HL Deb 17 January 1994 vol 551 cc431-46

6.—(1) In section 2 of the Coast Protection Act 1949 (constitution of coast protection boards), in subsection (2) (a), after "county" insert "(other than one in Wales)".

(2) In section 20 of that Act (contributions towards expenses of coast protection)—

  1. (a) in subsection (1), omit "or Wales";
  2. (b) in subsection (4), omit "or Wales";
  3. (c) in subsection (5), for "or Wales" substitute ", the council of a county or county borough in Wales".

(3) In section 21 of that Act (grants), in subsection (1) (b), after "county" insert "or county borough".

(4) In section 22 of that Act (incidental use of land acquired for coast protection), in subsection (2), for "or Wales" substitute ", the council of a county or county borough in Wales".

(5) In section 45 of that Act (service of notices and other documents), in subsection (1) (b), after "county," insert "county borough,".

(6) In section 49 of that Act (interpretation), in the definition of "maritime district", after second "district" insert "or Welsh county or county borough".

(7) In Schedule 1 to that Act (orders), in paragraph 1(a), after "county," insert "county borough,".")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 53 not moved.]

Clause 22 [Fire Services]:

Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 54:

Page 17, line 30, after ("until") insert ("on or after").

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment. It is to obtain confirmation from the Lord Advocate that the Home Office is fully satisfied that the proposed three combined fire authorities will be wholly operational on 1st April 1996.

Amendment No. 55 is rather worrying. The amendment seeks to retain the existing obligation in the Fire Services Act 1947 requiring the Home Secretary to hold a public local inquiry. Since the consultative document was published, we have appreciated that it was intended to reduce the number of fire authorities to three. The last sentence of paragraph 4.3(8) had been interpreted in Wales as meaning that one would be able to rely on the safeguard of a public inquiry. That last sentence reads: The combined authorities will be established by means of existing powers under the Fire Services Act 1947". If one reads the Fire Services Act 1947, one sees that its procedures include provision for a inquiry. If it was never intended that the procedure of the inquiry should be available, why was that not made clear in the White Paper? Why was it not said that, although a public inquiry could be set up under the 1947 Act, one would not be available? A public inquiry is, after all, the safeguard. It gives one an opportunity to explore the operational effectiveness of the new proposals. One is concerned that it was not made clear in the White Paper that the public inquiry would not be available. I beg to move.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

On the first point, I confirm that the Home Secretary is satisfied that the provisions should be in place by 1st April.

On the second point, the intention was not to hold inquiries. The provisions do not state that there will be an inquiry. The proposal to restructure the fire service in Wales had been subject to a lengthy consultation and the proposal for three authorities was set out fairly in the White Paper. There were then discussions between my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Home Office and a number of the existing fire authorities in Wales which particularly wished their views to be taken into account on this matter. It was only after that that on 14th December last year the Home Secretary announced the scheme for the three authorities. Accordingly, there has been a long period for people to consider the proposals to establish three combined fire authorities and for their views to be made known.

The matter can be debated by the Committee and the Bill makes explicit provision for the Secretary of State to consider representations from the affected authorities. In all those circumstances, it appears to the Government that an inquiry would not be necessary. Indeed, if an inquiry became protracted in any way, it might put in jeopardy the starting of the services on the necessary date. That has to be seen against the background that there has been a full period for consultation on the proposals.

Lord Prys-Davies

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate for that explanation. However, can he confirm that the existing fire authorities as well as the new principal councils will be given an opportunity to comment on the arrangements for their own locality?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

I think that I have indicated that they have already had discussions with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary. It was only after that that the proposals were brought forward.

Lord Prys-Davies

I do not wish to press the amendment any further and beg leave to withdraw it. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 not moved.]

Clause 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 [Police]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 57: Page 18, line 15, leave out ("combination") and insert ("amalgamation").

The noble Lord said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 58, 59 and 60. Amendment No. 57 is a simple drafting point. Schemes in relation to police authorities are known as amalgamation schemes rather than combination schemes. That would be more appropriate in the context of Clause 23.

Amendment No. 58 is designed to ensure that the arrangements which provide the conditions under which an amalgamation scheme may be established should be continued after 1996. With the Bill as drafted, they seem to stop after 1996. We should like to ensure that what in our view are sound conditions should apply after 1996.

