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As regards staff support for the overview and scrutiny committees, addressed by Amendment No. 146, I have some sympathy with Members of the Committee and councillors up and down the land who are grappling with the issue. Clearly, substantial adjustments must be made to the way in which councils structure themselves and the roles particularly of senior officers. It is important that the overview and scrutiny committees have support and are able to question other officers of the authority.
However, we do not wish to make a mandatory requirement that there should clearly be separate officer support. We believe that it is a matter for local choice, which will identify the split and which level of officer is responsible for the different forms of answering and support for the committees. While we recommend councils to follow the course of designating a clear support officer, we recognise that that may not be feasible in all cases, particularly in relation to small districts. Therefore, we are not going down the mandatory road. We recognise the point which the amendment attempts to address, and trust that the guidance will be sufficient to meet it.
As regards the final subsection of Amendment No. 146--that is, the requests from members of overview and scrutiny committees for papers--we do not regard it as necessary. Under the proposed arrangements, there will be a duty on the executive to make publicly available the same papers as are required under current law.
Amendment No. 148 deals with the role of the overview and scrutiny committee in relation to the monitoring officer. There is a partial misunderstanding. A monitoring officer is the proper person to deal with claims of impropriety or maladministration. Under the 1989 Act, he or she is under a duty to make a report to the authority. The overview and scrutiny committee is not the right forum for officers to bring concerns. These committees are there to overview policy and carry it out, not to look at the legality or otherwise of such decisions. Officers should therefore not refer to those committees except as part of a more general concern. If it is a specific matter of propriety, that is for the standards committees and boards. Therefore, I do not believe that the amendment addresses the appropriate committee or resolves the problem accordingly.
I turn to Amendment No. 150 tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. This is a helpful amendment which is in line with the recommendations we have set out in guidance. I therefore accept the principle lying behind it. We share his concern to ensure that Church representatives and all those represented on overview and scrutiny committees can have their concerns placed on the agenda, thereby forcing the executive to respond directly to any concerns they may have. With the leave
Amendment No. 152 rightly looks to enshrine the important role of Church representatives. I join those who pay tribute to the previous and future roles of Church representatives on education committees; they have been key players. We have every intention that they should continue to play a key role and I had hoped that our Amendment No. 145 would satisfy concerns. However, the right reverend Prelate and others have said that that is not the case.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, intervened to make a cross-reference to the education provisions. If there is a mismatch between the two, I must in part stand responsible. As the noble Lord will recall, I was once an education spokesperson and therefore ought to be an example of joined-up government. However, I recall that during the course of the debate someone--perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Tope--foresaw the change of circumstances in which the Church representatives on education committees would be transformed by the new government proposals, and my current department clarified the position. If there remains a difficulty between the two, we must consider it and amend legislation accordingly to meet the concern. If the right reverend Prelate accepts that assurance, I shall take the amendment away and examine it.
Amendment No. 149 also relates to religious representation. It would enshrine on the face of the Bill the role of Church and parent governors. We wish to go slightly further than the amendment implies, in that they would have voting rights on the committee. That would continue the voting rights which they have on education committees under the current system. These rights are statutory for representatives from the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, which clearly provide the vast majority of denominational schools under our system. The right reverend Prelate and others referred to other denominations, as does the amendment, and councils may be directed by the Secretary of State to include representatives of other religious groups where they provide maintained schools in the area.
Lord Whitty: I am not sure that I have missed it as much as taken a different view. The statutory provisions, and to some extent the discretionary provisions, closely relate to the engagement of those who provide schools in the education provision for the
There are now schools maintained by other faiths and denominations. Representatives of religions which do not have a maintained school in the area are in a wider category. There is nothing under the provisions in the Bill to stop co-option of such representatives on to the overview and scrutiny committee, but the voting rights accrue to those who have maintained schools within the system. We should probably wish to maintain that distinction, although I am happy to look again at aspects of it.
I oppose Amendment No. 166, which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. Appointments to the overview and scrutiny committees will have to reflect the overall balance of the council. Therefore, the appointment of individuals to sit on committees is a matter for the party group on the council. The appointment of councillors outside the executive should be affected by that system, which should remain in place. Party groups will be best placed to decide where their resources may be most effectively deployed in terms of which member they wish to put on the appropriate overview and scrutiny committee. It is possible, as indeed it is under the present system, that all councillors may wish to sit on one particular committee. Such a decision would have to be left to the party groups. We should bear in mind also that the overview and scrutiny committee is only one of the councillors' roles outside the executive. There are planning committees, licensing committees, and so forth.
I oppose also Amendment No. 167. I agree that it is important that the members of the overview and scrutiny committees are able to discuss any action by the executive. We have tabled amendments to Clause 15 to clarify that matter, particularly Amendment No. 140. It would be up to local choice exactly how a mechanism would work in a particular local authority. Our draft guidance puts forward various suggestions as to how that mechanism should work, but we do not need to go into further detail on the face of the Bill.
We made it clear in guidance that any member of the committee should be able to have his concerns on the agenda so as to ensure that the executive may be properly held to account and that individual councillors may raise concerns. I hope that that reassures the noble Lord that what lies behind his amendment is not necessary on the face of the Bill. I am sorry that that is quite a wide-ranging response to the debate. I see that the noble Baroness wishes to intervene.
Baroness Hamwee: I am grateful to the Minister. I return briefly to the question of officer support for the overview and scrutiny committee. The Minister says that it is a matter for each local authority to determine how to deploy its resources. Will he accept that it is
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