Local Government Bill [H.L.]
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Baronesses in Waiting, HM Household; Labour)
My Lords, again I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. I learnt early on that irony is often misunderstood.
I am in the unusual position of being able to agree in part and in philosophy with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, because, in using the Clause 2 power, local authorities may spend any amount of money they wish on promoting or improving the economic, social and environmental well-being of their communities. I can tell from the way in which the debate has proceeded and the way in which the noble Lord moved his amendment that he would in fact be placing a limitation on what could be spent by a local authority in any year on improving or promoting the economic, social and environmental well-being of its area. My noble friend Lord Smith made it clear that a national limit would be inhibiting and would bite on or empower different local authorities unevenly.
The Government's position is in direct contradiction to the effect of rather than the intention behind the amendment. In our view, it is for individual local authorities, not central government, to determine how they should use the new well-being powers and for local government, not central government, to determine how much they should spend, based on their understanding of local circumstances and needs. The measures that we put in place in last year's Local Government Act and are putting in place through the Bill will strengthen efficiency and local accountability. It is to local communities that local authorities should answer on how they use their well-being powers and for the expenditure that they incur.
We welcome the conversion of noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench and the Opposition Benches to the principle of empowering local authorities to make judgments. However, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, we believe that it is necessary, in the interests of people in particular areas, that where local authorities act irresponsibly, the Secretary of State has the power to ensure that rises in council tax are not at an unacceptable level.
The amendment has the effect of limiting the freedom of local authorities. I apologise if in previous explanations we may not have made that as clear as would have proved helpful, but, in the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will seek leave to withdraw his amendment. In reply to the specific question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, Section 137 will be repealed.