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Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 294 to 296:



    Page 21, line 24, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").


    Page 21, line 29, leave out subsection (9).

On Question, amendments agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Cox): I understand that by pre-emption, with Amendment No. 296 agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 296A.

[Amendment No. 296A not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 297:


    Page 21, line 38, after ("committee") insert ("of a relevant authority").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 297A:


    Page 21, line 40, at end insert--


("( ) Nothing in this section has the effect of abolishing existing parish council powers and delegated functions.").

The noble Baroness said: We on this side of the Chamber have been concerned by reports that the Secretary of State at the DETR has ambitions to abolish all 10,000 parish councils in England. The noble Lord, Lord Graham--he is no longer in his place--touched on the issue when using the phrase "if" they were allowed to continue. He, therefore, has heard rumblings.

The matter was first reported in October of last year and reiterated on 23rd January this year in a Sunday Express article headed "Parish Councils face axe". Some 10,000 parish councils cover hamlets, small villages, large villages and towns as big as Hereford, Lichfield and Weston-Super-Mare. Together they are responsible for some 15.8 million people and are a working example of devolution at the lowest possible level.

The fact that this Bill carries no reference to parish councils has alarmed citizens throughout the country. It has attracted cynosure from no less a body than the National Association of Local Councils, to which we referred earlier. Their influence may have permeated the corridors of power, as I note that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has tabled a lengthy and related amendment.

Mr Meacher stated that Her Majesty's Government are more in favour of neighbourhood fora than parish councils. However, I have difficulty in embracing the concept of a code of conduct being applied to a talking shop. Presumably that is why neighbourhood fora are not covered in this Bill. If the principle of local acceptance of local responsibility has any importance in this Government's scheme of things, the Minister must accept that parish councils play a vital role, particularly in rural affairs. Those who live in the countryside are subject to the same law, statutes and--alas, sometimes--European directives as those who dwell in large towns and cities.

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Codes of conduct are all the rage at the moment and may turn out to be shortlasting, but to exclude parish councils from this clause implies that someone feels the latter are of no value. Perhaps the Minister, especially in the light of Amendment No. 307--we touched on it a little earlier--will interpret Mr Meacher's pronouncements for us. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that we are even more concerned by the rumours in such papers as the Sunday Express, to which she referred, knowing them to be false and knowing that the Government have absolutely no such plans. The fact that during the course of legislation parish councils have been treated differently with regard to standards committees is a recognition that they are different, not that they are of no value or in any way less important. I assure the noble Baroness from my background of the very rural county of Lancashire that I am fully aware of the nature of the role fulfilled by parish councils.

Clause 38 of the Bill sets out the requirements for local authorities to establish a standards committee. Amendment No. 297A would add a new subsection at the end of the clause specifying that nothing in that section would abolish any existing parish council powers or delegated functions. I should like to reassure the noble Baroness that in introducing a new ethical framework for local government we have no intention to reduce or abolish the powers of parish councils or the functions delegated to them. There is certainly no such suggestion in Clause 38 but I recognise that it does not make suitable provision for standards committees for parish councils--which was the reason for tabling Amendment No. 307, which sets out the detailed arrangements. Amendment No. 297A is therefore not required and I beg the noble Baroness to withdraw it. I hope that she will join me in making sure in future that the Sunday Express and other newspapers are properly informed of Government policy.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for her robust reply. I obviously read the newspapers and sometimes treat stories with great scepticism, but it is important to clarify the matter in respect of not only that but other articles. At a fringe meeting attended by Mr. Meacher at last year's Labour Party conference, such views were expressed and discussed.

Earlier, I said that my amendment was probably not in the right place. It was difficult to find the correct location, so I am grateful to the Minister for her tolerant response. Many amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, respond to conversations with local councils, for which I am grateful. When the Bill was published, it did not give that recognition--which was the theme of my amendment. I heard the Minister's reply and will certainly read Hansard. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 38, as amended, agreed to.

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11.15 p.m.

Clause 39 [Functions of standards committees]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 298 to 302:


    Page 21, line 41, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").


