§ House again in Committee on Clause 13.
§ Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 159:
Page 12, line 5, at end insert:
("(c) to ensure the cost-effective exercise of local authority functions and planning and delivery of local authority services.").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 159, I wish to discuss also Amendment No. 166 which is ancillary to it.
§ Baroness Blatch
Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. I understood that Amendment No. 159 was grouped with Amendments Nos. 174 and 193.
§ Lord Teviot
My noble friend is quite right. I apologise. Amendment No. 174 is in the names of my noble friends Lord Norrie and Lady Cumberlege. Amendment No. 193 is in the name of my noble friend Lord Wade. I am delighted to take those amendments. We have talked to each other, and the summing up will be brief.
As I made clear at Second Reading, my interest in the Bill centres on two specific categories of service to the public: public transport and record offices. In her reply at the conclusion of that debate, my noble friend the Minister acknowledged the importance of strategic planning and the value and expertise of specialist local government services. However, I know that other noble Lords believe as I do that Clause 13 as drafted does not adequately reflect that importance. Other noble Lords have expressed concerns similar to mine in the context of local authorities as a whole 394 other specific services. The provisions are all right as far as they go but that is not very far. Subsection (5) (a) is designed,to reflect the identities and interests of local communitiesand is clearly essential. Likewise, subsection (5) (b) is designed,to secure effective and convenient local government".It would be hard to object to that. However, the wording is extremely vague and general and needs to be made stronger and more explicit so as to point clearly to the need for authorities to do vital things: first, to think strategically; and secondly, to secure the cost-effective delivery of specialist services.
My first concern is transport. There is now consensus—almost all shades of opinion, political and otherwise are agreed—that a new approach to transport policy is needed. It is generally accepted that we cannot provide enough road space for everyone who would like to travel by car. Wherever practical, we have to encourage people to change back to other forms of locomotion such as walking, bicycling and especially travelling by bus. That encouragement has to he provided by a whole range of measures, some at the disposal of central government but others essentially of a local character to do with traffic and parking management, land use planning and the promotion and co-ordination of public transport services. A piecemeal approach will be doomed to failure. Local measures will have to be carried out as part of a single coherent plan for the entire area in which people live, work, shop and find their recreation. To prepare such a plan there must be an authority which covers the whole of that area.
My other concern is about the archive service which in the shire areas is at present provided almost exclusively by county record offices. As I said at Second Reading, the service is used by more than 300,000 people each year for purposes of academic research, leisure interests and legal and administrative inquiries. To provide that specialised service one needs teams of highly skilled specialists which cannot be divided into smaller units without threatening their viability.
Clause 14(5) and Clause 21 provide for the creation of joint authorities and I propose to return to that subject later in the context of my Amendment No. 223. However, experience and common sense suggest that joint authorities should only be used as a last resort. As regards transport planning, coherent strategies of the kind that we now need will not be produced by disparate gatherings of representatives, each having his or her loyalty not to the whole but to the narrow advantage of his or her local unitary patch. Let us suppose that a town achieved unitary status separate from its hinterland. Such rivalries between the town and the adjoining authorities would defeat any attempt at co-ordinated policy making.
I return to the question of archives. In the archive services the experience of metropolitan areas in the wake of the abolition of the metropolitan county councils in 1985 gives a clear warning that joint authorities do not automatically give sufficient safeguards. There is little positive evidence overall to suggest that the difficulties of maintaining a 395 comprehensive service, held together only by the voluntary involvement of districts, have been balanced by positive advance and achievement.
That all points clearly to the conclusion that wherever possible unitary authorities should be large enough to discharge on their own the two functions that I mentioned. These two amendments would therefore add two new paragraphs to the provisions of Clause 13. The first one would insert a third paragraph (c) in subsection (5) requiring the Local Government Commission to have regard additionally to a third characteristic of any new local government structure; namely, that it would:ensure the cost-effective exercise of local authority functions and planning and delivery of local authority services".The second insertion would be a new subsection (7) expressly requiring the Secretary of State to take account of the criteria set out in Clause 13(5) when preparing directions and guidance for the commission under subsection (6). I beg to move.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Lord Norrie
Amendment No. 159 has the same purpose as my Amendment No. 174. My amendment seeks to ensure that recommendations for local government reform are accompanied by supporting evidence. I find it disturbing that the Bill as currently drafted does not provide for the commission to demonstrate its case when making recommendations for structural reform. If the review of local government is to enjoy widespread public acceptance, I believe that the Bill should contain clear requirements for the objective and careful examination and presentation of evidence. That will be vital if the process is to be open and seen to be open to public scrutiny and influence.
There appears to be widespread agreement that any changes to local government structure should be fully justified in terms of cost effectiveness. I believe that it will not always be possible to justify the upheaval and costs involved in structural reform. That is why I support Clause 13 of the Bill which allows for the commission to recommend no change.
The comments of my noble friend the Minister during Second Reading led me to believe that the Government would support my view. Perhaps I may remind the Committee that she said:There must be proper justification for the inevitable upheaval and costs involved in reorganisation. Any change to structure should be both worthwhile and cost-effective".—[Official Report, 18/11/91: co1.714.]However, I was disturbed by the statement made by my noble friend the Minister during the debate on Tuesday evening which suggested that the Government were approaching this matter in a different way. She said that there was now a presumption in favour of change and that the onus lay on the existing two-tier structure to provide clear reasons why reform was not necessary.
I believe that that exposes some confusion in the Government's approach. I wonder whether the Minister could clarify exactly the Government's position and say why it appears now to be biased in 396 favour of change despite the costs? I still believe that it should be the other way round. The commission should be required to demonstrate the case for change where appropriate and provide evidence to support it.
I note that in the draft Guidance to the Local Government Commission, recently issued by the Government for consultation, it is stated that:Change to the structure of local government should be worthwhile and cost-effective".I also note that the Government intend to issue specific guidance on how to assess costs and benefits.
However, this issue is so significant that I believe it would be wrong if the Local Government Commission were not under a statutory obligation to demonstrate the case for change. Certainly I should welcome detailed advice in the form of special guidance on how a proper assessment of costs and benefits might be achieved. But I do not think that it will be enough to assist the Local Government Commission and ensure that it approaches its task in a thorough and consistent manner.
I have another concern in relation to measuring the costs of change. The financial implications for local government reform are clearly important; but there are other kinds of costs which are not easily assessed in terms of monetary measures and I would include environmental costs in that category. I fear there is a risk that by concentrating on financial considerations we may ignore less quantifiable costs such as costs to the environment or in terms of quality of life. For that reason I have chosen in my amendment to refer to disbenefits rather than costs.
It would be unacceptable if, in making proposals for local government reform, questions of environmental quality and the wise use of our land resources were not taken into account by the commission. I should not like to see these matters treated less seriously by the commission just because they are more difficult to assess. My amendment would place a statutory duty on the commission to demonstrate the case for change, taking into account all relevant considerations including environmental protection. I believe that the amendment points up a serious shortcoming of the Bill as it is drafted at the moment. I urge my noble friend to consider it very carefully.
§ Lord Wade of Chorlton
I should like to support my two noble friends in their two amendments and to draw the Committee's attention to my amendment, Amendment No. 193, which is grouped with them. My amendment seeks to draw attention to the fact that the Local Government Commission cannot put forward any recommendations for structural change unless it has considered the transitional long-term financial implications of that change, and ensured that it has been calculated effectively. The commission must also be of the opinion that any additional cost is fully justified.
My noble friend Lord Norrie referred to the comments made to my noble friend the Minister during the Second Reading of the Bill. At the last reorganisation in 1974, at present day prices some £280 million was the cost of extra payments to staff, new buildings and so on. The total cost of local government just before reorganisation in 1973 stood 397 at about £9 billion and two years later it ran at £15 billion. So there is the cost to the people who pay the bills—they are not those in this Chamber or in government but the people out there; they are the people who have to pay for it all. They were confronted with extra costs of at least £3 billion as a result of the last reorganisation. The cost of local government now runs at some £40 billion per annum. Again, it is the people out there who have to pay for it all. I do not speak on behalf of the people in local government or in government or of Members of the Chamber or the other place; I speak on behalf of the people who ultimately have to pay the bill. I do not propose that no extra costs should be involved; I propose that the commission considers carefully the costs of any changes that it puts forward and justifies any increased costs that may be incurred as a result of its recommendations.
The Government have previously indicated their great worry about the ultimate costs of legislation and the changes that they propose. However, it surprises me that in this Bill they have not referred to the costs that may be involved. I believe that it is a very serious issue. We have a responsibility to all those who ultimately have to pay the bills to keep the cost to an absolute minimum. We have a responsibility to show independently that any costs to those persons are fully justified and that they receive full benefits.
It is an important issue. I expect the Minister to indicate clearly that it is the Government's intention to draw to the commission's attention that it must take those serious matters into account. If it is not possible for the Minister to do so, we may have to refer strangly to the matter at Report stage or other stages of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will give us the reassurance that we seek: that the requirement to consider costs will clearly be written into the Bill.
Perhaps I may turn first to Amendment No. 159 and address my noble friend's anxieties about cost effectiveness and the strategic issues that he raised on transport and archives. The statutory terms of reference of the commission already include a requirement to have regard to the need to secure effective and convenient local government. The terms of reference of the commission are briefly stated in the Bill. But we have set out in more detail the policy which we propose that the commission should follow in the paper on our draft guidance to the commission which we have issued to the local authority associations and other organisations for comment.
In the draft guidance we have made very clear the importance which the commission should attach to cost-effectiveness in the delivery of functions and planning and delivery of local authority services. The guidance states that the commission should have regard to the need to establish local authority areas such that the authorities can carry out their functions effectively. The guidance also says that the commission should look for a structure to achieve the most cost-effective exercise of functions and delivery of services consistent with community identities. It should consider convenience to local people, and, in the case of strategic functions, the wider public interest.
398 The guidance adds that in making its recommendations, the commission should be satisfied that functions for which a transfer of responsibility would take place can be performed in a way which is cost effective, more responsive to consumer needs and conforms with statute and national policy requirements. I do not think that one can be clearer than that.
However, it may be helpful to my noble friend if I read a short extract from the draft guidance under the section headed "Highways". It states:Planning for building and improvement of major roads needs to be coordinated for an area large enough to enable a proper balance to be struck between the interests of those in the immediate locality and wider interests. An authority which is large enough to deliver most local services may not be large enough to take this broader view, and the option of joint arrangements for some or all of highway functions may need to be carefully considered".On the question of archives, where county councils remain, the existing arrangements for archives can most certainly continue. Where they cease to exist, a number of options for archives can be considered. It is unusual, but not without precedent, for archive powers to be given to district councils under present arrangements. Therefore one option would be to extend archive powers to all unitary authorities.
I recognise that it may well be unsatisfactory for the archives to be split but it would be possible for the successor authorities to come to an agreement about voluntary joint arrangements. In the absence of an agreement, it would also be possible for the Secretary of State to impose statutory joint arrangements. A further option would be to designate one authority in an area as solely responsible for archives.
I assure noble Lords that those who are interested in the archives service will have ample opportunity to make representations both to the Local Government Commission and to the Secretary of State before decisions are taken about the restructuring of local government in any area. When considering recommendations of the Local Government Commission which might involve county councils ceasing to exist, the Secretary of State will naturally have regard to the future of the archive service among other things.
The other two amendments that we are considering seek to prevent the Local Government Commission from recommending changes to local government structure unless it can prove that the benefits of any proposed changes outweigh the disadvantages. We have always made it clear that the costs as well as the benefits of change will be a key factor in decisions about changing local government structure. I can reassure the Committee that the commission will certainly not recommend change to local government structure without a proper justification for the costs and upheaval involved. By costs, I refer not only to the transitional costs but the recurring costs of change. There is a presumption in favour of change to unitary authorities. However, that change must be justified by the commission. It must not be change for change's sake.
It may be helpful to Members of the Committee to know that the department has commissioned a firm of consultants, CSL Group Limited, to advise on this issue. It has been asked to advise on two questions: first, it was asked to advise on the appropriate costs 399 and benefits to be taken into account in assessing a structural change; and, secondly, it was asked to recommend a methodology for assessing those costs and benefits. It is expected to produce its report shortly. It is intended that the report should be used as a basis for providing guidance to the commission on those issues. We intend to consult the local authority associations on such guidance in due course.
I believe that in the end we must trust the Local Government Commission to be an effective guardian of local government. If I detect a hesitation in that regard on the part of my noble friends, I hope that what I have said will reassure them sufficiently to enable them to withdraw the amendments.
§ Lord Desai
I am interested to know that the Government have asked a group of consultants to advise on the issue. A formidable problem is posed by the amendments. The spirit of the amendments is entirely correct: that as we propose changes we must be careful that they are cost effective. That is a good general principle. However, I worry about the requirements of the amendment referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, and other noble Lords, on the transitional and long-term financial implications of the change. I speak as an academic. It may be impossible to know the long-term financial implications of a change until long after that change has been made. Let us take our minds away from local government. Let us consider the costs and benefits of having joined the European Community. Twenty years later we still do not know whether or not the long-term costs and benefits of that change justify it.
I understand a demand for prudence. One ought not to undertake vast changes which are costly and which cause many problems. I refer to the reforms of the 1970s.
§ Lord Wade of Chorlton
I appreciate what the noble Lord says. However, it is not unusual in business for people to make long-term plans. The implications of their decisions may run for 10 years. Many people in various aspects of business have to make those long-term decisions. The implications of those decisions may be affected not only by the actions of governments but also, as the noble Lord so rightly says, by the European Commission. I do not think that it would be unreasonable to ask an organisation with the resources of the commission which will be considering the long-term impact of local government to look well ahead.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
I can see the desire for prudence and forethought behind this clutch of amendments. However, being somewhat new to the game I am not sure how much they bind the commission to do things that it cannot be expected to do, even with the best of knowledge. I still am not sure whether we should saddle the commission with such provisions, or perhaps at a later stage review what it has done. The nature of the problem makes it difficult to predict the changes. The changes in local government structure in the 1970s were, with the best of intentions, 400 enormously expensive. No one could have foreseen that inflation would double within two years of the proposed changes.
The commission should be allowed to do certain things, bearing in mind those considerations, but it should not be compelled to provide, as is set out in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie:clear and demonstrable evidence that the benefits of such change outweigh the disbenefits".I am not sure of any economics that can comply with that proposal. We pretend that they do but we could not send the matter to a court of law as proof.
§ Lord Teviot
This has been an interesting debate. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, made academic and erudite points, although I do not say that I absolutely agree with him. My noble friend Lord Howe referred to highway services. I was talking about public transport services but I shall read carefully what he said. His comments about the archives sound more encouraging. Again I shall consider what he said.
