HL Deb 25 January 2000 vol 608 cc1419-86

3.2 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Whiny.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Promotion of well-being]:

Lord Peyton of Yeovil moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 18, leave out ("they consider").

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment standing in my name, I should like to begin with a heart-felt tribute to the party opposite. I do not think that, as yet, the patty I support has acquired the great skills which the party now in government had when it was in opposition and which it so frequently displayed. It was really very good. if I may so, at mustering indignation when a measure which it regarded as being incompetent and inadequate was put before it by the government of the day.

Today I am left wondering what on earth that party would have said if it had been confronted with this Bill. I believe this Bill is a rotten one. It is an example to any government and to any student of government of how a government ought not to proceed.

I begin by referring the Committee to the Second and Third Reports of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. We are all indebted to that committee for its singularly valuable work. It states in paragraph 2 of the Second Report of 15th December that, The Department's Memorandum states that the Government is already proposing to table a number of amendments to the Bill at committee stage which will confer new powers or affect powers already in the bill". If the Minister has not already done so, I hope that he will take note of the sentence that follows: We do not think it satisfactory to proceed in this way".

In the following Third Report of the same committee, we are informed that the Government have to date tabled 140 amendments. Perhaps there are more, I do not know. My noble friend on the Front Bench is indicating that there are many more. Some 140 amendments are enough to start with, and quite enough for the Government to be thoroughly ashamed of. I am waiting until I have the Minister's attention. I am much obliged. There were 140 amendments at the time of the Third Report of the Select Committee. I do not know how many there are now. Perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench knows.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My noble friend will be interested to hear that there are now 284 government amendments. I am not sure whether that will be the final tally.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I apologise to the Committee for being so out of date. I had obviously underrated hopelessly the Government's incompetence, their disregard of Parliament and their generally sloppy ways of handling legislation. There are some 285 amendments so far to this already bad Bill. It would be exceeding all the bounds of optimism if one were to suppose that even a very small proportion of those amendments would result in any acceptable improvement. I hope that when the Minister replies we will hear him speak on the subject of the number of amendments that are now before us and about whether he expects to table a lot more before the end of the Committee stage.

I am moving Amendment No. 1 on the Marshalled List. The clause that I seek to amend contains the words, Every local authority is to have power to do anything which they consider is likely to achieve any one … of the following objects". Local authorities are being given huge powers here. My amendment seeks to place some onus on them to prove that their actions are necessary and sensible. As the Bill stands, all they have to do is to say, "We think it likely" or "We thought it likely". In other words, they can consider themselves the judges of the worth of their own legislation.

I have always found this kind of proposal very objectionable, from whichever side of the House or from whichever party it may come. I hope that the Government will be minded to accept this very modest, small amendment.

Amendment No. 16, which is grouped with Amendment No. 1, has exactly the same purpose. It seems to me not in any way injurious to the purpose that the Government have in mind or to the sense of the Bill.

This habit of taking more than is necessary in legislation is totally unacceptable. For that reason, at this early point in the Committee stage, I very much hope the Minister will consider that he would not be ill-advised to make a modest concession. It will cost the Government nothing. It will make no difference to the sense of what has been provided for in the Bill. The amendment will introduce a sensible limit to the powers conferred upon local government. Such powers cannot be left entirely to the purely subjective judgment of local authorities. I find that course unpleasant and unacceptable.

I hope that the Minister will not respond by saying that this is the kind of objection he always hears from the Opposition. In the past I made speeches of this kind when I sat on the Government side of the House. If necessary, I shall do so again. My future speeches will be conditioned by the reply that I receive from the Minister today. If he cannot give me the impression that he takes the matter seriously, I shall take the opportunity again and again to raise this and other similar points throughout the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Elton

I rise briefly to draw the attention of noble Lords to the back of the Bill where it says that the legislation was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, as the Local Government Bill, "House of Lords". When the noble Lord comes to reply to this interesting debate, I hope that he shall be able to explain how such an astonishing number of amendments have arisen in the department without the aid of any debate in the other place? Normally when one receives an enormous raft of amendments, it is as a result of debates in another place where the Government have had matters drawn to their attention which, sensibly, they then seek to put right. However, in the case of this Bill, who convinced the Government that what they have drafted is wrong or inadequate? Furthermore, why were these amendments not suggested before the Bill was printed and put before your Lordships' House?

Lord Bridges

I should like to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, because I, too, feel that the words "they consider" go much too far. If the Bill goes on to the statute book in its present form, it will introduce new and undesirable conflict between local and central government. Using the terminology in Clause 2, it would be possible, for example, for a local authority to overrule and ignore a policy planning guidance on an important matter issued by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Surely that would be undesirable? A local authority should have reasonable freedom to operate within the framework set down by central government. As drafted, this clause will lead to chaos.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I support the amendment and all that has been said in support of it by my noble friend Lord Peyton. The phrase "they consider" confers an absolute delegation and subjective dispensation of discretionary power. It is wholly unacceptable, in particular when taken in conjunction with the concept of promotion, upon which I shall speak in a subsequent amendment. I support the amendment and hope that it shall be taken seriously.

3.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

Before I turn to Amendment No. 1, I should like to add my voice to the critical comments that have been made on the number of government amendments to the Bill. At the time of the debate on Second Reading we were aware that whole swathes of amendments would be coming from the Minister. I then asked the Minister to ensure that we were given a period of 14 days from when we knew exactly which Bill the Government wished to promote until the start of the Committee stage. That has not proved possible, although I thank the Minister for the efforts made by himself and those in his office so that, at any rate, the Front Benches were made aware of the changes a little over a week ago. However, I stress that only the Front Benches were so informed and even then only with the aid of fax machines.

I acknowledge that, following my request for the revised Bill, the Minister's office has made sterling efforts to produce a version of the Bill incorporating all the proposed changes. However, I am sorry to say that the Minister's office was forced to use old-fashioned physical cut-and-paste methods rather than modern technology. I had already mentioned to a number of interested outside organisations that the Minister had agreed to produce a revised version. Those organisations were pleased because their lives would have been made easier and they had expected to be able to see that version through electronic means. I am sure noble Lords will agree that such outside bodies often provide invaluable assistance with their comments on how proposed legislation may affect their areas. I am sad that in this case the Government were unable to make use of modern technology and I hope that they will ensure that a version will shortly be made available using the appropriate technology.

I should like to make a few comments on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. My noble friend Lord Tope recently discovered that "Wednesbury" is a place as well as a principle. For that reason I assume—and I hope that the Minister can confirm this—that that principle will apply here. In other words, one must read into this provision the term "reasonably". The matters which form the subject of the clause are points of judgment. We on these Benches would always prefer a local authority to be able to be the judge—within reasonable constraints—of what is proper and appropriate and what will achieve the objectives provided for in legislation. Local authorities are not being offered a blank sheet here. However, we would prefer to see local government being able to take a reasonable view of local circumstances without too much imposition from central government.

As in other legislation, many provisions in the Bill provide for the Secretary of State to issue directions and generally refer to what the Secretary of State "considers appropriate". If every decision was made so prescriptive that it had to be passed to a court for consideration, progress would become very difficult.

Lord Filkin

I rise to support the thrust of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I should also like to express my concern that we might be in danger of taking away with one hand what we are seeking to give with the other here. I believe that this clause is particularly important because it recognises the need to give local authorities the general power to promote the well-being of their area rather than having always to seek a legal opinion as to whether they have vires.

A consequence of the very limited scope within which English and Welsh authorities have operated to date has been that, on occasion, they have proceeded with excessive caution and, as a consequence, have incurred excessive legal costs when trying to validate the question of whether they have legal powers. In some cases, such as major property deals, the costs of such validation have been quite astronomical. We should bear in mind that the amendment before us would take us straight back into that quagmire. That is not in the general interest of local authorities. In my opinion, it might be of interest to certain lawyers, but by no means all. For that reason, I believe that the form of words used in the Bill is well tried and tested—it is similar to that already used in Section 137 of the 1989 Act.

The provision marks an important new beginning for the relationship between central and local government. Does the Minister recognise that we should stand firm with the Bill as presently drafted and try to move forward towards a more positive relationship than perhaps has been the case in the past?

Lord Dixon-Smith

I hope that the Committee will grant me a few moments' indulgence to follow the remarks of my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. It is an interesting—if somewhat salutary—thought that the Greater London Authority Bill, which comprised 300-odd pages, only attracted around 850 government amendments, and even then only after a great deal of work. On this Bill, the ratio of amendment to page of legislation is considerably worse. I feel sorry for the Minister, although I do not sympathise with him, if one may make that distinction.

The fact is that the Bill, as the noble Lord would like to see it amended, is an extremely useful document. It enables me to make yet another comparison, which is that the Bill will go from 51 pages to 64, an increase of the order of 20 per cent, as a result of the Government's amendments alone. That is not the end of our problems. I am well aware that it is a diversion, but there is also a document, 160 pages of it—The Local Government Bill Consultative Drafts of Proposed Guidance and Regulations on New constitutions for Councils ( Part II and Clauses 66, 67) So not only are we dealing with a major Bill which is to be changed in a dramatic way; much of the detail, the body and the substance of what is going to affect local councils is in another document which is not before us. That is highly regrettable.

We can only deal with the situation we are in. As I said, I feel sorry for the Minister, but I do not sympathise with him. I add my protest to those already made. This is not a proper or an appropriate way to legislate. Still less is it a proper or appropriate way to treat local councils which are democratically elected. I should add here, I suppose in parenthesis, "as we are not", but, of course, the other place will plead democratic superiority as it does over us. However, local councils are democratic. They have a right to their own opinions and they should have a right to organise their own affairs. The Bill seeks to impose a form of organisation on their administration. However, as I said at Second Reading, if my memory is correct, it is outwith the convention on freedom for European local authorities.

That is as may be. As I say, we have to live with it. I make one point in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I suspect that that there are not many local authorities that could not have produced the Bill, as revised, straight off their own computers. Here we are with the Government unable to do that and yet seeking to force change down their throats. I do not think that that is satisfactory.

When one comes to the amendment itself, the difference between what the Government want and what my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil would like might appear to be marginal. But if the amendment were accepted, Clause 2(1) would read: Every local authority is to have power to do anything which is likely to achieve any one or more of the following objects". Thought is a wonderful thing. I have all kinds of random thoughts. But the idea that local authorities might act on the basis of random thoughts—I am sure they would not because I believe they are extremely responsible organisations with very good members—which they considered appropriate to this action seems to me wholly inappropriate. If nothing else, it is unnecessary wording. As someone who prefers to see plain English—we have some fairly obscure stuff coming towards us later on—I would prefer to see this little consideration considered inappropriate. I support my noble friend.

Lord Mishcon

Many of us who have served in local government have had cause to regret what has happened to local government over recent years. We have seen a falling off in the capabilities—let us be frank—of members of council and of officers. That is due, I suggest, almost entirely to the fact that powers and discretion have been removed from local authorities until we have reached the stage where, frankly, men and women of ability do not even apply to become members of local authorities.

I was delighted to see the wording that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and others have criticised. Otherwise one asks oneself who is to judge whether these things are likely to benefit the area for which the local authority stands. Who is to judge? Is it the Minister? Is it a court of law? Who is to say whether, in the face of a challenge, what has been done by the local authority is right or wrong? The clause says that the local authority will consider what is likely to be for the good of its area. What is wrong with that? It is completely clear that discretion is vested in the local authority. If this House were to say, "We do not trust that discretion", that will be one more removal of power from local government, which I personally would hate to see.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Before the noble Lord the Minister sits down, I rise with hesitation to cross swords with so eminent a lawyer. I suspect that we are discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I hope that if the noble Lord looks at the effect of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Peyton, he will see that it does nothing to remove the local authority's responsibility or indeed its discretion. It removes only some somewhat lax and unnecessary words.

Lord Mishcon

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has been very kind in promoting me—I hope it has been heard by the Chief Whip. Unfortunately, the Leader of the House is not here; nor is the Prime Minister. If the only argument against the provision is that the words are superfluous, and if I, as a humble lawyer, think that they are not superfluous but mean something, what harm is done by their inclusion?

Lord Whitty

I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord Mishcon for raising the sights of the Committee about the Bill. This is a very important turning point for local government in terms of broadening flexibility, broadening the freedom of choice and putting back responsibility on to local government for looking after the well-being of their communities. I had thought from the interventions of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, in earlier debates on local government that he was also of that persuasion and concerned about the need to get local government back to the position where it genuinely leads its communities and takes decisions on behalf of its communities. That is what the power of well-being is really about.

I am not prepared to be abashed today over criticism of the tabling of amendments. The Committee will know that on previous occasions I have been slightly shamefaced in terms of our producing rather late amendments in relation to the GLA Bill when it had passed several days of Committee in another place and several days here. However, on this occasion I must say—it is perhaps presumptuous of me to say so—that I do think the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is being a little disingenuous. He will know that Bills, and perhaps in particular local government Bills, whichever House they are introduced in, are often subject to detailed amendment before they are finally considered in Committee by that first House. That was the case under various regimes of the party opposite, and it is the case now. I am not saying that it is perfect, but it is hardly unprecedented.

In particular, I justify the procedure in this respect. I explained at Second Reading the necessity of coming forward with detailed amendments, many areas of the Bill having been subjected to a new and very important innovation in the way we approach legislation in this Parliament. The legislation has been looked at in great detail by a Joint Committee of both Houses, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. A number of points were raised to which we had to give a response. The proposals have also been subject to a high degree of consultation with local government and other parties. That, in addition to the normal tidying up in which governments of all persuasions have always been involved, has produced a significant number of amendments, some of which are very important.

Although the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is anxious that the House of Lords oversees the Government in their modernising agenda—I regret that we are only as far as fax machines and not as far as a complete new version of the Bill—it is important that the House understands that the changes we intend to make as a result of the amendments, subject to the views of the Committee, will strengthen the outline of the Bill which we provided at first print and which we discussed at Second Reading. Those changes will be informed both by a better assessment of what is necessary and, more importantly, by the opinion of the Joint Committee and by the opinion of local government itself.

Therefore, on this occasion I make no apology for the large number of amendments. When we come to specific amendments, noble Lords will no doubt have particular points to make which I shall take seriously, as always. However, I do not accept the general criticism with regard to the number of amendments.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will he clarify this point? I understand that we shall not be receiving amendments to the Bill in so far as it relates to Wales until Report stage and possibly Third Reading. That is because the National Assembly for Wales has not yet completed its consideration of the Bill. Will he confirm that?

Lord Whitty

Yes, I am happy to do so. The general theme of the Bill applies to Wales as it does to England. But where there are order-making powers which rest with the National Assembly for Wales, in parallel with the Secretary of State in relation to England, the precise details of those order-making powers have yet to be agreed with the National Assembly. That is a consequence of devolution. It means some slight delay in my being able to lay those amendments until the situation in Wales has been clarified. The Welsh dimension is the only major area where there would be amendments made by the Government beyond the Committee stage.

Lord Elton

While the noble Lord is on the subject of procedure and before we return to the subject of the amendment, perhaps I may leave something on the record which may be considered by the Procedure Committee when it comes to look at how all this works out. First, a procedure which enabled the Government to draft the Bill as they intended to debate it in Committee would be much more useful than one in which discussion took place against the rather misleading matrix of the Bill as it originally stood. Secondly, there would be sense in delaying the later stages if amendments are to be deliberated on by devolved assemblies so that those amendments receive a Committee stage discussion rather than only a Report stage discussion. The only alternative to that is to re-commit parts of the Bill when that becomes necessary. I do not want to delay the Committee, but I do not know of any other opportunity to put forward that idea.

Lord Whitty

I note the noble Lord's first point. Clearly, we are still on a learning curve in relation to pre-legislative scrutiny and the way in which both Houses of Parliament will engage in much more detailed consideration of Bills before they reach their formal stages. I accept his point in part, although I suspect that the business managers will find it hard to guarantee that we always meet the optimum timing in these respects.

As regards the position on Wales, I suspect that the amendments which arise as a result of our consultation with the Welsh Assembly will not be a huge surprise to noble Lords but they need to go through the process of agreement with our colleagues in Wales. Therefore, I should not have thought that there was a need to re-commit them. However, we are not at that point and noble Lords will no doubt reserve their judgment in that respect. I believe that this is not such a big issue. There is no conflict between ourselves and the Welsh Assembly. But we need to get matters right and ensure that the procedures agreed between central government and the devolved administrations are observed.

