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General Committees

Debated on Monday 10 February 2020

Delegated Legislation Committee

Andrey Lugvoy and Dmitri Kovtun Freezing Order 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Laurence Robertson

† Aiken, Nickie (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)

† Anderson, Fleur (Putney) (Lab)

† Ansell, Caroline (Eastbourne) (Con)

† Baillie, Siobhan (Stroud) (Con)

† Baynes, Simon (Clwyd South) (Con)

† Brine, Steve (Winchester) (Con)

† Bruce, Fiona (Congleton) (Con)

† Costa, Alberto (South Leicestershire) (Con)

† Dowd, Peter (Bootle) (Lab)

† Glen, John (Economic Secretary to the Treasury)

† Grant, Peter (Glenrothes) (SNP)

† Jones, Mr Marcus (Nuneaton) (Con)

† Kinnock, Stephen (Aberavon) (Lab)

† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)

Osamor, Kate (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)

† Rowley, Lee (North East Derbyshire) (Con)

Thomson, Richard (Gordon) (SNP)

Bradley Albrow, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 10 February 2020

[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun Freezing Order 2020

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun Freezing Order 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 36).

May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson?

The order was laid before the House on 17 January this year and came into force on 19 January. It has the effect of maintaining a freeze of any funds or assets that these two individuals hold in the UK or with any UK- incorporated entities, denying them access to the UK financial system and prohibiting UK persons from making funds available to them.

The order was made because in 2016 an independent inquiry, chaired by Sir Robert Owen, concluded that Mr Alexander Litvinenko was deliberately poisoned in 2006 by Lugovoy and Kovtun through the use of polonium-210. The inquiry also concluded that there was a “strong probability” that Mr Litvinenko, an ex-KGB and ex-FSB officer and critic of the Russian Government, was murdered on the order of the FSB, the Russian domestic security service. The inquiry further concluded that the killing was “probably approved” by the then head of the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev, and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

As part of its response to the gravity of those findings, in January 2016 the Treasury imposed an asset freeze on Lugovoy and Kovtun by making a freezing order under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. A second order was imposed in January 2018, which expired at the end of 18 January this year. This order, which I commend to the House, was therefore put in place to ensure that there was no gap in the freezing measures that have been enforced against Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun since 2016. Under section 8 of the Act, the duration of a freezing order is limited to two years.

Since 2018, as required by section 7 of the Act, the Treasury has kept the order under review. In May 2019, the Treasury reviewed the facts of the case against the relevant statutory criteria and concluded that the criteria continued to be met in respect of both individuals. Prior to the expiry of the 2018 order, the Treasury reviewed the facts of the case again and decided to make a new order to maintain the asset freeze against these two individuals.

The Treasury believes that making a new order is an appropriate and proportionate measure. The relevant conditions, as set out at section 4 of the Act, are still being met: the Treasury reasonably believes that action constituting a threat to the life or property of one or more nationals of the UK or residents of the UK has been or is likely to be taken by a person or persons resident in a country or territory outside the UK.

The freezing order is one of a limited number of measures available to the UK authorities to act directly against Lugovoy and Kovtun. We continue to believe that the freezing order acts as a deterrent and as a signal that the Government will not tolerate hostile acts on British soil and will take firm steps to defend our national security and the rule of law. The new order maintains a robust approach to Russia, and unity of approach with the US, which also sanctions these two individuals. Continued close co-ordination is a vital part of our joint effort in countering the Russian threat.

Were we not to maintain asset freezes against Lugovoy and Kovtun, we would risk sending a damaging signal that the consequences of murder in the UK are limited and time-bound if someone chooses to evade the UK justice system by remaining overseas. Not to maintain asset freezes against these individuals would likely be perceived as the UK softening its stance towards Russia. Furthermore, it would risk signalling to the Russian state that the UK is looking to normalise relations. That would be contrary to and directly undermining of Her Majesty’s Government’s consistent message that there can be no change in UK-Russia relations until Russia desists from attacks that undermine international treaties and security.

The current bilateral relationship is not the one that we want. We remain open to a different and co-operative relationship, but that depends on Russia stopping its destabilising activity, which threatens the UK and its allies. We engage with Russia on a guarded basis, defending UK national security where necessary, while ensuring that we address the global security issues of the day.