My noble friend Lord Wade said that this group of amendments relates to costs. He raised the valid point that in 1974 the costs to the Labour Government rose from £9 billion to £14 billion. I was a member of this Chamber at that time and I remember that it sat for hours discussing the Bill relating to reorganisation. The intention of that reorganisation was to slash costs by putting the small authorities together. It is appalling but costs rise when there is reorganisation. It also happened in 1971 as a result of decimalisation because every shopkeeper put up his prices. The whole thing was frightful! Because of the late hour I shall thank Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 160 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ [Amendments Nos. 161 and 162 not moved.]
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 163:
Page 12, line 5, at end insert:
("(c) to provide for the consideration of strategic issues at regional level.").
§ The noble Baroness said: The amendment is tabled not to create regional assemblies but to ensure that when those regional assemblies are created the work done by the Local Government Commission will not have to be unpicked because no consideration was given to the regional and strategic dimension. The Audit Commission notes precisely that. Perhaps I may go back a stage and ask, what do we mean by a region? I remember listening to a debate on the arts in this House. A Peer from London who was well informed about the arts talked about the need to maintain the great metropolitan flagships, such as the opera houses, in contrast with those in the provinces. That sounded as though the rest of England was a hinterland of home counties to Greater London and that there was an undifferentiated twilight world out there. The suggestion rather appalled me. Obviously, regions are where the natural features of geography interlock with patterns of culture, identity and settlement in order to create a regional distinctiveness. Obviously, some 401 areas are more marked than others; for instance, the South West, East Anglia, the North, Scotland and Wales. However, regional identity exists in most parts of the country. I firmly believe that within the next decade or so we shall see regional assemblies.
§ Why is that, and why should the Local Government Commission bear that in mind in terms of its structural review? There are four broad reasons. The first is to reverse the unhealthy centralisation of the past 13 years. A regional tier of government would allow us to bring down functions from central government; that is, DTI functions, regional grants, employment training, many transport functions and regional development. Those functions are already run at government level. We are not here to invent regional government but to democratise the regional government that already exists.
§ Secondly, such a body would take sideways the functions of many quangos. The last count I made in East Anglia showed that there were 26 such quangos spending public money but accountable to no one. They dealt with tourism, sports, the arts, water and the aspects of health. I wish to emphasise that we are not talking about inventing regional government—we have it at DoE level and at quango level—but we are looking for a devolved tier of central government.
§ Thirdly, I suggest that a few functions would appropriately come up from the county councils. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, is not in the Chamber. That refers back to an earlier debate about the need to maintain a strategic dimension in, for instance, planning and transportation. They are the kind of functions that the old economic planning councils carried out until they were abolished in the name of economy. However, they had promptly to be re-invented by local government and as we all gave ourselves attendance allowances the costs rose immediately. As a result we have SCEALA in East Anglia, SERPLAN in the South East, the Northern Region Councils Association, the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Association and so forth.
§ Why are such bodies necessary? One has only to look at some of the issues that have been concerning planning. DoE and your Lordships' House during the past year. We have considered issues such as the impact of the M.25, the planning of the Channel Tunnel, the east Thames corridor proposals of the Secretary of State, the effects of the East Coast Motorway, and the management of national parks and green belts. English Nature, English Heritage and the national parks would more effectively be co-ordinated with a regional structure of government than they can be at the moment.
§ In addition, another function might relate to the police. Already 21 shire counties are in joint regional bodies. We may wish to integrate employment training initiatives with further and higher education on a regional basis. I repeat, regions are not meant to be super county councils; they are meant to be a decentralised tier of local government democratising central government and the quangos that we already have at regional level. It is the case that for strategic purposes county councils are too small. I hope that the 402 examples I have given of strategic planning and economic development will persuade Members of the Committee.
There is a fourth reason. Why attach it now to this report when we are asking the Local Government Commission to take on board a range of considerations in developing the future of local government structure? It is because we are moving into Europe and into a Europe of regions. In the past decade almost every European country has devolved powers from the centre down to regional governments and regional structures; for instance, in Scandinavia, Italy, Portugal, Spain and even France. Those regions are the building blocks of the new Europe. Much EC money is going not to national or to federal governments but direct to regional governments. Without such regional bodies Britain is disadvantaged. The Audit Commission stated at paragraph 8 of its response to the Government's consultation paper:
There are signs that the absence of fora in which local authorities can come together to represent the interests of their broader regions is beginning to disadvantage United Kingdom local government in its representations to the European Commission in the use of structural funds. It is argued by many in Brussels that the EC will increasingly deal directly with regional authorities and member states on regional policy in particular. In most member states regional governments are growing in importance and seeking to strengthen their own links with European institutions".
The Audit Commission also states that it notes the absence of any discussion of the regional or European dimension and that is an absence that it regrets.
§ It is worth reminding ourselves that 40 per cent. of Europe's declining regions are in Britain and that one-third of our population lives there. Only in the South East is the European average for GDP exceeded and even then only on a par with West Germany's lowest performing region.
§ Without regional assemblies and, therefore, without a Local Government Commission considering the regional strategic issue, we cannot properly influence European regional policies. Instead, Britain is funding the regional development initiatives of other countries because we do not have effective regions of our own. That is a redistribution of wealth for which I do not care.
§ This amendment does not propose regional assemblies. It asks that the regional dimension be considered by the Local Government Commission so that future regional structures are not precluded or alternatively that the work of the Local Government Commission is not, in future, unpicked. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Hamwee
I support the amendment. Members of the Committee will expect me to support it since it has been the policy of my party to support regional government—it is what people in the regions seem to want—for as long as I have been a member of it.
We shall certainly wish to see powers brought down from Whitehall to the regions. There is no suggestion in the report that powers should be taken up from local authorities. Again, it is a question of government at the most local level possible but with a consideration for regional issues.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Baroness White
I had hoped that I should be listening to my noble friend Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, who has had considerable experience of local government in the Principality and has been a leading member of the South Glamorgan County Council for many years. Unfortunately a few hours ago I was informed that he is not able to be here this evening so I feel that I must say something about the situation in Wales.
I am fully conscious that the Bill before us refers only to England. However, it is important that Members on all sides of the Committee should recognise that in Wales we are currently undergoing a process which may lead to a drastic revision of local government. That is being done without the benefit of statute; in other words, we have no Bill to discuss. Therefore, it appears to me not improper to ask Members of the Committee to consider some of the problems in Wales.
There has been considerable anxiety that while England is to have a Local Government Commission, there is no such arrangement for the Principality. I have here a lengthy list with which I shall not weary the Committee of public bodies of one sort or another, voluntary or statutory, in Wales which are on record as either regretting that there is no Local Government Commission or demanding that there should be one. I suppose that NALGO might have been expected to make such a demand but I have here quotations from the County Surveyors Society, the Chief Fire Officers' Association, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the National Trust, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, the Town and Country Planning Association—I refer to branches in the Principality—the County Planning Officers Association, the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association, the National Association of School Masters/Union of Women Teachers, the Society of Education Officers and so on. They are all concerned that while there is a considerable opportunity for putting in written representations to the Secretary of State for Wales, there is no comparable independent body to examine matters and to assist the Welsh Office to reach conclusions.
Having listened to the debate today and having either listened to or read the debates earlier in the week, I am not sure that the initial indignation in the Principality is entirely justified. I am not convinced that we should wish to be associated with the sort of travelling circus which has been described by the Minister. Nor should we wish to endure between three and five years of uncertainty before knowing what is to be the definitive pattern. I am less enthusiastic about having a separate commission for Wales having listened to what is proposed for our big neighbour.
However, the fact remains that many of us are anxious about the pattern of single tier authorities. A good deal of argument is taking place between the districts on the one hand and the counties on the other. I do not wish to enter into that. It would not be germane to our discussions this evening. However, many of us are seriously anxious about the matter touched upon in my noble friend's amendment. As far 404 as I am aware, there have been only the most casual references by the Welsh Office to the strategic issues which should not necessarily be the sole responsibility of whatever is the final pattern of subsidiary authorities, county or district, single tier or two tier. There are strategic issues and it is important that we should know how it is proposed to handle them.
At present, so far as I have been able to discover, there is no substantive suggestion as to what body or in what manner strategic issues should be handled. My own view is that it will not be satisfactory if the Welsh Office is the only strategic planning instrument in the Principality. We need something more public. The Welsh Office may believe that it can deal with all the strategic issues. It follows that to some extent those matters will be dealt with behind closed doors. The Minister is now shaking her head. If she knows more about it than most of us do, we should be delighted if she would enlighten us as to what the Welsh Office is thinking at the strategic level, which has been the subject of discussion on various amendments this evening. That should not just be the purview of the Welsh Office in Cardiff. It should be open to more open discussion, information and consideration.
I do not wish to weary the Committee further with our Welsh problems. However, it is only right that Wales should be discussed when considering the new pattern. After all, we have a fairly close neighbour with whom we have shared a pattern of local government for quite a long time. If our local government is to be dealt with on a different basis from the pattern in England, then there should be more than a collection of individual or corporate opinions. As we are not having any legislation of our own, it is only right that we should use this opportunity to find out anything we can from informed government circles.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
I find it difficult to listen to arguments from the same people on the one hand for unitary authorities and on the other for a new local government tier in terms of the regions. That may not be what the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is seeking, but I know that it is the policy of her neighbours to her right.
§ Baroness Hamwee
I am not sure if the noble Lord is suggesting that it is the policy of the Liberal Democrats that there should be unitary authorities and nothing but unitary authorities. I hope that I made it clear earlier that we believe that the solutions should come from the local communities. That may mean unitary authorities, but it may mean not only unitary authorities.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
I take the point, but that does not alter the fact that one of the interesting points to come out of the earlier discussion in the debate was that the new authorities, whatever they should be, will take on the existing functions of local government. As I understand it, the proposed new tier will be for new functions devolved from Whitehall. If so, this is not the Bill to deal with that.
Amendment No. 163 extends the commission's terms of reference to require it to have 405 regard to the need to provide for the consideration of strategic issues at regional level. To a considerable extent I covered the wider point of principle when I replied to my noble friend Lord Teviot.
The Local Government Commission's role is to make recommendations for changes to local government structure, boundaries and electoral arrangements. The Government's position on regional local government is clear. We have no plans to establish a regional tier of local government. Nor do we believe that there is any evidence that people want it. That applies also to Wales. We want to simplify and streamline the arrangements; we do not want to create an extra layer of bureaucracy which would be a waste of taxpayers' money.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, spoke of devolved central government. Arrangements already exist for considering strategic issues at regional level. Many central government functions are administered regionally through government departments' regional offices. In the South-East and East Anglia my right honourable friend the Secretary of State issues regional planning guidance prepared in consultation with local authorities. That provides the regional context for land use and development planning. Progress is now being made towards establishing regional planning guidance in all regions.
Turning to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady White, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales prepared a blueprint for Wales—as she rightly said —which contains a range of options for local government in Wales. That was prepared after the widest possible consultation. Although that range of options does not include regional government, it provides for no loss of existing functions and in particular for the strategic functions of local government. At this stage it would be inappropriate for me to go any further on that matter.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, mentioned SCEALA and SERPLAN. I know that my noble friend the Minister served on SCEALA for some time, as did the noble Baroness. Those are regional informal bodies which come together to discuss strategic matters. SCEALA is the Standing Conference for East Anglian Local Authorities and SERPLAN covers London and the South-East. Others exist which cover regional areas and they work extremely well. There is no reason for those informal co-operative arrangements not to continue. The difference between us is that the noble Baroness would give those bodies statutory status whereas we believe that informal arrangements work just as well if not better.
I should like to repeat what my noble friend the Minister said a little earlier in the debate. We do not want to weaken the provision of strategic functions. We made it clear that before any unitary authorities are established it will have to be shown that strategic functions are satisfactorily covered. Draft guidance to the Local Government Commission says that,The Commission should be satisfied that functions for which a transfer of responsibility would take place can be performed in a way which is cost-effective, more responsive to consumer needs and conforms with statute and national policy requirements".406 It should consider convenience to local people and in the case of strategic functions, the wider public interest. The commission will be directed to have regard to the guidance and there is therefore no possibility that strategic functions will not be properly provided for.
That means that the commission will concern itself with effective delivery of all local government functions including the strategic functions. It may be worthwhile for me to read out a sample of the draft guidance on the subject of land use planning. It says:In exercising their development plan and development control functions, local authorities are acting in the interests not solely of the community they serve directly, but of the wider public. Development plans … need to be prepared for an area large enough to enable the authority or authorities concerned to take a broad and objective view on the distribution and location of development and areas of restraint".
That is clear and I hope reassuring. It is not appropriate for the Local Government Commission to have a role in considering regional arrangements for strategic issues. I hope that the noble Baroness will understand why we feel that that is so and not press her amendment.
§ Baroness Hamwee
Perhaps the noble Earl will give way. I speak as someone who serves on SERPLAN and was chairman of the members' policy group for a short while. In my view and that of many of my colleagues—I intend no disrespect to the noble Earl, Lord Caernarvon, who serves as chairman—SERPLAN is not a satisfactory means of regional planning. The Minister explained that we have regional planning by central government through the regional offices of the Department of the Environment. It is precisely that to which we are objecting. I hope that the noble Baroness, if she feels that she cannot take the matter further tonight, will feel that it is something to which we can return at a later stage.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
I thank all the Members of the Committee and especially the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for their contributions. At this stage Amendment No. 163 was meant to be a probing amendment. However, we must recognise that it concerns a major issue identified as such by the Audit Commission. It should be considered and has not been considered in the consultative paper.
The gap of understanding between us was reflected in the Minister's response when he said that he did not support and did not believe that there was public support for what he described as, "regional local government". I obviously failed to clarify the points that I tried to make when introducing the amendment. On this side we were at pains to emphasise that it is not meant to be regional local government—a super county council. There perhaps may and should be a few issues such as strategic planning that will need to come up from county councils or be dealt with by county councils coming together to form informal regional bodies. For example, the debate on the link from the Channel Tunnel into the heart of London is one such issue where a regional forum is needed. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is right 407 that such informal bodies trying to work to regional strategic guidance do not give us effective democratic leverage over regional planning decisions.
The major functions that we are seeking are decentralised functions from central government and the sideways functions of quangos. There is no doubt that at the moment we are being marginalised, centralised and impoverished in this country at regional level all at the same time. We are badly ill-equipped and singularly unpoised to enter a Europe of regions. For all those reasons—to decentralise power from Westminster, to bring power from quangos into democratic accountability and to produce a forum with accountability in order to debate strategic issues (green issues, transportation, planning and the like)—we will need regions. Above all we will need them because we are entering Europe.
As I said, this is a probing amendment and I shall withdraw it. But we must return to it. If the Local Government Commission so narrows its perspective in its terms of reference that it fails to take such considerations on board, then in good faith I fear that many of us in the future, in some body or another, will be seeking to unpick its work and reconstruct some of the principles of local government and central government.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment but with the Committee's permission I shall return to it at a later stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 164 to 167 not moved.]
§ Clause 13 agreed to.
§ Clause 14 [Changes that may be recommended]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 168 to 170 not moved.]