Amendment No. 59 is designed to remove subsections (5), (6) and (7) in order to reinstate a requirement to hold local inquiries where there is no agreement between police authorities on a proposed amalgamation. It should be noted that Clause 10 of the current Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill removes the local inquiry procedure throughout England and Wales. Of course that clause is opposed. There is no good reason, in our view, for this Bill to anticipate the passage of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill in this place, and so we should prefer that those subsections should be omitted.

Amendment No. 60 would ensure that existing police authorities can be consulted on any proposed amalgamations. Apart from the drafting amendment that I proposed in Amendment No. 57, these are, in essence, probing amendments, but I hope that the noble and learned Lord will consider them sympathetically. I beg to move.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

On this matter, if I may say so, "it's a fair cop". The drafting is defective. I am grateful to the noble Lord for drawing attention to that matter. I accept the amendment.

Clause 23(4) makes provision for a shadow police authority to be set up before it takes on its full powers as a police authority on 1st April 1996 so that it can take any steps which it feels necessary as a preliminary to the exercise of its full powers. It may, for example, wish to appoint staff and make financial preparations. But there is no intention that it should take up its full powers on any date other than the date of local government reorganisation, and it appears to the Government that the amendment is unnecessary. The alternative proposed by the amendment would seem to leave the new Welsh local authorities as police authorities in their own right, to be combined at some later stage. That would not be in the interests of a smooth transition to the new structure nor of the operational efficiency of the police services in Wales.

Two of the other amendments would, as the noble Lord pointed out, subject a proposed scheme to a public inquiry or require the Secretary of State to consider from local authorities that were not directly affected representations about a proposed scheme.

The Home Secretary's proposals for reforming the police service are set out in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill, which will come before this place tomorrow. Clause 23 has been included in the Bill in recognition of the need to make provision for the transfer of responsibility for police functions in the context of local government reorganisation, but in the expectation that those provisions may in due course be overtaken by the provisions in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill. Of course, it would not be proper for the Government to seek to prejudge Parliament's consideration of that Bill.

Clause 23(7) therefore makes explicit provision for the authorities affected to make representations about a proposed scheme and for those comments to be taken into account. The position is broadly analogous to that which currently exists in England as a result of a comparable provision in the Local Government Act 1992.

New amalgamation schemes have to be made and the first amendment would introduce unnecessary delay into that process. A public inquiry would seem not relevant because the changes here would be minor, consequential on the local government changes in the Bill.

The third amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, could result in an amalgamation scheme not being ready to come into effect on 1st April 1996, and that would be undesirable.

I have no doubt that before my right honourable and learned friend the Home Secretary makes a scheme he will wish to take into account all relevant considerations. However, we are reluctant to spell out a specific duty to consider representations from any authority which may have no direct interest in the particular proposal. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will bear in mind that it is the duty of anyone in the position of Secretary of State to have regard to all relevant considerations when he is making a decision of this kind. In the circumstances, if a relevant representation were made from some other authority he would have to take it into account.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his response to these amendments. I am not entirely happy about his response to Amendment No. 58 and would like to study his comments in Hansard tomorrow. Therefore, I do not propose to move Amendments Nos. 58, 59 and 60. In the light of the noble and learned Lord's comments about Amendment No. 57, I commend it to the Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 58, 59 and 60 not moved.]

Clause 23, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 24 [Provision of services by one new principal council for another]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 61: Page 18, line 37, leave out ("services") and insert ("any activity or service").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 61 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 62 and 64. The amendment deals with a small point. In principle, the provisions of Clause 24(1) are welcomed by Members on this side of the Committee. We have no difficulties with them. New councils must be able to share specialist resources between each other through trading with each other. However, the amendment, which replicates wording in a piece of Scottish legislation, makes it clear that trading agreements can relate to part of a service as an activity and not just to whole services. That would be an improvement.

As regards Amendment No. 62, the subsections give the Secretary of State the power to restrict agreements between authorities in any way that he sees fit. We cannot understand the purpose of that provision. What is the point of such restrictions? Are the Government intending to exclude from agreements between authorities, for instance, all those services covered by compulsory competitive tendering? That would prevent a private supplier being tested against the best available local authority supply. Our amendment simply seeks to remove the Secretary of State's power to restrict agreements. If the Government can provide justification for that power—and I shall look to the noble and learned Lord for that—we may produce a more limited amendment at a later stage.

