MPs clash over bill amendments

Opposition ministers have made fresh criticisms of provisions in the Localism Bill after it started its report stage in the House of Commons.

Amendments to the bill tabled by the government include provisions to apply a “proportionality test” to the general power of competence and require councils to publish any changes made to the members’ code of conduct.

Junior communities minister Andrew Stunell said amendments and new clauses to the legislation tabled by the government were each designed to improve the effectiveness of the bill.

Mr Stunell said a local authority could choose whether or not it adopted a code of conduct for its members, but it must be under a duty to publicise whether it had revised or abolished it.

Labour’s former local government minister Nick Raynsford intervened, saying: “The minister is putting a completely absurd proposition to the House that the local authority is going to be under a duty to publicise a code of conduct which it may decide not to have.

“Will he please recognise that this is a nonsense and abolishing the requirement there should be a code of conduct in every local authority in the country is a serious retrograde step which the government should be profoundly ashamed of.”

Despite its title, the bill has been criticised by opposition members and the Local Government Association for handing a range of powers to the Secretary of State.

Shadow communities minister for Barbara Keeley queried whether the proposed extra powers granted to the Secretary of State accorded with the spirit of the bill.

She said: “On new clause 12 [relating to councils’ governance arrangements] clearly the Minister has been talking about the limits on power and we are still very concerned about the 142 extra powers for the Secretary of State in the bill.”

Mr Stunell insisted the government was “committed to the radical decentralisation of power and control from Whitehall and Westminster to local government, back to local communities and individuals”.

“We are pushing power back down to the lowest possible level. This bill is about shaking up the balance of power and revitalising democracy.

“It will give power to councils, it will give power to communities, it will give power to voluntary groups and power to the people.

“Giving local authorities the power to take decisions that are right for their areas and giving to local people the power to implement those decisions.”

He added: “This government trusts local authorities to know what’s best for their areas, we trust local councils to know what they are doing and we are freeing up local government from the shackles of central government.

“The Localism Bill does just what it says on the label.”

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