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Baroness Amos: My Lords, the European Community humanitarian office has committed 1 million euros for relief and initial rehabilitation. There will then be ongoing discussions about the European Commission's response in terms of the long-term rehabilitation of Mozambique.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, does the Minister agree that three winch-equipped helicopters are not enough? The need will be even more acute if the floodwaters rise. Since we lack heavy-lift capacity, cannot the United Nations be asked to suggest that the American air force, which is amply equipped in that direction, provides some resources to assist this crying, urgent need?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the USAID has been involved with other donors in supporting the

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Government of Mozambique in terms of the current humanitarian crisis. I shall pass on my noble friend's suggestions to the appropriate authorities, but I cannot speak for the American Government.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I associate myself with all the expressions of sympathy for Mozambique. Clean water has not been mentioned. Am I right in thinking that apart from people who are stranded in small groups, others have reached refuge in large numbers? What efforts are being made to ensure that they are receiving clean water?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that we are doing all we can. However, we are hampered by logistical problems on the ground. Many roads in Mozambique are cut, so we have to use other means of transport. That is where the helicopters without winches can be used. However, it is a matter of ongoing concern because it is linked to the possible health effects on the population of Mozambique should they not have access to clean water, adequate sanitation and so forth.

Lord Tordoff: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Steel, I was in Mozambique for the first round of elections, and I am equally sad about the situation there. However, we have not mentioned the presence of landmines. How far has the demining process gone in Mozambique and how far will the lack of it make it logistically more difficult to transport materials across country when there are no roads worth using?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am able to answer the noble Lord's question only in part. The Government of Mozambique asked the British Government to be responsible for demining in the northern part of the country and the majority of mines in that area have been removed. The area is not flooded, although there is a threat of flood, and we have a small team operating in-country in the event of further problems. There have been reports about the possibilities of landmines in other parts of the country which are currently flooded, but our information is not clear. Again, I shall be happy to write to the noble Lord once we receive clear information.

Baroness Rendell of Babergh: My Lords--

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am afraid that the time is up. I know that other noble Lords want to ask questions, but the convention provides for 20 minutes.

Local Government Bill [H.L.]

5.22 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 30.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 7:

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    Page 2, line 31, leave out ("(whether by precepts, borrowing or otherwise)").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as noble Lords move out of the Chamber, perhaps I may say that the previous debate puts our problems into perspective:

Amendment No. 7 seeks to leave out of Clause 3(2) the words in parenthesis:

    "whether by precepts, borrowing or otherwise".

Clause 3(2) provides that the well-being power does not enable a local authority to raise money. At the previous stage, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, confirmed that the clause was neutral. This debate follows on from that which took place before the Statement and we voted with the Government in the Division because of the neutrality of the position. At the previous stage, the noble Baroness said that all the Government are saying is that authorities may not use the power to raise money and that the limitation merely stops local authorities using the well-being power to raise money, whether by precepts, borrowing or otherwise. She stated that the Government do not believe that local authorities should be able to use the power to impose new taxes on individuals or business and that the power to tax should be subject to the specific approval of Parliament.

Although we dislike the control exercised by central government on local authorities in the area of finances, we are content that for the purposes of the Bill the clause makes no difference either way. Therefore, I ask again why the words in parenthesis are required. I read the clause in its context following Clause 3(1), which states that the well-being power,

    "does not enable a local authority to do anything which they are unable to do by virtue of any prohibition, restriction or limitation".

I do not see why those words are necessary. Indeed, the more I read them, the more opaque they seem. I repeated the explanation which the Minister gave at the previous stage about tax raising, but the words in this provision do not specifically include tax raising. Perhaps the Minister can say whether anything is added by the words in brackets. I am sure she understands that the concern that we are missing something has not yet been allayed.

During the debate on the previous amendment, she spoke of the Government looking for a sensible relaxation of certain controls and mentioned the consultation paper. Perhaps she can treat our words on these two amendments as a small contribution to that consultation.

We have tabled Amendment No. 9 because we remain concerned about the restrictions on charging. We are bothered that they will, as a matter of fact, act as a break on the application of the well-being power. At the previous stage, other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said that the power to charge is a sine qua non of the power of well-being and we agree with that.

The Audit Commission report, The Price is Right, previously referred to during the course of the Bill, proposed a generic order under Section 150 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 which

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would allow the kind of flexibility that we are seeking in the amendment. Local authorities need a certainty to what they do. They do not necessarily need complete freedom, although we should like to see that, but they need enough flexibility to be able to exercise the new powers which are conferred on them.

I am aware that the Local Government Association has been in correspondence with the Minister. The chairman makes the point that the LGA is concerned that the community leadership concept embodied in the Bill will be undermined if the charging and trading issues are not resolved soon. He asks for joined-up thinking about what he calls "powers, charging and trading" and says that local government needs the "full tool kit" of powers necessary to promote economic, social and environmental well-being.

Amendment No. 9 deals with the charging provision, addressing the flaws in the existing regime. The order-making power in Section 150 of the 1989 Act is long-winded and cumbersome and I understand that in more than 10 years it has been used only three times. A charging power explicitly linked to the well-being power and seen to be in the same legislation, allowing the Secretary of State to designate categories of activity that are suitable for charging, would encourage authorities to develop their use of the new powers. We believe that that is not only desirable but necessary if the new powers are to be used to effect. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am perfectly prepared to accept the--

5.30 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. As this is the Report stage, I believe that if he is to reply now, that would indicate the end of the debate. If I am right on that point, I should like to say something at this stage.

Briefly, I regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, did not find it possible to vote for the last amendment, which on the whole was a mild and modest affair, characteristic of my noble friend. Of course, I understand that the noble Baroness is stricken with a certain affection for the Government and would be reluctant to cross swords with them too often or too openly. For that, I am slightly sorry.

The noble Baroness has now tabled Amendment No. 9, which I regard with considerable misgivings. Why has she tabled this kind of amendment? Is she not proposing to give local authorities power instead of allowing the Secretary of State to make regulations? I cannot remember how many speeches I have made in your Lordships' House and in another place on the subject of Secretaries of State being given further powers. I am certainly not one who is inclined readily to trust the judgment, wisdom and duty of Secretaries of State in administering the law wisely.

I am surprised that these amendments should come from the Liberal Democrat Benches. I believe that the modern tendency to place Secretaries of State in a

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position where they can bypass Parliament is wrong and unacceptable. I should not be altogether surprised to see such proposals coming from the Labour Benches, but I am surprised to find them coming from the Front Bench of the Liberal Democrat Party. While the previous amendment, tabled by my noble friend, would have helped local authorities, I am doubtful that this one would do so. It simply gives power to Secretaries of State. As I have said many times, I have the gravest possible reservations about Secretaries of State. They are usually much more conscious of the convenience of their colleagues and the interests of their party than they are of helping local government. I have grave reservations about this particular amendment.

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