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Mr. Sayeed: I understand the clause to enable the Government to ensure that local authorities take their duties seriously by using a standard enforcement clause that applies to many functions of local government. The Minister suggested that there were other ways to skin this particular cat, and that this might not be the best way.
I want the Minister to respond to part of the advice that a parliamentary counsel gave, with which the hon. Member for Nottingham, South did not deal. The counsel said that the best value regime was unlikely to provide the route to enforcement of HECA targets, as
Column Number: 71the Government were asking the Audit Commission to move away from individual inspections of specific functions, as is happening with housing, and to move towards inspecting authorities and their functions across the board. The plan was also to grade authorities roughly as excellent, good, OK or poor and to concentrate the inspections on the bottom two grades. However, as those grades would be determined on the basis of functions across the board, HECA functions might not be inspected where they most needed to be.
We all agree that the HECA functions are important. It is important that we do not merely compile a list of best behaviour but that we can check properly whether authorities are doing what they are meant to do. I would like the Minister to persuade me that his proposal deals with the concern about HECA targets, and with the problem that the parliamentary counsel highlighted.
Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman made two interesting points, which I should, and will, take into account. I said that I would consider the powers of direction in relation to authorities' duties under the 1995 Act, but I understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South said about paragraphs 3.63 and 3.66 of the White Paper
Column Number: 72published in December 2001, which he quoted. I should carefully examine that further, and I will. I also take the point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire about the advice from a parliamentary counsel that the best value regime may not be able to drive the HECA targets in the way in which we think. The counsel suggested that the Audit Commission was moving away from individual local authority inspections to a broader brush approach. Those are valid questions, and rather than give a snap answer, I undertake to examine carefully what has been said and, if need be, to respond on Report. I insist that clause 1(3) is unnecessary because it is already covered by existing powers. If those powers are insufficient to drive up HECA standards, the Government will have to examine the position and introduce further proposals. I acknowledge both points, however, and will reflect carefully on them.
Clause 3 disagreed to.
Dr. Turner: Thank you for your patience and genial chairmanship today, Mr. Benton.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Dr. Desmond Turner.]
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Seven o'clock till Tuesday 26 February at half-past Ten o'clock.
The following Members attended the Committee:
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