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Norrie moved Amendment No. 171:
§ Page 12, line 14, at end insert ("or the reallocation of functions between the two principal tiers of local government.").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to widen the definition of structural change provided by the Bill. At present Clause 14 only allows for the abolition of one tier or the other. I believe that that is too inflexible. My amendment would make it possible for the Local Government Commission to consider the range of functions of local authorities and, if it can be shown to be in the interests of more effective local government, recommend that responsibility for certain of these functions be transferred from one tier to the other, while retaining two tiers.
§ As I said at Second Reading, I am not convinced that the case for wholesale reform of local government has been made across the country. I therefore welcome the fact that the commission can recommend no change to local government structure if existing arrangements are found to be working well. Despite that, I accept that there may be instances where a degree of structural change may be right. However, I do not believe that that will necessarily always involve the replacement of two tiers of local government with a single tier.408
§ There are superficial attractions in going for a simple unitary structure, but I believe that that may overlook some of the more subtle changes that could be made. My amendment provides for this more subtle approach. It allows for the retention of a two-tier structure where it has been shown to have advantages in relation to certain services, but would allow for the redistribution of responsibility for the other services between the tiers. For example, some of our historic cities may be large enough to carry responsibility for more local services than is currently the case. As county boroughs before reorganisation in 1974, many were responsible for a wide range of services. Today the case for integrating housing and social services into one authority at the level of the cities may be particularly strong. But I do not believe that strategic services, particularly strategic planning for development, transport and protection of the environment, can be effectively carried out by the cities alone.
§ Indeed, before the 1974 reorganisation the inability of any one authority to take an overview for the purposes of strategic planning was identified as one of the major faults of the old county councils and the county borough system. As a result, if some of the cities were to regain a status similar to the old county boroughs, I believe that it would generally be right for strategic planning services to remain the responsibility of the county councils. I believe that that possibility is still being explored in some areas.
§ My amendment would make it possible for the commission to consider the redistribution of functions along these lines as a form of structural change. This might well be the most appropriate and beneficial change where the current two-tier system appears to be working well for strategic services. I would not like the Local Government Commission to be precluded from recommending more subtle changes such as this simply because the Bill does not provide for it. I urge my noble friend to consider the possibility that I have outlined very carefully. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Hamwee
I support the thrust of the noble Lord's amendment and speak in particular to Amendment No. 173 which is grouped with it. I tabled that amendment because I felt that it was important to address at this stage, though not at huge length, how far functions should underpin structure. That was a point which was touched on earlier this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, who indicated that he felt that it was something that we had to get our brains around.
I am aware of the view that functions should be disregarded and that decisions should be based on the community as it is defined and analysed by the commission and that we should first look at what the community is and not at what are the functions that are to be carried out. I believe that both community and functions need to be considered. I believe that the community is probably paramount. As local government becomes more of an enabler and less of a direct provider, in a way it is easier to disregard functions. For example things like economies of scale and arrangements for buying-in of services can be 409 dealt with fairly conveniently by authorities grouping themselves together through voluntary joint arrangements—and I stress "voluntary".
I recognise that with developments such as the local management of schools and new ways in which old people's homes are dealt with—I am not attempting to embark on a debate as to the merits or demerits of some of these services—some of them can be contracted out. On these Benches we do not have a philosophical refusal to contract out; we just object to it being compulsory. We would not want to see contracting out dictating the structure of local government.
The underlying question is how the service is best delivered. Inevitably we return to points made earlier today. Some services are undoubtedly strategic: they are large-scale. I refer to planning, transportation, the police and fire services and waste disposal. I do not believe that at this time of night it is appropriate to explain why those are strategic services. One either understands that they are or one does not. Perhaps we can have a word afterwards. It would take a very long time to start from the beginning.
We also have to face up to the difficulties of sometimes having to take decisions at a very local level. The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, referred to that. Her example was a municipal tip. The example that I intended to give concerned who would take a decision about a gypsy site, which is the same kind of problem. Those are important matters on which decisions have to be taken. However, they are decisions from which local councillors tend to run away because they cannot look to the broader horizon. In this amendment I am not making an argument for an overloaded top tier. I am not necessarily making an argument for the counties, because I believe—though it appears that others do not—that regional government may fulfil the functions. Equally, functions may be best discharged at parish level. By asking that the commission addresses itself to functions, I am not putting forward a particular design, I am simply asking that question—to look at functions along with community interests and identities.
I come back to asking that the commission looks at what is appropriately done and at which level. I support this raft of amendments.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
We on this side of the House support these amendments. We are firmly committed to the view that unitary authorities, based wherever possible on existing district councils, are the right way forward. However, where that may not prove to be the right way forward, we think that the Local Government Commission should have the ability to recommend a revision of the allocation of functions. Social services and housing is one, but there may also be others. Youth and community work is another natural pairing. It would be useful to be able to employ the reserve power. For the reason that this would give us extra flexibility and the capacity to deal with individual circumstances of particular areas on a local basis, we support the amendments.
§ Lord Feversham
I see that in this group of amendments we have Amendment No. 216, which is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, which broadly shares the thrust of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, to try and enable the commission to deal with functions and reallocate functions. I agree with almost everything he and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said.
I do not want to spend a great deal of time talking about Amendment No. 216 with this grouping. The amendment is in support of Amendment No. 192 to which I shall be drawing the Committee's attention later when I may go to town a little more. That is also concerned with the question of functions. The business of functions was raised earlier by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and I suspect we shall all get the same answer to this raft of amendments in the grouping; they will be dealt with, and it is the best way to deal with them under the guidance of the Local Government Commission for England which the Minister's department has produced.
§ Baroness Blatch
Amendments Nos. 171, 173 and 185 provide a useful opportunity for me to clarify the powers of the commission. Noble Lords have made it clear that they want to see the new commission able to make recommendations about changes to the functions of local government.
I can reassure the noble Lords that such recommendations are a key part of the role which we shall be asking the commission to play, It will be central to the commission's work to look at the functions carried out by local authorities in the areas which it reviews, and to make recommendations about how they should be discharged where it recommends unitary authorities.
That again very specifically answers a question which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, about whether it is function-led or structure-led. It is important to look at functions and then determine which is the best shape of authority; and if we are going for unitary authorities, how they can best be met by a particular authority.
It is very interesting how many district councils and county councils across the country, possibly for the first time for a very long time, are now looking at their parish councils with a rather different eye. There is some very healthy debate going on now between tiers of local government.
In the draft guidance to the commission which we issued for consultation last week, we set out the broad policy considerations to which the commission should have regard in looking at the structure of local government in each area it reviews. The draft also contains some advice on the general issues to be taken into account when the commission is considering effective, efficient and convenient performance of specific functions.
However, the amendment tabled by the noble Lords would also have the effect of making it possible for the commission to recommend that there should be changes to the functions of local authorities as between the tiers. We do not wish to see the commission recommending piecemeal changes to the 411 functions of local government. This would blur accountability and create confusion in the public awareness of each tier's responsibilities.
In speaking to her amendments, the noble Baroness said—I think I am quoting her correctly—that as local authorities become enablers, they will possibly lose sight of functions. I do not agree with her. Instead of concentrating on—
§ Baroness Hamwee
Perhaps I can shorten this by saying that as the local authorities become enablers, they are able to take advantage of voluntary joint arrangements with economies of scale in the buying-in of services. I am going in the direction that the Minister would want me to go at this point.
§ Baroness Blatch
That is a relief! I was saying that I think it actually frees energies. Instead of concentrating energies on being direct providers, they can actually use that energy in identifying client groups, assessing need, determining priorities and then securing provision in a range of ways—making contracts with voluntary sector, private sector and occasionally providing it themselves.
Amendments Nos. 185 and 186 taken together seek to give the commission the power to recommend the establishment of new authorities for any counties or districts, not just new areas created by boundary changes recommended by the commission. Amendment No. 214 would extend the definition of the areas for which the Secretary of State may establish new authorities to include any area, not just counties or districts. This would allow the establishment of a local authority for a region or Greater London, on which we have already had an interesting debate and on which the Committee knows the views of the Government.
We are committed to a move to unitary authorities in those areas which do not already enjoy the benefits of clearer accountability and streamlined bureaucracy which a single tier of local government brings.
We do not want to create further confusion as to which council does what. I urge the Committee to reject the amendment.
§ Lord Norrie
I am grateful to the Minister for her lengthy reply. So far as concerns Amendment No. 171, I would not want the Local Government Commission to be prevented by a lack of flexibility in the Bill from recommending what is in the best interests of local government. I shall consider how best to pursue the matter and may well wish to return to it at a later date.
§ I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 172 to 179 not moved.]
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 179A:
§ Page 12, line 42, at beginning insert ("above or").
§ The noble Baroness said: The effect of this amendment, so I am assured by the Public Bill Office which altered my words and I am sure has improved them, is to enable the Local Government Commission 412 in its consideration of potential boundary changes to recommend the extension of boundaries beyond the current seaward limit.
§ I am asking the Committee to spend a moment on this amendment because of environmental and ecological considerations which I am sure will find favour with many Members of the Committee. The Local Government Act 1972 specifies that boundaries end at the low-water mark. In most cases local authority functions end at the median low-water mark. That means that there is an artificial split in some functions between the sea and the land—physical planning and land use planning. I understand that there are at least 33 different agencies with responsibilities and powers relating to the coastal zone.
§ One specific problem area which this matter has shown up is coastal marine nature conservation. The Nature Conservancy Council and its successor bodies have a duty to identify and designate sites of special scientific interest, but these can be designated only within local government areas—that is usually the median low-water mark. Coastal areas of scientific and environmental importance which lie outside local authority boundaries remain unprotected. Currently, the Government, by practice, require areas to be designated as SSSIs before they can be declared special protection areas. That is for the purpose of protecting sensitive species of birds. SSSI designation can only take place up to the seaward boundary of local authorities. Birds remain unprotected as a result of this confusion. I hope that I am not confusing the Committee further by the way I have explained the problem. Under the current arrangements there is a risk that as a country we shall fail to meet international conservation obligations quite apart from meeting moral, ethical and environmental ones.
§ I appreciate that this is a somewhat technical matter and I should be very happy after the debate to pass my notes to the Minister. I would not expect a detailed reply off-the-cuff on something of this kind, though having heard how she has dealt with other technical matters perhaps it would not entirely surprise me. I ask the Committee seriously to consider the environmental considerations that apply when we are considering just where a local authority boundary ends when it is at the coast. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mancroft
On the detail of the environmental point, am I not right in supposing that any birds, wildlife or plantlife are protected by the wildlife legislation regardless of whether they are within or without local government boundaries? I do not understand quite how that would make a difference.
§ Baroness Hamwee
It also surprised me. However, it appears that before SSSIs can be designated one has to refer to what the local authority boundaries are. It is a problem within that area. It seems that the definitions are not quite in synchronisation.
§ Baroness Blatch
If I am lucky enough to convince the noble Baroness, I promise Members of the Committee that it will not be because of my prowess in these matters. Clause 14 specifically mentions the 413 area below the high-water mark to avoid doubt. I believe the very fact that it is there to avoid doubt has probably caused the confusion. The area of a local authority already covers the area above the high-water mark. The clause specifies that the local authority area extends below the high-water mark for the avoidance of doubt.
Clause 14 provides for the Local Government Commission to recommend changes to the boundaries of local government areas. Subsection (3) makes it clear that the commission may recommend changes to areas, including the area which lies below the high-water mark of medium tides which, as the noble Baroness said, is an average over the year.
It is common law tradition that counties extend to the high-water mark, but boundary orders and local Acts may provide for them to extend beyond that point. I am also advised that the seashore between high-water mark and low-water mark prima facie belongs to the Crown.
The amendment seeks to specify that a local authority's area includes the area above the high-water mark. We believe that that is unnecessary as there can be no doubt that the area of a local authority includes the area above the high-water mark. In the light of that unbelievably clear explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness White
Before the noble Baroness does so, can we have an assurance from the Minister that, as regards Clause 14(3) (a), we are prohibited in Wales from extending any of our local government areas into England?
§ Baroness Blatch
Game, set and match on that one. I have taken note of the noble Baroness's question and shall write to her on the matter.
§ Baroness Hamwee
I thank the Minister for her reply. In expressing my gratitude, I must also say that I am sure her words will be read with interest by those who know far more about the subject than I do. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 180:
§ Page 13, line 15, leave out ("or without").
§ The noble Baroness said: The amendment now before the Committee is the first of a number which refer to parishes. It would allow the redistribution of a parish area among other parishes but would preclude the loss of parish functions. That is, I believe, the best way of expressing its intent. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain why a parish should be abolished without it being distributed among other parishes.
§ I know that other Members of the Committee wish to speak tonight about the value of parishes, as was the case on Second Reading. Therefore, it would perhaps be appropriate for me to allow them to speak for themselves. I do not wish to pre-empt what they have to say. However, I wish to associate my noble friends on these Benches with my expression of gratitude and admiration for the work carried out by our parish councillors. I should also like to endorse 414 the wish for more parishes, more parish councils and more work done at the very lowest level with the best contact among councillors, residents and other interested people. I beg to move.
§ Lord Feversham
I thought for a moment that it was my great good fortune that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, had lost her notes, and I was going to be able to spring up and do the whole thing with my Amendment No. 181; hut, no, alas! she found her notes and was soon into her stride, and so I am left with not a great deal to say.
Amendment No. 181 seeks to deal with what we believe is an omission from the Bill. Amendment No.180 seeks to ensure that where parishes are abolished the areas must be distributed among other parishes. I am happy to support that amendment, especially after dinner and out of gallantry because the noble Baroness lost her notes, and for a variety of other reasons. However, I suspect that that amendment may be wishful thinking and it may be difficult to achieve the results for which she hopes, whereas I hope that the Minister will feel that Amendment No. 181 is workable and should be incorporated into the Bill.
The amendment does not seek to alter the existing thrust of the Bill or in any way to challenge the intentions which are enshrined in it. Amendment No.181 relates to a possibility for which the Bill should cater and does not at present. Clause 14(3) (g) provides for an abolished parish to have its area distributed among other parishes or for there to be no such distribution, which means that the area becomes unparished. There is a third possible permutation for which Amendment No. 181 provides: that some areas of the parish are distributed among other parishes and some become unparished. I hope that the Committee is still following me at this late hour. That might be appropriate where the parish had included an area contiguous to an existing unparished area and areas fit to be attached to neighbouring parishes. I commend the amendment to the Committee in the belief that it removes from the Bill any element of doubt as to how the matter could be most usefully dealt with by the commission.
I see that the amendment is grouped with other amendments, to which the movers will probably want to speak. Two of them are in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and are to do with neighbourhoods. While I am on my feet I will, as it were, offer him my support in advance, because I feel sure that we should have parish councils wherever we possibly can have them. I am less clear about whether they should be called neighbourhood councils. We have parishes, local councils, and various bodies with all kinds of confusing nomenclature. They are basically what we used to think of as parish councils. I am not sure whether we should also have neighbourhood councils. The general principle that we should have neighbourhood councils, local councils, parish councils or what we will, wherever we can have them, is a good one.