Amendment No. 64 is supported by the Assembly of Welsh Counties. Archives are a difficult matter in Wales. I speak personally because the archives in Powys are held by the county council in Llandrindod Wells and the council is extremely worried that the archives will be broken up and that a great deal of valuable material will be lost. We need to hear from the Government exactly how they intend to operate that subsection. It is a matter of concern and I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to offer us some comfort in that regard. I beg to move.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

The effect of Amendment No. 61 would be to insert the words: "any activity or service". In the context of this legislation, the term "services" appears to be sufficiently wide to cover any possibility, including the provision of specialist services.

The noble Lord drew attention to a similar provision in the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill which will come before the House in due course. As the noble Lord will have noted, the wording there is a little different because it talks about allowing an authority to: carry out…any activity or service". The Committee will observe that there is a difference between the Scottish and Welsh Bills because the Scottish Bill deals with agreements for the carrying out of an activity or service whereas this Bill deals with agreements for the provision of services. Merely to substitute the words, "any activity or service" would not make the legislation run. Therefore, the difference comes from the wording chosen by the respective draftsmen of the two Bills. I believe that the width of service provided for in this Bill covers all that is required.

Amendment No. 62 removes the power of the Secretary of State to restrict the scope for service agency agreements by regulation. The Government do not consider it necessary for local authorities to be able to compete for contracted-out contracts outside their areas. There is already an adequate market available within the private sector to meet authorities' needs in those areas It is because it is thought proper to introduce private sector involvement in those activities that the legislation provides for such an approach.

It seems to the Government to be undesirable to encourage other authorities to bid for the contracts or services in that area. The geographical restriction would also seem to be appropriate. For example, it would be undesirable to encourage Anglesey to buy services from an authority in South Wales, there being such a great distance between them. Therefore, in that situation it is thought that it may be appropriate for the Secretary of State to impose a geographical restriction.

Amendment No. 64 is not necessary because the Bill does nothing to remove the statutory responsibility from the contracting council. A private sector contract does not mean that the statutory responsibility transfers to the private contractor. Therefore, there is no reason why that should be so under a service agency agreement. So it does not seem that that is necessary. I think the noble Lord also spoke to the matter of archives in Amendment No. 63. The effect of this amendment would be to keep existing collections of archive—

Lord Williams of Elvel

I am sorry. I did inadvertently also speak to Amendment No. 63, but I am sure my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos will wish to move it and speak to it himself when we reach it. I apologise if I misled the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

I would not wish to trespass on that amendment. In that case I have concluded my remarks on the amendments.

Lord Williams of Elvel

I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I am not entirely happy with his response to Amendment No. 62. I am reasonably satisfied with his response to Amendment No. 61, but I thought his remarks about restricting agreements between authorities smacked a little of the old Tory dogma against public enterprise and in favour of private enterprise which I thought we were gradually getting away from. However, if the Government wish to pursue that rather tortuous path they are entitled to do so. As regards Amendment No. 64, again I accept what the noble and learned Lord has said and I shall not move it when we reach it. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 61.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 62 not moved.]

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos moved Amendment No. 63: Page 19, line 26, at end insert: ("( ) For the purpose of the exercise of powers under the Local Government (Records) Act 1962 with regard to the acquisition and preservation of archives, where a principal council contains within its area an existing archive repository empowered by the Local Government (Records) Act 1962, that council shall become responsible for the Archive Service in the area of the old authorities to which its existing collections relate.").

The noble Lord said: I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Williams for referring to this. To ensure that I am in order I wish to move the amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, that is Amendment No. 63.

As the Committee should know, there is a good deal of concern about the effect of the Bill as it stands upon local authorities" responsibilities for archives. The White Paper made a specific reference to archives but the Bill is silent on the subject and we are left without any guidance as to the list of archival services for which the proposed councils are to be responsible.

I wish to quote from the White Paper to clarify the matter. Paragraph 4.21 states: The new authorities will need to establish arrangements for the safeguarding of archives… It is likely to be necessary for at least some of the new authorities to establish co-operative arrangements to secure these services efficiently and effectively. The Government proposes transitional arrangements". But no transitional arrangements have been announced. Indeed it would seem that by virtue of paragraph 11 of the fourteenth schedule to the Bill every one of the 21 new principal councils will become an archives authority unless, of course, they enter into a Clause 24 arrangement.

