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Baroness Andrews: London boroughs are already unitary so the invitation process obviously does not apply to them. The boundary review process is simply that a local authority or the Secretary of State can request the Boundary Committee for a review, and the committee can also undertake a review on its own initiative. The clauses that we are concerned with here are ones that relate to the processes that follow from the general invitation.
Baroness Andrews: I am wrong. I am sorry; I am confusing the Committee. In fact, it is the general power of the Boundary Committee to undertake reviews because it is not concerned with unitaries. These are general powers to make it a more open and flexible process for local authorities to request reviews in future. I think that should be clear now.
Baroness Hamwee: When committees try to draft they produce a camel, so it is said. I think we have started with a camel. I want to put my own suggestions in for the redrafting. It would be extremely helpful if the Government would thinkand I do not expect a response nowabout taking the bits about the Boundary Committee out of the chapter and putting them into a separate one. That way we would all know that it was a separate issue.
Baroness Hanham: I agree, because I had read the provisions entirely in association with the previous clause. If that is not right, there are a few amendments coming into my head that I would want to table. I do not follow the logic but, if that is what it is, we must get the Bill sorted out in a way that is really clear because Clause 4 is a request for the Boundary Committee for Englands advice, which relates to all the provisions concerning Clauses 1 and 2 and the invitations. Then we have Clause 5, which is on the Boundary Committees powers and whether those are general powers or ones associated with Chapter 2 of this part of the Bill and the Boundary Committees procedures. Presumably, those are all listed somewhere else, so why did they pop up in the Bill? I see that the Boundary Committee must be involved where there are changes made to local authority boundaries, but in general that is not what these provisions are about. Somebody needs to re-sort all of it, because there will be problems when we arrive at Clauses 11, 12 and 13they are on all the residuary powerswhich is why I separated out those amendments.
Baroness Andrews: If the Committee will indulge me, I have had some helpthe cavalry have arrivedand I can explain why the provision is in this part of the Bill. Noble Lords are right; there appears to be a conflation.
Clause 8 is the crucial provision. Essentially, it allows the Boundary Committee to conduct a review of local government areas. A review can be instigated
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That is consistent with the Boundary Committees current approach. However, it can also recommend a boundary change, the abolition of a local government area and/or the constitution of a new local government area.
The provision is in the Bill so that the Boundary Committee cannot make recommendations for boundary change that would permit structural change through the back door. It is therefore important that it is placed alongside the provisions that make those changes possible. The Boundary Committee cannot recommend the alteration of a local government area or the creation of a new local government area which would extend into Wales, the City of London or the Temples, for example. I hope that I have clarified that.
Subsection (5) provides that the Boundary Committee must have regard to any guidance that the Secretary of State issues in connection with boundary review and that may include, for example, clarification of the legislative powers of the committee and what it can and cannot recommend where the guidance relates to a specific proposal, the economic coherence of the area or transport patterns. Subsection (6) provides that a local authority must provide information to the Boundary Committee which it requests in connection with this role, so that it has all the information it needs.
That explains the geography of the Bill. It has two roles: to give advice on a unitary proposal, in Clauses 5 and 6, and the wholly separate role of making recommendations on boundary review, in Clauses 8, 9 and 10. I hope that that clarifies the unfortunate muddle.
Baroness Hanham: Are the powers in Clauses 11 to 19, under the heading Implementation of changeswe will discuss Clauses 15 and 16 later because I separated them outbroad powers as well, or do they relate to the structural changes under the Bill?
Baroness Hanham: Clauses 11 to 19, under Implementation of changes, after the heading Boundary change. It is curious that this boundary change and implementation of changes are bunged into this Bill when we are talking about something entirely different. The question is there and I look forward to the Ministers reply.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: The Minister has said that she intends to untangle it. A hiatus has been revealed and she has attempted to explain it. In the light of the comments made, she has asked the indulgence of the Committee to allow her and her advisers to look at the situation and write to those involved before the next stage. That is a generous offer which I for one am prepared to accept.
