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In reaching her decision my right honourable friend has had regard to the submitted proposals, any supplementary material submitted by the proposers themselves, and other available relevant information. Her judgment is that there is at least a reasonable likelihood that these proposals, if implemented, would achieve the outcomes specified by the five criteria.

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We are launching this consultation today, seeking the views of partners and stakeholders in the areas affected by the proposals. As the invitation explains, partners and stakeholders include all local authorities, the wider public sector, the business community, and the voluntary and community sector. It is, however, open to anyone to respond to the consultation document that we are issuing today, copies of which are placed in the Library of the House.

We are in particular seeking views on the extent to which consultees believe that the proposals would deliver the outcomes specified by the criteria, and in the case of the alternative proposals for Bedfordshire, Cheshire and Northumberland, which of the alternatives in each case would better deliver those outcomes.

The consultation will run until 22 June 2007.

After the stakeholder consultation, we will consider very carefully all the representations that we have received. Proposals will proceed to implementation if, and only if, when we take our final decisions, we remain satisfied that they meet the criteria, and that the overall use of reserves remains affordable, having regard to the prevailing fiscal position and the risks around the estimated costs of implementation.

As explained in our original invitation, implementation of any proposals involving transitional costs financed by the use of reserves impacts on planned public expenditure totals. Any use of reserves must therefore in aggregate be within the limited envelope available.

It was because of this limited envelope that the invitation stated that the Government think it unlikely that they would be able to implement more than eight proposals, but that this maximum number would not preclude the Government from deciding to implement more if they offered good value for money and were affordable.

If when we take our final decisions there are more proposals that meet the criteria than we can afford to implement, we will prioritise in order to decide which ones to implement. We will consult during our main stakeholder consultation on the proposed means of prioritising restructuring proposals in such circumstances.

If implemented the proposals could, on the basis of current estimates, save up to around £200 million annually.

In those cases where there are alternative proposals, any decision on implementation will necessarily involve a decision as to which option should proceed. If we were to decide that Bedford Borough’s proposal should proceed to implementation we may need to consider the future local government structures in the remaining county area which might no longer be a viable two-tier area.

The legislative provision necessary to implement unitary proposals is contained in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill which is currently before the House.

Finally, in respect of the following proposals, my right honourable friend has decided that, having regard to the available relevant information, there is not a reasonable likelihood that, if implemented, they would achieve all the outcomes specified in the five

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criteria, and that accordingly they should not proceed to stakeholder consultation.

Councils Submitting ProposalsProposed Unitary Structure

Mid & South Bedfordshire District Councils

A unitary authority covering mid and south Bedfordshire

The Cornwall District Councils

A unitary authority for Cornwall

The Durham District Councils

A unitary authority for Durham

Ellesmere Port & Neston Borough Council

Three unitary authorities for Cheshire

East Riding of Yorkshire District Council

A unitary authority covering East Riding and Selby

Lancaster City Council

A unitary authority for Lancaster

Oxford City Council

Three unitary authorities for Oxfordshire

Burnley Borough Council

A unitary authority for Burnley

Preston City Council

A unitary authority for Preston

South Somerset District Council

Two unitary authorities for Somerset

Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) (No. 2) Bill

Lord Rooker: Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 requires the Minister in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament to make a statement

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before Second Reading about the compatibility of the provisions of the Bill with the convention rights, as defined in Section 1 of the Act.

I am the Minister in charge of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) (No.2) Bill in the House of Lords. On 27 March 2007, I made the following statement, under Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998:

In my view, the provisions of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) (No.2) Bill are compatible with the convention rights.

Poverty: Households below Average Income

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (John Hutton) has made the following Statement.

I am publishing today Households Below Average Income 1994-95—2005-06.

This is the eighteenth edition of the Households Below Average Income (HBAI) series. This report presents information on potential living standards in the United Kingdom as determined by disposable income in 2005-06 and changes in income patterns over time.

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