Local Government — 23 Jan 2001

I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2000 (S.I., 2000, No. 3272), dated 13th December 2000, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th December, be annulled.

eventually regulations will be produced. One wet afternoon, they will pass through some part of the House. By then, the spotlight will have turned on something else.

If this is modern, why do all the good ol' boys love it so?--[ Official Report , 4 July 2000; Vol. 353, c. 261-2.]

Bring back the committee system. It worked and all members were involved in the decision-making process.

We want to end the obsessive and unnecessary secrecy which surrounds government activity . . .

The first right of a citizen in any mature democracy should be the right to information. It is time to sweep away the cobwebs of secrecy which hang over far too much government activity . . .

Labour believes that democracy and openness should prevail, not patronage, sleaze or secrecy . . .

Let's have no fantasies about this being an open regime . . . this does not mean that the executive must always meet in public. Councillors must be able to meet in private to discuss broad options, to have their political disagreements.

We are attempting to change the structure in order to secure levels of accountability hitherto unknown in local government.

I am not at all convinced that we shall secure openness by requiring that all meetings must be in public.

It is not feasible to have effective decision making when all of the thinking is done in the glare of publicity, because then people will not be thinking the unthinkable.--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A , 23 May 2000; c. 267-75.]

There we have it. That seems to be the philosophy that has guided the right hon. Lady in producing the regulations and their recent predecessors.

We are now finding a Labour government removing the rights Mrs Thatcher gave us.

The first right of a citizen in any mature democracy should be the right to information--

The first right of a citizen in any mature democracy should be the right to information. It is time to sweep away the cobwebs of secrecy which hang over far too much government activity.

there remain serious concerns that the Regulations will increase secrecy in local government if adopted in their present form.

There is no minimum standard of openness which would apply to all councils.

Where decisions are based on draft reports, no advance disclosure is required.

This is carte blanche to suppress embarrassing information.

We believe a substantial step backwards into secrecy will occur if the Government does not set national minimum standards of openness for local government.

The critical failing of the definition is that a decision which significantly affects people in one ward will not be a key decision.

At present, the initial opinion of the author of the report as to whether publication would disclose "confidential" or "exempt" material--

can be challenged by a councillor present at the committee meeting considering the item.

The Local Government Act 2000 is a piece of bad legislation. It is a classic example of central prescription based on no real evidence.

This wheeze immediately raised the problem of what a key decision is; one person's minor decision is another's key decision.

Generally, the consequence could be to drive decision making away from the public arena of the cabinet to the privacy of the individual decision maker, sometimes after private discussions by the cabinet.

These changes show how little had been thought through initially, and reinforce the case against detailed central prescription. How much better it would have been for the government to have allowed innovation, and not assumed it knew what form the innovation should take.

The hon. Member for Bath expressed concern that people might keep things in draft until very late to avoid having to disclose information at an early stage. We need to look at this carefully to find out whether we should stipulate in regulations the papers relating to a decision be made available at least a certain number of

days before a final decision is taken in all but the most urgent cases . . . We will certainly consider whether we should make such provision through regulations.

any paper that goes to an executive member in relation to taking a decision will be made public at the same time.--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A , 23 May 2000; c. 272-302.]

to any guidance for the time being issued by the Secretary of State

Having said that, there is provision against abuse--for example, the possibility of reports remaining in draft form until immediately before a meeting.--[ Official Report , 4 July 2000; Vol. 353, c. 265.]

we shall prevent by regulation any abuse covering the disclosure of draft reports.--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 24 July 2000; Vol. 616, c. 61.]

We want to end the obsessive and unnecessary secrecy which surrounds government activity.

as soon as is reasonably practicable.

in view of the nature of the item, that if members of the public were present during the transaction of that item, the advice of a political adviser or assistant would be disclosed to them.

the Tories should be open and honest about their own hypocrisy--at the time they attacked the Liberal Democrats for negotiating with the Government to achieve much more openness.

It is a simple reality, which no legislation can alter, that politicians will develop policy options in confidence before presenting their final choice for public decision. We do not think this unreasonable. If the law prevents them from conducting such discussions in private in formal committees, then they will conduct them less formally elsewhere.

We would not in any way wish to discourage individual local authorities from opening deliberative committees to the public and press if that is appropriate to their particular circumstances, but do not believe that they should be required by law to do so.

We therefore recommend that the legislation should be amended so that the rights of members of the public and press to attend meetings and inspect documents do not apply to meetings of committees and sub-committees which are purely deliberative with no powers to take decisions on behalf of the council.

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 17(2) .

The House divided: Ayes 141, Noes 266.

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Party Summary

Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.

What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.

What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.

What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.

PartyMajority (No)Minority (Aye)BothTurnout
Con0 103 (+2 tell)065.6%
DUP0 1033.3%
Independent0 1050.0%
Lab265 (+2 tell) 0064.0%
LDem0 33070.2%
PC0 2050.0%
SDLP1 0033.3%
SNP0 1016.7%
Total:266 141064.0%

Rebel Voters - sorted by party

MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party. You can see all votes in this division, or every eligible MP who could have voted in this division

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no rebellions

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