HL Deb 05 July 1995 vol 565 cc82-3WA
Lord Bancroft

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In what circumstances the power to establish a statutory joint authority under Section 21 of the Local Government Act 1992 will be available to the Secretary of State for the Environment.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater)

The Government's policy is that local authorities which are granted unitary powers should be capable of undertaking the full range of functions entrusted to them. Our guidance to the Local Government Commission reflects this aim and we have carried it through in our decisions.

Under Section 14(5)(c) of the Local Government Act 1992, the Local Government Commission may recommend that joint arrangements are made in relation to local authority functions in an area affected by structural change. It has recommended joint arrangements for structure planning in a number of areas. We have endorsed those recommendations and look to the authorities concerned to make voluntary arrangements accordingly.

Section 21 of the Local Government Act 1992 contains backup powers for the Secretary of State to establish a statutory joint authority where voluntary arrangements have not been made, or have broken down. Previous ministerial statements about joint working have suggested that the power granted by this section may be exercised in any case where, having regard to the recommendations of the Commission, the Secretary of State had requested authorities affected by a structural change order to carry out a function jointly and those arrangements had failed or had failed to materialise.

We are now advised that this power will be available only in those cases where joint working is to take place between authorities all of which have acquired the relevant function as a result of a structural or boundary change. It will not be available where, for example, a new unitary authority has been asked to work with an existing county council.

This new understanding does not affect local authority powers to enter into voluntary joint arrangements. We continue to support the recommendations of the commission in respect of joint working on structure plans by unitary authorities and existing county councils. We look forward to the authorities concerned making suitable voluntary arrangements for the maintenance of an up-to-date strategic planning framework for each of the joint structure plan areas indicated. Following reorganisation, the Secretary of State's powers of intervention in the structure plan process under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 remain unchanged. He will consider the availability and use of those powers in the usual way in order to achieve effective strategic planning.