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Lord Whitty: It is the case that under this clause the Minister can repeal existing legislation if he is convinced that it is inhibiting the proper exercise of powers of well-being. However, the amendment does not address that power; it addresses a power to restrict in extremis the role of local authorities in pursuing the power. Clearly, there are some restrictions, which are the areas of legislation that have not been removed by the Secretary of State. This is a reserve power.
I slightly resent the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, calling my noble friend Lady Farrington and myself cynics. We may be worldly wise, but we are not cynics. Indeed, I maintain that the whole Bill is a leap of faith in relation to local authorities and a big indication of the Government's confidence that they can rise to the challenge. But even a leap of faith requires the occasional emergency parachute.
On this occasion, it is this power. It is a reserve power and not one that should be used frequently, if ever. It provides for an unforeseen situation that is not covered by the restrictions in the Bill. Despite all the confidence that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and Members on all sides of the Committee have in the common sense of local government, it provides for a decision conceivably taken at some time in the future, exercised under the well-being power, but patently against the interests of either the inhabitants of the locality or the nation as a whole. Therefore, the Secretary of State requires a reserve power.
I must say that for the life of me I cannot give an example. Indeed, this morning I asked my advisers to do so and they looked at me patiently and said, "How can we possibly give you an example of an unforeseen circumstance?". Nevertheless--
Lord Whitty: I must be careful about how I respond to that, but I do not believe that Ken Livingstone could conceivably be an unforeseen circumstance. The way in which people view that circumstance may vary.
To underline the fact that this is a reserve power, the Government have put forward an amendment to make it clear that it will be exercised only through the specific or affirmative resolution procedure. That indicates to the Committee the rarity with which we would use it and the safeguards which Parliament has on its use. I hope that in the light of that explanation the noble Baroness will not pursue her amendment.
I shall not seek to press the matter now. I hope that the Government will find language to express the fact that it is a reserve power. We might have to return to the issue, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: This amendment will be overtaken by the Government's Amendment No. 368, which I shall be happy to support. However, it is worth saying a few words about Amendment No. 29. I tabled it as an alternative, but it deals with an important point. Before an order is made, the Secretary of State will consult in particular representatives of local government. I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to give the Committee assurances about that. I beg to move Amendment No. 28 as a curtain raiser to Amendment No. 368.
Lord Whitty: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving me a curtain raiser. I hope that during the previous debate and in our memorandum to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee the Government indicated their belief that Parliament should have the opportunity to debate and scrutinise any proposal made under Clause 3(3). Amendment No. 368 gives effect to this, providing that any order made under the clause will not take effect until it has been approved by resolution of both Houses of Parliament. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for indicating that in the light of that she will withdraw her amendment.
I turn to Amendment No. 29. The Government would expect as a matter of course to consult local government and any other bodies likely to be affected by regulations brought forward under Clause 3(3). I recognise that elsewhere in Part I we have spelt out the requirement to consult and I therefore have some sympathy with Amendment No. 29 and the intentions behind it. If the noble Baroness is amenable to the suggestion, I should like to reflect on the matter and consider how best the intention can be worded. I hope that on that basis she will not move the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 30 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 40 which deals with the same issue. When I saw the guidance for Part II of the Bill this morning, I thought that without doubt the Government would accept my amendment on the basis that that was all the guidance that would appear. However, I fear that it may not be the beginning and the end of the guidance which may fall on the heads of local authorities. It is therefore to try to prevent too much guidance from being dished out on this part of the Bill that I seek to remove the powers which enable the Government to provide guidance on it.
If we have now given the power relating to well-being to local authorities, we must trust local authorities to carry out that power without telling them in minute detail how to do so or what to do. I therefore hope that no guidance will be issued on that power and that there will be no nannying of local authorities. As was said about a previous provision, I hope that the Government will trust local authorities to carry out their power relating to well-being. I hope that we shall delete subsections (4) and (5) of Clause 3 and subsections (2)(b) and (3) of Clause 4. I beg to move.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Amendments Nos. 32 and 41 are grouped with this amendment. They are two small amendments which will not take up the Committee's time for more than a few moments. The first seeks to state that guidance under this section will be regarded as advisory. Guidance is in my view perforce advisory and I suspect that that is what the Minister will say. If one has to deal with planning guidance, so many issues are involved that a planning authority has to strike the best balance it can between them. The guidance cannot be in any way mandatory.
That said, there is a tendency for local authorities to regard guidance as the tablets of stone come down from Mount Sinai. In the days when those tablets were written, life was rather more simple; there were not so many people about and not so many conflicting interests. Some fairly straight precepts of behaviour were perfectly practical. Without knowing in what state the Israelites lived and their ethical standards as they left Egypt on their long trek, I have no doubt that those tablets of stone had validity at the time, as indeed they still do today. But government guidance is another matter. It is not in quite the same category, despite the tendency of some local authorities to believe that it might be.
If I remember my scriptures rightly, the tribes of Israel then took 40 years to reach the promised land on the basis of the information on the tablets of stone. I believe that we need to guide local authorities a little more gently and in a little more detail for them to be able to exercise their powers in relation to community planning and well-being. We therefore need to have some greater certainty and clarity about what we are after; not only for local authorities themselves but also for their partners in the public and private sectors with which the powers give them greater scope to work. They need to have some degree of certainty as to which powers are available and we should do better to spell it out in guidance rather than have a colossal amount of information on the face of the Bill.
We have in mind two distinct areas where there should be further guidance in respect of the well-being power. The first relates to the fact that the closest approximation to the new broad power under pre-existing legislation is the power under Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972. A number of difficult decisions and a certain amount of confusion have ensued over whether or not local authorities actually have that power. That particularly applies to partner bodies. We need to ensure that people are clear about that. It is therefore the Government's intention that authorities should be able to use their new broad powers to engage in a range of activities, but also that they and others should be clear which powers they have and which they do not.
Secondly, it is important to note that local authorities have a key role to play in delivering many of the Government's objectives on issues such as social exclusion, neighbourhood renewal and supporting vulnerable groups, where a wide range of bodies are involved. It is important that the statutory guidance sets out the priorities for action and the general principles which should underpin action in those areas. With regard to community planning, the Government may want also to set out in guidance some of the principles which should underpin the preparation of community strategies.
I recognise a degree of irritation in local authorities at the length and detail of some of the guidance they receive. Nevertheless, I feel that in that new area some degree of greater clarity than we may possibly prescribe on the face of the Bill or in the schedules to the Bill would be helpful to local authorities and others. Therefore, I should resist moves by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord to remove the
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