Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Hanham: I am enormously glad that I moved the three amendments. We have tempted the Minister away from his notes and into a lecture tour of various legislation. I could not possibly begin to answer all that he said. I shall have to read his response and take advice on its nuances to decide whether the matter needs to be returned to at a later stage. I enjoyed the Minister's response enormously.

Lord Rooker: I was going to tell all my abattoir stories, but I decided against it.

Baroness Hanham: Well, remind me to move another amendment the next time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 142 and 143 not moved.]

Clause 68 agreed to.

Clauses 69 and 70 agreed to.

Clause 71 [Local retention of rates]:

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 144:

The noble Baroness said: I do not want to pre-empt Amendment No. 145A, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, with which I happen to agree. The purpose of the amendments is similar: to ensure that the Government do something that they do not always do; that is, to consult with interested parties, notably local authorities, before prescribing central rules. It is right to expect the Government to do that and to put them under pressure to do so.

I ask the Minister to reflect positively on the matter and, at the very least, to set out in detail the consultation procedures he intends to follow, so the Committee can form a view of whether it is necessary to write into the Bill a requirement to consult. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: Amendment No. 145A is tabled by the Liberal Democrats. I am tempted to say "abattoirs", as the stories about them would be more interesting than what we have before us. Local

16 Jun 2003 : Column GC187

retention of rates is very important, and we support it. This convoluted scheme leaves one and a half or two tiers, not three. Again, we seem to have the concept of a reward in the clause.

I tabled the amendment before seeing the ODPM draft note—I am not sure of its technical name—on the clause. Paragraph 13 states:

    "We intend to consult all interested parties on the details of this calculation".

I am not convinced that that goes as far as the noble Baroness or I seek. It relates to detail rather than something more headline and in the nature of principle. The more reassurances we receive from the Government today, the better.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The two amendments would have a similar effect. Essentially, both noble Baronesses wish to include in the Bill a requirement to consult. Obviously, we favour the principle of consultation—that much we have shared in the Committee. As Members of the Committee will know, we intend to consult on options for a local authority business growth incentives scheme this summer. But we see no need for statutory duties of the type proposed.

In response to Amendment No. 144, we do not think that it is appropriate to include a statutory duty to consult every time a rule is made or amended, however minor the change. Even if it were considered appropriate, it is not clear what is meant by the term "interested parties" in the case argued.

On Amendment No. 145A, it is not appropriate to specify a statutory duty to consult every time a minor rule about the relations between billing and precepting authorities is changed. Some of the changes will be very insignificant. If the amendments were honoured, it would mean very detailed consultation over minutiae.

The existing powers to make regulations under Section 99 of the 1988 Act, to which the amendments refer, do not require consultation. So the amendments would be inconsistent with what has developed as good, effective practice and would be very time-consuming. There is also a defect with Amendment No. 145A in that it would apply only to regulations for England, while Clause 71 covers Wales also.

We favour the principle of consultation. The issues will be dealt with in greater detail through regulations, but we do not think it right to proceed as the noble Baronesses wish. We will be very careful to consult the usual organisations, and I am sure that if we miss someone, they will tell us. We will take great care to listen to them.

Baroness Hamwee: Can the noble Lord help us? Paragraph 13 of the draft note states:

    "We intend to consult all interested parties on the details of this calculation".

That is fine so far as it goes. But it misses out what the noble Baroness and I seek—that is, consultation on the regulations. If the amendment is inconsistent with the 1988 Act, so much the worse for that Act. Let us get it right now.

16 Jun 2003 : Column GC188

The amendments relate to how to set about consultation. I accept the criticism of the deficiency in my amendment; that it does not extend to Wales. But the principle is still important. The issue of sharing between a billing authority and a precepting authority surely requires consultation before one even reaches the details of the calculation.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Perhaps I can reassure the noble Baroness that we will consult on the underlying principles. As night follows day, it follows that we will consult. It makes good sense and good practice, so it would be foolish to do otherwise. We recognise that there are sensitivities.