Perhaps I may now turn to the substance of the noble Lord's amendment. Clause 2 confers a broad power on local authorities in the promotion and improvement of the well-being of their area. That is a major step in the direction outlined by my noble friend Lord Mishcon in giving back to local authorities the ability to decide the priorities within their communities. The Government very much want local authorities to be able to act in the interests of, and react to the needs and concerns of, their communities, free from threat of intervention by the courts. Clause 2(5) makes clear that this can include action outside the authority's designated area if, in the opinion of the local authority, such action would promote or improve the well-being of its own community.

I say again to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that perhaps he is being slightly disingenuous in that this phraseology is quite familiar in local government Acts. If I remember rightly, the noble Lord was a member of the 1970–74 government. This precise phraseology was used in Section 137—a fairly wide-ranging section—of the Local Government Act 1972 which allowed local authorities to use that power if, in their opinion, it was in the interests of their area to do so.

As the Bill is drafted, the lawfulness of any activity would depend on the local authority being able to prove that in its opinion the activity promoted or improved the community's well-being. This is a well tried and trusted formulation in local government. It is not an innovation in that respect.

Of course, the local authority's opinion might differ from the opinion of some of its ratepayers, some of its political opponents, and no doubt other community interests. But at the end of the day, it is the local authority's responsibility to make that judgment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

There is a problem here and I want to ask the noble Lord about it. "In its opinion" always gives the opportunity to go to judicial review on a decision and the court can say that it was not reasonably entertained. If one looks at the wording of the Bill, without my noble friend's amendment, it could well preclude judicial review—I think it probably would unless there were bias or ill will. Is that the intention of the clause?

Lord Whitty

If I understand the question correctly, no. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, it is clear that the Wednesbury rules apply in this respect, as in all other respects, in terms of the decisions of local authorities. In another words, local authorities are required to act reasonably. It is true that in the last resort judicial review could apply where the authority was regarded as not acting reasonably. The point is this: whose opinion is it that informs the decision? Local authorities must reasonably reach that opinion and reasonably implement that decision. If we were to take out the words as the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, suggests, it would leave the courts, and not the local authorities, directly to decide what activities could be undertaken within that area. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, I assume that all local authorities do act reasonably and not randomly. I am sure that that is the case, even in Essex. Nevertheless, the reasonableness criterion continues to be applied.

I was asked whether this would allow local authorities to avoid, for example, planning policy guidance or other statutory measures. They could not do so because they are prevented by Clause 3(1) from doing anything which they cannot do because of restrictions or other legislation. Therefore, authorities' duties around planning issues are prescribed in other pieces of legislation and this is not the open door suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. Nor is it open to local authorities to use the clause to take unreasonable actions or have unreasonable opinions. The provision does, however, give a great deal of additional discretion to local authorities to act in the interest of the communities that they represent. If the two amendments promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, were carried, that would greatly confuse the exercise of that new power and would open it to detailed litigation. I hope, therefore, that I have said enough to persuade the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his thoughts on the subject. At least he has paused to think for a moment. It may be that I have misunderstood the whole purpose of pre-legislative scrutiny. I had supposed, perhaps rather simplistically, that the pre-legislative scrutiny would avoid, not precipitate, the need for the torrent of amendments that we find on the Marshalled List before even a word of the Committee stage has been delivered. That is what bothers me.

I am slightly surprised, and more than a little disappointed, to find the noble Lord declaring himself not at all abashed. I remember previous occasions when he had good reason to be abashed and when he said so. He did himself a great deal of credit. There is nothing to be ashamed of in saying that a slight mistake has been made. I was impressed on the previous occasion when that happened, and I am depressed on this one.

I hope that the noble Lord will make the effort to understand the position. I certainly have no petty intention of being hostile to local government. If I may again be slightly autobiographical, I recall, when I was on the Benches opposite, making a speech one more than one occasion about what I believed was the then government's deplorable messing about with local government. So I do not accept that I should be put in the position of someone who is prejudiced against local government and is determined to shackle it at every turn. All I am saying, and it is not too much to ask, is that local government should produce something that is likely to be of benefit. If it does that, that is sufficient. Under the Bill as drafted, all local government has to do is say that it thinks it is likely to be of benefit. That is not quite enough.

The noble Lord spoke rather as though it were the intention of the Government to preclude any possibility of intervention by the courts. I am glad to see the noble Lord shaking his head, but that was the impression that he gave. His remarks could easily be construed as meaning that any interference by the courts is to be resisted and avoided at all cost, whenever possible. If the noble Lord wants to intervene, I am happy to give way.

Lord Whitty

I hoped that I had made it clear that if the reasonableness of a local authority's action is in question, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, mentioned, the question of judicial review comes into account. I do not exclude the courts from every decision. I am saying that if we accepted this wording, it would be open to the courts to intervene on almost every decision of a local authority to clarify whether the opinion of the local authority or that of someone else was better.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I am grateful to the Minister and am slightly reassured by his remarks. I do not want to prolong my remarks, but one noble Lord opposite, who is not now in his place, said that if my amendment were passed, we should be returning to some old quagmire. I did not understand quite what that was about. I thought it rather extreme to say that this modest amendment would put local government back in some imaginary quagmire. That is certainly not my intention and I do not believe that it would be the effect of the amendment. When I find the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, opposing an amendment of mine, I realise that I am up against very serious skills. I have nothing to offer which can possibly compete with the skills used with such ease by the noble Lord. Nevertheless, despite what the noble Lord has said, I still think that the amendment that I propose is quite a modest one.

I am sorry that the Minister should take such a lofty view in dismissing the amendment and saying that it would be greatly prejudicial to local government. I do not see that. If the noble Lord persists in that view, I shall, with some reluctance, press the amendment. The noble Lord does not respond. I should therefore like to take the opinion of the House.

3.45 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 84; Not-Contents, 126.

Division No. 1
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Howe, E.
Astor of Hever, L. Howell of Guildford, L.
Attlee, E. Hylton-Foster, B.
Belstead, L. Jopling, L.
Biffen, L. Laird, L.
Blatch, B. Laming, L.
Blood, B. Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Boardman, L. Lane of Horsell, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Liverpool, E.
Bridgeman, V. Luke, L.
Bridges, L. Lyell, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Buscombe, B. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Butterworth, L. Miller of Hendon, B.
Byford, B. Montrose, D.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Naseby, L.
Carr of Hadley, L. Norfolk, D.
Cockfield, L. Northbrook, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Northesk, E.
Courtown, E. O'Cathain, B.
Cox, B. Palmer, L.
Craig of Radley, L. Peel, E.
Crickhowell, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Cuckney, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Plumb, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L
Denham, L. Prior, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Rawlings, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Rees, L.
Ferrers, E. Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Flather, B. Renton, L.
Fookes, B. Roberts of Conwy, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Rotherwick, L.
Geddes, L. Ryder of Wensum, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Henley, L.[Teller] Seccombe, B. [Teller]
Shaw of Northstead, L. Vivian, L.
Skelmersdale, L. Waddington, L
Strathclyde, L. Weatherill, L.
Swinfen, L. Wilcox, B.
Vinson, L. Young, B.
Ackner, L. King of West Bromwich, L.
Addington, L. Lea of Crondall, L.
Ahmed, L. Levy, L.
Alli, L. Lockwood, B.
Alton of Liverpool, L. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Amos, B. Longford, E
Archer of Sandwell, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. [Teller]
Ashton of Upholland, B. Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L
Bach, L. Maddock, B.
Barnett, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Blackstone, B. Massey of Darwen, B.
Borrie, L. Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B
Bradshaw, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Brightman, L. Mishcon, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Morris of Manchester, L.
Brookman, L. Nicol, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Northbourne, L.
Burlison, L. Paul, L.
Carter, L. [Teller] Perry of Walton, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Peston, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Clement-Jones, L. Pitkeathley, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Crawley, B. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
David, B. Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Rees-Mogg, L.
Dealing, L. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Desai, L. Richard, L.
Dixon, L. Roll of Ipsden, L.
Dubs, L. Russell, E.
Elder, L. Sandberg, L.
Evaas of Watford, L. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Ezra, L. Serota, B.
Falkland, V. Sharp of Guildford, B.
Farrington of Ribbletor, B. Shepherd, L.
Faulkner of Worcester, L. Shore of Stepney, L.
Filkin, L. Simon, V.
Gale, B. Smith of Clifton, L.
Gavron, L. Smith of Leigh, L
Geraint, L. South wark, Bp.
Gibson, L. Stone of Blackheath, L.
Goodhart, L. Strabolgi, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Hamwee, B. Thornton, B.
Hardy of Wath, L. Tomlinson, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Tope, L.
Harris of Haringey, L. Tordoff, L.
Harrison, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Haskel, L. Varley, L.
Hayman, B. Wakefield, Bp.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Watson of Richmond, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Wharton, B.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L. Whitaker, B.
Hunt of Tanworth, L. Whitty, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Wigoder, L.
Chancellor) Wilkins, B.
Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord Williams of Crosby, B.
Privy Seal) Williams of Elvel, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

3.55 p.m.

The deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi)

I must inform the Committee that if Amendment No.2 is agreed to, I cannot call Amentment Nos. 3to 7.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 19, leave out from ("consider") to end of line 2 on page 2 and insert ("will further any one or more of its principal purposes, namely—

  1. (a) promoting economic development and wealth creation in their area or improving the economic well-being of their area,
  2. (b) promoting social development in their area or improving the social well-being of their area,
  3. (c) promoting the improvement of the environment in their area or improving the environmental well-being of their area.").

The noble Baroness said: The intention of Amendment No. 2 is to explore exactly what powers the Bill proposes to confer on local government. My amendment, which I freely accept is not a particularly elegant piece of drafting, is based on the provisions of the Greater London Authority Act. It allows local authorities not merely to promote the matters which are the subject of the amendment, as is the case with the GLA, but to act directly. I have combined the provisions of the GLA Act with this Bill because I should like to explore with the Government the difference between economic well-being and economic development and wealth creation (to use the terminology of the Act), social well-being and social development and environmental well-being and the environment of a local authority's area.

There are two principal reasons for tabling the amendment. First, I am concerned that if there is slightly different wording in different pieces of legislation, which the average reader might expect to mean much the same thing, it may be interpreted as significant. If there are significant differences between the matters dealt with in the GLA Act and those set out in this Bill, the Committee will be assisted if it is made aware of them. In particular, can the Minister assure the Committee that, other than the explicit limits spelt out in the following clauses—we shall come to those constraints and restraints later this evening—there are no limits on the powers; in other words, that the wording of the Bill does not contain inherent limits that may be read into the legislation as a result of terminology which is different from that used in other statutes? The term "well-being" in Clause 2 is very general and is welcome to Members of the Committee on all sides of the Chamber who are great enthusiasts for local government. However, it may be argued that it is so wide as to be almost meaningless. I hope that that is not so.

The second principal reason for the amendment is to ask: what is the purpose of local government? When the Greater London Authority was established, one began with a completely clean sheet of paper. One had several hundred sheets of paper to deal with in the case of that Act! Local government as it is now is an agglomeration—perhaps conglomeration—of powers and duties that have been built up by statute, case law and custom.

I confess that I should like to see a single over-arching purpose: sustainable development—an issue that we shall debate later. However, it is relevant here because it confines the three types of well-being spelt out in the clause. It is not a balancing act but a process. Sustainable development is not just outcome; it is a way of achieving a combination of different types of well-being. It is not a matter of picking and mixing. The clause states: Every local authority is to have power to do anything … likely to achieve any one or more of the following objects". Sustainable development is about all those objects. That is why I chose to approach the matter in this way and to use the term "purposes".

A subsidiary but important question, which I believe is linked to this issue, is this. Can the Minister tell us why the "objects" of town and parish councils are not included in Clause 1? I understand that the definition does not extend to them.

The Government acknowledge the role of local authorities in delivering many of their key measures which can be regarded as achieving a better quality of life. We believe, therefore, that Clause 2 should be as strong as possible. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I support my noble friend's amendment. The amendment strengthens the message that I believe the Minister would wish local government to receive: that, after years of being undermined, local government has the power to do things for its local community.

The inclusion of the words "principal purposes" is important. Some have argued over past decades, and some cynics still say, that the private sector could deliver all the services that local government deliver without the bureaucracy. Of course, those who so argue may not be interested in the democratic process. But it leaves out an important piece of the jigsaw. It is the way those services fit together which differentiates between how they serve the community.

When I began to speak, I should have declared an interest as a county councillor in Somerset. I should like that interest to be recorded for all the times that I speak on the Bill. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is not in his place now. I wanted to ask him why he had formed such a cynical view of members currently serving in local government. I do not wish to be seen to defend myself, but I meet many members and councillors who are extremely committed and energetic. They have virtually given up any form of meaningful life outside their jobs in order to serve their local communities. I do not believe that the quality of members is on the whole poor. I accept that members can always do with more training. I am glad that through the Improvement and Development Agency the Government are committed to delivering that training. But we should be pleased with the quality of members and young members coming in.

My noble friend mentioned that what we sought to achieve would be better covered by the term "sustainable development". However, to define the principal purposes of local government would be a step in the right direction.

Lord Whitty

It became clear from her remarks that the main point of the noble Baroness's amendment is that what is good enough for the GLA should be good enough for everywhere else. I suspect that the rest of the country views the issue the other way round.

As the noble Baroness indicated, in the case of the GLA Act we started virtually from scratch. The GLA was a new body with no existing functions, although it took some over from other statutory bodies. While we might have chosen to give that body a raft of specific powers, that would undoubtedly have lengthened the GLA Act. I do not think that that would have been appreciated in this House or by those who subsequently had to interpret the powers of the GLA. Instead, we gave the GLA a broad purpose.

It is not appropriate to apply the wording of the GLA Act to local authorities which already have statutory duties, powers and obligations through hundreds of years of local authority legislation. It is unclear how those would be affected if local authorities were now given principal purposes, as proposed in the amendment. Would the authorities' duties carry equal weight with these purposes? If there are principal purposes, what are the non-principal purposes, and so on?

The noble Baroness suggested that it was not the most elegant piece of drafting. However, the drafting is simple and the intention is clear, but with wide ramifications. I do not think that it is sensible to read across from the GLA Act in order to restate the purposes of local authorities which have existed for many decades.

The wording of the clause has been drafted to work effectively alongside existing local government statutes. For the same reasons, it is not possible successfully to transplant the wording from the GLA Act into this Bill.

The noble Baroness referred to parish councils and town councils. We are not giving powers to parish councils, but we want parish councils to engage in the kind of community strategies to which we refer here. To assist them, they will be able to use their existing powers under Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972. We did not feel, therefore, that the new power should be reflected in parish and town councils.

If the amendment were accepted, it would simply add to the confusion regarding local authority powers. The practical effect would be unclear and subject to serious problems of definition. We do not think that it would be prudent for us to accept a new definition of principal powers for local authorities. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

I had not intended to put the amendment to the vote. I shall consider the Minister's remarks on parish councils. I am concerned that they should have all the powers they might reasonably expect in order to take a full part in the community, and in leading those communities. I shall read in Hansard the precise words used, but I am not sure that the Minister answered my point about the distinction between, for example, economic well-being and economic development and wealth creation. I should like an assurance that the objects—the term used in the clause—are at least as wide as the parallel terminology in the GLA Act and that local government is not constrained by the words in this Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1. line 20, leave out ("promotion or').

The noble Lord said: The intention of Amendments Nos. 3, 6 and 7 is to remove the words "promotion or" from paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of Clause 2(1). I suggest that the word "promotion" is unnecessary. If it is removed, the Bill would read: Every local authority is to have the power to do anything which they consider is likely to achieve any one or more of the following objects … the improvement of the economic well-being of their area … the improvement of the social well-being of their area, and … the improvement of the environmental well-being of their area".

The word "promotion" has various meanings. The Oxford English Dictionary gives "preferment"; "furtherance"; "advancement"; and "encouragement". Some of those definitions apply and some do not. The dictionary has not yet got around to "advertisement" as promotion, but I have a son-in-law who makes an extremely good living out of advertisement and he would tell me that he advertises in order to promote products. So what does "promotion" mean in this context? I believe that the word is a little ambiguous because it has a diversity of meaning and that Clause 2(1) would be happy without it. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I, too, looked in the Oxford English Dictionary and saw that the word "promotion" is a vague term. The concept has no precise meaning for the purpose of legal draftsmanship. The largest edition of the dictionary contains pages on it, but the definition I found was: to put forward into notice or attention, to publish, promulgate or advance". That is rather vague. In the context of the Bill, in particular Clause 2, which contains a massive delegation of power and a serious erosion of the supervisory jurisdiction of the courts under judicial review, it is not satisfactory to retain the term.

