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However, it is equally wrong to introduce the kind of inflexibility where we could not deal with situations where, in the future, there is a specific and definite
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On Report, I explained at length and with great care that this does not mean that local authorities have carte blanche to come back and forth with proposals for unitary status. There is no future rolling programme, nor is there an open-ended invitation or a revolving door. However, we cannot and should not bolt that door so tightly that if, exceptionally, a local authority does seek sensible structural change, it is not free to approach Government and we are not free to invite it to make proposals. However, I assure the House that this is not a way of seeking by the back door to entice local authorities to seek to form unitaries. I believeI hope that the noble Baroness will acceptthat there are mechanisms in place, and it is important that we have those mechanisms to deal with the kinds of situations that I have outlined. The process that the Bill puts in place is devolutionary, with councils in the driving seat. There is no change unless one or more council wishes it, and there is no change unless it is approved by this House and by the other place. That process is fit for today, and it recognises constitutional
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. Does she accept that one of the reasons why we have had such difficulty with this is because of the clear, unambiguous remarks made in another place by the then Minister, who is on record as saying that the proposals in the Bill are intended to relate only to the local authorities that are under consideration? We have wasted quite a lot of time having a debate around that, whereas if he had been much more clear and had enabled the noble Baroness to be clear in Committee about the exact status of the proposals, we could perhaps have saved ourselves and the House a great deal of time.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, in the course of debates in both Houses one sometimes wishes one could have been as clear at the beginning of the process as one is at the end. I hope that we are all now clear. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her third reply on this subject. Unfortunately, every time we discuss this another point is raised. I will challenge the Minister a bit on this. As I understand her, if we do not take the invitations out and we leave the provision as it is, local authorities will come to the Government and say that they want to form unitaries and not the other way around. That is not what the legislation says. The legislation says:
Under section 2 is a direction from the Government. All of Clause 3 is about an initiation by the Governmenteither an invitation or a direction. We are all very clear that a direction will cease on 25 January 2008. With respect, I do not think that the legislation does what the Minister says it does. It may be that local authorities can come to the Government and say that they would like to form a unitary, in which case the Government can say, All right, in that case we will issue an invitation. That is not what the legislation says. It will have to be turned round in some way.
Confusion exists over the word invitation and it leaves a very open-ended situation, which has already caused enormous angst among the elements of the new unitaries. We have already had one judicial review, and it is not certain that there will not be more. It is certainly not clear that in the proposed unitaries there is unanimity between the districts or on the county councils, where proposals are being put forward. We ought to see an end to this part of the legislation. I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this group of amendments tidies up the Bill following your Lordships decision to remove the elected executive model from the Bill. We are of course disappointed that noble Lords opposite have chosen to remove what is, as I have stressed throughout every stage, a highly innovative model. However, as that is the will of the House, we have ensured that all references to elected executives are removed from the Bill.
The amendments remove Schedule 3, which sets out the voting system for a directly elected executive and is therefore no longer required. We are bringing back amendments to Schedule 4 which make consequential amendments to the Local Government Act 1972 and relate to the provisions in Clause 66(3), which clarifies when a mayor is to be treated as a member of a local authority.
We also reinstate Schedule 5, less any reference to elected executive models, as the provisions within that schedule are necessary to allow local authorities to make the transition to the executive models that remain in the Billthat is, the leader and Cabinet executive and mayor and Cabinet executive models.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I hope that the Minister received a message from me earlier this morning concerning some questions that I want to ask about this group of amendments. That might seem a little odd, as my name has been added to some of them, but that was for a procedural reason that I still do not quite understand.
First, have we now filleted the Bill completely as regards directly elected executives? This is not an amendment to her amendment but, if I am right, it can possibly still be swept up, as there is a little sweeping-up time left. It seems to me that in Clause 12, which concerns structures, there remains a reference to directly elected executives.
My second point concerns Wales. When I originally read the provisions regarding Wales, it seemed that Part 3, which introduces directly elected executives, was drafted to separate out the Welsh provisions so that the National Assembly for Wales could make its own decisions about local government structures. Can the noble Baroness say something about the impact on the Welsh system of deleting from the Bill references to directly elected executives?
