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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, can she say whether the expenditure of a limited amount of money within policy guidelines is an executive or a non-executive function? Many joint committees make such decisions and it works; that is, action is taken involving small amounts of expenditure.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my consideration of this matter is that it depends on what

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the money is spent. It may be helpful for me to write to the noble Baroness. If I were to await further inspiration from the depths of my memory, I might detain noble Lords for too long.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may say that this may be an example, as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, would put it, of thinking rather than considering.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and accept that much of what I referred to will be in draft regulations. However, I should like some reassurance from her that before the regulations become anything more than draft, the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions will check once again with places that are working successfully in partnership to ensure that the draft does not inhibit that working.

I am concerned that authorities will not be able to make executive decisions, particularly in the geographically large counties, save by perhaps shipping in executive members from the other end of the county, which may be 40 miles away. That is not joint working within a district. If the Minister can give me that reassurance--I know her department is keen for these partnerships to succeed--I shall feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I give the noble Baroness the assurance that we shall consider extremely carefully the points that she raised.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 not moved.]

Clause 19 [Overview and scrutiny committees]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 30:


    Page 12, line 40, at end insert--


("( ) Unless the matter is certified by the authority's monitoring officer to be urgent, no decision by a local authority under its executive arrangements shall be implemented within less than five working days after the decision.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 30, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 31 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.

Clause 19, which deals with the overview and scrutiny committees, is much broader than the original version. It was fleshed out by the Government's amendment in Committee. It makes clear that the overview and scrutiny committees have a forward-looking role as well as one which looks backward. However, Clause 19 also provides that there is a right of call-in when a decision by the executive has not been implemented. By that I mean a right to require that a decision be reconsidered or considered in a different way. Clause 19(3) gives the committee those powers but says,


    "to review or scrutinise a decision made but not implemented".

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It is important that the executive of any authority, while it should be able to take and implement urgent decisions, should not be allowed to avoid the proper exercise of an overview and scrutiny committee by bulldozing through the implementation of its decisions. I therefore provided in the amendment that no decision taken by the authority under executive arrangements should be implemented within less than five working days after the decision, unless the matter is certified to be urgent by the authority's monitoring officer. I accept that there may be occasions when swift implementation is important. I think that is unlikely to be the general position, but it is right that an executive should not be able to avoid proper scrutiny and avoid proper use of powers by its own overview and scrutiny committee by rushing to implementation. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, Amendment No. 31 is grouped with this amendment. It deals with a different aspect of a parallel problem and is more concerned with the rights and responsibilities of overview and scrutiny committees and members of those committees.

The amendment would mean that a member of a relevant overview and scrutiny committee could hold up a decision by a member of the executive or the executive itself, because it should be remembered that the executive has power to delegate to a committee of the executive or to an individual member of the executive.

It is a matter of regret that too often in local government we have seen authorities or members of authorities abuse their position, and improper procedures have been used for personal gain.

The situation that I envisage may be highly unlikely and ought never to happen--but it is our business to envisage unlikely events. It is where a member of the executive, under delegated authority from the executive, lets a contract outwith the normal approval procedures for personal gain. Under the existing remit of the Bill it would be possible for an individual member to do that. It is true that he would be supervised by officers, and one could assume that that is a sufficient safeguard, but it might not be sufficient to prevent impropriety. However, I have asked myself this. Suppose an observant member of an overview and scrutiny committee was on the ball. Should he not have the right to do something about the situation and prevent the problem from arising? I decided that he should have that right.

I am prepared to accept that the amendment may not be perfectly worded to meet the situation that I have suggested and that we would need to improve upon it, but the principle is a correct one. The overview and scrutiny committees should have power to call in a decision before it is implemented if necessary. This is not a power that would enable one member alone to do that because he would have to get a second opinion and go to the chairman of his committee. The chairman would have to agree that the case he was presenting for the decision to be called in was a proper

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and appropriate one. That would provide a safeguard in a situation where personal angst or a personal grudge could prevent proper action.

Even if the Minister cannot agree to accept this amendment, I hope that she will at least consider its implications. Perhaps she will think about the question and bring forward a more appropriate solution. I beg to move.

10 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we are unable to support Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 because, as the noble Baroness and the noble Lord have acknowledged, both would delay the implementation of decisions by the executive. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would delay implementation by five days unless a decision was certified as urgent by the monitoring officer, presumably to allow the overview and scrutiny committee time to call in the decision. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, would allow a member of an overview and scrutiny committee, with the support of the chair, to delay implementation of any decision until the committee had considered it.

We agree with noble Lords that it is important that members of the overview and scrutiny committees should be able to discuss any action by the executive. As amended in Committee, Clause 19 gives the overview and scrutiny committees power to call in executive decisions. However, we do not wish to be prescriptive about how this should work. It should be up to local choice. If we are to have more efficient decision-making, we do not want a situation where every decision could be blocked by a disgruntled minority for purely political reasons.

As noble Lords will recognise, in some cases urgency is vital; for example, instructing an officer to remove a child from a dangerous situation. This should not be delayed while the views of the monitoring officer are sought to confirm that it is a matter of urgency. At the other extreme, sometimes decisions taken by the executive will simply require officers to work out proposals for future policy consideration. Although it would rarely do any harm, it does not seem sensible that such decisions should always be subject to the five-day delay. We also believe that the monitoring officer, who has the power of providing advice on vires and maladministration, should not be given the task of determining the urgency of decisions; indeed, we believe that that would change his or her role.

However, I am sure that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord have noticed that these amendments appear to reflect some of the suggestions that we have included in draft guidance. We suggested that only two councillors might be needed to ask an overview and scrutiny committee to look at a decision and that they have only five working days in which to do so in order to maintain effective and efficient decision-making. We also suggested that councils need to take a sensible view on which type of decision they allow to be called

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in. I should stress that these were suggestions. We believe that the details should be a matter for local determination and choice and not prescribed in the Bill.

Therefore, although we understand and appreciate some of the points made, I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw their amendments in the light of the fact that local authorities may make their own judgments within the framework of guidance.


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