The House of Commons Library has published a briefing paper on provisions in the Coronavirus Bill on local authority meetings.
Clause 78 (1) of the Bill introduces broad powers to make regulations regarding:
- requirements to hold local authority meetings;
- the times at or by which, periods within which, or frequency with which, local authority meetings are to be held;
- the places at which local authority meetings are to be held;
- the manner in which persons may attend, speak at, vote in, or otherwise participate in, local authority meetings;
- public admission and access to local authority meetings;
- the places at which, and manner in which, documents relating to local authority meetings are to be open to inspection by, or otherwise available to, members of the public.
In 78 (2) the Bill says the provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (1)(d) "includes in particular provision for persons to attend, speak at, vote in, or otherwise participate in, local authority meetings without all of the persons, or without any of the persons, being together in the same place".
The regulations are in due course expected to rule out uncertainty over whether local authority meetings can be held online.
The Commons Library briefing paper, which can be downloaded here, covers:
- The Bill
- Annual meetings
- Remote attendance
- Attendance and disqualification
- Public admission and access to local authority meetings
- Inspection of documents
The provisions in the Bill in relation to local authority meetings appeared as Government amendments, introduced at Committee Stage in the Commons on 23 March 2020. They were approved without debate. They now form clause 78 of the Bill as introduced into the House of Lords on 24 March 2020.
The House of Commons Library said: “The Government’s exact plans for exercising these regulation-making powers, and the timescale in which they will be exercised, are not yet known at the time of writing.”
The briefing goes on to discuss the likely aims of the powers, which are Henry VIII powers in that the clause provides that regulations made under the section may “disapply or modify any provision of an enactment or subordinate legislation”.
The provisions have a ‘sunset clause’, covering meetings required to be held before 7 May 2021, which is the scheduled date of local elections in 2021.
The relevant part of the Bill extends to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The regulation-making powers are to be held by the (UK) Secretary of State, the Welsh Ministers, and the Northern Ireland Department for Communities respectively. Any regulations are to be made under the negative procedure in each legislature.