The Government believe that maintaining asset freezes against Lugovoy and Kovtun is an appropriate and proportionate measure, and that not doing so would run counter to the national interest. I hope that colleagues will join me in supporting the order, which I commend to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Robertson, and to see new Members on both the Government and Opposition Benches. I agree with the vast majority—if not all—of what the Minister said, which is a first. I sat on the Committee two years ago for the Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun Freezing Order 2018, which this order extends.

As the Minister said, the public inquiry found that Lugovoy and Kovtun poisoned Alexander Litvinenko in 2006; the freeze on Lugovoy and Kovtun, under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, is appropriate. As the Minister indicated, the freeze prohibits individuals and entities from making funds available to the specified persons—that is only right—and is being extended. In the light of the case, the measure is an appropriate, commensurate and proportionate response in relation to the specified persons. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no material changes since the case.

We want to reaffirm the importance of being as open and as transparent in our dealings in these matters as the Russians are in the other direction. David Anderson, who was appointed to the role of independent reviewer of terrorism legislation under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, said that the purpose of his June 2015 report was

“to inform the public and political debate on these matters, which at its worst can be polarised, intemperate and characterised by technical misunderstandings”.

His summary went on for several more pages.

The important point is that we have to keep watch on ourselves on this issue. We have several codes of practice on such matters that have been in place for a few years. As I am sure the Minister appreciates, to ensure that we are open and transparent we must review them periodically. He may well wish to take that back to the Department and consider when we might review those codes of practice.

There are, for example, codes of practice for the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the Crime and Security Act 2010. We passed the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Search, Seizure and Detention of Property: Code of Practice) Order 2018, and there is a code of practice for the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996. We must keep those codes of practice up to date because they are important to ensuring that we are clear and unambiguous in the way that we deal with such matters. We have to be absolutely open and transparent where other organisations are not.

I am sure that the Minister will fully concur with the Labour party’s sentiments about openness and transparency. Glasnost, I suppose, is the order of the day.

I am grateful to be able to make a few comments. I will certainly support the measure, which is appropriate and proportionate, and is likely to be effective. It is always important, when imposing sanctions on anybody, to consider whether they will be effective both in preventing individuals from continuing to operate and in serving as a deterrent to others. The order meets those tests and I will support it—I do not imagine the Committee will divide.

I will make a few comments about the Government’s approach to protecting not only our democratic process but, in some cases, the lives and property of UK citizens, from what is clearly a very real and present threat from some acting on behalf of the Russian state, because there are inconsistencies in the Government’s action.

We do not have an Intelligence and Security Committee just now, and that troubles me. The hon. Member for Bootle said how polarised discussions have been in respect of some serious incidents. In the wake of the Salisbury attack, some people immediately decided that it was all a stitch-up with the British security services, but I was as convinced as I could be that that was not the case. I had a good friend and trusted colleague who was privy to information I could not see; I trusted his judgment when he said to me, “I can’t tell you why, but—believe me—the evidence I have seen convinces me that these people were attacked by agents acting on behalf of the Russian regime.” I was happy to support the Government on that basis.

What if the order was a new proposal just now and there had been suggestions that, in some way, the information coming through in intelligence reports was flawed? We do not have any public accountability mechanism for our security and intelligence services because the committee has not been reconstituted since the elections. I hope the Government will take steps to get that done as quickly as possible. Apart from anything else, we can then stop the withholding of the report into Russian interference in our democratic processes. We do not know why it was withheld before the election—we know the official reason, but we also know that that reason carries no credibility at all.

We support the Government in taking action against these individuals and, indirectly, against their sponsors—there is not much doubt, and the public inquiry was convinced, that they were acting not on their own but under direction from agents of the Russian state. However, if that same Russian state is being allowed to infiltrate our democratic process or even if the report says there is no evidence to suggest that is happening, we surely have a right to see that sooner rather than later.

While the Government have correctly taken action against these individuals, we should remember that the first person to be the subject of an unexplained wealth order in the United Kingdom was in the country only because their application to live here was fast-tracked for no better reason than she had lots of money to invest in the UK. No one checked where that money had come from at the time.