In any event, without pre-empting debate on Clause 68 and Amendment No. 365, which is not my intention, there is no doubt that the clause and the use of the word "promotion" must be seen in context with Clause 68 and Schedule 5, which repeal Section 2A of the 1986 Act and Section 28 of the 1988 Act. The concept of promotion was brought into the realms of local government law relatively recently. Its origins are in the Private Member's Bill of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, to amend Section 2 of the 1986 Act. It passed through this House, went to another place and was defeated. The concept of promotion was then taken up in local government law by Section 28 of the 1988 Act.

Surely, on an objective standard, it is only sufficient for the due discharge of the proper functions of a local authority on public funds that there should be the improvement of economic and social well-being in its area and that there is no need to import the inevitable ambiguity of "promotion".

4.15 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I should like briefly to refer to my Amendments Nos. 4 and 5. It is my most earnest hope that the Minister will take me seriously when I say that the amendments appear for no other reason than the desire to help and to abbreviate a Bill which is already overlong.

The Government want to give local authorities the power to do anything which will have economic, social and environmental benefits. I cannot think of a benefit which local government could produce which would not fall in one of those three categories. Therefore, the Bill would have the same effect if all three adjectives were left out and we state that local authorities can do anything they want to do.

I have tabled my amendments in an attempt to shorten the clause. I hope that the Minister will regard them as helpful. That is what is intended. The measures would simplify the Bill, making it briefer and more easily understood.

Lord Smith of Leigh

I must first declare my interest as leader of a local council. I am somewhat disappointed with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, because having agreed that the purpose of the clause is to give local authorities the opportunity to act in the interests of their local communities and to tackle problems and issues which may arise in their local areas, he seeks to make what he regards as a simple amendment. It would remove the discretion which local authorities are given in this clause.

The noble Lord has looked in the Oxford English Dictionary and has missed the definition of "promotion" which most people in my area would recognise. In thinking of promotion, they would be worrying about who is changing divisions in rugby or football.

The definitions of the word in this context advance the interests of the local community in the broad areas of economic, social and environmental well-being. Furthermore, in achieving many of the objectives of the clause, local authorities will be working in partnership with many other agencies and organisations. The idea of indirect activity is also encompassed in the word "promotion". That is why it needs to remain in the Bill.

I was somewhat relieved when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, explain his amendments because I was concerned that in seeking to reduce the number of paragraphs, he was further reducing the amount of power and discretion which local authorities could exercise. In some ways, the consequences of the policies of the party opposite in relation to mining in the early 1980s still remain. Only yesterday in my authority, a local firm which makes mining machinery closed with the loss of 200 jobs. That is the kind of situation in which I, as a leader of a local council, need powers to be able to act and intervene, not only directly, but also in partnership with local business and training organisations to make sure that those 200 people may soon be absorbed back into the labour force. I hope that we may accept the phraseology of the clause as it is laid down.

Lord Whitty

Like my noble friend Lord Smith, I recall a time when, for me, "promotion" meant solely the way out of the Third Division South! These days, "promotion" has a much wider meaning. It indicates a range of methods whereby a local authority could achieve the objectives set out in the Bill. Therefore, far from resulting in a degree of ambiguity, it is intended to provide a degree of comprehensiveness. If the local authorities' ability to promote economic, social and environmental well-being was removed, it could imply that the authorities could take action directly only if they themselves provided the intervention or the service.

There is generally held to be a difference between the provision of a function and the promotion of a function, because the promotion of a function involves other public and private bodies within the community, as my noble friend Lord Smith indicated. If we were to accept the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, it is clear that the authorities themselves could still take direct action to improve well-being but it is less certain that they could encourage or facilitate others to take such action. Moreover, the amendments might prevent local authorities taking any action which maintained current levels of well-being or which prevented current levels deteriorating, because such action would be promoting, but not improving, the well-being of the local area. Therefore, the terminology in the Bill as it stands is more appropriate.

I turn to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. We considered whether we should simply use the term "well-being" rather than any qualifying words. We believe that the formulation, "economic, social and environmental well-being" invokes the idea better than leaving it open to as wide an interpretation as may be made by referring simply to "well-being", which could theoretically be interpreted in a different way. While in general we welcome any amendments—this may not be borne out by my view on the previous clause—from the noble Lord which reduce the wording of the Bill, on this occasion his amendment could make the Bill's meaning slightly more obscure. That is why here and in other pieces of legislation before the House we have used the terms "economic", "social" and "environmental" in relation to "well-being". That gives a clearer idea of what we are about and what we expect local authorities to do in using those powers.

I therefore hope that noble Lords will not pursue those changes because I believe we are all agreed that they would not achieve their objectives.

Lord Northbourne

Before the noble Lord sits down, I have a query relating to his last point. The example of highways occurred to me; for instance, the creation of footpaths. Is that economic, social or environmental?

A noble Lord

Environmental, I believe.

Lord Northbourne

No, I believe it is social.

Lord Whitty

It is probably all.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation, which I shall consider carefully. If I feel the need to return to the matter at a later stage, there are still plenty of opportunities to do so. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 4 to 7 not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 8: Page 2, line 6, leave out ("or present").

The noble Lord said: This is really a probing amendment to try and tease out from the Government precisely what is the meaning of the paragraph which states, all or any persons resident or present in a local authority's area". Subsection (2) states: The power under subsection (1)"— which we have just been discussing— may be exercised in relation to or for the benefit of … (b) all or any persons resident or present in a local authority's area". The phrase "or present" might be a little difficult. No one would have any problem with the local authority acting on behalf of its residents in such matters. "Or present" in the area, however, implies anyone who happens to be visiting the authority's area. If they were tourists, businessmen or whatever, one would have no difficulty with that. But there are on occasions other types of visitor; a friend of mine lives in a house which was for a time occupied by people of North African extraction who were in fact members of a competent terrorist organisation under MI5 supervision, as I understand it. I wonder whether there is not a slight conflict of interest. Those people were resident in the area; they were there for several years, as it happens. I am not absolutely convinced that we should believe it reasonable that the local authority should be acting in relation to such matters.

One could equally conceive of a situation in which a major road improvement was to be carried out within a local authority's area and, before that improvement commenced, the site was invaded by what I believe are termed "eco-warriors". Indeed, a situation might well arise where the police had to do their utmost to remove them. Sometimes, I believe we should regard the action required to do so as rather less than fortunate, but it is none the less necessary.

I believed that it would be worth tabling the amendment to invite the Minister—who, I am glad to say, readily accepts such invitations—to discuss for a little while exactly what is meant by being "present" in a local authority's area. We should not want there to be any confusion about that. I know that the Bill is drafted in a benign sense, but someone else might be able to interpret it in a different way which would cause problems. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is coming up with some colourful examples of situations with which local authorities might have to deal. My query is quite simple: as I read subsection (2), it gives a power to the local authority to carry out actions. It does not say that a local authority must prefer certain groups of people to those which comprise its residents. It is in the spirit of supporting local government and the autonomy of local authorities that their scope for taking rounded decisions should he in the interests of all those who might properly seek to benefit from them. Simply to allow local authorities to take decisions for the benefit of persons resident but not for other persons who might be in its area would be a regrettable restriction.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I want to give the Committee two or three examples of large groups of people which, certainly in the south-west, would be massively disadvantaged if the noble Lord's amendment were to be accepted. Some examples which spring to mind are seasonal workers who come to work in horticulture or agriculture; students who frequently have to cross county boundaries, for instance, to go to appropriate colleges; or even tourists in the summer season. Such groups number far more than would occasional eco-warriors or terrorists.

Baroness Hamwee

My noble friend might have added homeless people and, indeed, people who are sleeping rough on the streets. I am sure that local authorities, among other agencies, would not want to be forced to ignore their interests.

Lord Whitty

I believe that on this occasion noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches have made my point for me. Clearly, the provision is not a requirement on local authorities to act on behalf of the North African terrorists mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, or Swampy and his friends; rather, it provides an ability to act on behalf of exactly the types of group to which the noble Baronesses, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer and Lady Hamwee, have referred. I believe that almost every local authority has some, if not all, of the groups which we have mentioned. Therefore, it is important that they have the power to act on their behalf.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply because he has helped me, even if he believes that he has done so unwittingly. Of course, I accept all the examples that were given by the noble Baronesses on my right. However, the Minister has said that the provision is not a requirement. That will now be written into the record of the proceedings in this House because it will be reported in Hansard. If this matter becomes an issue in one of those ridiculous cases which I mentioned and of which we have all seen or know of examples, at some point the Minister's words in this House may be important. I am grateful to him for those words. They are helpful and, with that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

If Amendment No. 9 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 10 to 12.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil moved Amendment No. 9: Page 2, line 7, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Lord said: This is a simple amendment and one which, again, is designed to help the Minister and to be helpful to local government. To say that a local authority must have regard to the effect which the proposed exercise of the power would have on the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom seems to me to ask the local authority to make a judgment on a matter which is for national government rather than for the authority. I do not in any way belittle the capacity of local government. I seek simply to avoid putting upon them a burden which is beyond their competence to discharge. Unless this duty is put upon local government so as to give the Minister a locus on which he can intervene and restrain the local authority in what it intends to do, I do not understand why the burden should be imposed. Therefore, I propose that it should not be. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.

Lord Harris of Haringey

I have no difficulty with there being written into this part of the Bill references to the importance of the achievement of sustainable development. I believe that that is a fundamental objective towards which local government should be working. However, although I do not favour the removal of the subsection in its entirety, I have some difficulties with the wording and I should be grateful for the guidance of my noble friend.

Could the words, have regard to the effect … on the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom", be deemed to mean that if a local authority were pursuing something which would lead to the opening of a particular group of businesses, it would be necessary for the local authority to demonstrate that that would not affect the sustainable development of similar businesses engaged in similar work anywhere else in the United Kingdom? I am concerned that the phraseology "in the United Kingdom" will somehow create a kind of lawyers' playground. Although I understand that lawyers need playgrounds and that ambiguity in legislation is no doubt helpful, I am worried that this will produce a substantial restraint on local authorities pursuing and using the power in a sensible fashion. I am sure that that is not the intention.

I believe that the intention is try to ensure that, in pursuing the well-being of the people of their area, local authorities do so in a way which does not have a major negative impact on, say, residents of surrounding areas, and that they pursue that well-being in a fashion which can be sustained for future generations. Those are important principles. However, I am not sure that the subsection as drafted will necessarily achieve that. I hope that my noble friend can satisfy me that my fears of how lawyers might interpret this issue are completely wrong.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

While I, too, am interested in the Minister's reply to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, on the intention of the drafting, we would certainly be sad if this clause were to be removed. Indeed, through our Amendment No. 36, to which I shall speak later, we express a wish to strengthen substantially the sustainable development duty of local authorities.

I had not read anything so sinister into the clause. I believed that it was attempting to make a building block of local authorities in an effort to make sustainable development occur nationally and to recognise that local authorities are the only building blocks that can deliver a national sustainable development strategy. They are, after all, the planning authorities. They will be responsible for how the Transport Bill is implemented. Virtually everything that they touch has an immediate bearing on sustainable development in the most obvious sense. Much of what they do has a longer-term and perhaps less obvious impact on sustainable development. Therefore, I believe that this subsection should remain. Indeed, we look forward to the sustainable development power of local authorities being considerably strengthened.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My name also appears in support of the amendment. I must confess to slightly different motives from those of my noble friend when I added my name, in that, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, I wished to probe this aspect of the meaning of "sustainable development" and particularly the relationship as regards local authorities and sustainable development in the United Kingdom.

Regrettably, "sustainable development" is not a precise phrase. If we were to enter a detailed discussion—I hope that we shall not—we should probably find that there are as many meanings to those two words as there are Members in this Chamber tonight. Therefore, we believe that we should once again invite the Minister to help us to clarify precisely what is meant because local authorities rightly are subject to public supervision of their actions.

It is not inconceivable that one of the environmental pressure groups might choose to take a different view of what a local authority does in the context of the meaning of the two words "sustainable development". Having taken that view, they would, I believe, perhaps be entitled to call for a judicial review of the matter if they felt sufficiently strongly about the issue. Therefore, if we are not careful we could involve local authorities in considerable expenditure which really should not be necessary. If we can do anything at this or, indeed, any other stage of the Bill which will avoid that situation, we should do it. It is for that reason that I added my name in support of the amendment. I was not in collusion with my noble friend Lord Peyton. We find ourselves arguing the same point but from different perspectives. However, I believe, and very much hope, that the Minister will be able to help us.

Lord Whitty

As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, pointed out, the decisions and actions of local authorities may well have repercussions well beyond their own boundaries. In particular, they may well have an effect on the infrastructure, climate and economic development beyond their own boundaries.

This clause merely provides that in reaching their decisions under this power, local authorities must have regard to the broader picture in relation to sustainable development. Having had that regard, they must take that reasonably into account. It does not say, as my noble friend Lord Harris perhaps implied, that were a decision of a local authority to come into conflict with the decision of another local authority, that decision would be overriden.

The Government, like those on the Liberal Democrat Benches, consider the objective of sustainable development to be very important. Once a local authority has taken a view as to how its actions would affect sustainable development, it must then act reasonably. Therefore, this provision writes into the decision-making process that local authorities must take into account sustainable development for the United Kingdom as a whole. It has no broader implication. We believe that it is important that that should be written in as part of the way in which local authorities should reasonably exercise the powers.

Lord Harris of Haringey

Before my noble friend sits down, I should be grateful for further clarification. For example, a local authority in London may wish to create a series of units for small technological businesses. That would seem extremely sensible in terms of the economic well-being of its own area. It might appear to be very good in terms of the sustainable development of its own area, but because of the nature of the businesses being attracted, it might have a serious effect on the future well-being and sustainable development of other parts of the United Kingdom.

I am concerned that the local authority might be required to carry out major research into the markets of the firms which it was encouraging to come into those units and that unless it had done so and could demonstrate that it had done so, it would be failing to take into account the implication; of sustainable development for the United Kingdom as a whole.

I am not against what my noble friend says is the objective of the amendment; namely, that we should look at the implications of sustainable development for the UK as a whole. But I am concerned that it might create the expectation of an enormous research effort going into what could be quite small decisions with relatively minor implications. I want to be reassured that in practice local authorities will not find that their use of the power is hamstrung by a requirement to carry out a major exercise in demonstrating whether or not sustainable development in the United Kingdom as a whole, or in different parts of the United Kingdom, is affected by the subsection.

Lord Whitty

Clearly, the interpretation of the clause is giving rise to concerns which I do not believe should exist. We are certainly not attempting to use the clause to override the ability of local authorities, as part of their own sustainable development, to engage in some degree of competition with other local authorities. That is bound to happen. We are saying that local authorities must have regard to the broad objectives of sustainable development in the country as a whole.

It is clear that further guidance will be needed, and we intend to issue guidance. We shall consult widely with bodies with which my noble friend Lord Harris is extremely familiar in order to reach consensus. But we believe that some reference to the objective should be made on the face of the Bill and I hope that the guidance will clarify the matter.

Lord Smith of Leigh

I thank my noble friend for the undertaking to issue further guidance. However, I hope that he will follow up the point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, because I have some sympathy for what he said. We all support the principle of sustainable development and wish to see it included as an objective in the Bill. Those of us who have served on local authorities know that such matters may become the subject of legal challenge by individuals or groups who very effectively use the processes of the law to delay and damage developments. It is right that local authorities should consider sustainable development but we do not want decisions to be hamstrung by a small group of objectors who use the processes of the law to cause delay. Perhaps that can be examined in relation to the point made by my noble friend Lord Harris.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

We have had a very interesting debate. I have been able to control my own excitement and I now beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 10 Page 2, line 8, leave out ("have regard to") and insert ("determine").

The noble Lord said: I hope that the Committee will forgive me for what I consider to be a thoroughly bad amendment. I do not mean that in the sense of my intentions but it is the most appalling alliteration. I did not realise that until I had tabled the amendment. In fact, the word "ascertain" would be better than the word "determine".

