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Business of the House

3.32 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 38 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Wednesday next for the purpose of taking the Third Readings of the Employment Rights Bill [h.l.], the Industrial Tribunals Bill [h.l.] and the Gas Bill before the motion standing in the name of the Lord Lewis of Newnham.—( Lord Strathclyde.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Relationship between Central and Local Government: Select Committee

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the relationship between central government and local authorities in Great Britain; and, in particular, to consider—

(1) the balance in that relationship between the powers exercised at central and local level;

(2) the effect of that relationship on local authorities' activities, particularly as regulator, service provider and community leader;

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(3) the need for regulation of local authorities as a means of ensuring appropriate standards of service and value for money, and the forms such regulation should take;

(4) the financial relationship between central government and local authorities including the extent to which financial independence for local authorities is desirable and practicable;

and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Lords be named of the Committee—

L. Beloff,

L. Dubs,

B. Hamwee,

L. Hunt of Tanworth (Chairman),

E. Kintore,

B. Perry of Southwark,

L. Plant of Highfield,

B. Platt of Writtle,

L. Stoddart of Swindon,

L. Tope,

L. Wade of Chorlton.

That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place;

That the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee from time to time be printed and, if the Committee think fit, be delivered out;

That the Committee have power to appoint Specialist Advisers;

That the Committee do meet on Wednesday, 25th October at half-past ten o'clock.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Town and Country Planning (Costs of Inquiries etc.) Bill

3.33 p.m.

The Minister of State , Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Costs of holding certain inquiries etc.]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 8, after ("applies") insert (", subject to the provisions of section (Regulations.) of the Town and Country Planning (Costs of Inquiries etc.) Act 1995,").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the amendment standing in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendment No. 3.

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The Committee will be aware that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee of your Lordships' House has looked at the Bill and has made what I would regard as one significant comment. We are here dealing with the transitional powers between the time the Bill receives the Royal Assent and the time that regulations are passed by your Lordships and another place. During that period the sums payable to the Secretary of State are determined under Clause 1(2) or (3) in England and Wales. The position is the same in Scotland under Clause 3(5).

When the transitional period was debated in another place an undertaking was given by the Minister on 17th May to ensure that the normal consultation arrangements with regard to those regulations should be pursued as soon as possible. I received a letter from the Minister, to whom I am most grateful, on 6th October, saying that there was a draft regulation (a copy of which he enclosed) which was now going out to consultation.

The difficulty, in my view, is that it does not respond to the problem posed by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I should like to quote, if the Committee will allow me, from the 12th report from that committee, page 2 paragraph 8 which says:

    "We nevertheless brought to the attention of the House the absence of any provision limiting that gap".

Perhaps I may put a gloss on what "that gap" means. It means the gap between Royal Assent to the Bill and the regulations being authorised and approved by both Houses of Parliament. The committee notes the Minister's statement during the Second Reading debate that,

    "my right honourable friend will lay regulations in Parliament and bring them into force subject to parliamentary process, as soon as practicable after Royal Assent to the Bill".

The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee goes on to say:

    "The House may be satisfied with this undertaking to keep the transitional period to a minimum, although the House may wish consultation on the proposed regulations to begin while the Bill is still proceeding through Parliament".

I quote that sentence because Members of the Committee will be aware that I support the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee in its view, but I wish to go rather further. It seems to me in the light of what the Minister said in another place in Standing Committee on 17th May, and in the light of the letter I received from the noble Earl on 6th October, that not much progress had been made.

Indeed, we now learn that the intention still is to lay regulations in Parliament and bring them into force, subject to parliamentary process, as soon as practical after Royal Assent to the Bill, but that the regulations are still out for consultation, or I assume that they are still out for consultation.

It seems to us that this is too long a transitional gap for the simple reason that the Bill authorises the Secretary of State to recoup all expenses that may be incurred in the intervening period without local authorities being aware from the regulations what those expenses might be. That is the problem. So the amendment is designed to get the Government to make a move on it. They ought, after all, by now to be aware

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of what they wish to charge. They should be aware of the argument in favour of charging, and they should have consulted by now after 17th May. Goodness knows, that has been long enough. They should have proceeded with the process of consultation.