Baroness Hanham: I was not arguing about any of that. I was drawing attention to the fact that I am not sure what subsequent clauses relate to. I am very happy for the Minister to write and explain it, and to give her a chance to think about it as well. But an explanation is necessary. I accept the noble Lords view that we need that letter. I was not in any way going against the Minister on that.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I was both right and wrong. They apply to both parts of the Bill, but the purpose of writing would be to explain both how they apply and where the application belongs in each of those clausesto both the invitation and structural process and the general principles.
(4A) Where the Boundary Committee have conducted a review under this section and consider that no boundary change is desirable, they may recommend to the Secretary of State that no boundary change should be made.
The noble Baroness said: In the light of previous discussion, I move this hesitatingly. We may be coming back to this as well. I rise to speak to Amendment No. 43 and oppose the Question that Clause 12 shall stand part of the Bill. Amendment No. 43, combined with the deletion of Clause 12, would erase the power of the Secretary of State to prescribe so-called electoral matters within an order under Clause 7 or Clause 10. Clause 7 applies to the restructuring that we are talking about in the first part of the Bill.
As the Bill is currently drafted, the Secretary of State can prescribe the total number of members of any local authority, the number and boundaries of electoral areas for electing councillors, the number of councillors to be returned in an electoral area, the name of an electoral area, the order of retirement of councillors, the election of a mayor or executive, the appointment for a transitional period and the functions of a local authority.
However, Clause 10(4)(c) in combination with Clause 12 gives the Secretary of State a completely free reign in an order made under Clauses 7 or 10. The effect is that even if a council chooses to undergo a restructuring, the Secretary of State will decide to the last details the terms of management.
Reading these measures, I am baffled that the Government make the claim in the White Paper that they will empower local communities through this legislation. Try as I might, I cannot reconcile Whitehall powers reaching lower authoritiesand down to the names of electoral areaswith the empowerment of those authorities. My honourable friend in another place mooted the possibility of a local area called Kellyshirethat would be Blairshire nowwhich I suppose has a certain ring to it. The point remains that the Secretary of States stamp will be all over this local government.
The Minister in the other place noted that Clause 12 translates powers from the 1992 Act. I did not notice him justifying the translation of powers with the different provisions and wider applications. While I appreciate that the Secretary of State may need powers to affect an overall change in the boundaries, I cannot agree with the Minister in another place that the name of a local government area, electoral matters and parish boundaries are simply consequential matters. Indeed, the Minister in another place, Phil Woolas, said that it was not the Governments desire that they should be held responsible for name changes.
Baroness Andrews: I will address the amendment and speak briefly to Clause 12 stand part in order to explain some of the implications and transitional arrangements, which will help the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham.
Essentially, once decisions have been made to create a new local authority, we will seek, subject to parliamentary approval of the Bill, to make orders at the earliest opportunity. Clause 11, as described by the noble Baroness, ensures that all the necessary provisions can be included within the order. Being able to include provisions for electoral arrangements is essential. The implementation process of those arrangements is precisely what the amendment would undermine.
Obviously, it is not possible to have an operational local authority without electoral arrangements. The Local Government Act 1992 already provides the Electoral Commission with the necessary powers to establish the electoral arrangements of an authority. Where it is necessary, by reason of the scale of change, the Act can require the holding of a fresh electionone outside the normal cycle for that type of authority. It is important that changes should be implemented quickly to minimise the potential for disruption. If it were possible for the Electoral Commission quickly to determine the electoral arrangements of the new authority, we would undoubtedly rely on the existing statutory provisions. But, depending on the number of individual changes to be made at any one time, it is realistic and possible that it will take 12 to 24 months for the Electoral Commission to put in place electoral arrangements for the new authorities. I am afraid that that would mean that the whole restructuring processas I explained earlier, it is extremely important for the benefit of local authorities for it to be as quick and as thorough as possiblewould be extended. We have sought to avoid that from the outset.
We need to be able to put in place, on a purely transitional basis, arrangements for the new authorities to tide them over until the Electoral Commission is able to complete a proper review. Following an implementation order being made, the Electoral Commission will be under a duty to consider whether or not an electoral review should be conducted to create new electoral arrangements for the new authority under Clause 12(5).