    Page 21, line 44, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").


    Page 22, line 1, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").


    Page 22, line 4, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").


    Page 22, line 8, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 303:


    Page 22, line 9, leave out from ("conduct") to end of line 10.

The noble Lord said: The Bill provides for ethical standards officers to determine whether a case should be referred to an authority's standards committee. Amendments Nos. 328 and 335 change that, so the ethical standards officer will instead refer a case to the authority's monitoring officer. Under the new ethical framework, the monitoring officer will have responsibility for probity within the authority, including the provision of support to the standards committee--and so will be the person best placed to handle issues raised by the standards board.

Amendment No. 373 amends Section 5 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 to ensure that the chief executive is not appointed as the authority's monitoring officer, for obvious reasons. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 304 to 306:


    Page 22, line 11, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").


    Page 22, line 14, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").


    Page 22, line 17, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 39, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 307:


    After Clause 39, insert the following new clause--

STANDARDS COMMITTEES OR SUB-COMMITTEES FOR PARISH COUNCILS

(".--(1) A standards committee of a district council is to have the same functions in relation to--
(a) the parish councils for which the district council are the responsible authority, and
(b) the members of those parish councils,
as the standards committee has under section 39(1) and (2) in relation to the district council and the members of the district council.
(2) A standards committee of a unitary county council is to have the same functions in relation to--
(a) the parish councils for which the county council are the responsible authority, and
(b) the members of those parish councils,
as the standards committee has under section 39(1) and (2) in relation to the county council and the members of the county council.

1 Feb 2000 : Column 214


(3) A standards committee of a district council or unitary county council may appoint a sub-committee for the purpose of discharging all of the functions conferred on the standards committee by this section.
(4) In deciding whether it will be their standards committee, or a sub-committee of their standards committee, which is to discharge the functions conferred by this section, a district council or unitary county council must consult the parish councils for which they are the responsible authority.
(5) The number of members of a sub-committee of a standards committee of a district council or unitary county council, and the terms of office of those members, are to be fixed by the standards committee after consultation with the parish councils for which the district council or unitary county council are the responsible authority.
(6) Where the standards committee of a district council or unitary county council discharges the functions conferred by this section, the standards committee--
(a) must include at least one member of any of the parish councils for which the district council or unitary county council are the responsible authority, and
(b) must ensure that at least one person falling within paragraph (a) is present at any meeting of the committee when matters relating to those parish councils, or the members of those parish councils, are being considered.
(7) Where a sub-committee of the standards committee of a district council or unitary county council discharges the functions conferred by this section, the sub-committee must include--
(a) at least one member of the standards committee who falls within section 38(3)(b), and
(b) at least one member of any of the parish councils for which the district council or unitary county council are the responsible authority.
(8) Regulations under section 38(5)(a) and (c) may make provision in relation to sub-committees appointed under this section, and regulations under section 38(5)(b) may make provision as to the appointment of persons falling within subsection (6)(a) or (7)(a) or (b) of this section.
(9) Subsections (6A), (7), (8) and (10) of section 38 apply in relation to sub-committees of standards committees appointed under this section as they apply in relation to standards committees.
(10) Subsections (4) and (6) of section 39 apply in relation to sub-committees of standards committees appointed under this section as they apply in relation to standards committees.
(11) In relation to a parish council, any reference in the following provisions of this Part to the standards committee of a relevant authority is a reference--
(a) to the standards committee of the district council or unitary county council which is the responsible authority in relation to the parish council, or
(b) where that standards committee has appointed a sub-committee under this section, to that sub-committee.
(12) A district council or unitary county council is the responsible authority--
(a) in relation to a parish council which is not a common parish council, if the parish is situated within the area of the district council or county council,
(b) in relation to a parish council which is a common parish council--
(i) if the parishes in the group are wholly situated within that area, or
(ii) where that is not the case, if the greatest number of local government electors for the parishes in the group is situated in that area.
(13) In this section "unitary county council" means the council of a county in which there are no district councils.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

1 Feb 2000 : Column 215

Clause 40 [Standards Boards]:


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