I see that the amendment is also grouped with an amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which I do not think she mentioned, and which is to do with charter trustees. At this late hour, 415 with the grey matter getting greyer as it does after eight or nine hours under the Chamber's lighting system, I have difficulty understanding that amendment. The noble Baroness might like to explain it to us at some point.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
It might be helpful if I spoke briefly to Amendments Nos. 182 and 191 which are in my name. First, I give my support to the amendments which have already been spoken to. I also welcome the provision under subsection (3) (f) of the clause which provides forthe constitution of a new parish by—(i) the establishment as a parish of any area which is not a parish or part of one".We in the Association for Neighbourhood Councils have for many years been arguing that the lack of the possibility of attaining parish status, uniquely in the cities of England, was an injustice that should be remedied. The earlier local government legislation provided for the possibility of a parish review directed by the boundary commission but it has been notoriously unsuccessful. Few parishes have been created by that means which was long drawn out and liable to he misinterpreted by the district councils which had to approve before an application was made to the boundary commission. So we have always urged that the right which rural areas in England have through parish councils and which Scotland and Wales have through community councils, should be extended to the cities of England.
Some years ago I introduced a Bill called the Urban Parishes Bill. It passed its stages in this House and it would have achieved that objective. At the outset it attracted ferocious opposition from the Government, but as the argument proceeded the opposition somewhat diminished. I am pleased to see that the Bill as drafted now includes provision for new areas to be parished.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, that the difference between parishes and neighbourhoods is not all that important, but it seems more natural in cities and towns to talk of neighbourhoods. That is the word people use. I used the word "parish" in the Urban Parishes Bill because that is what was open to me. That is what the Government have done and I suppose we can live with it. It is a little unrealistic in inner city areas to talk of parishes—I will give way to the noble Lord in a moment—just as I have always thought it strange that the Church of England had rural deans operating in the centres of our cities.
§ Lord Feversham
I hope the noble Lord will not drag the Church of England into this debate or we shall he here all night. It does not matter whether we call them "neighbourhoods" or "parishes". I am happy to call them all "neighbourhoods". It is a little American, perhaps, but they should all eventually be called by the same name.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I think that in the end we are in agreement. I was not going to move Amendments Nos. 182 and 191. I am confirmed by the agreement between us and with the drafting of the Bill in my intention not to move those amendments.
§ Baroness Blatch
Under Clause 14 the new commission will have the power to recommend the abolition of a parish with or without its area being distributed among other parishes. This mirrors a power which the Local Government Boundary Commission has at present.
The Bill as drafted gives the commission flexibility to look at the arrangements for parishes and make recommendations that parishes should be abolished with or without their areas being distributed among other parishes. There may be cases, following a review of parishes, where it is sensible for a parish to be abolished without part of its area being redistributed among other parishes. The commission could only recommend this after a review during which local people and other interested parties would have the opportunity to put forward their views. There is nothing sinister about this provision; it is merely intended to give the commission flexibility.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
Perhaps the Minister will excuse me, but what she has just said is in conflict with what the Bill says. She said that it was possible to imagine a situation where a parish was abolished without the redistribution of "part of its area". That is exactly what is missing from the Bill and why these two amendments have been moved.
§ Baroness Blatch
I am going back over what I said to the noble Lord so that I can confirm what I am advised by those who know about these matters. There may be cases, following a review of parishes, where it is sensible for a parish to be abolished without part of its area being redistributed.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
That is the critical point: "part of its area". That is the phrase missing from the Bill and it is why the Minister's speech is in conflict with the wording of the Bill.
§ Baroness Blatch
If there is a technical hitch in my response to the noble Lord, then of course I shall put it right at Report stage.
Amendment No. 218 would mean that the Secretary of State would be required to confer parish status on any area for which charter trustees had previously been constituted. No one has specifically mentioned charter trustees, but I take "neighbourhood councils", "charter trustees" and "parishes" in the same group of amendments. Under the provisions of Clause 17, where charter trustees have been constituted under the Local Government Act 1972 for an area which is altered under this clause, the Secretary of State may make such provisions as to charter trustees as he thinks appropriate.
The charter trustees for a town are the bodies that are the guardians of the charter and civic regalia for the town. This amendment would remove the discretion of the Secretary of State under Clause 17 to 417 make provision as he sees appropriate for charter trustees. His discretion under the Bill as drafted is wide enough to cover the creation of parishes for these areas. At this stage we cannot anticipate the views of local people living in areas which have charter trustees. There will he plenty of opportunity for local people to make their views known when the commission carries out the reviews.
In some areas local people may want to tell the commission that they would like a parish council. In other areas people may favour different arrangements. We should expect the commission to take account of those views in its recommendations to the Secretary of State about what should happen in each area it reviews. We do not want to rule out options at this stage. Having said that, I wish to reassure the Committee—as in debate on earlier amendments—that we recognise the importance that people attach to parishes. I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in paying tribute to the work done by parish councils.
Our consultation paper on local government structure earlier this year generated a good deal of interest in the role of parish councils. We have received the results of the survey carried out by the University of Aston on the role of local councils. Aston University is preparing a final report which we shall publish in the new year. We believe that parishes merit further consideration—I have said this a number of times—in their own right. We shall consider whether to produce a further consultation paper on their role and functions.
I understand that both district and county councils are looking carefully at the role that parishes might play in a new world of unitary authorities. Any proposals that we may have for the future role of parish councils will need to be discussed with local goverment representatives. Our discussions will be informed by the results of the hive of activity that is taking place at the moment in that field.
Amendments Nos. 182 and 191 concern neighbourhood councils. "Neighbourhood" is a vague term and is not defined in statute. We are aware that many local authorities have taken steps to decentralise the management of services and to provide for local community input into their work. In some areas this has involved the formal division of their areas into neighbourhoods. In other areas authorities have created area offices for local service delivery. The Government welcome moves towards breaking up centralised distant bureaucracies and making services more accessible and more responsive to local people. However, arrangements of this kind are not statutory and are a matter for local consideration.
It is important to emphasise that it is often the informality of such neighbourhood support groups that makes them so effective as they are unfettered by rules, regulations and officialdom. In my capacity as a Minister responsible for inner city issues, I meet these informal groups. They work exceedingly well. However, I believe that if they were made into formal bodies, they would lose their special qualities.
418 On the matter of split parishes, some areas are allocated by enlarging neighbourhood or neighbouring parishes so that one part of an area is left out and the other part becomes an element of another neighbouring area. I apologise that that explanation was not quite as clear as my wonderful speech on water. I hope, however, that noble Lords will feel able to withdraw their amendments.
§ Baroness Hamwee
I thank the Minister for that reply. Although I cannot claim to have followed all the detail of the reply, it appeared that the thrust of the argument was that the commission will take proper account of the wishes of local people. I was particularly grateful for the Minister's comments on charter trustees. I was concerned that charter trustees, while fulfilling an interesting and important historical function, do not have powers. I am interested in the overlap, or the non-overlap, between the roles of charter trustees and parish councils. All of us who are concerned about this matter will study the Minister's comments with some care.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, did not pursue the question of neighbourhood councils. He said some kind and extremely well deserved words the other day about the work done in the Liberal Democrat-run borough of Tower Hamlets. It is very well run. I have said before and am glad to take the opportunity to say again that the innovative work of the borough deserves recognition. I appreciate that following the vote this afternoon London is likely to remain without neighbourhoods elsewhere unless others among us are able to be as innovative.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me. In praising Tower Hamlets I distinguish between the devolution to neighbourhood, which has occurred in Tower Hamlets, and the establishment of neighbourhood councils, which, despite the Minister's words, I support. The reason I do not propose to move Amendments Nos. 182 and 191 is not because of any lack of conviction in neighbourhood councils but because, on re-reading the Bill, I am satisfied that paragraph (f) provides for the establishment of parishes where they do not exist. So far as I understand it there is no restriction as to where they can be established. They can also be established in urban areas of England. I should be glad to have that confirmed in Hansard.
§ Baroness Hamwee
That is extremely helpful. With some difficulty we have all got back on to the same track and are seeking the same objective. I thank the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Feversham had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 181:
§ Page 13, line 16, after ("area") insert ("or part or parts of its area").
§ The noble Lord said: The amendment follows on from the previous amendment. I should like to say that in view of what the Minister said I shall not move the amendment, although I do not believe that she answered the question.419
§ Lord Feversham
The noble Baroness did not answer the question today. If she looks at the matter before Report stage she may find that Amendment No. 181 would improve the Bill and insert something that should be there.
§ [Amendment No. 181 not moved.]
§ [Amendments Nos. 182 to 186 not moved.]
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)
If Amendment No. 187 is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 188 and 189.
§ Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 187:
§ Page 14, line 1, leave out paragraph (c).
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving amendment No. 187 I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 221 and 222. The amendments are all concerned with joint authorities. In the debate on Second Reading I spoke about the difficulties experienced with joint authorities. I do not wish to detain the Committee, but that does not mean that the anxiety which I voiced at that stage is any the less now.
§ Perhaps I may refer briefly to the anxieties which many of us feel about statutory joint authorities and in doing so say that I am aware that voluntary joint arrangements can work well. I welcome the reference in paragraph 11 of the draft guidance for the commission that joint authorities will be very much the exception. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to spend a moment explaining why they should be so much the exception in the hope of reinforcing the intention that such exceptions will be very rare indeed.
§ Joint arrangements are unaccountable. Representatives are indirectly elected. The authorities are not well understood by the public, nor by councillors unless they serve on them. They are complex, frequently creating an additional layer of bureaucracy in a more unsatisfactory way than that term normally indicates. They involve work put in by officers of other authorities who are members of the joint authority, often self-selected, with the time or inclination to fulfil a particular job. It is very much an ad hoc affair.
§ Despite the rather amorphous description I may have given, the arrangements are inflexible. They are generally difficult to construct and require a good deal of negotiation unless the Secretary of State simply imposes them without there being an opportunity for authorities to talk to one another. They are also difficult to change. We have experienced this in London. We have had tedious discussions about how research arrangements should be dealt with and what should and should not go into the Section 188 scheme. That is not a satisfactory way to provide a service which, after all, is what we should all be talking about.
§ My greatest criticism of joint authorities is that the indirectly elected members quite naturally do not regard the job as their first priority. They attend the joint authority because they happen to be the people who have the time to go there at the time meetings are held. There is little consistency in the membership. There are difficulties creating relations between 420 members, and it is upon good relations that so much of life functions. Unless the members can create group dynamics which are conducive to the business moving forward, all that happens is that they will talk at one another across a council chamber or wherever without reaching a conclusion. Members look to their own areas and regard their own patches as their first interest and priority. They tend to express very local views and find it difficult to look at what is strategic. I am afraid that here we come back to the question of how to deal with strategic matters. It is understandable that members in that situation should have such a problem. They are probably dealing with one service and have not worked through the exercise of prioritising where spending should take place—all those issues which help members of a council to work out just what their objectives are. They turn up to do a job, may not do it very well and then go home again. That is the sum total of the contact until the next meeting.
§ In describing that rather unhappy situation—which I have to say is my personal experience—I hope the Committee will agree that the scope for joint authorities should be so strictly limited as to be non-existent or, if we are to be left with it, that the Government can take on board the concerns I have expressed. I beg to move.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 187 and 188 and also to Amendment No. 189 standing in my name. As a result, I will to some extent move between joint arrangements and the issue of lead authorities because they are not very distinct. From my experience, joint arrangements can be a sensible and straightforward way of organising those fused functions where the natural constituency for services is not a district, a county or region. Lead authorities would permit the same sort of flexibility. I give some examples. In the case of tourism, sport and the arts, it may involve several districts working together. Nottingham has joint arrangements with the county for major concert series. Plymouth has joint arrangements with the county for the country park of Mount Edgcumbe.
On my own patch Norwich works with Norfolk for its museum services and for its theatre and the like. Equally, this may apply to tourism. There are examples of Brighton working in a joint arrangement with Hove, or Hull with Beverley and Holderness for tourism promotion authorities. It works with sports and the arts. Also at a different level it works with police forces where some 21 shire counties currently form joint arrangements. It may also work at a regional or sub-regional level: for example, on issues of airports.
From all our experience and from all those examples, we have taken a very positive note. Similarly with lead authorities. By definition, most of our experience with lead authorities now dates back to pre-1974. However, before 1974 either the county or a county borough could be the lead authority in preparing a structure plan. It worked very well. Before 1974 there were joint arrangements with lead 421 authorities for transport undertakings and many of them survived for some years thereafter. Before 1974 virtually every county borough had an FE college into which the adjacent county council or accepted educational districts bought places. It worked very well. Many authorities had joint arrangements or lead authority arrangements for water undertakings, computer facilities or purchasing. In other words, there is a lot of experience drawn both from before 1974 when there were lead authorities and since 1974 when there have been joint arrangements including social services, housing and like—I shall not tire the Committee with listing them—to show that they work satisfactorily.
I take issue to some degree with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in that I do not believe that there is much evidence that they seriously impede accountability or increase cost. The real challenge to accountability in local government at the moment does not come from the scattered array of joint arrangements which are a flexible and convenient way of bringing authorities together in a common cause; it comes very much more from the fact that local authorities have very limited control over their own expenditure, for reasons that the Committee will not wish me to go into tonight.
The second source of confusion over accountability comes from the two-tier structure itself and very seldom from joint arrangements. If we are not to have joint arrangements, I suggest that we end up locked into the issue of size; that is to say, the authority has to be able to provide all services, which involves becoming larger and larger in size. There was quite a lot of research done by INLOGOV in the late 1980s which identified those threads of concern which generate problems with joint authorities.
Difficulties arise with joint arrangements first where they are between senior and junior partners, for example between counties and districts, and where the senior authority expects to determine the agenda. Those arrangements tend to be less satisfactory. Secondly, they are less satisfactory where they are compulsorily imposed by central government, as with some inner city partnerships. Those too have a fairly chequered history. Neither do they work well where they are essentially competitive. For example, over the location of manufacturing industry or shopping developments and the like; or alternatively where there are conflicting views about the level of service to be provided.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that when; joint arrangements or lead authority arrangements are negotiated from the bottom up between willing partners of equal commitment and standing, they are mutually advantageous and offer a flexible and useful response to issues and problems where the geographical base does not fit neatly districts, counties or regions. For that reason, I support voluntary joint arrangements.
As I speak to Amendment No. 189, and I know that I have the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I also support the proposal for lead authorities, which again before 1974 for the most part 422 had a very successful track history and which seem to me again to embody the concept of an enabling authority.
