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I come to my next question. I do not know what existing statutes say about the duties and powers of the Highways Agency, but if it is charged under those statutes to run the road in a certain way and if the transfer of function occurs and the whole point of seeking the transfer of function was that the local authority wished to achieve the same objective of transport sustaining the community properly, but in a way that is not provided for in the legislation governing the Highways Agency, will the local authority, once the transfer of functions has occurred, be able to run the road in a different way from the way in which it was run by the Highways Agency? That is the nub of the issue.
Mr. Woolas: The right hon. Gentleman asks perhaps the most important question. The Governments policy intention is to achieve that. I cannot give him an absolute guarantee because one would have to look at statutes right across the board, but we believe that our drafting reflects the policy objective. The great beauty of having parliamentary counsel is that they tell us how to meet in law our policy objectives. [ Interruption. ] That is what they do; the first parliamentary counsel is very clear about that.
If, for example, there was something in highways law and we needed to change the legislation, we would obviously have to come to Parliament. The beauty of the Bill is that it provides the process by which that must happen. At the moment, local authorities and other local agencies have the frustration that there is no clear process for them to achieve their objectives. The Bill will make their ability to do that more effective. The hon. Member for Kettering has given us a really good example. In practice, the Highways Agency would come to the table at the local level and address the problem.
Let me give the right hon. Gentleman another assurance. In law, the Secretary of State does not mean just the one Secretary of State; we are talking not just about the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, but about the Government, which includes the Department for Transport. The benefit of the process is that it not only brings a greater ability for local people to see that they can get their will done, but improves the way in which we govern. That is what we are attempting to achieve.
I think that I have convinced the right hon. Gentleman on two out of three points. He and the Bills promoter are sceptical on the third point but, on balance, I hope that they will accept my argument.
David Howarth: I thank the Minister for giving way. Does he agree with the following summary? New clause 1 allows the transfer of powers from any authority to another authority, but it cannot overcome any prohibitions that are on the authority in the first place. In other words, one would need new legislation to expand or change the powers, or to get over an existing prohibition, but existing functions could be transferred from one authority to another in the sense of powers.
Mr. Woolas: If I have understood the hon. Gentleman correctly, the answer is yes. As I said in Committee, on the transfer of function the Governments objective is to provide much greater flexibility in how local agencies can achieve objectives. That is at the heart of the Bill.
If an authority wanted both to transfer and to change the method by which it did somethingit would want to do that; otherwise who was doing it would be the only issueand the change in method came up against a problem with the existing law, we would obviously have to deal with that. However, that is the case anyway because a problem arises if a local body cannot carry out a function because the law is in its way. Local people and local authorities will have the opportunity to use a process to do something about the situation.
Let me return to a point that was made on Second Reading. There is no compact with local areas in this country. We have one with employers and employee representatives, so we understand that concept, although it has differed over the years and parties have different views on the form that it should take. The Bill provides for a compact with local areas.
I will try to reassure hon. Members on both sides of the House. The Governments existing central-local partnership with the Local Government Association involves voluntary meetings. Indeed, the LGA is a voluntary body, which was why we had difficulty when drafting the selector proposals. Another advantage of the Bill is that because it locks in the relationship between the Government of the day and the LGA in a mutually beneficial manner, it gives councils a powerful reason why they should be members of the LGA. The substance of that relationship will be based in law, although one cannot legislate for how the relationship works in practice.
Hon. Members might not be aware that as part of the central-local partnership, the LGA meets not only my Department, but all the Departments in Whitehall. A side benefit of the Bill, albeit an important benefit, is that the association will be given real meat. We all want a strong LGA.
Mr. Hurd: I am very grateful to the Minister for that and for the constructive way in which he has focused his remarks on the concerns that have been expressed. I put on record that I do not intend to press new clause 6 to a Division because he has convinced me that our policy objectives are alive.
Will the Minister briefly address a possible understanding? Someone reading new clause 1 might think that local authorities will have a one-off opportunity to make recommendations on the transfer of functions. The intention behind new clause 6 was to make it clear that information on public spending would be published regularly so that local authorities could respond to it. The opportunity under new clause 6 would not be
time-dated, but new clause 1 seems to provide for a one-off invitation of submissions to a national action plan. Will the Minister clarify his intentions?
The Secretary of State must issue
I inserted the word must at the request of the Committee for the purpose of clarity, although legislation usually includes the word may, even when the Government intend that something must be done
the first invitation under this section within the period of one year.
It is proposed that reports be produced at least annually. I want to create a framework based on the Bill that will give local authorities a clear process to allow them to say that they want consideration to take place. I will even call it the Hurd process, if it helps me to get the Bill through the House. I commend the Government amendments to the House and ask the hon. Gentleman to consider withdrawing new clause 6.
(1) Before inviting proposals under section [Proposals by local authorities], the Secretary of State must appoint a person (the selector) to consider the proposals and, in co-operation with the Secretary of State, draw up a short-list of proposals in accordance with regulations under section [Proposals: regulations].
(3) The Secretary of State must publish and lay before Parliament a report, describing the progress which has been made in relation to any action plan, within the period of one year following the publication of the action plan and at intervals of not more than one year thereafter.
(ii) to consult representatives of local persons in accordance with another enactment mentioned in the regulations (and an enactment that has not yet come into force for other purposes is deemed to have come into force for the purposes of the regulations),
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