The Bill states that, a local authority must have regard to the effect which the proposed exercise of the power would have on the achievement". We hear the phrase "have regard to" often enough in this Chamber. I should prefer local authorities to have to sort out what the effect will be. I have used the word "determine" in the amendment although I do not like it. The word "ascertain" would be better so I shall quite understand if the amendment is thrown out. However, we should have something rather more positive than "have regard to", which, in the context, is rather loose as a phrase. "Ascertain" is rather more positive and, on occasion, may persuade a local authority to be rather more cautious than it might otherwise have been in relation to an action which somebody at some stage may come to regret. I beg to move.

Lord Harris of Haringey

On the last amendment, I expressed concern that we might be creating a lawyers' playground and I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, agreed. He now seems intent on making that lawyers' playground potentially worse by requiring that local authorities determine or ascertain the effects of sustainable development on the United Kingdom. I suggest that that makes the clause even more of a potential minefield in terms of litigation. When the noble Lord listens to my noble friend's response, I am sure that he will rapidly wish to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Whitty

I am not even sure whether we are dealing with the amendment on the Marshalled List or that deftly corrected by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, in the course of his remarks.

However, the position is as my noble friend Lord Harris indicated. What is proposed is a much more onerous requirement on local authorities to engage in precisely the degree of detailed research into specific proposals which my noble friend feared would hamstring local authorities. Like him, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, was also concerned about that.

Clearly, we want local authorities to have regard to the broad objective of sustainable development. We do not wish to impose on local authorities a huge research task to ascertain, determine, or whatever, the precise effect on all other local authorities throughout the United Kingdom. That would be too much. I do not suggest that, and I hope that the wording on the face of the Bill does not suggest it.

Baroness Hanham

I believe that the mischief lies in the words, "in the United Kingdom". The more I am told that there is to be guidance on the matter, the more nervous I become. I question—and I hope that the Minister will take this into account—whether each individual local authority will have to ascertain, determine or look at everything that is going on in the United Kingdom before it takes any decisions under this power. By removing the words, "in the United Kingdom", you remove the lawyers' paradise. You make a perfectly reasonable statement that local authorities should pay attention to sustainable development. At present it is almost like asking them to pay attention to sustainable development in Europe. The Government are making it nearly as bad by inserting the words "in the United Kingdom". Rather than adding another 15 pages to the large and voluminous guidance already issued, perhaps we should just omit those four words.

Lord Bridges

This amendment seems to trespass somewhat on the territory of environmental impact assessments that are already obligatory in certain spheres of local authority activity including planning applications. I am not sure how the amendment will affect the existing situation.

Lord Whitty

Perhaps it is in order for me to speak again. In part, I take the points made in relation to this matter. If sustainable development is to be looked at only within the area of a local authority, that will constrain the aim of the clause. Clearly, quite a number of decisions will affect at least enabling authorities and perhaps beyond. I do not believe that the amendment is intended to have quite the ramifications suggested by noble Lords. I am happy to consider what has been said in this debate and to look at whether there is a better way of dealing with the matter. I believe that noble Lords understand the objectives behind the clause and I hope that some anxieties have been allayed.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am again grateful to the Minister for his reply. His words will become part of the record and, therefore, they will have validity and an importance beyond this Chamber. In that sense I am grateful to him. After a useful little debate, surprisingly, I am delighted to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 11: Page 2, line 9, after ("on") insert ("the health of persons in their area and").

The noble Baroness said: I rise to speak to the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend, which seeks to add the words, the health of persons in their area"— that is the local authority area—to, the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom", about which we have just been talking. Those are factors to which local authorities must have regard when deciding whether, or how, to exercise their powers under Clause 2(1).

The health of the local population ought to be, and already is, a matter of importance to local authorities. Many local authorities already have quite important powers in the field of public health. Their responsibilities in housing, planning and social services can have considerable impacts on the health of local people. They now have an obligation to co-operate with local NHS organisations on health matters. The health of local people, like benefit to the environment, provides an excellent litmus test of the wider impact and benefit of the exercise of powers to promote economic, social or environmental improvement. Noble Lords have discussed exactly that in relation to the previous amendment.

A government amendment introduced a similar provision to the GLA Act. During its passage, we introduced amendments to give powers to the mayor to create a health strategy for London and/or to publish a regular report on the health of Londoners. In responding to those amendments, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, said on 21st June 1999: The effect of those amendments is that health considerations will be a top priority for the mayor in discharging his or her two most important functions—the preparation of strategies and the exercise of the general power. For example, in deciding whether or not to exercise the authority's general power, the mayor must have regard to the effect that the proposed exercise of the power would have on the health of Londoners".—[Official Report, 21/6/99; col. 766.] Two days later she said: the GLA will be under a duty, both in the exercise of its powers and the preparation of its strategies, to consider their effect on the health of people in London and to promote improvements in their health".—[Official Report, 23/6/99; col. 979.]

Our amendment does not go quite as far as that. Despite what the Minister has said in reply to my noble friend, we submit that this duty should apply to all local authorities and not just to the GLA. If the amendment is accepted, the clause would be almost identical in its wording to the relevant provision—Section 30(4)—in the Greater London Authority Act. I beg to move.

Lord Harris of Haringey

I rise to speak in support of Amendment No. 12 standing in my name. The amendment requires local authorities, in exercising the new power relating to well-being, to have regard to the achievement of social inclusion in their areas. That is an important provision because I take the view that the creation of a socially cohesive community in a local authority area is a central part of the work of local government. Local government should be about delivering for all the people of the area represented by a local authority. As many local authorities have diverse areas, including extremes of poverty and wealth—many less deprived areas contain pockets of severe deprivation—it is critically important that a local authority in carrying out its functions, particularly in considering the exercise of these new powers, should try to achieve social cohesion. Local authorities should consider the social inclusion of people in such areas.

Social cohesion requires service delivery and the effective delivery of well-being for everyone in the area. In particular, it should require special efforts to be made to deliver well-being to those who suffer from deprivation. In practice, that is about making sure that the local authority delivers for all the people in that community, whether black or white, rich or poor, young or old. That seems to me to be a fundamental requirement. For that reason I believe that there should be an expectation that local authorities, in considering the exercise of these new powers, should have regard to their effect in relation to achieving social inclusion in their areas.

I take the view that this subsumes the implications of Amendment No. 11 in that a key part of social inclusion is to ensure that the health of all those in the community is taken account of and respected. I have heard the points already made in this debate. It seems that the matters of social inclusion and health go closely together. I hope that the Minister can take those matters on board and consider them at a later stage in the course of this legislation.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I speak to Amendment No. 14 in this group. It is designed to make local authorities, in particular, consider the impact of their decisions on their neighbours. I ask the Minister to consider this amendment seriously. It states: In determining whether or how to exercise the power under subsection (1), a local authority must have regard to the effect which the proposed exercise of the power would have on neighbouring authorities". Of course, this is a simple and basic: matter: do unto others as you would that they do unto you. It is a simple exercise in "neighbourliness".

There is a serious purpose behind the amendment. In some circumstances, development in one area may have a dramatic effect on another. In relation to economic development, a small laboratory may potentially pose a major industrial accident hazard. We all know of such installations because they have to be inspected properly and they operate under strict regulations. In fact, if a local authority has such an installation within its boundaries, it is necessary to have a major accident plan to deal with the consequences of something going wrong. If there is an oil refinery, such as we have in Essex, major evacuation plans are put in place to deal with the consequences of something going wrong.

Such a disaster could occur, for the sake of argument, in a small laboratory working in the bio-medical field, causing a huge disease hazard. Again, if that happens a major plan must be involved. Such plans do not stop at local authority boundaries. In Essex we have a nuclear power station. If that went "bang", Ipswich and the county of Suffolk would also have to evacuate if the prevailing wind was blowing in its normal direction, to say nothing of a great deal of Essex and possibly a considerable proportion of Norfolk.

It may be said that those are extraordinary events. The big issues, which I used for illustrative purposes only, would normally be dealt with by somebody other than just a local authority. But when a local authority gives permission to a developer to develop a small industrial estate consisting of 20 or 30 units, it does not seek to control who goes into that estate. That is when problems can arise. Of course, the authority soon finds out because a laboratory of the type I described would have to be registered with the appropriate authorities.

That is not to say that local authorities should not permit that kind of development. We need that kind of development if the economy is to move forward. But as a matter of prudence, and indeed of neighbourliness—to go back to where we began—it would be wise if the local authority consulted the neighbours it placed in that situation. Amendment No. 14 is tabled with that in mind and I hope the Minister will consider it with slightly more favour than he has been able to dismiss the previous amendments.

5 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

It is with trepidation that I intervene among so many experts on local government. My experience is obviously many years out of date and was only that of an ordinary constituency Member of Parliament. But I do so because, at enormous expense, the statute book continues to swell more and more through the insertion of a number of quite unnecessary provisions. The main classes of unnecessary provision are twofold: first, line after line teaching grandmothers how to suck eggs; secondly, page after page of departmental standing orders. That is cumulatively at great expense, and cumulatively far more than the£105 million which so concerned Members of your Lordships' Chamber last Thursday.

At great expense, Amendment No. 11 seems to fall clearly in the first class; that of teaching grandmothers how to suck eggs. Of course, any local authority will have regard to the health of persons in its area. If it does not do so, the members are not suitable to be members of a local authority and are highly unlikely to be re-elected as such. The provision is entirely unnecessary.

Amendment No. 12 is barely more acceptable. Amendment No. 14 is arguable because it asks a local authority not merely to concern itself with its own affairs, but with the repercussions of its actions on neighbouring affairs. However, I feel obliged to venture to warn the Committee that such a provision is bound to encourage massive, expensive litigation. With those observations, I hope the Minister will look charily on these amendments, in the same spirit in which he looked on previous amendments.

Lord Whitty

I regret that in relation to these amendments I have to exhibit a degree of chariness. They are unnecessary and could lead to confusion.

Reference to having regard to sustainable development and to social well-being subsume very much the matters with which my noble friend Lord Harris and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, were concerned. We do not therefore need a further specific amendment in relation to health or social exclusion. Clearly the Government are concerned about social exclusion, health and well-being, but spelling them out in this way is not necessary. There is no direct read-over from the GLA Bill, where we were dealing with a new authority with strategic powers. Here we are talking of the duties, when exerting their power, of all local authorities.

Clearly it is important that local authorities, in exerting their powers, pay some attention to their effect on neighbouring authorities, as I said in the previous debate. That is integral to sustainable development. We shall need to issue some guidance in that area. Whether or not that is teaching grandmothers to suck eggs, some guidance is probably necessary, though not on the face of the Bill. We shall also return to this issue of neighbouring councils under Amendment No. 17.

Therefore, while I understand the spirit behind this group of amendments—to which I am sympathetic—I do not believe they fulfil those objectives. I hope therefore that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I am devastated to be the target of the extremely skilled advocacy of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I would have done almost anything to avoid such condemnation. Nevertheless, I am not entirely convinced by the Minister's response. I shall read carefully what he said and consider the context in which the clause appears in the GLA Bill. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

Lord Harris of Haringey moved Amendment No. 13: Page 2, line 10, at end insert— ("( ) In determining whether or how to exercise the power under subsection (1), a local authority must have regard to the effect which the proposed exercise of the power would have on equal opportunities and on the promotion of harmonious race relations in that local authority's area.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 13 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 33. I have just spoken on the subject of social inclusion and hope that I am not already pre-judging my noble friend's response to this group of amendments.

Clearly, social inclusion and social well-being could be deemed to cover issues surrounding race and equal opportunities. But Amendment No. 13 would have the effect of placing at the centre of the new power an obligation to have regard to the effects of the exercise of that power on equal opportunities and the promotion of harmonious race relations. That is something which should be explicitly reflected on the face of the Bill. It is important to do that given the discussions which have taken place following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and the implications of the Macpherson Report, not just for the police service but for all public services.

Quite clearly, that report was saying to local government, as it was saying to other public services and to the police, that local government needs to look at the way it operates and that part of the exercise of its powers should be promoting equal opportunities and thereby helping to achieve harmonious race relations. That is a critical responsibility of local government.

Britain is certainly a multi-racial society. That is something I am sure Members of the Committee would wish to welcome and foster. By the same token, local authorities should welcome and foster that multi-racial society within their boundaries. In practice, this means that at the centre of the power should be the expectation of promoting harmonious race relations, coupled with the achievement of equal opportunities and progress made towards that end.

Amendment No. 33 would require local authorities to publish an annual report on the use of their power under the clause and its effectiveness in promoting well-being, equal opportunities and harmonious race relations. I submit that it is a rather helpful requirement in the legislation that there should be an annual report on the use to which the general power of "well-being" is put. Whether or not Members of the Committee accept Amendment No. 13, I believe that the requirement for an annual report on how that power is used would be a very salutary exercise for local authorities in considering what they have done in the preceding year to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their communities. The production of such an annual report would enable the community at large to assess the extent to which the local authority is being effective in that regard.

If the powers have been exercised, the way in which Amendment No. 33 is phrased would also require the local authorities to report back to their communities on whether or not they regarded those powers as having been effective in achieving what they set out to do. Again, that seems to me a salutary requirement on local government. But, specifically, in that amendment are expectations to report on the implications for equal opportunities and for the promotion of harmonious race relations. In the spirit of the lessons learnt from the Stephen Lawrence case and in line with the recommendations of the Macpherson inquiry, it would be very valuable for local authorities to be required to report regularly to their communities on the way in which they have looked at these matters and promoted harmonious race relations in their area. I beg to move.

Lord Tope

I rise to speak to Amendment No. 57, which is grouped with the amendments tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. In doing so, perhaps I may say that I agree with all that the noble Lord said. This is not the stage at which we argue whose amendment is best. I believe that we are trying to achieve the same objective. Amendment No. 57 encapsulates all that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is trying to achieve, although it goes a little further in tackling all areas of discrimination.

I know that the wording of Amendment No. 57 will be very familiar to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, to the Minister and, indeed, to all of us who spent many happy hours working on the GLA Bill, as it was at that stage. We debated this issue at every stage of the legislation and made a little progress each time until we reached the Third Reading when the Minister said: The outcome of those discussions has been in my view to alter the approach of the Government to the matter and to improve the provisions".—[Official Report. 1/11/99; col. 584.] So we have built on that experience and we have taken the amendment, almost word for word, from Clauses 33 and 404 of what is now the Greater London Authority Act. Having been so moved during the passage of the GLA legislation, I hope that the Minister will be moved to act rapidly today rather than making us wait three months before we achieve the same objective.

For all the reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, it is important to have a duty imposed on all local authorities similar to one imposed on the GLA. Amendment No. 57 suggests that it should be a duty of all local authorities to have due regard to the principle of equality of opportunity for all people. It requires each local authority to have regard to the need. to promote equality of opportunity", but specifically mentions, persons irrespective of their race, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or religion". Those are the definitions of discrimination used within the European Union. That is why they appear in the GLA Act and why I believe them to be appropriate for all local authorities. Finally, for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, the amendment would require each local authority to publish a report each year stating what it had done to further those aims.

As we debated this issue so many times and with such eventual success only a few months ago, I am confident in speaking to the amendment now—and as I shall be when moving it at the appropriate time—that the Minister will feel able to accept it. Indeed, he may recognise the wording, as he proposed some of it himself. If that is rushing things a little too much and if the Government do not feel at this stage that they want to accept the amendment, I hope that the Minister, who, I know, takes these issues very seriously, will at least tell us how they propose to tackle the issue during the passage of the Bill. We shall certainly be returning to it if necessary, as I am sure will others.

When the Bill leaves this Chamber it needs to contain a proper, wide-ranging equalities clause. I suggest that this is the clause, borrowing as it does from a duty already imposed on one authority. I trust that the Minister will respond positively to the intentions behind this group of amendments.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Hanham

Perhaps I may declare my interest at this stage as I am a member of a local authority. In case I happen to intervene on a few more occasions, I ask that that be recorded and noted for the rest of the proceedings on the Bill.

Basically, I wish to comment on the amendments that include reference to annual reports. Local authorities are falling under the weight of having to make reports. Therefore, can I ask that this is not made a specific issue. Perhaps something can be included in the annual reports that already have to be produced. But, please, let us not have another one.

Lord Whitty

I recognise many of the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and my noble friend Lord Harris have advanced. Although I accept that it is important that the power of well-being and the rest of the reform of local authorities encapsulated in the Bill should clearly have regard to equalities and to the effect on race relations within the authority, I am not sure that any of the amendments in this group sets out the appropriate way forward.

I am not sure that we should directly link the question of the promotion of race relations and equality to the physical exercise of the power of well-being, as suggested by Amendments Nos. 13 and 33. Moreover, Amendment No. 57 replicates in part Section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976. However, it only does so in part and, therefore, there is an ambiguity as to how it applies to local authorities compared with other public authorities. Again, that is a discussion that we had in the GLA context.

