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Mr. Waterson: I shall of course speak to amendments Nos. 8, 9, 55, 11, 10, 212 and 15. My hon. Friends and I welcome the new power, as does local government in general. However, as we argued in Committee, we think that the Government's proposal is a smoke-and-mirrors exercise because no new money attaches to the new power. Ministers have made it abundantly clear that councils will be given no extra money to exercise the new powers and that, if any of them tries to use existing methods of raising money, it could get into difficulties with the capping regime. We have serious doubts about how effective or helpful local authorities will find the new power.
In the brief time left for this debate, I shall quickly speak to our amendments. Amendment No. 8 would remove the words "or present". As we argued in Committee, we think that councils are primarily elected to look after their local residents and council tax payers and that, under this extremely wide provision, councils would be allowed to use the power for the benefit of many different people and groups of people who happen to be in a council area at any given time.
In Committee, the Minister made the fair point that, every day, many thousands of people travel in and out of the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke). However, in more typical council areas, there may be concerns about whether such powers will extend to asylum seekers, travellers and tourists and about how they tie in with the council's other responsibilities. Commuters are one thing, but travellers may bring a series of other concerns.
Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 deal with the vexed matter of charging. There is a strong feeling across local government that there should be greater freedom to charge for services, especially discretionary services that councils are not obliged to provide. The Minister was broadly
A ray of sunshine is the possibility, which the Minister mentioned in Committee, of using powers under section 150 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, to which the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) referred. The Local Government Association's latest briefing on the Bill states:
Although time does not permit a detailed debate now, we also touched on whether councils will be allowed to trade under the new power. The Minister's answer seemed to be that they will, but will not be able to charge for doing so. She said that
Amendment No. 15 makes it abundantly clear that councils will be the leaders in their communities in taking advantage of the new power and that other bodies will have to co-operate with them and comply with their plans. Councils across the country--of all political persuasions--want that important issue to be clarified in the Bill. I hope that the Minister can give us that assurance in the time available.
The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Ms Hilary Armstrong): We remain firmly opposed to the idea that central Government should dictate what authorities can spend on community well-being. That is a judgment for authorities and their communities, to which they are accountable. For that reason, we recommend that the House oppose amendment No. 10, which would impose spending limits similar to those that currently apply under section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972.
The hon. Members for Bath (Mr. Foster) and for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) suggested that the power will be effectively limited because it will not of itself allow authorities to raise finance. I can assure the House that the prohibition on raising finance in clause 3(2) is not intended to limit what authorities can do for the well-being of their areas. Local authorities will be able to finance activity under the well-being power from council tax resources, redistributive non-domestic rates, borrowing charges and revenue support grant. In other words, any legitimate income can be spent on the power, but it will not be possible for the power to be used of itself to raise new taxes. That is what we are dealing with here.
We have already accepted that local authorities should have greater scope to charge for discretionary services, but that needs to be looked at carefully. At present, authorities cannot trade, except under the terms of the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970.
It being one hour and thirty minutes after the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, pursuant to Order [this day], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
Amendment made: No. 100, in page 4, line 17, at end insert--
'(4A) In exercising the power under subsection (1), the Secretary of State--
(a) must not make any provision which has effect in relation to Wales unless he has consulted the National Assembly for Wales, and
(b) must not make any provision--
'. Schedule (Amendments to the 1972 Act) which contains amendments to the Local Government Act 1972 has effect.'.--[Ms Beverley Hughes.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
'( ).--(1) A local authority may make executive arrangements for the discharge of certain of its functions.
(2) Nothing in this Part shall have effect in respect of a local authority not making executive arrangements.'.--[Mr. Waterson.]
Brought up, and read the First time.