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Fresh doubt over Norwich home rule plans

PUBLISHED: 07:54 26 March 2010 | UPDATED: 09:08 02 July 2010

Caroline Spelman, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government with Chloe Smith, left, MP for Norwich North

Caroline Spelman, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government with Chloe Smith, left, MP for Norwich North

Shaun Lowthorpe

Fresh doubts hang over Norwich's ambitions for self-rule after a senior Tory insisted the party would tear up plans approved by Parliament this week - if they win the looming general election.

Fresh doubts hang over Norwich's ambitions for self-rule after a senior Tory insisted the party would tear up plans approved by Parliament this week - if they win the looming general election.

Shadow local government secretary Caroline Spelman came to Norfolk yesterday to “set the record” straight over the Tories handling of the Norwich unitary issue in parliament - re-stating that the party would make a manifesto commitment pledge stop the new council in its tracks if it won the general election.

City Hall's unitary dream cleared parliament this week after Tory peers refused to break parliamentary convention and throw their weight behind a fatal Lib Dem motion - the only realistic chance of scuppering the plans.

Only one Tory peer, Viscount Ullswater, who is also a West Norfolk borough councillor, defied the party whip, and the climb down sparked angry allegations from Conservatives locally that the party had “bottled it”, and had fallen short of a clear commitment they had received from Central Office to stop the plans in the Lords.

Tory peers instead supported a motion of delay, which they insisted would see off the plans, by making the government think twice - but ministers waited barely two days before approving the orders on Wednesday.

Ms Spelman, who held a hastily arranged private meeting with Tory council leaders yesterday, insisted that the Tories had not caved in this week and had in fact secured an “impressive victory” in the Lords on Monday.

Privately many Norfolk Tories are sceptical about whether the party will have the inclination to kill off the city unitary, which will have been up and running since April 1, and are worried about the risk of further chaos and confusion.

But Ms Spelman insisted that the party would not go back on its commitment to torpedo the plans amid suggestions it could happen within the first two months of a new parliament.

“The important thing is we would reverse it,” she added. “We have taken legal advice and we can immediately place an order to rescind this piece of legislation.

“If we formed a government on May 7, we would immediately rescind this order as it wouldn't have happened in practice, the damage is too limited.”

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