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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, with regard to Clause 14(5), I accept that the Government believe they need the powers. As for Clause 14(8), one of the criticisms is that my amendment does not allow the Secretary of State to address systemic failure. Since this is the fast-track procedure and systemic failure, by definition, is not something which springs up overnight and becomes suddenly and obviously urgent, I think it is entirely right that the Secretary of State should not be able to apply the urgency provisions in such a case. The

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only reason he might want to take urgent action in the case of systemic failure would be if he noticed at a rather late stage that the failure existed.

With regard to the protocol--and I am glad to note the Minister's assurance--I wonder whether, with the leave of the House, he could tell us when the further draft will be available with the definition for the fast-track procedure. It would be helpful to the House if we could know tonight if the draft might be available soon--and at any rate in connection with this point--before Third Reading. This is a matter with which we on these Benches are particularly concerned. If the Minister is not able to tell me tonight, may I ask him to write to me?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not immediately able to give an indication about the draft tonight. It is already widely available in local government circles, but I am not able to give a date for the final version. I will write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 26:


Page 10, line 35, at end insert--
("(5A) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision which--
(a) relates to an enactment which confers a function on him in respect of a function of a best value authority, and
(b) he considers necessary or expedient for the purposes of cases in which he makes a direction under subsection (5)(a).
(5B) Regulations under subsection (5A) may, in relation to the cases mentioned in subsection (5A)(b)--
(a) disapply or modify an enactment of the kind mentioned in subsection (5A)(a);
(b) have an effect similar to the effect of an enactment of that kind.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 26 formally.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

Clause 15 [Power to modify enactments and confer new powers]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 28:


Page 11, line 13, after ("enactment") insert ("made before the passage of this Act")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 15 of the Bill begins:


    "If the Secretary of State thinks that an enactment prevents or obstructs compliance by best value authorities with the requirements of this Part he may by order make provision modifying or excluding the application of the enactment in relation to those authorities". It goes on:


    "The Secretary of State may by order make provision conferring on best value authorities any power which he considers necessary or expedient to permit or facilitate compliance with the requirements of this Part".

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    Those are very sweeping powers indeed over all legislation. The first amendment that I have put down in relation to this clause, Amendment No. 28, is grouped with Amendment No. 29, which I will come to in a moment. It puts a minor restriction on this particular power in that the Secretary of State would only be able to apply the power to legislation which is presently in place. In other words, new legislation coming in the future will not be able to have this power applied to it. That is a perfectly reasonable proposition. There may well be existing circumstances and laws which could rightly require to be set aside for best value to work well. Anyone who has been involved in local government will know of individual circumstances which already exist here and there, where the ability to make use of this power will indeed be welcome. To that extent it is good, but the power is so wide in its present application that some restriction on it would perhaps be desirable.

That is why I also tabled Amendment No. 29, which limits the application of this particular clause to five years. If we have not found out what the problems are and where the shoe pinches within five years of passing this Bill, it will be remarkable. It will be even more remarkable if some ambitious Secretary of State's department as it presently exists, or whatever its successor department may be, has not by then decided to pass some other local government Bill which then might supersede this one. That being so, it is not unreasonable to put a time limit on the application of this clause. In any event, it will have the wholly beneficial effect of concentrating people's minds so that, should there be issues which they feel are worth exploring because the shoe of existing legislation pinches too tightly, they will raise them within a reasonable timescale.

It is with those thoughts in mind that these amendments were put down on the Marshalled List. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, Amendment No. 28 will prevent the Secretary of State from amending local authorities' powers in respect of future legislation. We recognise that this amendment reflects a concern about how far we intend to amend existing legislation so as to enable local authorities to deliver best value. The paper produced by the department on possible uses of this clause indicates to some extent the sort of legislative changes that may be necessary. We are now developing that thinking and will be consulting on our proposals later this summer.

We recognise that we are in a changing world, and despite our best efforts it will not always be possible to forecast those changes. We feel that future Secretaries of State must have powers to tackle changing circumstances. Amendment No. 28 would unduly fetter their hands. Therefore I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will feel able to withdraw that amendment.

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The noble Lord also moved Amendment No. 29 which reflects concern about the use of Clause 15 powers. He may consider a five-year period a sufficient time to change legislation, and that within that period it will quickly become clear which changes are necessary.

However, his argument does not take account of the sort of regime which we expect to emerge for delivering best value to local communities. We expect best value authorities to develop new forms of service delivery with others, including the private and voluntary sectors. Such new ways of working will not spring up immediately after local authorities have their new duty of best value from 1st April 2000. Indeed, they may not become apparent for some years; for example, advances in information technology will not suddenly stop in 2005. There will be an incremental process as many partner organisations implement new ways of working. The time limit proposed by the noble Lord would create unnecessary pressure. A finite period may not allow us to identify current as well as future barriers. It could also encourage authorities and others to seek immediate legislative solutions to perceived problems. Amendment No. 29 could prevent partnerships from evolving naturally at a time during which difficulties could emerge and hopefully be resolved without the need for legislative changes.

We believe that it is better to have sufficient time to identify correctly the problems and to develop effective administrative or legislative solutions over the full lifetime of best value. When the power under Clause 15 is needed, it will be used to improve authorities' ability to achieve best value. That may be at any point when this duty is in force. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will not press this amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I listened with great interest to the Minister's response and she made some interesting points. However, I am afraid that I can envisage a situation in which one might conclude that the most efficient way of delivering best value might be to remove all legal constraints from local authorities and let them get on with it. But I suppose that it would be a little too idealistic to conceive that any government would give local authorities that degree of freedom.

However, the Greater London Authority Bill is going through this House and it has within it the power of general competence. It is possible to conceive that in the not too distant future we shall be passing a Bill through this House, which I and the noble Baroness would welcome, giving local authorities the power of general competence. If that were to occur the need for Clause 15 might disappear. It is not impossible to conceive of such a situation, but I shall study the Minister's response with great interest and in the meantime beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

Clause 26 [Commencement]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 30:


Page 16, line 23, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert--

17 Jun 1999 : Column 522


("(2) The Secretary of State may by order provide for--
(a) any of sections 1 to 13, 14, 18, 19, 21, 22, 24 and 25 to be brought into force in relation to England before the time appointed by subsection (1);
(b) any of those sections, in so far as it relates to an authority falling within section 1(1)(d) or (e), to be brought into force in relation to Wales before that time;
(c) any of sections (Inspections: housing benefit and council tax benefit), 15 to 17 and 23 to be brought into force before that time.
(3) The National Assembly for Wales may by order provide for any of the sections mentioned in subsection (2)(a), except in so far as it relates to an authority falling within section 1(1)(d) or (e), to be brought into force in relation to Wales before the time appointed by subsection (1).").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 27 [Orders]:


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