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(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),
(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend any other enactment, whenever passed or made, to convert a reference to a community strategy to a reference to a sustainable community strategy.
Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as ever, for your chairmanship. This is an important private Members Bill, and we have made good progress. I am also grateful to Members for their assistance in that regard.
New clause 5 and the amendments tabled in my name combine to ensure that the Bill refers consistently to local authorities rather than to principal councils. The motive for that is to replace the present interpretation of local authority with a new interpretation which reads:
Local authority means a county council in England, a district council, a London Borough council, the Common Council of the City of London, or the Council of the Isles of Scilly.
That might seem dry and technical to hon. Members, and I shall move quickly on, but it is important that we get the definitions right. I do not think that I need to put any other definitions into Hansard for the record.
Mr. Greg Knight: Before the Minister sits down, will he touch on his reasons for Government amendment No. 38? He said earlier that he wished to phase in the Bill alongside other legislation. Will he confirm that that is the only purpose of that amendmentthat it is for administrative reasons and not because he is proposing any delay in implementing the Bill, should it be passed by the other place?
Mr. Woolas: I can confirm that. Ministers in this situation normally read out their speaking notes, not the explanatory notes in their brief. I can confirm that both meet his objective. The notes state:
Amendment 38 deletes clause 8 subsection (3). The subsection stated that This Act shall come into force on the day on which it is passed. The reason for deleting this subsection is that it is superfluousunder the Interpretation Act of 1978 the Act would come into force on the day it is passed without a specific requirement to do so.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I must advise the House that, as the House has agreed to new clauses 1 to 4, the following remaining amendments fall: amendments Nos. 5 to 9, 11 to 20, 26 to 34 and 39. With the leave of the House, I will therefore put all the remaining amendments as a single question.
I would like to place on the record my thanks to a few people. Taking a private Members Bill through this place is an enormous privilege but, as the Minister has said, it is also a daunting task for a new Member, and I simply would not have been able to do it without the help of a number of people, starting with the Clerks in the Public Bill Office, who have shown extraordinary patience with me. I should also like to thank those hon. Members who served on the Committee, many of whom are here today, not least my sponsors, the hon. Members for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who have given me great support throughout the process.
I should particularly like to place on the record my respect for and gratitude to the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who has educated me as to what a Parliamentary Private Secretary can achieveI had always wonderedand set a benchmark for loyalty, tenacity and the power to persuade when one has no power to do so. I know that she has enjoyed the process. We would not be where we are without her support, and our friends at Local Works would also like to place on record their thanks to her.
I certainly thank the Minister. He had to juggle a number of balls throughout this complicated process, but he always argued his case clearly and was open and extremely constructive. He was kind about my political prospects and I have no doubt that his star will continue to rise and that he will grace shadow Cabinets for many years to come.
Last but not least, I am sure that my sponsors would want to join me in expressing thanks to Local Works, for which the Bill is the culmination of a four-year campaign. Without the groups tenacity and its success in building coalitions, which spanned organisations from the womens institute to the Campaign for Real Ale, to put pressure on the Government, I doubt that we should have reached this stage today.
The Bill is an honest attempt to help communities address the social problems that arise from community decline and the loss of local services. To some degree, the debate today has been technical and wrapped in an envelope of questions about localism, governance and the devolution of power, but the Bills starting point was the need to respond to the clear social problems of community decline, which is, as we realise, market-driven. However, we should not forget that loss of local services inspired the coalition, rather than questions about localism or how we govern ourselves. The starting point for the Bill was a desire for a policy response to the problemsthat is the passion outside this place.
One could say that if people want to support the high street they should just get their wallets out and walk down it, but we need a policy response from this place. That is the driver of the Bill. Part of that response must be central Governments responsibility to pull strategy together in a coherent frameworkwhat we call a national action plan. The point of the Bill was not to be prescriptive but to create the mechanics to do something importantto make sure that the strategy was driven from the bottom up with the full engagement of the communities we represent. We have made considerable progress in achieving that aim.
The main point of the Bill is to give communities real influence in shaping their future. The Bill gives greater transparency to the spending of public money in local areas, which is important, but we intend to pursue the real prizeto give people the opportunity to influence how that money is spent. We had a useful debate about new clause 6 and the Minister has given us assurances from which we can take comfort, so we will consider them.
We have made real progress today. The Bill is more workable than the version we debated on 19 January, although we still need some clarification about money issues and new clause 6. The Bill is not an end; it is only the startthe first ratchet in a process that will empower people to be more engaged in building and sustaining their communities. We have started an irreversible process and I commend the Bill to the House.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): It was a pleasure to serve on the Committee and I congratulate the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who have been pursuing the Bill for some time, supported by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy). They all deserve much congratulation.
I join in the congratulation of my hon. Friend the Minister. Although the Bill was supported on both sides of the House, there were difficulties for him at times, especially when he looked behind him at some of the more independent-mindedand hirsuteLabour Members who had miraculously been selected to serve on the Committee, but he dealt with those situations with consummate skill. He was supported ably by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), his Parliamentary Private Secretary, who helped to overcome some of the difficulties faced during the passage of the Bill.
The test of the Bill, as it will be for the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, is whether it empowers those sections of the community that do not engage in our democratic processes and civic structures. We had long debates in Committee about the people who meet in front rooms in villages to try to influence what happens in their local community. The key is to ensure that all sections of the community are empowered and encouraged to engage. One of the ways to empower them is to provide information, which is key to their being able to make choices about how their local community should be improved. I am an inner-city Member of Parliament and the test will be whether we can engage with those sections of the community who do not have a great deal of influence over how decisions are made in their area. This Bill, and the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, will be a step in the direction of empowering those people.
Many people need to be congratulated and commended on the work that they have done to make sure that the Bill has reached Third
Reading. Without the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), none of this would have been possible. Without his conduct of negotiations and perseverance, we would not have a Bill of such quality. He has navigated through a complicated and technical process with considerable skill, and I am not sure that I would have been able to do the same had it been my first private Members Bill. I have learned a lot from the process and from him.
All the Committee members are to be congratulated on their patienceif nothing elsegiven the number of abortive attempts to get the Bill through Committee. I hope that they feel, as I do, that it was worth it in the end. The Bill would not have reached this stage without the co-operation of the Minister and his Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown). Many thanks go to them.
Ron Bailey and Local Works have been the drivers behind the Bill for a number of years and they have ensured that we have stayed focused on the issues. As we have seen today, it is quite easy to disappear down rabbit-holes that relate to the Bills broader implications. Ron and his colleagues at Local Works have made sure that we have remained narrowly focused on the issues.
We must remember that the Bills gestation has not just been the past five monthsfor the Minister, that is a short space of timebut the past five years. Sue Doughty, the former Member for Guildford, was responsible for first drawing the Bill to the attention of the House of Commons and for pushing it forward. Without her work at an early stage, I am sure that we would not be here today.
If we sit back and reflect on what the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood said, it becomes clear that it is amazing that there is consensus for the Bill. It is radical and talks about turning the way in which government works upside down. Policy will be driven by local communities in a way that it never has been before and we will see accountability where there is currently none. The Bill will give power to the people to reverse the problems of ghost-town Britain. Every single Member will know of problems in their constituency that need to be resolved. Finally, there is a mechanism to meet the need for affordable housing and to help the towns in my constituency where there is an appetite, but not the mechanism, to deliver the solutions to the problems that have been identified.
We now have a definition of what a sustainable community is and should be. The Government have done a lot of work on sustainable communities but without having that definition. We now have it, so how we can pursue our aims should become much clearer not only in the context of the Bill, but of wider legislation, regulations and guidance.
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