As certain Members of the Committee, I expect, are aware, the Government will be publishing a consultation paper within the next few months, which will look at equality issues. That paper will discuss placing a general duty of equality on all public sector organisations. Therefore, it is difficult for me to agree to an amendment to the Bill inserting a form of words relating to equality that might well be generalised as regards all public sector authorities at a later stage.

Nevertheless, I understand the breadth of feeling within this area and take note of the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, regarding yet another annual report, along with other concerns. However, I think it would probably be better for me to consider whether there is a more appropriate way of achieving the objectives to which noble Lords have referred. Alternatively, I may indicate at a later stage that it would be better for us to proceed in relation to public sector authorities in general rather than specifically in terms of this Bill. I undertake to comment on the matter at a later stage in the proceedings.

Baroness Hamwee

Before the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, responds to the Minister's comments, I ask the Minister to understand—from the tone of his response I am sure that he does understand this—that many of us within this Chamber and elsewhere hope to see the Government build on the good example that they set in relation to this issue—with all-party consensus—in the Greater London Authority Act. It does not seem to me a complete answer to say that the matter is being considered in regard to all public sector bodies. We now have an example in legislation of how to deal with the issue.

Following their consultation the Government may propose changes to the Greater London Authority Act. They may also propose changes to what will be the Local Government Act 2000. In the context of the new powers that are proposed for local government—which are welcome—it is important to set down provisions with regard to the importance of equality, which are generally accepted, on the understanding that peripheral points arise with regard to the mechanisms that may be established. That is an important statement for the Government to make and it is one that we should like to see on the face of this Bill when it reaches the statute book.

Lord Harris of Haringey

I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. However, I am not entirely satisfied as yet with what he has said. It is pleasing that the Government accept the importance of the amendments that have been proposed. It would be helpful at a later stage to be given an indication of how the Government feel that it would be appropriate to deal with these matters. I accept the points that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, as regards the precedent contained in the Greater London Authority Act. That precedent was much discussed in amendments that were tabled in Committee and at every stage of that measure in this Chamber. As a result of that, a provision emerged which distilled the objectives which we were all trying to achieve. Those objectives apply just as much to individual London boroughs as to individual local authority districts and individual county councils. I should have thought that the same principles could be included in an amendment to this Bill which would achieve those objectives.

I was interested to hear the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, on annual reports. I accept that a proliferation of annual reports does not necessarily achieve the purpose of informing the local community. However, if local authorities were required to comment on this matter in their other annual reports, or in an appropriate annual report, that would meet the requirement.

I note also what my noble friend has said about a consultation paper that is to be produced that concerns a wider duty with regard to public services in terms of the matter we are discussing. That would clearly be valuable. However, I submit—I hope that my noble friend will consider this—that local government is central to the delivery of so many public services in a local area. The whole philosophy of this Bill concerns community leadership. We shall debate the principle of community planning and other matters at a later stage. If there is to be the expectation that local government will offer community leadership, there should be an expectation—perhaps in advance of the wider consultation—that local government should promote equal opportunities and create harmonious race relations. Whatever form that provision may take, it should be included on the face of the Bill. However, having listened carefully to what my noble friend has said, I shall withdraw the amendment at this stage. I look forward to hearing from the Minister on this point at a later stage in the passage of this Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 15: Page 2, line 19, at end insert— ("( ) For the purposes of subsection (4), a person includes another local authority.").

The noble Baroness said: I rise to move Amendment No. 15, which stands in the name of my noble friends Lord Tope and Lady Hamwee. The amendment seeks to link the power in Clause 2(1) to promote and improve the well-being of an area with joint working between local authorities. This link is extremely important.

Amendment No. 15 states: For the purposes of subsection (4), a person includes another local authority". The Government may ask why we have chosen the words, a person includes another local authority". We have chosen that wording because the powers in the Bill have been conferred specifically on local authorities but not on partner organisations. We believe that the amendment is necessary because the drafting of this Bill and of the Local Government Act 1999 relates primarily to unitary areas. It is only through local authorities working together—in the case of adjoining local authorities—or working through the tiers of authorities that the concept of best value will be delivered. In some places there are four tiers of authorities. Devon County Council, for example, has to contend with two national parks and, I believe, nine districts and many parish councils.

We must be more rigorous in ensuring that local authorities are enabled to work together and are given every encouragement to do so. If the Government wish best value and community planning to work, they must ensure that where the Bill's wording and structures seem to threaten those concepts they will consider those points closely. Has the Minister considered—I am sure that he has—the three or four pages of regulations regarding joint working arrangements? I have read them several times. They are extremely difficult and convoluted. I am sure that when we reach the appropriate part of the Bill the Minister will be able to explain them to me.

The amendment would at least ensure that local authorities regard co-operation and joint working as concepts that the Government recognise and seek to encourage. If accepted, the amendment would underline the basic right of local authorities to co-operate with others in the matter that we are discussing. I beg to move.

Lord Bowness

I have some sympathy with the proposal that local authorities should be able to co-operate with other local authorities. However, I hope that the noble Baroness who has moved the amendment which stands in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, could help me at least, and perhaps also the Committee, as regards the implications of substituting or including in the definition of "person" a local authority in connection with Clause 2(4)(b) and (f). It seems to me that to make a specific provision for one local authority to be able to give financial assistance to another and to, provide staff, goods, services or accommodation to another local authority is fraught with difficulty. It is a matter that I believe would distort the already imperfect financial regime and national support for local authorities. I cannot support the amendment as it stands at present. I hope that at the end of the debate we can discuss how co-operation can be achieved between local authorities, as I believe that it can—Clause 2(5) goes some way towards underlining that—without the specific reference to financial support of one authority by another.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Amendment No. 39, which stands in my name, is grouped with Amendment No. 15. It deals with what I can describe only as a parallel situation although it is in fact rather a different situation. It would not have mattered if the amendments had not been grouped together. However, I am quite happy to discuss them as grouped amendments.

Amendment No. 39 relates to Clause 4, which deals with strategies for promoting the well-being of local authorities, the subject under discussion. Subsection (2) states: In preparing any strategy under this section, a local authority— (a) may consult or seek the participation of such persons as they consider appropriate". My amendment seeks to insert the words "or organisations".

The question arises as to whether "persons" are or can be organisations or whether they might be deemed to be singular. I have always taken the view that "persons" were persons, referred to on the whole as individuals, and that "organisations" can cover everything from businesses, to pressure groups, to residents' groups, to tenants' groups, and any other group of which we can think.

The insertion of the words "or organisations" will help the Bill quite considerably. It is for that reason that I have tabled Amendment No. 39.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I understand the intention behind Amendment No. 15 and Amendment No. 39, which is grouped with it. However, I hope that I am in a position to reassure both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that the amendments are not necessary to achieve the objectives they have outlined.

The term "person" is a well-established legal shorthand and is defined in the Interpretation Act 1978 to include a body of persons corporate or incorporate. So, of course, local authorities will be able to provide the whole range of assistance envisaged in paragraphs(4)(a) to (e) to other local authorities. The only effect of these amendments would be to cast doubt on the scope of the term "person" throughout the rest of the Bill.

I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured that the clause, as drafted, already meets her objective in this area and that she will therefore withdraw her amendment. I hope also that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will not feel it necessary to move his amendment.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I thank the Minister for her reply. It is very reassuring and I am glad that we now have a clear definition from the Government of the legal meaning of the term "person".

I shall not dwell on the issue at length but I do not believe that the amendment is unnecessary. Although at the best of times local authorities work together unchallenged, perhaps in times of hostile opposition to such co-operation from within their own ranks there might be questions as to whether or not they are giving financial support to each other, or perhaps questions about arrangements whereby staff move between the two authorities. In such cases, it is necessary to have a very clear track of decision-making and accountability to ensure that they are not informal, casual arrangements but that they are properly accounted for by each authority. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 17: Page 2, line 23, at end insert ("and, prior to the exercise of the power outside their own boundaries, they shall consult, and receive agreement from, the authority within whose boundaries the power is to be exercised").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 17 concerns a different point. It is a probing amendment which seeks to discover the meaning of Clause 2(5) and what are its limitations.

Clause 2(5) is somewhat unusual It states: The power under subsection (1) includes power for a local authority to do anything in relation to, or for the benefit of, any person or area situated outside their area if they consider that it is likely to achieve any one or more of the objects in that subsection". That is providing a very open power for a local authority to undertake particular actions in neighbouring authorities, and even in authorities that are not neighbouring authorities. Presumably—although we shall come later to matters of finance—it will give them power, as is stated in subsection (4), to give financial assistance outside their own area.

My amendment would require a local authority to consult the local authority in whose area it intends to take such extra-territorial action, if I may put it that way. Again, that seems to me to be a matter of simple neighbourliness. I have also said that they should get the agreement of that authority. That is not unreasonable.

Clause 2(5) as drafted appears to contain an extremely open power. I am all for giving local authorities powers and, generally speaking, I would not wish in any way to restrict that. But a power which may be operated in another authority's area—possibly even at the expense of that authority, if only through inadvertency—should be questioned at this stage. I move Amendment No. 17 in order to tempt the Minister to rise to the bait once again and to tell us exactly what are the limitations on the power and how it will work. Unless we are extremely careful, we shall be putting into the Bill at this point a power which might at some time in the future cause considerable dissension between particular authorities. That is something about which we should be very cautious. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

The Bill allows local authorities to pursue actions which would have an effect outside their areas. We obviously would not expect them to do that without consultation and without adopting a sensible and responsible attitude. Local authorities already have powers to act outside their areas—economic development powers, housing powers and, in some cases, education powers—so there are precedents.

We need to make it clear that we expect local authorities to co-operate. On the other hand, we do not want to be over-prescriptive on the face of the Bill. We would not want to be quite as limiting as the noble Lord is tempting us to be. None the less, I am happy to go away and to look at the matter in order to see whether there is a better way in which we can make it absolutely clear that local authorities should act in co-operation. I know that there are anxieties about that and we should like to be as reassuring as we can be. If the noble Lord will accept that reassurance, we can come back to the matter.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am grateful to the Minister for the words he has used; they are extremely helpful. As I said, it is a probing amendment. I am glad that he acknowledges that there is an issue and I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 18: Page 2, line 24, leave out subsection (6).

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 18 seeks to delete subsection (6) from Clause 2. I read subsection (6) and I had difficulty in understanding what it is supposed to mean. It states: Nothing in subsection (4) or (5) affects the generality of the power under subsection (1)". Although subsections (4) and (5) may not deal with the generality of the power, they give powers to the local authority and state how they may be used. I do not see why we need subsection (6), which states that those subsections do not affect the power. They do affect the power, albeit beneficially. For that reason, I feel that subsection (6) is a strange little sentence and I wonder whether the Bill would not in fact be better off without it. Having decided that the Bill would be better without the subsection, I have sought to persuade the Minister of that. The subsection does not help the Bill or provide any useful service. Indeed, it might add a certain degree of confusion here. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

I regret to say that on this occasion the noble Lord has not convinced me with his argument. The point of the power of well-being is that it makes a broad range of activities available for local authorities to promote. We have set out some of those activities in Clause 2(4), but that is not intended to be an exhaustive list.

If we were to accept Amendment No. 18, it could potentially cast significant doubt on the scope of the power. We need to make it absolutely clear that Clause 2(4) is simply indicative and not exhaustive. It is included principally to remove some of the doubts that currently exist about some of the activities referred to in Clause 2(4).

There are restrictions on the power in subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 3, but we do not wish to draft the power in such a way that it is unduly restricted. Subsection (6) leaves no doubt that the power is wide. Its deletion would unnecessarily restrict the power and damage the purpose of the Bill. For that reason, I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue this amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, which I shall study with care. Should I need to return to the matter, the noble Lord will find out in due course. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Limits on power to promote well-being]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 19: Page 2, line 27, after ("any") insert ("specific").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 19 I shall speak at the same time to Amendment No. 20. In Clause 3 we move on from the extension of local authority powers to restrictions on those powers. My first point on this clause concerns subsection (1), where it is made clear that the new power of well-being is not to enable a local authority to do anything that it would be unable to do by virtue of a prohibition, restriction or limitation contained in another enactment.

Amendment No. 19 seeks to make the position clear as to when prohibitions, restrictions and limitations may apply by inserting the word, "specific". I have little hope that the Government will find this an attractive amendment because I appreciate that, in future legislation, they would not want to have to return constantly to this enactment in order to spell out those restrictions, notwithstanding Clause 2 of this Bill. Nevertheless, I should like to make the point that it would be unfortunate if, in the future, confusion were to arise as to whether a restriction is one that will bite for the purposes of Clauses 3 and 2.

The purpose of Amendment No. 20 is to clarify what is meant by the term "limitation", and in effect the amendment deletes that word. The words "prohibition", "restriction" and "limitation" could amount to a long list of circumstances in which the new powers could not be exercised. What is a limitation if it is not a restriction or a prohibition?

In particular, in explaining the aim of the clause and its impact in terms of achieving the laudable aims of the White Paper, can the Minister assure the Committee that the impact of Clause 2 would not be significantly reduced? Are the limitations both explicit and implicit? If Clause 2 is intended to give councils greater flexibility, will their community well-being powers be undermined by allowing implicit limitations?

Finally, how will this relate to resources? Councils will need to find resources for the process of checking whether there are any limitations. We are concerned at the expense and delay that might be incurred if councils wished to exercise the new well-being power but felt that they needed to be careful about the question of limitations. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Unfortunately, the Government cannot accept Amendments Nos. 19 and 20. The wording of Clause 3(1) is very clear as to which restrictions in other legislation will limit the scope of the well-being power in Clause 2.

Local authorities may not use the ell-being power to get round any prohibition, restriction or limitation contained in any other enactment; in other words, any prohibition spelt out within another piece of local government statute. These are restrictions that have been expressly laid down by Parliament as necessary checks on authorities' various activities.

These checks may take a variety of forms. For example, some statutes expressly prohibit an authority from undertaking a particular activity. Those prohibitions will apply also to the well-being power. In other cases, local authorities are expressly restricted in the action they may take. For example, conditions may be attached which restrict authorities' freedom of action by requiring them to do things in a certain way. Finally, powers may be limited by the express requirements of other legislation. For example, the requirement to achieve best value under the terms of the Local Government Act 1999.

I suspect that it is these express, rather than specific, prohibitions and restrictions that formed the basis for the noble Baroness tabling Amendment No. 19. This amendment would not add anything to what is already enshrined in the Bill, nor would a reference to express restrictions. Both are unnecessary and would be more likely to confuse the very objective that the Government and the noble Baroness want to achieve.

The use of the words "prohibition", "restriction" and "limitation" is purposely broad. It is supposed to avoid future legal argument about whether a condition—expressly stated in other legislation—is a "restriction" or a "limitation". I hope that answers the question of the noble Baroness. It appears that the noble Baroness is seeking a definition as to why the terms were used in previous legislation. I fear that that could very considerably lengthen my reply, which nobody would wish.

If accepted, Amendment No. 20 might open up the scope for such arguments, and as such we feel unable to accept it. With these explanations, I hope that the noble Baroness can be persuaded to withdraw Amendment No. 19 and not to move Amendment No. 20.

Baroness Hamwee

I can tell the Minister that I shall withdraw Amendment No. 19 because her response has not surprised me. However, I reiterate my concern that, given the increasing pace of legislation, Parliament should be clear on how new legislation affects previous enactments.

As regards Amendment No. 20, I remain unclear about the difference between a restriction and a limitation. Here I am expressing not only a lack of understanding on my part, because this point has been raised by local government bodies. I take the Minister's point that a long explanation might prove rather tedious for the Committee, but I believe that it is an important matter. I wonder whether I may ask the noble Baroness to write to me following this stage. It is a matter of considerable concern, and I should not like to let the concern linger if there is a way of dealing with it.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

We shall be delighted to write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Hamwee

I thank the Minister for that response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 21: Page 2, leave out line 29 and insert ("passed or made after the enactment of this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: I can be even briefer in moving this amendment. Clause 3(1) makes it clear that the enactments with which we are dealing, which might provide prohibitions, restrictions and limitations, are enactments, whenever passed or made. My amendment would seek to change that to enactments made or passed after the enactment of this Act. This is again a plea for certainty and clarity. If there are already prohibitions, restrictions and limitations which would apply, I think that they should be recorded, not necessarily on the face of the Bill but at this or at a subsequent stage, through guidance to local authorities as to where they might find the prohibitions, restrictions and limitations which are relevant. I think that the Government have a responsibility to assist local authorities in assessing what existing enactments will affect them. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

As we have always indicated, we wish to give local authorities a fairly wide-ranging power in relation to well-being. Nevertheless, we have always indicated that it would not be a power to do absolutely everything and anything. There have to be some safeguards. Those safeguards must include areas which have already been limited by preceding legislation. That is why Clause 3(1) keeps in place those restrictions which have been laid down by Parliament, subject to something else I wish to say in a moment.

