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Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Earl for what he said. I hope that he will not think me discourteous if I say that on many occasions I have heard the Government say that they intend to bring forward this, that and the other when parliamentary time permits or in a specific month. I hope that the noble Earl will not think me discourteous if I say too that, although I accept what the noble Baroness said, I believe that the consultation period should have started when the Minister in another place said, "We intend to start the consultation period". I know that we have been on holiday in very pleasant places but it would have been better had that happened.
As regards the £340, that is in the draft order but it does not necessarily mean that it will be in the final order. The draft order can be prayed against and changed by any government between now and January, February, March, April, May or whenever the Government get round to meeting the commitment to introduce it when parliamentary time permits.
My fundamental point is that I believe that the Committee should support the view of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, even if it means that a little extra time is spent on affirmative procedure. I believe that we should adopt the proposal.
Earl Ferrers: Perhaps I may make one comment. The noble Lord was slightly unfair when he said that we have heard Ministers say that we will do this, that and the other when parliamentary time permits. I agree that that expression is often used when governments want to do something but have to find a legislative slot. It is very different from saying, "We will introduce regulations. We are in the process of consultation and we anticipate producing the regulations (which is delegated secondary legislation) in about January". Therefore, I do not believe that the noble Lord's argument runs fairly.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, says that the Government are giving a figure of £340. Earlier, he wanted to know what the figure was and I told him. He now says that that figure appears only in the first draft and that it may alter. Anything may alter but that is why consultation is undertaken; so that people know where they stand. I do not believe that the figure is very likely to alter unless for one reason or another, having heard all the views, it is deemed appropriate that it should alter.
Lord Williams of Elvel: That is precisely the point. In the course of consultation, it may well alter. The noble Earl has not persuaded me to change my mind. I believe that this Committee, and through this Committee, the House, should impose a deadline on what the Government are going to do. If that is not done, local authorities will remain in an uncertain position.
I accept fully the Minister's good faith when he says what he says. I do not wish to question it at all. Nevertheless, the Minister knows as well as anyone that all sorts of things may happen. The Minister may move yet again, if I may say so, to another department and others may replace him and things may change. Therefore, the January date is not a fixed date. It is an aspiration which may or may not be met. Therefore, it
Baroness Hamwee: Before the noble Lord concludes on this matter, does he not agree that there is a distinction between this Bill and other Bills? This Bill seeks retrospective permission. There was every opportunity for the regulations to be dealt with at the same time. It is not a matter of seeing how the legislation goes; seeing whether the Bill is acceptable to Parliament; looking at its final form; and then, perfectly understandably, the Government laying regulations to deal with the detail which is set out to follow the framework of a Bill dealing with a new matter. This is not a new matter and the Government would have acted more helpfully to those who are reacting and feeling a little sorethe term I used on Second Readingabout the situation were the whole matter dealt with as a package.
Earl Ferrers: I understand the anxiety of the noble Baroness but, with respect, I do not believe that it should be argued that we put into statute something which is unnecessary because some people feel sore about it. All right, the noble Baroness says that that should have been done beforehand. One may argue that backwards and forwards. But the fact is that the consultation is taking place and the Government are likely to lay the regulations before Parliament in January. We are always being told that it is important not to place unnecessary matters on the statute book. Therefore, I believe that it is wrong to put on to the statute book something which is unnecessary when a Minister has given an indication that the action will be taken anyhow and in a very short period of time.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.