Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill

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Schedule 5

Parishes: Further Amendments
Amendments made: No. 249, in schedule 5, page 135, line 14, leave out ‘this Part’ and insert ‘paragraphs 2 to 5A’.
No. 250, in schedule 5, page 135, line 19, at end insert—
‘(3) In subsection (6)—
(a) for “section 16 of the Local Government and Rating Act 1997” substitute “section 61 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007”;
(b) for “section 16 of the Act of 1997” substitute “section 61 of the 2007 Act”.
2A (1) Section 10 (power to dissolve parish councils in small parishes) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1) after “district council” in each place insert or “London borough council”.’.
No. 251, in schedule 5, page 135, line 20, at end insert—
‘(1A) In subsection (1)—
(a) after “district council” in each place insert “or London borough council”;
(b) after “same district” insert “or London borough”.’.
No. 252, in schedule 5, page 135, line 35, leave out sub-paragraph (4) and insert—
‘(3A) In subsection (4) after “district council” in each place insert “or London borough council”.
(4) In subsection (5) for “section 16 of the Local Government and Rating Act 1997” in each place substitute “section 61 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007”.’.
No. 253, in schedule 5, page 135, line 37, at end insert—
‘3A (1) Section 12 (provision supplementary to sections 9 to 11) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1)—
(a) after “district councils” in the first place insert “or by a London borough council”;
(b) after “district councils” in the second place insert “or the London borough council”.’.
No. 254, in schedule 5, page 136, line 15, at end insert—
‘4A (1) Section 137 (power of local authorities to incur expenditure for certain purposes) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (9) for “means a parish or community council” substitute “means—
(a) a parish council which is not an eligible parish council for the purposes of Part 1 of the Local Government Act 2000, or
(b) a community council”.’.
No. 255, in schedule 5, page 136, line 25, at end insert—
‘5A (1) Schedule 3 (establishment of new authorities in England) is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph 10(1), (2) and (3) (parish councillors) for “Part II of the Local Government and Rating Act 1997” substitute “Part 4 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007”.’.
No. 256, in schedule 5, page 136, line 28, leave out paragraphs 6 to 10.—[Angela E. Smith.]
Schedule 5, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 6

Byelaws: Further Amendments
Question proposed, That this schedule be the Sixth schedule to the Bill.
Mr. Woolas: The schedule is given effect by clause 103, which repeals a number of outmoded or unnecessary provisions concerning matters which byelaws can currently address in the interests of tidying up and removing outdated provisions. For example, the schedule deals with section 231(1) of the Public Health Act 1936 so that references to byelaws regulating the location of bathing machines and the costumes to be worn by bathers are omitted.
Alistair Burt: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on such an important provision. Where did the pressure come from for the changes in the byelaws? What evidence can he put before the Committee that the byelaws are in fact outdated and no longer needed?
Mr. Woolas: From busybody local Conservative local councillors. Nudist beaches is the answer.
Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab) rose—
Mr. Woolas: I give way.
Patrick Hall indicated dissent.
Mr. Woolas: No, I do not give way. My hon. Friend does not want to be drawn. There are none in Bedford—beaches, I mean.
The schedule also makes further minor amendments relating to health byelaws to remove obsolete provisions and makes minor refinements to provisions relating to enforcement by police community support officers, so that the enforcement of byelaws is consistent with the enforcement against similar low-level nuisances. The serious point is that to ensure that legislation is respected, we must have a means of abolishing outdated laws. Of course, the schedule will not remove the power to introduce byelaws consistent with the law.
Tom Brake: I have looked carefully at the schedule, and I believe that there is an omission relating to the powers of the Department for Transport covering smoking in Eldon Garden.
Mr. Woolas: I am assured that there is no such omission, but I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his vigilance. He might recall that during debate on the part of the Bill relating to parish byelaws, the Government argued successfully—he accepted it—that in order to be truly devolutionary, it was better to give an all-encompassing power rather than to name specific bodies. I have explained the schedule, and I commend it to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Schedule 6 agreed to.
