Thursday, 9 December 2010

Where is the Localism Bill?

Today (9 December) was the day the much-trumpeted “Decentralisation and Localism Bill” was finally expected to emerge from the bowels of the DCLG, but after several previously promised dates had passed by with no Bill, it seems that today will be yet another occasion when the Bill fails to make its promised appearance. Those clowns in DCLG, headed by Chief Clown, Eric Pickles (who you must admit looks the part), just don’t seem to be able to get their act (or should that be Act?) together, and are becoming the laughing stock of Whitehall.

When pressed about the failure of the Bill to appear on any of the successive promised dates, DCLG won’t admit that they had ever fixed a date, despite the fact that the previously expected dates for the Bill’s appearance had emanated from within the Department, and publication of the Bill before now was in the Department’s ‘Business Plan’.

The precise reasons for the Bill’s continued failure to put in an appearance has been the subject of much speculation and rumour. It has been suggested that there are some inter-departmental ‘issues’ within Whitehall over the Bill’s contents, with accusations of lack of consultation and secretiveness on the part of DCLG.

I would expect a Bill as important as this one to be introduced in the Commons but, as you will have seen from one of my earlier posts, there may be difficulty in fitting it into the government’s legislative timetable, which may result in its being introduced in the Lords. As I observed in that earlier post, starting such a controversial bill in the Lords would be tendentious, to put it mildly.

Whichever route the Bill takes on its parliamentary passage, it is going to be January at the earliest before a Second Reading debate can be arranged in either House (whichever is chosen). Someone from DCLG was glibly predicting a few months ago that the Bill would attain Royal Assent by Easter. I observed at the time that they were living in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land if they thought that this was even remotely possible. It was always going to take until nearly the end of 2011 before the Bill was finally passed, and with the continuing delay in its appearance, it looks as though even that might be over-optimistic, and that it could now be 2012 before it finally emerges as an Act.

What’s the betting that Uncle Eric won’t be the Secretary of State after Cameron’s first cabinet reshuffle? That is likely to be in the summer recess next year, unless the coalition falls apart in the interim (unlikely in my view – I think the Lib Dems have decided to hang together rather than be hanged singly). If I were the Prime Minister I would clear out the whole of the DCLG’s ministerial team and start again, even with the Bill still going through parliament.

[UPDATE: The First Reading of the "Decentralisation and Localism Bill" is now listed for next Monday's parliamentary business in the Commons (i.e. Monday 13 December). This is a purely formal step, involving no debate, not even a ministerial statement, although we can no doubt expect some political blather in a press release from DCLG timed to coincide with the formal introduction of the Bill. In the Commons on Monday, the Clerk will simply read the name of the Bill and it will be ordered to be printed. I can't remember off-hand whether the date of the Second Reading debate will be announced at this stage. The text of the Bill may not be published for a few more days, but it should appear later in the week.]


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