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One reason why we cannot just say local people is, because, without a definition, as my noble friend Lord Borrie said, it would be very unclear who was included. It would make it very difficult for local authorities to know whether they had complied with the duty. Clearly, that is going to be extremely important. Consistent with the overarching approach that we are taking to trust local authorities to interpret this in a way that makes sense and in the spirit of the duties they owe to the communities, we have arrived at this definition. But it is also important that we provide such help as we can through guidance that will identify the nature of those groups of people whom local authorities should seek to reach. We will also suggest some methods to provide the relevant information to the local people.
On Amendment 14, I appreciate how the noble Lord has wrestled with this issue. It is complicated and it is important that we get it as right as we can. Amendment 14, by using the word includes, potentially broadens the group of people to whom the principal local authority is to promote understanding. The noble
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Amendments 15 to 19 seek to alter the definition from live, work and study to one that is cumbersome and wordy, and includes people who live or own property or use facilities provided by the authority,
In choosing that wording, the noble Lord has abandoned any interest in people who work or study in the area. In so far as we are trying to provide an opportunity for young people who are engaged in education at all levels, we thought it important to include that opportunity, because they are young people who will be directly and intimately affected by any changes in the education system and who would want to get involved in any improvements. That would include any university students.
We also think that the terms that the noble Lord has come up with are extremely burdensome. With the term use facilities in Amendment 18, where does it end? Where are the boundaries here? Is it reasonable to try to impose a duty on local authorities to promote democracy for people who happen to be walking down one of the local streets, using the facilities? You could interpret it as broadly as that. Should Westminster City Council have a legal duty to promote democracy to the thousands of foreign visitors who happen to pass through the area during the course of a year? Should an authority be under a legal obligation to respond to petitions raised by transit passengers through an airport located in their area? Obviously, we would like to see Westminster doing all those things, but we are not persuaded that it is reasonable to impose legal obligations on it to do so.
On the second definition, owning property, our definition will capture the huge majority of people who own property and live in the area. The addition in the amendment puts an unnecessary burden on local authorities to promote democracy to people who do not live in the area but who may own property. That raises some major issues about how that could be exercised. Again, it is an unnecessary burden to place on local authorities.
We are looking, for example, at people who do not technically reside in the area. They could be absentee landlords or people with second homes. Do we want those people to understand the benefits of democracy? Of course we do. However, to bring that within the existing definition effectively is an onerous burden. We considered all sorts of formulations. We have not just thrown this together at the drop of a hat. We considered the term, on the electoral register, but that excluded too many people: the young, the homeless and the recently arrived. We considered the term use services; that was too broad.
The one thing that live, work or study has to commend it is that, in each case, there is an address that an authority can be sure either is or is not within the area. It provides a full scope for people who have a genuine interest and are genuinely affected by the services there. Linking to an address is also a clear criterion. It would be pointless and extremely expensive otherwise to pin down exactly who is to be included in
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We would clearly want to offer additional help in the guidance to ensure that everybody had a clear understanding of what we meant. We would certainly be consulting on that. That would include suggestions of how local authorities could provide the relevant information across the whole range of media now available to them.
We have tried hard to deliver the intent of the clauses in this definition. I appreciate the noble Lords effort and how he has opened up the debate. I am sorry that I cannot accept his amendments; I genuinely think we have something that is about as robust and useful to local authorities as it could be.
Lord Greaves: That was all very interesting and, I am afraid, confirms me in my view that this is all a shambles. It is not robust and clear at all. I want to find some polite words that I can use in this Committee. The Government are running amok in a field full of cows and do not quite know where to go.
I was grateful for the partial support of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, but he really ought to stop standing up and saying that he is surprised to agree with me. He will find that we agree with each other on a large number of things. We should not be surprised, and should recognise when we disagree that that is okay.
When I listen to the Minister on what the councils will do, practically, to carry out this duty, I find myself wondering what it is. I think that they will print some leaflets and have them available in appropriate places. Appropriate places would be town halls, libraries and leisure centres, and then they could send them out to community centres and things like that. However, a lot of the people who will pick up leaflets in those areas will not fit into the Ministers categories. They will be people who have gone to the swimming pool because it is a good one, but they live in the next borough. Or they will be people who go to the library but do not actually live in the area. Perhaps they will be second-home owners who only live there part of the time. They might be on the electoral register. The Minister says that her categories are clear, but the question of who lives in an area is far from clear for people with two or more homes.
This is not clear at all, and targeting leaflets in sensible places will reach people who are not in the Ministers categories automatically and rightly. The Minister said that people have addresses and that a leaflet may be distributed or that the information might go in one of the free council newspapers that are churned out. That is fair enough, but they go door to door. They are not targeted at people who live there; they are targeted at the addresses that exist there at any given time.
The Minister said that there will be an address for all these people. There will not be an address for
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There will be a website. The obvious place to put information about who does what and how to get involved, which is what we are talking about, is the website, but that targets people with access to computers; it does not target people who happen to live, work or study therealthough the people who study are more likely to look at computers than a lot of the people who live there.
The Ministers arguments do not stack up. I am in favour of targeting institutions or places where people go for information such as this. One can have displays and people can pick the information up. Many of those institutions are the places or facilities that people go to because they are good, such as swimming pools, but those people do not necessarily live in the relevant local authority.
I understand that includes may not be a sensible word, but the Minister should abandon all attempts to define local people. Everybody knows who the local people are in a particular place. They belong to all the categories that we have been talking about and they do not necessarily live exactly within the boundary of the authority.
The idea that vast resources will be devoted to targeting everybody individually is nonsense; the resources will not exist. Councils will target sensible means of communication such as websites or local newspapers and sensible places where people might pick up the information. Otherwise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, said, it would mean a totally unacceptable increase in the councils costs.
I am not in any way persuaded by what the Minister said, but I shall as always read it carefully. I do not know whether it is a sufficiently important issue to bring back at a later stage, but I ask the Government to think again about this. It does not matter too much in Chapter 1; but when we come to petitions, it will be crucial. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendments 15 to 21 not moved.
Clause 2 : Democratic arrangements of connected authorities
Amendments 22 and 23 not moved.
Lord Patel of Bradford: This may be a convenient moment for the Committee to adjourn until Wednesday at 3.45 pm.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Simon): The Committee stands adjourned until Wednesday 21 January at 3.45 pm.
Committee adjourned at 7.32 pm.
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