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Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the acute congestion in custodial institutions is now of such a nature that no programme of new

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building will ever achieve the purpose of solving that problem? Will he grasp that nettle by setting up a deep-seated and comprehensive inquiry into the conundrum of why it is that the British community, which is reasonably law abiding, incarcerates more children, young people and adults per 100,000 than any other country in Europe?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not agree entirely with the comments made by the noble Lord. The Government have announced an expansion in the number of prison places, which will take place over the next few years. Our prisons are full because more serious offenders have been caught and put in prison. At the same time, it is right that we also use community sentencing and put a lot of our focus into preventing reoffending. The Carter review, which is due for publication shortly, will examine a number of matters raised by noble Lords, and we will be able to have these important debates informed by the work of the noble Lord, Lord Carter.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the noble Lord did not answer the incredibly important question which has just been asked. Why do we have in prison a much larger percentage of people than any other country in Europe other than the Turks? Prison has three purposes: retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation—of which by far the most important is rehabilitation. One person who is rehabilitated and does not go back to prison saves the country an enormous amount of money. Surely, the Government should concentrate on that.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, of course. We have seen a reduction in reoffending, which is why more resources are being put into programmes to encourage prisoners not to reoffend. Surely it is also right to point out that prisons have filled up because people convicted of serious and dangerous crimes have been put in prison for longer sentences. That is entirely justifiable and what the British public expect.

Prime Minister: Dissolution of Parliament

3 pm

Lord Redesdale asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, on Wednesday, 10 October 2007, my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons put to the Modernisation Committee of that House the proposal that it should look at the issues around recall and dissolution. I am pleased that the committee has agreed to inquire into this issue. The Government look forward to considering the committee’s conclusions in due course.



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Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for that reply. I must declare a financial interest: I lost money at the bookies on the date of the next general election. Considering that, perhaps she could think about suggesting to the Prime Minister that he revisit the idea of having fixed-term Parliaments. The Prime Minister said that the reason why he did not call an election—the reason why I lost that money—was that he wanted to fulfil his “vision” for a Parliament. If he had a fixed-term Parliament perhaps he would not need to worry about snap elections and could have five years to fulfil that vision.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I have heard many reasons given for fixed-term Parliaments, but making sure that the noble Lord is not relieved of his money is not one which I expected to hear. I commiserate with him, but he will also recall that the Prime Minister was very careful about this. He spoke only when he had made up his mind and made the decision, which was the right one.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, surely the Minister agrees that making dissolution conditional on a vote in the House of Commons would, if it was on a whipped vote, be a fairly meaningless gesture. I should like to see something happen, but if it was on a whipped vote, I do not see that it would be other than a mere exercise in demonstrating one’s wish to do something worth while without achieving very much.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, raises an important issue which the Modernisation Committee may well wish to take into account; namely, the nature of the vote that could be taken in another place. I am sure that the considerations raised by the noble Lord will be part of the committee’s deliberations.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, is it not inherently unfair that one of the participants in the electoral race, namely the Prime Minister, should be responsible for firing—or, as the case may be, not firing—the starting gun?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, if one is the Prime Minister, one is the Prime Minister, and alongside that role goes the ability to call an election at an appropriate moment. If the noble Lord’s party were in power, it would have that opportunity too.

Lord Richard: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that every Opposition, certainly within my living memory, have always wished to curtail the power of the Prime Minister to call an election at a time of his choosing? Is she also aware that every Government, at least during my political life, have always resisted that temptation? Can she assure me that this Government will do precisely that?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I do not sense within this Government any desire to change the position. Of course I entirely agree with my noble friend’s comments.



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The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is it not ironic that the Liberals—the heirs to the great Whigs of the 18th century and to the Glorious Revolution—who fought for such a long time to make the King’s Government subordinate to the House of Commons, do not understand that it is only in the past 30 years that the House of Commons has brought down a Government by a vote of no confidence? That is how it should be, that is how it is, and I hope that it shall always be like that.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I feel that the noble Earl is addressing his concerns to the other party. Perhaps when the noble Lord speaks up he will be able to answer that point.

