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Baroness Byford: Perhaps I may add my voice to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. I have been in contact with local councils serving both towns and the country. They state clearly that they are concerned about the direct link to district councils. But I am somewhat relieved by what the Minister has just said. Therefore, I shall save my remarks until I have had a chance to read Hansard and then may come back to this matter.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendments Nos. 282 to 287:

    Page 20, line 40, leave out ("section 39") and insert ("this Part").

1 Feb 2000 : Column 208

    Page 20, line 40, at end insert--

("(1A) Subsection (1) does not apply to a parish council or community council.").

    Page 20, line 41, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

    Page 20, line 43, leave out ("subsection (5)(a))") and insert ("any provision made by virtue of subsection (5)(a) or (6)(a))").

    Page 20, line 44, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

11 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 287A:

    Page 21, line 1, leave out ("one person who is not a member, or an officer,") and insert ("a majority of persons who are not members or officers").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment relates to standards committees. The Bill provides that a standards committee must include,

    "at least two members of the authority, and ... at least one person who is not a member, or an officer, of that or any other local authority".

The amendment suggests that that balance may not be appropriate.

The possibility of the majority of the committee being members of an authority may not be right. The amendment proposes that, rather than have a single person who is "independent"--I use the term as shorthand--adequately fulfilling the provision, it would be more appropriate to have a majority of people who are not members or officers.

It is important not only that standards committees operate properly--using the term to mean "with propriety"--but that they are seen to achieve the job that they set out to do. There should be no suggestion that, because the committees include members of an authority, they are almost by definition and from the outset tainted. It might be more appropriate to show the world that the standards committee has a majority of independent members who do not have the kind of vested interests that the public might regard members of the authority as having. I beg to move.

Lord Filkin: I am minded that the provisions relating to the standards board and the adjudication panel have changed considerably since the publication of the draft Bill. In the draft Bill the board was very much concerned with investigating individual cases of misconduct. Under the Bill as it now stands the board has a wider remit to consider a range of guidance-making powers and will administer the adjudication process as well as overseeing investigations into misconduct as originally intended.

In those circumstances, I wonder whether the wider remit that is now given to the board under the terms of the Bill might benefit from the setting out of some over-arching or guiding purpose to inform its work, or to ensure that it pays due regard to the wider responsibilities conferred on it. That might be a way of introducing a broad purpose or function for the board, perhaps to uphold the principles of conduct set out under Clause 34.

Lord Whitty: In relation to the noble Lord's last point, it is true that some of the functions of the

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standards board have changed. Consideration of its over-arching objectives may well be appropriate. Perhaps I may take the matter away and return to noble Lords on that point.

Our approach in the Bill is to provide as much flexibility as possible at local level. Therefore, the provisions on the face of the Bill and the regulations would provide for a wide range of circumstances with minimum criteria on membership, which would prevent, for example, a mayor being elected or an executive member chairing a committee, and provide for at least one independent member. It does not preclude a majority of independent members. However, we felt that in this area it would be appropriate to leave the exact composition of the standards committee to local circumstances. There are sufficient safeguards in the provisions as a whole to ensure that councils are guided in a reasonable way but retain choice as to the precise composition. The Secretary of State has power to make regulations in this area, although our preferred approach is not to be too prescriptive. We shall review the matter in the light of experience. If it proves necessary to be more prescriptive in relation to the number of independent members, we shall do so by regulation rather than on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Hamwee: The Government do not want to be too prescriptive but have prescribed that the standards committee should include at least two members of the local authority and one person who is not. If the Government want to leave it to each authority, possibly under some kind of overarching guidance from the standards board as the Minister suggested, the logic of it is that this provision merely requires one member of the authority and one independent member. I am at a loss to understand that approach. The words used by the Minister do not appear to be reflected in the provisions of the Bill that the Committee is asked to address.

Nor is it appropriate--the Minister draws my attention to this matter--that under subsection (3) there is a requirement as to the composition of a standards committee and in subsection (5) the Secretary of State may make regulations for the composition of standards committees. I had initially read it as meaning that the regulations to be made under subsection (5) could not override the primary legislation in subsection (3).

I end by being more rather than less concerned. However, this is not an area in which we seek to lock horns with the Government. By and large, we support this part of the Bill, but it is important that the details are correct. I do not pursue the point at this moment, but I invite the noble Lord to reflect on whether the answer that he has given is supported by the words that the Committee is being asked to agree.

Lord Whitty: Perhaps I may seek to clarify the matter. The ability to make regulations does not

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override the provisions on the face of the Bill which are the minima. The Secretary of State can make more substantial regulations.

Baroness Hamwee: One supposes that the Secretary of State could reverse the balance between members of the authority and independent members, which I sought to do. I believe that to have that balance on the face of the Bill is a more straightforward approach. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 288 to 292:

    Page 21, line 2, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

    Page 21, line 3, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

    Page 21, line 8, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

    Page 21, line 16, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

    Page 21, line 20, leave out from second ("of") to end of line 21 and insert ("such committees").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 293:

    Page 21, line 21, at end insert--

("(6A) The Standards Board for England--
(a) may issue guidance with respect to the size and composition of standards committees of local authorities in England, and
(b) must send a copy of any such guidance to the Secretary of State.
(6B) The Standards Board for Wales--
(a) may issue guidance with respect to the size and composition of standards committees of local authorities in Wales, and
(b) must send a copy of any such guidance to the National Assembly for Wales.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 293 is part of a separate group and I speak briefly to it. This amendment is concerned with part of the provisions that deal with the standards board. In addition to investigating breaches of codes of conduct, we envisage that the standards board will have an important role in best practice, to which my noble friend Lord Filkin has just referred. The power to issue guidance on the size and composition of standards committees is part of that role. Once the basic framework is in force the standards board will be able to issue further guidance, for example on the details of the appointments process for independent members, suitable membership balance and so on. This is guidance short of regulation, as we debated in the context of a previous amendment. The Secretary of State will still be able to make regulations, but the standards board can issue guidance in this area.

The other two amendments in this group, Amendments Nos. 310 and 313, serve to clarify that the standards board may publish any guidance it issues on the conduct of members. That guidance may be issued to an individual authority, a group of authorities or local authorities generally. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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