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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:
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".
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"
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?
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.
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.
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