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Lord Rooker: I really have nothing new to say. The answer to the amendment is basically the same as that to the previous amendment and the one before that. It is no good me saying anything else about existing unitary authorities, because I said a week or more ago that we would have a look at the issue and come back to it. Anything that I say is quite irrelevant now, because it is not my job to make the policy standing here at the Dispatch Box. I have given a commitment that, because of sensible and probing questions that were asked with good examples, we would see whether we could do anything on the issue.
I know that somewhere among my notes, but not on this clause or even this amendmentI do not know whyI have read a lot more about the Scilly Isles in the past couple of weeks than I have in front of me now. I do not know on which amendment I read it. I understand that the Scilly Isles are quite different. I realise that Amendment No. 126B drags the Scilly Isles into the review process, but they have quite a unique local government structure for England, as the noble Baroness accepted. I do not have the words here, but I know that I have read somewhere that it is not a county council, it is not a district, and it is not unitary, but it works. I hopeI have never been therethat it does so to the benefit of the people of the Scilly Isles. We do not want them disturbed. On the other hand, we need to ensure that they are covered by any consequences under the Bill.
The brief that I was talking about is on Clause 18 stand part. I knew that I had read it somewhere. We have not reached Clause 18 stand part. Things are coming at a rate of knots now. The brief is more or less what I said anyway, which proves I read it as I know nothing about the subject otherwise.
The brief states that the Isles of Scilly will not be subject to a local government review, as they already have unitary local government. Local government in the Scilly Isles differs from elsewhere in England as the council of the Scilly Isles is neither a county, nor a district council, and various special provisions have been made for the council to exercise and perform specified local government functions. However, certain local government functions are performed on behalf of the Scilly Isles by Cornwall County Council. Clause 18 ensures that if a future local government review were to make structural changes in Cornwall, we would be able to provide by order for such functions to be performed by one or more of the successor authorities.
I think that I put that in quite good language. I did not mention the bit about Cornwall doing the work for the Scilly Isles, but they have a relevant local authority. For our purposes, it is essentially a unitary authority and not a two-tier authority. It is the effect of the two tiers that means that the Scilly Isles are not covered by Clause 12(5)(a). However, they are part of the regionno one could deny thatand therefore are part of the review. They are part of the United Kingdom, so they are not ruled out, but they have a unique local government structure that works well and should not be disturbed. That is the answer, I hope, to Amendment No. 126B.
Baroness Blatch: Before the noble Baroness responds on her amendment, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question. He has just said that, unless there were some structural change to Cornwall, there would be no need to review the Isles of Scilly arrangements. But it is likely that if the region within which Cornwall is located had a regional assembly, Cornwall would disappear as a county council and structural changes could well take place. Then the Isles of Scilly would have to be included in such a review.
Over the past few days, we have had rather a lot of discussion about the soundings exercise, conducted by the Government, on whether referendums should take place. We have not heard much about the consultation process on the electoral process that was also put in train at that time. Therefore, in speaking to this group of amendments, we should like to hear that the Government will take notice of the process of consultation on the electoral arrangements and that the evidence that goes to the Boundary Committee will take over from the requirements of the Bill. That evidence will have been taken on soundings about the committee's process. That is why we have tabled Amendments Nos. 112, 113, 115, 116 and 117.
Lord Greaves: I want to speak specifically to Amendment No. 117, which refers to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State during the local government boundary process. It is vital that the guidance is not only issued to the Boundary Committee but that it is published. It is essential that those who wish to make representationswhether they are local authorities, people living in the area or organisationsknow what the government guidance is. Without that, it will be difficult to make appropriate representations. For example, if the guidance included a minimum population level for unitary authorities of, say, 200,000 people, then it would be a waste of time for people to say that they wanted a unitary authority the size of, for example, Hartlepool, which is considerably smaller than that. Therefore, people need to know what the guidance is.