Schedules 9 and 13 agreed to.

Schedule 15

Amendments made: No. 257, in schedule 15, page 167, line 10, at end insert—
‘Race Relations Act 1976 (c. 74)
In Schedule 1A, in Part 1, paragraph 33.
Local Government Finance Act 1988 (c. 41)
In section 91(3B), the words “(in this section referred to as “the reorganisation date”)”.
Food Safety Act 1990 (c. 16)
In section 27(5), the words “pursuant to a structural change”.’.
No. 258, in schedule 15, page 168, line 13, at end insert—
‘Environment Act 1995 (c. 25)
In section 79(1), in the definition of “public authority”, the words “or residuary body”.’.
[Mr. Woolas.]
Mr. Woolas: I beg to move amendment No. 147, in schedule 15, page 170, line 48, leave out ‘4’ and insert ‘1’.
The amendment is simply a correction of a drafting error in part 7 of schedule 15. The reference to schedule 4 of the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004 should have been a reference to schedule 1.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 148, in schedule 15, page 173, line 10, column 2, at end insert—
‘Section 42.’.
No. 149, in schedule 15, page 173, line 11, at end insert—
‘In Schedule 1, paragraph 8(2)(d).
Government of Wales Act 1998 (c. 38)
In Schedule 16, paragraphs 101 and 102.’.
No. 150, in schedule 15, page 173, line 20, column 2, at end insert—
‘In Schedule 2, paragraph 31(a).’.
No. 259, in schedule 15, page 173, line 35, at end insert—
‘Part 11A The Commission for Local Administration in England
Short title and chapter
Extent of repeal
Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7)
In section 23— (a) in subsection (4), the words from “after consultation” to the end; (b) in subsection (6), the words from “, and shall in any case vacate office” to the end.
Section 23A(4) and (5).
In Schedule 4, paragraph 4(5).
Local Government and Housing Act 1989 (c. 42)
Section 24(1).
In Schedule 11, paragraph 37.
Local Government Act 2003 (c. 26)
In Schedule 7, paragraph 5(2) and (4).
Public Service Ombudsman (Wales) Act 2005 (c. 10)
In Schedule 6— (a) paragraph 9(5); (b) paragraph 18(11).’.
[Angela E. Smith.]
Question proposed, That this schedule, as amended, be the Fifteenth schedule to the Bill.
Proceedings have been enlivened by the occasional champagne moment. May I beg your indulgence for two seconds, Mr. Benton, and consider the candidates eligible for giving us the champagne moment of the series? There are one or two on the Government Benches. The hon. Member for Bedford deserves one or two mentions for having pushed the odd amendment under the wire.
The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford has kept us in order, and his occasional prompt has been helpful to us all. The hon. Members for Hazel Grove and for Carshalton and Wallington have produced their own exceptional moments, not least this afternoon when yet again they put forward STV—more in hope than expectation—and gave it a good run.
On my own Benches, my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow, who is sadly not with us this afternoon, ensured that Shropshire was mentioned as much as Bedfordshire. He spoke warmly of the powers that might have been lost in his area with the powers of direction that we discussed during the early part of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst did a great deal to ensure that Bromley and Chislehurst was kept well on the map. His extensive knowledge of local government matters in London and of Pratts Bottom provided great moments for the Committee.
Running up very much on the rails is my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate. In moving very creditably the first amendment that I suspect he has moved to a Committee, he introduced us to the formidable Mrs. Burrowes. I hope that she will appreciate that by her endeavours, we have now gone beyond the formidable. We now know that we can also refer to her as redoubtable, rigorous, exacting, tremendous, colossal, indomitable and—my personal favourite—puissant.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): My wife will not appreciate being called colossal, even though she is five weeks away from having our sixth child.
Alistair Burt: This lady, against whom none of us should play Scrabble for cash, has risen still further in the estimation of this Committee with news of the pending sixth member of the Burrowes household. May I ask my hon. Friend what his majority is as he is doing a valid job in trying to increase it?
