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Session 2008 - 09
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Public Bill Committee Debates

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Janet Anderson
Allen, Mr. Graham (Nottingham, North) (Lab)
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth) (Con)
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con)
Dunne, Mr. Philip (Ludlow) (Con)
Gerrard, Mr. Neil (Walthamstow) (Lab)
Goldsworthy, Julia (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD)
Healey, John (Minister for Local Government)
Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
Love, Mr. Andrew (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert (Medway) (Lab)
Miller, Andrew (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
Neill, Robert (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
Salter, Martin (Reading, West) (Lab)
Smith, Mr. Andrew (Oxford, East) (Lab)
Teather, Sarah (Brent, East) (LD)
Watts, Mr. Dave (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Gordon Clarke, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Eighth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 21 January 2009

[Janet Anderson in the Chair]

Draft Local Government (Structural Changes) (Areas and Membership of Public Bodies in Bedfordshire and Cheshire) Order 2008
2.30 pm
The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Draft Local Government (Structural Changes) (Areas and Membership of Public Bodies in Bedfordshire and Cheshire) Order 2008.
It is a pleasure, Mrs. Anderson, to speak with you in charge this afternoon. I thank Members on both sides of the Committee for their attendance. I am happy to deal with any detailed interest that Members take in the order, but I hope that I will not detain the Committee too long, because this is a relatively straightforward measure. It is a consequential and technical measure that amends the definition of areas, as well as the membership of fire and rescue authorities, police authorities and valuation tribunals in Bedfordshire and Cheshire. It was introduced as a result of the local government restructuring that is due to come into force on 1 April this year. It makes minor changes in those areas, and it follows the details that we sent out in August of our proposals to all local authorities, fire and rescue services, police authorities and local MPs in the affected areas. The contents of the order have since been worked up with senior officers in those authorities. I have not received any letters from any Members of Parliament on the issues at any stage, and nor have I received any parliamentary questions. In light of that, I hope that hon. Members see fit to approve the order, and I commend it to the Committee.
2.32 pm
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): May I, too, say what a pleasure it is, Mrs. Anderson, to see you in the Chair? I have listened to what the Minister said and I have read the order. I do not see anything that will cause problems, and I have nothing more to say.
2.33 pm
Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): I, too, shall attempt to keep it short and sweet. We shall not oppose the proposals, as the measure is mainly a consequential and technical one. However, I am pleased that we have an opportunity to debate the order, because the wider restructuring involves some significant changes, and I would rather have the opportunity to debate consequential changes than not have that opportunity and perhaps miss more major changes. It is right to take that approach, to ensure that there is every opportunity to ensure that all the details are ironed out.
I should like to underline the fact that, because of the early notice that the Department has been able to give to the areas undergoing change, the new authorities have been able to anticipate many of the proposals in the order. In Cheshire, new members of the police authority who will represent east and west Cheshire have been nominated, and are participating in police authority meetings to aid their induction. They are one step ahead of us, which is reassuring.
There are concerns about the way in which police authority places are allocated. I understand that when the matter was debated in the other place, the Home Office considered those concerns, so can the Minister update us on whether anxieties about proportionality have been resolved. In the particular case of—[Interruption.] Yes, in Bedfordshire, there was a question about whether Bedford borough council would be expected to have greater representation by virtue of proportionality, and whether that would be done on the basis of the electorate or of the population. I would be grateful for clarity on that issue.
Some of my local colleagues are concerned that it would be cumbersome to name all the local areas served by the new authorities. Is rebranding an issue? How often can people be expected to name all the constituent authorities, as doing so is a mouthful? Are there any costs associated with the changes? However, those are only minor points, and we offer no major opposition to the order.
2.34 pm
John Healey: The way in which the Committee has conducted its business is a useful reflection of the value of stability in Government ministerial teams and their shadows, because it allows us to see the complex and contentious issues, and focus our attention on them. As hon. Members will understand, the order is relatively straightforward and uncontroversial. It has been developed in detailed discussion with those affected. May I tell the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne that it is essentially about definitions of areas, so I do not envisage that the formalities of proposing and composing the membership of those authorities will involve a huge cost or any sort of rebranding exercise?
This is a consequential order, but I agree with the hon. Lady—this is not always a view taken by Ministers—as I am an advocate of the affirmative process for secondary legislation. Because restructuring, as I have learned over the past 18 months, can be complex, detailed and contentious, it is not always appropriate to follow affirmative procedures, but as a Minister, I tend to err towards them rather than towards negative procedures, as they give the Commons in particular a chance to look at important details in local areas.
Finally, in Bedfordshire, there is still a question mark over the composition of the joint committee that proposes the nine council members of the Bedfordshire police authority. There are two viewpoints: first, the composition of the committee between the three new authorities—central Bedfordshire, Bedford borough and Luton—should be based on population. Secondly, it should be split equally, and based on perceived need. In the end, those three authorities have not been able to reach consensus. Both viewpoints have been put to the Home Secretary, who will shortly make a decision. That will enable the arrangements that those three authorities need to work to be cleared in good time, before 1 April. That will ensure that the nine council members of that police authority are properly in place to do their job from 1 April as representatives of the three authorities in that county.
Julia Goldsworthy: I have one more question, but I cannot remember what I was going to say. It has completely gone.
John Healey rose—
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Before my right hon. Friend concludes, he will agree—and I am sure that I have the support of all hon. Members—that while it is important that we get the details of things such as the membership of the authorities right, the strong message that we should send to those new authorities is that the challenge for them is to identify best practice in all the areas in which they seek to deliver services, and make sure that they hit the ground running, delivering the best possible practice to the citizens whom they seek to represent.
John Healey: My hon. Friend is right. He will know from our debates about restructuring in his own area in Cheshire that we regard this as a new arrangement for the governance of the new unitary areas. I am personally convinced that over the next couple of years it will come to be regarded as a model for many other parts of the country. Those authorities should seek to set standards in services, in the leadership of their area, and in the way in which they allow local residents to reflect their identity within local areas and make decisions for themselves. In his own area of Chester and west Cheshire, for instance, the new unitary council clearly provides much greater leadership—and I applaud this—on the economic front. There are still some question marks, however, as it needs to work harder on arrangements to bring decision making closer to people to reflect the identity of the towns in the area so that it can become a model in that respect, too, in future.
Julia Goldsworthy rose—
John Healey: I shall give way again to the hon. Lady. I had concluded my remarks, but I happy to accept her intervention.
Julia Goldsworthy: I am grateful to the Minister for his patience and generosity. My understanding is that the order has been introduced in good time, to allow authority members to participate in the budget-setting process. Not only should the membership be in place when the new authorities start their work, but there should be an opportunity to participate in that process. Can the Minister give us an assurance that the Home Office will make its determination in time for the new authority to engage before 1 April, as that will help it to put out the budget details?
John Healey: Home Office Ministers and the Home Secretary are acutely aware of police authorities’ budget-making process, for a number of different reasons, so I do not expect any delay in the Home Secretary considering and deciding the matter. I thought that as a Committee we might set a new standard for proper scrutiny but rapid dispatch of business. On that note, I hope that the Committee can accept and approve the order.
Question put and agreed to.
2.41 pm
Committee rose.

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