HL Deb 03 December 1991 vol 533 cc175-218

House again in Committee.

Clause 11 [Amendments of competition provisions]:

[Amendment No. 115 not moved.]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 116:

Page 11, line 3, at end insert ("and under section 2(9) of the 1988 Act, the Secretary of Slate shall prescribe a de minimis provision of £250,000 in any financial year to be uprated at regular intervals in line with inflation").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 116 I shall speak at the same time to Amendment No. 121. I hope that the Minister has had guidance on that.

Baroness Blatch

I am not objecting, but I had a note from the noble Baroness saying that we would be dealing with Amendments Nos. 115 to 117. I shall be addressing Amendment No. 115. The noble Baroness seems to have excluded it at this moment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

The Minister is entirely correct. We are not moving Amendment No. 115. I have moved Amendment No. 116 and I shall speak at the same time to Amendment No. 121.

The Government have always accepted that there is a threshold of work below which the cost of preparing the tenders, specifications and so on is self-defeating. We are talking about contracts under the present de minimis rule of perhaps three or four full-time equivalent staff in cleaning or catering. When the matter arose in 1988 the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, felt that, as the cost of complying with the Bill's provisions looked like offsetting the potential competitive gains, there was a case for exemption. In 1988 the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said that that figure should be kept under review and, by implication, that the figure could be raised upwards. That has not yet happened.

On this side of the Committee we suggest that the figure of £100,000 as originally fixed was too low. Refuse collection and maintenance contracts in Scotland which are above £100,000 fall into the CCT arrangements but 50 per cent. of them have received no competitive bid. The result in Scotland has been that the total costs for those contracts has increased, extra staff have been employed but no savings have resulted. The amendment seeks to probe the Minister's views on the need to uprate the de minimis provision of 1988 to a figure of £250,000. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

Amendments Nos. 116 and 121 seek to achieve the same end by slightly different means. Amendment No. 116 would oblige the Secretary of State to make an order dealing with a de minimis threshold under Section 2(9) of the 1988 Act; Amendment No. 121 would write that threshold onto the face of the 1988 Act.

The noble Baroness will be aware that a de minimis exemption already exists in the legislation governing CCT. The 1988 exemptions order made by the Secretary of State under Section 2(9) of the Local Government Act 1988 provides that work to a value of less than £100,000 per annum is not a "defined activity" and is therefore exempt from CCT. That provision applies, as would the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, to activities already subject to the discipline of competitive tendering, and unless altered or limited in scope by my right honourable friend would also apply to any new activities added under the provisions of this Bill or existing legislation.

The existing £100,000 de minimis rule reflects a judgment as to the point at which it would not be right to oblige an authority to comply with the accounting and reporting requirements of CCT and not any belief that there are no benefits in putting work of a lower value out to tender. On the contrary, tendering, properly managed, gives opportunities for savings regardless of the size of the authority concerned and regardless of the size of the contract. It may be the case that in the light of new evidence my right honourable friend revised his judgment; or that in the case of new activities a different judgment would be appropriate. I have to say that we have as yet received no evidence to suggest that the £100,000 limit is too tight.

As far as concerns new services, if my right honourable friend brought forward any orders to extend the list of defined activities he would also need to consider the appropriate level of de minimis provision, if any.

I have to say that the Government consider Amendments Nos. 116 and 121 unacceptable. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw them.

Baroness Hamwee

I support the amendments. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, is not present because I shall refer to some Scottish examples just to show that there is no discrimination. The Secretary of State might find, if he inquired, that authorities which had in their area dispersed communities would find precisely the difficulties that the amendment seeks to ameliorate. The services involved are relatively small in value. If the Minister were to make inquiries of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities she might find that she had the evidence to persuade her right honourable friend that this matter should be looked at again.

The Earl of Balfour

Part II of the Bill does not apply to Scotland.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Earl is ahead of himself. We have not reached Part II.

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps I may say in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that I have not changed my views on the principal point being raised in the amendments, but it is right that I should speak at least with my noble friend Lady Carnegy when I have an opportunity to do so. It is right that we should gather as much information as possible as the Bill goes through this Chamber. I shall do that but I want it to be on the understanding that it is without any commitment.

Baroness Hamwee

I thank the Minister for that. It is much appreciated.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

I shall withdraw the amendment but before doing so I wish to make two points. The figure of £100,000 was set in 1988. A clear impression—not exactly an undertaking—was given at the time that the figure would be uprated, perhaps in line with inflation or the RPI or in terms of a more realistic figure given the outcome of experience in the form of tenders.

The figure has not been reviewed. It needs to be and it would be helpful if the Minister would say that she was willing to take the matter away and consider it. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, some of the strongest evidence of problems comes from Scotland. We need information in that regard. As I understand it, there is nothing in the consultation paper on de minimis. Yet, throughout the consultation process, it has been relied upon very heavily as the basis for the size of contracts in competitive tendering.

Although we have not been so fortunate, the Minister has had the advantage of reading the PA report on white collar services. That formed the basis of the consultation document. Can she say whether that report suggested any de minimis rule for professional services? It would be most helpful for us to have that information.

Baroness Blatch

It is quite impossible for me to discuss a detail of such a report from the Dispatch Box at this stage.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

I stand to be corrected by those who are infinitely more experienced in the procedures of this Chamber than I am. However, I assumed that, where documents were part of the domain of public debate in this place, it was the Minister's responsibility to ensure that copies were put in the Library unless their contents were such that they were commercially confidential in some understandable sense—that is, either affecting individuals or the value of contracts. I do not understand why a key document which clearly influenced both the Government's thinking and the consultative White Paper about which there has been so much discussion, has been withheld from Members of the Committee. On the presumption that it does not contain commercially sensitive information, I do not understand why it should not add to the general level and nature of discourse. Perhaps the Minister can explain why that is so.

Baroness Blatch

It is not normal practice that advice which Ministers seek in order to form views —whether it be draft guidance, consultative papers or whatever—should be placed in the Library. When something is brought to this place to form the basis of legislation, it is essential to ensure that, for example, any guidance or forethinking should be in the public domain for consultation. That is precisely what is in the public domain. The noble Baroness is referring to advice which was taken en route.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

It is for the Minister to say what is and what is not in the public domain. I do not see the difference in status between a PA report which may raise questions of de minimis and which would be helpful for us to explore—a report which is not available for us to consider but which has nonetheless influenced the thinking in the consultative paper—and some of the consultative papers that will be available for consideration either before or after Christmas upon which the basis of legislation, and the Secretary of State's powers, will be drawn. I do not see the difference between either set of documents. Both of them are informing us about the Government's thinking and both of them are leading to the formation of the nature of the legislation under discussion today.

It would be most helpful to Members on both sides of the Committee to have that document. It would provide clarification of thought on some of the principles that have been raised. The unavailability of such information does not improve the standard of debate in this Chamber. However, perhaps we can return to that matter at a later stage. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 117 not moved.]

Clause 11 agreed to.

8.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 118:

After Clause 11, insert the following new clause:

("Consultation over contract specifications

. Where a local authority draws up a document specifying the nature, quality, quantity or otherwise detailing a service for which a contract is to be offered for tender competitively it shall consult—

  1. (a) such voluntary organisations and statutory bodies as appear to the authority to represent the interests of persons who use or are likely to use such services within the area of the authority and;
  2. (b) such persons and voluntary organisations as appear to the authority reasonably to be in a position to offer such services.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is in the form of a new clause. I should say straightaway that this is not necessarily a clause which will appeal to some of my friends in the local authority associations and in local authorities. I say that because it is, quite irrespective of any responsibility that the Secretary of State may have, putting additional obligations on to local authorities. However, I believe that local authority members and officers generally would welcome such a clause. It opens up the procedure for competitive tendering in a way which does not threaten the general thrust of the Bill; indeed, that is not the point. In fact, it ought to improve the tendering process.

Where local authorities have been providers of services for a very long time, they naturally adhere to their own ways of providing such services. For example, they are used to their own standards and to the assumptions that they make about levels of provision. Therefore, with the best will in the world, it is very difficult for such local authorities to accept that there may be totally different ways of doing things. It is only too likely that they will frame a tender document in the light of their own experience. I can think of many examples where central government do likewise. I can also think of many other examples where this happens in business life. Indeed, it is nothing unique to local authorities.

We are seeking by way of this amendment to provide that particularly voluntary associations and statutory bodies which represent the interests of persons who use or who are likely to use the services, and persons in voluntary organisations who might be in a position to offer such services, should be consulted about the tender document; in other words, in the words of the amendment, they should be consulted about, a document specifying the nature, quality, quantity or otherwise detailing a service for which a contract is to be offered". That in no way means that that consultation should affect the tendering process itself. That must be a commercial process as between those who are tendering for the service and the authority which is issuing a tender for the service.

When the decision is being taken about the content of the lender document, it seems to us to be common sense that a local authority should be required to consult those who have different detailed experience on the ground of the real needs of service users. For example, the London Borough of Bromley has been putting out its children's homes to private tender. I have no personal knowledge of that tendering process. I do not know what the result has been. However, there are many people in the voluntary and in the private sector who have real experience of running children's homes outside local authority control. It seems to me that it would be most sensible for the London Borough of Bromley to be required to talk to the National Children's Home or the National Association of Young People in Care, both of which represent the users and not the providers of the service about such a contract.

Again, looking at the providers of services, although I mentioned the National Children's Home, Barnardos might also be tendering for the contract. Without prejudice as to whether the latter would obtain the contract, its experience is relevant and ought to be brought in. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children above all ought to be able to comment on the quality conditions in the tendering document which would actually protect the rights of children in homes.

There are many examples of that sort of consultation procedure in the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. Moreover, there are plenty of examples where not only has it been enacted, but my understanding is that it also actually works. It does not delay the tendering process; indeed, it improves it. In my view, it is a worthwhile addition without in any way threatening the tendering process which is proposed under the Bill.

I can give many more examples. I suppose that the classic or e would be the planning service. However, I shall restrict myself to what I have already said. I hope that the Minister will feel that this amendment is one that does not threaten the thrust of the legislation but that it actually offers the opportunity for the tendering process to be improved. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

We wish to encourage local authorities to consult consumers of services about the standards that they desire. Indeed, this almost links back to the very first amendments to the Bill. The difference between talking about aspirational targets or aspirational service standards and the actual business of putting a contract out and delivering good services. This is at the heart of the Citizen's Charter. We believe that outside providers should also be consulted. However, we are not convinced that the proposed new clause covers all those who should be consulted; nor are we convinced that it is necessary or desirable to consult each time a specification is drawn up.