Lord Rennard: My Lords, does the Minister recall the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, when, speaking at the 1992 general election as leader of the Labour Party, he promised that a future Labour Government would legislate for fixed-term Parliaments? Does she not think that it would be more democratic if the decision on the polling day for a general election did not lie simply with the leader of one of the political parties who is able to choose the time of the election according to his perception of the opinion polls? Does she not think that many Labour Party members now agree with the principle of fixed-term Parliaments, given the news that the Labour Party perhaps wasted about £1 million preparing for a general election that did not happen? It should be happening now but is not because the Prime Minister lost his nerve.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, my right honourable friend did not lose his nerve and the noble Lord has a nerve to suggest that he would. As for reports about finances, I have no idea, but I am sure that they are greatly exaggerated. I am clear that the Prime Minister has a right to call an election when he deems it right to do so.

Lord McNally: My Lords, is it not the fact that the Prime Minister became bedazzled and then befuddled by opinion polls? Does the Minister agree that it would be better if all politicians took less notice of these insidious exercises?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, in my household they are revered as instruments that enable people to make many decisions, and not just in politics. As for my right honourable friend, he certainly was never bedazzled or befuddled.

Business

3.06 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with permission, a Statement entitled “Intergovernmental Meeting: Lisbon” will be repeated by my noble friend Lady Ashton at a convenient time after 3.30 pm.



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Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [HL]

London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill

Manchester City Council Bill [HL]

Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [HL]

Transport for London Bill [HL]

Broads Authority Bill

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the six Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That this House resolves that the promoters of the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [HL] which was originally introduced in this House on 22 January 2007 should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150A (Suspension of Bills).

That this House resolves that the promoters of the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill which was originally introduced in the House of Commons in Session 2004-05 on 25 January 2005 should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150A (Suspension of Bills).

That this House resolves that the promoters of the Manchester City Council Bill [HL] which was originally introduced in this House on 22 January 2007 should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150A (Suspension of Bills).

That this House resolves that the promoters of the Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [HL] which was originally introduced in this House on 22 January 2007 should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150A (Suspension of Bills).

That the Commons message of 17 October be now considered; and that the promoters of the Transport for London Bill [HL] which was originally introduced in this House in the previous Session on 23 January 2006 should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150A (Suspension of Bills).

That this House do agree with the orders made by the Commons set out in their message of 16 October.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was sent to the Commons.



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Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill

Read a third time.

Clause 3 [Invitations, directions and proposals: supplementary]:

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Minister has spoken much during the debates about the powers in the Bill being used to “make sense” of local government in the future. She has argued that the power to invite authorities to become unitaries must remain in the Bill even though the Government have currently—I emphasise “currently”—no plans for a future rolling programme of restructuring. She has said that the power to invite is still needed to “make sense” of existing programmes for restructuring. This is all very well and good and there will be nothing to prevent her department issuing invitations that are still needed under current schemes, such as Bedford, prior to January 2008.

Yet there is more to the extent of this power than necessarily meets the eye. The Minister noted that in the future the Boundary Commission could decide to change a boundary to such an extent that an existing two-tier system had to be incorporated into another existing unitary council. In theory, this would not count as the formation of a new unitary council, but the reality would be that yet another two-tier system could be swallowed up, this time without the need for a full consultation but simply as a tidying-up exercise.

Clause 3(3) and (6) imply that once an invitation is issued, the expectation is that it will be accepted. The wording of subsection (6) gives multiple authorities no option in responding to an invitation but to make proposals in accordance with that invitation. So it is clear that an invitation from the Secretary of State is not so much a suggestion or a request but an offer that those invited cannot refuse.

Even though the judgment of the judicial review put forward by Shrewsbury and others has supported the Government’s policy of restructuring and the issue of an invitation prior to legislation, the measures still in the Bill mean that they could commence a huge restructuring programme in future with no need for primary legislation and no parliamentary scrutiny as to its appropriateness. Directions in this legislation have already been limited to 25 January 2008. We believe, as we have discussed previously, that invitations for unitaries should also be so limited. Therefore, I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, we have addressed this matter in slightly different forms on a number of occasions during the passage of this Bill. At the last stage, my noble friend and I tabled a rather longer amendment which provided for invitations to be given up to June of next year, rather than January, as under

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the noble Baroness’s amendment, and flowing only from the work that has been going on. Therefore, while we absolutely sympathise with the points that the noble Baroness has made about clarity and certainty, we will be unable to support the amendment, because it seems not to address the point that the Minister has drawn to the House’s attention—the tidying-up following directions that have recently been given. I think that Bedfordshire was the area that she mentioned in that regard.

