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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his approbation of my previous amendment and, indeed, for what he said about this amendment. If nothing else, it spares me the trouble of saying it in duplicate. It would be highly amusing--to me, at the very least--if the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, were to divide on Amendment No. 7. I should then be able to support her when she would not support me.

As far as concerns Amendment No. 9, as my noble friend said, it would be more appropriate if local authorities had such a power on the face of the Bill rather than having to rely on yet more regulations. We deal constantly with regulation on regulation on regulation. I believe that that is not the happiest situation. In passing legislation, we should be able to deal with matters more concisely and more effectively.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am prepared to take a slightly more benign view of the remarks of the noble Baroness than did the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, but, regrettably, as she said, only in terms of a contribution towards the consultation on the future of local government finance rather than in direct amendments to the Bill. There is some cross-over with the previous debate and with the debate which we had in Committee. A number of longer-term issues about the nature of local government finance and the controls or otherwise thereof are best addressed in a Bill which primarily is concerned with finance rather than the powers of local authorities.

With regard to Amendment No. 7, I reiterate that the limitation in subsection 3(2) simply confirms the status quo. It is entirely neutral in its effect on the ability of local authorities to charge or otherwise for their services. It would also be neutral whether the words to which the noble Baroness objects--"by precepts, borrowing or otherwise"--are retained or deleted. We feel that on balance it would be more helpful than otherwise if we had some indication of what we mean by "raising money" in this context. The list to which we referred in terms of "precepts, borrowing or otherwise" gives some indication of what we mean by "raising money". I appreciate that the noble Baroness takes a different view, but it is our view that the words are slightly more helpful than unhelpful. There would be a little more confusion were they not to be there.

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As far as concerns Amendment No. 9, as we said in Committee, the Government accept that there is a case for allowing local authorities a wider discretion to charge. However, these are complex issues which go beyond that of well-being. A number of difficult considerations exist. In respect of some services, of course, local authorities compete with the private sector, and in others they are in a virtual monopoly position. Therefore, there must be some degree of control and regulation of their charging ability. I would not necessarily regard that as giving a Secretary of State overweening powers. However, these factors must be carefully weighed and a number of different interests consulted.

We are considering this whole issue in the approach to the local government finance review Green Paper, which we hope to publish this summer. As a result of that review, I accept that we may need to concede that some legislation will be needed. If it were possible to include some enabling provision in this Bill which could pave the way for such steps, we should be prepared to consider it. However, we are not convinced that Amendment No. 9, as drafted, is such a provision. Certainly, our initial view is that it is little more than a restatement of Section 150 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. Under that Act the Government can already make regulations to allow authorities to charge for services provided under these powers, as under others. Therefore, in this regard it does not add a great deal to the existing law and to the existing powers of the Secretary of State.

There is a problem here and we shall address it in a broader context. However, I hope that for now the noble Baroness can be persuaded not to pursue the amendments.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, "stricken with affection for the Government"! I had believed that we did not insult one another in this House. Certainly not. No more with affection for the Government than with affection for the Conservative Benches. I am entirely neutral.

I shall not pursue Amendment No. 7 further, other than with this response. However, I remain unconvinced. Since the Minister describes it as being almost a matter of taste, it is quite difficult to argue because I believe that we have gone beyond the bounds of drafting technicalities. To our taste, the list is unhelpful, particularly, as I said in my introductory remarks, as it does not include tax raising. So far as a local community sees it, that is the main way in which a local authority raises money. Of course, we all know that the main way in which it raises money is through central government grant.

So far as concerns Amendment No. 9, I worded the amendment in that way partly because I hoped that it might be more appealing to the Government and also partly because, given the complexity of the matter, I was not confident that my drafting would be adequate to cover all the points. It seemed to me that it offered a more practical approach to provide for the Secretary of State. I have no great liking for order-making

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powers to be given to Secretaries of State. However, that would be a more practical approach in this particular situation.

Amidst his dismissal of the amendment, the Minister gave a little note of sympathy. Given that it will be a little while before the Green Paper is published and that inevitably legislation is some way off, I wonder whether the Government would be prepared to discuss what might be an appropriate amendment in the Bill to allow the Secretary of State to take steps to make regulations and allow for charging. After all, it will still be in the hands of the Government as to whether or not regulations will be promoted. That means that charging in its proper fashion could be introduced a good deal earlier than if we had to wait for primary legislation.

I repeat that the purpose of the amendment is to support the approach taken by the Government in terms of best value and the exercise of the new powers. We support the new powers and want to see them exercised effectively. Can the Minister give any encouragement as to whether there might be a way forward?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, without commitment, I should be happy to consider the possibility of the provision being included in the Bill. Perhaps we can engage in discussions before the next stage.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 8:

    Page 2, line 34, at end insert--

("( ) Before making an order under subsection (3), the Secretary of State must consult such representatives of local government and such other persons (if any) as he considers appropriate.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 8 introduces a new requirement on the Secretary of State to consult such representatives of local government and such other persons, if any, as he considers appropriate before he makes any order under subsection 3(3). I hope that that does not confirm that the noble Baroness will be stricken with affection for the Government Benches. However, it should please her as she proposed a similar amendment in Committee. As I said then, we would expect as a matter of course to consult all those bodies likely to be affected by regulations. We recognise the concerns of the House in relation to the scope of this particular power. Having considered the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, we agree that a formal requirement to consult local authorities and others is appropriate in this case, especially as we have made clear that the power in subsection 3(3) would only be used in extremis.

Taken together with the amendment made in Committee, which is now Clause 83--making the subsection 3(3) power subject to the affirmative resolution procedure--the amendment will ensure

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that any order brought under this subsection will be subject to proper consultation and full scrutiny in this House and the other place. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I thank the Minister. It is rare for one's amendment to be adopted by the Government without any change of wording. I am grateful to the Minister for moving the amendment which we shall, of course, support.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.]

Clause 4 [Strategies for promoting well-being]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 11:

    Page 3, line 1, leave out ("is to have power to prepare") and insert ("shall prepare and keep under review").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 11, tabled in the name of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, deals with the fact that local authorities shall prepare and keep under review an overarching strategy.

In drafting the Bill, the Government have simply given local authorities the power to prepare such a strategy and have not required them to do so. We believe that provision to be greatly lacking, particularly given the Minister's reply in Committee. We were told then that there were approximately 40 different plans or strategies which local authorities are required to develop. Given the Government's correct wish that local authorities should be community leaders, and that the community should take an interest in order to realise best value and the way forward for themselves, a coherent overall strategy is needed that can be found in one place, not in 40 different places. We felt that to be extremely important.

The Minister went on to say that the Government do not believe that such a duty--which is what we ask to be included in the Bill--would lead to better community planning. However, since that time the Local Government Association has issued briefing which I am sure many noble Lords will possess. I should like to quote from that briefing because the LGA supports the inclusion of a statutory duty to initiate a community planning process. The association states its belief,

    "that this is an essential prerequisite to ensuring that all other local partners have due regard to the process".

Those are strong words from the Local Government Association. It is not resisting an extra duty. It believes, as we put forward in Committee, that that would enable a much more coherent approach for the public, other partners working with local authorities and, indeed, members of the authority to see brought together all the different strands in which the local authority works.

I would be interested to know if the Minister is likely to have a change of heart on this issue, given that local authorities would welcome a more coherent approach from the Government. Perhaps the Government

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would then be able to rationalise the number of different strategies they currently require. That would create a far more comprehensible picture to both the public being served and to the Secretary of State in trying to keep an overall picture of what is happening in each local authority area and in terms of best value. I beg to move.

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