Finally, the amendment does not provide—this is important —for consultation about service standards when the work is to be done in-house without competition. In our view, there should be concern about standards whoever provides the service. Indeed, experience shows that control over the setting of standards is often slacker when there is no competition since, without a clear separation between service provider and the in-house client, the standard tends to be set by and for the convenience of the provider rather than through explicit consideration by the council in consultation with consumers.

I understand what the noble Lord said, but there is nothing to preclude local authorities from communicating with the public about the standards of service and the service delivery that they want. We do not want on the face of the Bill something that adds to the bureaucracy and does nothing necessarily to improve what happens between a local authority when it is providing through its DLO or outside contractors through competition.

Baroness Hamwee

I support the amendment. I note what the Minister says. If the amendment can be improved, I am sure that that is something that its movers will take on board at a later stage. To involve and take advantage of the knowledge and experience of the users and other providers of the service is a necessary part of the whole process. The Minister says that the amendment does not include consultation with regard to direct service organisations. I should have thought that the earlier clauses of the Bill relating to performance standards would have covered that ground more than adequately.

I commend the amendment to the Minister, and I shall use one of her own examples. In my borough, as she is aware, work in the two royal parks is going out to tender. I might have a discussion with her on another occasion about the process that was gone through. The friends of the parks appreciated that they did have a chance to comment, albeit just a little one, on the specifications. There were some discussions with the Minister. They were glad of the opportunity to make comments even though they had only about a week to do so. I believe that that will have informed the process and will lead to a better outcome.

Lord Mancroft

I understand and appreciate the motives of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in moving the amendment. It is important and it is a good thing that it has been discussed by the Committee. Some of the Members of the Committee may be aware that I am involved with some voluntary organisations who regularly tender for contracts with local authorities. It is my experience that most local authorities have close relationships with those voluntary organisations. The people within the voluntary organisations who are responsible for providing care together with local authorities have close, ongoing working relationships with them. There are sensible people on both sides of the equation. They seem to work well together so that the provider provides what the local authority wants and the local authority lets the provider know what it wants. They seem to come to good conclusions. Not always, of course, but on the whole, the system seems to work well.

Whereas I appreciate that the closer the contact, now and in the future, the better, it seems to me that that does not have a place in the Bill at the moment. I do not believe that it would provide any higher standard of service. My experience is that the voluntary organisations provide a higher level of service than the local authorities have been asking for. Their standards are infinitely higher which is why it is so much more satisfactory for the local authorities to shop around among the voluntary organisations. Although I concede that it might be nice to include in the Bill the requirement that local authorities should have an obligation to consult, it seems to me that they consult without that obligation and that there is no possibility that they will stop consulting. It would be an extra, unnecessary adjunct to the legislation.

Baroness Blatch

I thank my noble friend for that interjection. It illustrates the difference between the two sides of the Committee. We are not in any way invalidating the need and the desire to consult local communities, but when wording on the face of the Bill such as, "it shall consult"—again, I say that this relates to competitive tendering only— such voluntary organisations and statutory bodies as appear to the authority to represent the interests of persons", who may use the services, is suggested, we are aware that that is a difficult thing to do. How does one consult everyone who represents the people? Does it include every organisation that represents someone who will use the services? The amendment continues, and such persons and voluntary organisations"— it is an "and", so additional consultation is required— as appear to the authority reasonably to be in a position to offer such services". The difference between us lies in the compulsion to add a layer of bureaucracy. That is so because if accepted these would be requirements and obligations under the Bill. The consultation would have to take place every time a specification was altered in any way. Under the amendment, once there was a change of a word, or a phrase, or a slight modification, there would be a requirement to go out to a raft of consultations, in addition to what is already happening informally and effectively.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I believe that the Minister will concede that when I moved the amendment I did so in a reasonably conciliatory way and without in any way threatening the thrust of this part of the Bill. I can only conclude from that strange reply that after what happened last night the Minister is under orders to ensure that no comma or phrase in Clauses 8 to 11 is changed. That is the only charitable reason that I can adduce.

The amendment says nothing about what the Minister described. It provides that the local authority, shall consult such voluntary organisations and statutory bodies as appear to the authority to represent the interests of persons who use or are likely to use such services". If it does not appear to the authority that there are any such organisations, it does not need to consult. The amendment continues: such persons and voluntary organisations as appear to the authority reasonably to be in a position to offer such services". If it does not appear to the authority that there are any such persons or voluntary organisations, then it does not need to consult. It is not a prescriptive requirement. No extra bureaucracy is involved. It is, as I think the Minister in one of her candid moments admitted, something which reasonable local authorities might wish to do. Let us encourage them to do so, and let us encourage them in this modest way.

It can only be a determination not to have one change in the Bill which can have led the Minister to have responded in that unhelpful way.

Baroness Blatch

Let me give the noble Lord an example. It is not an unusual one. Let us take road maintenance. Every person within a local authority area and every organisation—there is no person or body who would not have an interest—will have an interest in the repairing and maintenance of roads. Where does the consultation begin and end? If it were to be selective, it would be unhealthy. We should leave local authorities free to determine how they communicate with their local communities. On the basis of the proposed measures people will have a good deal of information about the quality of that communication. They can at election time make real judgments about whether they have a council that communicates effectively.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Again, the Minister has not observed the difference in wording between paragraphs (a) and (b). In paragraph (a) we talk about the interests of persons who use or are likely to use the services, and we restrict the consultation to voluntary organisations and statutory bodies. When we talk about people who are in a position to offer the services, paragraph (b) provides for such persons and voluntary organisations. There is no risk of the local authority being flooded with the views of users of the services. I wish there were. That would be much better. If that were possible, and if the amendment had not been tightly drawn, the local authority could fulfil its obligations merely by advertising and saying that anyone fitting those categories who would like to have a copy of the tender documents and comment upon them should write and obtain one and reply by the following Friday, or whatever the time limit may be. The Minister is making heavy weather of what was intended to be a helpful suggestion. If the Government are going to be intransigent on this as well as all other matters, I am afraid that there is no alternative but for me to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 119: After Clause 11, insert the following new clause:

("Saving for E.C. legislation

.The exercise of the powers conferred on the Secretary of State by and under sections 8 and 9 above shall be without prejudice to the operation of European Community legislation relating to the co-ordination of procedures on the award of public contracts, or to the operation of regulations implementing such legislation.").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment refers to the EC directives and asks that the powers conferred on the Secretary of State, shall be without prejudice to the operation of European Community legislation". The reason for the amendment is that the consultative document nowhere refers to EC Directives. I stand to be corrected on this but as I understand it, EC Directive 71/305, taken with the latest revision of 89/440, defines CCT arrangements for public works where the contract value is above 5 million ecu or over £3 million. We have those EC directives and a draft directive which I understand will probably come out later this month, Directive 91/332, which will apply to public services. It would come into effect in mid-1993.

At the moment, defined activities, those covered by CCT, an; exempt from EC law, but from mid-1993 they will no longer be exempt. In addition, those professional public services such as architecture, engineering and the like, the priority services referred to in the consultative paper, will also come under EC law. The point was made earlier this afternoon that where national law and EC law conflict, EC law prevails. The sanctions include the withholding of significant sums of EC grants.

The amendment seeks to ensure that there is co-ordination and not potential conflict between national regulations and EC directives. I suggest that the issue might usefully have been explored in the consultation paper. As it was not, we hope that the Minister's, response will indicate ways in which the two bodies of legislation, potential and actual, may be aligned.

I remind the Committee that as regards some of the professional services—architecture, engineering and subsequent legal, personnel, financial services and so on—there is the presumption in the White Paper of a double envelope procedure. First, there would be a quality threshold and once bids had passed it, the presumption was that one would go on to the second stage where bids would be judged by cost. One would take the lowest.

Why is it worth proposing this amendment? What is the difference between the procedure outlined in the consultative paper and what we understand to be the case under EC law? Under the latter, after passing through stage one, the quality threshold—and here the national and EC law are in agreement—the local authority can either take the lowest price which is the route in the Government's White Paper or (and this is the important point) the local authority can go for the economically most advantageous tender. This brings us full circle back to the discussion we had earlier on as to whether we should take the lowest tender, even if ultimately it produced increased costs.

According to the EC, the economically most advantageous tender might include consideration of such issues as technical merit, service quality, delivery dates and the like. In other words, under British law one would tend to go for the cheapest; under EC law it is clear that one has a choice of going for value for money, if the client chooses, where it is not the cheapest. That is an argument that the Government themselves accepted in their guidance on purchasing policy, Circular 116/90: the cheapest is not always the best value.

Maybe the Government agree that that is the route that local authorities are permitted to follow. After all, it is what the Audit Commission suggested we do, as well as what the EC proposes. However, with the wording of the amendment, the phrase "economically most advantageous" would mean that the local authority would still have to have good reason for departing from the cheapest price, but it would permit the extra degree of flexibility for local authorities. Value for money would be safeguarded. It would, however, ensure that domestic law and EC law were co-ordinated in ways that would enhance the capacity of local authorities to pursue value for money. I hope that the Minister will support the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

I entirely accept the sentiment underlying the amendment. The United Kingdom is part of the Community and the Government wish to implement Community legislation in full. But the new clause is unnecessary. Without it, it would be unlawful to use the powers in Clauses 8 and 9 in such a way as to conflict with EC legislation. Should it happen inadvertently, then as the noble Baroness pointed out, European Community legislation would take precedence. In any case, our proposed use of these powers is wholly consistent with European Community works and services directives. So the new clause neither adds to nor subtracts from our proposals.

We must not be in the business of introducing new legislation which has no effect whatever. The effect of the amendment is entirely neutral, therefore it is superfluous. I hope that the Committee will not accept it.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

Perhaps I may seek clarification of the Minister's comments which took me somewhat by surprise. Is she saying that the amendment is unnecessary, because either the British Government are already doing that or will have to do so when the EC directive comes into force? Is she saying that it is permissible for local authorities to accept the economically most advantageous tender when it is not the cheapest? Does she accept that into the consideration of "economically most advantageous" will go precisely the shopping list which we considered under Amendments Nos. 104 to 109 which she has hitherto rejected?

Baroness Blatch

We have signed European Community law and under it we have no alternative but to adhere to it and abide by it. We have an obligation to do that. As regards those aspects where the noble Baroness believes there may be a total contradiction or breach of European Community law in the way in which the Bill will work or in the way in which local authorities behave, that would seem to be illegal. I said that European Community law would override national law in these matters.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

I thank the Minister for that response. I take it to mean that with some of the amendments which we moved and which the Minister was unable to support, Amendments Nos. 104 to 109, the Minister accepted publicly that real costs were to be incurred by the local authority and they might come into consideration when determining whether to accept an outside contract because they were part of the total package in deciding whether or not something was economically more advantageous to the local authority.