Were we to go through all the areas of previous legislation which qualify or restrict the role of local authorities, I suspect that the kind of schedule the noble Baroness is looking for would be somewhat lengthy. Therefore I think we have to rely on this being expressed in general terms. One very obvious provision that her deletion would remove is the restriction on local authorities being able to publish material of a party political nature. Clearly that is not the intention of the power of well-being. Likewise there will be more detailed aspects which exist to restrict local authority activity within existing legislation.

We do recognise the need to remove some of this legislation. That is indeed why we have included the powers in Clauses 5 and 6 for the Secretary of State to do so. We are already engaged in a raft of initiatives to identify suitable candidates for removal from the statute book. We believe that it is only right that any proposals to legislate in this way to remove those restrictions must be scrutinised by Parliament rather than, as the amendment of the noble Baroness would do, simply wipe out all previous legislation and start from day zero.

On reflection I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, may feel she does not wish to pursue this amendment and will recognise the importance of retaining this cross-reference to existing legislation.

Baroness Hamwee

I am sure the Minister will understand that one has to find a device to ask the question, even if one does not have particular faith in one's own drafting. It is not an amendment that I would wish seriously to see incorporated in the final form of the Bill. However, it has enabled me to make the point that this might be an occasion for guidance. No doubt there will be occasions when local authorities will be unclear as to whether or not they are already prohibited by existing legislation from pursuing the power which they were so happy to have received a few lines earlier in the Bill. I am not sure whether I have taken the argument further, but I have only taken four minutes over it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Serota)

In calling Amendment No. 22, I should point out that, if the amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 23 or 24.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 22: Page 2, line 30, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 22 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25. I shall speak also to Amendment No. 24. Amendments Nos. 23 and 25 stand in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. At some point during the proceedings on the Bill I am sure that someone will mix up our names.

Amendment No. 22 deals with Clause 3(2), which provides that the power of well-being does not enable a local authority to raise money, whether by precepts, borrowing or otherwise. We on these Benches have objections in principle and indeed in detail to this subsection. Our objection in principle is the tight grip which central government keeps on local government expenditure, a degree of control which we think is wrong, unnecessary and not appropriate for good government. I recognise that the clause, if less formal language was being used, might say that the power under Clause 2(1) does not of itself enable a local authority to raise money, or something similar. What the subsection says is that it does not actually alter the situation one way or the other. To that extent it is neutral. If I am right in saying that it is neutral, my objection in principle is to raise a concern about what it might add to Clause 3(1). For instance, does it stop a local authority charging at its discretion to cover its costs for activities to promote well-being, or is a local authority perhaps to be in the position of having to operate such activities at a loss?

This point has been made to me by those who are far more expert than I am in the local government world. They point out that discretionary initiatives, particularly those developed in partnership-working, may well depend on recovering costs. Charging is the most effective way to recover costs. One of the examples given is the village shop initiative which rural authorities may seek to pursue—the type of, as it is described, "social handyman service" that councils have wanted to provide to assist elderly people and others in need who would not otherwise be entitled to this type of service.

Are local authorities to be restricted by this provision from generating a surplus? I think that clarity in this matter would be helpful. There is a real anxiety that the subsection will prevent councils from raising partnership contributions to activities and could undo the good that the earlier part of the Bill will undoubtedly do. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I must congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on getting to the Public Bill Office with this amendment before we did. As a result, her name appears, quite properly, to lead on the amendment. Nonetheless, it is an amendment which we too have tabled for precisely similar reasons, although I shall hope to use somewhat different arguments to support the case for removing subsection (2) of Clause 3 from the Bill.

We are back in the position that we were in on the Greater London Authority Bill. That Bill gave the Greater London Authority powers and then the Government immediately prescribed what I described as an "anti-power". Here we are again. The Bill gives local authorities the power to promote well-being—it is not an absolute power of general competence but it goes a long way towards that—and then in the next clause it says, "Well, you have this power but you cannot spend anything on this matter". One might think that that is what the clause means, but that is not what it says. It says that a local authority may not raise money, whether by precept, borrowing or otherwise.

The noble Bareness, Lady Hamwee, referred to one or two benefits which local authorities in rural areas might wish to provide, such as community shops. A local authority might well wish to provide community buses under the power. The ones that I know are run by parish councils, which operate under a different remit. With this power I can see local authorities wishing to undertake a number of such actions. We would wish them to undertake such actions.

It occurred to me that in subsection (2) the Government are somewhat cynically seeking to control what will happen. It is an easy presumption to make that if an authority cannot raise money, whether by precept, borrowing or otherwise, and cannot spend anything, it cannot do very much at all. However, on reflection, I came to the conclusion that that is not so, which gives me even more reason to believe that the clause should not be in the Bill.

A cynic might say that with this power the Government are seeking to control what is spent by local authorities, by trickling money down to them through the revenue support grant. That may be what is in the Government's mind. But the revenue support grant is, largely speaking, a general grant. A local authority has the power to do with a large chunk of the revenue support grant what it chooses to do with it. It could very well choose to spend some of the general part of the revenue support grant on exercising the power under Clause 2. If that caused it to have marginally to raise its precept to deal with its normal line of business, that would be perfectly proper. I see nods of agreement coming from one or two noble Lords who are members of local authorities. One or two of them are already thinking that that is how they will have to operate.

During the proceedings on the Greater London Authority Bill we debated this issue almost to the point of exhaustion. The Government were not inclined to give way then and so I am not hopeful that they will give way now. But I think that they should. They have plenty of other powers by which they can constrain local government expenditure if that is required. In the previous Session we passed a Bill specifically to give them that power. We resisted it then and I think that we should resist it again on this occasion. I cannot see that subsection (2) adds anything useful or constructive to the Bill. The worst aspect of it is that it will treat councils and councillors as if they are babes, as if they are irresponsible and as if they are not to be trusted. Worse than that, it treats their electorates with the same contempt. Councillors are responsible to their electorates for their actions. Their electorates can discriminate; they are discriminating; and they know how to take action if local authorities do not behave responsibly.

The worst aspect of subsection (2) is that it destroys the amour propre of local government and local communities. If one wants people to behave responsibly, one must make them responsible. If one wants to make them responsible, one must take Clause 3(2) out of the Bill and let them make their own judgment. I am happy to support the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

6 p.m.

Baroness Hanham

Perhaps I may speak to my amendment, Amendment No. 23, which is in the same group. My amendment expands on what has already been proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and on some of what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. Where one has a power of well-being, the power to charge must be a sine qua non of that. My amendment would address as well the problems which have occurred since the House of Lords' decision in 1992 in the case of R v. London Borough Richmond-upon-Thames ex parte McCarthy and Stone—I am sure that all noble Lords will be familiar with it—that it was unlawful for a local authority to charge for planning advice. Although there is a power for local authorities to give planning advice, in relation to which they make take a substantial amount of time and have detailed discussion, they may not charge for that time. That example could be relevant to any aspect of what has been included in Clause 2(1) and the powers of competence and well-being.

The decision in that case has resulted in doubts as to whether local authorities can charge for other matters, such as commercial filming in their streets—something which they may want to do—inspection of works by statutory undertakers and supervision of parking bays; for example, the suspension of parking bays for contractors. My amendment would enable councils to collect reasonable payments, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested, for work done under these clauses.

It is reasonable to give local authorities the opportunity to charge for what they do. Although under statute they are able to charge for some services, they cannot charge for all. I have cited some of those services to the Committee. Although what I have suggested may stretch what is proposed just a trifle, I wonder whether it could be taken into account.

Lord Smith of Leigh

I have some sympathy with what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. The noble Baroness referred to the tight grip on local government. I should remind the Committee that the tight grip is loosening a little, but it is perhaps not quite loose enough yet. It is not the purpose of the Bill to review the arrangements for local government finance. I am confident that my noble friend the Minister and his colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions are considering that matter and will report at the end of the three-year period.

In seeking what are proper restrictions on the use of the powers of local authorities, we should ensure that we are not too prescriptive. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, when he says that local authorities are acting democratically and in public. I am particularly concerned by the words "or otherwise". If the Government seek to restrain the raising of money by precepts or borrowing, I think it is proper to do so. There may be other areas which the Government seek to restrict, but rather than adding the words "or otherwise", they should come clean now and list what those restrictions will be.

In recent years, when the party opposite was in government, local authorities were forced to get used to a certain amount of creativity as regards funding. But there are concerns, particularly given the function of well-being, that additional services that we begin to provide should be charged on a proper basis. We already charge for certain services that we provide, and we need to understand to what extent the restriction will apply. If there is joint activity with another partner, to what extent will partners be able to fund into that? Is that raising money? What about European funding, and so on? The phrase is rather too much of a catch-all. I should welcome the Minister's assurance that there could be greater precision in the limitation.

Lord Hanningfield

I support my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith. In a recent debate, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, talked about developing a small industrial site, which could be an important issue in this area of development and promoting the economic well-being of an area. The inclusion of "otherwise" could mean that rents could not even be charged for the building of the properties. The whole area is of great concern.

Earlier today, we debated the extra powers being given to local government. I feel, as most speakers have said, that the provision constrains our powers so much that perhaps the power might not be worth having. I support my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith in his call for the removal of the subsection.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

There is no limit on what local authorities can spend under the well-being power, but the point of the power is to give them discretion. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the proposals are neutral; all we are saying is that authorities may not use the power itself to raise money.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, raised the question of whether this was a kind of "anti-power". It certainly is not. Local authorities have plenty of specific powers which allow them to raise money, and there is nothing to stop them using those powers in tandem with the well-being power.

The noble Lord is very effective in putting across the case of someone who was not a gamekeeper and has not become a poacher. All I can say is that he walked, talked, lived, supported and encouraged others to support the gamekeepers during his time. I pay tribute to the fact that the noble Lord challenged his own government on parts of their policy relating to expenditure and local authorities. However, he cannot deny that there is at least a little of the gamekeeper in his history, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, too, would readily accept.

The limitation in subsection (2) merely stops local authorities using the well-being power to raise money, whether by precepts, borrowing or otherwise. There are good reasons for that, which mean that the Government cannot accept Amendment No. 22 or Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25. We do not believe that authorities should be able to use the well-being power to impose new taxes on individuals or business. The power to tax should be subject to the specific approval of Parliament. Arguably, Amendment No. 22 would place that decision in the hands of local authorities.

Nor do we see merit in allowing authorities to use the well-being power in itself as a means of borrowing. There are specific terms and conditions around local government's power to borrow. There are two clear reasons for such controls, as my noble friend Lord Smith generously indicated. First, they ensure that authorities act prudently, so that local communities are not faced with an excessive burden of debt charges in future years; secondly, they help to ensure that the Chancellor's objectives for the national economy are achieved—both the "golden rule" that borrowing should only be for investment, not for day-to-day spending, and the rule that public sector debt should be kept at a prudent and stable level over the years.

However, we are keen to look for alternatives to the present system of controls on local government capital finance, which would continue to meet the same broad prudential and macro-economic objectives but in a simpler and less restrictive way. We are exploring that with the LGA as part of our wider review of local government and it will be included in this summer's Green Paper.

My noble friend Lord Smith, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, rightly emphasised the difficult issues and complexities that surround the issue of charging. We accept that the current basis on which authorities can or cannot charge for the services that they provide is confused and unduly restrictive. The problems were clearly highlighted in the recent report of the Audit Commission, The Price is Right: charges for council services.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the Government are determined to place charging on a more rational footing. To that end we are looking at the issues as part of the wider review of local government finance that is under way. As I said, local government is fully involved in the process. I believe that representatives of the LGA are meeting tomorrow with the department as part of a joint task group examining the issues around local authority charging. In response to my noble friend Lord Smith, we are determined to make rapid progress on this issue and to bring forward proposals in the local government finance review Green Paper this summer.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, let me make it absolutely clear that the well-being power does not prevent local authorities from charging for services. They simply cannot use the power itself as a means for doing so. Under Section 150 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 the Government can make regulations to allow authorities to charge for services that they provide, although that power cannot be used in respect of some specified functions, including education in schools and fire-fighting. Local authorities can continue to use their powers under the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970 to charge for services that they provide to other public sector bodies.

I apologise for responding at length. I hope that it has been helpful to set out the way in which the Government intend to tackle as a matter of urgency some of the issues raised in the debate. I hope that, with the assurances that I have given, the noble Baroness will be persuaded to withdraw Amendment No. 22 and that Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25 will not be moved.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps she will accept that we are stepping on thin ice when we get into the business of metaphors. "Poacher turned gamekeeper" is all very well, but I prefer "pots" and "kettles". If I have a touch of the gamekeeper in my history, the noble Baroness has a considerable amount of the poacher in hers. I have tried very hard to see whether I can add a fourth metaphor so as to have real mixture, but I cannot.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I feared for a moment that the noble Lord was going to look at me and in all innocence say, "Set a thief to catch a thief".

Lord Hanningfield

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response. As vice-chairman of the Local Government Association I am involved in some of the discussions that are taking place. My understanding is that some of these matters will take some years to deal with, and that there will even be legislation before there is any new kind of local government finance Act. Is the noble Baroness saying that it may take that long to sort out the charging policy? If so, the wording in the clause as presently drafted needs to be examined. We want this Local Government Bill to be actionable before very long. Can the noble Baroness give a possible timetable on the local government finance review?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I informed the Committee earlier that the Government hoped to bring forward proposals in the summer.

Baroness Hamwee

I cannot think of any suitable metaphors. I am sure that comments can be made about choosing friends but not relations, but I cannot work out what they are. As to charging, I am very familiar with R v. LB Richmond-upon-Thames ex parte McCarthy and Stone. I believe that the charge was only £25 per hour. I always understood the former Department of the Environment, now the DETR, to be very sympathetic to the problems that faced local authorities as a result of the restrictions on charging. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, I believe that it would be sad if the opportunity was not taken to correct the position. There appears to be little opposition to the underlying proposal.

The Minister has confirmed that Clause 3(2) does not make any difference either way, and that is the assurance that I seek. However, having listened to the debate, doubt has been cast on it—I am sure the Minister understands that I do not attack her integrity▀×by the words in parenthesis. If the position is neutral and Clause 2 does not of itself allow a local authority to raise money or restrict it so doing, why is it necessary to say, whether by precepts, borrowing or otherwise"? Clearly, those words trouble Members of the Committee who have sought to understand the thrust of the provision. I do not ask the noble Baroness to comment further on that matter, but at a later stage I shall seek to table an amendment to remove the words in parenthesis. If the provision is neutral, those words appear to be unnecessary. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Is it the Committee's pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Lord Dixon-Smith


6.21 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 22) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 84; Not-Contents, 108.