In summary, once a local authority has submitted a proposal and the Secretary of State has decided to implement it, we need to minimise disruption by establishing the new authority as soon as possible, and any electoral arrangements made under Clauses 11 and 12 would effectively be transitional, pending consideration of an electoral review by the independent Electoral Commission.
Clauses 12 and 11 empower the Secretary of State to make provision for the transitional arrangements, and the powers are deliberately wide-ranging to enable us have an approach to implementation that provides the greatest local flexibility. We do not want, and cannot have, a one-size-fits-all situation;
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We have already started a dialogue on those transitional arrangements with the LGA, individual councils and other stakeholders, including the public-sector unions. They are part of the working groups that we have set up to discuss implementation. I am pleased to say that there is widespread agreement on the approach that we propose to adopt. We will continue to work out the details with the help of those working groups following the announcement of the proposals on how we proceed towards implementation, because there are different ways that transitional arrangements can be set up.
These clauses essentially provide local authorities with means to implement unitary structures with the least disruption and allow them to make the passage into new ways of working. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: Given my experience in local government, I would appreciate written briefing from the Minister on another topic. I am sure that other noble Lords will agree that the creation of a new local authority is no small matter and bringing together a number of district councils and a county council will inevitably be the result of at least one or more of the proposals on offer. It is a pretty big deal and it will take quite a long time to sort out staffing arrangements, the disposal of assets and so on. I am rather surprised that the Government take the view that that can be achieved more quickly than the commission takes to sort out the electoral arrangements. I am slightly surprised that the two cannot work in tandem, and I would appreciate some briefing on how the Government see the timetable moving forward.
While I agree with the noble Baroness that I would not wish to see progress held up while the electoral arrangements are sorted out, if it were possible for the general preparations and the electoral ones to move together in tandem, that would be much betternot least because people who live in a locality will have to get used to the fact that their council arrangements are changing radically. Then to have electoral arrangements that applied for one time only and then to have to move to another arrangement would add a degree of confusion. I do not wish to press this matter too hard now, but I would like to understand a bit more about how the Government see that moving forward.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: I wonder if the Minister can help me. My experience of amalgamation comes from the London Government Act 1963, which shows my age. It was enacted in such a way that in the first elections for London boroughs, Enfield, Edmonton and Southgate came together, with elections taking place in 1964. The definitive date of operation was 1965, so for 12 months each of the councillors of
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The noble Baroness is absolutely right: it is a very traumaticI will not say horrendousperiod, especially for the officers of the amalgamated authorities. After all, they were, in northern terms, kings of the midden in their localities. Now they had to fight, and then take a judgment before their internal fight, as to whether they were better off having a go at somebody else. I vividly remember that good people, whom I would have hoped were employed by the London borough of Enfield, disappeared because they saw a better opportunity. Because they were good, they did not take a risk and moved somewhere safe, rather than fight it out.
The Minister could do the House, and local government generally, a service by putting flesh on the bones of this proposal. Enfield was unique. Before the amalgamation, the political complexion of Edmonton was fairly solidly Labour, and that of Southgate was absolutely Conservative, with Enfield in the middle. After the election, with 60 seats contested, the result was 31 to 29. Of course, we put the others out of their misery by taking over 10 aldermanic seats, which eased the position. It was to our regret, of course, because in the first election after 1964, in 1968, the complexion changed from 31 to 29 to 51 to 9. You might say that that would teach me a lesson. It certainly has: be a little more generous next time around in case I am the one who needs assistance.
Baroness Andrews: Not for the first time it is a pleasure to have my noble friend on the Bench; his personal history is so useful to us in these debates. I am happy to provide some account of how we think the different transitional models will work. Clearly, electoral arrangements need to be in place early in the implementation process, so that there can be an election to the shadow authority. That will be responsible for carrying out much of the implementation, so these must be aligned and the shadow authority, the transition body, will be established shortly after we have made the order to create the new authority. There are different ways in which local authorities will want to do this. I would be happy to talk or write to the noble Baroness in order to set that out.
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