If that is what the Minister said, as I take it to be, then although the Committee may not have accepted Amendments Nos. 104 to 109, nevertheless those amendments will come into play when the EC directives for mid-1993 are in place. In the light of that, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 [Amendments of Competition Provisions]:

Lord Simon of Glaisdale had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 120:

Page 28, line 35, leave out paragraph 10.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble and learned Lord has indicated to me that he does not wish to move this amendment.

[Amendment No. 120 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 121 not moved.]

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 122: Before Clause 12, insert the following new clause:

("Abolition of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England

. The Local Government Boundary Commission for England shall cease to exist with the commencement of this section.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the new clause standing in my name on the Marshalled List and to speak also to Amendments Nos. 226 and 227 to Clause 24. I put down these amendments in the spirit of innocent inquiry. Hollow laughter opposite! Wait for it, and I shall explain. Part II of the Bill, which we have now reached, replaces the Local Government Boundary Commission for England with the new Local Government Commission for England. This is necessary because the existing commission, which was set up under Section 46 of the Local Government Act 1972, is too restricted in its remit for the job that the Government, with much agreement up and down the country, now wish it to perform.

The problem is that the existing commission is restricted in making representations to the Secretary of State to effect changes in local government areas appearing to it to be desirable. It is only permitted to suggest amalgamations and separations for areas of "like description", which of course will lead to amendments later in the names of various of my noble friends. In other words, to change areas either within districts or within counties.

Clause 14 of this Bill, however, gives them much wider functions, and in subsection (2) (b) allows them to recommend changing, for example, counties into districts, or a district council, or presumably groups of district councils, into a county. Also, in subsection (1) (a), it permits unitary authorities. Clearly there are two legislative methods of achieving this end. The first, which the Government have I believe quite rightly rejected, is to increase the powers of the present boundary commission to achieve the Bill's objectives. I believe that if they had done this it would have resulted in an unduly complicated piece of legislation by reference which, in the terms of the famous book 1066 and All That, would be a bad thing.

The other method is to destroy the old commission and create a new one to carry out both the existing functions and the extra ones conferred upon it by the Bill. Interestingly, however, the draftsman has chosen to do something else. He has set up a new commission —11 clauses and 1 schedule, if my mathematics are right—before abolishing the old one. This formulation is upside down, and I should like to ask my noble friend why they have prepared Part II of the Bill in this way. After all, you cannot fill a jam pot with honey before emptying out the strawberry jam. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I am relieved that this is a probing amendment. As I understand the amendment, the effect would be to abolish the Local Government Boundary Commission on the date that the Bill receives the Royal Assent, irrespective of whether or not the new Local Government Commission had been set up. Clause 24, which abolishes the Local Government Boundary Commission, is to come into force on a day to be appointed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. This approach secures maximum flexibility over the timing of the winding up of the Local Government Boundary Commission in relation to the setting up of the new commission. The new commission can be set up at any time after Royal Assent and as soon as my right honourable friend appoints its members.

What I can say to my noble friend is that we are firmly committed to winding up the Local Government Boundary Commission at an early date. Indeed, we have no wish to see it in being any longer than is necessary to effect a smooth transition of work from the boundary commission to the local government commission. To achieve an orderly transfer of work from the Local Government Boundary Commission to the new commission we need to retain flexibility in the winding up of the Local Government Boundary Commission.

There is very little between us if the fear behind the amendment is that we shall have a duplication and the boundary commission in being for longer than necessary. I hope I have been able to assure my noble friend that that will not be the case.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Are not the Government in danger of falling into the trap of the city fathers of Limerick? The Minister will recall that the city fathers of Limerick resolved to build a new jail. They resolved to build it with the stones of the old jail, and they resolved to keep the old jail in operation until the new jail was ready.

Lord Skelmersdale

I think my series of amendments fails with respect to the story that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has just enunciated. I accept my noble friend's strictures on the amendment. However, she has not answered my point. That point is, why delay destroying the old commission until after the new one has been appointed? I accept that I could have said in my amendment that: the Local Government Boundary Commission for England shall cease to exist with the commencement of this Part", in which case I suspect that my noble friend's worries would have been alleviated.

She did not answer the main thrust of what I said in my introduction. However, this is not the time to go into detail. Perhaps she will be good enough to write to me to tell me the real reason behind her rejection of my point.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I regret being tempted to get to my feet again, but if this is not the time to go into detail, when is?

Lord Skelmersdale

When I have an answer that I can understand to the point which I enunciated in my introduction to my amendment, which I shall clearly not receive tonight. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 [The Local Government Commission for England]:

[Amendment No. 123 not moved.]

Clause 12 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [The Local Government Commission for England]:

9.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 124: Page 29, line 34, leave out ("five and not more than fifteen") and insert ("twenty-five and not more than thirty-one").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 124 starts the consideration of the composition, powers and responsibilities of the Local Government Commission. Looking at the amendments to follow, perhaps the Committee will allow me to say that this is not the most important of those amendments. However, it is of some significance. The Government's declared intention, as set out in the consultation paper, is that the commission should not just have completed its work by 1st April 1994 but that the new authorities should be established by 1st April 1994.

I do not know how many other noble Lords have been involved in past reorganisations of local government. I was involved in the reorganisation of London government in the early 1960s. I can assure the Committee that that timescale, involving a body of between five and 15 people going round the country place by place and making judgments about the local government structure for those areas and then putting their recommendations into effect, is extraordinarily tight. I seriously doubt whether that is possible.

I realise that Mr. Banham has been appointed chairman of the commission. I should be very interested to hear his views about the feasibility of completing the work in that time. After all, the period between the passing of this Bill and the implementation of the new authorities is scarcely more than two years. I should also be interested to know what plans Mr. Banham has and what plans have been proposed to him by the department in respect of the work he will have to carry out and the work consequential on the work of the commission.

It may be that the Government have ideas for splitting up the commission and for it to operate in different areas at once. If that is the case I suggest that that would be a very sensible way to approach the problem. A commission consisting of between five and 15 people is simply not large enough. If it is to rely on members of the commission rather than on people brought in on an ad hoc basis to assist the commission —although I believe that that is required for the purposes of continuity and comparability between the deliberations of the commission in different parts of the country—it ought to be a larger commission.

A further advantage of a larger commission is that it enables the commission to include people with real experience of communities as well as local authorities in different parts of the country. I shall not press that point too far because it is the subject of subsequent amendments. However, it is important to recognise that, unless there is a commission of sufficient size to include wider representation, none of the other provisions, either in our amendments or in the Government's own plans, for a representative and well-informed commission will be realised.

I find it impossible to conceive that the commission as proposed can complete its work in the time proposed by the Government. I make this suggestion of a larger commission not out of any desire to frustrate the work of the commission. I made it clear from the outset at Second Reading that we were not opposed to the establishment of a commission or the principle of local choice in the structure of local government. We are certainly not opposed to the thrust towards unitary authorities which is in the Government's mind and has been in the mind of the Labour Party for a considerable time. In order to make it work I suggest that the Government would be wise to accept the amendment which is intended only to be helpful. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

I support the amendment for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. Perhaps I may give him a minor piece of news. Although I do not believe everything that I read in the newspapers, the Times of 29th November carried a report of an interview with Mr. Banham. With regard to the number of commissioners, he is quoted as saying: It is not quite the more the merrier, but I do want to see a broad commission so that individual commissioners could look at individual parts of the country in detail". I am not sure whether the Government or Mr. Banham have in mind that one commissioner will take one area. That is what the reporter then goes on to say, but the report also comments on the fear of local authorities that areas which are left until last will lose key staff to places which have been reviewed earlier. That is a serious and well-founded fear. I therefore support the possibility of extending the numbers and putting in a floor to the numbers so that the job can be done thoroughly and swiftly.

Earl Howe

The amendment would give the commission between 25 and 31 members. The matter has been considered carefully and we cannot see a need to increase the number of members of the commission as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, proposes. We have said that we wish the commission to carry out a rolling programme of work, looking at the country area by area in a timetable that we believe is achievable. The noble Lord mentioned April 1994 as a deadline. It is intended that only a limited number of the new unitary authorities should be up and running by that date.

The number of commission members specified in Schedule 2—between five and 15—seems to us a perfectly adequate number given the way in which we have suggested that the reviews should be carried out. It is always difficult to reach a consensus with a larger number of people and we have deliberately chosen a manageable number in order to facilitate the commission's work. It is not as though it will only be the commissioners themselves who are doing the work; they will have a capable staff to advise them. I therefore urge the noble Lord not to press the amendment.

Lord Skelmersdale

Following a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, it is fair to ask my noble friend how he anticipates that the commission will work. Does he expect that there will be one commissioner per inquiry or that there will be more? It is clear to me that there will be several areas under review by the commission as a whole at any one time. Clearly, not only must it have the staff to do the background, nitty-gritty work, but it must have one or more commissioners involved in particular areas.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

On Second Reading on 18th November I commented at col. 736 of Hansard: Those authorities reviewed at a late stage will find it difficult to recruit and retain staff. Therefore, I believe that if local government reorganisation is to be a success it is essential that there should be a thorough national review followed by implementation on a single vesting day". That is still my view. I support my noble friend's amendment for the reasons that he gave and for the additional reason that a rolling programme is dangerous in that it may roll on for too long. I hope that even at this late stage the Government will consider the need to have a thorough but rapid look at the boundaries and come forward with proposals which can be implemented on a single day. Acceptance of the amendment would help them to do just that.

Baroness Seear

I should like briefly to add to that. Other speakers have spoken of having one commissioner in one place and one in another. I should have thought it totally unsuitable to have fewer than two people. In undertaking such a job one needs to rub one's mind on someone else's. One needs at least two people in each area that is being studied. With the timing involved, that requires double numbers.

Lord Skelmersdale

That is why I asked my question of my noble friend. If one reviews an area in its entirety, one will overcome the problem that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, sought to address. For example, if one considers the whole of Somerset, Avon or Berkshire—the noble Lord knows Berkshire better than me—the problem of the available labour pool being snapped up by one part of the area or another should be avoided.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I wish I thought that it would work that way. Unfortunately, what has been said about April 1984, and about the commissioner moving around the country, fills me with apprehension. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, cited the example of Somerset and Avon. It has been made clear that it is the Government's intention to start with Avon and Humberside. Those are probably the least popular of the new counties. But let us consider what occurs if one starts with Avon. Presumably one will create a county borough of Bristol and some unitary district councils around Bristol, some in what is now Somerset, some in what is now Gloucestershire and so on. The knock-on effect on the remainder of Somerset with regard to the possibility of a coherent structure in the areas which are not at present included in Avon, and perhaps should be included in the new unitary councils around Bristol, is very great.

