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52Clause 21, page 15, line 26, leave out paragraph (a) and insert--
("( ) as to the circumstances in which meetings mentioned in subsection (2), or particular proceedings at such meetings, must be open to the public,
( ) as to the circumstances in which meetings mentioned in subsection (2), or particular proceedings at such meetings, must be held in private,")

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I beg to move that the House agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 52. With the leave of the House, I shall speak also to the other amendments in the group.

The Commons amendments in the group provide the foundations of the robust regime for public and media access which we are establishing for councils' new executive constitutions yet take account of the debates on this issue both in this House and in another place. The access regime will ensure that people will know what decisions the executive is planning to take, how they can make their input into those decisions, what decisions have been taken and the reasons for those decisions.

Using the powers provided in Commons Amendments Nos. 52 and 53, we intend to make regulations establishing this regime. We have drafted those regulations. The last draft of them was placed in the Library of the House on 3rd July. The regime will also include a requirement that where a council's executive meets to take key decisions--those which impact on the lives of people in local communities--those meetings must be open. That touches on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in an earlier debate. Our aim through those regulations, taken together with statutory guidance, is to deliver both the letter and the spirit of the intention for open meetings without compromising the aim that an executive can have proper time and space to allow it to think the unthinkable away from the public glare or that, for example, a mayor is able to call his or her colleagues together at short notice to chew over an issue.

We will ensure that our intention for open meetings cannot be subverted by an executive separating a pertinent discussion about a key decision from the meeting where it collectively agrees that decision or through its scheme for delegating formal decision-taking to an individual member of the executive or an

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officer of the authority. The principle is clear. Where executives meet formally to discuss key decisions, they should do so in public regardless of who will formally take the decision. In that way I believe that we meet the concerns previously expressed and the concerns underlying Amendments Nos. 52A and 52B standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Those amendments, as drafted, may not achieve the outcome which I have described. I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendments. Our amendments, together with my explanation, will meet most of the objections that have arisen in relation to access to the meetings of the executive.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 52.--(Lord Whitty.)


Baroness Hamwee had given notice of her intention to move, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 52, Amendments Nos. 52A and 52B.

52AClause 21, leave out lines 2 to 4 and insert--
("( ) requiring meetings mentioned in subsection (2), or particular proceedings at such meetings, to be open to the public when discussing matters pertaining to decisions (whether or not to be made at the meeting) or taking decisions,")
52BLeave out lines 5 to 7

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall not press Amendments Nos. 52A and 52B. Perhaps I may take the opportunity to raise two matters with the Minister. First, he referred to the regulations which will deal with what are to be key decisions on the part of local authorities. Can he confirm that the definition of a key decision will not vary widely between authorities of a similar type and size? Secondly, the Minister has dealt with discussion about decisions which will be taken by individuals. Can he reassure the House that where decisions are based on draft reports, disclosure cannot be avoided by circulating drafts rather than final versions?

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I wanted simply to comment that these improvements are welcome. As the Minister has explained, they take matters forward as a result of our debates at a much earlier stage of the Bill. I observe, however, that although guidance will be produced and regulations made in this matter, the question of what will form a key decision will remain in the hands of the councillors themselves via the council. That is how I understand the position.

If the councillors are to decide what is to be a key decision to be taken in the open, unless strict regulation is put in place, of which I do not generally approve, we may be putting in place a fallible system. Perhaps the old rules of openness which, in their blanket application, were rather more simple and straightforward--apart from appropriate exclusions--were better. However, perhaps that comment is unnecessary because I do not want to oppose the amendment.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I owe both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord some explanation of the

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position as regards key decisions. If we are to avoid too little information being disclosed, or alternatively a huge amount of paperwork masking the real issues of concern, key decisions will require careful definition. We are still in the process of consultation on this. We are analysing the responses we have received. However, the vital principle is clear. Where a decision will have any significant impact on the community, the electorate involved should be able to influence that decision. That means that it must be made openly and in public.

With regard to key decisions, regardless of whether they are being taken collectively by the executive or by an individual officer, people will be told about the planning behind such a decision, they will know how to contribute to the decision-making process and they will have a right of early access to papers. In that regard, we shall prevent by regulation any abuse covering the disclosure of draft reports. Reports will need to be available at least three days before any decision is taken. I hope that that goes some way towards meeting the point raised by the noble Baroness.

Although I cannot give the House a definitive interpretation of a "key decision", I am sure that the responses we have received to our consultation will guide us towards formulating a definition that will meet the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.

[Amendments Nos. 52A and 52B, as amendments to Commons Amendment No. 52, not moved.]

On Question, Motion agreed to.


53Page 15, line 48, at end insert--
("(9A) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for or in connection with requiring prescribed information about prescribed decisions made in connection with the discharge of functions which are the responsibility of a local authority executive to be made available to members of the public or members of the authority.
(9B) The provision which may be made under subsection (9A) includes provision--
(a) requiring prescribed information to be made available in advance of the prescribed decisions mentioned in that subsection,
(b) as to the way or form in which prescribed information is to be made available.")
54Clause 24, page 16, line 23, at end insert--
("(1A) Before drawing up proposals under this section, a local authority must take reasonable steps to consult the local government electors for, and other interested persons in, the authority's area.")
55Page 16, line 27, leave out ("which of") and insert ("the extent to which")
56Page 16, line 30, leave out paragraph (a)
57Page 16, line 35, leave out second ("and") and insert--
("( ) A local authority")
58Page 16, line 36, at end insert ("for the purposes of this section")
59Page 17, line 3, after ("consult") insert ("the")
60Page 17, line 4, after ("electors") insert ("for")
61Clause 26, page 17, line 32, leave out ("(within the meaning of section 29)") and insert ("of a particular type

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permitted by regulations under section 29")
62Page 17, line 34, leave out ("In") and insert ("For the purpose of")
63Page 17, line 35, after ("consult") insert ("the")
64Page 17, line 35, after ("electors") insert ("for")
65Page 18, line 17, leave out ("(2)(b), (3)(a) and (b)") and insert ("(1A), (2)(b), (3)")
66Page 18, line 20, leave out ("(3)(a) and (b)") and insert ("(1A), (3)")
67After Clause 26, insert the following new clause--

(" .--(1) A local authority may apply to the Secretary of State for the approval of outline fall-back proposals involving fall-back proposals which are not permitted by or under this Part but which would be so permitted if the necessary regulations were made under section 11(6) or 29 (as the case may be).
(2) The form and content of an application under subsection (1) must comply with any directions given by the Secretary of State.
(3) Where the Secretary of State approves a local authority's proposals under subsection (1)--
(a) the authority may use those proposals as their outline fall-back proposals for the purposes of section 26, and
(b) the timetable referred to in section 26(13) shall be extended to the extent that there is any delay in making the necessary regulations under section 11(6) or 29 (as the case may be).")
68Clause 28, page 19, line 3, leave out ("enabling") and insert ("the operation by")
69Page 19, line 4, leave out ("to operate") and insert ("of")
70Page 19, line 10, after ("26,") insert ("(Approval of outline fall-back proposals),")

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 53 to 70.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 53 to 70.--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

5.45 p.m.


71Clause 29, page 19, line 23, after ("efficient") insert (", transparent")

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I apologise to the House. The procedure here is a little confusing. I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 71.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 71.--(Lord Whitty.)

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