Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ros in the Lords: Localism Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Here's another of Ros's interventions that I hadn't covered, from 28 June 2011...

Clause 31 : Power to require local or public authorities to make payments in respect of certain EU financial sanctions

Amendment 110

Moved by Lord Wigley

110: Clause 31, page 29, line 11, at end insert-

"( ) Only a Welsh Minister may require a local or public authority located in Wales to make a payment of an amount determined by the Welsh Minister in respect of any EU financial sanction imposed on the United Kingdom."

Ros picked up on the question of how blame is allocated, and what the effect might be on local authorities...

Baroness Scott of Needham Market (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, like many other noble Lords I share the concerns expressed about these provisions. I want to start by asking the Government to give us an absolute assurance that they are confident that legally an EU fine levied on a member state can then be passed on to a local authority. I am not entirely sure that that is the case and would appreciate being given some comfort that it is true. My personal preference would be to see these clauses deleted, because I am not sure that the Government entirely realise what a can of worms they are opening. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, talked about where it is clear who is to blame, but EU fines would be levied only for a huge infraction - for example, in connection with air quality. It is almost inconceivable that it would be easy to point a finger and say that a particular person or organisation was responsible.

In fact, a large number of organisations would be responsible. Seeing the noble Lord, Lord Berkley, reminds me of the situation within the rail industry, where there are hundreds of people employed to do nothing but allocate blame. Every time a train is late, they go into a little huddle and work out whether it was the fault of Network Rail or the operator. When I am stuck on a train, I do not much care. This Bill is supposed to connect people with local politicians. We could have a situation where legal arguments drag on for years and cost millions of pounds while arbitrators try to sort out exactly who is responsible for the air quality of London. In that case, who will pay the fine? The public will look with bemusement while this goes on and they will rightly ask, "Why on earth did you not spend that money trying to deal with air quality rather than have this huge legal battle?". I hope that the Government will think carefully about exactly what they are trying to do here.

Finally, it is a great pity that the whole dialogue and ethos of fining goes against everything we should be trying to do in terms of relationships between central and local government. It should be about looking at the best ways of resolving problems, not about allocating blame in this way and certainly not about allocating fines.

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