The position is therefore unclear. The danger is—and it must be avoided—that these valuable archive collections will be broken up and fragmented. The basic arid well understood principle of an archival collection is that any group or collection of documents originating from one organisation or individual should be maintained as a unit.

I understand that the cost of a new records office would be in the region of £2 million and that the average running cost is about £250,000. As the Bill stands, there is the risk that the existing comprehensive unit could on transfer be dispersed between small, inadequately staffed and underfunded repositories. Incidentally, I doubt whether this would be acceptable—this is an important point—to the department of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor with its responsibility for the care and preservation of the records of Quarter Sessions and magistrates' courts. It is unthinkable that the public records of centuries should be put at risk by this Bill or that they should no longer be available in Wales.

The purpose of the amendment is to limit by statute the councils empowered to hold archives to those which are already so empowered by the Local Government (Records) Act 1962. For all those reasons I hope that the Government will accept the amendment. I beg to move.

11.30 p.m.

Lord Teviot

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, does not mind if I speak before him. I heartily support the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, in this amendment. He explained very well the present situation relating to archives.

Perhaps I may go over the situation in Wales. There is an excellent record office in Glamorgan. Dyfed has three record offices in Carmarthen, Haverfordwest and Cardigan. Gwynnedd has two or three in the three counties. Clwyd also has record offices. In relation to Powys, to which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, referred, it would be a tragedy if anything happened to the records held in Llandrindod Wells or if the responsibility was devolved.

One could also say something about the archive heritage and the importance of keeping archives together. An archivist is an important person. An archivist is not a librarian. It is a discipline. The conditions in which archives are stored are also important. The right humidity is very important.

We are not only talking about the heritage. There is also the question of on-going accessions. There are all sorts of records which require instant retrieval. They have to be kept in the right way. It would be much better if there were a few centres. It should be possible to get together and agree to retain the present set-up rather than setting up archives in small unitary authorities which are not kept by specialists. Archivists are very much specialists.

Lord Elton

Perhaps I may say a word about heritage archives or historical documents. They are of a peculiar nature. They relate to particular places. Historical researchers go to those places to look at them. The process of concentration makes the task easier because one goes to a single centre to cover a larger area. To break up a collection is crazy, because it has to be broken up to the areas from which it has come or else it has no meaning. It becomes irretrievable. That creates enormous damage to our historical heritage. Therefore, I hope that there is no question of that happening.

I have to confess that I have only just looked at the matter. But having dealt with the question of archives in an earlier reorganisation, I warmly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, proposes.

Lord Williams of Elvel

Having jumped the gun recently on this matter, I have very little to add except to say that I wholly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said. I also bring the noble and learned Lord a message on this very matter from the Radnor Society, which approached me because I am a resident of Radnorshire. It is to the effect that the Powys records in Llandrindod Wells must not be broken up because otherwise many valuable records would undoubtedly be lost with the dispersion which, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, would take place.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

The effect of the proposed amendment would be to keep the existing collections of archive material together and also to keep the areas to which the collections relate intact.

The amendment does not make any provision for any kind of agency arrangement. The result would therefore seem to be that, where an existing county was split into two or more new areas, the new council which covered the location where the archives were currently held would in effect inherit all the records and would therefore be solely responsible for the archive service which related to records which were concerned with the area of the old county. As a result, members elected for one area would have full and exclusive responsibility for this function in relation to another area or areas of the county—areas for which they were not elected. That does not seem to be a satisfactory arrangement.

Of course, where one has custom-built buildings— as there are in various places in Wales—which are very satisfactory for the keeping of records, one would expect that local authorities would, as the White Paper suggests, come to arrangements among themselves for the safekeeping of archives. One would expect that some authorities would need to establish co-operative arrangements to secure the delivery of those services efficiently and effectively. Members of the Committee have already drawn attention to the safeguard which is mentioned in the White Paper: that any arrangements made will continue to need the approval of the Lord Chancellor's Department in relation to officially designated public records.

I cannot accept an amendment which would prescribe lead authorities in this area for this purpose and which would in effect limit the freedom of the new authorities to make voluntary co-operative arrangements as would seem most suitable in the particular local circumstances. In those circumstances, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

I find myself in some difficulty, having listened to the noble and learned Lord. He made some important points. However, he failed to deal with the main thrust of my argument—it was supported by other noble Lords—namely, that archives should be preserved in their totality in the areas where they are currently deposited. If there are difficulties in the way, perhaps I may suggest to the noble and learned Lord that, if he sees flaws in my amendment, it is his duty and the duty of the Government to say that they will produce other amendments by Report stage to deal with the problem.