I do not know whether the Minister can deal with that matter when she responds, or whether she will be able to respond to another issue that has troubled us since she drew it to our attention. If we put a complete cap on directions and invitations under this legislation, we would be thrown back to 1992. My noble friend Lady Scott and I considered bringing the matter before the House, as that was the position that we wanted, but then we thought that it would be an even more centralised arrangement than we will have under this Bill. At about that time we gave up because we did not think that we could go back to 1992, or further back still, at such a late stage in the Bill. Frankly, it was beyond us—or it was beyond me, at least. It might not have been beyond my noble friend.

Therefore, although I cannot say that we are hugely happy with the situation, we recognise the problems inherent in the arrangement that the noble Baroness proposes.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, because I shall have to say some of the things that I have said at previous stages. However, I shall also try to make it clear that the amendment would have very serious effects, along the lines alluded to by the noble Baroness.

I shall set out the three main arguments for resisting the amendment. If it was accepted, there would no longer be on the statute book any process for effecting essential structural change. There would no longer be a comprehensive process for effecting essential boundary change and the Government could no longer respond—as I described at Report—to areas where there is some exceptional local need or a clear desire for restructuring, where that would be appropriate.

The mechanisms and process for effecting sensible structural and boundary change, which would always depend in any case on the approval of Parliament, would no longer be available to government or local government, even when it was clear that such governance change could greatly help the delivery of better local services and the achievement of more effective place-shaping by the councils concerned. Therefore, we would not be thrown back to 1992; we would be thrown back to nothing. There would be no mechanism anywhere that we could use. I shall come on to that in more detail. I shall deal with each of the three circumstances.

First, the issue that these amendments would mean that there was no longer on the statute book any process for structural change for England is very

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much an issue of principle but it is also an issue of practice because the Local Government Act 1992, brought forward by noble Lords on the benches Opposite, enabled the Secretary of State, at any time, to request that the Electoral Commission direct the Boundary Committee to consider whether there should be a move to unitary structures, and if so to make recommendations.

That process was very much in contrast with the process at which we are looking in this Bill. It was centralist, driven by the Government and the Boundary Committee and remains on the statute book to this day. As we all know having been through three stages of this Bill, its intention is to replace that process with a new process—a process which reflects the changing nature of the relationship between central and local government; a genuine relationship which is based on devolution.

Therefore, the Bill provides for the repeal of the 1992 Act regime and in its place provides a regime where local government is genuinely in the driving seat; a regime where there can be no structural change unless one or more councils propose that change; and a regime where the shape of structural change is in large measure in the hands of councils themselves which propose that change.

As I say, departing from the principles explicit in the 1992 Act these amendments would remove from the statute book any process for structural change. It is not the case that the Bill, as amended, would in some way keep the status quo; it would not. That is the problem. It would mean that, after 25 January 2008, there would be no process for effecting structural change. That is a breach with our traditions and not a sensible position in which to put either local or central government, leaving them with no ability to respond.

Secondly, the amendment would mean in practice that only boundary changes that would not involve a unitary council merging for example with a neighbouring shire district council could be effected. We covered this issue on Report, but I shall do so again. When reviewing an area, the Boundary Committee may form the view that a unitary district council needs to expand its boundaries due to population or housing growth. It may be necessary to expand the boundaries to such a degree that the remaining area of the two-tier district council is no longer viable. However, Clause 8 prevents the Boundary Committee from recommending the replacement of a two-tier area with a single-tier as a consequence of altering the boundary of a unitary council. In this situation—where there is a strong and sensible case for structural change stemming from a boundary change—Clauses 1 to 4 enable the Government to invite the local authorities in that area to come forward with a proposal which they believe makes sense for the local area. It is wrong in practice to introduce the kind of inflexibility which means that we cannot deal with that situation. I do not think that local government would be at all grateful for that.


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