§ Lord Norrie
I shall speak to Amendment No. 190 although Amendment No. 221 is also in my name. Amendment No. 190 seeks to redress an imbalance in the Bill and to increase its flexibility in relation to structural changes. I detect a slight but significant bias in the Bill as currently drafted. The Bill, unacceptably I believe, favours the creation of small unitary authorities. Both Clauses 14 and 21 make provision for joint arrangements as a possible outcome of local government reform. Joint arrangements will only be necessary where structural reform results in the creation of small unitary authorities which are capable of effectively performing the strategic functions.
My amendment seeks to make special provision for the delegation downwards of responsibility for certain functions. That may be necessary if, as a result of the review, the commission recommends that unitary authorities are created which are large enough to carry out strategic functions effectively. In such circumstances the need for joint arrangements will be avoided but special measures may be necessary to assure the continuing responsiveness of the unitary authorities to local concerns.
I have in mind, for example, responsibility for development control. That involves day to day decisions on individual planning applications which are currently largely the responsibility of districts. Delegation downwards could result in the creation of area committees to perform local planning functions so that the best features of existing planning arrangements can be protected. I recognise that many local authorities delegate powers under existing legislation. I do not believe that that detracts from the force of my argument.
My amendment is based on an understanding that special provision may be necessary over and above that which is contained in existing legislation to ensure appropriate delegation. I do not believe that that is best left entirely to the discretion of the newly established unitary authorities. As currently drafted, I believe that the Bill unduly prejudices the deliberations of the Local Government Commission in favour of small unitary authorities by making special provision for joint arrangements. Those authorities will be incapable of performing strategic functions.
The Bill contains no provision for the converse situation; that is, strong unitary authorities large enough for strategic purposes but with a need for delegation to maintain local responsiveness. That is why I believe that the Bill is unbalanced. My amendment aims to rectify that. I urge my noble friend carefully to consider the anxieties that I have outlined.
Before I turn to Amendment No. 221, perhaps I may ask the noble Lords, Lord Feversham and Lord McIntosh, whether they wish first to speak to Amendment No. 192.
§ Lord Norrie
Amendment No. 221 enables the Secretary of State to exclude certain local government functions from the Bill's provisions for joint authorities. Clause 21 is one of the least satisfactory clauses in the Bill. It might almost be taken as an admission by the Government that local government reform might ultimately be unsuccessful in that it would create bodies incapable of coping adequately with the full range of local government services without recourse to joint arrangements.
During the Second Reading debate we heard from a number of noble Lords experienced in the workings of joint authorities. The overwhelming message that I received was that joint authorities were bad news. I share that view. Joint authorities pose problems on a number of fronts. All the evidence suggests that joint authorities dilute accountability. They hinder public understanding. A survey carried out in 1987 by MORI showed that people were more confused by the new joint arrangements after the abolition of the metropolitan counties than they had been before about the previous two-tier system.
There is also a serious question mark over the effectiveness and efficiency of the joint arrangements. They do not appear to be effective as decision-making bodies, in particular on strategic and regulatory matters such as land use planning. I am anxious lest with regard to such functions as strategic planning they are likely to be even more ineffectual.
Rather than questioning whether the clause shall stand part of the Bill—an option to which I gave considerable thought—my amendment is modest and seeks simply to exclude those functions where I believe that it is clear that joint arrangements are likely to fail. I do not believe that joint authorities for strategic planning are likely to work. I do not believe that it would be possible for them to enforce the degree of control over the decisions of individual participating authorities which is necessary to ensure effective strategic planning for development and the protection of the environment. Nor do I consider that the ability of the Secretary of State to intervene to impose joint arrangements, for which the clause provides, will help.
I see the provision as a recognition of the serious difficulties there are in making joint arrangements work properly. I believe that it indicates ambivalence in the Government's own attitude towards joint authorities. It appears that the Government recognise the inadequacies of the joint authorities. For instance, the draft guidance for the Local Government Commission notes that statutory joint authorities detract from accountability and the Government intend them to be the exception.
I also suggest that if the Government ultimately expect there to be a predominantly unitary system of local government, joint authorities should not be a feature of it. Joint authorities destroy the argument for unitary local government by introducing two-tier local government in a different and I believe vastly inferior form. If change can be justified, the objective should be to establish unitary authorities which are large enough to carry out strategic functions effectively. That removes the need for joint arrangements. I believe that in the Bill there are a 424 number of inconsistencies in the Government's approach to these questions. They must be ironed out if the review of local government is to get off to a promising start.
The clause and its implications deserve serious consideration. My amendment seeks to probe the Government further on the question of joint authorities. I should like to know, under the circumstances, for which functions the Government believe that joint authorities will work. Will the Minister provide me with an example of the kind of exception referred to in the draft guidance? Will she also tell me how the Bill will otherwise prevent strategic planning being undertaken by joint authorities? I urge my noble friend to consider the amendment seriously. I believe that it highlights a part of the Government's approach to local government reform which needs further thought. I beg to move.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Baroness Cumberlege
I support my noble friend's Amendment No. 221. Earlier in the Committee's debate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, argued with skill and waxed lyrically about joint boards, joint committees, agency arrangements and these authorities. That was a world that I did not recognise. However, during the current debate the noble Baroness introduced some reservations which I did recognise. We are now back to the real world.
I have connections with three county councils and their numerous districts and with several London boroughs. I have to say that it is not all sweetness and light. I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that all police forces in the shires are efficiently and effectively run. I believe that good management requires clear lines of accountability. Where they do not exist officials have an easy opportunity to fill a vacuum left by those councillors who, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, eloquently said, have no real responsibility for those organisations.
I was interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, mention the work produced by the Institute of Local Government Studies published last year. I have read the study and I believe that the authors who researched carefully and closely argued the case and came to the unequivocal conclusion that joint boards are not accountable—
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I wish to make it clear that at no stage was I defending joint boards. Throughout I was talking about voluntary joint arrangements; that was the distinction that I was making. I hoped that I had made it clear that where they were compulsory and they were boards they had a track record of being less successful. The examples that I gave were nothing to do with planning, nor were they boards, nor were they compulsory. They were voluntary and district-based for the most part.
§ Baroness Cumberlege
Will the noble Baroness tell me whether she mentioned the police force? I understood that she had.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
In respect of the debate on the regions, I said that there were 21 shire counties which currently had joint police forces. I believe that that is an argument for going for a regional tier of government.
§ Baroness Cumberlege
I now understand the point. However, I had understood the noble Baroness to say that joint police forces worked well. I am saying that there are questions about that.
In my experience, which I share with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, joint arrangements lack direction and clarity. They add to bureaucratic complexity, provide the potential for deadlock and are a potential arena for conflict. In my view they have very little to recommend them and they suffer from some severe disadvantages.
I am worried in particular that in the Government's guidance to the commission there is a suggestion that an essential service such as the fire brigade should be managed, financed and run by joint boards. In particular I ask the Minister to reconsider and clarify that guidance because I believe that, as it stands, it could put the public in jeopardy when they are at their most vulnerable. I support the amendment.
§ Baroness Hamwee
I believe it will be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to Amendment No. 222. It aims to delete the provision which would allow a joint authority to be instituted as a body corporate and requires that it should be fully representative of the authorities of the areas which comprise it.
I was rather surprised to see that a joint authority may be turned into some kind of quango. To have only an indirectly elected joint authority is bad enough, but to create a corporate body seems to be the worst of every world: one loses all contact with local people; there is no democratic accountability. It is perhaps rather late in the evening to indulge in flights of fancy about bodies corporate making a mess of what they are doing and going into liquidation. However, that seems to be a possibility, at least in view of what is on the face of the Bill. One hopes that that will never occur because provisions for their creation will preclude that, although those who were involved with some strategic functions like the organisation of the Channel Tunnel rail link might have been glad of that kind of option.
My Amendment No. 222 is serious. In my view it is essential that joint authorities are fully representative so that they speak for their own communities and councils. They cover the whole area both geographically and in a community sense. They cover the area comprehensively. I believe that it is quite distasteful for a Bill dealing with the future of local government to contain a suggestion that a body representing local government shall not be representative of it.
§ Lord Feversham
Amendment No. 192 supports and is similar to Amendment No. 190 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie. It focuses rather more on local councils. Due to the lateness of the hour I do not intend to make a speech about that. I believe that we shall be happy to withdraw the amendment in view 426 of what the noble Baroness has already said with regard to functions and all that being dealt with in the guidance notes.
Once again we are dealing with a whole raft of amendments concerned with functions. Members on all sides of the Committee are unhappy that that is not dealt with in the Bill. The Minister keeps saying that she would rather deal with that matter in the guidance. However, it seems to me that Members of the Committee on all sides are rather unhappy about that. They are all being extremely obliging and withdrawing their amendments. However, I believe at some point —perhaps at a later stage of the Bill—there must be a Division on this matter. People are not happy with the idea that it should be dealt with in the notes of guidance. They believe that the word "functions" must appear more forcefully in the Bill.
§ Baroness Blatch
I take the last point first. The Secretary of State will instruct the commission to heed and have regard to the guidance. It cannot be clearer than that. It is not enough to single out one aspect. It is important to address all functions of local authorities which includes strategic functions. Very often, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, the definition of "strategic functions" is not clear cut. Often something can be made strategic because it cuts across one boundary or another. In the strict sense of the word "strategic" that is not strategic.
The Committee can be assured—I have said it so many times that I shall be called to account when the recommendations come before Parliament—that the strategic functions of local authorities will not be ignored by the commission. Indeed, it dare not do so after all that has been said.
This is a large group of amendments and they are all different. Amendment No. 188 seeks to alter the commission's duty under Clause 13(5) (c) so that it may make recommendations about the extent to which a structural or boundary change may require (rather than requires) that joint arrangements between authorities should be made. The amendment would have no practical effect, as it would be open to the commission to recommend that no joint arrangements should be made under the Bill as drafted.
The noble Baroness may welcome some clarification of the Government's views on the role of unitary authorities. In our draft guidance to the Local Government Commission we made it clear that the commission should seek to recommend a local government structure which enables individual authorities to be responsible for all local government functions. That is because the significance of establishing local authorities which match communities will be lost if those authorities do not have such direct responsibility. We recognise that law and order services are a special case for which there should be a presumption in favour of combining areas.
That is not to say that we can rule out joint arrangements for all other local government functions whatever the circumstances. The Bill as drafted leaves it to the commission to make recommendations about whether such arrangements are required or not. I am sure the Committee will agree that the commission will 427 be in an excellent position to make such recommendations and it would be unwise to remove its duty to do so, as is sought by Amendment No. 187.
A single-tier structure does not preclude voluntary arrangements between authorities to share expertise or resources if that is sensible and efficient in practice. Two authorities may each retain statutory responsibility for a service in their area, but one may draw on the other on an agency basis to achieve the most flexible and cost-effective results. We are well aware that statutory joint arrangements detract from accountability and have said that we intend them to be very much the exception.
The guidance gives the strongest possible lead to the Local Government Commission to presume in favour of unitary authorities but not in every circumstance to rule out joint authorities. It is right to say that we believe that that should not be a first resort. The Government are not ambivalent about the matter.
With regard to Amendment No. 189, under Clause 14 recommendations from the Local Government Commission may cover the extent to which a structural or boundary change requires that joint arrangements should be made in relation to functions affected by the change. The term "joint arrangements" in the clause covers any sort of joint arrangements and certainly could include arrangements for a function to be discharged through a lead authority. I know the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, felt some anxiety on that point.
I do not believe that Amendments Nos. 190 and 192 are necessary. The Bill as drafted carries no implications about the size of authorities. Our draft guidance to the Local Government Commission covers the need for the commission to look for a structure to achieve the most effective exercise of functions and delivery of services consistent with community identities. We are aware that many local authorities make use of Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972 to delegate their functions to other authorities. Section 101 covers delegation to any local authority including parish councils—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Feversham. We also know that several local authorities are already looking at possibilities for delegating functions below the level of unitary authorities, and we welcome that approach if it means bringing local government closer to the people. There is already plenty of scope for delegation by local authorities to any other local authority. Such delegation arrangements may be matters on which the commission may comment, but we feel that they are best left to local discretion and decision by the authorities concerned.
With regard to Amendment No. 221 we cannot rule out joint arrangements for local government functions, whatever the circumstances. The power in Clause 21 to establish by order joint authorities to carry out specific functions will be available to the Secretary of State only in strictly defined circumstances. Those are when the Secretary of State considers, in the light of the Local Government Commission's recommendations, that functions should be carried 428 out jointly by more than one local authority and where voluntary joint arrangements by the authorities concerned are not put in place or are unsatisfactory.
Any joint authority established under this clause will continue to exercise the function for which it was responsible only until the authorities concerned have made satisfactory joint arrangements for themselves. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that she was disappointed that joint authorities are corporate bodies. I suggest to her that all local authorities are corporate bodies. That is simply their legal status and has no effect on their membership.
Amendment No. 222 seeks to require any joint authority established by order under this clause to be fully representative of the authorities for whose areas it is established and to rule out the option of any joint authority having the status of a corporate body. I can assure the noble Baroness that whether or not a joint authority was a body corporate would have no effect on its membership which, by definition, would be fully representative of the authorities for whose areas it was established.
I believe that my noble friend Lord Norrie posed a question about the circumstance when a joint board is a preferable option. I suggest to him that the benefits and disbenefits for an area are weighed up after the review has taken place. It may well be that a unitary authority with joint arrangements with another or even other local authorities has the advantage over a much larger local authority. That must be an option left open for the Local Government Commission.
There was a direct question from my noble friend Lady Cumberlege concerning fire authorities about which she was worried. Most fire authorities are single county council area fire authorities. It is conceivable that where the units of local government are smaller than the county councils, it makes sense to leave the fire authority intact at county council level. That will become a joint statutory authority. I do not believe that that would put any community in danger because there are well established and well practised arrangements at this moment. I hope that these amendments can be withdrawn.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
I thank the Minister for that very helpful reply. I am most assured about a body corporate. I had wondered whether it may be one that was somehow unusual. I have no quarrel with voluntary joint arrangements. It is perfectly right that they should be allowed for. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is not here, so perhaps I may discuss it with her afterwards. I have some doubts as to whether it would be right to provide in detail for lead authority arrangements. If joint authorities are to have any chance of working well then the members themselves must sort out how they are led and whether they should be a lead authority.
I shall remind myself again by reading what the Minister has said on all these matters. I retain my anxieties and I suggest that it is natural that I should do so because of the background knowledge that I have of such arrangements not working well. I take heart from the noble Baroness's confirmation—we 429 have already seen the draft guidance—that these authorities will be very much the exception. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 188 to 192 not moved.]
§ Clause 14 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 193 not moved.]
§ Clause 15 [Procedure on a review]:
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 194
§ Page 14, line 25, leave out from ("shall") to the end of line 32 and insert ("ensure—
- (a) (hat adequate publicity is given to the direction requiring the review to be conducted and to any other directions under this Part which are relevant to the review;
- (b) that all persons who may be expected to wish to make representations in relation to the review are made aware that they are entitled to do so;
- (c) that all such persons are given an adequate opportunity for making such representations and are in Formed of the period within which such representations may be made."').
