Localism Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:03 pm on 17th January 2011.

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Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 4:03 pm, 17th January 2011

The right hon. Lady makes a reasonable point. She will be aware of problems with London authorities' insurance, and the general power of competence will deal with those. However, the question is, what is the difference between the general power of competence and the general power of well-being? The truth is that there is not much difference, and we welcomed the intention to introduce the latter, but only about 17% of authorities have done so. The reason for that is the innate conservatism of those providing legal advice, so councils have tended to err on the side of not introducing it.

The reason why the general power of competence is so important is that it turns the determination requirements on their head. All those fun-loving guys who are involved in offering legal advice to local authorities, who are basically conservative, will now have to err on the side of permissiveness. That is a substantial change, and I would have thought that there would be no difference between the parties on that matter. I believe that a general power of competence is better than a general power of well-being, because the latter had to be invented as a concept whereas the former is well accepted by local authorities throughout the world, which understand exactly what it means.

The Bill will let councils decide the best way to organise themselves, whether through cities having mayors, through local council executives or through the committee system. On the subject of mayors, I am delighted to report to the House that Lord Adonis will begin a tour of 12 English cities, talking to local people about the prospect of having a mayor. I look forward to his report. The Government are grateful that that distinguished former Cabinet Minister is undertaking that important work.