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Clause 9

Volume 301: debated on Monday 24 November 1997

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Supplementary Report

I will comment briefly on the clause. The commission will be established with agreed terms of reference and objectives. It will then deliberate and report back. The Secretary of State may not like the recommendations that the commission makes, but would it be democratic to overrule those recommendations as clause 9 would allow?

What would be the Secretary of State's purpose in overriding the commission's recommendations? Can the Minister explain in what circumstances the Secretary of State might see fit to direct the commission to review its findings? Could those circumstances include political expediency or convenience? It is because we have doubts about the purpose of clause 9 that we cannot support it, but—given the late hour—we will not push the issue any further. We will recommend that it is considered in greater detail in another place.

The clause enables the Secretary of State, when a report has been submitted under clause 8, to direct the commission to review the recommendations made in the report, and to submit a further report making revised recommendations. It is a fail-safe provision, designed to ensure that the Local Government Commission can be asked to look again at its recommendations or any part of its recommendations, once it has delivered its report.

The provision is well precedented. [Interruption.] Before Conservative Members start crowing, let me remind them that it takes as its model section 15(6) of the Local Government Act 1992, which was used more than once by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) when he was Secretary of State for the Environment in the previous Administration.

Circumstances in which such a provision might come into play could include when the commission had changed its mind so much between the draft and final reports that people locally felt that they had not been given sufficient opportunity to comment on the substance of what the commission was proposing in its final report. Alternatively, representations might be made to the Secretary of State on publication of the final report of such importance that they justified the commission being asked to reconsider what it had recommended.

The provision is not about giving the Secretary of State the power to second guess the Local Government Commission. Indeed, it provides only for the commission to revise—to re-examine its decision, and not necessarily to come up with new recommendations—but, without that power, there would be no provision for the commission to take what may be a necessary second look. In the light of those comments, I trust that hon. Members will be satisfied that our intentions are entirely sensible.

11 pm

In reviewing clause 8, can the Minister tell us, as the Minister for Transport in London failed to do, why, technically, the commission should consider the Local Government Commission's recommendations rather than those of the boundary commission? We have not had an answer to that technical question, which has been raised by several hon. Members.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.