases were the council element to be inadequately reflected. In the same way the Secretary of State could change the membership of the board for other reasons.
I therefore think that we should pursue the path laid out for us by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in that the appointments would allow the Secretary of State--in circumstances where, for example, all members on the board from local government disappeared at the same time in the sense of their being elected councillors--to take steps to replace them. That would not breach our approach whereby all members of the board are in the same relationship and under the same terms but it would give an opportunity in those circumstances for the Secretary of State, under the terms of the letter of appointment, to ensure that local government continued to have its interests fully reflected on the board.
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