The Minister has not disagreed with the position. Although he intended to be helpful, he has failed to be helpful. I plead with him to consider the issue again. I am prepared to withdraw the amendment if he gives me an undertaking that by Report stage he will have considered the matter and will produce amendments which meet the point I seek to make.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

I am happy to consider further in detail what has been said. In the light of such consideration, if there appears to be an appropriate amendment to be made, I shall bring an amendment forward at that stage. I stress that it appears to us that the appropriate way forward on this matter is by co-operation among the local authorities concerned. However, I take on board the points which the noble Lord made.

Lord Williams of Elvel

Perhaps I may emphasise to the noble and learned Lord the importance of the problem. He seemed to imply in his reply that the new unitary authorities will voluntarily arrive at agreements about the depositing of archives. Perhaps he would like to talk to councillors of Montgomery, Radnor and Brecknock. He might come to a conclusion that it will be extremely difficult for them to arrive at an agreement and that it is up to the Government to ensure that the appropriate archives are stored in the appropriate places, with no loss.

It is an important point. I hope that we can take the noble and learned Lord at his word when he states that he will reconsider the point and perhaps bring forward an amendment at Report.

Lord Prys-Davies

Perhaps I too may make a plea to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate to consider carefully the amendment moved by my noble friend. Will the noble and learned Lord explain to the Committee the role and duty of the Lord Lieutenant, exercising his old office of Custos Rotulorum? What is his responsibility? Is it just a matter for the local authorities, or even the Lord Chancellor's Department? I am sure that we would seek assurance from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate that this is not to be left to the Secretary of State and the local authorities. We need an arrangement that will be acceptable to the Lord Chancellor's Department and to the Lord Lieutenants.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

I fear that I could not give the Committee a full exposition of the role of the Lord Lieutenant as custos rotulorum. However, the simple fact remains that, whatever arrangements are made, they must be satisfactory to the Lord Chancellor's officials. Therefore, whatever is required at the end of the day to satisfy them must be done. That seems, in my respectful submission, to be an important safeguard when we are considering all those matters.

I have noted what Members of the Committee have said, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and I shall reflect further upon it.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that assurance and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 64 not moved.]

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clause 25 [Service delivery plans]:

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 65: Page 19, line 42, leave out ("31st March 1996") and insert ("30th September 1995").

The noble Lord said: By way of background to this amendment, I remind the Committee that in our discussions on Amendments No. 48 and 53 my noble and learned friend said that his right honourable friend would act retrospectively only if shared services were not being properly delivered. I was not quick enough then, but it is relevant now to ask the Committee to look at Clause 29(1) on page 22 which states, Where it appears to the Secretary of State … that particular functions", and then it continues, (b) that satisfactory arrangements for the exercise of those functions will not be, or are unlikely to be, in force on or after 1st April 1996… he may, at any time before 31st March 1999, give a direction to the councils concerned". That is clearly both a preventive and a retrospective power.

If we go back to Clause 25 on page 19, where my amendment strikes, we read that the new principal authorities are to be required to: prepare and publish a plan ('a service delivery plan') … describing the manner in which they propose to perform their functions during the period beginning on 1st April 1996". But they are required to do it only by the specified date, which is 31st March 1996, a split second before the service has to be provided. That seems a quite extraordinary provision, since presumably one of the purposes of producing a service delivery plan is to enable the Secretary of State to decide whether he wishes to use his preventive power under Clause 29.

This is a probing amendment which moves that specified date forward six months so that there shall not just be a micro-second but at least a few months in which the Secretary of State can make up his mind. I beg to move.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

Perhaps I may indicate that the Government see the force of my noble friend's observations. The Government's present thinking is that draft plans should be published in about October 1995 and the final plans in January 1996. It therefore seems that the idea of bringing forward the requirement to publish final plans by a full six months would be rather ambitious, but the point is taken that the date at present in the Bill is defective in the way in which my noble friend has pointed out. We shall consider the matter further and come back at Report stage.

Lord Elton

Having received that unexpectedly encouraging reply, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 66: Page 19, line 45, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 66, standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies.