My hon. Friend the Member for Poole has the honour and distinction of being the very first member of any Standing Committee to ask a witness their business and to start off the proceedings of the witness process in Standing Committees in the House. He will always be remembered for asking the first question in such a session. It was a moment of history and certainly a champagne moment.
Tom Levitt: The hon. Member for Poole will also be remembered for the wonderful speech in which he moved an amendment and then disclosed that he had forgotten why he was moving it.
Alistair Burt: I discount that because so many Ministers do that. It is less of a champagne moment than a recurring occasion.
Just before I close my remarks on the Ministers, I have to say we remember the Under-Secretary carrying through with grace a number of different clauses, particularly those relating to parishes. The Minister for Local Government has carried the bulk of the Bill. His personal good humour and qualities make it damned difficult to pin anything on him. He is exceptionally reasonable and knowledgeable in these areas, and has certainly given the Committee the benefit of his great wisdom and we have enjoyed working with him and occasionally fighting against him.
3.15 pm
Without doubt, the first champagne moment was the best: the explosion on to this Committee of the blond bombshell, who was moved to put Lichfield on the map because he was so tired of hearing about Shropshire and Bedfordshire. My hon. Friend told us in great detail about the solid gold baubles held in Lichfield, in contrast with our Mace downstairs, which is only silver gilt. As you know, Mr. Benton, it is not only what you say, but how you say it. The moment that my hon. Friend brought Lichfield into this Committee will be long remembered. He therefore has my vote for the champagne moment of the proceedings.
Patrick Hall: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that moment was somewhat reduced in intensity when we learned that the hon. Member for Lichfield does not represent the biggest parish council in England?
Alistair Burt: Those are minor details. We should not forget the majesty of the moment.
Thank you very much for your indulgence, Mr. Benton. I thank all those who have helped move the Committee proceedings forward. We look forward to dealing with the Bill on Report in due course.
Tom Brake: I echo many of the comments made by the official Opposition spokesman in thanking you, Mr. Benton, and Mr. Chope, for chairing the Committee so effectively. I thank your officials for providing the appropriate support and help at the time when it was needed. I thank the Ministers for their repartee, which I have enjoyed considerably during our debates, as have my hon. Friends.
There have been so many champagne moments that I suspect that the term “champagne socialist” is about to make a reappearance. The Opposition have lost a number of major battles, but we have won a few skirmishes along the way and we will return to a number of the issues on Report and, no doubt, in another place when the time comes, where, after last night’s proceedings in the House, this Bill will be received in a very rowdy fashion. However, I am sure that those in another place will enjoy it. I have enjoyed the proceedings and look forward to many more in this place.
Patrick Hall: If I may, I should like to say from the Back Benches how much I have enjoyed being a member of the Committee and what a positive experience it has been. I thank you, Mr. Benton, and your colleague, Mr. Chope, for helping to maintain the positive atmosphere from which we have all benefited.
It is not unknown for Government Whips, whatever the Government, to pack Committees with hon. Members whose key qualification is that they have no knowledge of, or any interest in, the matters at hand. However, that has not happened on this occasion. Colleagues in this Committee have a deep interest in local government and public involvement issues and they have experience, to boot, which has benefited the scrutiny and debate that we have enjoyed. Perhaps Government Whips can take this message to heart and pass it on: this is the way things should be done in future.
We have learned about towns throughout the land, some of which I had never heard of before, including some fine names from Manchester way, which I should like to hear again.
Andrew Gwynne: There is Duckinfield, Audenshaw and my home town, Denton.
Patrick Hall: I thank my hon. Friend. We also heard about Biggles, the famous constituent of the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire, who I had not come across for some decades—in fact, since I was a boy—in respect of the hon. Gentleman’s views on European elections. I wondered where he had flown to. Clearly, he landed in Biggleswade—and there he will stay. Most welcome of all have been the numerous opportunities to make relevant and highly deserved references to Bedford, Kempston and Bedfordshire.
We have also learned that, as a result of the hard work and commitment of a number of Committee members, they are ready to forego their lunch or dinner, depending on what part of the country they come from.
