Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ros in the Lords: Localism Bill, Committee Stage

Clause 4 : Limits on doing things for commercial purpose in exercise of general power
Debate on whether Clause 4 should stand part of the Bill.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I did not give notice of my intention to ask a question about Clause 4, but I have listened to the discussion on the previous group of amendments with some interest. Clause 4(1) gives me a certain amount of anxiety. The provision describes,
    "power on a local authority to do things for a commercial purpose only if they are things which the authority may, in exercise of the general power, do otherwise than for a commercial purpose".
Does that really just mean that if it is illegal to do it otherwise, they may not do it for a commercial purpose, or is there some inwardness here which perhaps I have not appreciated? It sounds almost tautologous. If a local authority cannot do something, presumably it cannot do it whether for a commercial purpose or otherwise, in which case why put it in the Bill? If there are differences or some distinction is being drawn here, I would be most grateful if my noble friend could explain it to me.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I want to join this brief exchange because I am developing an increasing sense of Alice in Wonderland. It feels as though we are operating in two worlds: the old world in which local authorities were only allowed to do things that were in statute, and the new world in which they are free to do anything unless they are barred. It is beginning to feel, in the context of this debate and future debates, that there is a real problem about being caught in the middle where local authorities will be stopped from doing a lot of the things that previous legislation allowed them to do. I am sorry, but I find it difficult to express the point, but I am sure that noble Lords are beginning to get a sense of what I mean. The question of how significant the general power really is, if local authorities are continually hampered by previous legislation, will become very important. It is an issue to which we will keep coming back.

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