It appears to us that there is an oddity in Clause 25. Subsection (3), which the amendment is designed to leave out —simply to have an argument to hang on; it is not meant to be an amendment in the true sense of the word—states that, a council shall take into account any guidance given by the Secretary of State as to consultation, the contents of the plan and the manner of its publication". We then find in subsection (4) that the, council's service delivery plan shall be published in such manner as the council consider likely to bring it to the attention of persons", etc., etc. It seems to us that subsection (4) would allow the council to decide to ignore the guidance of the Secretary of State and be entitled to do so by the words of the Bill. Either subsection (3) holds or subsection (4) holds. There seems to be inconsistency between the two. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)

I remind the Committee that, if this amendment is agreed to, I shall be unable to call Amendment No. 67.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

I hope that there is no inconsistency between the two subsections. Subsection (4) is in the end the one which would rule, in the sense that it says that the plan will be published in the manner which, the council consider likely to bring it to the attention of persons … who may be affected by the performance of their functions". Therefore, at the end of the day the council has to publish the plan, having considered how it is likely to bring it to the attention of persons who may be affected.

In considering that matter, the council would take into account—only take into account—any guidance which will be given inter alia on the manner of publication. So the Secretary of State could give guidance on this matter as to notifications, the way in which the plan might be published, and what intimations could be given which might be most likely to bring it to the attention of people. But at the end of the day how that is to be done, what manner of publication would in the particular circumstances of any particular council be most effective, would be for the council to decide, taking into account the guidance given by the Secretary of State.

Lord Williams of Elvel

Having taken in to account the guidance given by the Secretary of State, the council could ignore it. Is that the right answer?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

It is a matter of law that, where any body has to take account of advice, or whatever it may be, at the end of the day, if there is a power for it to do as in subsection (4), having taken it into account it could decide to do something different. But it would have to take the advice into account. If it does not take it into account, then it fails in its duty. But provided it takes such advice into account, at the end of the day it has to decide what in its own particular circumstances, having taken account of the guidance, is the best way to make the notification.

Lord Williams of Elvel

Will the noble and learned Lord give me a straight answer? Having taken into account the guidance of the Secretary of State, the council is then free to ignore it. It may take into account the guidance from the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, the Clerk of the Parliaments, the Opposition Front Bench or anybody else, but it is free to ignore it, just as it is free to ignore the guidance of the Secretary of State. 'The only difference is that it is obliged to read what the Secretary of State has sent and take it into account. But a council can ignore it. Is the answer yes or no?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

A council can ignore it; it can go and do something else. But before it does that something else, it must have taken account of the guidance. That is quite a common kind of provision which is to be found in all sorts of legislation.

Lord Williams of Elvel

It can ignore the guidance.

My probing amendment to leave out subsection (3) becomes rather more substantive. I see no point in the Secretary of State, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate of Scotland, the Opposition Front Bench or anybody else giving guidance or advice if at the end of the day the council can say: "Thank you very much for your advice; we now ignore all that". The two notions are in contradiction. Nevertheless, if that is what the Government feel they want to put on the face of the Bill, at this hour of night I shall not rock the boat by pushing the matter to a Division. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 67:

Page 19, line 47, at end insert ("and this shall include guidance to establish service delivery plans for children and young persons in each council area").

The noble Lord said: I do not apologise for detaining the Committee for a little time this evening on what I regard as the most fundamental aspect of social policy; namely, services for children and young people.

These amendments specify one particular service of social policy for the unitary authorities. I suspect that what the Government will say is that it is not necessary to specify this service more than any other. However, I suggest that this service in particular is one which requires strengthening at present in Wales and indeed in other parts of the UK and Europe. It is also a service which may suffer as a result of the transfer of responsibilities.

I know that in the guidance which refers to the position of area committees there are specific references to social services. But I believe that it is essential for us to have from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate this evening some assurances about the position of children's services.

There is no need for me to detain the Committee in specifying the negative side of this whole area. There is increased evidence of children being at risk and there has been substantial coverage of all these issues in the media. At the moment there are cases of major child abuse to which I shall not specifically refer but which are before the courts. There is grave concern in the professional area and among all those who are concerned for the welfare of children not only about the level of abuse which is now being identified but also about the way in which both the legal services, through the court systems, and the social services function in relation to prevention and in dealing with the whole issue of child abuse.