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 194, I should like to speak also, with the permission of the movers of these amendments, to Amendments Nos. 200, 202, 205, 206, 211, 212 and 213. The thrust of all these amendments is the same. It is that we should improve the conditions under which the Local Government Commission consults and gives publicity to its proceedings and its decisions.
§ As Clause 15 stands—and I refer to Amendment No. 194—the Local Government Commission is required to take such steps as it considers sufficient to secure that persons who may be interested in the review are informed of the direction, informed of any other directions which are relevant—in other words, just informed of the fact that the Secretary of State has told the Local Government Commission to do something—and informed of the period within which representations may be made. That is a very limited view of consultation and publicity.
§ Amendment No. 194 starts by making it clear that there should be adequate publicity given to the direction and other directions (and that is already covered by the Bill) that persons who may be expected to wish to make representations are made aware that they are entitled to do so (that is not provided in the Bill), and that all such persons are given an adequate opportunity for making representations and are informed of the period. So it is not just telling them about the period, but making sure that the period is long enough.
§ Amendment No. 200 refers to the need for the draft recommendations of the Local Government Commission to be advertised and the conditions under which they should be made available for inspection. Amendment No. 202, which is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, and myself, provides that the commission should supply a copy of the document if they are asked to do so.430
§ Amendment No. 205 is in Clause 16. It is in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and others. Clause 16 is about the need for consultation between the Local Government Commission and the Audit Commission. The amendment provides that the commission shall consult relevant bodies and other persons before giving opinions about bodies likely to be affected by changes and shall notify those bodies of intention to give those opinions. So it is extending open government to the role of the Audit Commission in the Local Government Commission review procedure.
§ Amendment No. 206 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and myself, provides in effect that the Local Government Commission shall publish its opinions, because that is not provided for in the Bill as drafted. It may seem draconian to say that it should publish within seven days, but it is no different from the publication of a judicial opinion. Judges are expected, when they produce an opinion, to explain it straightaway, except in very exceptional circumstances. There is no reason why, when they produce an opinion they should not publish it pretty well straightaway—that is, within seven days.
§ In turning to Clause 17, which is about the implementation of the review, Amendment No. 211, in the name of myself and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, provides that there should be an opportunity for comment after the recommendations have been published. At the moment, it looks as if the consultation period ends before the recommendations are made public with the result that there is no interchange, no communication, between the public and the Local Government Commission on its recommendations. That seems to us to be unduly restrictive.
§ Amendment No. 212, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hollis, provides that where there are modifications proposed by the Secretary of State to the recommendations of the Local Government Commission that that should also be subject to publicity.
§ Finally, Amendment No. 213, if the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, will allow me to refer to it with approval, provides that there should be 12 weeks before the order is actually made. I am sorry to have taken so long in introducing these amendments. They all have the same thrust: that the publicity and consultation arrangements for the work of the Local Government Commission are quite inadequate, and need to be extended in the ways proposed in these amendments. I beg to move.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees
My apologies to the noble Lord for my failure to understand. I did not have the pleasure of hearing him say that Amendment No. 165 was not to be moved. I should remind the Committee that if Amendment No. 194 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 195.
§ Lord Norrie
I shall speak briefly to Amendment No. 213, which stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. The amendment seeks to extend the period of time before the Secretary of State can issue an order after receiving 431 the recommendations of the Local Government Commission. It extends the period from six to 12 weeks. It is a straightforward amendment but one of considerable importance.
I cannot see how a period of six weeks can be considered sufficient time to allow interested parties to make effective representations to the Secretary of State on the final recommendations of the Local Government Commission, or for the Secretary of State properly to consider them. Six weeks is even less time than local authorities are allowed to take in deciding most minor planning applications. It is important that interested parties have an opportunity to make representations to the Secretary of State on such an important matter and for their views to be taken seriously.
Clearly, in the first instance it is necessary that the Local Government Commission's recommendations are published for all to consider. Interested parties should be entitled to comment on the recommendations to the Secretary of State. I take that to be the intention of the part of Clause 17 which allows the Secretary of State to make modifications to the commission's recommendations. If that is not the intention, I should like to know on what basis the Secretary of State will be able to make such modifications. I would also expect there to be further consultation on modifications if they are proposed. I therefore support Amendment No. 212, to which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, spoke in moving Amendment No. 164.
If reform of local government is to endure, it will need to command widespread public support. One way to secure that support is to make sure that all have an ability to comment on and influence the final recommendations. In many instances that should also result in better and more durable decisions.
I see no merit in skimping on opportunities for consultation, especially if it is a matter of a few weeks. Measured against the fundamental and long-term implications of local government reform, I believe that a few extra weeks is a worthwhile price to pay if the result is to be a more successful outcome.
§ Baroness Hamwee
I support these amendments. I think I am right in saying that the reason that the Deputy Chairman did not hear the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, say that Amendment No. 165 was not moved was that the noble Lord was not here.
I should like to speak briefly to Amendment No. 206 regarding the publication of an Audit Commission opinion which is provided to the commission. Such an opinion will be an important piece of information on which the Secretary of State, in turn, will make his eventual decision and as such should be firmly on the public record. In a way, and perhaps even more importantly, publication of the opinion will allow interested parties to react to it. The publication itself will allow for further debate and for cross-fertilisation of ideas. With that particularly in mind I urge the Committee to take account of the thinking behind the amendment. I support this whole raft of amendments.
§ Lord Feversham
I rise to support the general thrust of the amendments if only to ensure that all quarters of the Committee are seen to support the thrust of the amendments. Now we have someone from the Cross Benches doing it as well.
§ Baroness Blatch
I am all for even-handedness—at this hour of the night anyway. Clause 15(1) requires the commission to take such steps as it considers sufficient to inform interested parties of the direction to carry out the review; of any other directions under this part which are relevant; and of the period within which representations about the review may be made to the commission.
As to Amendment No. 194, we certainly intend that the Local Government Commission should publicise its reviews widely. Under Clause 15, the commission will have the duty to take all the steps it considers necessary to ensure that those with an interest in a review—local people and organisations—are aware of it and have the opportunity to make representations. There are many different ways in which the commission should be able to make information about its activities and procedures available, including local newspapers, radio and television. It would not, however, be practical to lay a statutory duty on the commission to require it to ensure that each individual person and organisation who may wish to make representations about a review are aware of the opportunity to do so. That would be an impossible task.
I therefore urge any noble Lord who supports that view, and the noble Baroness, to accept my assurance that we certainly intend that the commission should do its utmost to publicise its reviews widely. I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn. From a personal point of view, I believe that it is inconceivable that, when the Local Government Commission gets going, people in an area will not be aware of its activities.
I turn now to Amendment No. 205. Such measures seem to us unnecessary and time consuming. The Audit Commission is an independent body, in possession of much relevant expertise and experience to enable it to provide the Local Government Commission with an objective opinion on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the commission's proposed arrangements for service delivery. Our aim is to ensure that, whenever the commission requires it, it should have access to such objective advice. But we see no need to subject the Audit Commission to these requirements which would undoubtedly slow down its work.
The Local Government Commission's reviews will look at the country area by area and all local authorities affected will have plenty of opportunities to put forward their views. We therefore do not see a need for the measures in the amendment. I urge that this amendment be withdrawn.
The Audit Commission will not be the only organisation from whom the Local Government Commission seeks an opinion, advice or information about its proposals for structural change. To place a requirement on the commission, as under Amendment No. 206, to publish the opinion it receives from the 433 Audit Commission would take that opinion out of the context of all the other considerations which the Local Government Commission must take into account when drawing up recommendations. The new commission must have discretion to consider all the information it receives, and by doing so arrive at its final recommendations for restructuring local government in an area. An opinion from the Audit Commission is only one component in the process. Under Clause 15, the commission will be required to make available for inspection its recommendations to the Secretary of State. There is no need for it to publish the opinion of the Audit Commission separately. I therefore urge the noble Lord and the noble Baroness not to press this amendment.
Under the procedures set out in this clause, copies of the commission's recommendations are to be made available for inspection in the offices of all district and county councils in the area affected by the review. Clause 15 requires the commission to take steps to ensure that interested parties are aware of the availability of its recommendations. The commission will certainly want to make good use of publicity for that purpose.
The intended effect of Amendment No. 202 is unclear to me, even after listening to its presentation. I am not sure whether the noble Lord intends that principal authorities, or the commission itself, will make copies of the draft recommendations available to those local authorities which ask for them in writing. Principal authorities in an area under review will already have copies of the draft recommendations which they will keep available for public inspection. So I assume that the reference to local authorities is a reference to parish councils.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
In that case, it seems to me that it would be extremely sensible for the commission to make copies of its draft regulations available on request to any interested person. Of course, that would include any parish council which was likely to be affected. We shall cover that point in the draft guidance on the procedures which the commission should follow in carrying out its reviews. My right honourable friend intends to direct the commission to have regard to this guidance under Clause 15(7). We shall invite views on the contents of that guidance.
I shall deal now with Amendments Nos. 211 and 212. We have taken great care to build substantial opportunities for public comment into the commission's procedure for carrying out reviews. The commission will be required to make copies of its final recommendations available for public inspection and will be required to take such steps as it considers sufficient to secure that persons who may be interested in the recommendations are informed of them and the period within which they may be inspected. Further, the Secretary of State will be required to wait for six 434 weeks after receiving the commission's final recommendations before making an order implementing them, to allow time for further representations to be made.
Any modifications to the commission's recommendations would take account of views expressed about the recommendations. If the Secretary of State considered the commission's recommendations needed to be modified substantially, he could direct the commission to conduct a further review, and to make revised recommendations. The commission would of course be required to publish those revised recommendations and make them available for public comment following the procedures set out in Clause 15.
On Amendment No. 213, we believe that a six-week period between submission of the commission's report and recommendations and their implementation by order of the Secretary of State is an adequate time for people to put forward further views, given that they have had ample opportunity during the course of the review.
Those with an interest in a review carried out by the commission will be aware of the recommendations that it submits to the Secretary of State, as Clause 15 requires the commission to publish its recommendations for change, and to publicise where they may be inspected. Interested parties will therefore already be familiar with the issues raised by the commission's recommendations.
There is much to be said for the implementation of the commission's recommendations to follow as quickly as possible. Once a recommendation has been made, it seems to us that it be would be best for all concerned to make any changes recommended by the commission as swiftly as possible.
I must emphasise to my noble friend Lord Norrie that six weeks is the minimum period. The Secretary of State cannot act within six weeks. He can take much longer, but he must wait for at least six weeks. Therefore I ask my noble friend not to press his amendment.
The procedures set out in Clause 15 which the Local Government Commission will be required to follow are more than adequate to ensure a high level of public awareness of each stage of the commission's reviews and ample opportunity for public comment upon the recommendations. I believe that I have addressed the points made by all Members of the Committee, and I hope that with the assurances I have given they will not press the amendments.
§ Baroness Hamwee
Perhaps I may ask the Minister one further question about the publication of the Audit Commission's opinion. Why is it necessary to refer in Clause 16 to the Audit Commission being under an obligation to provide an opinion? If the Minister cannot answer that question now, perhaps we may have a word about it later. If there were no statutory obligation would the Audit Commission have no duty to provide an opinion? That seems to be an interesting position.
§ Baroness Blatch
There is no mystery about it. If the Local Government Commission is doing its work it 435 will from time to time require information, advice or an opinion from the Audit Commission. Rather than pass the legislation and then have a period of time during which, for one reason or another, the Audit Commission decides that it will not co-operate, first, it is important to ensure that co-operation is secured within the Bill, so that we do not have to rush back to Parliament with modifying legislation; and, secondly, the opinion might be a minor matter. The work of the Local Government Commission will be based on advice it takes from wherever, including the Audit Commission. The most important thing is that that information and the results of the advice are in the public arena, and of course they will be.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
That is the only bit of the Minister's reply with which I am totally dissatisfied. I remind her that under the Act establishing the Audit Commission, the Secretary of State may issue such directions on the conduct of its functions as he thinks fit. The Audit Commission shall give effect to those directions; and so, if the Secretary of State wants to direct the Audit Commission to respond to the requests of the Local Government Commission, he can do so. That does not need to be on the face of this Bill.
There is a difference between the Audit Commission's position and all the other people who will be consulted. The Audit Commission is a statutory body. Under the terms of the Bill it can and will be required to respond. I should have thought that its professional opinion on how workable the Local Government Commission's proposals are is a central part of public debate on that issue. There is a distinction to be drawn between the Audit Commission and all the other consultees. I am not suggesting that the noble Baroness would wish to press her amendment to a Division, but she would be entitled to do so having regard to the quality of the answer given.
The other answers were very meaty and they deserve further consideration. Some appear to me to be quite hopeful. I shall certainly wish to consider them between now and another stage. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 194.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Feversham moved Amendment No. 195:
§ Page 14, line 26, after ("that") insert ("bodies which may be affected by, or").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment concerns consultation, as does the second group of amendments, with the exception of Amendment No. 219 which does not concern it. In introducing this amendment, I should say that, as Members of the Committee may know, I am President of the National Association of Local Councils. Perhaps I should have declared that interest before. I shall be continually pressing for the Local Government Commission and for any legislation which comes forward as a result of the commission's recommendations, to enhance the basic parish role of articulating views of parishes and 436 towns and, if the chance arises, of neighbourhoods on which other public bodies can take decisions affecting the parish.
§ Experience has demonstrated that without some statutory backing, as exists in the case of development control, parish councils are not always able to articulate at the right time the views of their area. This is usually because there is no settled, regular procedure for supplying them with information and receiving their views.
§ Therefore we are forced to move into what I can only describe as the funeral parlour of legislation in that most of these amendments are concerned with introducing the word "bodies" into the Bill. It is a situation where persons may not wander about in the Bill unless they are accompanied by bodies! The amendments seek to create this proper funereal atmosphere.
§ It is to ensure that at each stage of its procedures for review the commission is required to take appropriate steps to inform both the local authorities and the public of the area. What is necessary to inform, for example, every parish council—which many people recognise as the body—will be different from what is appropriate to inform the public—which is the persons. The commission should be under a specific duty, we feel, to consider what it should do in both categories of notification.
§ Amendment No. 219 is somewhat different, as it is not concerned with duties to be performed but with making arrangements, to prevent any doubt that suitable arrangements can be agreed, not only by existing bodies changed by orders, but by any new bodies. Experience has shown that it is often the new bodies, after they have begun to operate, which need to make agreements of this type. I am not quite sure why it has been included in this grouping of amendments. That is a mystery known only to the gremlins who draw up such things. However, I am happy to speak to it now, with the rest, in a spirit of goodwill and to give the Minister the opportunity to respond to it.
§ On the other hand, Amendment No. 235, which also stands in the name of myself and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has a similar target with regard to consultation. What I have already said attaches to it, but it is not in the funereal mode of the other amendments. It is more specifically to deal with the need to consult parishes. It gives the Secretary of State greater control over the matter.
