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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The intention is that there should be a minimum of one. That would be the irreducible minimum. However, the noble Lord is right to say that, because of the difference in need of different areas, the councils may be constructed differently and have different compositions. We propose to ensure that the framework is right. The fundamental principles on which each council operates will be the same, but they will allow sufficient flexibility and variation to respond to local needs. As the noble Lord rightly said, the larger areas may have many more members. Various and differing consultative sub-boards may also be set up. We intend to examine all those issues in detail and they will be included in guidance. The framework document will help us greatly with the parameters. We shall continue to put flesh on the bones. As that flesh becomes manifest, we shall ensure that that information is brought back to the House.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. However, she has painted a vivid picture of the Government feeling their way through territory which appears to be almost unknown in this consultation, and yet she has not provided an answer to the question that I ventured to ask. What has already been made known to the Government to bring about the change between what was promised in the White Paper and what the Bill currently characterises for the CACs?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: One Member of the CommitteeI cannot remember now whether it was the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in his usual charming turn of phrase, or the noble Lord, Lord Waddingtonsuggested that the Government had made a U-turn on local management boards. I say absolutely that there has been no U-turn. We have strengthened the local focus.
As demonstrated by our decisions, we have decided that an executive agency that provides a national framework will best respond to the needs identified to us both in the Auld report and in the other assessments of the necessary changes. We thought it important that the external members of what will be the local management board have a statutory identity, and we propose to give
Through the guidance and the framework document, we hope to give not only the Committee but all those with anxieties about the matter, both in the magistrates' community and elsewhere, the types of reassurance about how the arrangements will work that they clearly need. We want to make it clear that our intention as expressed in the White Paper has not changed one jot.
It may be appropriate for me to return later, when we come to my Amendment No. 23, to the noble Baroness's comments regarding actions rather than words. I should like now simply to ask her a question about consultation. In a previous debate, she tried to be helpful about the current consultation. She said that the Government will publish the consultation and that the House will be able to debate it. Does she recognise that noble Lords need to have that debate before the Bill leaves this House? In saying that we will have a chance properly to consider the consultation within the context of this legislation, was she undertaking to speak to the Leader of the House to ensure that we do not reach Report stage before we have that consultation?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The noble Baroness knows better than I that that is a matter for the usual channels. We have indicated how the timings will run. We intend, as and when we get the initial outcomes from the consultation, to try to make an on-going assessment and share it as soon as is practicable.
As noble Lords who attended the relatively small meeting that was held will knowI say small because, although it was open to all, few had the burden of attending, perhaps because the fire was then not as evident as it clearly is in the House todaywe are not consulting on specific options. Instead, we are using the large and small areas as scenarios. We are asking stakeholdersif the noble Lord, Lord Gresford, wants me to list whom I mean by stakeholders, I am happy to do so again, but it will be in Hansard, if that assists himwhat structure they think would best help them to achieve the objectives set out before we present options.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to all those who have taken part in this debate and, in particular, the Minister for doing her best in what are exceedingly difficult circumstances to be as helpful as she can. I salute her for that and have every confidence in her in the matter.
However, we still face a dilemma. Procedurally, it would have been perfectly possible for the Government to complete their consultation and take the relevant decisions for us to know what we were doing. However, the Bill is before us and we are being asked to take the decision without knowing in any way how the new system is to work. How can we possibly make a valid and sensible judgment?
The noble Baroness kindly said that the new structure would have to be introduced by order. So it may. That indeed brings the matter before us again, but the procedure for orders is that we accept them or reject them. We cannot alter a comma or a capital letter. On a matter of such significance, I fear that we are being treated in a somewhat cavalier fashion. The other procedure was available under which we could have known what was to happen.
I stick simply to the issue of numbers. I cannot say that I am satisfied with the answer that I have received, because I have not received an answer. Given that, I beg to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.