I cannot understand how one can have a general rolling programme which will not be sub-optimising. (I apologise for the jargon.) It will produce solutions which are appropriate at the time that the decision is taken—let us say, June 1992—but would not be appropriate if the consideration did not take place until June 1993. We are not playing a jigsaw puzzle game with maps. We talk about the way people organise their local government. To be honest, I cannot see the system working.

Lord Skelmersdale

That is the point I made. I am glad that the noble Lord referred to Avon. One cannot look at the city of Bristol or the existing county of Avon without considering the surrounding areas. That is why I said that one must look at large enough areas. That is what I would expect the commission to do.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

There will always be boundaries relating to the bigger areas. My noble friend Lord Stoddart is right. The idea that one can go piecemeal round the country and then implement the system on a piecemeal basis will not work. I do not see how it will be made to work.

We may have moved a little away, although not far away, from the size of the commission. The ability of the commission to undertake a number of inquiries which will have implications for each other as well as for local people is severely constrained by the proposed size of the commission. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is entirely right. To have a single commissioner, perhaps with outside help, undertaking an inquiry will not be satisfactory from the point of view of that commissioner or anyone else.

In addition to the arguments that I have adduced about the speed with which the commission can work and its representative nature, the commission must be convincing and acceptable. It must be understood to be fair and representative to local people who will give evidence to it. I do not see how that will be achieved with a small commission such as is being proposed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, with her quotation from Mr. Banham, revealed that those who thought about the matter more deeply than the Government appear to have done have come to a different conclusion from that of the Government. I am delighted to yield to the noble Earl.

9.30 p.m.

Earl Howe

It is the Government's intention that the commission should carry out its work area by area. An area could be larger than a county. In all respects, the Government will determine a programme which makes sense. At the same time the commission will be able to find the best local solutions and we shall be able to move quickly in those areas where the case for change is established. It is by no means clear that Avon and Humberside will be the first on the list. That suggestion has been mooted but no decision has yet been taken. I understand the points that have been made and I am sure that they will be borne in mind when the commission begins its work. However, the commission will not be overstretched and we shall ensure that it carries out its work thoroughly.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Let us suppose that it is found that the commission cannot carry out its work with the number of members and the staff available. Are the Government prepared to he sufficiently flexible to increase the members as it goes on? Will the Government return to Parliament and say, "This is not working. Will you give us the power to appoint more commissioners?"?

Earl Howe

We do not envisage that to be a problem.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Earl's answer merely papers over the cracks. He has heard from Members on all sides of the Committee about the anxieties of those who know what they are talking about. It seems that they have a better idea of the task that will face the commission than the Government have, although perhaps not a better idea than Mr. Banham judging from what he has said.

The Government are digging themselves a trap by restricting the membership of the commission to 15. They will discover that in doing so they are committed to a procedure which will be far too long and drawn out. It will result in decisions being taken which are the best for the present but not for the future, but with which they must continue for a long time. The Government's motives in setting up the commission are admirable but they will find themselves with a monster; not a monster that is too large, but one that is too small and too slow. It is an issue to which we must return in some form at a better hour of the day. Only on that basis do I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 125: Page 29, line 35, after first ("State") insert ("of whom not less than half nor more than three quarters shall be persons having knowledge or experience of local government").

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 126 to 130. I appreciate that not all those amendments are tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hollis. It is a matter for Members of the Committee to decide whether they wish to have their amendments grouped with ours. In the amendments we are concerned not so much with the size of the Local Government Commission but with its membership and representation. Disappointed as we are with the Government's response about its size, we wish to pursue the question of its representative nature.

Amendment No. 125 suggests that not less than half and not more than three-quarters of the commission should be people with knowledge or experience of local government. The commission is about local government and communities, although we recognise that it is not confined to that. We believe that it would be a good idea to have a levelling of people who come freshly to the problem and who have never been involved with local government. The fundamental skill which will enthuse the work of the commission will be based inevitably on some experience of the working of local government, of the problems that may arise with two-tier authorities, of the problems of dealing with the needs of communities and authorities which are too large and of dealing with services in authorities which are too small. That is the single most relevant piece of experience and it should be heavily represented on the commission.

Amendment No. 126 suggests that the membership of the commission should be established, after consultation with the local authority associations and such other organisations as are appropriate". In this case consultation is likely to mean asking people for suggestions as to who are likely to be members rather than saying, "This is our list. What do you think of it?" I cannot imagine that it will take the second more formal form. We do not suggest exactly how consultations should proceed but we say that the Government should take advantage of the skills which exist in the local authority associations in particular and that we should seek that help in finding people who are both willing and able to do the work. "Able to do the work" is a major consideration because a huge task is proposed.

Amendment No. 127 is no longer relevant. The chairman has already been selected. I shall not move that amendment because of the appointment of Mr. Banham.

No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, will speak to Amendment No. 128 which is in his name. We support the view that there should be representation of environmental interests on the commission. Despite the words of some Members of the Committee earlier, that thread should not merely run through the considerations of the commission but in a sense should suffuse them. No doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will speak to Amendment No. 129 which is in her name.

Amendment No. 130 is in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and my noble friend Lady Hollis. The amendment is concerned with consultation on the appointment of a chief executive. Clearly that will be a critical part of the commission's work. If consultation is, as we believe, appropriate for the chairman and members of the commission, so too should it be for the appointment of a chief executive.

On Second Reading, at col. 795 on 18th November, the Minister said that the Government would seek a balanced membership for the commission covering those with local government experience and those with other experience too. The amendments seek to give flesh to the intention expressed by the Government which we fear is not adequately expressed in the Bill as drafted. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

I speak to this amendment and some of the amendments grouped with it. As regards Amendment No. 125, this is an occasion —and in a way I am glad to have found one—on which I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I do not like to see legislation prescribing the knowledge and experience of a number of members of the commission and particularly not such a large number as one-half to three-quarters. The members of the commission have an enormous amount of ground to cover: voluntary organisations, local business interests —and in our discussions about communities over the past two days we have tended to forget that local businesses are also part of our communities—public service organisations and the general public. The list could be long. It would not be appropriate to be as prescriptive as is suggested.

Amendment No. 129 is a probing amendment. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain what is meant at line 46 on page 29 where paragraph 1(5) (b) states: The Secretary of State may remove a member of the Commission from office if he is satisfied that he … has not complied with the terms of his appointment". My amendment attempts to discover what will be the terms of the appointment. It seems to me that the terms should be the duty to fulfil the functions of the commission. However, the amendment is tabled in order that we may learn what is meant by that last line on page 29.

Lord Norrie

Perhaps I may speak to my Amendment No. 128, which was supported by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. It seeks to ensure that among the members appointed to the Local Government Commission there is adequate representation of environmental interests.

The Bill provides the Secretary of State with considerable discretion in deciding who to appoint to the commission. Although we now know that the commission will be headed by John Banham of the CBI, we have yet to hear from the Government regarding the background and experience that the Secretary of State will be seeking when appointing members of the commission. That is a matter of interest to everyone affected by local government reform. It is important that the Bill tells us more about the criteria to be used in appointing members of the commission.

Members of the Local Government Commission will undoubtedly need to cover a wide range of expertise across the spectrum of local government services. I contend that it is not enough to ensure that members are experienced in or knowledgeable of local government. It will be necessary to ensure that the commission has an understanding of all local government services.

The growing importance of environmental concerns is widely recognised. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, in his introduction to the Government's first year report on the environment White Paper, said, when referring to the need to build environmental concerns into policy making, there will be an environmental expert on relevant Government committees and bodies". The need for environmental expertise on the Local Government Commission cannot be over-emphasised. In the same first year report the Government made an important commitment that local government reform should make local authorities "better able" to rise to the environmental challenge. It also stated that the Local Government Commission will consider the need for effective environmental protection in developing proposals for reform.

I am particularly concerned that the importance of strategic planning for environmental protection is fully understood by the commission. To meet the environmental expectations of local government reform the Secretary of State should appoint appropriate people to the commission. They should have an understanding of the nature of the environmental challenge and the sort of local authorities we need in order to meet that challenge. That is what I hope my amendment will achieve.

Baroness Seear

Briefly commenting on what my noble friend Lady Hamwee said in regard to Amendment No. 25, I do not quite know what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is seeking. He says that these people must have knowledge or experience of local government. The word "or" implies that they do not need to have had experience of local government. Can there be anybody in the country, after the poll tax, who does not have knowledge of local government? Who are those people?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Tony Travers of the London School of Economics.

Baroness Seear

The London School of Economics, in my experience, is by no means always correct.

Earl Howe

All these amendments in their various ways concern the membership of the Local Government Commission or its staff. Two of the amendments require my right honourable friends the Secretary of State and the Home Secretary, who is also concerned with the appointments, to consult the local authority associations and other organisations about the appointment of the chairman and members of the commission.

Amendment No. 130 requires my right honourable friends to appoint at least two members of the commission after consultation with environmental bodies. Amendment No. 125 would require between half and three-quarters of the commission members to have knowledge or experience of local government.

Naturally my right honourable friends welcome the suggestions they receive from the associations and other organisations, including bodies specially concerned with the environment, about people who might be suitable for those appointments. We have made it clear that we want people on the commission with knowledge of local government. I know that my right honourable friend has said that he fully intends to ensure that environmental issues are covered. But decisions about the appointments are for my right honourable friends and we do not accept that it is appropriate for there to be a statutory requirement for consultation before the appointments are made, nor do we consider it appropriate—as Amendment No. 130 would require—to lay an obligation on the commission to consult these bodies about the appointment of its chief executive. As has already been mentioned in the debate, my right honourable friend announced in reply to a Parliamentary Question—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I am obliged to the noble Earl for giving way. He said that the Secretary of State will not consult the authorities and that he must be left free to do what he wants. Surely he is going to consult some people. The Secretary of State cannot possibly know the range of people who might be able, willing and competent to serve. Are not the best people to consult those who know something about the issues involved?

9.45 p.m.

Earl Howe

I did not say that the Secretary of State would not consult. I said that on the face of the Bill he should not be obliged to consult, which is a very different thing. Mr. John Banham, as has been mentioned earlier in the debate, and currently Director General of the CBI, will be heading up the commission. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that Mr. Banham has an excellent knowledge of local government from his former role as controller of the Audit Commission and that we can expect an outstanding contribution to the commission's work from him.

Amendment No. 129 seeks to require the terms of appointment of commission members to include a duty to fulfil the functions of the commission along with other members. It seems self-evident that that is what being, a member of the commission means. The requirement in Amendment No. 129 seems entirely unnecessary and inappropriate. The noble Baroness, Lady Ham wee, asked me a specific question about the meaning of Schedule 2, paragraph 5(b). That provision enables my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to remove a member from office if he is satisfied that that member has not complied with the terms of his appointment. What is referred to here is the simple matter of a contract of employment as is quite normal in business.

