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It is incumbent on me to put on the record the purpose of the Government amendments and to respond to the debate. I think that the other place would require me to do that, as well, but I shall do so as briefly as possible. On the whole, the amendments respond to requests made in the Public Bill Committee and arise from commitments I have given. There is
consensus and I thank the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) for welcoming the additions to the list, particularly in relation to the health service. Amendments Nos. 20 to 28 and amendment No. 55 will add a number of bodies to the list of partner authorities in clause 80.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): I know that my hon. Friend is in full flow, so I thank him for giving way. He mentioned the addition of partner authorities. Given the title of part 5Co-operation of English authorities with local partners, etcdoes he accept that it is incumbent on local authorities to work with their existing partners? Plymouth city council, which is now Conservative-led, has said that, within two weeks and without consulting local police, it will impose a curfew on all 16-year-olds.
Mr. Woolas: My hon. Friend makes a valid point and rings a bell of warning about what might be going on in the local authorities of which the Conservatives strained to gain control. She made her point effectively. I shall watch with interest to see how the 16 and 17-year-olds vote in two years time. I can imagine that the measure will be a good way of increasing youth turnout. I can guess which way those young people will voteand it will not be for the party of the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire.
I was saying that the bodies will be subject to the duty to co-operate in determining targets in local area agreements. I fear that those are dry-sounding words, but that measure, along with clause 108, which covers the duty to involve, consult and inform, changes the statutory framework within which local government operates. That is a significant development. The consultation will have regard to local area agreements. Given that a local authority prepares not just an LAA but a sustainable community strategy, there is a relationship between the Bill that we are discussing and the Sustainable Communities Billa private Members Bill that is in Committee at the moment.
Agreements and strategies will be crucial to capture the vision and agreed priorities in local areas, but it is the engagement and negotiation between local partners, and the way in which they put strategies and agreed targets at the heart of their business, that will make them a success. That is a rather long way of saying, You can bring a horse to water, but you cant make it drinkthe proof of the pudding, in other words. [ Laughter. ] That is enough metaphors. I will stick to common sense ones in future, as the Committee asked.
The duty to co-operate to determine local improvement targets will ensure that all the key partners in an area take those obligations seriously. It is therefore important that the list is comprehensive in naming the main public sector bodies that deliver or co-ordinate local services. Amendments Nos. 20 to 28 and 55 reflect a number of commitments that I made in Committee to add further bodies to the list. They also deal with other bodies, which I shall briefly discuss.
Amendments Nos. 20, 23 and 28 will add NHS trusts and foundation trusts to the list. In Committee, we enjoyed a good discussion on the merits of including those bodies in the duty to co-operate, and I made a commitment to do so through Government
amendments. I made it clear, however, that by including them we did not wish to place on them, or the responsible local authorities, any unnecessary burdens, and I am satisfied that the amendments will not do so, but will instead ensure that NHS trusts and foundation trusts are involved in negotiations only where they operate hospitals, establishments or other facilities in the area covered by the LAAwhat we refer to as the Great Ormond Street problem.
A further commitment that I made in Committee was to add Transport for London to the list of partner authorities, and that will be the effect of amendments Nos. 22 and 27. I made it clear that I consider that the duties of co-operation most sensibly rest on the Greater London authoritys functional bodiesthe Metropolitan Police Authority, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, the London Development Agency and Transport for Londonrather than on the authority itself, which of course has its own accountability function.
Robert Neill: I remember the discussion in Committee. The one concern that I am left with is the degree to which the Greater London assembly will properly scrutinise the work of the functional bodies when they are carrying out these arrangements. Assembly members have frequently encountered difficulty in getting as much information as they would wish from the Mayors functional bodies. In particular, there are constraints on the summoning of the functional bodies officials that do not apply to the summoning of GLA officials. Will the Minister look again at the matter to ensure greater transparency and accountability in the working of the arrangements?
Mr. Woolas: I will of course do as the hon. Gentleman asks. We do not want to over-burden public authorities with scrutiny. We want the right and appropriate level of scrutiny, and the Bill talks about overview and scrutiny at some length.