Baroness Hamwee: Night may follow day, but the Government do not always consult, which is why I wish to place the issue on the record.

Baroness Hanham: The exchange between the noble Baroness and the Minister has probably exhausted the argument running throughout the Bill that, wherever there are regulations, there should be consultation or some means of ensuring that people's views are taken into account to a greater extent than they are here. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 145:

    Page 34, line 40, at end insert—

"(4E) Notwithstanding the provision of section 143 of the 1988 Act (orders and regulations), no rules may be made under sub-paragraph (4A) unless a draft of the regulations containing them has been laid before Parliament and approved by resolution of each House.""

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is very topical. Its purpose is to raise the issue of whether the discretionary rule-making powers taken by the Government should not be subject to affirmative resolution and scrutiny by Parliament. Ministers constantly say that powers are existing, routine or, in the most dubious cases, only reserve. But the problem is that there is now some form on the subject. As I made clear in speaking to the previous amendment, the issue runs throughout the Bill. The Government are trying to exert the powers without the House having the opportunity to consider them closely.

Clause 71 extends the Government's powers and enables them to intervene with discretionary incentive schemes. It also excludes the City of London from such schemes. That may be for very good reasons, but I do not know what they are. The purpose of the amendment is to raise the question again of why the powers are being taken without draft regulations coming before the House. I beg to move.

Lord Rooker: At the risk of repetition, the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform has considered the delegated powers contained in the Bill and recommended changes. To the best of my knowledge, we are accepting most of the changes, if not all of them. My advice and that of the ODPM is that, by and large, we should accept the changes. However, this change was not proposed.

16 Jun 2003 : Column GC189

If the amendment were agreed, time would need to be set aside for debates in the House and in another place. That does not mean that the issue cannot be debated. Prayers can always be laid under the other procedures, but the affirmative resolution is not necessary for these detailed, technical regulations.

I rest my case on the fact that the Select Committee has looked at the issue and decided not to comment on that part of the Bill. I take it that no comment means that the Select Committee is not dissatisfied. As such, this Committee should be content with the Government's original proposal simply on the basis of the Select Committee's detailed scrutiny of the legislation.

Baroness Hanham: I thank the Minister for his reply. It does not surprise me. It has been a consistent theme throughout the Bill. By tabling the amendment, perhaps we have drawn attention to the number of opportunities in the Bill for the Secretary of State to take decisions by order without having an affirmative resolution attached. It is just another marker on the procedure. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 145A not moved.]

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 146:

    Page 36, line 20, at end insert ", but does not include any regional assembly established pursuant to a referendum conducted under the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003 (c. 10)."

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of the amendment is to probe what would happen in the unlikely event of a limited response to the soundings about holding a referendum and, ultimately, establishing a regional assembly. Does the Minister envisage a regional assembly being classed as a major precepting authority? It is clear that it will have precepting powers. Does a power exist to define it as such?

Can the Minister assure the Committee that regional assemblies will not be given financial powers by the back door but will be conferred only in explicit regional legislation? I am sure that I will now be told that it will happen only in explicit regional legislation. None the less, I wish to ensure that it does not happen under this Bill. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Rooker: My noble friend Lord Bassam and I have an agreement today to respond to alternate amendments but the order is not the same as this morning. I am now about to reply to Amendment No. 147, when I should be replying to Amendment No. 146.

Amendment No. 146 seeks to exclude any elected regional assemblies set up following a referendum under the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003 from benefiting from regulations enabling local authorities to retain part or all of their non-domestic rates. However, the sub-section to which the

16 Jun 2003 : Column GC190

amendment relates is concerned with Section 38 of the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994. So it would not have what I assume to be the desired effect.

In any case, the proper time for this House to consider the issue of whether the new regional assemblies should be major precepting authorities is when the Bill that sets up those assemblies comes before the House if there is a "Yes" vote in a referendum. If there is a "No" vote, there will not be a Bill.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page