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Lord Whitty: The answer is, no, it does not, but if the noble Lord's amendment were accepted, all future amendments to those regimes would have to be consistent across all authorities.

Baroness Hamwee: The Minister referred to the intervention powers. Clause 14 is one of the few clauses that this group of amendments does not seek to alter. So I, too, will read the noble Lord's remarks with interest. I thought that he had referred to intervention, as well as to Clause 15. I may have been mistaken.

Turning to the amendments that I have tabled, it seemed to me that the classes of authorities could be described in each case as a category. Different spending authorities and authorities with different levels of budget would fall within a particular category. The noble Lord mentioned under-performing authorities. In that case it is particularly important to have an even-handed approach. However, I am to some extent reassured by the noble Lord's remarks about consistency. I shall read the detail of this proposal with interest. I accept that there is perhaps more to it than there may first appear. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

10 May 1999 : Column CWH47

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 3, line 36, after ("consult") insert ("the local Government Association and")

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 25 and 27 in my name and to Amendments Nos. 26 and 28 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.

Amendment No. 24 deals with the subject of consultation on performance indicators and standards and proposes consultation with the Local Government Association. I accept that Amendment No. 28, which provides for consultation with the representatives of best value authorities, is probably a better amendment. It is wider both in regard to the authorities whose representatives would be concerned--best value authorities comprise more than just local authorities--and I also accept that not every local authority is represented by the Local Government Association. However, the thrust of the two amendments is much the same. The Minister has already said that there will be consultation as to both indicators and standards. I am happy to hear that. Indeed, it is what I should have expected. I therefore ask the possibly simplistic question: if that is the case, why not say so?

Amendment No. 25 is consequential. Amendment No. 27 again relates to the Secretary of State taking account of the representations of best value authorities in setting standards and indicators. I am particularly concerned to ensure that authorities are not so overburdened with national standards and indicators that they have no scope to reflect the needs and wishes of local people. This point has been drawn to my attention not only by local authorities, but by the Association of Police Authorities, which is concerned about this issue. Police authorities already have national objectives, set annually by the Home Secretary, which I understand are known as "ministerial priorities", with their associated performance indicators. Police authorities are also required to set local objectives and performance indicators and targets reflecting local needs. The association's main concern is to ensure that authorities are not so overburdened by national matters that they cannot reflect what is going on locally. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I have tabled two amendments which seek to amend precisely the same provision in the Bill. Amendment No. 26 represents what I can only call my first thoughts. As regards Amendment No. 28, I realised that if we were going to impose additional duties of consultation on the Secretary of State we ought to get it right. The Bill is about best value authorities and not exclusively about local authorities. With that thought I tabled Amendment No. 28 in my name. While it is nice for the Secretary of State, under the terms of the Bill, to,

    "consult such persons as he thinks fit", he would be guilty of dereliction of duty if he did not consult best value authorities in this particular instance. I hope the Minister might feel able to accept that this is not an unreasonable imposition and possibly accept that amendment.

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Lord Hunt of Tanworth: I support Amendment No. 28. I see that the Secretary of State has to preserve the discretion to consult more widely as he thinks fit. However, not to have a reference on the face of the Bill to the representatives of best value authorities seems quite wrong. I support the amendment.

Lord Whitty: As a result of pressure in the other place I thought we had met the Liberal Democrats' point on this matter, but evidently that is not the case.

There have been many assurances that we would consult those who are specified in these amendments. That consultation would clearly include representatives of local government in England and Wales, and representatives of other best value authorities. That has always been the Government's intention and it is a commitment I am pleased to repeat. We must make sure that that consultation is as wide-ranging and as open as possible and that it includes not only the best value authorities but also the private sector, the voluntary sector, consumer organisations, trade unions and others. That is why the scope for consultation is designated as widely as it is within the clauses.

It is quite clear that our consultation will involve, for example, the Local Government Association in England and Wales and other appropriate bodies, both from local government and elsewhere. If we need to repeat that, we will do so as often as necessary.

In response to pressure in another place we have purposely used the precedent in Section 46 of the Audit Commission Act 1998, with which noble Lords pronounced themselves, broadly speaking, happy. That concerns the commission's existing powers to specify performance indicators and it clearly involves consultation with the kind of bodies referred to in these amendments. Those powers are generally recognised as comprehensive, and they enable as wide a range of views to be canvassed as possible. We do not therefore consider it necessary to specify on the face of the Bill what ought to be obvious, and what noble Lords have indeed indicated would be a severe dereliction of duty were the Secretary of State to fail to consult these bodies. We therefore regard these amendments as unnecessary and hope they do not need to be pursued.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: This seems to be a matter on which there is general agreement. In another place the Minister gave definite assurances that it would be included in the provision. Nevertheless the Local Government Association still feels strongly that it should be explicit on the face of the Bill. The Minister has given no reason why it should not be on the face of the Bill. The whole thrust behind the setting up of the Improvement and Development Agency is that the best local authorities help everyone else to improve. I am afraid to say that I can still see no reason why this measure should not be explicit on the face of the Bill.

Lord Whitty: If one follows through that logic, one would also have to follow through other associations of representatives of other best value authorities and all the other groups I specified, from the private sector through to consumers and so on. Clearly a process of consultation does involve a large number of people. It would be absurd

10 May 1999 : Column CWH49

to assume that consultation excluded the Local Government Association and other equivalent representatives. If one starts specifying, the list of those specified will grow.

I understand that the noble Baroness is reflecting to some extent the views of the Local Government Association, and clearly we do have to bear that in mind. At this stage, I consider that if we were to specify them, we would have to specify others. I am happy to take further advice on that matter, but nevertheless that would seem to be the consequence at the moment.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Tanworth: I seek to ask one question. I quite see that the Secretary of State will want to consult widely and will have to retain his discretion to consult who he wishes. But surely the people who are directly affected and to whom the best value is going to be applied are in a slightly different position, and you could specify them without having to specify everyone else.

Lord Whitty: Within the context of representatives of best value authorities there are other associations--the Association of Chief Police Officers, for example--you would have to specify as well, even within that limited specification, so it is not as straightforward as all that.

Lord Dixon-Smith: The Minister will forgive me for saying that the words he was using a few moments ago sounded very much like words I was using somewhat earlier when we were discussing the duty of consultation placed upon local authorities. He made, in slightly different words, almost precisely the point I was making. I find his reply disappointing. I think we will need to consider this one very, very carefully.

Baroness Hamwee: The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, has made what, if I may say so, is precisely the right point. I do not think any of your Lordships would go to the stake for the reference being to the Local Government Association. It is the representatives of best value authorities, and that might well include the Local Government Association, since local authorities or many of them would choose to be represented through that route.

As has been said, this is an important point. I do think the authorities which are directly in the frame have something to say which is of quite a different nature from consumer organisations and so on, to which the Minister has referred. I realise that parliamentary drafting is not the same as other types of drafting, but I was always taught to believe that when you start on a list you get yourself into trouble if you say "and others", because the others then would have to be of the same type as the list. Having one group referred to would not, in my view, mean that the Secretary of State would not be able, or indeed not have a duty, to consult more widely.

We may well need to return to this matter. I am not sure whether the Minister wants to speak again before I withdraw.

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