My amendment is quite simple, although technically perhaps slightly complex. It seeks to ensure that within two months of Royal Assent the Government will have produced these regulations and that the time limit for the transitional period—the guillotine—falls there. If there are good reasons why there should be an extension to the transitional period in which local authorities remain in total uncertainty about what the Government propose to do, my Amendment No. 3, subsection (2), allows for that. It allows the Government to reactivate the procedure under the Bill by affirmative resolution; in other words, if they do not meet the deadline, they have to come back to your Lordships and to another place and say, "We have not been able to meet the deadline for this, that and the other reason". It will be for another place and your Lordships to decide whether those reasons are good enough.

At this point we touch on the problem of retrospection. But we only touch on it because we shall come to retrospection when we discuss future clauses of the Bill. What is retrospective about the Government's proposal is that there is no time limit on when they should produce the regulations which allow local authorities to be certain as at Royal Assent of the Bill about how much they will have to pay. The Government can say that parliamentary procedure is such that they cannot introduce it for one, two, three or four years or whatever.

I do not doubt the noble Earl's good faith in what he wrote to me and I do not doubt the Minister's good faith in what he said to the Standing Committee in another place. However, in order to respond to the concerns of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee and to the question of how far the Government should be responsible to Parliament for getting on with the business that they have set, there should be a two-month time limit after Royal Assent within which they should lay the regulations and properly deal with them. Otherwise, they will have to come back to your Lordships and explain why they have not done so. In that spirit, I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: I have added my name to the amendment, sharing the anxiety of the noble Lord, Lord Williams. It is sad that so often it seems to be a matter for the Opposition to raise points to which our attention has been drawn by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. It might be more appropriate for the Government to take points on board and to come forward with amendments rather than leaving the Opposition to do so.

The committee drew our attention to the fact that the interim arrangement could remain in force indefinitely. Although the matter may not be world shaking, it is not unimportant. At the beginning of this month the Government indicated that they would shortly be circulating their proposals to local authority associations, the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and asking for

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comments. No doubt the Minister will tell us whether that consultation has started. I hope that he will not take the protests coming from these and the Labour Benches as any kind of suggestion that the consultation period should be short. Rather, our protest is that the consultation should have happened some time ago. I hope that the Government will give the bodies a reasonable opportunity to respond. I support the amendment.

3.45 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, for explaining his anxieties. I do not believe that there is all that much between us. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked, "Why should it be up to the Opposition to produce amendments? Why can't the Government produce amendments?". The answer is that the Government do not believe that it is necessary because we believe that what is in the Bill is perfectly correct and adequate.

The noble Lord's real anxiety, which was repeated by the noble Baroness, is that as the matter stands it is possible for the Government to do nothing and therefore local authorities will not know where they are. The Government do not intend to do nothing, otherwise we would not have put the provision in the Bill. It is in our interests and the interests of everyone, and it is the Government's intention to lay these regulations before Parliament as soon as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that the local authorities will want to know what is happening and to be consulted. That is perfectly true and we intend to consult them. Indeed, they already have the draft regulations so that they know what is happening. The noble Lord also said that local authorities will want to know what the charges are. The standard amount is likely to be £340 per day in England.

The proposed regulations about which consultation is taking place are likely to be laid before Parliament in January. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, "We want them to be done quickly". On the other hand, she said, "Take plenty of time over them because we want to be able to consult". I hope that we have been able to strike the right balance. Of course, there should be time for consultation, and that is happening. By the time we reach January, which is not far off, everyone should know where they are. Until then the charges will be made on the previous basis. All the authorities which held inquiries already know what the charges are. There is no doubt about them. Those are the charges which would be authorised by Clause 1(2).

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said, "Let us have two months and if the Government do not produce regulations within that time they must come back to Parliament again". That is being slightly excessive when one is legislating. I have given the assurance that consultation is taking place and I have given an assurance about when we expect to lay the regulations. Therefore, it would be unfortunate to burden the legislative statute book with something that is unnecessary.

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