§ I have not dealt with Amendment No. 196. The group must have been put together because my name was on all the amendments and in the last attack of the gremlins Amendment No. 196 was slipped in. As ever, it brings in the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, manages to get in on it also. I shall leave either of those to talk to Amendment No. 196. I beg to move.437
§ Baroness Blatch
The purpose of Amendments Nos. 195, 195 and 235 is to ensure that bodies (including parish councils) which may be affected by the commission's review of an area and its recommendations have access to the same information as,persons who may be interested".
I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, that the term,persons who may be interested",in the Bill already covers any corporate or unincorporated bodies or organisations which may be affected by a review by the Local Government Commission. The Interpretation Act defines "person" as including a body of persons corporate or incorporate. I hope that, in the light of that clarification, the noble Lord will not press this amendment.
As regards Amendment No. 201, I assure the Committee that the commission is already required to take such steps as it considers sufficient to ensure that persons who may be interested in its recommendations are informed of them, and the period within which they may be inspected. The term "persons" in the Bill already covers any corporate or incorporate bodies or organisations which may be affected by a review by the Local Government Commission. As I have already said, the Interpretation Act defines "person" as including a body of persons corporate or incorporate.
Amendment No. 235 is unnecessary, as parish councils within the area which the commission was reviewing would be included in the persons the commission is required to consult under the procedures set out in Clause 15. Parish councils are persons interested in the review. We have already set out in previous debates the procedures which the commission would have to go through under Clause 15. I hope that, in the light of the assurance that it is unnecessary, the noble Lords will agree to withdraw the amendment.
I understand that the next amendment has been withdrawn. I may be being presumptuous in expecting it to be withdrawn.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Lord Feversham
In view of the Minister's full explanation of the definition of "persons", I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment. However, I am sad that that may signal the death knell of these delightful funereal wordings, in that in future Bills bodies will have to be accompanied by persons. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 196 to 202 not moved.]
§ Clause 15 agreed to.
§ Clause 16 [Consultation with the Audit Commission]:
§ Lord Shelmersdale moved Amendment No. 203:438
§ Page 15, line 39, leave out from ("shall") to ("with") in line 40 and insert ("provide the Local Government Commission").
The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 203, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 204, 207 and 208. I believe that grouping has now been requested by the Committee. On Second Reading several noble Lords referred to the cost of change. That there will be such cost has been amply proved by the situation pertaining in and after 1974—the previous occasion there was a major re-organisation of local government. My noble friend Lord Teviot referred to this matter on an earlier amendment. This cost implication has been recognised by the Government, in part at least. That recognition is revealed at the beginning of Clause 16 which starts:
The Audit Commission shall if so required by the Local Government Commission, provide it with a written opinion as to the … economy, efficiency and effectiveness
of its proposals.
§ Since I tabled this amendment two things have happened. First, the Government have selected the first controller of the Audit Commission, John Banham, as presumptive chairman of the Local Government Commission. I believe it was he who gave the Audit Commission its strong start and gave it the respect it holds to this day. His appointment gives me considerable hope. My noble friend Lady Blatch said in winding up the Second Reading debate that one of the requirements of the Local Government Commission is that it must have regard to the cost effectiveness of any changes. However, I believe that will only happen in part. The problem is that Clause 16(1)—to which my Amendment No. 203 refers— states that only if the Audit Commission is approached by the Local Government Commission must it provide a written opinion as to the likely impact of any proposed structural changes on the economy and efficiency of a proposal. This is too important a matter to leave to chance.
§ In answer to the last but one group of amendments my noble friend said that in some cases the opinions of the Audit Commission would be of a "minor nature". Perhaps in her response she will be able to spell that out.
§ Be that as it may, the Audit Commission is the expert in this field where public bodies are concerned and I believe that it must always be consulted. I greatly fear that otherwise in some parts of the country the inherent costs will rise exorbitantly, to the detriment of both the taxpayer and the charge payer. That happened in 1974 and is bound to happen again.
§ The Audit Commission is not, and never has been, expert in environmental matters. Therefore, I shall be very interested to hear what my noble friend Lord Norrie has to say on Amendment No. 204.
§ I am not alone in my view of the automatic involvement of the Audit Commission. Since putting down the amendment the Association of County Councils has lent its support. I shall await the Government's response with interest. If they think on the same lines as the association and myself then I believe that Amendment No. 208 should come into play.439
§ In my self-imposed role of the watcher of expenditure, I cannot see the point of one commission invoicing another for a service which the former has to perform. Two sets of accountants, and possibly lawyers, would have to be involved in transferring money from one public body to another. It would, I suggest, be far better and cheaper for the Government to increase the grant in aid of the Audit Commission so that it can afford its new role.
§ The gremlins have also been at this grouping, and so I shall reserve judgment on Amendment No. 207 until it is explained. In the meantime, I beg to move.
§ Lord Norrie
In support of my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale's amendment, Amendment No. 203, it concerns me that we do not know how the Local Government Commission will decide whether to require the services of the Audit Commission. Would that be on the basis of the degree of opposition to its proposals or would it be limited by budgetary constraints? Those are serious questions to which I hope the Government will respond.
Turning now to my own amendment, Amendment No. 204, which concerns the scope of the Audit Commission's assessment, in view of the important environmental functions performed by local authorities, I believe that the commission's assessment should cover the environmental implications of the proposed changes as well as the implications for economy and efficiency. That will not be easy.
In speaking to Amendment No. 174 I mentioned the difficult matter of measuring environmental costs. Those are less quantifiable than financial considerations and cannot satisfactorily be measured on a monetary scale. The Audit Commission is undoubtedly expert in the consideration of financial matters and questions of efficiency. It is important that it shares its experience and knowledge in respect of environmental assessment. Without a requirement for the Audit Commission specifically to examine environmental implications, I cannot see how a comprehensive assessment of proposed changes can be achieved.
The Government are proud of their environmental record and I am sure that the prospect of local government reform tarnishing their achievements in that respect will not be one that they will wish to risk. I therefore hope that the Minister can assure me that the commission will be required to assess the environmental implications of proposals for structural change.
Amendments Nos. 203 and 208 both deal with the role of the Audit Commission in the reviews undertaken by the Local Government Commission.
Amendment No. 203 would make it mandatory for the Audit Commission to provide the Local Government Commission with advice on the likely impact of changes to local government structure on economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the provision of service arrangements. The Bill places a requirement on the Audit Commission to provide such advice only if the Local Government Commission requests it. We believe that to be the right approach.
440 It will be for the Local Government Commission to consider the most effective and convenient structure of local government for an area, and it will be assisted in that task by the guidance which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will issue to it. That guidance makes it clear that the commission should be satisfied that functions for which a transfer of responsibility would take place can be performed in a way which is cost effective.
The Local Government Commission will have to look carefully at the cost-effectiveness of service arrangements in drawing up its recommendations for structural change and it will obviously wish to draw on the valuable experience and expertise of the Audit Commission in doing so. My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale remarked that it was too important a matter to leave to chance. I do not think chance comes into it. If the Secretary of State thinks that the Local Government Commission has not arrived at its conclusions on the basis of the fullest possible balance of information it may be deemed to be in breach of its obligations. That is why I believe the discretion to seek advice should remain in the hands of the Local Government Commission.
Amendment No. 208 seeks to remove the provision under which the Audit Commission is required to charge the Local Government Commission the full cost of providing this advice. The Audit Commission charges the full cost of the advice it provides to all the public bodies who seek it. Subsection (3) of the clause is needed to ensure that the Audit Commission is able to recover its costs from the Local Government Commission. The Audit Commission has a statutory duty under the Local Government Finance Act 1982 to balance its books. If the power in subsection (3) of the clause were removed the Audit Commission would need to increase the fees it charged other bodies to cover the loss of income incurred in providing the Local Government Commission with the information it requested. That would be unfair. We prefer the Local Government Commission's relationship with the Audit Commission to be on a basis similar to its relationships with other public bodies.
Turning to Amendment No. 204 in the name of my noble friend Lord Norrie, I hope that it will not be thought from our debates so far that the Local Government Commission will have no access to advice on environmental issues. We shall be issuing guidance to the Local Government Commission about organisations it should consult in conducting its reviews. I can say that that will include suitable environmental organisations. It is worth repeating one additional point. The Bill does not in any way invalidate or weaken the impact of any previous legislation requiring local authorities to perform their statutory environmental functions. Those obligations do not disappear with the Bill, and it is not a bad idea to keep that thought at the back of our minds throughout these debates.
Technical advice on environmental issues is outside the scope of the Audit Commission's current functions laid down by legislation which relate essentially to the audit process and the promotion of value for money. Under the Bill the Audit Commission will lay down 441 the way in which performance standards are reported and published. We do not believe it would be an appropriate body to offer views on environmental performance as its undoubted expertise is not relevant to that concern.
I hope I have made clear that the arrangements we have made for the Audit Commission to give advice to the Local Government Commission and for it to obtain advice on environmental issues are appropriate and that my noble friend will withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
I am grateful to my noble friend for that answer. I have to say that without reading carefully what he has said I am unsure whether my noble friend Lord Norrie has had an answer to his question as to what will motivate the Local Government Commission to ask for advice in the first place. Subject to discovering that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 204 to 208 not moved.]
§ Clause 16 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 209 not moved.]
§ Clause 17 [Implementation of recommendations by order]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 210 to 214 not moved.]
§ Lord Desai moved Amendment No. 215:
Page 16, line 40, at end insert:
("( ) the power of the staff commission established under section 23 to issue advice and guidance to the relevant authorities with respect to all matters within its remit including the transfer of officers, their continuity of employment, compensation for loss of office, and provisions for early retirement.").
§ The noble Lord said: I apologise for the absence of my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon, and on his behalf would like to move this amendment and speak to Amendments Nos. 224 and 225, which are all about the same kind of question. At this late hour I do not wish to detain the Committee for too long.
§ The purpose of the amendment is more or less to revive the practice adopted in the Local Government Act 1972 whereby the staff commission as then appointed facilitated in as peaceful and secure a manner as possible the transfer of staff of local authorities affected by structural reform. The simple purpose of these amendments is to make quite sure that the morale in local authorities stays high, that we retain such skills as have been built up at one level and that when that level has been abolished, staff can have time to be redeployed at other levels. I do not wish to speak any further, but if anybody wishes to raise any questions. I should be happy to answer them.
§ Baroness Blatch
I am in a difficulty in that, uncharacteristically, this amendment was not spoken to very fully. If the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, had been in the Chamber, no doubt he would have done so. However, in order to put on the record our response to these very important amendments, I shall give a full answer.
The duties of any such commissions would be threefold. First, they would be required to consider the arrangements for the recruitment or transfer of staff by relevant authorities affected by orders under 442 Part II of the Bill. Secondly, they must consider any staffing issues referred to them by the Secretary of State. Thirdly, they should advise the Secretary of State on the steps necessary to safeguard the interests of the staff. The clause also provides for the Secretary of State to be able to issue directions to any relevant authority affected by an order under this part of the Bill about the implementation of any advice given by a staff commission.
Amendment No. 215 would add a new item to the list of matters that a Clause 17 order may cover. But it does not seem to add anything of significance to what the Bill already contains. Where staff commissions are established, they will have the power to issue advice and guidance to relevant authorities about all staffing matters, including those listed in the proposed amendment. Therefore there is no need for the Clause 17 orders to refer to these matters.
I turn now to Amendment No. 224. Subsection (2) of this proposed new clause would require all the staff in a local authority which ceases to exist as a result of any structural changes to be found jobs in other local authorities. It will not surprise the Committee to hear that this would be completely unacceptable to the Government. One of the reasons for examining the structure of local government is to consider the case for removing the costly duplication that exists in some areas.
The Committee is well aware of the considerable savings that accrued to the people of London and the metropolitan counties as a result of the removal of an unnecessary and, I believe, wasteful tier of government. The savings that were achieved have convinced the Government that the case for moving to unitary authorities in other areas should also be considered. I have already said in relation to an earlier amendment that the case for change must be properly assessed. But if there were to be no staff savings, because staff had to be transferred to another local authority whether or not there was a job for them to do, a substantial part of the potential savings would be lost and almost certainly the case for change with it.
With regard to the matters covered in subsections (1) and (3) of the proposed new clause, the Committee will be aware that there is already provision in Clause 26(5) for the Secretary of State to make orders or regulations for the transfer of staff, compensation for loss of office, pensions and other staffing matters. It would not be right for me to make any categoric statements about the way in which staffing matters will be dealt with in relation to any structural changes that occur.
The Committee will appreciate that there is a wide range of changes that could take place. Nevertheless, it would not be right to go as far as the proposed new clause in requiring that the staffs terms and conditions of employment are no less favourable after the transfer. That would be impractical. Although no doubt many staff will transfer from an authority which ceases to exist to another authority, it would not be possible to guarantee that their jobs will be precisely the same or that the same terms and conditions of employment should apply. To give such a guarantee might also jeopardise the potential savings to be 443 obtained from the changes. Many staff will be recruited by newly established authorities, but in my view it will be essential for those authorities to be free to determine the salary and conditions of service of staff recruited by them, as are local authorities at present.
The final amendment in this group would require the establishment of one or more staff commissions not more than one month after this Bill receives Royal Assent. I am in no doubt that staff commissions have been useful in past reorganisations of local government. However, the practice in the past has been for major reorganisations to be put into effect on a single day. This has inevitably caused considerable upheaval, and the task of the staff commission has been to try to lessen the impact so far as concerns the interests of the staff.
The reorganisation of local government that is being undertaken on this occasion is rather different. The proposed Local Government Commission will be asked to undertake a review of local government in England area by area. We do not of course know what the commission's recommendations will be or how extensive a reorganisation of local government will eventually result from this review. Where the Secretary of State decides to make orders following recommendations from the commission, these changes will be implemented in stages.
I recognise that, had the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, been in his place, he would have said that he is concerned about the possible uncertainty that this procedure might involve for the staff of local authorities. But I believe that the procedure that the Government are proposing will actually reduce the amount of uncertainty that the staff will have to put up with. One of the objectives of the Government's approach is to enable changes to be implemented more quickly in each area after the commission has completed its review. Any uncertainty will thus be confined to the period from the time the commission begins a review to the time that any proposed changes are implemented. If all changes were to be implemented in one go, the period between the commencement of the review and the implementation of all changes throughout the country would, of course, be much longer.
The need for a staff commission will, in the Government's view, depend on the scale of the changes proposed in any one area. In some areas, the changes proposed may be quite minor and I believe that it would be quite wrong to set up a staff commission to deal with relatively minor problems that can quite easily be sorted out by the local authorities involved in the reorganisation. Where, however, more major structural changes are proposed, the Government accept that there may well be a need for one or more staff commissions to be established. I can certainly assure the Committee that where a case for the establishment of staff commissions is made we shall not hesitate to use the powers in the Bill. What we argue against is automatic establishment of staff commissions simply for their own sake.
