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Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, will she respond to my query about the victims of NATO bombings, those who were killed or injured? I raised the issue of compensation for such victims. They were Albanian as well as Serb, as my noble friend knows.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have replied to that question before and the noble Baroness gave the answer. I re-emphasise that everything is being done to restructure and assist the Kosovar people to regain stability. We very much hope that that will help

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to compensate them for the terrible suffering that has been visited upon them by Milosevic and all that has followed with him.

Local Government Bill [H.L.]

8.37 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 23 [Power of Secretary of State to require referendum]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 221 and 222:


    Page 12, line 35, at end insert ("for or in connection with").


    Page 12, line 37, leave out ("require") and insert ("direct").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 223 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 224 to 234:


    Page 12, line 38, leave out from ("arrangements") to end of line 39 and insert ("involving an executive which takes a particular form permitted by or under section 10.").


    Page 12, line 41, leave out (", in particular,").


    Page 12, line 41, leave out ("as to").


    Page 12, line 42, at beginning insert ("as to").


    Page 12, line 43, at beginning insert ("as to").


    Page 12, line 43, leave out ("to") and insert ("which may, may not or must").


    Page 12, line 43, after ("before") insert ("or in connection with").


    Page 13, line 1, at beginning insert ("as to").


    Page 13, line 1, leave out ("to") and insert ("which may, may not or must").


    Page 13, line 1, at end insert (", and


( ) for or in connection with enabling the Secretary of State, in the event of any failure by a local authority to take any action permitted or required by virtue of the regulations, to take that action").


    Page 13, line 2, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert--


("(3) The provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (2) includes provision which applies or reproduces (with or without modifications) any provisions of section 18, 19, 20 or (Operation of alternative arrangements).
(4) Nothing in subsection (2) or (3) affects the generality of the power under subsection (1).").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 235 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 23, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Dixon-Smith: I must confess that I find Clause 23 immensely depressing and I regret deeply that I should have to see such a clause in any legislation. Furthermore, I regret that the Government have felt it desirable to bring forward the clause.

Clause 23 provides that:


    "The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision enabling him, in such circumstances as may be prescribed in the regulations"--

for which he is responsible--


    "to require a local authority to hold a referendum on whether they should operate executive arrangements",

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and so forth. What an amazing vote of confidence in his own proposals that the Secretary of States feels that he must have regulatory power to force local authorities to do what is required here. I am sorry; I find that very depressing.

When one looks at the draft regulations, one finds that it appears to the Secretary of State that the authority has not drawn up this or that, or that it has drawn up this without having done that, or that the authority's proposals do not comply with this or that. And it goes on and on. It does not quite say at the end, "and in such other circumstances as the Secretary of State thinks are appropriate", but it jolly nearly comes to that. That seems to be something which I should find slightly encouraging because it indicates that the Secretary of State has no confidence in his own proposals and therefore he does not believe that people will go through willingly with what is proposed in the legislation. Therefore, he needs to reserve power to force them to do so.

That may be the way of new Labour. If it is, in due time they will pay for that arrogance. I do not believe that that is the proper way for this country to go forward; still less do I believe that it is a proper way to treat democratically elected authorities which might be supposed to have a will of their own. For that reason it seemed to me that it would be preferable that Clause 23 be excised from the Bill. It is with that in mind that I tabled the Motion that Clause 23 should not stand part of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I feel that the noble Lord is reading rather more into the intentions behind this clause than his speech would suggest. We have already made a draft of the regulations, which set out what an authority must do in that respect. I see that the noble Lord has already marked the sentence. Therefore, he will know that all those circumstances relate to a situation where a local authority either does not comply with the legislation or guidance in drawing up its proposals or, alternatively, it does not have regard to the wishes of local people following a period of consultation in line with that guidance and legislation; in other words, a local authority will have decided either to opt out entirely from the word go or to ignore the will of the people once it has been sought.

We do not believe that there will be many such situations. However, we believe that the power is necessary to deal with isolated cases of abuse and to avoid the necessity in those circumstances of having to resort to the courts where an authority does not comply with the legislation. There is nothing more sinister than that behind the clause. Its purpose is to deal with situations of abuse or possibly inertia on the part of local authorities when moving to executive arrangements, which is the whole objective of the legislation. It is simply a safeguard to ensure that councils comply with the legislation and progress to new constitutions at a reasonable pace. It does not give us, nor would we wish to have, powers arbitrarily to require local authorities to hold referendums or to intervene in other circumstances. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Lord Dixon-Smith: It is only because I have stood opposite the Minister for so long and begin to have an element of faith in his words that I feel inclined not to pursue the matter further. However, I shall need to

1 Feb 2000 : Column 170

study exactly what he said before I determine absolutely not to deal with the issue at some point further down the line. I am grateful to him for his reply, which certainly helps. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Clause 23, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 236:


    After Clause 23, insert the following new clause--

POWER TO REQUIRE REFERENDUM

(".--(1) The Secretary of State may by order make provision requiring every local authority, or every local authority falling within any description of authority specified in the order, to hold a referendum on whether they should operate executive arrangements involving an executive which takes such form permitted by or under section 10 as may be specified in the order.
(2) The provision which may be made by an order under this section includes provision--
(a) as to the date on which, or the time by which, a referendum must be held,
(b) as to the action which may, may not or must be taken by a local authority before or in connection with a referendum,
(c) as to the action which may, may not or must be taken by a local authority after a referendum,
(d) for or in connection with enabling the Secretary of State, in the event of any failure by a local authority to take any action permitted or required by virtue of the order, to take that action.
(3) The provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (2) includes provision which applies or reproduces (with or without modifications) any provisions of sections 18, 19, 20 or (Operation of alternative arrangements).
(4) Nothing in subsection (2) or (3) affects the generality of the power under subsection (1).").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move.

[Amendment No. 236A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 236, not moved.]

Amendment No. 236 agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 237:


    After Clause 23, insert the following new clause--

INFORMATION WITH RESPECT TO DISCHARGE OF FUNCTIONS ETC

(".--(1) A local authority which is operating executive arrangements must prepare and keep up to date a document (referred to in this section as their constitution) which contains--
(a) such information with respect to the discharge of their functions (including functions which are the responsibility of the executive) as the Secretary of State may direct,
(b) a copy of the authority's standing orders for the time being,
(c) a copy of the authority's code of conduct for the time being under section 36, and
(d) such other information (if any) as the authority consider appropriate.

1 Feb 2000 : Column 171


(2) A local authority must ensure that copies of their constitution are available at their principal office for inspection by members of the public at all reasonable hours.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 24 [Guidance]:


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