HC Deb 26 July 1999 vol 336 cc69-70


Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 3, line 36, leave out ("such persons as he thinks fit.") and insert— ("(a) persons appearing to him to represent the best value authorities concerned, and (b) such other persons (if any) as he thinks fit.")

6.6 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Alan Meale)

I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

The amendment further refines subsection 4(3) by placing a requirement on the Secretary of State, or the National Assembly for Wales, to consult persons who appear to them to represent best value authorities, and other persons, if any, as they consider appropriate, before specifying performance indicators or standards under the clause.

The Government have made it clear, both in the local government White Papers published a year ago and regularly during the passage of this Bill through both Houses, that we intend to consult widely on performance indicators and standards before they are specified under the clause. Hon. Members will be pleased to see that commitment set out in the Bill. I hope that they will also be pleased to hear that we intend to consult on our draft suite of best value performance indicators and standards shortly.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

The Minister rightly said that the amendment is about consultation. It was a constant theme in the Bill's earlier stages both here and in another place that, given that the Government are taking draconian powers, there should be as wide a consultation as possible. The clause originally referred to the Secretary of State consulting anyone whom he saw fit to consult, so we welcome the amendment.

I agree with what the Minister said about the provenance of the amendment. It arose from a debate in the other place. It would insert into the Bill a requirement to consult with representatives of best value authorities when consulting on performance indicators and standards. That matter worried the Local Government Association and other bodies representing local government. The amendment reflects the views on all sides of the House of Lords.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley)

All hon. Members will agree with what my hon. Friend is saying, but amendment No. 6, to which we will come later, would speed up the introduction of the provisions on best value. Any delay would therefore mean that matters reserved for consultation would not be ready in time for the introduction of the legislation. Should not the Government delay implementation, or at least confine it to those measures that are on the face of the Bill?

Mr. Waterson

My hon. Friend makes a very practical point, which we shall debate in connection with amendment No. 6. I hope that the Minister responding to that debate will take my hon. Friend's remarks into account.

The amendment reflects the cross-party views of the House of Lords. We have always argued that, if the Government were to insist on taking such draconian powers, the consultation involved should be as wide as possible. The amendment also reflects the concerns of local government organisations, and those raised by Baroness Miller in the House of Lords. I welcome it.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay)

I wish only to emphasise that the amendment enjoyed cross-party agreement in the other place, where it was accepted that consultation was vital and should be as wide as possible. I hope that the Minister will spell out the limits of the consultation and assure the House that sufficient time will be available for it.

Mr. Meale

I assure the House that all appropriate authorities and associations will be consulted. Moreover, I can tell the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) that there will be no delay. The Government believe that we can get the Bill on the road in time.

Lords amendment agreed to.

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