We must ask ourselves: are we so keen to get money from anywhere invested in the UK economy? Are we protecting ourselves, and are the Government protecting us, enough against people whose money may have come from very dark sources indeed? When people, whose only justification for having their application fast-tracked was that they had a lot of money, can donate part of that lot of money into the UK political party system, we can understand why some who are not part of the political establishment begin to wonder whether we are really protecting ourselves in full from not only the physical threat that these two individuals clearly posed to UK residents but the real threat of the undermining of our democratic processes.

In supporting the Government’s draft order, I ask the Government to confirm that the Intelligence and Security Committee will be reconstituted as quickly as possible, that the report into Russian interference in our democracy will be released as quickly as possible and that they will take steps to close any loopholes that allow people, through the avenue of political donations, to undermine the safeguards we should have to ensure that anyone who donates money to influence our political processes has come by that money lawfully and through proper means.

I have a question for the Minister. Does the definition of

“financial assets and economic benefits of any kind”

include real property—land, in other words? If so, how is that treated as frozen? For example, many Russians have bought property in London. If they are unable to deal with that property in any way, there may be a risk of deterioration, which will affect the neighbourhood. How does the Treasury deal with the freezing of such assets?

I am grateful to Members from across the Committee for their support for the new order. I will come to address the points made, but we should focus on the key point here. Absent any progress in bringing Lugovoy and Kovtun to justice, denying them access to the UK financial system, in combination with the European arrest warrants and the Interpol red notices that remain in place against them, continues to send a clear signal about how fundamentally we disapprove of the actions that they took, which led to Mr Litvinenko’s death.

The hon. Member for Bootle, perfectly reasonably and appropriately, made some points about the review of the codes of practice and ensuring that they are up to date with various pieces of legislation. He spoke about the need to bring and ensure continuing clarity and lack of ambiguity, and for the Government to be open and transparent in this area. Those codes are the responsibility of the Home Office, but I am sure they will have noted the points that he made.

The hon. Member for Glenrothes spoke about wider issues involving the Intelligence and Security Committee and its report into Russia. That Committee will be constituted in the very near future; it is not for the Government to tell the Committee when to publish its reports, but it would be good to get these matters into the public domain.

I accept that the Government cannot tell the Committee when to publish the report, but they did tell the Committee when not to publish the report. Does the Minister understand that that causes considerable concern to a lot of people—and not only on the Opposition side of the House?

I think the Government have made their position clear. It will be for the new Committee, once constituted, to determine the timings.

My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton made some points about the mechanics of how the asset freezing process works and the definition of those assets. It would probably be appropriate for me to write to her on that matter, because that is a technical process that I am not privy to this afternoon, and it would be difficult for me to give her satisfaction.

I fully agree with what is being proposed here with regard to Mr Lugovoy and Mr Kovtun, but the hon. Member for Glenrothes also raised the issue of unexplained wealth orders. That is an excellent piece of legislation, but to my knowledge only two unexplained wealth orders have been issued in the several years the legislation has existed. Can the Minister explain why so few have been issued?

My other point is about the Magnitsky amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018; it is a very important amendment, yet absolutely no action has been taken to draw up a list of individuals from Russia who should be sanctioned under the Magnitsky legislation.

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that those matters are broader than what we are discussing this afternoon. I certainly recognise the Government’s commitment to legislating in this area, and I know that the matter is under urgent consideration. I cannot offer any more comments on that at this point in time.

The prevalence of the use of unexplained wealth orders is an operational matter that I am not able to comment on. I am aware from previous conversations in the House, possibly with the hon. Gentleman, about the frustration that exists in this area, part of which is about establishing a precedent and a legal basis of confidence for moving forward with those matters, but I am not able to offer him more on that at this point.

I have a specific technical point. I would appreciate it if the Minister gave it consideration and perhaps wrote to me afterwards. As a lawyer who has read the schedule referring to legal professional privilege, I think it right that legal professional privilege should remain protected—that is, the privilege under paragraph 4, referring to counsel, barristers or solicitors, or to the confidentiality of communications, as it is known in Scotland. However, there is a little bit of confusion in paragraph 5(2), which adds, cryptically:

“Information and documentation is privileged if the person asked to provide or produce it would be entitled to refuse to do so on grounds of legal professional privilege”.