The amendments that I have described so far will fulfil the commitments that I made to add bodies to the list. However, I wish to add several further bodies that we did not have the opportunity to discuss in Committee. Amendment No. 21 deals with the arrangements for joint waste authorities, which might in future be established under clause 165(1), while amendments Nos. 24, 25 and 55 will add the Arts Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council to the list. The amendments will ensure that all the key bodies delivering or co-ordinating waste services and cultural resources in an area are fully involved in partnership working through the negotiation of LAAs and sustainable communities strategies.
Amendments Nos. 92 to 95 are technical measures that will permit the Secretary of State to vary or revoke a direction made under clauses 82 and 87, and to revoke a direction made under clause 91, about which the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire asked.
I turn now to the Opposition amendments, and in particular new clause 29. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) said, the new clause would place a highly prescriptive,
unnecessary and bureaucratic burden on the relationship between central and local government. It would require the Government to produce a report every year for each local authority responsible for producing an LAA. The reports objective would be to chart the Governments progress in delivering the greater devolution promised in the White Paper. Although of course I agree with the sentiment behind the new clausethe desire to hold the Government to accountthere are far better mechanisms than this prescriptive proposal.
The new clause would ensure that information on the number of local improvement targets and ring-fenced grants and on the volume of guidance and the degree of approval processes was made available to localities area by area. However, the point that I emphasiseparticularly to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South, who raised this point and whose attention I hope to getis that the 35 targets set under the new regime will vary from one local authority area to another. They are not national targets imposed on every council, but targets selected by the local authority in agreement with its partners. Placing a duty to co-operate on the partners, as the Bill does, is the right to way to deliver the changes.
A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House supported amendment No. 253. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) should be commendedand has beenfor his work. I ask him to be patient slightly longer. We are debating a local government Bill. Although his proposals prompted a debate today, including a fascinating and revealing exchange between the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, they are in large part about planning as well as about the relationship between central and local government. Again, the paradox is that all the speakers who referred to the amendment welcomed the devolutionary approach, yet we are discussing the imposition of targets because they happen to be targets that we all like.
Kelvin Hopkins: Whatever is done, should we not recognise that we are a long way behind those on the continent of Europe in terms of the energy efficiency of homes in particular? Germany has 100 times more homes with solar heating panels on the roof than the UK has. Does my hon. Friend recognise that the Government must take a more forceful approach?
Mr. Woolas: The proposition is that we are a long way behind our partners in Europe. I accept that. However, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is significantly changing that, and we have started to discuss it.
Amendment No. 253 is, in principle, supported by the Government. We too feel that energy standards and microgeneration for new buildings are key to the long-term environmental development of our communities. That is why in the last Parliament we introduced the Bill that became the Energy Act 2004. We have also stated that the Government intend to legislate to set out clearly the role of local planning authorities in improving energy efficiency and tackling climate change. That will allow us to make legislative proposals in the light of the responses to the
consultation on the planning policy statement and within the wider context of the measures that we will set out in the planning White Paper on continuing our reforms to the planning process. That will be done shortly. We are also committed to changing from the community strategies that the Local Government Act 2000 obliges local authorities to produce to the sustainable community strategies required by the Sustainable Communities Billa private Members Bill currently in Committee.
Those three measures all reflect the growing importance of sustainable development issues and emphasise the leading role that local communities have in managing their environment. I hear the words of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal about time, but the Government are making their proposals. We do not believe that it is right to bolt such measures on to the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill. We believe that our proposals, when hon. Members have seen them in the round, will be warmly welcomedespecially in the beautiful constituency of Gower, represented by my hon. Friend who made such a compelling case.
Gregory Barker: I hear what the Minister says, and we understand that he is in earnest, but we have heard it all before; we have heard it said that the Government are committed in principle but wish to shelve the measure before us. The fact is that he is talking about yet more iterative consultation, and there have been no guarantees. We legislators have the ability to make a difference today. We cannot hang around waiting for things to happen when it comes to climate change; we have to act now. There is a real imperative to make changes, and this afternoon is an opportunity to do so.