Above all, we have benefited from the constructive, co-operative approach of all Opposition Members. The tone was undoubtedly set by my hon. Friends the Ministers, who have, by their listening approach, generated that response, which is welcomed by all hon. Members. Not only have my hon. Friends rejected a centralising authoritarian tone, they have been devolutionary and open in their approach. That has had the unexpected benefit of generating what my neighbour, the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire, famously coined a champagne moment followed by many more. I have not kept count, but no doubt we shall see the benefits one day. A sad fact about the conclusion of our proceedings is that there will be no more. I thank all members of the Committee for what they have done to make this a worthwhile experience.
In my capacity as chair of the all-party group on the community and voluntary sector, I wish to say a word about the importance of the Bill. For the record, I also chair the board of trustees of the Community Development Foundation and I am a member of the Commission on the Future of Volunteering, as is the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire. During the past 12 months, the third sector has come of age under legislation. Before then, we did not have a Minister for the third sector or an office of the third sector in the Cabinet Office, which works closely with Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government. We did not even have a Department with “communities” in its title and that was dedicated to prioritising the values that communities embody.
Twelve months ago, we did not have the Charities Act 2006. I had the honour of serving on the Standing Committee that discussed it. The Act brought about the most radical uprating of charities legislation for 400 years. It brought in root-and-branch changes to how charities in the voluntary sector operate. This week, the Charity Commission launched its consultation on the meaning of public benefit. In the past few weeks, the Offender Management Bill has produced a great debate about the role of the voluntary sector in delivering such services. I very much hope that, following last night’s vote, my suggestion of indirect elections to another place might be taken up and that the voluntary sector will be well represented there, too.
This Bill has been dynamic and almost revolutionary in its approach to how the voluntary sector, the third sector, the community sector and social enterprise feature within the framework of our society. It has recognised the sector like no other measure before it. It has involved local area agreements and local strategic partnerships. It has made the delivery of services something in which the sector will be a real partner. The development of community strategies will be a major part of the Bill and we cannot exclude community groups and voluntary sector groups from that. The Bill has given them a statutory role in consultation. It has even integrated them into the scrutiny of health.
Although the Bill has not been hitting the headlines, it will achieve many of the aims of the Sustainable Communities Bill that is before the House. We shall look back on it as a landmark for having liberated that sector and as a milestone in the development of participative democracy. I accept that it still has a long way to go, but the voluntary and community sector has many friends in another place and I am sure that its role will only be enhanced by the treatment there. I wish the Bill fair wind in another place. I look forward to it coming back to the Floor of the House and, one day, we shall look back on it not only as representing an entertaining and historic few weeks because of how the Committee operated, but as a landmark in the history of the voluntary sector.
Mr. Woolas: I echo the comments that have been made. I want to use this opportunity to remind the Committee about the proposals on unitary consideration and re-emphasise that I have written to all members of the Committee and you, Mr. Benton, fulfilling my pledge to give details of the amendment that we intend to introduce on Report. There was some concern and I accepted that. We have concluded our discussions with the Local Government Association and that is reflected in the amendment. I said that I would write to the Committee and I did so this morning.
I would like to make a few observations. First, I echo the regret that the press do not report the proceedings of Standing Committees as much as they should. Due to the changes that have been introduced, I know that there is access to our deliberations through the internet. I believe that Standing Committees are webcast—I am not sure what that means, but it says it here. However, I really do think that commentators and parliamentary reporters should report more because these matters are of importance to many tens of thousands of councillors around the country.
I know that the Minister for Local Government, whoever he or she is, and his or her colleagues, receive much correspondence on these matters in their postbags. I have been following the Local Government Chronicle and the Municipal Journal—I do not wish only to pick out the LGC—and they have not been following our proceedings as closely as I would wish.
Patrick Hall: Is it not a comment on the nature of much of our media that I am sure that the Committee would have been reported on if we had had lots of personal nasty rows? Instead, we have got on with the job that Parliament expects and are completely ignored.
