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Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am grateful to the noble Lord for the explanation of his thinking. May I deal first with Amendments Nos. 65 to 67. I appreciate that the amendments seek to bring the bail arrangements
With regard to Amendments Nos. 70 to 71, I sympathise with the reasoning put forward, which I fairly summarise as if the ICC recommendations on bail in Clause 18(1) are notified, then the person most particularly concerned with release should have an opportunity to address the court and make representations. That will happen in the ordinary course of events because Clause 18(1)(c) states that,
In Amendment No. 71 the suggestion that a person should be granted bail unless clear and convincing evidence were put forward as a reason for refusal goes against the absence of a presumption either for or against bail, which we consider important. Perhaps a little more fundamentally, it goes against Clause 59(4). For that reason, although I understand the noble Lord's motivation, I am not able to accept these amendments.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I paraphrase what he said about the first amendment: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. That is what he is saying in relation to the procedures which, he says, have worked well in the past, despite the apparent anomalies drawn to our attention. In the light of that and his comments on the later amendments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 68, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 69. Amendment No. 68 is consequential upon Amendment No. 67. It needs no further explanation. Amendment No. 69 seeks to extend the ambit of Clause 16(5). It would ensure that a court cannot release on bail a person who is on remand pending trial in a national court. If the national court has remanded a person in custody pending trial, then a court could not grant bail subsequently to that person in respect of an ICC matter. As currently drafted, the Bill covers
On Amendment No. 69, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has raised some interesting points. For the record, shock and horror were registered on the otherwise beatific countenance of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. I should like to consider this matter quite carefully. I cannot accept the amendment in its present form but I recognise readily that a point of substance has been raised. I undertake that we will seek to provide a suitable amendment to reflect the purpose of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. I am more than happy--when we have a preliminary amendment to hand--to have a discussion with him. I hope that we shall be able to come to an amicable agreement.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I think we had agreed that at about this time we would ask that the House resume. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has come in on that basis. Would it be convenient to resume the House at this stage?
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I began with a few words. I apologise in advance that I will never complete that sentence because I cannot be here for the next day in Committee; otherwise, it is plainly for the convenience of the House that I should not do so.
Lord Carter: My Lords, before we move to the Motion and the Prayer, it may be for the convenience of the House if I say a word about the procedure that will follow in relation to these two items. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will move her Motion and in so doing will make her speech. There will then follow a single debate. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will speak next. The Minister will speak at the end. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will then have the opportunity to reply and will either press her Motion or withdraw it. If the noble Baroness presses her Motion to a Division and wins, the House authorities have advised that the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will be pre-empted and he will not be able to move it. If, however, the noble Baroness loses her Motion or withdraws it, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, can choose whether or not to move his Motion. If the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, moves his Motion, he may do so formally. We will then have any further Division without any debate. I hope that that clarifies the position.
The regulations in question--whose title runs for two lines--are required by the Local Government Act 2000 but they are also--I hope that I may say this without offence--more importantly required by their principle of maximum openness in government at every level. On this occasion we are talking about local government.
During the passage of the Local Government Bill, as it then was, we on these Benches made it quite clear that our support for the Bill depended, in part, on acceptable access to information provisions. We tabled amendments that required meetings to be open to the public and the press, who are a very important part of the democratic process, providing information about what goes on locally. The amendments required those meetings to be open when councils were
On 24th July 2000 (at col. 59 of the Official Report) the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, explained to the House that the amendments provided the foundations of the robust regime for public and media access to ensure that people will know what decisions the executive of the local authority is planning to take, how they can make their in-put to those decisions, what decisions have been taken and the reasons for those decisions. That statement was helpful and very important. It spelt out what accountability is: it is not simply being able to point to the person or the group who makes the decision; it is the whole process of decision making--access by those who have an interest and a contribution to the final decision.
The Act allows--in parliamentary terms that means "requires"--the Secretary of State to make regulations. A draft was published last summer. We now have regulations that are in force together with statutory guidance regarding their application. After the publication of the regulations, it was drawn to our attention that they do not wholly achieve the access which we sought and which I believe the Government intended when the matter was debated last summer.