Mr. Woolas: I have watched the hon. Gentlemans progress since the election with interest. He needs to learn that legislating is not writing press releases. He referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich as a lackey of the building industry; my right hon. Friend wisely, and with typical generosity, did not respond to the accusation. My right hon. Friend made a point on behalf of people who know what they are talking about.
Let me finish my point before Opposition Whips start heckling, as they usually do when a point is made that they do not like. The commencement date for the Bill is next April. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) does not know what the commencement date will be for the measures introduced under planning legislation. He misses the point of the code for sustainable homes, which is perhaps not the most advanced in Europe but which the environmental lobby recognises is one of the best. It is right that when we legislate we do so in the round. It is also contradictory for him to call for further and proper consultation and the involvement of communities, only to say that we should act today.
Perhaps we should consult on what we propose; that is the spirit of the Sustainable Communities Bill, which he supported.
Alistair Burt: I am grateful to the Minister; I know that he wants to move on, but I want to make an important point. Taking the personal exchanges out of the matter, am I right in thinking that the Minister does not intend to accept amendment No. 253 today? As my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) said, that would be a further example of delay, delay, delay. The Minister has the opportunity to commit the Government to a measure to which an awful lot of Members have signed up. We should bear in mind the history: some time ago, the Government killed the Local Planning Authorities (Energy and Energy Efficiency) Bill, and the amendment reflects the substance of that Bill. Putting personalities aside, surely this is the opportunity to take a clear and definite step. I will be concerned if the Minister indicates that he will not accept the amendment.
Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman is a reasonable man, but on this occasion he has clearly not listened to my response on the amendment. It is a bit unfair to say that the Government are dragging their feet and not taking the opportunity before them, given that I have clearly outlined the measures that we propose to take, which include a commitment to legislation, as I have said. He is right that we are asking the House to resist the amendment if it is pushed to a Division, not because we disagree with its objective but because we want to get the measures right, using the proper processes. I do not think that he addressed the pointI apologise if he didthat planning policy and planning law is the other side of the coin.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner) mentioned Greater Manchester passenger transport authority and the commitment to balance and proportionalityprinciples that are sometimes found on leaflets, but sometimes not practised. I know that Liberal Democrat Members will listen carefully to this next point: my hon. Friend asked me to look into the Liberal Democrats subversion of the democratic will of the people of Greater Manchester. I have devoted my political life to addressing that issue, so I certainly undertake to do as he says.
My hon. Friends the Members for Luton, North and for Blaydon asked about trade unions. They said that employees were key to the change, and they are. Let me make it perfectly clear that clause 108, which is the
second pillar of the change to the statutory framework, applies to trade unions. We not only welcome employee involvement and consultation, but believe that it is essential to improve services. Our attitude is that if we want to improve services, it is best to ask the people who deliver them; that is a better way of doing things. So, again, the intention behind the amendment is covered.
I think that I have dealt with all the specific issues that were raised. We have other groups of amendments and new clauses to consider, so I ask the House to resist new clause 29 and I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Gower to consider withdrawing his amendment.
Tom Brake: There is much that we can welcome in what the Minister said, particularly the extension of the list of bodies to include NHS trusts and foundation truststhey were serious omissions from the original Billand the Arts Council, museums, libraries and archives. However, given that such organisations were missed, I wonder whether in months to come we might find others that should have been included.
We had a passionate debate on amendment No. 253 and a number of Members made very strong cases, particularly the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton). If he presses the amendment to a vote, he will receive our support and he will also receive it if it appears in another place. I think that the Minister said that the Government were already working on this issueor that the Chancellor is, at least, in the form of eco-homes. I remind the Minister that so far, the Chancellor has issued a press release, so there is still quite a lot of work to be done. [Interruption.] It was doubtless an important press releasebut just a press release.
New clause 30 would establish within a year a representative body from local and central Government, which is surely achievable, even given the difficulties experienced in moving matters forward apace in this place. The Minister said that there were better ways of achieving a reduction in regulation than new clause 29, but he did not outline what they were. I certainly did not get from him today the sense of urgency that we, local councils and councillors feel about the need to reduce the regulatory burden quickly. On that basis, we will press new clause 29 to a vote.
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