There is ongoing debate in the courts, both in Scotland and in England and Wales, about who can claim legal professional privilege. I am thinking of those regulated under the Solicitors Regulation Authority and others under the Legal Services Act 2007. Could the Minister write to us to confirm that this only applies to authorised persons in England and Wales—namely solicitors and barristers, and to solicitors and advocates in Scotland?

I am certainly very happy to look at that matter and write to my hon. Friend with clarification as soon as possible.

I have responded to the questions as best I can; I recognise that I have not given total satisfaction to everyone, but I hope that the reason and rationale for this order are clear. The Treasury continues to believe that the conditions set out in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 for making this order remain satisfied, and I commend the order to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Northamptonshire (Structural Changes) Order 2019

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: James Gray

† Aldous, Peter (Waveney) (Con)

† Atherton, Sarah (Wrexham) (Con)

† Baker, Duncan (North Norfolk) (Con)

† Bell, Aaron (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)

† Bowie, Andrew (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (Con)

† Bradley, Ben (Mansfield) (Con)

† Buchan, Felicity (Kensington) (Con)

† Colburn, Elliot (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)

† Cruddas, Jon (Dagenham and Rainham) (Lab)

† Foy, Mary Kelly (City of Durham) (Lab)

† Hall, Luke (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government)

† Huddleston, Nigel (Mid Worcestershire) (Con)

Johnson, Kim (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)

Lynch, Holly (Halifax) (Lab)

† McMahon, Jim (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)

† McGinn, Conor (St Helens North) (Lab)

† Sobel, Alex (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)

Ben Sneddon, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

The following also attended (Standing Order No. 118(2)):

Lewer, Andrew (Northampton South) (Con)

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 10 February 2020

[James Gray in the Chair]

Draft Northamptonshire (Structural Changes) Order 2019

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Northamptonshire (Structural Changes) Order 2019.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. The order was laid before Parliament on 28 October 2019. If approved by the House of Commons and the other place and made, it will implement the proposal to replace two-tier local government in Northamptonshire with two new unitary councils. The proposal was made on 31 August 2018 by seven councils in Northamptonshire in response to an invitation from the then Secretary of State.

The order provides for the establishment of new local government areas: a new district and a coterminous county to be known as North Northamptonshire, covering the existing districts of Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough; and a new district and a coterminous county to be known as West Northamptonshire, covering the existing districts of Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire.

The order establishes for each new district a new unitary council, to be known as North Northamptonshire Council and West Northamptonshire Council. It provides that from 1 April 2021 all eight existing local government areas—the county of Northamptonshire and the districts of Corby, Daventry, East Northamptonshire, Kettering, Northampton, South Northamptonshire and Wellingborough—are abolished. The councils for those areas will be wound up and dissolved.

Finally, the order provides for transitional arrangements. It includes provision to replace the district council elections in May 2020 with elections to new unitary councils, which will be shadow authorities until 1 April 2021. The existing district councillors’ terms of office will be extended to when the authorities are abolished.

The new unitary councils will create a new start for local government across Northamptonshire. The need for it was identified in the best value review of Northamptonshire County Council undertaken by Max Caller CBE. The review was commissioned by the Government in response to concerns about financial management at the county council. In his report of 15 March 2018, he recommended that local government in Northamptonshire should be reorganised into two unitary councils: one covering the areas of Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough; and the other covering Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire. That is exactly what the order provides.

Max Caller also recommended that commissioners should be appointed to stabilise the position of the county council until the new structures could be established. The Government responded to the recommendations and put in hand the necessary processes for establishing unitary councils. They also appointed Tony McArdle and Brian Roberts as commissioners. Working closely with the county council’s chief executive, Theresa Grant, they have ensured that the county council’s finances, while still fragile, will be a stable platform on which to establish the new councils.

The process for establishing unitary councils is set out in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. As a first step, the then Secretary of State issued on 27 March 2018 an invitation to all eight of the Northamptonshire councils to submit a proposal for local government restructuring. The invitation set out that the proposals should meet our long-standing criteria that restructuring should, if implemented, improve local government; be based on a credible geography; and command a good deal of local support. The invitation specified that a proposal should take account of the recommendation of the best value review that the two unitary, west and north, model is the preferred way forward, and wider regional issues such as how a new authority might be able to contribute to the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford growth corridor.