As regards the composition of the commission about which a number of Members of the Committee have asked, we are not publishing the criteria that will determine its make-up. It will be a balanced commission and the members will he taken from as wide a cross-section as possible, with professional experience, taking into account the expertise required for the job. The anxieties expressed this evening are ones which I, and I am sure the commission chairman, Mr. Banham, will fully understand. The main point is that the functions of local government will be high on the list of the expertise that the members of the commission will have at their disposal.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Can the Minister say whether it is the Government's intention to appoint the other members of the commission while the Bill is still before Parliament?

Earl Howe

That is a very good question. I shall have to write to the noble Lord about it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It would be very helpful to know because we are receiving assurances about the good intentions of the Government while the Government are as usual resisting any attempt to put those good intentions onto the face of the Bill. We are concerned that the anxieties which have been expressed on all sides of the Committee are relieved. The points which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, and others have made are not trivial. Noble Lords on all sides of the Committee have put their names to these amendments not because they are anxious to hold up the business or hear the sound of their own voices, but because they want the commission to work. We all want it to work because we are all concerned with the same objective.

I am very much concerned that, because of the inadequacy of the size of the commission, the lack of precision about its membership and above all because of the speed with which the commission is to be worked, we may end up with a botched job. We have had two very badly botched jobs of local government reform in the past 30 years. Both of them were put forward by Conservative Governments and repudiated by another Conservative Government. Those botched jobs took far longer to design and implement than this proposed reform which has much going for it. It will not prescribe the same pattern everywhere and because it is being responsive to local needs, this reform does many of the things that we want to see. Let us not spoil it by restricting the "representativeness" and the size of the commission too much, and by making its timescale impossible. I gladly give way to the noble Earl.

Earl Howe

There will be no formal appointments —and I stress the word "formal"—to the commission until after Royal Assent.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Stressing the word "formal" means that the appointments will be made in posse, and that the decisions will have been made about the membership of the commission. That is what really matters.

Lord Skelmersdale

That is a little unfair. In cases like this it is quite normal to announce very early on the presumptive chairman of a new body, or a new quango, as this will be. It is also quite normal to carry out soundings as to who the future members of the commission will be. It is equally normal not to appoint them until a Bill has received Royal Assent.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Lord speaks with the due caution of an ex-Minister. The reply which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, gave to me did not indicate whether people were to be approached and offered the jobs before the legislation is passed or whether there would simply be soundings taken. I quite understand that no formal appointment will be made. It would be impossible to make a formal appointment—that is a tautology. I should like to know whether adequate time will be given to the consultation about the "representativeness" of the body. If it is proposed to approach people and offer them the jobs as I said, in posse, before the Bill finishes proceeding I doubt whether the commission can be adequately representative. I wonder whether the noble Earl can tell us how far the process of appointment, short of a formal announcement, will be taken while the Bill is still before Parliament.

Earl Howe

It is impossible for me to elaborate on what I have already said. It is possible for certain individuals to be approached informally; but I have no knowledge of who they are or when that might happen.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Earl is learning the discretion of office very successfully and very quickly. That is not a satisfactory response. The commission which we all want will not be well served by the nature of the legislation which is proposed to set it up. This is certainly a matter to which we shall have to return at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 125.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 126 to 130 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 131: Page 31, line 2, after ("any thing") insert ("including causing a local inquiry to be held").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to the other amendments grouped with it and in particular to Amendments Nos. 133 and 134. The schedule to the Bill, the incidental powers, specifically preclude the holding of a local inquiry. It was a little surprising to see not simply that the commission could not make up its own mind as to the means that it should adopt to inquire the views of local people and all those who were interested in contributing to the process, but that it was to be specifically restricted from holding a public inquiry. The main amendment standing in my name in this group is to leave out the words, or to cause any local inquiry to be held". The incidental power and the mechanisms to be employed should be a matter for the commission, which we are being assured tonight will consist of very trustworthy people. Indeed, I am sure they will be.

Amendment No. 134 stands in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Feversham and Lord McIntosh. My point here concerns parishes. Even if there is no formal public inquiry, the commission could undertake a rolling stage show around the country and conduct its deliberations in public in a way that the local community could contribute to. The parishes would appreciate that approach.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

In the previous group of amendments the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, indicated the first schism in our views in the course of our proceedings on the Bill when she did not agree with what we were saying about public authority experience on the commission. I am sorry to say that I do not agree with her about public inquiries. A public inquiry is a long drawn out and expensive way of conducting the business of the commission. I hope that the Government will resist those amendments.

Although Amendment No. 134 has been grouped with other amendments, it was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, in his capacity as president of the National Association of Local Councils. I am pleased to be associated with him on the amendment. Amendment No. 134 does not imply that there should be public inquiries. We think that the commission should hive the power, if I may quote the words used to set up Committees of this House, to meet from time to time and at such places as seem to the Committee to be convenient. In other words, the Local Government Commission should have the power not only to send individual members to meet in different parts of the country but if necessary to meet as a body in different parts of the country. It should go out of its way to use the ability to meet in different parts of the country to inform itself about local views.

I would expect the Minister to say in reply that that power exists and that it is not necessary to have it on the face of the Bill. I think it is worth emphasising our view that it is an important power and that it is essential to the effective conduct of the commission's business.

Lord Desai

Our experience of local government over the past 15 or so years has shown that many policies have been based on ignorance of what local people want. That is now beyond doubt. I do not care very much what means are used to elicit local opinion on matters affecting local people. However, if the commission is to be a success, it should use effective and efficient methods of consulting local opinion. There may be public opinion surveys. The commission may travel around the country listening to the people. Indeed, television may be used in this way. It is extremely important that the commission's work should be seen by the people themselves and not just by us. Those relations with the public are very important. I urge the Government to accept the amendments.

Lord Skelmersdale

I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, but to conduct a form of local review is going a little far. After all, we have in the Bill Clause 15, which adjures the Local Government Commission to publicise its intentions, activities and vires to such people as appear to it to be interested. The word will get round the local authority area very well indeed. The commission must take account of the views submitted to it. Equally, it must deposit copies of draft recommendations in advance of submitting them to the Secretary of State. Those can be commented on by the local populace. The point is well covered in the Bill.

10 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Clause 15 is simply not good enough. It gives the commission power to do many things. However, it does not say that it should properly consult local people. When we talk about local people, we are not talking about local councillors or any other bodies which have a close relationship; we are talking about ordinary people who vote in local elections and who are in fact at the sharp end. They are the ones who either benefit or suffer from the administration of their local authority. Therefore, the sort of organisation that they have must be very important to them. There must be means of discussing the matter between the commission, or the commissioners, and the ordinary people in the area. As my noble friend pointed out, it is vital that there should be a way in which ordinary voters can express themselves.

I happen to believe that the latter should be achieved by a series of public meetings. These can be very successful. Indeed, you can enthuse people to take part in such public meetings. For example, I remember when we wanted to amalgamate the water undertakings of Reading, Berkshire and South Oxfordshire. We were compelled to have not just one public meeting, we were obliged to have two of them and a town poll. That meant that the people of Reading—not those in Berkshire because they were not under the same constraint—became involved in the whole business and they eventually voted for it. However, they were well informed as to what was happening. It is vitally important that the ordinary people who are to be administered should have the opportunity to speak directly to the commissioners, and not through anyone else. They must be able to speak to them directly. One way or another, I hope that we can ensure that that process takes place.

Earl Howe

These amendments would enable or require the Local Government Commission to hold local public inquiries as part of its process of review. As my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale rightly pointed out, Clause 15 of the Bill sets out the framework for the procedures the commission must follow when conducting its reviews, including the arrangements for consultation with local people and organisations.

It is clear that a review by the commission will be initiated with publicity, at which point any interested parties will have the opportunity to put forward their views and, if they so wish, to submit proposals for change to the commission. The commission will then prepare draft recommendations and invite comments on them during a specified consultation period. Following its consideration of the comments received on its draft recommendations, the commission will draw up its final report and recommendations which will be published and submitted to the Secretary of State.

Clause 17 places a duty on the Secretary of State to wait for six weeks after receiving the commission's report and recommendations before making an order which implements the recommendations. That provides local people and organisations with a further opportunity to make representations on the recommendations, this time, however, directly to the Secretary of State.

There is nothing in the Bill to prevent the Local Government Commission from holding informal local meetings as part of the process of finding out what local people think, where it considers it appropriate to do so. I cannot help feeling that it is much better to go along to a village hall and listen to the people than it is to sit through rather stultifying formal inquiries. My right honourable friend intends to issue guidance to the commission about the procedure it should follow in carrying out its reviews. He intends to direct the commission to have regard to this guidance under Clause 15(7). We shall invite views on the content of this guidance.

We firmly believe that the arrangements for consultation are such that the need for local public inquiries, or hearings, which can be both costly and time consuming, will not arise. It is clear that the arrangements for public consultation have been designed to provide all interested parties with ample opportunities to make their views known to the commission and to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I therefore urge the noble Baroness not to press the amendment.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Will the guidance to be given to the commission be on the basis of paragraph (f) on page 10 which, in relation to the guidance, require the extent (if any) to which there has been a contravention of guidance issued by the Secretary of State". We discussed that issue earlier. Will the commission have guidance or guidelines?

Earl Howe

It will be guidance.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

So paragraph (f) on page 10 will apply. If the commission does not accept the guidance, it will be in contravention of the guidance.

Earl Howe

If the guidance says that certain procedures must take place, the commission must pay heed to that.

Lord Desai

I have read Clause 15 and I still have the feeling that it is talking about specialised bodies when it refers to interested parties and lobbies. It is not talking about ordinary people. While I welcome what the noble Earl said about informal soundings that the commission may take, I should be much happier if that provision were made more explicit and said that the commission would be encouraged to go around the country and talk to the people. It is much more important that it does that than consult local government specialists, for example.

Earl Howe

The commission will be in touch with all segments of the community, not just organisations, but the people themselves.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Perhaps I may pursue the point made by my noble friend Lord Stoddart. In response to the question whether the commission would be unable to contravene the guidance, the Minister said that it would have to pay heed to it. That is a new phrase which I have not previously heard in legislation. By "pay heed to", does he mean the same as "have regard to"? What is the distinction?

While I am on the subject, I recall that only yesterday I was rebuked magisterially by the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, when I pointed out that the Secretary of State had the general power to give directions to the Audit Commission about any part of its activities. The obligation on the Audit Commission was to give effect to those directions; in other words, the Audit Commission, in the nicest possible way, is a creature of the Secretary of State. When I said that that was strange, the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, said that it was readily explained by the Secretary of State's need to answer to Parliament for the Audit Commission's activities. Why does not the same procedure exist for the Local Government Commission? In the absence of such direction-giving power and such obligation on the commission to give effect to the directions, how can the Secretary of State answer to Parliament for the activities of the Local Government Commission?