Indeed, the Welsh Office itself has recognised the essential importance of a coherent approach to children's services by funding the Children in Wales Forum. Moreover, other major voluntary bodies working in the field have recently presented their views to the department. On Monday of last week the NSPCC organised a national conference in Wales, at Llandrindod Wells, at which the whole issue of how we should proceed on a strategy for children was debated. Representatives of local authorities and the specialists in the field were there.

It seems to me that there is an opportunity in this Bill for the Welsh Office to further a strategic approach toward children's services on an all-Wales basis. I believe that such a strategy exists in draft form but has not been implemented. This also gives an opportunity for the local authorities to pursue policies and services which will lead not only to a reduction in child abuse but to the provision of services of child care both pre-school and after school, combining the need for education provision and day care provision with the preventive and child protection services which I set out in Amendment No. 68.

I believe that the issue of the welfare of children and young people, seen as future citizens of our society, is absolutely fundamental at the moment to our approach to social policy. Therefore, I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate can indicate that that aspect of social policy provision is central to the Government's approach in this Bill and to Welsh Office policy. I beg to move.

Lord Prys-Davies

The fact that these amendments were tabled reflects the anxiety felt generally in Wales about the future of the child protection services after reorganisation. I have received conflicting advice over the past few days regarding the merits of the amendments. I understand that they are fully supported by the NSPCC and by the Children in Wales Forum. The latter is making a great contribution to children and young people in Wales, particularly those who are too young to defend themselves. On the other hand, a senior social worker whom I consulted over the weekend found it difficult to give me a comprehensive view of the merits of the amendments.

This is not the time of the evening to probe the merits of the amendments. The point being made by the senior social worker was that one ought to be pressing for a statutory commitment that each authority should have its own social services committee. I shall listen carefully to what the noble and learned Lord says. I shall be grateful if he can tell us—if he does not have the figures, that is fine—precisely how many children are on the child protection register in Wales, and how many children are in child care in Wales. That information may not be readily available. But if we are to return to this matter at Report stage, then it would be helpful for that information to be made available.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

In the end, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, anticipated my reply. In fact, the amendments are not necessary. That is not to say that the noble Lord has not touched on a topic which, as I am sure all Members of the Committee are aware, is one of great importance and has been given high profile over the past few years.

The effect of Amendment No. 67 would be to impose on new authorities, in their shadow year, a duty to produce a separate plan for children's and young persons' services, in addition to any general service delivery plan. We believe that to be unnecessary because the general service delivery plans will make reference to all local government service functions and will therefore include coverage of social services within which must fall the services for children and young people. To separate off the children's services would detract in some way from the totality of the general plan which must of course apply equally to the delivery of services to other vulnerable groups such as the elderly. That is not in any way to underestimate the importance of the delivery of services to children; it is simply to stress that that will inevitably be part of the preparations for social services to be delivered by the new authority.

I have more difficulty with Amendment No. 68. I am not sure what is intended. If it is intended in some way to create a separate committee of the council to deal with child protection matters, then that would be a breach of Section 2 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970, which stipulates that a social services committee must be responsible for social services matters, and that would therefore deal with child protection. It would therefore seem technically not to be in order.

Again, the necessary type of committee is already in position. If it is not quite that but some other sort of committee that is required, then area child protection committees are already established throughout Wales in accordance with guidance published in the paper Working Together, and following on the report of the Cleveland inquiry. I cannot provide the noble Lord with the figures to which he referred. What I can say is that the guidance issued after Cleveland will continue to apply to the new authorities and therefore they will be expected to discharge their responsibilities in the light of that guidance.

In that situation it seems to the Government that this kind of amendment is not necessary. In the light of that explanation I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Elis-Thomas

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. He has indeed spotted the intention of Amendment No. 68, which is to draw out the whole question of the role of the area child protection committees post Cleveland. I am grateful for his reassurance that that guidance will still apply to unitary authorities. I am still concerned about the question of the need for a comprehensive approach to children's services which applies not just to social services but to education services as well. In response to the crisis in child care and child protection which we are facing in Wales and other places at the moment, it seems to me that we need to look again at the way in which we deliver these services and to place clearer guidance on local authorities, not through the means of the service delivery proposals of the Bill but perhaps directly from the Welsh Office. With the reassurances from the noble and learned Lord, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 68 not moved.]

Viscount St. Davids

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at two minutes past midnight.