On 31 August 2018, seven of the eight authorities submitted a proposal for the two new unitary councils of North and West Northamptonshire. The councils’ submission included the results of the consultation exercise that had been undertaken. As required by the 2007 Act, the Government then launched on 29 November 2018 a further consultation on the proposal, which finished on 25 January 2019—386 responses were received.

On 14 May 2019, the then Secretary of State decided, subject to parliamentary approval of the necessary secondary legislation, to implement the proposal for the two new unitary councils. In reaching the decision, he carefully considered the material submitted by the councils, the results of the statutory consultation and all other relevant material.

The Secretary of State was satisfied that the unitary proposal met the three criteria that we have consistently applied when considering unitary proposals. First, he was satisfied that, if implemented, the proposal was likely to improve local government in Northamptonshire. In particular, it would: help to align infrastructure, housing and environment services to drive local growth; provide a clear point of contact for residents to access all council services; deliver advantages in health and wellbeing by enhancing social care and safeguarding services; improve education and skills provision; and deliver savings of an estimated £12 million per year within two years of the establishment of the new councils.

The Secretary of State’s judgment about the proposal improving local government was made on the basis of a children’s trust being established to cover the whole of Northamptonshire. That would ensure that children’s social care will not be disaggregated, with the trust discharging functions on behalf of both new councils. On 10 June 2019 the Secretary of State for Education issued a statutory direction requiring the county council to establish such a trust.

The Secretary of State’s judgment was also made on the basis that work continues in Northamptonshire to do more to integrate adult social care and health services. Health partners and councils continue to develop detailed health and adult social care integration plans. They have proposed outline system design principles and governance as a precursor to any possible formal integration.

Secondly, the Secretary of State was satisfied that the proposed two new unitary councils represent a credible geography to meet our assessment criteria. Thirdly, he was satisfied that the proposal, if implemented, would command a good deal of support. He reached that view having regard to the results of both the councils’ consultation and the statutory consultation. The results of the councils’ consultation included the fact that more than 67% of the 5,831 respondents agreed that the number of councils should be reduced. A representative residents survey demonstrated that absolute majorities of residents throughout the county and in each of the proposed unitary areas agreed with the proposal, with 74% overall, and 77% and 74% in west and north Northants respectively.

Furthermore, both the police and crime commissioner and the Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust are supportive of reducing the number of councils. The results of the consultation demonstrated that seven of eight councils in the area, all public sector partners and the local enterprise partnership support the two-unitary proposal.

The draft order provides for a range of measures to manage the transition to the new unitary councils. The measures have been discussed with all the Northamptonshire councils, and drafts of the order were shared with them. As far as possible, the order reflects the requirements of the area and local preferences.

The most significant details of the transitional arrangements are that the draft order will provide for the establishment of shadow authorities in May 2020, to which members will be elected in May 2020. The elections will be on the basis of three-member wards along the existing county electoral division boundaries. Those elected will serve as members of the shadow and new councils until May 2025. Subject to approval of this order, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England is expected to review the wards after April 2021, in time for the 2025 elections.

Until the shadow authorities are set up, a North Northamptonshire joint committee and a West Northamptonshire joint committee will lead the implementation. The membership of the committees specified in the order reflects local preferences and formalises existing arrangements.

The shadow authorities will be responsible for steering the transition to April 2021, including setting the 2021-22 budgets for the new councils. On 1 April 2021, the shadow authorities will take over all local government roles and responsibilities and be the new councils. This order specifies that the functions of the shadow authority are largely to be exercised by the shadow executive. The implementation phase is well under way and the existing joint committees are working hard to prepare the ground for the new shadow authorities and to ensure that the new councils are able to hit the ground running.

In conclusion, we are seeking to create a new start for local government for the people of Northamptonshire. Reorganisation provides an excellent opportunity to ensure that local people receive the high-quality services that they deserve, providing a fresh start and restoring faith in local government in Northamptonshire. All the existing councils have made it clear that they share those aims and are committed to the best services for their communities. The order delivers this and, on that basis, I commend it to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray.

