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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the logic of the position that the Minister has expounded--that scrutiny is not confined to being after the event--leads to asking why there is a need for an executive. The Minister seemed to be saying that the full council could do the job.

My noble friend illustrated very well the problems inherent in the restriction. We shall not convince the Government, but I hope that as time goes on and the difficulties become apparent it will be possible to find a way to allow the executives to work practically by adjusting regulations.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that it is open to the executive to invite anyone to speak at its meetings? The noble Lord, Lord Tope, were he to be unaware of the Conservative or Labour Party policy on any issue, would be able to invite someone to come along and speak, but he or she would not be a member.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am aware of that, but it is different from someone coming along to deputise for a particular member. However, I accept that we shall make no progress, as we would see it, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 [Joint exercise of functions]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 27:


The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 27 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 28 and 29. They seek to explore and create flexibility in the functions exercised by joint committees between two different local authorities. I thank the Minister for his letter of 28th January in which he went into considerable detail in Annex F about the joint arrangements and how they might work.

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While most of his letter was useful, Annex F raised a number of questions which it is necessary to clarify. Joint arrangements between a county and unitary councils or county and district councils are the only way such bodies can work together to create best value. That is crucial at county and district level, but it applies to small unitary authorities within large county areas because of the mish-mash of arrangements left after the local government review.

Annex F, with the joint arrangements outlined, made it clear that the Government have in mind an arrangement whereby a county council working with a district council will need to choose whether such a joint committee will exercise executive or non-executive functions. If it were to exercise executive decisions and functions, it should consist only of executive members and political balance would not be required. The difficulty with that first model is that there may be no members of the executive of the county council who are resident in that district's area.

Although the Government may not feel that that matters, it is quite clear that when we come to what I shall call "model 2", which is where the joint committee might exercise non-executive decisions, they specify that members must be from the electoral divisions or wards which are wholly or partly within the area in question. Therefore, they have recognised that it is important that in any joint committee local members who are elected to that part of the county are those who exercise their representational role. Therefore, even if executive decisions are being undertaken, it is not desirable that there should be such a clear division.

For an individual authority, a clear line can be drawn between executive and non-executive functions. A problem arises when we move to joint committees. I take as an example waste collection and disposal, which is perhaps the function that sits the worst, being divided between district and county. I believe that some of the time a joint committee will need to implement policy decisions, which I consider to be an executive function. Some of the time it will have to scrutinise how that is working. I believe that a joint committee could make vast progress in implementing ways of collecting waste that would lead to far less of it needing to be disposed of. After all, that is one area in which everyone struggles, both nationally and locally; that is, how to reduce the vast mountain of waste. That is the kind of area in which a joint committee could be very effective, and there are many others.

The Government have conceded that within an area committee--I refer now to an area committee which belongs to only one authority--there is no reason, as the Minister states in his Annex E, why the same area committee cannot discharge both the executive and non-executive functions delegated to it. Therefore, my first question to the Minister is: could that same arrangement not apply to the joint arrangements between, say, county and district? I believe that in order for them to implement their functions in the best way and in the best interests of residents, they will need sometimes to be able to address both those areas.

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I turn to the question as to whether the committees should be politically balanced. When one looks at two different local authorities, the government requirement that they should be politically balanced if they are to address non-executive decisions is very difficult. Let us suppose that the county council, which, after all, is elected in a different electoral cycle, is composed of almost entirely one party--for the sake of argument, Liberal Democrat. The district members who were elected two years previously might be virtually all Conservative or all Labour members. To achieve political balance, all the members from one authority will be from one party and all the members of another party will represent the second authority. First, I do not believe that that is a recipe for happy working. It would be better to have a party split by authority: perhaps the county members would consist of two Conservative, two Liberal Democrat and two Labour members, with the district similarly split. I do not believe that having sharp divisions will encourage joint arrangement working.

Further, I ask how much consultation has been carried out. That question came to the top of my mind when I finished reading Annex F and struggled with the difficulties in it about how partnership arrangements between counties and districts currently operate. How do the people who drafted the current arrangements and who, helpfully, have written Annex F come to their conclusions? Not many partnerships work successfully.

However, I believe that before the Government finally make up their mind as to what would be the correct model or models and how much flexibility is required, it would be most useful to go back to the councils which operate joint arrangements and explore exactly how they work and how they would or would not work if the current restrictive drafting, which our amendments seek to make more flexible, affected such partnership working. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I understand the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, which these amendments seek to probe. However, I am afraid that on this matter we have a difference of opinion and are unable to accept the amendments.

The fundamental principle which underpins the proposals in Part II of the Bill is that of transparency and accountability. Local people and all others who have dealings with a local authority need and have a right to know who is responsible for the decisions which affect them.

A separate executive, and in particular a mayor, will ensure that there is clear accountability for executive functions. People will know who is responsible. It is important to stress that those changes apply only where the joint committee is to have executive functions. The kind of example given by the noble Baroness, where there is a non-executive functioning joint committee would not be affected by the changes.

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The detailed arrangements for joint committees are, of course, matters for regulations under Clause 18, drafts of which we published in January to inform this debate and for wider consultation. We believe that joint arrangements in respect of executive functions should be joint arrangements between the executives of the two authorities in question.

To allow the council to determine that some executive functions must be delegated to a joint committee, possibly against the wishes of the executive, and to allow that committee to have members who are not members of the executive would cloud the principle of accountability which we seek to enhance and cut across the principles which underpin this legislation.

Our policy is that it should be for the executive to decide whether executive functions may be the subject of joint arrangements. It should be for the executive to decide the membership of any joint committee discharging those executive functions. The membership of such a joint committee should be drawn from the executive. That will ensure clear accountability and responsibility for executive functions.

There would, of course, be nothing to prevent an authority forming a joint committee with another authority on a non-executive function basis. There would be nothing to prevent them offering advice to the executive or to prevent them from co-opting other councillors onto such joint committees in an advisory capacity alone.

Perhaps it would help the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, to recall that these matters are for regulations. We have published a draft of those regulations for consultation and we will consider carefully all the responses.

We accept that there are similar issues with area committees. However, our experience is that there is not normally extensive delegation of functions to area committees over and above functions which are local matters and do not have an impact beyond the area in question.

We believe that the powers in Clause 18 do not need amendment to enable provision with the effect the noble Baroness seeks. Our policy is not to make such provision. We feel, therefore, that the amendments are unnecessary.

I repeat and stress that such joint arrangements and provision will be effected only if there is executive function as part of the role of such committees. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.


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