Earl Howe

I hope that this answer will be helpful: the guidance that the commission will have will set out the requirements and considerations that it must adopt in regard to the proper delivery of services in any particular area. It must pay regard to that guidance. It is clear that the Secretary of State would direct the commission to have regard to that guidance under Clause 15(7).

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Earl has not answered my point about the directions and how the Local Government Commission would be answerable to Parliament, or perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, was in error when he said that.

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene at this point. The noble Lord is playing games over this amendment and is being unnecessarily difficult. The Secretary of State will direct the Local Government Commission to have regard to the guidance. We have all had sight of the guidance. One of the aspects of the guidance in which I know my noble friend Lord Norrie will be interested is that it sets out that the Local Government Commission must have regard to the proper delivery of services; for example, land use planning and proper delivery of any local government service. It must have regard to it. If it does its work without having proper regard to the guidance it will be considered in breach of its work. Its recommendations to Parliament will be defective because it will not have had regard to the proper delivery of local government functions.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I have still not received an answer to my question about the difference between the Audit Commission and the Local Government Commission.

Baroness Hamwee

I had no idea that I was going to stimulate and provoke such a debate. I do not think that this was playing games; it exposed something important. I hope that the noble Earl's reply which referred to Clause 15 is a trailer for the approval of amendments on the Marshalled List for Thursday.

I see nothing inconsistent in the ability to hold an inquiry and holding that inquiry in a village hall. I do not suggest in my amendments that the investigations should not be held as conveniently and as locally as possible. My main distaste for the Bill is that there is the proscription against holding a public inquiry. However, I take the point about the greater the informality, probably the greater the response provoked. However, in view of the hour, I shall clearly not get anywhere and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Earl Howe

Before the noble Baroness sits down, I put on record that the guidance under Clause 15(7) is procedural, and that under Clause 13(6) is what we have published. There is a distinct difference between the guidance in each clause; but regard must be had to both.

Baroness Hamwee

I thank the noble Earl. I am sure that we shall all go away and wrap hot towels round our heads and try to work out all these distinctions.

Lord Skelmersdale

Or cold towels?

Baroness Hamwee

I find that hot towels work perfectly!

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 132: Page 31, line 6, at end insert ("and such power shall include power to commission and carry out surveys of public opinion in the areas subject to review").

The noble Baroness said: My noble friend Lord McIntosh has made clear that we warmly welcome this part of the Bill. Our amendments are genuinely meant to be constructive and to probe or to amplify terms of reference. Thus when the recommendations of the Local Government Commission are made, they can be readily accepted by local authorities of all sizes and political persuasions as sensible and fair.

This is one of a series of similar amendments in the hope that we may strengthen the robust nature of the recommendations that we expect the Local Government Commission to bring forward. Hence the nature of this amendment which seeks to empower the Local Government Commission to, commission and carry out surveys of public opinion in the areas subject to review". In a way, it is an extension of the arguments we have just had about committees of inquiry, public inquiries, and so on. I wish to take the Committee back to the 1974 re-organisation of local government. It was based on the concept of functions. Not surprisingly, as every function has a different ideal population size for its base, we ended up with two tiers, agencies, gaps and overlaps that have done much to mystify the users of local government ever since.

The reorganisation of 1974 was based on the car driver and as a result, it could never quite make up its mind what the natural area of a community or a local authority was, whether it was the historical boundaries—a subject which we shall come to shortly—its built up area, its travel to work area or the degree to which it serves a population for shopping and services.

Having one reorganisation based on the concept of functions and another on the notion of concentric rings of community meant that this produced an instability at the heart of the 1974 reorganisation. It has led to subsequent discontent and efforts to change it going right back to 1977. In some cases such as planning, functions have had to be re-allocated downwards; in others—for example, highways — agency arrangements have had to be set up to make better use of services. In other cases, counties have set up area offices coterminous with district councils and the social services or they have set up local offices with different boundaries from those of the social services, if they were also education authorities. The result has been a mystifying patchwork that is costly, cumbersome and incomprehensible. That is why we, as I am sure do Members on the Government Benches, welcome this reform.

At least two things, among no doubt many others, should have been learnt from the experience of 1974. The first is that the only way to obtain stable local government to which people can relate and which they can comprehend and therefore hold accountable is local government based on local communities—not on functions, not on the distance you can drive in your car, but on communities.

Functions come and go. For example, health and various aspects of education have been, and are being, stripped out of local government. But equally, economic development or arts and leisure, for example, are growing in significance. In other words, functions come and go, but communities endure.

The second thing that might have been learnt from 1974 is the crucial importance of starting with communities first and then considering services and functions and the best way of ensuring that they are met. A further lesson that the Minister will certainly endorse is that of the enabling authority, which has meant that there need be no incompatibility between the concept of a local community on the one hand and that community's competence to arrange value for money services on the other.

Behind that is the question of what is the community; in other words, what people identify with. The amendment suggests that we find out by asking them so that the result is a local government that they own. We are not seeking to prejudge the outcome of those surveys, but I have no doubt that the surveys are necessary. If we do not base the work of the Local Government Commission on such research and surveys then we shall simply add to the pressure on the Secretary of State when the Local Government Commission has reported, and a second and intense round of lobbying of the Secretary of State will result for him, or her, not to accept the recommendations of the Local Government Commission. We shall be in a continuous programme of instability.

We want the local government recommendations to be robust. We want them to carry consent. We doubt that there will be enough commissioners to do the job, an issue we have already raised; we doubt that its members will carry sufficient experience, but we shall wait to see. We want the commission to have the confidence of the local government world. All those considerations give us concern. If, however, we can get the concept of what the community is carried with consent and support, then at least the commission will have the building blocks on which to produce a local government system for the future with stamina and robustness. The most effective way of determining what people think in their community is to ask them, and that is the point of the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

The noble Baroness is right. Over and over again the Government have made it clear that they want the commission to respect the achievable wishes of the local population. So far as this amendment is concerned, I look at paragraph 4(1) of Schedule 2 on page 31. Without prejudice to any powers exercisable apart from this paragraph, the Commission shall have power to do any thing … to facilitate … the carrying out of any of its functions". Noble Lords opposite constantly complain of the wide scope of Bills. Here we have a perfectly reasonable and, I am sure the noble Baroness would agree, acceptable wide power for the commission: therefore, we do not need the amendment that she has moved.

Earl Howe

I am grateful to my noble friend for his helpful intervention. I probably need all the help I can get. Clause 13 requires the commission to have regard to the need to reflect the identities and interests of local communities in carrying out its reviews, and there we agree. We are very anxious that the commission should use the best methods available to determine the views of local people about their community and their feelings towards the place where they live and the structure of local government they would like to see. We believe that in many areas opinion polls may be a useful tool for the commission in its work. The Local Government Boundary Commission has used them in its work and found them a valuable aid to examining local opinion. We therefore intend, in the guidance which my right honourable friend will issue to the Local Government Commission about the procedures which the commission may follow in carrying out its review, to encourage the commission to use polls wherever appropriate.

To help the commission make the best possible objective assessment of the views of local people about the communities in which they live we have commissioned some research into community identity. The overall aim of the research is to develop and refine criteria which might be applied to the assessment of community identity and loyalties and which might be amenable to testing by means of surveys of public habits and attitudes in a given local area. The findings of that research should make a useful contribution to the commission's work.

I can reassure the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that under the Bill as drafted the commission would indeed have the power to carry out opinion polls, although it is up to the commission to decide how it carries out its work, and that we intend to encourage it to use opinion polls through the guidance on procedures which my right honourable friend may issue under Clause 15.

I hope that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness will be satisfied with that response and will not press the amendment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

That is absolutely splendid. Can the Minister say when we may hope to see the results of the research he has commissioned?

Earl Howe

The research is intended to inform the commission's deliberations. We may disseminate the findings more widely but I do not yet know when those findings will be complete.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

I hope that the noble Earl will forgive me, but perhaps he might for once chance his arm and say that he would expect the research to be published. We are talking about what counts as community identity. If that information is to inform the Local Government Commission and form part of the mind map of the commission in much the same way as its precise terms of reference, which refer to the need to take account of communities and that version of communities will have been shaped by the research which has been commissioned, I should have thought that it was appropriate for that information to be put out for public debate and consideration. It will be very important when other bodies present their arguments to the commission that they share a common language as to what the word "community" means in the circumstances.

Earl Howe

I understand the anxieties of the noble Baroness. I am sure that she will understand that it will be a working document. It will be a bank of information which will enable guidance to be issued. If we feel that it contains information which is likely to be of particular interest and importance we shall disseminate it more widely. However, one would not normally expect a document of that kind to circulate in the public domain.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The Government constantly publish documents of this kind and expect to do so. Every department in the realm, with the possible exception of the Ministry of Defence, expects its research, whether it is designed for the purposes of an individual agency or commission or for government generally, to be published. It is a well known and well understood principle of government research. The Government always retain the Crown copyright in such projects with the deliberate and express intention that the information should be published.

I do not suggest that the noble Earl should go beyond his brief now, but I ask him to think about the issue and, on mature consideration, to write to my noble friend. I think that he will find that all precedents are in favour of publication.

Earl Howe

The noble Lord is quite right that the Government do indeed publish such information, but only when it is considered appropriate to do so. It is by no means appropriate in every instance.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

Perhaps I may say one last sentence to finish the point. At the heart of the terms of reference of the Local Government Commission is the objective of producing effective local government embodying local communities. I hope that we accept that definition.

Clearly, if a concept of community based on research is at the core of that objective, that must be in the public domain so that all sides involved, including the local authority associations and the professionals, share a common language. Unless that information is published, we shall not share that common language, a great deal of debate may go beyond the point and the different sides may simply bypass each other. In the circumstances, it would be absurd if the research on which the Local Government Commission was proceeding was not in the public domain. That would produce a great deal of misunderstanding. In the hope that we can press the Minister on the matter at a later stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 133 and 134 not moved.]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 135:

Page 31, line 17, at end insert: ("(1A) Any formal meetings of the Local Government Commission shall be open to the public.").

The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 135 and 136 seek to apply in a modest way to the formal working of the commission the requirements that local authorities must fulfil under the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985 and other legislation. Under the access to information legislation, all the meetings of local authorities—council committees and sub-committees—are open to the public unless there are good reasons, all of which are defined in legislation, why the public should be excluded. Those provisions have operated effectively, successfully and, I believe, beneficially with regard to local government business. Agendas and reports are also open to public inspection unless they are precisely exempted. Furthermore, those agendas and reports must be publicly available at least three clear working days in advance so that everyone may have the right to consider the information in the public domain.

