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Baroness Hanham: I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said. I shall consider it and hope that his brevity will be apparent in the guidance notes which are published on this provision, if not on Part II. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Bill as drafted gives the Secretary of State power to consult only those whom he chooses. We have had this debate before. It does not require him to consult local government at large, but such local authorities as he chooses. At this stage, he should in fact be consulting local government at large. The word "such" makes matters too selective. That is why we have tabled Amendment No. 31. It is grouped with Amendment No. 42 which deals with exactly the same point; they are identical amendments. I beg to move.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I understand the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, to ensure that all relevant local government bodies are consulted on any draft guidance on the use of the well-being power and the production of community strategies. There has never been any suggestion that the Government would do otherwise. Indeed, our memorandum to the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation made clear our commitment to consulting local authority representatives and others likely to be affected by regulations or guidance issued under Part I of the Bill.
The only practical effect of Amendments Nos. 31 and 42 would be to confuse an otherwise simple issue. It could leave the Secretary of State open to legal challenge for failure to consult certain people who claimed to be representative of a sectional interest or grouping. There is a well-established legal precedent for this formulation--most recently in the Local Government Act 1999--which for practical purposes merely retains a sensible level of discretion for the Secretary of State.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I apologise to the House for my confusion. Because we had been dealing with Amendments Nos. 40 and 41, I had got ahead of myself. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response, which I shall study with care. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Clause 4 takes us to the part of the Bill which deals with strategies for promoting well-being. In this amendment I propose that, rather than merely giving local authorities the power to prepare such a strategy, we should require them to do so and, indeed, to keep the strategy under review. I would not normally seek to impose duties on local authorities. As your Lordships know, I argue frequently that they should be allowed to take decisions for themselves. However, as with the case of equalities, it seems to me that this strategy is so central to the purpose of the Bill that it is an exception.
The Local Government Association makes the point that a statutory basis is an essential prerequisite for establishing the community planning process across the country and, importantly, for ensuring that other partners have due regard to the process. Therefore, as I say, unusually I seek to impose a duty. I believe that that is not very far away from what the Government themselves propose. After all, I believe that the community strategy is intended to replace a number of other strategies which currently are required. I propose, too, that the strategy should be kept under review. It should be implicit in the word "prepare" that in this situation one does not simply write a document, agree it and then put it on a shelf. It would be sad if such an important document were treated in that way.
As with best value, it seems to me that strategies for promoting well-being must be treated as something of a rolling process. The very process itself is important to the value of the strategy. It must involve a range of different partners, and life does not stand still. Therefore, without wishing to suggest that it should be so formulaic as to be prepared in one year and reviewed on every third anniversary or anything of that kind, nevertheless I believe that, having created the strategy, it is appropriate for local authorities to keep it fresh in their minds and in the minds of their communities.
With regard to the regulations, in my notes I have written down "paragraph 11.7", but that may not be sufficient to identify them. Therefore, I apologise to the Minister. I shall not shuffle through my papers
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: Will the Minister tell the Committee how many statutory duties the Government currently expect local authorities to prepare? Are there any additional duties which may not be statutory but which none the less the Government expect to see from good local authorities? Although this amendment may be criticised for imposing an extra duty, I believe that in the longer term it will have the effect of removing an extremely onerous duty of producing dozens--something in the order of three dozen--different strategies, which may not be joined up in a coherent way.
If local authorities have the powers that they will have if the Bill is passed, how will a community see and influence the way in which those powers are applied? How will it comment on them? In real life, even the most interested members of a community do not usually gather together 36 strategies and go through them laboriously. Thirty-six strategies would pile up by their beds to well beyond the height of the bedside table. If members of a community had one coherent document, perhaps available on CD, they might go through that. I believe that that is the way forward. It is very confusing to have many different strategies. I know that I do not usually want to burden local authorities with extra duties. However, I believe that, if they have been given those powers, they should be obliged to make it plain to their communities exactly what they are doing with them.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Perhaps I should set the record straight and say that for relaxation very late at night I prefer the books of my noble friend Lady Rendell rather than community strategies.
Amendment No. 35 would turn the power of community planning into a duty. We do not believe that such a duty would lead to better community planning. It would raise questions about how exactly that function was to be discharged. Inevitably, the Government would be drawn into prescribing minimum requirements for such strategies. That approach would run counter to the genuinely inclusive process that we want to see. If community planning is to operate effectively, local authorities must have real flexibility over the precise nature of the strategy, the level of detailed action which it contains, and how they should go about preparing it in partnership with others. They should be able to demonstrate to their communities and partners that there are real benefits
Authorities are already required by central government to produce approximately 40 different plans or strategies. We agree that those requirements need rationalising. Clause 6 provides some opportunity to do that.
The discussions will be important. It is extremely important that community strategies are the vehicle for ensuring that all public bodies pull together. The guidance to local authorities under Clause 4(2)(b) will enable the Government to set out very broad parameters for community strategies.
In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I should say that, of course, we expect local authorities to keep their strategies under review and we shall make that point in the guidance. But the 1998 local government White Paper made clear that the Government do not intend to impose upon councils any particular approach to that task. Councils will have flexibility as to the precise nature, scope and coverage of the strategy, the level of detailed actions it contains and how they go about preparing it in partnership with other organisations. The new regional development agencies and local people are clearly involved. Community strategies are required under Clause 4 and are listed in the regulations as a plan that must be adopted by the full council. I hope that that answers one of the points raised.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, drew attention to the fact that a number of authorities are involved with local strategic partnerships which bring together councils, the public sector, local businesses, voluntary organisations and local communities to tackle neighbourhood problems. We believe that the new commitment to regeneration pathfinders is just one example. As I know the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, recognises, the nature of those partnerships varies from place to place, reflecting local circumstances and needs. We want to encourage local authorities and their partners to build on those arrangements. We believe that such an enabling approach is more likely to lead to worthwhile community planning than would the imposition of a further duty. We do not believe that that would aid the sort of co-operation and consensus that good and deep community planning needs if it is to succeed.