Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Second Report


ANNEX 1

LOCAL GOVERNMENT BILL [HL]

Memorandum by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

INTRODUCTION

1.  The Local Government Bill was introduced to the House of Lords on 25 November 1999. This memorandum summarises the main provisions of the Bill and gives an overview of the delegated powers. It then identifies each of the powers; describes its purpose; explains why the matter has been left to delegated legislation; and explains the degree of Parliamentary control.

MAIN PROVISIONS

2.  Part I of the Bill consists of 8 clauses. It gives principal local authorities[6] a power to take any steps that they consider will promote or improve the well-being of their area or its inhabitants. It also gives authorities a power to develop community strategies with other local bodies, setting out how together they will improve the quality of life for their local communities.

3.  Part I contains powers enabling the Secretary of State to remove statutory constraints on authorities' ability to exercise the new well-being power and on their ability to plan co-ordinated local action.

4.  Finally, Part I repeals the bulk of principal local authorities' current discretionary powers under section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 to incur expenditure in the interests of their area.

5.  The purpose of Part II of the Bill, which consists of 25 clauses and two Schedules, is to provide new political management structures for local authorities. This will involve the creation of separate executive and scrutiny structures, and the introduction of directly elected mayors.

6.  Part II contains 15 provisions which delegate power to the Secretary of State to make regulations and orders governing the detailed application and implementation of the provisions of this Part of the Bill. Some of these individual provisions are very closely associated, such as the powers in subsections 11(1) and 11(3) relating to executive functions and in subsections 30(3) and 30(4) relating to the conduct of referendums.

7.  Part III of the Bill introduces a new ethical framework for local government through 22 clauses and a Schedule. It provides for statutory codes of conduct for local councillors, standards committees for local authorities and an independent body, the Standards Board, to investigate complaints of alleged misconduct. Where such allegations are upheld, there is provision for a range of sanctions (from censure through to disqualification from office) which may be applied by a case tribunal of an Adjudication Panel. Provision is also made under Part III for codes of conduct for local government employees to be included within their terms and conditions of employment.

8.  There are some nine provisions in Part III that delegate power to the Secretary of State to make regulations on the arrangements for implementing the provisions in this part of the Bill. Furthermore, there are three provisions that contain powers for those other than the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to issue guidance. This is to enable the Standards Board and Adjudication Panel to issue guidance to local authorities, to enable them to disseminate information on how they will operate and best practice to assist local authorities in attaining the high standards of conduct that the public expects.

9.  Part IV consists of six clauses. These provide a power for the Secretary of State to change the frequency of local elections to one of three specified schemes. There is also provision to change the timing of local government elections.

10.  Part V includes provisions on welfare services and allowances and pensions for local authority members.

11.  The provisions on welfare services consist of two clauses. The first enables Government to pay a new grant to local authorities for support services. This will replace existing funding streams in a phased process over time and geographical area. The second clause provides for the ending of payments of Housing Benefit to meet charges for those support services, and enables the new arrangements to be 'phased in'.

12.  Clause 66 provides for the payment of allowances and pensions to members of local authorities.

13.  Part VI of the Bill consists of five clauses and two Schedules which include general provision for orders and regulations and for commencement of the Bill following enactment.

14.  The Explanatory Notes, which were published along with the Bill on 26 November 1999, provide detailed information about the background to these provisions, their purpose and effect.

TYPE OF PARLIAMENTARY SCRUTINY

15.  Clause 69 of the Bill is a general power which provides a framework for the powers elsewhere in the Bill on orders and regulations. It sets out the procedures to be followed in respect of the powers for the Secretary of State to make orders or regulations which are included in other clauses, as detailed below and in the body of the memorandum.

16.  Throughout the Bill, the Government has sought to achieve some proportionality between the extent of powers and the level of scrutiny to which they are to be subjected. For instance, where powers in the Bill materially impact upon other legislation or concerns electoral matters (such as those set out at clauses 5, 6, 10(5), 29, 30, 32, and 34), the Government believes that these should be subject to scrutiny under the draft affirmative resolution procedure by both Houses of Parliament in relation to their operation in England.

17.  An additional rôle is envisaged for Parliament in respect of the powers in clauses 5 and 6 which provide relatively wide-ranging powers for the Secretary of State to modify or repeal legislation, for which more detailed scrutiny arrangements are set out in clause 8.

18.  Some delegated powers will be exercised with the involvement of the proposed Electoral Commission (see paragraphs 70 to 72 below).

19.  In relation to delegated powers exercisable under most elements of Parts II, III, IV and V—set out in clauses 3, 10, 11, 15, 22, 23, 26, 31, 35, 38, 39, 40, 51, 53, 54, 58, 59, 60 and 66—there is no such impact upon other legislation; these delegated powers are either sought for detailed technical and administrative purposes or are limited in scope. The approach to Parliamentary scrutiny additionally often builds in a consideration of the views of those local authority practitioners and the members of local communities who will be most directly affected by them. Each of these clauses, by virtue of the provisions set out in subsection 69(4), provide for negative resolution of any orders made under them. The Government believes this to be an appropriate level of scrutiny for these powers.

20.  There are further powers in clauses 3, 4, 24, 50 and 64 for the Secretary of State in England and the National Assembly for Wales to issue guidance; Part III also contains powers for organisations and officers other than the Secretary of State or the National Assembly to issue guidance.

ARRANGEMENTS IN WALES

21.  Clause 70 sets out those provisions for which powers exercisable by the Secretary of State in England will be exercised by the National Assembly in respect of Wales. This includes all relevant powers in Parts II, IV and V, with the exception of clause 29 (Power to make provisions about elections) which is a non-devolved matter in respect of which powers in both England and Wales will be exercised by the Home Secretary, and clause 65 (Housing benefit), which is also a matter reserved to the UK Government on which relevant powers will continue to be exercised in both England and Wales by the Secretary of State for Social Security. Part III and clause 64 provide explicitly for powers to be exercised by the Secretary of State in England and the National Assembly in Wales respectively.

22.  Clause 70 excludes orders made by the National Assembly for Wales from the Parliamentary procedures set down in clause 69 (Orders and regulations). Instead, the Assembly's procedures for subordinate legislation, set out in sections 64-68 of the Government of Wales Act 1998 and its Standing Orders, will apply. Except in cases of urgency, these procedures require both a cost benefit appraisal and affirmative resolution by the Assembly of proposed orders after plenary debate.

23.  The exercise of the powers under clauses 5 and 6 in relation to Wales has not been transferred to the National Assembly; Parliament retains a scrutiny rôle in respect of the exercise of these powers in Wales as in England, and the use of these powers will therefore also be subject to affirmative resolution and the additional scrutiny procedures set out in clause 8. The rôle of the Assembly in relation to these clauses is under discussion within Government, and amendments will be brought forward in due course.


6   In England, county councils, district councils, London borough councils, the Common Council of the City of London and the Council of the Isles of Scilly. In Wales, county councils and county borough councils. Back


 
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