The two amendments propose that the commission should be subject to the same procedures and openness as the local authority system which it is considering. We do not suggest that all meetings should be open to the public. The commission would still be able to work up reports in private and have informal discussions. However, the proposals would allow members of the public to be aware of the issues discussed by the commission at any meeting and to consider and comment on any formal reports to that body. It is not unreasonable that a body which is considering the future of local government in England should be bound within the realm of practicability by similar considerations as to conduct as apply to the body whose future it is reviewing. I beg to move.

Earl Howe

The Local Government Commission will be a deliberative, not a decision-making, body. It will assess and analyse complex information and draw up recommendations. We consider that the most appropriate means for public involvement in the commission's work is for there to be ample opportunity for considered representations to the commission at each stage of a review.

Clause 15 sets out the framework for the procedure that the commission will follow. I do not need to repeat what I said in connection with an earlier amendment. There will be plenty of opportunity for interested parties to put forward their views and, I am sure, plenty of publicity in the process. The draft recommendations will be drawn up only after all the recommendations and comments put forward by local people have been taken into account. That is how the objective which I believe both sides of the Committee seek will be achieved. The arrangements for consultation are such that it is not necessary to require the Local Government Commission to open its meetings to the public or to publish the agenda or working papers for the meetings. The amendments are not necessary and I urge that they should not be pressed.

Baroness Hamwee

I am sure that the Government will note the anxiety about openness and the public's ability to discover what is going on. However, it would be a little difficult to support the amendments which refer to formal meetings; first, because I am not sure what is the distinction between a formal meeting and an informal meeting; and, secondly, because we have heard today that perhaps we shall have only one commissioner conducting the inquiry in each patch of the country.

My noble friend Lady Seear referred to the need to have more than one commissioner because one needs to bat ideas around. If there is only one commissioner supported by staff, how will there be agendas for meetings which that commissioner will have with herself or himself'? I am not sure how that could operate.

Lord Skelmerdale

I believe that the idea of more than one commissioner came from myself. It was not subscribed to by the noble Baroness and the noble Earl on the Bench in front of me. I should not like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to get away with the idea that I direct government policy on the matter. I most certainly do not.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

If we do not need the public present because there is only one commissioner, that is a bad thing. If there is more than one commissioner and they talk to each other, the public should certainly be there, and that would be a good thing.

I am sure that the noble Earl understands the spirit of the amendment. It may not be in the most precise form; it may need redrafting. However, if we want the recommendations of the commission to be well informed, to be robust, to stick and to carry consent, then they must carry the public with them. We expect that of local government. The public have the right to know. So far as is practicable, we wish to have the same rules of debate, of openness and public accessibility, applied to the commission as we expect that the commission would wish to see applied to local government.

Perhaps the Minister will consider the matter to which we may return when we discuss more closely the working arrangements of the commission. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 136 not moved.]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 137:

Page 31, line 47, at end insert: ("(1A) The amount available to the Commission shall be sufficient to ensure appropriate consultation with the Audit Commission and an adequate level of publicity and consultation.").

The noble Baroness said: I shall be even briefer. I shall be delighted if the Minister says that the amendment is unnecessary and redundant.

A number of amendments have been tabled from all sides of the Chamber which require additional consultation, additional publicity, the use of opinion surveys and so on to ensure that there is maximum public input. Equally, Clause 16 provides that the Audit Commission shall charge the Local Government Commission such fees for opinions provided, for example on value for money, as will cover its costs. Such work, whether research, opinion polling, or paying the Audit Commission, involves resources. The amendment seeks to ensure that the Local Government Commission is adequately financed, in particular if it is to complete its considerations in the appropriate timescale to do the job properly. If the Minister says that of course it will, and that the amendment is unnecessary, I shall be delighted. I beg to move.

Earl Howe

Schedule 2 sets out the arrangements for financing the Local Government Commission. Each year the commission will receive an amount of grant from the Department of the Environment which the Secretary of State considers sufficient to enable the commission to carry out its functions.

This will not be an arbitrary figure. It will be based on the Local Government Commission's own forecast of the amount of grant it will need to carry out its functions in that year, taking account of the costs of publicity, of consultation and of the Audit Commission, on the basis of its programme of work set out by the Secretary of State.

The procedure for arriving at the amount of grant to be paid to the Local Government Commission will form part of the public expenditure survey leading to the approval by Parliament of the Supply Estimates. It will therefore be for Parliament to approve the level of grant to the commission.

It is our firm intention; indeed there is no question but that the commission will complete the job and will not be inhibited in its work by resource constraints. I hope that with that reassurance the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

I am well content. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Duty to conduct reviews and make recommendations]:

[Amendment No. 138 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Airedale): In Amendment No. 139 there is a misprint on the Marshalled List. The amendment should read,

"Page 11, line 17, leave out ('of such areas')".

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 139: Page 11, line 17, leave out ("of such areas").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 141. They are straightforward amendments which seek clarification. Its purpose is to ensure that the whole of England outside the metropolitan areas is included within the review of local government structure. We are seeking to ensure that the re-organisation of local government outside the metropolitan areas is completed once and for all. To risk doing only half the job will continue to produce uncertainty and instability, in particular for the remaining two-tier areas. Perhaps the commission will recommend a two-tier or single structure in particular areas. However, we wish to ensure that is covered by a comprehensive review and not by the patchy review which we fear may be the case. We hope that the Minister will assure the Committee that all the areas of England will be covered by the Local Government Commission.

Baroness Blatch

The Government have made it clear that they intend the Local Government Commission to carry out a rolling programme of reviews of local government in the shire counties. We believe that an area by area approach will best enable the commission to give full and careful consideration to all local concerns. We have already said that we intend to give special priority to Humberside where the Local Government Boundary Commission found a strong case for change. Other priorities will be announced in due course. Areas where there is a history of dissatisfaction with the existing structure must be high on the list.

The Secretary of State would be able to use his power to set a balanced and manageable programme for the commission and to give directions to the commission to require it to consider only boundary or only pectoral changes, for example. This could be necessary where the commission had already made recommendations for improving the structure of local government in an area and consequential boundary changes were needed.

The Local Government Commission will have the power 10 recommend more far-reaching changes than the Local Government Boundary Commission and will no: have a mandatory programme of reviews of local government structure and boundaries. In those circumstances, it is essential that my right honorable friend the Secretary of State should have the power to direct ice commission which areas to review and which type of changes to consider. We intend that the commission should review all shire counties in England—

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

Perhaps I may intervene in order to ask the Minister whether she is correct in saying that the Local Government Commission will have a more fundamental role than the Boundary Commission? Did she put that the right way round?

Baroness Blatch

I was saying that the work of the Boundary Commission will be subsumed by the Local Government Commission. The work of the Local Government Commission may make a recommendation what requires no boundary changes. However, it may make recommendations that have an impact on boundaries. Therefore, it will have to complete its work by making references to boundary changes.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

Perhaps it is my fault that I am a little confused. We are not debating the amendments relating to boundaries. They are Amendments Nos. 147 and 145. We are currently debating Amendments Nos. 139 and 141. They seek to obtain a comprehensive review by the Secretary of State and not a partial review which would leave the residual areas of the country uncertain about their two-tier status, unitary status, and so forth. I am puzzled because I believe that perhaps the Minister is talking to Amendments Nos. 145 and 147 rather than to Amendments Nos. 139 and 141. Is that correct?

Baroness Blatch

No, I was speaking to Amendments Nos. 139 and 141. Perhaps I may repeat precisely what I said. The Local Government Commission will have the power to recommend more far-reaching changes than the Local Government Boundary Commission. It will not have a mandatory programme of reviews of local government structure and boundaries. In those circumstances, it is essential that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State should have the power to direct the commission as to which areas to review and which types of change to consider.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I thought I heard the Minister say in her earlier response that the review would cover all shire counties in England. If she would repeat that assurance, my noble friend would be satisfied.

Baroness Blatch

No. The difference between us is that Members of the Committee opposite are asking for a complete comprehensive review to take place at the same time. I repeat what I said earlier. The Government have made it clear that they intend that the Local Government Commission should carry out a rolling programme of reviews of local government of the shire county areas in England. Therefore, it will not be one review of all areas of England at the same time.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I was not suggesting that it would be all at the same time. I realise what is the Government's intention. We seek an assurance that it will be not just a review of the shire counties but specifically of all the shire counties. In other words, no shire county of England will be excluded ultimately from the review.

Baroness Blatch

That is right. On completion of the rolling programme, all areas of the country will have been covered.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes moved Amendment No. 140: Page 11, line 17, after ("areas") insert ("or classes of local authorities").

The noble Baroness said: I move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lady Young who expresses her apologies. She cannot be here this evening because she has a long-standing engagement. I speak also to Amendment No. 150 which is in my name and that of my noble friends Lady Young and Lord Beloff and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis.

I shall try to be brief, but there is a good deal of very strong feeling in the areas concerned about these matters. The purpose of Amendments Nos. 140 and 144 is to allow the Secretary of State to direct the local commission to review not only areas but classes of local authorities. I support these amendments because it seems to me that certain authorities are clearly in a class of their own. They combine most of the features which the Local Government Commission would be looking for in making its recommendations for change to a unitary structure.

Because I believe it is likely to be of assistance to the Local Government Commission in going about its review work, I welcome the prompt publication and content of the draft guidance. The Government are right to give such prominence in the guidance to community identity as the cornerstone of effective local democracy.

In moving the amendments, I refer to only one part of the draft guidance which is relevant to my argument. Paragraph 4 of the guidance refers to strength of identity with a particular area. It recognises that there are likely to be cases where strong identity with a town or city will weigh heavily against weaker identity with a group of districts or a county. If people live within one of our great historic cities and enjoy the civic pride which goes with the history and traditions of such a city and participate in the modern working life of that essentially urban environment, they are far more likely to identify with that city as representative of their interests than they are with the rural hinterland which may surround it. They are also likely to feel that councillors elected from within that city community are more likely to understand the needs and aspirations of the modern urban environment.

In 1974 the great city of Gloucester, which I represented, was in a very sad way as a result of the reorganisation, particularly because the functions of education and social services were removed from where they had happily been previously. There were elected representatives from within the city on the county council, but the county council was a mature council. The chairmanships and deputy chairmanships of the various committees were already in the hands of those who had a great deal of rural experience but no experience of the great historic city of Gloucester. As a result, much damage was done to the historic grammar schools of that city.