None of this is new. We have been anticipating a conclusion and, in some ways, I welcome the fact that we are now beginning to get to the end. At least the local authorities that will be created there can begin to rebuild public services in their area. As time has gone by, without doubt public services in those areas have been affected.

We ought not to forget why we are here in the first place: the financial crisis that was created in Northamptonshire and led to commissioners going into the council. We are now at the end of the process, but it meant that spending on all but non-essential services stopped completely on two separate occasions. To help fund the gap, £17 million of capital was given, which effectively involved a fire sale of the assets owned by the county council. The reason for that was pretty self-evident. A lot of the neighbourhood services, regulatory services, public protection services and housing, which are delivered by the boroughs in metropolitan areas such as London, have been squeezed to help fund adult social care and children’s services. In a two-tier area, the county bears the pressure of adult social care and children’s services without the ability to squeeze the neighbourhood services that are being decimated elsewhere around the country.

There were particular problems in two-tier areas. The order will not resolve those structural problems, and neither will the fair funding review. The truth is that there is not enough money in the system to fund adult social care. That is relevant, because the funding base was why we have ended up with the reorganisation that we are now discussing and reaching a conclusion on. The fair funding review will mean that money is just being shifted around the system.

Order. The hon. Gentleman must stick to the statutory instrument that we are currently considering.

The Government will need to be able to convince not just the Opposition, but the residents of the two new unitary authorities, that there is enough money in the system to fund services. What is the point of reorganisation if it does not deal with the crisis that led to it in the first place?

I make this call whenever we discuss reorganisation, particularly in two-tier areas where there is not entire agreement among the component local authorities. When a new authority is created, there is sometimes a danger that, in order to assert its own identity, it almost tries to erase the identity of all that went before it. We need to make it clear that the people who administer public services in an area do not make the identity of the place. It is important that the historical identities of local communities are respected through the reorganisation, and that councillors keep an eye on that throughout the transition period.

I place on the record for Hansard my thanks to Councillor Tom Beattie, the leader of Corby District Council, for the fantastic work that he has done. I hope that one day Labour will control those two unitary councils, but I think that we are some way away from that. Councillor Beattie’s sterling work in steering Corby District Council over a number of years has not gone unnoticed, and I place on the record that he is one of our best in local government.

It has been a very turbulent time for councillors, public officials and the people who work for the local authorities concerned. Although there is not entire agreement among local councils that this is the right move, it will at least settle the matter. Hopefully they can rebuild and move on.

I thank the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton for his comments. I express my thanks to all members of the Committee and to you, Mr Gray, for chairing the debate.

In supporting the implementation of the proposal in Northamptonshire, we are helping the local authorities to serve their communities better and to deliver public services better for their residents. We are seeking to create a new start for local government in Northamptonshire by replacing the existing two-tier structure with two unitary councils. We are confident that the new councils will drive transformation in the delivery of local services and ensure the effectiveness of vital frontline services for the most vulnerable people through the establishment of the children’s trust.

I want to place on the record a perspective from a local Member. Although in some ways it was unfortunate that the order was not introduced before the recent general election, at least there was an opportunity to debate the proposal in the course of the election. It received the endorsement of the seven Conservative MPs who at the general election stood on a platform of achieving this change.

I thank my hon. Friend for that point and for his support, and I thank the Northamptonshire MPs for their constructive working throughout this process. Their engagement has been hugely helpful. I place on the record my thanks to all the council leaders who have been involved in the process.

Should it be approved on Wednesday, the local government settlement for next year means that core spending power in Northamptonshire will rise by 7.7%, or £32.9 million. There is a clear and strong case for implementing this locally led proposal. It meets our publicly stated criteria for local government reorganisation. The implementation phase is well under way, and we have full confidence in the area’s ability to implement the unitarisation by April 2021. The extended period means that we can be confident of a safe and effective transition to all the new service delivery arrangements across the whole area. Throughout the extended period, our commissioners will be able to continue to support the county council. All the existing councils have made it clear that they share the aims and are committed to providing the best services for their communities. It is vital that local people and staff have certainty about the future of local government in the area. This order achieves that. I therefore once again commend the order to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.