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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The ways in which they are different are probably most clearly defined as dividing those that are bodies coming within the ambit of the local government finance system and those outside it. It is guidance to a non-best value authority and there are no current plans to legislate on that.
Baroness Maddock: I thank the Minister for her comments. I recognise that I was possibly pushing my luck to say something on energy efficiency. But it is a matter dear to my heart, as I am sure the Minister will understand.
I am slightly concerned, as is my noble friend, about the situation regarding registered social landlords and best value in housing. The Minister will be aware that in some cases housing associations, under the Housing Corporation, are providing services to tenants in social housing; in some cases they are doing so on behalf of the local authority. Whether that happens on a wider scale depends on future developments, but it is happening at present and there is great concern on the Opposition Benches about the muddle surrounding that.
If a local authority has its own housing and will no longer apply CCT but best value, that is fine. However, if the local authority employs someone else--a registered social landlord--to run its housing, as happens, for example, in Mendip, the situation is different. Although I accept what the Minister has said about the categories of body included in the Local Government Bill, there is still a big question to be answered. It is not satisfactory merely to refer to "different bodies". We need to know from the Government how they intend to deal with this matter. There will be different situations in different authorities.
I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the situation in Wales. As my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford said earlier, the Bill is slightly confused as regards the role of Wales. We now know exactly where we are in relation to housing in Wales. We very much welcome the fact that it will be people in Wales who will make that decision about what happens and not ourselves.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I wonder whether it would be helpful to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, if I offered to write to her regarding the specific point about direct responsibility for services and the use of an agent in service provision. I apologise yet again: Wales is on the cusp at present in terms of the way in which legislation is dealt with and decisions are taken. No one could be more delighted than I am that the Welsh are achieving their Assembly.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Perhaps I may take this opportunity to make my point again--but finally, in case I am accused of whingeing for Wales. Let us look at the Assembly that has just come into being. All 60 members are gathering together; in a week or two, all will be sweetness and light, and partnership politics will have taken over from adversarial politics--so we are told. When the members have sorted all that out, they will
A separate White Paper has been published by the Welsh Office on this issue, so separate consideration has been given to Wales. That advice will be available to the Welsh Assembly in due course. Why can that not be followed by a separate Bill? Instead of having puzzled legislators in Cardiff examining this dog's dinner, why can there not be a Welsh Bill to give the Assembly a flying start? If it is to be said that no legislative time is available in Westminster for primary legislation for a separate Welsh Bill, the answer is quite simple: give primary legislative powers to the Welsh Assembly similar to those that exist in Scotland.
Lord Whitty: I join the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, in welcoming the new era in Welsh politics--the end of adversarial politics in Wales, at least between parties. I am not entirely sure within parties, but certainly between them. As my noble friend Lady Farrington has said, Wales is on the cusp. It might well be that in a year's time we would provide separate legislation for future developments within Wales.
Nevertheless, the English and Welsh local authority systems have been dealt with in parallel legislation for many decades and they are very similar in structure. The only question is who should carry out the powers in relation to those local authorities. Both the White Paper for Wales and our own White Paper give a commitment to best value.
The question then of who carries out the powers of the Secretary of State is different in England from Wales. The Secretary of State clearly carries them out in England; the Secretary of State and the Assembly carry them out in Wales. It is fairly clear that in so far as they relate to delegated legislation, the National Assembly will have the authority.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord for a moment to ask a question about a point which puzzles me. Clauses 15 to 17 are reserved, and the matter of the Assembly does not deal with that. Is the Secretary of State there the Secretary of State for Wales in relation to Welsh matters, or is it the Secretary of State for local government?
Lord Whitty: As in so many other areas, the Secretary of State is provided depending on the structure of government in future. In normal circumstances, as of now, it is the Secretary of State for Wales, I think in relation to all those provisions. If I need to clarify that further I will write to the noble Lord. The fact of the matter is that this legislation is enabling legislation, and
The structure with which we are dealing is an equivalent structure of local government and the relativity between the local authorities and the national authorities is the same. In Wales the way in which those national responsibilities are conducted will now be divided between the Secretary of State and the Assembly. As I say, it may well be that were we legislating in five years' time we would have separate legislation.
I hope we do not have to legislate again, not on this part of local authority reform, and I suspect that much of what we legislate for the local authorities in England will apply equally to Wales. If there is further clarification needed in future legislation no doubt we will provide for that. I hope that none of what I have said takes away from both the importance of the Bill for the conduct of local government in Wales, and our good wishes for the Welsh Assembly, and indeed the Secretary of State for Wales, in carrying out their functions under this Bill.
Lord Dixon-Smith: Before the Minister sits down, I wonder if I could press him slightly further. I have some sympathy with the dilemma noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I wonder if the Minister would apply his mind to the question of what happens if, as a result of the Bill, and then in the light of experience, there is a hiatus. How is that hiatus to be resolved? Are we envisaging that this might be resolved through the courts, which can be a very long and expensive process, in which case who is to bear the cost? Or are we envisaging that the hiatus would remain until such time as further legislation was passed?
We are coming back to the problem that it is not the case that England and Wales have been legislated for in the past in parallel; they have been legislated for more or less in unison. But now, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has said, there is a parting of the ways. I do not see what the problem is because I am not a lawyer but the noble Lord clearly does. However, if there is a hiatus I would be interested to hear how that is to be resolved.
Lord Whitty: I am not sure what the noble Lord means by a hiatus; there is not a hiatus. We have a structure of local government and a relationship between it and national government which, in England, will continue. The function of local government will continue to be the same in England as it is in Wales. However, the national function will henceforth be exercised through a combination of the Secretary of State and the Assembly for Wales in Wales. In England it will continue to be conducted by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. I therefore do not see that there is a hiatus. We are not awaiting new legislation. This legislation will apply to Welsh local government as it applies to English local government. It is only the national responsibility which will be differentiated.