Thirdly, as was pointed out to us fairly early on in our deliberations, Section 11 of the Local Government Act 2000 would have enabled everything that this Bill contains as regards executives to be brought in anyway through regulations. Therefore, as those provisions still remain, can the Minister say what effect the regulations would have and, in particular, if we assume that the deletion sticks, as it were, to the end of this Bill, whether the Secretary of State would rule herself out from using the backdoor method of regulations under the earlier legislation?
In the circumstances that we are now in, I find it quite difficult to read new Section 33I of the 2000 Act alongside Section 11. Can the Minister say something about the implications of reinstating Section 39(4) of the 2000 Act, which would be the effect of the amendment to Clause 66, to which she spoke?
Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 79. I am afraid that I did not give the Minister notice of this. This relates to a new schedule after Schedule 4, which refers to operating the old-style leader and Cabinet executive model. I know that that is defined, but in colloquial terms am I right in thinking that this is the leader and Cabinet executivesame style but older Act? I find it difficult to understand what that is all about.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, while the noble Baroness is having a drink of water, perhaps I could say that I had understood that we were now to hear the important European Statement. If the noble Baroness is to speak for very much longer on this amendment, perhaps we could carry on by having the Statement for which the House is now waiting.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I have only one more sentence, but I have no idea how long the answer might be. I, too, was rather surprised that we went on with the Bill and I apologise to noble Lords who are not as transfixed as I am by the new schedule to the Bill. Under paragraph 4 of the new schedule, a local authority must make a change in its governance arrangements under what will be Section 33A. I find it really hard to understand what the Government are expecting local authorities to do.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we took another amendment before turning to the Statement because
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I shall answer the noble Baroness as briefly and as concisely as possible. Let me take the Welsh situation first. The Bill allowed only English authorities to operate DEEs. As local government is a devolved matter, it is for the National Assembly for Wales to consider whether, in future, Welsh councils should be able to develop this model. So Wales is pursuing its own course.
I turn to the amendment that looks at the relationship between new Section 33I and Section 11. I can reassure the noble Baroness that our amendments remove all the provisions that would have allowed councils to resolve to move to the DEE model. In tidying up the Bill, we have amended the Local Government Act 2000 to return it to its pre-Bill position in relation to providing for additional forms of executive arrangement. On Section 11(5), at various stages of the Bill I said that this would enable local authorities to come forward with other innovative forms of executive arrangements. Therefore, by implication, the Government would not be bringing forward DEEs by a backdoor, but would be able to respond if local authorities had something in mind that they wanted to do, to which all members of the executive agreed. Where a council asked to pilot such an approach and we were satisfied that leadership arrangements would be likely to ensure that decisions of the authority were taken in an efficient and transparent manner, we think that we should be able to provide for thatthat is the burden of the clause. Clearly, we would have to seek the approval of both Houses for any such regulations, but that possibility is there.
On Clause 12, I am grateful that the noble Baroness has brought her third point to our attention. I can assure her that, despite the references in Clause 12, the substantive amendments to remove DEEs mean that we would not be able to provide for this model for a council that had been newly established.
The final point was about this rather confusing language of an old-style leader and Cabinet. That is indeed the leader and Cabinet as created through the 2000 Act; the new style is the leader and Cabinet as amended by this Bill.
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, with permission, I shall now repeat a Statement on the European Council made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:With permission, Mr Speaker, I want to make a statement about the outcome of the informal European Council in Lisbon. The new agreed text of the amending treaty to support the enlargement of the EU has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Alongside the treaty, it was agreed at Lisbon that the priority for the European Union now must be the global challenges that we face: employment, prosperity, competitiveness, climate change and security. Today, in the document Global Europe published this afternoon, the Government are setting out how we will advance these new priorities in the future. The mandate for the IGC made it clear that:
the Charter does not extend the ability of the Court of Justice, or any court or tribunal of the United Kingdom, to find that the laws, regulations or administrative provisions, practices or action of the United Kingdom are inconsistent with the fundamental rights, freedoms and principles that the Charter reaffirms.
In particular, and for the avoidance of doubt, nothing in [Title IV] of the Charter creates justiciable rights applicable to the United Kingdom except in so far as the United Kingdom has provided for such rights in its national law.
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