Division No. 2
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Kimball, L.
Alton of Liverpool, L. Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Lang of Monkton, L.
Belstead, L. Lawson of Blaby, L.
Biffen, L. Luke, L.
Blatch, B. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Boardman, L. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Bowness, L. Montrose, D.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Moynihan, L.
Bridgeman, V. Newton of Braintree, L.
Buscombe, B. Norfolk, D.
Byford, B. Northbrook, L.
Carnarvon, E. Northesk, E.
Carr of Hadley.L. Norton of Louth, L.
Cavendish of Furness, L. O'Cathain, B.
Colwyn, L. Onslow, E.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Onslow of Woking, L.
Courtown, E. Palmer, L.
Cox, B. Park of Monmouth, B.
Crickhowell, L. Peel, E.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Denham, L. Plumb, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L
Elton, L. Rawlings, B.
Feldman, L. Rees, L.
Fookes, B. Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Forsyth of Drumlean, L. Renton, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Roberts of Conwy, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Rotherwick, L.
Glentoran, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Gray of Contin, L. Seccombe, B.[Teller]
Greenway, L. Selsdon, L.
Hanham, B Shaw of Northstead, L.
Hanningfield, L. Stewartby, L.
Henley, L.[Teller] Stodart of Leaston, L.
Hogg, B. Strathclyde, L.
Hooper, B. Swinfen, L.
Howe, E. Taylor of Warwick, L.
Hunt of Tanworth, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Hunt ofWirral, L. Tugendhat, L.
Hurd ofWestwell, L. Wakeham, L.
Jopling, L. Young, B.
Ahmed, L. Dormand of Easington, L.
Alli, L. Dubs, L.
Amos, B. Elder, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Evans of Parkside, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Evans of Watford, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B. Farrington of Ribbleton, B
Bach, L. Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Barnett, L. Filkin, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Gale, B.
Blackstone, B. Gavron, L.
Borrie, L. Gould of Potternewton, B.
Bragg, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Gregson, L.
Brookman, L. Hardy of Wath, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Harris of Haringey, L.
Burlison, L. Harrison, L.
Carter, L. [Teller] Hayman, B.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Crawley, B. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Currie of Marylebone, L. Howells of St Davids, B.
Davies of Coity, L. Howie of Troon, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. Hoyle, L.
Dean of Thomton-le-Fylde, B. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Desai, L. Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Dixon, L. Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord chancellor)
Donoughue, L.
Jeger, B. Rea, L.
Kennedy of The Shaws, B. Rendell of Babergh, B.
King of West Bromwich, L. Renwick of Clifton, L.
Laird, L. Rogers of Riverside, L.
Lea of Crondall, L. Sawyer, L.
Lincoln, Bp. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Lipsey, L. Serota, B.
Lockwood, B. Shepherd, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L. Simon, V.
McCarthy, L. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Mclntosh of Haringey, L. Smith of Leigh, L.
[Teller] Stoddart of Swindon, L.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L. Stone of Blackheath, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L. Strange, B.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Massey of Darwen, B. Thornton, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Tomlinson, L.
Milner of Leeds, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Molloy, L. Varley, L.
Nicol, B. Walker of Doncaster, L.
Orme, L. Warwick of Undercliffe, B
Patel, L. Whitaker, B.
Peston, L. Whitty, L.
Pitkeathley, B. Wilkins, B.
Plant of Highfield, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Prys-Davies, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B. Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L. Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.32 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 23 to 26 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 27: Page 2, line 32, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Baroness said: The amendment seeks to leave out subsection (3) of Clause 3 which states: The Secretary of State may by order make provision preventing local authorities from doing, by virtue of section 2(1)"— the well-being power— anything which is specified, or is of a description specified, in the order". I feel strongly about the extensive powers that the Government reserve to themselves—they are clear and obvious—by giving with one hand and reserving the right to take away with the other through secondary legislation. I accept that the Government have tabled an amendment which provides that that is to be by affirmative resolution.

What happened to trust by central government of local government, and confidence of central government in themselves? Government will claim the credit for allowing local authorities to exercise new powers. They will claim the credit, and rightly, for addressing the issue of the extent of local authority powers and for assisting local authorities to act in a community leadership role. But they cannot help but retain to themselves the control provided by this clause.

I am not alone in tabling the amendment. I do not suggest that the Conservative Front Bench has the same thoughts as me; I am sure it has better thoughts. However, the effect is the same. By this amendment, I seek to ask what the Government have in mind. During the passage of the Bill, are we likely to see draft orders; or is there some general reserve power that the Government feel they had better have in case they have made a mistake in Clause 2? It might be a long debate but it need be only a short debate. As we have said on many occasions previously, the issue comes back to the question of trust. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith

As with the previous amendment, the noble Baroness got to the Government Public Bill Office before us with the amendment. She covered much of what I wish to say. However, I shall take the time of the Committee to say it slightly differently.

It is depressing to find such a provision in a Bill because it reveals a sad fact: that Government have no faith in local government. If they had such faith, the provision would not be in the Bill. I sometimes wonder whether, by their actions, Government have faith in anything. I suppose that in the nature of politics, politicians become cynical and governments are probably the most cynical of all. That is regrettable and sad, and I think that the country would be a happier, more con tented place if we did not see this kind of provision in legislation, and if local authorities, which are constituted to undertake certain functions, that we seek to extend, were permitted to get on quietly with their business and to behave as adults. Subsection (3) takes away that status from local government. I find that very sad.

We do not know what the Secretary of State will order under the clause. We have the huge volumes of information in the book which deals with Part II and Clauses 66 and 67. But we have nothing on Part I and most of the other parts of the Bill. We have no guidance as to what the Secretary of State may do. By some freak of good fortune, one could hope that he might do nothing. He has that option. If so, I am sure we should all be content.

Unfortunately, people who have served in local government find that after a time they become cynical. Even worse, they become cynical about government and their motives. I am careful not to ascribe any political connotation to those motivations. This is one of the facts of life. In reality, it is sad that that is so because it is an area where Government and local government have a community of interest. They should be able to work together amicably. Just as local government would prefer not to see this provision on the face of the statute, central government should feel, equally, that it was not necessary to have it there. I suspect that it will take a great change of attitudes by both sides before that somewhat Utopian situation arises. In the meantime, the cynics have it. I support the amendment. I hope that the Government will listen with care to what we have said, and agree with us.

Baroness Maddock

As one who served in local government under the previous government, it takes my breath away to hear protestations about the powers of Ministers. Can the noble Lord say whether the Secretary of State will have the power to repeal previous legislation as regards the power of local government and the requirement to produce reports and so forth? It is important to know whether that is the case. If the noble Lord cannot answer today, perhaps he can provide a list of measures that the Secretary of State can repeal.

Lord Whitty

It is the case that under this clause the Minister can repeal existing legislation if he is convinced that it is inhibiting the proper exercise of powers of well-being. However, the amendment does not address that power; it addresses a power to restrict in extremis the role of local authorities in pursuing the power. Clearly, there are some restrictions, which are the areas of legislation that have not been removed by the Secretary of State. This is a reserve power.

I slightly resent the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, calling my noble friend Lady Farrington and myself cynics. We may be worldly wise, but we are not cynics. Indeed, I maintain that the whole Bill is a leap of faith in relation to local authorities and a big indication of the Government's confidence that they can rise to the challenge. But even a leap of faith requires the occasional emergency parachute.

On this occasion, it is this power. It is a reserve power and not one that should be used frequently, if ever. It provides for an unforeseen situation that is not covered by the restrictions in the Bill. Despite all the confidence that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and Members on all sides of the Committee have in the common sense of local government, it provides for a decision conceivably taken at some time in the future, exercised under the well-being power, but patently against the interests of either the inhabitants of the locality or the nation as a whole. Therefore, the Secretary of State requires a reserve power.

I must say that for the life of me I cannot give an example. Indeed, this morning I asked my advisers to do so and they looked at me patiently and said, "How can we possibly give you an example of an unforeseen circumstance?". Nevertheless—

Lord Dixon-Smith

Would the Minister consider Ken Livingstone to be an unforeseen circumstance?

Lord Whitty

I must be careful about how I respond to that, but I do not believe that Ken Livingstone could conceivably be an unforeseen circumstance. The way in which people view that circumstance may vary.

To underline the fact that this is a reserve power, the Government have put forward an amendment to make it clear that it will be exercised only through the specific or affirmative resolution procedure. That indicates to the Committee the rarity with which we would use it and the safeguards which Parliament has on its use. I hope that in the light of that explanation the noble Baroness will not pursue her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

I should be happier if the Government could come up not only with proposals for affirmative resolutions, but also with a way of saying that, despite the extreme power they propose to give to the Secretary of State—perhaps one less enamoured of local government than the current one—this is just a parachute; it is to provide for an extreme position, or in extremis, as the Minister said. There is nothing in the clause or in reserve powers written into other legislation which can give the cynical tendency of the Committee—and I admit to being a member—the confidence that it is to be exercised only in extremis. That is why I find a provision such as subsection (3) offensive.

I shall not seek to press the matter now. I hope that the Government will find language to express the fact that it is a reserve power. We might have to return to the issue, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 28: Page 2, line 32, after ("order") insert ("laid in draft before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment will be overtaken by the Government's Amendment No. 368, which I shall be happy to support. However, it is worth saying a few words about Amendment No. 29. I tabled it as an alternative, but it deals with an important point. Before an order is made, the Secretary of State will consult in particular representatives of local government. I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to give the Committee assurances about that. I beg to move Amendment No. 28 as a curtain raiser to Amendment No. 368.

Lord Whitty

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving me a curtain raiser. I hope that during the previous debate and in our memorandum to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee the Government indicated their belief that Parliament should have the opportunity to debate and scrutinise any proposal made under Clause 3(3). Amendment No. 368 gives effect to this, providing that any order made under the clause will not take effect until it has been approved by resolution of both Houses of Parliament. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for indicating that in the light of that she will withdraw her amendment.

I turn to Amendment No. 29. The Government would expect as a matter of course to consult local government and any other bodies likely to be affected by regulations brought forward under Clause 3(3). I recognise that elsewhere in Part I we have spelt out the requirement to consult and I therefore have some sympathy with Amendment No. 29 and the intentions behind it. If the noble Baroness is amenable to the suggestion, I should like to reflect on the matter and consider how best the intention can be worded. I hope that on that basis she will not move the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

I am happy to proceed on that basis. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I should point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 30 is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 31.

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 30: Page 2, line 35, leave out subsections (4) and (5).

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 30 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 40 which deals with the same issue. When I saw the guidance for Part II of the Bill this morning, I thought that without doubt the Government would accept my amendment on the basis that that was all the guidance that would appear. However, I fear that it may not be the beginning and the end of the guidance which may fall on the heads of local authorities. It is therefore to try to prevent too much guidance from being dished out on this part of the Bill that I seek to remove the powers which enable the Government to provide guidance on it.

If we have now given the power relating to well-being to local authorities, we must trust local authorities to carry out that power without telling them in minute detail how to do so or what to do. I therefore hope that no guidance will be issued on that power and that there will be no nannying of local authorities. As was said about a previous provision, I hope that the Government will trust local authorities to carry out their power relating to well-being. I hope that we shall delete subsections (4) and (5) of Clause 3 and subsections (2)(b) and (3) of Clause 4. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Amendments Nos. 32 and 41 are grouped with this amendment. They are two small amendments which will not take up the Committee's time for more than a few moments. The first seeks to state that guidance under this section will be regarded as advisory. Guidance is in my view perforce advisory and I suspect that that is what the Minister will say. If one has to deal with planning guidance, so many issues are involved that a planning authority has to strike the best balance it can between them. The guidance cannot be in any way mandatory.

That said, there is a tendency for local authorities to regard guidance as the tablets of stone come down from Mount Sinai. In the days when those tablets were written, life was rather more simple; there were not so many people about and not so many conflicting interests. Some fairly straight precepts of behaviour were perfectly practical. Without knowing in what state the Israelites lived and their ethical standards as they left Egypt on their long trek, I have no doubt that those tablets of stone had validity at the time, as indeed they still do today. But government guidance is another matter. It is not in quite the same category, despite the tendency of some local authorities to believe that it might be.

Amendment No. 41 seeks to change the word "must" to "may", simply to provide flexibility. Instead of using the word "must", which is mandatory, we suggest changing it to "may", which is optional. Local authorities may then listen and consider carefully what the guidance says but they will have a little more responsibility for what they do with it. That is one of the provisions for which I have been pressing for a long time and for which I shall no doubt continue to press. We may have this debate on many occasions in the future.

Lord Whitty

I am afraid that I take a different view on guidance. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred to the tablets of stone; for a moment he probably thought that we were in the Moses Room.

If I remember my scriptures rightly, the tribes of Israel then took 40 years to reach the promised land on the basis of the information on the tablets of stone. I believe that we need to guide local authorities a little more gently and in a little more detail for them to be able to exercise their powers in relation to community planning and well-being. We therefore need to have some greater certainty and clarity about what we are after; not only for local authorities themselves but also for their partners in the public and private sectors with which the powers give them greater scope to work. They need to have some degree of certainty as to which powers are available and we should do better to spell it out in guidance rather than have a colossal amount of information on the face of the Bill.

We have in mind two distinct areas where there should be further guidance in respect of the well-being power. The first relates to the fact that the closest approximation to the new broad power under pre-existing legislation is the power under Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972. A number of difficult decisions and a certain amount of confusion have ensued over whether or not local authorities actually have that power. That particularly applies to partner bodies. We need to ensure that people are clear about that. It is therefore the Government's intention that authorities should be able to use their new broad powers to engage in a range of activities, but also that they and others should be clear which powers they have and which they do not.

Secondly, it is important to note that local authorities have a key role to play in delivering many of the Government's objectives on issues such as social exclusion, neighbourhood renewal and supporting vulnerable groups, where a wide range of bodies are involved. It is important that the statutory guidance sets out the priorities for action and the general principles which should underpin action in those areas. With regard to community planning, the Government may want also to set out in guidance some of the principles which should underpin the preparation of community strategies.

I recognise a degree of irritation in local authorities at the length and detail of some of the guidance they receive. Nevertheless, I feel that in that new area some degree of greater clarity than we may possibly prescribe on the face of the Bill or in the schedules to the Bill would be helpful to local authorities and others. Therefore, I should resist moves by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord to remove the requirement on issuing guidance under those provisions. I hope that they will not pursue the amendments.

Baroness Hanham

I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said. I shall consider it and hope that his brevity will be apparent in the guidance notes which are published on this provision, if not on Part II. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 31: Page 2, line 39, leave out first ("such").

The noble Lord said: I regret that I have managed to lose myself because I have two amendments tabled adjacently.

The Bill as drafted gives the Secretary of State power to consult only those whom he chooses. We have had this debate before. It does not require him to consult local government at large, but such local authorities as he chooses. At this stage, he should in fact be consulting local government at large. The word "such" makes matters too selective. That is why we have tabled Amendment No. 31. It is grouped with Amendment No. 42 which deals with exactly the same point; they are identical amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I understand the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, to ensure that all relevant local government bodies are consulted on any draft guidance on the use of the well-being power and the production of community strategies. There has never been any suggestion that the Government would do otherwise. Indeed, our memorandum to the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation made clear our commitment to consulting local authority representatives and others likely to be affected by regulations or guidance issued under Part I of the Bill.

The only practical effect of Amendments Nos. 31 and 42 would be to confuse an otherwise simple issue. It could leave the Secretary of State open to legal challenge for failure to consult certain people who claimed to be representative of a sectional interest or grouping. There is a well-established legal precedent for this formulation—most recently in the Local Government Act 1999—which for practical purposes merely retains a sensible level of discretion for the Secretary of State.

I hope that, with those reassurances, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw Amendment No. 31 and not move Amendment No. 42, when we reach it.

7 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I apologise to the House for my confusion. Because we had been dealing with Amendments Nos. 40 and 41, I had got ahead of myself. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response, which I shall study with care. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 32 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

Clause 4 [Strategies for promoting well-being]:

[Amendment No. 34 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 35: Page 3, line 1, leave out ("is to have power to prepare") and insert ("shall prepare and keep under review").

The noble Baroness said: Clause 4 takes us to the part of the Bill which deals with strategies for promoting well-being. In this amendment I propose that, rather than merely giving local authorities the power to prepare such a strategy, we should require them to do so and, indeed, to keep the strategy under review. I would not normally seek to impose duties on local authorities. As your Lordships know, I argue frequently that they should be allowed to take decisions for themselves. However, as with the case of equalities, it seems to me that this strategy is so central to the purpose of the Bill that it is an exception.

The Local Government Association makes the point that a statutory basis is an essential prerequisite for establishing the community planning process across the country and, importantly, for ensuring that other partners have due regard to the process. Therefore, as I say, unusually I seek to impose a duty. I believe that that is not very far away from what the Government themselves propose. After all, I believe that the community strategy is intended to replace a number of other strategies which currently are required. I propose, too, that the strategy should be kept under review. It should be implicit in the word "prepare" that in this situation one does not simply write a document, agree it and then put it on a shelf. It would be sad if such an important document were treated in that way.

As with best value, it seems to me that strategies for promoting well-being must be treated as something of a rolling process. The very process itself is important to the value of the strategy. It must involve a range of different partners, and life does not stand still. Therefore, without wishing to suggest that it should be so formulaic as to be prepared in one year and reviewed on every third anniversary or anything of that kind, nevertheless I believe that, having created the strategy, it is appropriate for local authorities to keep it fresh in their minds and in the minds of their communities.