Mr. Woolas: That is the dilemma of politics. I was reflecting on the fact that had the short title of the Bill been ‘Abolition of Swimming Gear: Brighton Beach’, it probably would have got more coverage, if you will pardon the pun. I have been working on that; perhaps I should not have bothered.
Mr. Burrowes: The Committee would do well to consider the evidence session of the Public Administration Select Committee today which was looking at that very point, with evidence taken from mySociety. The problem is not so much the media, but ourselves. We are in the dark ages in terms of electronically communicating the affairs of the House and, in particular, Standing Committees, in a consistent manner. That is why there is a problem of communication.
Mr. Woolas: Clearly the hon. Gentleman’s five children have been informing him of the state of modern technology. I too have that benefit from youngsters. The problem involves a bit of both, I believe. I make that point because the law is based on the intent of Parliament. That is expressed by Members in making legislation as well as by Government in putting forward proposals. That is important.
My most sober moment during the Committee’s deliberations was when the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire returned from his visit and reminded us that although we may have differences over issues of public policy, they pale into insignificance compared to the difficulties of some countries.
As someone who has been the Whip on three local government Bills as well as having helped to shape this Bill, my second reflection is that I strongly believe that there is a significant step-by-step improvement going on within local government. The independent auditors say so, although the public do not always say so and that is their right. Their expectations increase and we have to just accept that. That is the nature of democratic politics.
Local government is, however, improving. One of the reasons for that is a broad consensus across the Local Government Association. I pay tribute to Sir Jeremy Beecham, David Kemp, Sir Simon Milton and Lord Bruce-Lockhart who have put into place that consensus. They have built up a consensus that is not wishy-washy or based on the lowest common denominator. We work with them across Whitehall and across local councils, and we tried to shape the White Paper and the Bill in the context of that consensus. I believe that that has been reflected in our deliberations.
3.30 pm
The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire was kind enough to make some flattering remarks about my good self. I wish that he would stop, because his remarks do not always help me when I am in the White Hart in Lydgate, but I am grateful to him none the less. I have always shared the attitude of others from Greater Manchester that more flies are caught with honey than with vinegar. That is worth remembering in life as well as in politics.
In my view, the Bill is mistitled. It is not a Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill; it is a local government reform Bill, a local government involvement in health Bill and a public involvement in local government and health Bill. It tries to bring together public services in a new local framework, and I think that that is very important.
Similar aspirations are embodied in the Sustainable Communities Bill, which is promoted by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) and which is being debated in another Committee. That Bill should now be considered in light of the policy positions and discussions that have been considered in this Committee, and I look forward to further debates on it.
I echo the thanks that have been expressed to you, Mr. Benton. As ever, it has been a pleasure to work under your chairmanship. Four or five years ago, I was appointed as the Whip for the hon. Gentleman who is our Chairman, and I read advice from the various available publications on how to conduct the affairs of a Whip. That included measures that one could take to persuade and cajole—one is not allowed to say “bribe”, but you know what I mean. I looked down a list of my flock, at the head of which was your name, Sir, and I thought, “I don’t think I am in a position, as a new Member, to tell Mr. Benton what he should and shouldn’t be doing.” So I informed him what the Whip was and when, and asked him if he would kindly consider travelling to Westminster to take part in Divisions, and normally, Sir, you did—and I was very grateful.
The second name on the list was that of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), and the third was that of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman). At that point I put in a transfer request.
You bring huge experience to the Chair, Mr. Benton, and a gentlemanly approach to our affairs, and your constituents are well served by you, as are those of Mr. Chope. I first met Mr. Chope in 1986, when he was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Lord Brooke, who was then the Minister with responsibility for universities. It was he who wisely informed me about the theory of cock-up and conspiracy—advice which I have carried with me ever since. Mr. Chope was the Under-Secretary with responsibility for local government for two years in the 1980s, and has a huge amount of experience in local government. I know that he was pleased to be asked to chair the Committee, and I pass my thanks to him through you, Mr. Benton.
