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Lord Tope: My Lords, I support my colleague's amendments. Grouped with them is a government amendment, and I should like to give the Minister an opportunity to clarify the Government's intentions in a number of respects.
I understand that the proposed regulations could not override subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 20 which allow executives to choose to make all formal decisions in private. Can the Minister say whether the Government intend to require executives to make any categories of decision in public?
There are other elements of the existing legislation which could be used. For instance, do the Government intend to use regulations to require public notice of the time and place of executive meetings to be posted at least three days before the meeting? Do the Government intend regulations to include the requirement that copies of the agenda and any reports for the meetings of the executive are to be available for public inspection at least three clear days in advance; and that copies of these agendas and reports are available to all members of the council at least as soon as they are available to the public? Do the Government intend regulations made on the keeping and publication of records of decisions to incorporate aspects of Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972? Do the Government intend the regulations to define enforcement and penalties as they are defined in that part of the Local Government Act 1972, and so on?
I hope that when the Minister responds he will be able to answer some at least of these questions, and perhaps write to me on others. I hope that he will be clearer about the Government's intentions for these regulations, should their amendment be successful.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, it might be helpful if I speak first to Amendment No. 26, which stands in my name. In a sense, that will cover some of the aspects, including some of those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tope.
Regulations made under Clause 20 as a result of my amendment, if adopted, will be able to apply parts of the existing access to information provisions--including those in regard to issues such as penalties, timings and so on-- to, for example, meetings of the
My amendment would assist also in the making of broader regulations. It would allow us to specify in regulations that where an executive chooses to meet in public, the existing access to information regime covering public meetings would apply, as it would to other council committees. On Report, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked me for explicit confirmation on that point. I am glad to reassure him and to reiterate our intentions. This amendment should satisfy his concerns.
The noble Baroness's amendment, in effect--she would probably not dispute this--seeks to apply the existing Part VA of the Local Government Act regulations to decisions taken under the new structure. The whole point of the executive structure is its flexibility. Reading across those provisions directly would not ensure, for example, that where an individual member of the executive takes a decision, that individual is held to account for that decision or even has to make a record of it. That is one example of where the traditional provisions would not be appropriate and would not meet the enhanced accountability that we are seeking for our decision-takers.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked whether agendas would be circulated in advance. Again, to some extent that misses the point of the committee. Certainly one might make regulations in relation to the agenda of the committee, but many of those decisions will be taken by individual members of the executive. We shall be consulting on the regulations for the procedure of the committee--whether it should be private or public--but the point about agendas misses the implications of how the executive would function in many respects.
The whole of the debate, at earlier stages and today, misses the point that the totality of the new executive arrangements will identify both the decisions and the persons responsible for those decisions in a much clearer way than is the case at the moment. The totality of the arrangements brings greater transparency than the present arrangements where accountability and clarity of decision-making are not apparent. Simply applying the traditional access to information regime under the 1972 Act, as the noble Baroness's amendments intend, would fail to recognise the nature of the executive. My amendment would allow us to use some of the existing provisions, so that, for example, meetings were held in public subject to the same provisions, but we would need different kinds of
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the Minister has told us that the point of the executive is flexibility. But--and I have probably said this before in the course of the proceedings on the Bill--local authorities are not the same as plcs. There are different standards and different criteria. I do not believe that one should read over into local authorities the imperatives for immediate action that directors of a company might often feel would be overriding criteria.
The Minister said that I missed the point. I do not think that I missed the point. I disagree with the point. He told us that different regulations are needed under a new regime. As I have said before, the 1985 Act succeeded in spelling out what was required as a matter of primary legislation. I do not believe that it is adequate or appropriate to leave to regulations a matter of such importance, particularly given the framework of a clause which states that meetings can be held in private--there may be provisions under the regulations for meetings to be held in private. That is not appropriate. I do not for a moment suggest that the Minister is attempting to hide anything from the House or that there is any malign motive, but I think that the Government are misguided in their approach to this important matter. We believe that proper access to information and real transparency will go to the benefit of local government. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
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