§ Lord Desai
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her detailed answer. I apologise for not having been detailed in my presentation.
Two points must be made. In the local government reforms of 1963 and 1972 arrangements for staff transfer and redeployment seem to have been much more helpful and reassuring to the local authority staff than in the 1983 local government reforms. I believe that the Minister defines savings in a narrow way. There is no doubt that if many people are made redundant and not rehired there are savings. However, in the long run there is loss of significant skills which have been built up over a number of years. It is a waste for someone skilled in one area to work where those skills are not used properly. I have no doubt that if reforms were to take place in a staggered fashion between local authorities, uncertainty would be reduced. However, once a Local Government Commission is announced, many local authorities would believe that change was upon them. They would like the reassurance that the transfer would be as smooth as possible.
§ Baroness Blatch
One point must go on the record. Whatever view I take about savings, is it not a simplistic view to believe that we keep every single member of local authorities on the pay roll for all time, with full protection when there are no jobs for them? That must be bad economics by anyone's judgment.
§ Lord Desai
I thank the noble Baroness for her answer. I believe that if jobs were found for those people somewhere in the local authorities we might conserve skills rather than waste them. However, I take her point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 216 not moved.]
§ Baroness Hamwee had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 217:
Page 16, line 40, at end insert:
("( ) In elections held pursuant to an order under this section each vote shall be a single transferable vote pursuant to the method prescribed by Schedule 1 to the European Assembly Elections Act 1978 as applying to Northern Ireland.").
§ The noble Baroness said: I shall not move the amendment, but I must put on record the fact that Members on these Benches firmly believe that local government cannot be effective or properly accountable without a system of fair votes. Earlier today we debated the question of proportional representation, if in the circumstances that is the right term. Given that Members of the Committee on all sides have staked out their positions it might be fruitless to pursue the matter very far on the same day. I am sure that all Members of the Committee will agree that a system which produces in one authority—that is mine—48 councillors out of 52 who are Liberal Democrats and only four Conservatives, and to which no Labour councillor has been elected since 1974, cannot be a fair system.
§ [Amendment No. 217 not moved.]
§ [Amendment No. 218 not moved.]445
§ Clause 17 agreed to.
§ Clauses 18 and 19 agreed to.
§ Clause 20 [Agreements as to incidental matters]:
§ [Amendment No. 219 not moved.]
§ Clause 20 agreed to.
§ Clause 21[Joint authorities]:
§ [Amendment No. 220 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ [Amendments Nos. 221 and 222 not moved.]
§ Clause 21 agreed to.
§ Clause 22 [Residuary bodies]:
§ Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 223:
Page 20, line 38. at end insert:
("( ) Notwithstanding subsection (1) above, where an order under section 17 above creates an authority smaller than the predecessor authority the Secretary of State shall appoint a residuary body to take over the functions, property, rights and liabilities of the predecessor authority's archive service.").
§ The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to safeguard the provision of archive services at their present efficient size; that is mainly at county level. It seeks to ensure that where a unitary authority is created which is smaller than its predecessor authority a residuary body as provided for in Clause 22 of the Bill be appointed by the Secretary of State to take over the functions, property, rights and liabilities of the predecessor authority archive service.
§ There are a number of issues which are of particular importance in this context. First, and most importantly, the costs of the service need to be considered. Excellent archive services run by county councils have safeguarded the future of an important part of our heritage and provided an important range of services to their community charge payers at very low cost; that is a cost of 50 pence per head of the population. If such services are broken down into a number of smaller units it is almost inevitable that expenditure will have to rise steeply to provide a comparable quality of service. This would fail the Secretary of State's own criteria that any change must be cost effective.
§ As I also mentioned earlier this evening, the experience of the abolition of the metropolitan counties in 1985 has shown that it is difficult to provide cost-effective archive services in small units. It is so difficult that in some areas there is still virtually no provision made for the rescue and preservation of archives. In others, where voluntary joint services have been arranged, the archivist is forced to spend much of his or her time persuading participating councils to sustain their contributions to voluntary arrangements, rather than getting on with the effective management of the record service. In the light of that experience I support a residual body.
§ Secondly, the nature of the archive collections themselves dictates that record offices need to be retained at a county level. This Local Government Bill looks forward to the future, and so it should. But one cannot, in one's enthusiasm for a better future, overcome the fact that archives, by their very nature, relate to the past. Many collections were created by the ancient county administrations themselves. They cannot and should not be arbitrarily split up in the 446 interests of future neatness. We must respect their integrity. Indeed, whatever the outcome of the peregrinations of the Local Government Commission for England, provision must be made for the preservation and management of archives and records of the authorities or they will become extinct.
§ Archive services operate effectively and efficiently at county level to rescue and preserve our local, written heritage. Archives do not just appear. They are important records of anything that anyone ever created. If people do not produce records, things become sloppy. Therefore I ask the Committee to support the amendment which seeks to protect that important part of our common heritage. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
I thought that we discussed earlier the substance of this issue. I was rather surprised to hear the noble Lord move his amendment. The Minister replied that in some cases it may continue to be a county responsibility, where counties exist; nevertheless, it is a feasible service for joint or lead authority arrangements. As a historian, I find that entirely satisfactory.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
I was going to say much the same. In speaking to Amendment No. 159 my noble friend referred in detail to archives. I assure my noble friend that those interested in the archive service will have ample opportunity to make representations both to the Local Government Commission and the Secretary of State before decisions are taken about the restructuring of local government in an area. When considering the recommendations of the Local Government Commission, which may involve county councils ceasing to exist, the Secretary of State will have regard to the future of the archive service, among other things. I have no doubt that it will be possible for satisfactory arrangements to be made for archives to fit in with any reorganisation which flows from the forthcoming review. Archives are an important service and I assure my noble friend that his comments are well noted. I hope that he will not press the amendment.
§ Lord Teviot
I have no intention of pressing the amendment. I have referred again to this subject in the light of a previous bad experience and I wish the matter to be on the record. I wish to look at it carefully. We must examine the whole concept of archives management. It has not been dealt with by legislation since 1962. However, I do not apologise for moving the amendment. I am grateful for all the comments made and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.|
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 22 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 224 not moved.]
§ Clause 23 [Staff commissions]:
§ [Amendment No. 225 not moved.]
§ Clause 23 agreed to.
§ Clause 24 [Abolition of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 226 and 227 not moved.]447
§ Clause 24 agreed to.
§ Clause 25 agreed to.
§ Clause 26 [Orders, regulations and directions under Part II]:
§ [Amendment No. 228 not moved.]
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale moved Amendment No. 229:
§ Page 22, line 26, leave out first ("only") and insert ("any").
§ The noble and learned Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to all the amendments up to Amendment No. 234. This clause concerns the important matter of parliamentary control of regulations. As I read the clause, it produces a result so startling that I am prepared to hear that I have misread it.
§ Subsection (1) provides, with three exceptions, that all the regulations shall be subject only to the negative resolution procedure. It is not in question at the moment whether that is adequate in all the circumstances. In recent years there have been persistent attempts to downgrade the degree of parliamentary control of regulations, and in disregard of the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee of 1972–73. As I say, that is not in question at the moment.
§ What is in question is how the three exceptions are dealt with. Paragraph (a), "structural change" and paragraph (b), "joint authority" are dealt with in subsection (2) and made the subject of the affirmative resolution procedure. But paragraph (c) is not dealt with at all in subsection (2). In other words, what has happened is that it has been taken out of subsection (1) and not dealt with in subsection (2) so there is no parliamentary control about such important matters as electoral changes and parishes.
§ So far as I know the only exception to any form of parliamentary control is where the regulation is purely procedural and allows a Minister to bring certain provisions of an Act into law because he can be trusted to do that at the earliest opportunity convenient to him. It cannot be right that those kinds of provision are subject to no parliamentary control at all.
§ In effect my amendment makes paragraph (c), as well as paragraphs (a) and (b), subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. From what the noble Baroness said to me, I gather that she is not altogether satisfied about the earlier part of my amendment, and it may well require examination by parliamentary counsel. However, I should like her assurance either that I have misread the provision or that paragraph (c) will be brought under parliamentary control, as I favour, by the affirmative resolution procedure. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Blatch
The noble and learned Lord has been very patient and I hope that I shall be able to allay his fears. The Bill proposes that the new Local Government Commission would, as well as having powers to recommend structural change, take over the functions of the existing Local Government Boundary Commission to review local government boundaries, parishes and electoral arrangements. The Bill proposes no change to the role of Parliament in relation to those reviews.
448 We have found that the system in place under the 1972 Act has worked well. Under that Act, orders which make boundary changes affecting principal authorities are subject to negative resolution in both Houses. Orders relating solely to parish or electoral arrangements are not subject to parliamentary approval. The volume of work on those issues and the minor and local nature of most of them make them inappropriate for parliamentary consideration. My right honourable friends the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Home Secretary consult widely before making orders.
In addition, the Bill provides that where parish and electoral changes arise in the context of structural changes, the full set of issues will come before Parliament for affirmative resolution. The order which sets up the new structure will include any parish and electoral changes which are part of the new structural arrangements and Parliament will have an opportunity to give its opinion on all the proposals in the order.
The second effect of the amendments would be to cause confusion about whether the orders were to be subject to the hybrid instruments procedures. The last part of subsection (2)—
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me. I have not yet moved the amendment dealing with the hybrid procedure.
§ Baroness Blatch
I hope that the noble and learned Lord will forgive me. I shall save my remarks for the next amendment. I am not sure whether the noble and learned Lord is satisfied with my explanation as regards the first part of his amendments.
Lord Mclntosh of Haringey
Before the noble and learned Lord replies I wonder whether the Minister can tell me what is meant by electoral changes? Can she also tell me what is the difference between an order, as she described it, under the 1972 Act and a statutory instrument as is required here?
§ Baroness Blatch
As I understand it the Secretaries of State have powers to make very minor changes to boundaries, for example, which can be done by order.
Lord Mclntosh of Haringey
Does the Minister mean ward boundaries which do not affect the boundaries of authorities?
§ Baroness Blatch
In considering warding arrangements, councillor numbers and timing of elections, the commission should take into account the views expressed locally, the practice hitherto and the authorities concerned. If the changes are not concerned with structural changes—the work of the commission—they will be subject to order. If they result from any work done by the Local Government Commission and are real structural changes, they will come before the House under the affirmative resolution procedure.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
I yield to none of your Lordships in my admiration for the way in which the noble Baroness has conducted this Bill. However, since she asked me straight whether I was satisfied with her answer so far, I am bound to say no. There 449 has been no convincing reason given as to why such important matters as those set out in paragraph (c) should be taken away from the cognizance of Parliament. It would be absurd to divide the Committee on the matter at this hour although it is of constitutional importance. I do not doubt that the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip has his majority under his belt. Disraeli said that a majority is the best repartee. Similarly, I doubt very much whether the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has any troops collected on the reverse slope.
In withdrawing the amendment I should not be thought to be satisfied with the answer that has been given. I shall return to the matter at a later stage. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 230 to 233 not moved.]
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale moved Amendment No. 234:
§ Page 22, line 30, leave out from ("Parliament") to end of line 34.
§ The noble and learned Lord said: This amendment removes the last three words in line 30 to the end of the subsection. Those words oust the hybrid Bill and regulation procedure from parliamentary procedure so far as this clause relates. We are all familiar with the difference between public and private Bills and there is no need to go into that now. There is the hybrid Bill and the hybrid regulation. That is a Bill or regulation which is in the public Bill area but nevertheless affects private rights. Whether it is hybrid, in other words affecting private rights, is decided by the independent examiners. If they rule that it is hybrid, it then goes to the Hybrid Bills Committee, which your Lordships appointed earlier today. Then the Minister in charge of the Bill has to justify the invasion of private rights just in the same way as the promoter of a Private Bill has to justify it. It seems quite extraordinary, I must say, even in this era of the surge of bureaucracy, to find this age-old procedure of Parliament, devised to protect private rights and interests, ousted in this way. These provisions should be removed. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Seear
I very strongly support the noble and learned Lord. We on these Benches are extremely grateful to him for watching these matters with such keen interest. The Government are constantly eroding the control of Parliament and we on these Benches join with the noble and learned Lord to oppose the Government's action in this regard on every possible occasion.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
The noble and learned Lord has some doughty support from the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and I shall have to be on my mettle when I respond to this particular amendment. Perhaps I may say that it is my judgment that the second effect of this group of amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, would be to cause confusion about whether the orders were to be subject to the hybrid instrument procedures. The last part of subsection (2) is for the avoidance of doubt; but by removing these words, uncertainty would be created 450 about whether or not these procedures were to apply. The Government believe that there is no need for the hybrid instruments procedures to apply to orders made under this Bill. Where the new commission recommends structural changes, it will only be after extensive consultation with interested parties as required by Clause 15. Interested parties will be able to make representations to the commission at the start of a review and after the commission has published draft recommendations.
We have already had a debate on Clause 17 (2) which would require the Secretary of State to wait for a minimum of six weeks after receiving a report from the commission and before making an order to implement recommendations in the report. There will be ample time for interested parties to make representations both to the commission and to the Secretary of State before an order is made. Therefore we see no need for the hybrid instruments procedure to be used to enable yet further representations to be made.
There is one other point I should like to emphasise, and that is a point I made to my noble friend Lord Norrie when he sought to extend the six weeks' period. Six weeks is a minimum. The Secretary of State could take longer than six weeks before putting the orders before Parliament. If that reply is not satisfactory we could spend some useful time between now and Report stage talking about both this part of the amendment and the previous amendments, too.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for that last observation. I should very happily discuss all this group of amendments. I only need to say at this stage that confusion is avoided if an age-old parliamentary practice, which was designed to protect private rights, is swept away. There is no possibility of confusion, if the hybrid Bill regulations procedure stands, for the Examiners to rule categorically whether it is hybrid. If it is hybrid, it goes to the Hybrid Bills Committee. There is no possibility of confusion. However, it would be wrong at the start to pursue the matter in view of what the noble Baroness has said, which I gladly accept.
I hope I may be excused if I add these remarks from the Cross-Benches as this is the last amendment to be considered. We have very much appreciated the way the Bill has been debated, particularly by the noble Lords on whom the main burden of scrutiny has fallen and most of all by the noble Baroness in charge of the Bill. We have much appreciated the noble Earl's interventions, but a quite extraordinary burden has fallen on the noble Baroness. No doubt later we shall have a more ample opportunity to express our gratitude but in the interim perhaps we may be allowed to say something tonight.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 26 agreed to.
§ Clause 27 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 235 not moved.]
§ Schedule 3 agreed to.
§ Clause 28 [Interpretation]:
§ [Amendment No. 236 not moved.]
§ Clause 28 agreed to.
§ Clause 29 agreed to.451
§ Schedule 4 [Repeals]:
§ [Amendment No. 237 not moved.]
§ Schedule 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 30 agreed to.452
§ House resumed: Bill reported with an amendment.
§ House adjourned at twenty-two minutes before midnight.