My first question is: what areas will the guidance cover? The Minister may not be able to answer that today but perhaps he will write to us. Will the guidance cover population size? Will it cover a minimum or maximum area? Will it cover the nature of the area concerned; that is, will there be different criteria for rural authorities and urban authorities and so on?
Secondly, will the guidance be the same for all regions that are subjected to a local government reorganisation or can it be different? I shall stop talking about the North East and the North West, and I shall imagine a hypothetical situation involving the South East and the South West. Could the guidance about local government reorganisation in those two regions be different, or do the Government intend to issue guidance that will apply to all regions, at least for a period of time?
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: First, I shall deal with Amendment No. 113 which would require the Boundary Committee to comply with the requirements on consultation in the 2000 Act. The consultation requirements with which the Boundary Committee will have to comply are in fact set out in Section 15 of the Local Government Act 1992 and applied with modifications for the purposes of local government reviews by virtue of Clause 14.
They are the same requirements that would apply to other structural and boundary reviews carried out by the Electoral Commission as the body responsible for such reviews since its establishment under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. We intend to comment on those requirements through the guidance that we shall issue to the Boundary Committee. Section 6 of the draft guidance, on which we are consulting and which is in the Library, will provide noble Lords with the necessary detail. We launched a consultation on 2nd December last and copies of the draft guidance were sent to all principal local authorities.
As for the other amendments, Clause 13(8) provides the basis on which the Boundary Committee is to conduct local government reviews. In carrying out a review, the clause includes requirements for the Boundary Committee to assume that there is an elected assembly for the region; to have regard to the need to reflect the interests and identities of local communities; to have regard to the need to secure effective and convenient local government; and to have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
Amendment No. 115 would delete the requirement for the Boundary Committee to assume the existence of a regional assembly. The Bill requires that assumption because there will be a close working relationship between local and regional government, reflecting the fact that action taken at regional level will affect local areas and the actions of local authorities will, of course, contribute to regional goals. It is important, therefore, that in carrying out its reviews, the Boundary Committee recognises this reality and has regard to the position as it will exist when, or shortly after, the new authorities are brought into existence.
I shall now deal with Amendments Nos. 116 and 117. The first would delete the requirement for the Boundary Committee to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State. The second would require such guidance to be "published" rather than "issued". Perhaps I can assure noble Lords opposite that we are not seeking to interfere with the Boundary Committee's independence. Of course the conduct of the review and the Boundary Committee's assessment of the factors that are relevant are entirely for it. But it is plainly right when conducting a review that the Boundary Committee should have a clear indication of what the Government consider to be important features affecting unitary structure.
Once the Boundary Committee has completed its review and submitted its recommendations, it is for the Governmentnot the Boundary Committeeto implement any structural and boundary changes; and in doing so, the Government can make modifications to the Boundary Committee's recommendations. In that respect, the approach adopted in the Bill is no different from that adopted by the Local Government Act 1992. Given the Government's role in implementation, it is quite proper that the Boundary Committee should know the issues that the Government think are important in deciding what structural and boundary changes are appropriate for a region.
The approach to guidance in the Bill is the same as that adopted by the then Government in relation to the reviews conducted by the Local Government Commission in the 1990s. The Secretary of State issued draft guidance for consultation prior to enactment of the 1992 Act and subsequently issued a number of versions of policy and procedure guidance to the Local Government Commission for England. These were publicly available.
We also intend to ensure that the guidance we issue to the Boundary Committee is in the public domain. For that reason we have already consulted on a draft of the guidance. I can assure the Committee that the final guidance will also be published.
I turn to Amendment No. 112. I must confess that I find it curious that Members opposite are keen to give the Government a wide discretion to disregard or to vary the matters set out in subsection (8) by means of guidance and thereby avoid any parliamentary scrutiny. I believe that reviews should be carried out in all regions on the same basic criteria as those set out in Clause 13(8).
Finally, I turn to the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I am not able to answer two of them, but I shall write to him shortly. With that explanation, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.
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