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The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 38 strikes out the word "may" and inserts the word "shall". As drafted, the Bill provides that local authorities may consult people in their area. Unusually for me, I feel that that is not strong enough. All noble Lords know that all good local authorities consult and they do not need telling nor do they need legislation to tell them to consult. However, I do not believe that we should give the impression that there may be circumstances in which it may not be necessary to consult. Using the word "may" could lead to misinterpretation. Therefore, I believe that the word "shall" has some merit. I beg to move.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I entirely agree with the intention behind Amendment No. 38. Many times the Government have said that effective community planning depends on engaging local people in an assessment of local needs and bringing together local authorities, other public sector bodies and the private and voluntary sectors, to determine what needs to be done to secure the economic, social and environmental well-being of local communities.
As the legislation makes clear, these are not strategies for the local authority but for the whole community. Without the participation of the community and local bodies, they are merely more bits of paper. We want to see local strategic partnerships preparing community strategies that are inclusive, reflect local aspirations and recognise the potential for all sections of the community to contribute ideas and resources.
The process of community planning should lead naturally to authorities and others working closely together to ensure better delivery of local services. Issues such as social exclusion faced by many of our communities can be tackled only in this way. Those are all points that we intend to cover in guidance.
We do not believe that legislating in the way that the noble Lord proposes is the right way to achieve the outcome that both he and the Government wish to see. That sort of compulsion would go against the grain of the legislation, which is based on encouraging and facilitating action at the local community level.
However, we want to ensure that the message to local authorities from the debate and from Government will be one of encouraging the sort of good practice that we seek to achieve. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Subsection 5(1) gives the Secretary of State the power to amend or repeal any enactment, whenever passed or made, which prevents or obstructs local authorities from exercising their power under subsection 2(1). Clause 6 works similarly in respect of statutory requirements on local authorities to produce or publish plans or strategies. Amendment No. 43 and the others grouped with it aim to align those two powers so that they can be used in similar ways. The Government want local authorities to be able to act in, and react to, the interests and needs of their communities without unnecessary obstructions. These amendments are designed to bring into line the two parts of the Bill. By this means, the Government will be able to facilitate the innovative approaches necessary to tackle some of the worst problems of social exclusion and neighbourhood deprivation. Where modern local councils wish to test new ideas on a small scale before rolling such ideas out more widely, the Government are keen that they should be able to do so.
In various contexts, local authorities are working closely with other bodies to pilot innovative new approaches to service delivery as part of the Health Action Zones and as part of the LGA's New Commitment to Regeneration Pathfinders. As these partnerships develop, they are discovering legislative obstacles to effective joint working. Those obstacles are sometimes the same; more often they are different, reflecting differences in objectives and approaches between different local authorities. There is considerable merit in being able to use the powers in Clauses 5 and 6 to tailor a response to individual problems and to remove the particular legislative obstacles that are inhibiting effective working. That would allow us to try out different approaches and see how they work in practice before extending them to authorities more generally.
These amendments will allow enactments to be amended, revoked or disapplied for all authorities, particular authorities, or particular descriptions of authority if it is decided that it would be more beneficial to pilot new ideas with certain authorities before removing restrictions from all authorities. Amendment No. 45 will specifically allow enactments to be amended or disapplied for specific time limits.
Lord Dixon-Smith: Amendment No. 52 is grouped with these amendments. It seeks to remove "particular" authorities so as to prevent the Secretary of State having the power to make regulations in respect of a single authority. It seemed to me, when I first thought about this, that the Minister's amendment was too discriminatory. However, I do not intend to move my amendment because I then had another thought; that is, that perhaps local authorities will find the shoe pinching and it would be useful if they had the right to apply to the Secretary of State to have the point being pinched relaxed. If I were to move Amendment No. 52, the Minister would quite properly be able to accuse me of all sorts of inconsistencies.
Baroness Hamwee: I intended to ask the Minister for some further explanation with regard to this list of hierarchical local authorities and the exercise of power in relation to all or some of them. Can the Minister give the Committee some indication of the circumstances which would prompt the Secretary of State to exercise the power either in respect of "particular local authorities"--I assume that that could mean one or two local authorities--and,
In other legislation with which I have been concerned, I have been accustomed to seeing the word "category". Is that what "description" means in this case, or does it mean authorities which are very good or very bad, as distinct from all unitary authorities or all London boroughs? A little explanation would be welcome, despite the fact that I appreciate we are all keen to allow our colleagues to go on with the next debate.
While the amendment would of itself facilitate moves towards beacon authorities, I understand that it would not mean that we could describe authorities as "beacon authorities". It would be one aspect of a clause relating to "particular local authorities" where, in order to promote a scheme facilitating an innovative way of meeting some of the objectives--particularly that of well-being--we would need to remove the restrictions from those authorities, effectively as a pilot, to see if that worked in those authorities. It could be subsequently rolled out, or not rolled out, to other authorities.
Clearly, the provision relating to time limits also facilitates using a pilot approach to this. Therefore some discrimination is required under this legislation. I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, recognised that by saying he would not move his amendment though we shall come back to the consequences of his not doing that at a later stage. We consider that we need these powers in order to facilitate innovative approaches and in particular pilot studies. I hope the Committee understands that.
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