I also thank the Clerks, who as ever are professional and patient, and the Hansard writers, who have had to put up with a variety of accents from across England—not least my own—which make life difficult. I hope hon. Members noticed that I did not pronounce “bathing costumes” in the way in which it would be pronounced in my part of the world. I am grateful also to the Doorkeepers. We have had a small number of Divisions, which reflects the care with which the Bill was drafted, but the Divisions that took place reflected some important points of honest difference between the parties.
I thank especially the officials—not only those from my Department, who have worked diligently on the Bill and on the White Paper for several years and who have put a huge amount of effort into them. I have seen proof of the old adage that preparation and planning make life easier. The Committee might wish to know that some of the officials worked for Mr. Chope when he was Under-Secretary of State. I can testify from my experience that the professional reputation of civil servants and officials is well founded.
We have also been helped by officials from the Department of Health, whose money I am using to pay for the champagne at the reception that we will be having at a suitable point, and officials from the Cabinet Office. We have also been served by officials from the Electoral Commission who have given their advice.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): To pick up on the plaudits to officials, we Back-Benchers ought also to thank the many organisations that have contributed to the debate and supported us throughout the process. For me personally, it was the Local Government Information Unit and the Local Government Association, but other colleagues have received support from a range of bodies. I just wanted to put that on record.
Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. My experience is that the amount of briefing, concern and lobbying on local government far outweighs that in other areas of public policy, for obvious reasons. What has struck me is the level of professionalism in the bodies making representations. As my hon. Friend says, they are to be thanked.
I also thank Committee members. This Committee stage has been an enlightening experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford rightly said that care had been taken to ensure that the Committee included Members of Parliament who know what they are talking about. When my hon. Friend the Whip suggested that approach, I was somewhat taken aback. I am one of only a few members of this Committee who have never been a councillor. I have tallied up the years of experience in local council represented on the Committee, and it is substantial. It makes Brian Lara’s scores look rather low. That expertise is across the range, for which I am grateful to hon. Members.
It has also been enlightening. We heard about the family of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate. We congratulate him and look forward to the new arrival. He is a lawyer, which I do not hold against him. One of the few things to which I am looking forward in the event that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stands down is once again being able to take the mickey out of lawyers and public schoolboys. During the past 13 years, we have not been allowed to do so—says he, trying to remember whether the Chancellor has ever been a lawyer. No, he has not, so we are on safe ground. The point that the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate made about reported crime has had a big impact on thinking in the Department, and I thank him for it. It shows that raising such points is worth while.
The hon. Member for Lichfield came to the aid of the mace of Lichfield. What he did not know was that I had received advice the previous day from no less a figure than the head of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers. If colleagues want to join a trade union, SOLACE is not a bad one to remember. I point out that the average tenure of the chief executive of a local authority has been less than that of a Minister for Local Government for 15 years. I am not sure whether that is a good thing or a bad thing; I suspect that it is a bad thing.
The head of SOLACE asked me whether I had looked at the issue of maces, because when proposing to create unitary councils, one must protect the traditions and nuances of local councils, including parishes. He informed me that one of the biggest difficulties in the Banham proposals considered in the 1990s was that the Government of the day realised that unless they introduced late amendments to the Bill, they would be in danger of confiscating all the maces from the councils. I took his advice. When the hon. Member for Lichfield raised the issue of the mace, which he did in his usual friendly and jocular fashion, he was making a serious point. In making changes, one must bring people along and protect traditions where they do good, not harm. There is an important philosophy running through this radical Bill, which the exchange on maces led to.
The hon. Member for Poole has an Adjournment debate with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government at the end of proceedings tonight on the local government finance settlement in Poole. The hon. Gentleman’s proposition, as a true Conservative, is that because it is rich it should get more money. That has been the argument of the right for many centuries. The argument to the contrary that we Labour Members tend to put, is often put with more passion, but rarely with as much articulateness and diligence—
Angela E. Smith: Articulateness?
Mr. Woolas: Articulation. I thank my hon. Friend. I should be grateful if she gave me a glass of water. The hon. Gentleman will be making his case on behalf of his constituency. It is a pleasure to work with him in Committee. He always gets to the big point and does not mess around with the trivial points, and the debates reflect that.
