Norwich MP challenges Tory leader over unitary claims

Sarah HallConservative leader David Cameron has been challenged by city MP Charles Clarke to back up his claim that it would be 'relatively simple' for a new Tory government to block the award of unitary status to Norwich.Sarah Hall

Conservative leader David Cameron has been challenged by city MP Charles Clarke to back up his claim that it would be 'relatively simple' for a new Tory government to block the award of unitary status to Norwich.

On a visit to Norwich last week, Mr Cameron said his party would rescind the order - which would create a super council for the city - within days of forming a new government.

Mr Cameron said: 'It can be done. It's something which the government rushed through. We've taken necessary advice and know it can be done relatively simply.

'The evidence is that it creates additional costs and stacks up bills for the taxpayers. People would rather a freeze on council tax than this, which stacks up bills.'

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That mirrored comments made by Caroline Spelman, shadow communities and local government secretary, who said in March that legal advice had shown revoking the unitary decision could be done by introducing a new order.

Ms Spelman said it would be a 'manifesto commitment' when the Conservatives unveiled their manifesto today .

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But Mr Clarke, who is hoping to hold onto the Norwich South seat for Labour, says advice he has received from the House of Commons Library shows the Conservative claims are wide of the mark and it would require an Act of Parliament to rescind it.

He will send a letter to Mr Cameron today , saying the assertions of how easy it would be for a new Conservative government to overturn the unitary status award are incorrect and constitutionally ill-informed.

He says the letter states 'absolutely categorically' that 'primary legislation would be required to revoke the Norwich and Norfolk (Structural Changes) Order'.

Primary legislation means an Act of Parliament would be needed, which can take up to nine months and has to pass through a series of readings in the Houses of Parliament and the House of Lords.

Mr Clarke, in his letter, calls on Mr Cameron to confirm that he accepts that reversal of Parliament's decision on unitary status for Norwich would require primary legislation, to publish the legal advice which Caroline Spelman used and to correct the statement that it would be 'relatively simple' to enact a u-turn.

In March, Ms Spelman said: 'The important thing is we would reverse it. 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… There's no question of us faltering. It's a manifesto commitment - absolutely.'

The first meeting of the implementation executive, which will oversee the creation of a Norwich unitary council, is due to meet publicly for the first time tomorrow .

The new unitary council is due to be set up by April 2011 and would see the new council responsible for delivering all services in the city, including education and social services - currently provided by the county council.

Do you want Norwich to become a unitary council? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email

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