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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am tempted to say that under other legislation inspectors' reports become binding. We do not seem to be in the same position here. I thought that that was a unique situation. We hoped that we might move it into other legislation. That was what the Government were anticipating. This is all about the revocation of a scheme. It would be more appropriate if the Government had to do more than have regard to or take account of, as I think
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the Minister put it, such an inquiry. I hear what the Minister says and I do not intend to pursue this issue further today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this group of amendments deals with the powers of appointment to the newly formed combined fire authorities. We still have serious concerns about this part of the Bill allowing, as it does, for the Secretary of State to appoint a significant minority of members to each authority. While protesting that fire and rescue authorities remain a local service, the Government are not only grafting on a regional structure but are also taking powers to appoint members. We cannot support this step.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, attempted to explain that such a power for the Secretary of State was needed as a reserve power in case fire and rescue authorities did not nominate people of what the Secretary of State considered to be of sufficiently high calibre. This would apply, apparently, where capacity was needed to deliver modernisation, bringing in wider experience and knowledge that the authority apparently lacked. That was the explanation. This is as patronising as it is tenuous. It is demeaning to the professional authorities that support the fire authorities to say that they need members appointed by the Secretary of State to provide so-called outside expertise. It is beyond what already happens in London where, as I understand it, the whole authority consists of elected members appointed by the Greater London Authority and the boroughs.
This is not a reserve power; it will be used from day one of the newly formed authorities. The Government do not seem to be able to trust locally elected representatives to get on and run their local services. Amendment No. 9 would guarantee that all members appointed to a combined fire and rescue authority would be elected members of one of the constituent authorities, ensuring local representation and accountability.
In Committee, I explained our opposition to the Secretary of State having a role in appointing members to the new authorities. Amendment No. 10 therefore seeks to curtail the Secretary of State's involvement. Amendments Nos. 11, 13 and 14 are consequential amendments, drafted to deal with changes to the Bill that would be required if Amendment No. 10 is, as I anticipate, accepted. I beg to move.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Baroness said that the Secretary of State's powers were not reserved. I make it absolutely clear that the powers would be used only in a last resort. My speaking notes do not say, "For 'last resort' read 'reserve'". The authority of the Secretary of State is involved. We have made it clear that we do not seek such powers lightly. We have given assurances that the Secretary of State's powers of
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appointment would be used only in a "last resort" scenario, where authorities have critically failed to deliver the services required of them. In effect, a reserved power is involved.
To limit appointments to those who are responsible for this failurethat is the implicationis, as we have previously said, contradictory and counter-productive. Appointment of non-elected members by the Secretary of State will be for no other purpose than to bring into the new authorities the necessary leadership and expertise that they have shown they lacked, whether this be managerial or financial or involves another role that is essential to service delivery.
Members will be appointed by the Secretary of State on the basis of their ability to bring these qualities to the new authority. Such appointments will be made sparingly, responsibly and for the limited purposes which we have described. The independence of appointees from the Government will be guaranteed by open process and in accordance with the Nolan principles.
I cannot spell out the position any more clearly than that. This approach does not involve the Secretary of State riding roughshod over local authority representatives on fire services authorities; they will have had every opportunity to have sorted out any problems before the powers are used. I hope that the noble Baroness accepts that the use of these powers will not be the norm; they will be used simply as a last resort.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the provisions do not say that. I know that the Minister tried to explain that the powers would be used only as a last resort but that is not what Clause 3(3)(a) states. That subsection states:
"In particular, a scheme . . . may make provision about . . . the composition of the combined authority (including provision for the appointment of members by the existing authorities or by the Secretary of State)".
The authorities are made up either of elected members, which is what we seek to ensure, or of appointed members. There is a real confusion in subsection (3)(c) about who will be on the authorities and what their status will be.
The Government have a great tendency, with regard to appointed members on all sorts of bodies, to try to steer what those appointed members should be doing. We must remember that behind all those authorities there is usually a competent Civil Service. Members of those authorities are there to guide and steer, usually in a political way, how the authority will work.
We cannot have a situation in which a scheme is put forward by combined authorities when there is, as I understand it, no track record of how they have operated. The supposition is that theyor their membersare hopeless before they start. If a scheme were put forward on behalf of all elected members and the Secretary of State threw up his hands and said, "No, I cannot have Bloggs, Smith or Jones because they are not competent in the relevant area", that
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would cause tremendous confusion from the outset. I am afraid that I really am not satisfied by the Minister's response.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I should clarify the situation. There are a couple of points that I did not make earlier but I should have done. The amendment requires that all members appointed by their constituent authorities should be elected members of those authorities. In practice, that has always been the case, and it is set out that it should be in the orders establishing the combined authorities. Those orders will make it clear that the norm involves the elected members of the constituent authorities. We expect that to continue to be the case, but we believe that it is not a matter for primary legislation. As I said, these are last resort powers. The norm will be that the fire authorities will consist of elected members from the constituent authorities. That will be clear in the orders setting up the combined authorities. I am sorry if I did not make that clear earlier; it is my fault for turning over more than one page of my notes at a time.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I refer to a combined authoritywhich could be set up in any case in the normal waythat failed for whatever reason. If it was a failure there would be a report from the Audit Commission, the inspectorate or some other body that made it patently clear that the authority was not working. It would have every opportunity to put itself right and if it failed to do so the Secretary of State would use the powers as a last resort.
By definition, such an authority has therefore not operated in the past; it will be a new body. It cannot have a track record and the Secretary of State can have no experience of what the authority is like in order to make a judgment about appointed members. The situation may be as the Minister described it but the clause does not state that. I want to test the opinion of the House.
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