The hon. Member for Hazel Grove cannot attend. He has apologised for missing this afternoon’s sitting. He and his colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench have, on the whole, put their points fairly and have, I think, accepted the genuine intentions of the Bill, which is on the whole devolutionary. They have taken the opportunity, as Liberal Democrats often do, to read some press releases, which are normally about the single transferable vote. I refer to that in my notes as the single transferable speech, because I have heard it many times and it is always the same. Nevertheless, I suppose that they should be congratulated on their consistency. I thank them for the way in which they have approached the Committee.
The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst is part of the 555 group. There are three members of that group on this Committee who were elected in 2005.
Alison Seabeck: Four.
Mr. Woolas: I said in response to the hon. Gentleman’s maiden speech that he was a category A Member of Parliament. He has shown his diligence in this Committee, as well as his expert knowledge of local government. I thank him for that.
I particularly thank my Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, who, with his Opposition colleagues, has ensured that there has been sensible time for debate. The noble Lords will, on reading the proceedings in Hansard, be satisfied that scrutiny has been given in the right way and with due time, without the need for confrontation. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the way in which he and his colleagues have crafted that and I thank all the hon. Members involved.
I also thank my hon. Friends, who have brought to the Committee knowledge, not just of local government, but their many years of experience in their constituencies and of the voluntary sector. I thank them for that. I will be scrutinising proposals in Bedford with particular vigilance, given the views that have been expressed. I look forward to that.
Mr. Woolas: In echoing that, all Committee members will have noticed that, when changes are introduced in parliamentary proceedings, there are those who wish to see rapid, radical change and those who resist it. However, life has a way of bedding in and my belief is that, in future, it will be taken as read that it is common sense to undertake such evidence sessions. In reality, the procedure saved Committee members time, because we would have been lobbied in any event. I remember that we were lobbied in our advice surgeries and around our constituencies about the minimum wage legislation, so I echo those remarks.
I particularly thank my Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham who, like the Whip, is silenced by the process that we undertake in Committee deliberations. Not only has she been of enormous help to me and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, but she helped to influence the policy, the debate and the amendments. We would not have had so many champagne moments without her. I have always been proud to be a champagne socialist. I have never seen the point of socialism unless it involves the proposition, “If they can have it, why can’t we?” I think that the term was originally intended as an insult to members of the Labour party, but I never saw it as such myself. However, in light of my confession, I should like to spend some more of the Department of Health’s money on champagne for Committee members at a suitable point. The French vintner Joseph D’Argent said,
“No Government could survive without champagne.”
How right he was.
The Bill is very important in relation to the reconfiguration of public finances and the relationship not only between central and local government but between central Government and government services provided locally. Although the framework that we are adopting in the Bill has not, as my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak said, been the subject of headlines, the Bill will have good repercussions far beyond this Committee in the years to come. I know that it has been welcomed by the Local Government Association and others.
I thank you, Mr. Benton, and the rest of the Committee, and I look forward to working with members of the Committee in implementing the legislation in future.
The Chairman: Before I put the remainder of the proceedings to the Committee, let me respond on behalf of Mr. Chope and myself by saying what a great pleasure it has been to have the privilege of chairing this Committee. I thank the Ministers, Opposition spokespeople and all members of the Committee for the courtesy and co-operation that they have extended to Mr. Chope and myself throughout our proceedings.
I value, as always, the assistance provided by the learned Clerks, the Official Reporters and everybody who has contributed to the smooth running of this Committee. Just one quick comment of my own on the uniqueness of the Committee, I think that our experience with the witness contributions at the beginning of the proceedings proved very valuable. It was most interesting. I do not know where things will go to from here, but I found it very valuable and informative. Thank you all very much indeed.
Question put and agreed to.
Schedule 15, as amended, agreed to.
That certain written evidence already reported to the House be appended to the proceedings of the Committee.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Bill, as amended, to be reported.
Committee rose at eleven minutes to Four o’clock.
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