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Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I should like to say a few words on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. I make no comment on the "Welsh amendments", if I may so describe them. However, on the second issue raised, does the noble Lord recall our conversation when I expressed serious disquiet about a Bill that had been considered in the Moses Room not getting prime time in this House? I believe that must be done if we are to continue to consider Bills in the Moses Room.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who told me just before Questions commenced that he was going to raise these points. He is correct to say that government amendments were tabled on Monday, and yesterday, on the Local Government Bill. The amendments tabled on Monday have all been brought forward in response to points raised by the parties opposite on Report. It was not possible to have them drafted and tabled any earlier. Although a large number of amendments were tabled yesterday, they all related to a single issue; namely, the application of the new ethical framework in Wales. I am advised that the vast majority of them are consequential and technical.

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I understand that my noble friend Lord Whitty sent copies of the amendments to the Front Bench spokesmen of the parties opposite on Monday so as to give them slightly longer to consider the detail. I only became aware of the situation at the end of last week. In the case of the Welsh matters, they seem to require another layer of consultation. Noble Lords will know that, as Chief Whip, I have made a lot of effort to get amendments tabled in reasonable time. Indeed, as Chief Whip, I can say that that applies just as much to government amendments as to those from the Opposition.

As regards the timing of the Children (Leaving Care) Bill this evening, both noble Lords will know that it was agreed between the usual channels that we would take it as the second business of the day. However, if we have not completed the Local Government Bill by 8.30 p.m., we will not be proceeding with the Children (Leaving Care) Bill this evening.

On Question, Bill read a third time.

Clause l [Meaning of "local authority" in this Part]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 1, line 14, at end insert--

("( ) a parish council,").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. However, I feel that I should perhaps find some general verbiage at this point to fill in the first 30 seconds or so of my introduction--

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I wish that noble Lords leaving the Chamber could do so quietly because we cannot hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, introducing her amendments.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention, though I was not suggesting that my words were so full of import that they needed silence in order to be heard.

The Bill introduces powers for local authorities that we on these Benches, the Opposition and the whole of the local government world outside this place have very much welcomed; namely, the new powers regarding social, economic and environmental well-being. However, the powers will not extend to all local authorities; they will extend only to those in the spheres above parishes in England and their equivalents--community councils--in Wales.

I believe that there are some 10,000 parish councils in England alone which represent nearly 16 million people. Those who have lived in areas that have been served by parish councils, as well as by those in other spheres--I have not had the benefit of this, having spent the whole of my adult life in London where we have no parishes or their equivalents--are very well aware in many cases of the huge benefits that parishes can bring. Of course, not every parish council is as good as the next, but many are energetic and bring together people who wish to contribute to their

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communities. Those people do a great deal of work at a very local level and often in a pretty much unsung fashion.

The importance of parish councils has been recognised across the board for many years. The Redcliffe-Maud Report in 1969 acknowledged the vital elements that they contribute to democratic local government. The report said:

    "Their key function should be to focus opinion about anything that affects the well being"--

I stress the words "well being"--

    "of each community".

Quite rightly, this Government's recent publications, including In Touch with the People, have recognised the essential part of the structure of local democracy in this country to which local authorities contribute. My amendments seek to extend the powers of well-being to that level of local democracy.

I am obliged to the National Association of Local Councils, which represents parish councils, for briefing me on this matter. We on these Benches, in our turn, very much support the work that it accomplishes. The association is concerned that the power to promote economic, environmental and social well-being excludes that sphere of local government. Many parish councils wish to be involved--indeed, many of them are--with partnership arrangements incorporating other parts of local government, and of course with the private, business and voluntary sectors. This is to the benefit of their local communities.

The powers of parish councils are limited. Section 137 of the 1972 Local Government Act will remain on the statute book. That gives parish councils a certain but limited freedom beyond the statutory duties to do the right thing for their communities, as they see it. The power to incur expenditure under Section 137 is limited.

If Section 137 were an adequate provision for local authorities to undertake the wider responsibilities and the broader powers that this Bill will provide in other spheres, it seems to me that the Government would have left it on the statute book, or perhaps raised the financial limits, and would simply have extended Section 137 to the whole of local government. For it to be repealed, save for parish and community councils, is, I think, a sad failure.

I realise that I should also have tabled an amendment to Clause 9 of the Bill which would be consequential on this amendment. We have skirted round the powers of parish councils at previous stages of the Bill. I do not believe that we have addressed the question quite as directly as the amendments I am discussing seek to do. I do not seek to divide the House

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on this matter because I note the technical deficiency in what I have tabled. However, I hope that we can be told why the Government have excluded parish councils from the provision. That will provide material for our colleagues in another place to take the matter further as they will also be concerned with the powers of parish councils. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it may be appropriate to refer to the general content of the noble Baroness's remarks in relation to the importance of parish councils. We are not sympathetic to the amendment but we need to make clear that parish councils are an essential part of the structure of local democracy and that they will continue to play a vital part in the life of our towns, villages and rural communities, as they have in the past. I want to repeat again--as there has been a number of rumours to the contrary--that that remains government policy, and will continue to be government policy.

While we expect parish councils to play an important role in the community planning process, we do not expect them to be the leaders in that process. We would expect effective parishes to be one of the strategic partners engaged in community planning with other local government units. The guidance will make that clear. We would expect parishes to have a role in identifying needs, but we would expect the higher tiers of local government to be in the lead in matters of well-being and community planning, even though the parishes will have a role to play in the local partnerships which develop under those provisions.

In support of that role we shall continue to make use of the parish powers under Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 which allow them to support a wide range of activities for the local good. Parishes have developed a number of new approaches to delivering benefits to their communities, for example through funding citizens advice bureaux, sports and leisure facilities and so on.

The noble Baroness referred to the possible inadequacy of the limits under that section. We recognise that some parish councils feel restrained by the annual limit on expenditure, of £3.50 per elector, from playing a full role in local government. The Government have stated previously--I emphasise this again--that we realise that this is a difficulty, albeit for a minority of parish and town councils. We shall review the current limit on Section 137 as part of the wider local government finance review to which I have referred at earlier stages of this Bill.

The Government believe that parishes have an important role to play. But that is not the leading role, either as regards the power of well-being or in the preparation of community strategies. I hope that the noble Baroness will acknowledge that, and that parish councils will recognise that that is their role and that we have a positive attitude to their role. However, the amendment would not further that.

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