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Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 2:

(a) promoting economic development and wealth creation in their area or improving the economic well-being of their area,
(b) promoting social development in their area or improving the social well-being of their area,
(c) promoting the improvement of the environment in their area or improving the environmental well-being of their area.").

The noble Baroness said: The intention of Amendment No. 2 is to explore exactly what powers the Bill proposes to confer on local government. My amendment, which I freely accept is not a particularly elegant piece of drafting, is based on the provisions of the Greater London Authority Act. It allows local authorities not merely to promote the matters which are the subject of the amendment, as is the case with the GLA, but to act directly. I have combined the provisions of the GLA Act with this Bill because I should like to explore with the Government the difference between economic well-being and economic development and wealth creation (to use the terminology of the Act), social well-being and social development and environmental well-being and the environment of a local authority's area.

There are two principal reasons for tabling the amendment. First, I am concerned that if there is slightly different wording in different pieces of legislation, which the average reader might expect to mean much the same thing, it may be interpreted as significant. If there are significant differences between the matters dealt with in the GLA Act and those set out in this Bill, the Committee will be assisted if it is made aware of them. In particular, can the Minister assure the Committee that, other than the explicit limits spelt out in the following clauses--we shall come to those constraints and restraints later this evening--there are no limits on the powers; in other words, that the wording of the Bill does not contain inherent limits that may be read into the legislation as a result of terminology which is different from that used in other statutes? The term "well-being" in Clause 2 is very general and is welcome to Members of the Committee on all sides of the Chamber who are great enthusiasts for local government. However, it may be argued that it is so wide as to be almost meaningless. I hope that that is not so.

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The second principal reason for the amendment is to ask: what is the purpose of local government? When the Greater London Authority was established, one began with a completely clean sheet of paper. One had several hundred sheets of paper to deal with in the case of that Act! Local government as it is now is an agglomeration--perhaps conglomeration--of powers and duties that have been built up by statute, case law and custom.

I confess that I should like to see a single over-arching purpose: sustainable development--an issue that we shall debate later. However, it is relevant here because it confines the three types of well-being spelt out in the clause. It is not a balancing act but a process. Sustainable development is not just outcome; it is a way of achieving a combination of different types of well-being. It is not a matter of picking and mixing. The clause states:

    "Every local authority is to have power to do anything ... likely to achieve any one or more of the following objects".

Sustainable development is about all those objects. That is why I chose to approach the matter in this way and to use the term "purposes".

A subsidiary but important question, which I believe is linked to this issue, is this. Can the Minister tell us why the "objects" of town and parish councils are not included in Clause 1? I understand that the definition does not extend to them.

The Government acknowledge the role of local authorities in delivering many of their key measures which can be regarded as achieving a better quality of life. We believe, therefore, that Clause 2 should be as strong as possible. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I support my noble friend's amendment. The amendment strengthens the message that I believe the Minister would wish local government to receive: that, after years of being undermined, local government has the power to do things for its local community.

The inclusion of the words "principal purposes" is important. Some have argued over past decades, and some cynics still say, that the private sector could deliver all the services that local government deliver without the bureaucracy. Of course, those who so argue may not be interested in the democratic process. But it leaves out an important piece of the jigsaw. It is the way those services fit together which differentiates between how they serve the community.

When I began to speak, I should have declared an interest as a county councillor in Somerset. I should like that interest to be recorded for all the times that I speak on the Bill. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is not in his place now. I wanted to ask him why he had formed such a cynical view of members currently serving in local government. I do not wish to be seen to defend myself, but I meet many members and councillors who are extremely committed and energetic. They have virtually given up any form of meaningful life outside their jobs in order to serve their

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local communities. I do not believe that the quality of members is on the whole poor. I accept that members can always do with more training. I am glad that through the Improvement and Development Agency the Government are committed to delivering that training. But we should be pleased with the quality of members and young members coming in.

My noble friend mentioned that what we sought to achieve would be better covered by the term "sustainable development". However, to define the principal purposes of local government would be a step in the right direction.

Lord Whitty: It became clear from her remarks that the main point of the noble Baroness's amendment is that what is good enough for the GLA should be good enough for everywhere else. I suspect that the rest of the country views the issue the other way round.

As the noble Baroness indicated, in the case of the GLA Act we started virtually from scratch. The GLA was a new body with no existing functions, although it took some over from other statutory bodies. While we might have chosen to give that body a raft of specific powers, that would undoubtedly have lengthened the GLA Act. I do not think that that would have been appreciated in this House or by those who subsequently had to interpret the powers of the GLA. Instead, we gave the GLA a broad purpose.

It is not appropriate to apply the wording of the GLA Act to local authorities which already have statutory duties, powers and obligations through hundreds of years of local authority legislation. It is unclear how those would be affected if local authorities were now given principal purposes, as proposed in the amendment. Would the authorities' duties carry equal weight with these purposes? If there are principal purposes, what are the non-principal purposes, and so on?

The noble Baroness suggested that it was not the most elegant piece of drafting. However, the drafting is simple and the intention is clear, but with wide ramifications. I do not think that it is sensible to read across from the GLA Act in order to restate the purposes of local authorities which have existed for many decades.

The wording of the clause has been drafted to work effectively alongside existing local government statutes. For the same reasons, it is not possible successfully to transplant the wording from the GLA Act into this Bill.

The noble Baroness referred to parish councils and town councils. We are not giving powers to parish councils, but we want parish councils to engage in the kind of community strategies to which we refer here. To assist them, they will be able to use their existing powers under Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972. We did not feel, therefore, that the new power should be reflected in parish and town councils.

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If the amendment were accepted, it would simply add to the confusion regarding local authority powers. The practical effect would be unclear and subject to serious problems of definition. We do not think that it would be prudent for us to accept a new definition of principal powers for local authorities. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: I had not intended to put the amendment to the vote. I shall consider the Minister's remarks on parish councils. I am concerned that they should have all the powers they might reasonably expect in order to take a full part in the community, and in leading those communities. I shall read in Hansard the precise words used, but I am not sure that the Minister answered my point about the distinction between, for example, economic well-being and economic development and wealth creation. I should like an assurance that the objects--the term used in the clause--are at least as wide as the parallel terminology in the GLA Act and that local government is not constrained by the words in this Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 3:

    Page 1, line 20, leave out ("promotion or").

The noble Lord said: The intention of Amendments Nos. 3, 6 and 7 is to remove the words "promotion or" from paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of Clause 2(1). I suggest that the word "promotion" is unnecessary. If it is removed, the Bill would read:

    "Every local authority is to have the power to do anything which they consider is likely to achieve any one or more of the following objects ... the improvement of the economic well-being of their area ... the improvement of the social well-being of their area, and ... the improvement of the environmental well-being of their area".

The word "promotion" has various meanings. The Oxford English Dictionary gives "preferment"; "furtherance"; "advancement"; and "encouragement". Some of those definitions apply and some do not. The dictionary has not yet got around to "advertisement" as promotion, but I have a son-in-law who makes an extremely good living out of advertisement and he would tell me that he advertises in order to promote products. So what does "promotion" mean in this context? I believe that the word is a little ambiguous because it has a diversity of meaning and that Clause 2(1) would be happy without it. I beg to move.

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