With regard to the regulations, in my notes I have written down "paragraph 11/", but that may not be sufficient to identify them. Therefore, I apologise to the Minister. I shall not shuffle through my papers now to look for them. However, I have written myself a note to ask him whether it is the community strategy that is referred to in paragraph 11.7 of the draft regulations. In any event, that is perhaps a side issue. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

Will the Minister tell the Committee how many statutory duties the Government currently expect local authorities to prepare? Are there any additional duties which may not be statutory but which none the less the Government expect to see from good local authorities? Although this amendment may be criticised for imposing an extra duty, I believe that in the longer term it will have the effect of removing an extremely onerous duty of producing dozens—something in the order of three dozen—different strategies, which may not be joined up in a coherent way.

If local authorities have the powers that they will have if the Bill is passed, how will a community see and influence the way in which those powers are applied? How will it comment on them? In real life, even the most interested members of a community do not usually gather together 36 strategies and go through them laboriously. Thirty-six strategies would pile up by their beds to well beyond the height of the bedside table. If members of a community had one coherent document, perhaps available on CD, they might go through that. I believe that that is the way forward. It is very confusing to have many different strategies. I know that I do not usually want to burden local authorities with extra duties. However, I believe that, if they have been given those powers, they should be obliged to make it plain to their communities exactly what they are doing with them.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I am shocked that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, does not read piled-up strategies late at night!

Baroness Hamwee

In defence of my noble friend, she did not say that she did not; she said that members of the community might not.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Perhaps I should set the record straight and say that for relaxation very late at night I prefer the books of my noble friend Lady Rendell rather than community strategies.

Amendment No. 35 would turn the power of community planning into a duty. We do not believe that such a duty would lead to better community planning. It would raise questions about how exactly that function was to be discharged. Inevitably, the Government would be drawn into prescribing minimum requirements for such strategies. That approach would run counter to the genuinely inclusive process that we want to see. If community planning is to operate effectively, local authorities must have real flexibility over the precise nature of the strategy, the level of detailed action which it contains, and how they should go about preparing it in partnership with others. They should be able to demonstrate to their communities and partners that there are real benefits for them in taking part in the preparation of those strategies. The discussions around community strategies will be important in establishing a consensus around what is a local priority and for mapping the action that each body will take to address those priorities and to improve local well-being.

Authorities are already required by central government to produce approximately 40 different plans or strategies. We agree that those requirements need rationalising. Clause 6 provides some opportunity to do that.

The discussions will be important. It is extremely important that community strategies are the vehicle for ensuring that all public bodies pull together. The guidance to local authorities under Clause 4(2)(b) will enable the Government to set out very broad parameters for community strategies.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I should say that, of course, we expect local authorities to keep their strategies under review and we shall make that point in the guidance. But the 1998 local government White Paper made clear that the Government do not intend to impose upon councils any particular approach to that task. Councils will have flexibility as to the precise nature, scope and coverage of the strategy, the level of detailed actions it contains and how they go about preparing it in partnership with other organisations. The new regional development agencies and local people are clearly involved. Community strategies are required under Clause 4 and are listed in the regulations as a plan that must be adopted by the full council. I hope that that answers one of the points raised.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, drew attention to the fact that a number of authorities are involved with local strategic partnerships which bring together councils, the public sector, local businesses, voluntary organisations and local communities to tackle neighbourhood problems. We believe that the, new commitment to regeneration pathfinders is just one example. As I know the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, recognises, the nature of those partnerships varies from place to place, reflecting local circumstances and needs. We want to encourage local authorities and their partners to build on those arrangements. We believe that such an enabling approach is more likely to lead to worthwhile community planning than would the imposition of a further duty. We do not believe that that would aid the sort of co-operation and consensus that good and deep community planning needs if it is to succeed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about another paragraph. If she will permit me, I shall write to her about that.

Baroness Hamwee

I wonder which of the noble Baronesses sleeps the more soundly with her chosen bed-time reading material. It is probably my noble friend!

Perhaps I am becoming poacher turned gamekeeper. It seems to me rather odd that the Minister is allowing local authorities to be in a position where, with merely a permissive power, they can choose not to exercise it which will mean that they need not have regard to the guidance which applies when they exercise the power. In other words, by exempting themselves by choice from Clause 4(1), they also set themselves free from Clause 4(2)(b) which refers to having regard to the Secretary of State's guidance. I shall reflect on that.

The Minister suggested that my amendment imposed a level of detail on local authorities. That was certainly not the intention and I do not believe that that is the effect of the amendment. The level of detail is contained in Clause 4(2). That is the "how". My amendment does not seek to alter that in any way. We shall reflect on this matter and we may want to return to it. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave; withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Gardner of Parkes)

I should inform the Committee that if Amendment No. 36 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 37.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: moved Amendment No. 36: Page 3 leave out line 2 and insert ("the sustainable development").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks in particular to understand and perhaps to develop what is meant by the well-being strategy but also to put on the agenda the issue of sustainable development.

It seems to me that the sum total of these aspects of well-being and, indeed, the process of achieving them amount to sustainable development. Perhaps I may put the matter in another way and ask how those three aspects of well-being differ from sustainable development in Clause 2(3). Perhaps I may add to that mix and ask what is the relationship between the provisions of this Bill and the Government of Wales Act which, under Section 121, requires the Assembly to make a scheme setting out how it proposes to promote sustainable development. Incidentally, that is not sustainable development in Wales, or of Wales, or in the UK; it is sustainable development period.

The question of sustainable development has exercised Parliament and many others for some time. It was suggested earlier today that we do not know what is meant by sustainable development. I believe that the debate has moved on and that there is quite a consensus around what it means. If the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, were here, she would describe to the Committee the importance of the various aspects of it far more eloquently than I can do.

If this strategy is not the sustainable development strategy, then where do we have sustainable development in relation to those powers of well-being? It is important in many areas, not least that of planning.

I said earlier that I am beginning to move to a view where I believe that the principal purpose of local government is to achieve sustainable development. Perhaps I may take planning as an example. If one were to write this onto the face of the Bill as the strategy, it would be much easier for planning decisions to take account of social and environmental impacts along with economic impacts. It would be easier to judge them as a package, which is the direction in which planning should be going. It is not just a matter of the environment; it relates to all aspects of society.

I hope that the Government will at least explain the distinction between this piece of legislation and the Government of Wales Act. If my amendment achieves no more than that, it will have been worth floating. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

Whether we can describe such strategies as being for the purposes of well-being or for sustainable development is, to some extent, a matter of judgment. I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness and those who are attempting to establish the term "sustainable development" in its widest sense.

However, in the context of this Bill and, indeed, probably in relation to the Government of Wales Act, there is no distinction. They amount to much the same thing. The guidance on community strategies will emphasise that point. But there are strong reasons for retaining the clause as currently drafted. By using the words "economic, social and environmental", it is immediately clear that the strategy is to encompass all of those three dimensions in all an authority's functions, whether in relation to the local economy, social welfare or the environment.

Regrettably, the connection is less clear if one refers only to sustainable development. That is the case, as I am sure those in local government who are trying to set up and develop Local Agenda 21 will bear witness. It is true also that in the drafting structure of the Bill, the wording here reflects the wording of Clause 2(1), which is the key clause, whereas the noble Baroness referred to Clause 2(3) which comes later. Therefore, it is important that in the earlier clause we reflect the objectives in this part of the Bill as well. The point is reinforced that the new well-being will be an important tool in ensuring that local authorities can deliver sustainable growth.

Although I am slightly torn—I understand why the amendment was moved—for the sake of consistency throughout the Bill, we are not in favour of this. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness not to press her amendment.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

Before my noble friend replies, will the Minister define for me a matter that is not apparent? On Amendment No. 11 we proposed specifying the health of people as well as sustainable development. The Minister reassured us—tomorrow I shall check his exact words in Hansard—that the reference to sustainable development subsumed the need for explicit references to health and social inclusion, thereby accepting that sustainable development neatly encompasses many aspects and allows them to be balanced.

If that applied on Amendment No. 11, I do not understand why it is now better to specify all three different areas of work and not subsume them in that all-encompassing phrase which allows for the three to be balanced. As drafted, I am not sure how the Government can prevent an authority from pursuing one of those areas through its community plan, should it choose to, at the expense of the other two.

Lord Whitty

The subsuming of social inclusion and health applies equally to both social well-being and sustainable development. Clearly, therefore, those dimensions to community planning apply whichever phraseology is used. Sustainable development is, as yet, not as widely understood as the noble Baroness and I would like. The three-pronged strategy is one that is reflected in other legislation and in the key subsection of this legislation. We want consistency through the Bill. I should have hoped that sustainable development would be understood more clearly and more comprehensively than, regrettably, it is. For the purposes of this legislation I believe that some clarity is achieved by making reference to all three. Of course, there is no differentiation in terms of priority between the three. There has to be a balance, as there will have to be a balance within a single sustainable development framework.

Baroness Hamwee

I am sorry that the Government do not feel confident enough to lead the way by including that terminology. This is an interesting and important area. In my mind I do not separate the issue of sustainable development strategy from what I would prefer to see as a mandatory requirement. I shall not pursue the matter now, although I shall reflect on it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 37: Page 3, line 2, leave out ("promoting or").

The noble Lord said: On Amendment No. 37 I shall not detain the House for long. It covers ground that we debated on Amendments Nos. 3, 6 and 7 standing in my name. I see no point in reiterating those arguments to the extreme boredom of the Committee. Therefore, I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, never bores the Committee, particularly when he speaks as briefly as he has on this amendment. I shall try to be as brief.

The amendment seeks to remove from local authorities the ability to plan for actions that merely maintain the existing levels of well-being within their areas. If a local authority identified actions that prevented a deterioration in the current state of its community well-being when preparing its community strategy it would be preparing to promote, but not improve, the well-being of the local area.

By removing the word "promote" local authorities would be prevented from taking any action which maintained current levels of well-being, or prevent a slide in the current levels of well-being. Clearly, we would not want to exclude such actions. Therefore, the amendment of the noble Lord would have a perverse effect. I hope that he will not press it

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation, which I shall study. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 38: Page 3, line 5, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 38 strikes out the word "may" and inserts the word "shall". As drafted, the Bill provides that local authorities may consult people in their area. Unusually for me, I feel that that is not strong enough. All noble Lords know that all good local authorities consult and they do not need telling nor do they need legislation to tell them to consult. However, I do not believe that we should give the impression that there may be circumstances in which it may not be necessary to consult. Using the word "may" could lead to misinterpretation. Therefore, I believe that the word "shall" has some merit. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I entirely agree with the intention behind Amendment No. 38. Many times the Government have said that effective community planning depends on engaging local people in an assessment of local needs and bringing together local authorities, other public sector bodies and the private and voluntary sectors, to determine what needs to be done to secure the economic, social and environmental well-being of local communities.

As the legislation makes clear, these are not strategies for the local authority but for the whole community. Without the participation of the community and local bodies, they are merely more bits of paper. We want to see local strategic partnerships preparing community strategies that are inclusive, reflect local aspirations and recognise the potential for all sections of the community to contribute ideas and resources.

The process of community planning should lead naturally to authorities and others working closely together to ensure better delivery of local services. Issues such as social exclusion faced by many of our communities can be tackled only in this way. Those are all points that we intend to cover in guidance.

We do not believe that legislating in the way that the noble Lord proposes is the right way to achieve the outcome that both he and the Government wish to see. That sort of compulsion would go against the grain of the legislation, which is based on encouraging and facilitating action at the local community level.

However, we want to ensure that the message to local authorities from the debate and from Government will be one of encouraging the sort of good practice that we seek to achieve. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response. I shall study it with care. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 39 to 42 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

7.30 p.m.

Clause 5 [Power to amend or repeal enactments]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No.43: Page 3, line 14, leave out ("or").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 43, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 44 and 45.

Subsection 5(1) gives the Secretary of State the power to amend or repeal any enactment, whenever passed or made, which prevents or obstructs local authorities from exercising their power under subsection 2(1). Clause 6 works similarly in respect of statutory requirements on local authorities to produce or publish plans or strategies. Amendment No. 43 and the others grouped with it aim to align those two powers so that they can be used in similar ways. The Government want local authorities to be able to act in, and react to, the interests and needs of their communities without unnecessary obstructions. These amendments are designed to bring into line the two parts of the Bill. By this means, the Government will be able to facilitate the innovative approaches necessary to tackle some of the worst problems of social exclusion and neighbourhood deprivation. Where modern local councils wish to test new ideas on a small scale before rolling such ideas out more widely, the Government are keen that they should be able to do so.

In various contexts, local authorities are working closely with other bodies to pilot innovative new approaches to service delivery as part of the Health Action Zones and as part of the LGA's New Commitment to Regeneration Pathfinders. As these partnerships develop, they are discovering legislative obstacles to effective joint working. Those obstacles are sometimes the same; more often they are different, reflecting differences in objectives and approaches between different local authorities. There is considerable merit in being able to use the powers in Clauses 5 and 6 to tailor a response to individual problems and to remove the particular legislative obstacles that are inhibiting effective working. That would allow us to try out different approaches and see how they work in practice before extending them to authorities more generally.

These amendments will allow enactments to be amended, revoked or disapplied for all authorities, particular authorities, or particular descriptions of authority if it is decided that it would be more beneficial to pilot new ideas with certain authorities before removing restrictions from all authorities. Amendment No. 45 will specifically allow enactments to be amended or disapplied for specific time limits.

Amendment No. 50 is a minor technical amendment to bring the wording of subsection 6(1) into line with that in subsection 5(1). I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Amendment No. 52 is grouped with these amendments. It seeks to remove "particular" authorities so as to prevent the Secretary of State having the power to make regulations in respect of a single authority. It seemed to me, when I first thought about this, that the Minister's amendment was too discriminatory. However, I do not intend to move my amendment because I then had another thought; that is, that perhaps local authorities will find the shoe pinching and it would be useful if they had the right to apply to the Secretary of State to have the point being pinched relaxed. If I were to move Amendment No. 52, the Minister would quite properly be able to accuse me of all sorts of inconsistencies.

Baroness Hamwee

I intended to ask the Minister for some further explanation with regard to this list of hierarchical local authorities and the exercise of power in relation to all or some of them. Can the Minister give the Committee some indication of the circumstances which would prompt the Secretary of State to exercise the power either in respect of "particular local authorities"—I assume that that could mean one or two local authorities—and, particular descriptions of local authority"? For instance, would this be the basis on which provisions were disapplied to enable beacon authorities to do things which other authorities might not be allowed to do? It would be helpful to have a little more detail on the matter.

Perhaps I may ask also about the terminology. Amendment No. 52 and Clause 6 talk of, particular descriptions of local authority". In other legislation with which I have been concerned, I have been accustomed to seeing the word "category". Is that what "description" means in this case, or does it mean authorities which are very good or very bad, as distinct from all unitary authorities or all London boroughs? A little explanation would be welcome, despite the fact that I appreciate we are all keen to allow our colleagues to go on with the next debate.

Lord Whitty

As I understand it, had we used the term "class of authority", it would have restricted the term to those which are described as district authorities or shire authorities. Whereas, particular descriptions of authority", could mean authorities which have rivers or repairing responsibilities, if I think of the environmental legislation. We can think of other groups of authorities which are not necessarily designated by the level of authority but by their geographical or economic position.

While the amendment would of itself facilitate moves towards beacon authorities, I understand that it would not mean that we could describe authorities as "beacon authorities". It would be one aspect of a clause relating to "particular local authorities" where, in order to promote a scheme facilitating an innovative way of meeting some of the objectives—particularly that of well-being—we would need to remove the restrictions from those authorities, effectively as a pilot, to see if that worked in those authorities. It could be subsequently rolled out, or not rolled out, to other authorities.

Clearly, the provision relating to time limits also facilitates using a pilot approach to this. Therefore some discrimination is required under this legislation. I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, recognised that by saying he would not move his amendment though we shall come back to the consequences of his not doing that at a later stage. We consider that we need these powers in order to facilitate innovative approaches and in particular pilot studies. I hope the Committee understands that.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 44 and 45: Page 3, line 14, after ("revoke") insert ("or disapply"). Page 3, line 15, at end insert— ("(1 A) The power under subsection (1) may be exercised in relation to—

  1. (a) all local authorities,
  2. (b) particular local authorities, or
  3. (c) particular descriptions of local authority.
(1B) The power under subsection (1) to amend or disapply an enactment includes a power to amend or disapply an enactment for a particular period.").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, I shall move Amendments Nos. 44 and 45 en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Bach

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage on this Bill begin again not before 8.40 p.m.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.