Local Government Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 10th July 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative 7:15 pm, 10th July 2003

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am conscious of the response he gave in our previous debate in Grand Committee on 2nd June 2003 at col. GC 92 of Hansard. At that point he made it clear that, with regard to consulting local authorities, the Government had given a firm commitment to do that. However, as I understand it, that commitment applies to general local authorities and does not deal with what is set out in Clause 4(2) on the direction to a particular local authority.

I do not think it would be possible to impose a borrowing limit without some form of consultation, but having said that, perhaps it could be done. It may be a power that the Secretary of State will take to himself so that he could decide to impose it. That is not an unreasonable assumption. However, working as always on the assumption that, while Ministers in this House are nothing but reasonable and understanding, I am not so sure about the other place; and it would not be a Minister in this House who made the decision. Therefore under the terms of Clause 4(2), I hope to see that individual local authorities will be consulted.

Of course we understand that, in a national crisis, borrowing limits might have to be imposed. However, Clause 1 is very specific and has come to be regarded as a serious totem by local government: it will now have the power to borrow. That is a very new and fresh responsibility and it is one that has been warmly accepted. Then to put caveats on that freedom requires the most thorough justification—I think only for national economic reasons. Within those, there has to be proper discussion with local authorities.

I hear what the Minister has said and I have read his remarks made on the last occasion. I appreciate that he has given us a full response. For today's purposes, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.