We know that there are problems with orders. We are all aware of the convention that we do not vote on--that is, vote against--orders, or at any rate only in the rarest of circumstances. I should point out that "convention" is a term which has a different definition depending on the occasion. We know also--it is particularly important in this context--that orders are unamendable. There is no opportunity to influence their content during the formal legislative process. My own view is that I would much prefer to be able to amend orders, but that is not the issue for the House today. We need to consider what can be achieved in the context of an unamendable order accompanied by guidance issued by the Government--guidance that can be reissued.
Aware of these difficulties in procedure, we decided that the mature way to proceed was to approach the Government to discuss our concerns. We did not simply produce those concerns like a rabbit out of a hat and bring them before the House. Discussions have taken place with Ministers in both Houses. It is perfectly right that, in the context of a discussion about access to information, I should make that point clear. I do not know whether the Conservatives have made a similar approach. No doubt we shall hear from the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, on that matter.
We approached the Government in order to see what could be done to meet our concerns. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us and, more importantly, the House on the points that I raise. I shall do so as briefly as I can, recognising that, to those who have not lived with this issue, the points may appear a little opaque. I apologise for that.
First, under the provisions, the "key" decisions must be made in public. Under Regulation 8(1)(a), the first type of key decision is one likely to result in a local authority incurring expenditure or making savings which are,
I accept that this is a sensitive matter for authorities. If the Government are able to tell us that they can move forward on this point, I hope that they will also tell us that that will be through consultation with local authorities.
Secondly, a key decision under the regulations is one that is significant for communities in two or more electoral wards. The guidance, which puts a gloss on this, provides that large rural wards can be regarded by a local authority as two wards. I do not think that the two-ward test meets the test of common sense. Frequently, decisions are taken which have a huge effect--but an effect on a limited number of people. I shall not weary the House with examples. I am sure that noble Lords will be able to think of them from their own experience.
My third point concerns draft reports. Local authorities should not be able to get away with using the label of "draft report" on what is substantively a final report. Such a report should be treated as final and should be dealt with in public. Nor should an authority be able to use the urgency procedures, with which I am sure the House will be familiar, to avoid the requirement to make reports available three days in advance when the only urgency is a failure to finalise the report in time for the normal procedures.
My fourth point concerns briefing meetings with officers. Under Regulation 7(2), a meeting is not a meeting to which the access provisions attach if it is for an officer to brief the decision-makers. I ask the Minister to give the House an assurance that it will be made clear that this cannot be used as a get-out. Regulation 7(2) applies to Regulation 7(1)(b) and (c). I am sure the Minister follows what I am saying. I apologise again to other noble Lords. I ask him for a further assurance that any key decision of an executive or of a committee of an executive must be taken in public, subject to the usual provisions about exempt confidential and commercial matters.
My next point concerns matters where there is a change of policy. Under the new executive scrutiny split, policy is a matter for the full council. But policy does not spring fully formed onto an agenda. There is a process of policy-making. The involvement of the public in that policy-making--both access to it and,
I turn to the guidance. We have the two documents at the moment--the regulations and the guidance. We already have a provision in the guidance that alters the provisions of the regulations. That relates to the number of wards affected. I hope that the Minister can explain to the House that we are not in the uncomfortable constitutional position of what appears to be a subordinate document over-ruling the primary document--the regulations. I believe that, given the status of statutory guidance, local authorities need to have regard to it. Can the Minister assure noble Lords that no conflict exists between the two? I refer not only to the question of wards, but also as regards the matters I have raised this evening, if they should be included in guidance rather than put on the face of an order.
Finally, we are entering new waters in local government. I believe that, assuming that we finish this evening's proceedings with the regulations in place, it would be reasonable to review them after a short period of implementation and experience. Can the Minister say whether the Government would be prepared to review the regulations; namely, to consult fully and openly and then to revise in short order on the basis of that consultation? If that is so, when? I beg to move.
Moved, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to revoke the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000/3272), laid before the House on 19th December 2000, and to lay before it in their place regulations which would-- (a) improve the definition of "key decisions" such that one of the tests is whether a decision is significant in terms of its effects on people in one ward or a wider area rather than in two wards as defined at present; (b) specify the minimum financial thresholds for expenditure or savings decisions by an executive above which a decision is a key decision in such a manner as to minimise arbitrary variations between authorities;
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