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Unitary plans rubber stamped

PUBLISHED: 11:08 10 March 2010 | UPDATED: 17:00 30 June 2010

The Commons rubber-stamped the Norwich unitary council plan last night, voting for it by over 80 votes, after a debate in which communities secretary John Denham failed to speak up for his highly controversial decision.

The Commons rubber-stamped the Norwich unitary council plan last night, voting for it by over 80 votes, after a debate in which communities secretary John Denham failed to speak up for his highly controversial decision.

But the chances of the scheme being blocked in the Lords seemed to increase when it became known that some peers are discussing a move to delay a vote on it by up to three months.

With a general election expected on May 6, and with opinion polls predicting that Labour will lose its Commons majority, such a gambit could kill the statutory instrument that would give legal effect to the council restructuring in Norfolk.

With time running out on the election and parliament clocks, the government stirred up further controversy by sending a letter to Norfolk's councils urging them to use the proposed structural changes “to drive forward economic growth by creating more innovative and efficient services”.

The order to set up the all-services Norwich council has always been in greater danger in the Lords than in the Commons because the government does not have a majority in the upper house.

Peers cannot amend secondary legislation, and it is very rare for them to reject statutory instruments. But by voting to delay their consideration of the Norwich order, they could deliver it a fatal blow.

The idea has been gaining ground since the Lords' merits of statutory instruments committee published a damning report last week on the Norwich order and the thinking behind it.

Meanwhile, Mr Denham was accused of “cowardice” and “a complete cop-out” by Mid Norfolk MP Keith Simpson after leaving the Commons defence of his unitary decision to local government minister Rosie Winterton. A Tory motion opposing the scheme was rejected by 275 votes to 191.

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