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Lord Hanningfield: I still would like to see it on the face of the Bill. I suspect the Minister is using the argument he used earlier about not wishing to have the same piece of legislation in two Bills. I do not necessarily accept that argument but I shall look at what he said. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: The amendment seeks to clarify the thinking behind subsection (10), which gives the Secretary of State wide-ranging powers to alter or revoke a direction to the Boundary Committee to carry out a local government review. Under what circumstances do the Government envisage this would happen? This is an unusual clause and we would like to know the thinking behind subsection (10).
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: Amendment No. 102 would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to vary or revoke a direction to the Boundary Committee to conduct a local government review, once given. Such a provision might be needed, for example, if it became necessary to give the Boundary Committee more time to complete its review. It is therefore a sensible precautionary provision to cope with unforeseen circumstances.
Indeed, it is standard practice for Bills to include such a provision. I would point the noble Lord to the similar provisions in Section 26(6) of the Local Government Act 1992 and Section 48(7) of the Local Government Act 2000. In those circumstances, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Baroness Blatch: I am sorry, but that is not good enough. If it is in the Bill, and if we are to accept the Minister's answer, can we be given the reference? Simply because the Minister says so is not sufficient to make us to accept it.
Lord Woolmer of Leeds: The Minister has indicated that a similar provision is contained in previous legislation. Noble Lords opposite will have the opportunity to check this point at later stages of the Bill. The Minister says that this is not a precedent; it has been used on a number of occasions in previous
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I hope that the note I have received from my officials may help the Committee. I am advised that these refer to other provisions in other Bills, but Section 26(6) is also a part of this Bill for the purposes of Part 2 by Clause 16.
Lord Rooker: I was reading briefing for two amendments ahead. I did not hear the noble Baroness's original question to my noble friend. Is she asking about Clause 12(10)? Without further particulars in front of me, the provision looks fairly wide. It is specific to this clause; it is not a question of carte blanche. The reference that my noble friend gave was to Section 26(6) of the Local Government Act 1992, and we apologise for that fact. If this looks too wide, and there is not time to do anything about it now, I guarantee that we shall come back with a better explanation. Before Report stage, we shall check whether this is a necessary part of the clause.
Perhaps I may point out to the noble Baroness the reference in Clause 16. At line 40 on page 9, she will see a reference to the 1992 Act. The clause is headed, "Application of the 1992 Act". Section 26 is sidelined on the left of the provision:
We believe the Bill should be put into more meaningful, straightforward language. If "structural change" is synonymous with dismantling county and district councils to create new unitary authorities, the Bill should say so.
Our amendments would also allow the Boundary Committee the freedom to recommend that structural change is inappropriate for the needs of a given region. In some parts of England, particularly rural areas we are repeating earlier arguments but they are importanttwo-tier local government has the advantage of meeting specific local needs. Northumberland is a very large rural county; to split it into small unitaries would be highly undesirable. Two-tier government also provides the necessary economies of scale to deliver large-scale services such as education.
Amendment No. 106 acknowledges that the Government have consistently failed in debate to justify this argument. We have been told that it is political and we have to take it or leave it; we will not have three tiers of government. But I repeat what I have just said about rural communities. We think these amendments are very important.
I repeat what we have said several times: local government is about delivering local services to local people. It is not just about carving out convenient local government units; it is also about delivering services. Therefore, we should be looking at the structure that delivers those services.
The amendments may make minor changes to the Bill's wording, but they are very important in terms of the local government review. I hope the Government will reconsider their earlier stance and accept them.
Baroness Hamwee: Our little Amendment No. 108 is in this group. We have debated possible boundary changes not only within a region but to a region. I take this opportunity to support the thrust, if not necessarily the detail, of what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has said.
Lord Rooker: I support the initial view of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, about clarity of language. We all think we can draft legislation more clearly but every time I attempted to do so in another place, the consequences were drawn to my attention. There is a great skill in drafting legislation. We might not always agree with the way in which they do it, but parliamentary counsel provide a good service. It is much easier to draft legislation if Ministers know what they want; when they do not know what the policy is or do not know what they want, the result is badly drafted legislation. It is the fault of the Ministers, not parliamentary counsel.
My speaking notes seem to contradict commitments that I have given in some respects, particularly in our early debates, about not touching existing unitary authorities. I have given commitments on the example given from the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Benches. I will not go into detail about that, because I
The definition of the structural boundary changes is set out in the Local Government Act 1992 and applied for the purposes of this Bill by virtue of Clause 14. Clause 13 ensures that the Boundary Committee can recommend a new unitary structure only for those areas that currently have a two-tier local government and any new authorities must be within existing regional boundaries. The Boundary Committee could, in recommending a pattern of unitary authorities, make changes to the boundaries of existing authorities if it believed that to be necessary, but it could not change the boundaries of existing unitary authorities or the boundaries of the region.
I have already said that we would consider that point about changing the boundaries of existing unitary authorities. The example was given of Bradford and Skipton. I have drawn that point to the attention of Nick Raynsford.
Amendment No. 108 would require the Boundary Committee, as part of its review of local government in the region, to consider whether changes should be made to the boundaries of the region. For reasons I have explained, the Government could not accept that, but I do not want to repeat all those reasons.
As for the Boundary Committee being able to consider no change, as in Amendment No. 106, we have made our position clear. I said that it would be subject to the caveat that I gave. It would not be widespread, but the example that was given was a good one, and I believe that it should be reconsidered.
Amendment No. 105 would enable the Boundary Committee to amend the boundaries of existing unitary authorities, as would Amendments Nos. 109 to 111. That is covered by the point that I made about having a look at whether we can be more flexible in producing the best available system of local government. Members of the Committee have suggested that, unless the Boundary Committee is allowed to consider the boundaries of all the local authorities in the region, the pattern of unitary authorities created might be unsustainable in the long run.
The priority is to minimise the impact of reorganisation. The purpose is not local government reorganisation but elected regional assemblies, if, after a referendum, the people want them. Local government reorganisation comes as a secondary order. However, we are adamant about single-tier authorities, and we would withdraw the Bill and not proceed if that were not established. That would not be accepting the will of Parliamentthe Minister in
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