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Baroness Hamwee: If that is the case, then perhaps it would be less opaquely dealt with by subsection (2) providing that subsection (3) lists them and such other bodies as may be included in an order. Perhaps it is rather unfair to push the Minister further at this stage.

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clause 25 [Guidance]:

[Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 not moved.]

Clause 25 agreed to.

Clause 26 [Commencement]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 83:

Page 16, line 37, at end insert ("or may by order provide that any of those sections shall not come into force in relation to Wales")

The noble Baroness said: With this amendment, we return to the question of Wales. On Monday, my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford said that he came to whinge for Wales, but I did not think that it was so much of a whinge as a very proper claim for Wales, now that it has an Assembly, to be able to run its own affairs rather more than this Bill seems to anticipate. I agree with my noble friend, even though I have fallen into the trap myself, that to provide that in the case of Wales the Secretary of State should actually be read as being a reference to the National Assembly for Wales is a fairly off-hand way of dealing with Wales. I admit that I myself have talked about the Secretary of State without saying "or the National Assembly", as the case may be.

My amendment proposes that the National Assembly shall say that it does not want any of the clauses of the Bill to come into force in relation to Wales--in other words, it should run its own affairs. It occurred to me that it might be worth exploring briefly whether this might be a possibility following the example given in the Water Industry Bill with which the Minister is dealing. That sets out a new regime in Scotland but allows for the Scottish Parliament to implement it or not. This is a somewhat similar provision.

Clause 26 allows the National Assembly for Wales to advance the implementation of certain orders, so why should it not be able to defer them, even indefinitely? I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Clause 26 has been very carefully constructed to achieve two complementary aims. It places the duty of best value on a statutory footing in line with the Government's manifesto commitment to do so. At the same time, it provides both the National Assembly for Wales and the Secretary of State in England with local discretion to commence aspects of the duty earlier than the automatic commencement dates if they feel that that is appropriate. Both our election manifesto and the local government White Papers in England and Wales made it clear that the Government intended to introduce best value and repeal CCT at the earliest

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legislative opportunity. This Bill delivers on that promise and provides for a timely introduction of the duty of best value after Royal Assent.

The Government have made it clear that in England, we intend to commence the general duty on 1st April 2000, but to help authorities to prepare it makes sense to commence provisions which allow us to issue statutory guidance and to make orders setting out what is required in conducting best value reviews and publishing best value performance bands, as well as specifying performance indicators as early as possible. Clause 26(2)and 26(3) allow the Secretary of State in England and the National Assembly in Wales the flexibility to do so. The date of commencement on the general duty in Wales is likely closely to mirror that in England but that is a matter for the Assembly to determine, or whether the automatic 12 month commencement arrangements set out in subsection 26(1) will apply.

Amendment No. 83 would, however, allow for the automatic commencement provisions set out in Clause 26(1) to be overridden by the National Assembly. At this point, perhaps I should declare a personal interest as a former Labour group leader and chair of the Association of County Councils, which involved working with both the Welsh counties--as they then were--and the Welsh districts. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred to the occasions when we all--some more quietly than others, as he acknowledged--opposed certain aspects of the previous government's legislative programme. From my experience, across all political parties and those authorities that were controlled by independent groups, none welcomed the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering. In a way, therefore, the noble Baroness is raising with tongue slightly in cheek the question of whether people want to keep compulsory competitive tendering. Welsh local authorities have been vigorously piloting best value and would not welcome a delay in introducing this other regime.

Clause 26 as currently drafted provides certainty to authorities about the latest date by which their legal obligations will commence. Flexibility for the Assembly in taking decisions about whether early commencement for some or all of the provisions would be appropriate, as would consistency in assuring that authorities in England and Wales move away from CCT to best value at a similar base and on similar timescales. In the light of my remarks, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: I thought that what I was doing applied only to the best value clauses, since Clause 20 is not within this commencement provision. I am not trying to retain the imposition of CCT on Wales for a nanosecond longer than is absolutely necessary. My Welsh colleagues may have something to say on this subject at another stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 26 agreed to.

Clauses 27 and 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 [Limitation of council tax and precepts]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 84:

Page 17, line 23, at end insert ("until 1st April 2005")

The noble Lord said: In rising to move Amendment No. 84, I should also say that I am rising to give the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, a moment's relief. This again is a fairly simple and straightforward amendment. One's approach to it depends on whether one is an optimist and believes that the world and that local government work well, or whether one is a pessimist or, possibly worse, a cynic. At least I have the assurance that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is an optimist because she has an amendment grouped with this one which reached the same conclusion as I have but in a different way.

The thinking which lies behind capping is what I would consider to be philosophically different, not to say almost philosophically opposed, to Part I of the Bill, which we have just completed, dealing with best value. Best value creates procedures which are designed to make local authorities--best value authorities--function better and more effectively in the interests of their council tax payers, and indeed the taxpayers generally, bearing in mind the enormous domination which central government funding has on any local authority.

They have to comply with best value because somewhere in the background to all this, I have read that there is a built-in efficiency factor. In a response to a question from my noble friend Lord Bowness about how the local authorities were to meet the administrative costs which best value might impose, the Minister said that it was assumed that any additional costs which might be imposed on local government would be met from within the efficiency factor savings, so that there would be no net increase in the cost of public expenditure.

We have a financial inducement on local government to produce better value, and in fact to become administratively and in a cost sense more effective and efficient. Then at the end of the Bill we come to this paradoxical situation where we will continue capping, and apparently, as the Government have not inserted a sunset clause, for all time.

It seems to me that it is unarguable, if you are an optimist, that if best value works and achieves what the Government expect, the need for capping will disappear. If that is so, my amendment ensures that that is what will happen. At least, that is the intention of it, but I may be told that I do not have the right wording for that intention.

The other procedures which exist within the best value regime to catch up with recalcitrant authorities would adequately control the situation into the future. This is a perfectly reasonable proposition. Of course, if you are a pessimist, or still worse a cynic, and you believe that the administrative complexity of best value will not work and that it will not be so successful, you

12 May 1999 : Column CWH90

might want to argue against the shut-off date. But we should be able to accept a shut-off date like this for capping, and I hope that will happen. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My amendment grouped with the noble Lord's has the same effect. We are very much opposed to capping and to tabling an amendment which acknowledges that any kind of capping will continue. We are merely acknowledging, at any rate for the purposes of debate in Committee where we shall not have any Divisions, that this is the form in which the Bill has been sent to us from another place. The year 2005 is, in our eyes, very much a lower preference than tomorrow. There is therefore likely to be quite a straightforward debate, perhaps at a later stage on whether the clause and schedule shall stand part.

The new capping powers that are being proposed have been described very much as reserve powers, but I believe I am right in saying--the Minister will correct me if I am not--that that is not actually on the face of the Bill. They are powers which will be used exercising criteria that he will set, but because the provisions are to be slotted into the Local Government Act 1992 they are no less and no more reserve powers than crude universal capping under that regime. We welcome all moves to alleviate capping but, frankly, along with CCT, the sooner it goes the better.

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