Paragraph 4 recognises that rural and urban communities can co-exist and indeed are both part of the fabric of our society but that they are essentially different. A large number of our shire counties are made up of one or more large cities or towns. In the case for making a number of those areas unitary authorities, that is self-evident. If strong community identity, competence and capacity can be established for those urban areas leading to a presumption in favour of the unitary authority status, it remains for the commission to focus on the surrounding areas. Amendments Nos. 140 and 144 offer the Secretary of State an opportunity to direct the Local Government Commission to proceed by dealing first with such "classes of authority" as the historic cities. That will be helpful in looking at the first areas of the country and would not prejudice the outcome for other parts.

I turn to Amendment No. 150. This amendment is in keeping with the reference to "history" in paragraph 3 of the draft guidance for the Local Government Commission. But it is of sufficient importance to be considered for inclusion also on the face of the Bill. I know that my noble friend the Minister has been listening with great sympathy to what I said in regard to Amendments Nos. 140 and 144, but I hope that she will listen with even greater sympathy in relation to Amendment No. 150.

The right reverend prelate the Bishop of Exeter said at Second Reading that there are deep roots within the communities of many of our ancient cities which have enjoyed hundreds of years of community government. Charters are not just pieces of paper with nostalgic relevance. They look forward as much as back, reflecting a strength of community identity and civic focus. When we talk of historic traditions we are not only talking about civic traditions of government and community pride focused on a specific city but also about the nation's historic continuity held in trust by those cities.

If historic traditions were to be embodied in legislation as they are in the guidance for the commission, it is perhaps more likely that we shall be able to avoid the nonsense that has occupied so much time and energy in Gloucester recently, where proposals for a new magistrates' court by the county council have been viewed by the city council planning committee as being totally out of character with the historic site in which it is to reside. The city council received strong backing from the Royal Fine Art Commission, English Heritage and the Gloucester Civic Trust. Despite that and the city's own national award-winning work on design and conservation, the council is unable to exercise any direct prerogative in the matter.

On a more recent timescale, the concept of historic traditions also refers to an authority's track record. That is a matter which must be reflected in any decisions.

Finally, Amendment No. 150 seeks to reinforce the draft guidance on the question of history. It seeks also to remind us of the wide connotations of civic traditions and I hope that it will find favour with my noble friend.

Baroness Nicol

I wish to support Amendments Nos. 140 and 144 particularly. Both these amendments have the backing of the historic cities group which Members of the Committee probably know comprises Cambridge, Carlisle, Chester, Exeter, Gloucester, Lincoln, Norwich, Oxford, Worcester and York. I had the privilege of serving on Cambridge City Council in the days before the last reorganisation. I had only a very short time on it before we suffered that reorganisation. The difference between the feeling of the city's identity then and afterwards is quite remarkable. Therefore, I understand why all these cities are welcoming the opportunity to return to unitary authority.

Historic cities are particularly vulnerable to modern pressures. They have inherited mostly ancient street patterns and they cannot cope with modern traffic. They are constrained in their development by the need to protect our heritage of historic buildings and so they have added costs as well as less flexible opportunities for commercial and industrial development. But they also have opportunities including tourism which can be exploited by an informed approach. As the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, said, from their long past they enjoy a much closer feeling of community than many of the newer creations.

But if they are to make the most of these opportunities (which I am sure that we all want them to do), they need to be masters in their own houses.

There is no other way in which they can fully exploit and yet protect the very precious heritage which most of them have to care for. I very much hope that the Government will accept this amendment so that these cities can be treated in a special way.

Baroness Blatch

Amendments Nos. 140 and 144 are designed to provide for the commission to review particular classes of local authorities. The Secretary of State may specify the types of authorities the commission should review by direction, and for that reason these amendments are not necessary. We intend the commission to proceed area by area with structural reviews, but it might prove useful to refer to types, of authority later when specifying a programme for electoral or boundary changes.

Even expressing all our very real anxieties about the work of the commission, the one thing that we must not do is pre-empt what it has to do. It must approach its work with an open mind. Some of the points made by my noble friend and by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, about historic cities are well taken by me. I have had a very constructive meeting with representatives of the historic cities. I know that they have a record which is not just the one mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, but a record of working with the world of heritage, tourism, business and commerce in a way which is different from other parts of the country.

Nevertheless, it is important (I emphasised it when I met tie representatives) for them to make their case to the commission. It is that body which needs to be convinced in the first place of the need and of the pace for change. It will be for the commission to make a recommendation to my right honourable friend who in turn will make a recommendation to Parliament. One of the problems of dealing with this work on the basis of classes of authority is that it is not possible to say that we shall look at districts because they are within counties and therefore counties and districts would need to be looked at at the same time. Equally, historic cities are also within the boundaries of counties. Therefore, the rolling review area by area will be determined by my right honourable friend.

This debate is very important. The comments made in it will continue to be part of that bank of information which will influence my right honourable friend when he comes to determine the programme. Although my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes has pointed to the importance of history, I can tell her that that point too is very well taken. Historic roots and local communities are very often interlinked anyway. That is a very important point. I must emphasise that we must be careful not to pre-empt the work of the Local Government Commission.

Amendment No. 150 would require the commission to have regard to the historic traditions as well as the identities and interests of the local communities. Again I can assure my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and other Members of the Commerce that we appreciate the importance that people attach to the history of their local areas. I am well aware that some of our oldest cities which have traditionally run their own local affairs, are particularly keen to become unitary authorities.

It is because we recognise the importance of tradition that the draft guidance to the Local Government Commission makes it clear that the Commission should consider the history of an area when assessing community identities. However, I must say once more that we do not believe it necessary to include this requirement in the Bill. We believe that the Local Government Commission must approach its work with an open mind, and we must not pre-empt the conclusions of that work. The debate has been useful, and my right honourable friend will be told of the import of it.

Lord Beloff

Before we conclude the debate, perhaps I may inject one other consideration into the question of historic traditions. It seems that the real worry we have about local government and another reform is whether it will stick. It has been suggested—probably rightly—that the only thing that would make it stick is if it is based upon a sense of community.

I do not know—and I find it very difficult to know—whether communities exist any more in this country, given the mobility of the population and the fact that people live in one place, earn their living in another and are taxed by a third, and so forth. I am sure that this cannot be discovered by public opinion polls or by any of the other gadgets of the social scientists. We can only do it by making assumptions; and the assumption is that if a city has had a long tradition of self-government in one form or another, its citizens probably have an attachment to it which is not shared by artificial, imposed units of local government. We are told that the reason why certain counties face abolition is that they have not taken root.

We have abandoned a great many natural divisions of local government that once existed in this country. We have no more ridings and tithings, sokes, hundreds and wapentakes. These were all real things, whereas the districts are the creation of legislation. Therefore it is important that the potential existence of any community, whether it be a natural county—not a created county—an historic county or an historic city, should figure very largely in the commission's deliberations. I say this particularly because I believe —and this has hardly been touched upon—that if we could get that kind of community we might then begin to rebuild a more satisfactory relationship between central and local government, which is the other great weakness of our system when compared with other systems where the two are thought to be naturally compatible, and where a career in one often leads to a career in another.

I hope the Minister will not object to my adding these considerations, though I agree that it is for the commission to take them on board.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

Perhaps I may add a word of support to what my noble friends have said. It is most encouraging that the Minister has assured us that the commission will take account of historical factors in evaluating identities.

However, the Bill as drafted gives the impression of a rather piecemeal area approach: one will look first at one area and then at another area. The debate has been helpful in expressing the hope that the commission will first sit down to consider those criteria which will lead it to establish its priorities. It is important that before the commission moves from one area to another it has clear criteria as to whether historic cities, for instance, are likely to become unitary authorities. The historic factor, as the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, has stressed, is one that will be of great importance, not only in the cathedral cities but in other historic cities in this country.

Baroness Blatch

Both of those interventions were enormously helpful and of course will also be reported to my right honourable friend.

I wish to respond to two specific points. My noble friend Lord Beloff posed an important question: will it stick? That will be the great challenge of the work of the Local Government Commission. Not only must it do what I believe will be the difficult job of identifying communities and making recommendations to Parliament that they are the right communities for unitary authority status, but those recommendations must enjoy the widest base of support for change. The case for change needs to be made first and then it must receive the widest base of support. The wider the base of support for the change the more likely it is to stick. But that must also be balanced against the proper delivery of services. The concerns of some of my noble friends and other noble Lords, for example, about the proper delivery of strategic functions, must be taken into account. The Local Government Commission will have to have regard to the guidance which will set out all the factors that must be taken into account in the course of its work.

There is in our proposals a presumption in favour of unitary authorities. Where a unitary authority is not appropriate, the Local Government Commission having done its work, it will be necessary for the commission to produce positive reasons for no change and not just say that it is better just left alone. There will have to be positive reasons why two-tier authorities remain rather than negative reasons. This has been a useful debate and I shall report very fully to my right honourable friend.

Baroness Hamwee

Perhaps I may add a word from these Benches in support of the notion of history being a factor in the identity of communities. It is too late to embark on a discussion as to whether or not there is such a thing as a collective folk memory. I believe that there is. We feel that historical traditions and historical identities will be important to the decisions of the commission. I must also add—and I am sure that I speak for my noble friend Lord Tordoff as well—that there are cities in this country that may not have the charm of our old university and cathedral cities. Their charm may be more industrial, but historical and important nevertheless.

Lord Tordoff

Perhaps I may amplify what my noble friend said. When the commission tries to decide whether Manchester and Salford should be separate places, it will have an historic problem. I am reminded, in terms of sense of identity—this is where the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is right—that people believe that they belong to a particular area of the country. They have names for it. Mr. A.J.P. Taylor said that he was always a Lancastrian, a view that I endorse entirely. Indeed he said that when he saw the cliffs of Yorkshire falling into the North Sea and the sands of Southport stretching ever westward he had the glorious vision of Lancashire stretching from coast to coast, a view that I should like to support. There are enormous difficulties in putting labels on places and saying that one is historic and one is not, but the sense of history that people feel in themselves as citizens of an area is very important.

Baroness Blatch

Labels are important to some people. Names such as the Ridings, Pembrokeshire and Monmouthshire are important. There is the facility to resurrect traditional county boundaries or traditional boundaries with the old names in a non-administrative way. If that is what local people want, that is what local people will say to the commission. It will be for the Local Government Commission to make recommendations to my right honourable friend.

Baroness Hamwee

We may have passed the point of embarking on this subject but the reference to Monmouth and Pembroke is interesting. It has arisen in the context of the part of the Bill that does not extend to Wales and has raised some high feelings.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

I thank my noble friend Lord Beloff for his profound contribution and those noble Lords and noble Baronesses who supported the amendment. I should also like to thank my noble friend the Minister especially for her sympathetic remarks. I believe that there may be a window of opportunity here. I wonder whether it is too much to hope that there may be someone on the commission who has personal knowledge of one of our historic cities and who will, therefore, be even more sympathetic. With that hope in my heart, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

House resumed.