Moves to repeal plans for local government reorganisation in Devon and Norfolk have been condemned as “arrogant, dictatorial and brutal”.
Labour accused the coalition government of “shutting out” the desire of Exeter and Norwich City Councils to get unitary status, despite “genuine local appetite” for the changes.
But ministers said the proposals, contained in the Local Government Bill, would provide “certainty” to the regions and would also save £40m in reorganisation costs.
During the bill’s second reading debate in the Lords, local government minister Baroness Hanham (Con) accused Labour of wanting to carry out a “destructive” reorganisation while in office.
She claimed the bill was the embodiment of the coalition’s message of freedom, fairness and responsibility.
She told peers: “It brings freedom from an imposed restructuring, it restores fairness by redirecting those councils’ focus to serving communities and the people who elect them, and it encapsulates financial responsibility by putting a stop to wasteful public spending on restructuring.”
It allowed new opportunities for the councils involved to seek efficiencies without the “distraction” of reorganisation, she added.
But Labour spokesman Lord McKenzie of Luton, a former local government minister, said: “What this bill does in an arrogant, dictatorial and brutal way is to shut out Exeter and Norwich from the opportunity to become unitary councils, an outcome for which there is genuine local appetite, which in the case of Exeter has cross-party support and in the case of Norwich has the support of the Lib Dems, the Greens and Labour Party members.
“It is the desired outcome, not dictated or imposed by the government, but proposed by the democratically elected councils of these cities.”
The bill later received a second reading without a vote, but Lady Hanham said that because of the High Court ruling some parts of it may be “otiose” and would be dropped as it made its way through Parliament.