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Local Government Bill [H.L.]

– in the House of Lords at 8:20 pm on 1st February 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

House again in Committee.

Clause 23 [Power of Secretary of State to require referendum]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 8:37 pm, 1st February 2000

moved Amendments Nos. 221 and 222:

Page 12, line 35, at end insert ("for or in connection with").

Page 12, line 37, leave out ("require") and insert ("direct").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 223 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 224 to 234:

Page 12, line 38, leave out from ("arrangements") to end of line 39 and insert ("involving an executive which takes a particular form permitted by or under section 10.").

Page 12, line 41, leave out (", in particular,").

Page 12, line 41, leave out ("as to").

Page 12, line 42, at beginning insert ("as to").

Page 12, line 43, at beginning insert ("as to").

Page 12, line 43, leave out ("to") and insert ("which may, may not or must").

Page 12, line 43, after ("before") insert ("or in connection with").

Page 13, line 1, at beginning insert ("as to").

Page 13, line 1, leave out ("to") and insert ("which may, may not or must").

Page 13, line 1, at end insert (", and

( ) for or in connection with enabling the Secretary of State, in the event of any failure by a local authority to take any action permitted or required by virtue of the regulations, to take that action").

Page 13, line 2, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert--

("(3) The provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (2) includes provision which applies or reproduces (with or without modifications) any provisions of section 18, 19, 20 or (Operation of alternative arrangements).

(4) Nothing in subsection (2) or (3) affects the generality of the power under subsection (1).").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 235 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 23, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

I must confess that I find Clause 23 immensely depressing and I regret deeply that I should have to see such a clause in any legislation. Furthermore, I regret that the Government have felt it desirable to bring forward the clause.

Clause 23 provides that:

"The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision enabling him, in such circumstances as may be prescribed in the regulations"-- for which he is responsible--

"to require a local authority to hold a referendum on whether they should operate executive arrangements", and so forth. What an amazing vote of confidence in his own proposals that the Secretary of States feels that he must have regulatory power to force local authorities to do what is required here. I am sorry; I find that very depressing.

When one looks at the draft regulations, one finds that it appears to the Secretary of State that the authority has not drawn up this or that, or that it has drawn up this without having done that, or that the authority's proposals do not comply with this or that. And it goes on and on. It does not quite say at the end, "and in such other circumstances as the Secretary of State thinks are appropriate", but it jolly nearly comes to that. That seems to be something which I should find slightly encouraging because it indicates that the Secretary of State has no confidence in his own proposals and therefore he does not believe that people will go through willingly with what is proposed in the legislation. Therefore, he needs to reserve power to force them to do so.

That may be the way of new Labour. If it is, in due time they will pay for that arrogance. I do not believe that that is the proper way for this country to go forward; still less do I believe that it is a proper way to treat democratically elected authorities which might be supposed to have a will of their own. For that reason it seemed to me that it would be preferable that Clause 23 be excised from the Bill. It is with that in mind that I tabled the Motion that Clause 23 should not stand part of the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I feel that the noble Lord is reading rather more into the intentions behind this clause than his speech would suggest. We have already made a draft of the regulations, which set out what an authority must do in that respect. I see that the noble Lord has already marked the sentence. Therefore, he will know that all those circumstances relate to a situation where a local authority either does not comply with the legislation or guidance in drawing up its proposals or, alternatively, it does not have regard to the wishes of local people following a period of consultation in line with that guidance and legislation; in other words, a local authority will have decided either to opt out entirely from the word go or to ignore the will of the people once it has been sought.

We do not believe that there will be many such situations. However, we believe that the power is necessary to deal with isolated cases of abuse and to avoid the necessity in those circumstances of having to resort to the courts where an authority does not comply with the legislation. There is nothing more sinister than that behind the clause. Its purpose is to deal with situations of abuse or possibly inertia on the part of local authorities when moving to executive arrangements, which is the whole objective of the legislation. It is simply a safeguard to ensure that councils comply with the legislation and progress to new constitutions at a reasonable pace. It does not give us, nor would we wish to have, powers arbitrarily to require local authorities to hold referendums or to intervene in other circumstances. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

It is only because I have stood opposite the Minister for so long and begin to have an element of faith in his words that I feel inclined not to pursue the matter further. However, I shall need to study exactly what he said before I determine absolutely not to deal with the issue at some point further down the line. I am grateful to him for his reply, which certainly helps. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Clause 23, as amended, agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 236:

After Clause 23, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:POWER TO REQUIRE REFERENDUM

(".--(1) The Secretary of State may by order make provision requiring every local authority, or every local authority falling within any description of authority specified in the order, to hold a referendum on whether they should operate executive arrangements involving an executive which takes such form permitted by or under section 10 as may be specified in the order.

(2) The provision which may be made by an order under this section includes provision--

(a) as to the date on which, or the time by which, a referendum must be held,

(b) as to the action which may, may not or must be taken by a local authority before or in connection with a referendum,

(c) as to the action which may, may not or must be taken by a local authority after a referendum,

(d) for or in connection with enabling the Secretary of State, in the event of any failure by a local authority to take any action permitted or required by virtue of the order, to take that action.

(3) The provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (2) includes provision which applies or reproduces (with or without modifications) any provisions of sections 18, 19, 20 or (Operation of alternative arrangements).

(4) Nothing in subsection (2) or (3) affects the generality of the power under subsection (1).").

[Amendment No. 236A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 236, not moved.]

Amendment No. 236 agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 237:

After Clause 23, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:INFORMATION WITH RESPECT TO DISCHARGE OF FUNCTIONS ETC

(".--(1) A local authority which is operating executive arrangements must prepare and keep up to date a document (referred to in this section as their constitution) which contains--

(a) such information with respect to the discharge of their functions (including functions which are the responsibility of the executive) as the Secretary of State may direct,

(b) a copy of the authority's standing orders for the time being,

(c) a copy of the authority's code of conduct for the time being under section 36, and

(d) such other information (if any) as the authority consider appropriate.

(2) A local authority must ensure that copies of their constitution are available at their principal office for inspection by members of the public at all reasonable hours.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 24 [Guidance]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 238:

Page 13, line 11, leave out subsection (2).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 239 and 240 not moved.]

Clause 24, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 25 [Elected mayors]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 241 and 242:

Page 13, line 27, leave out ("of") and insert ("made by or under").

Page 13, line 27, at end insert--

("(1A) Except to the extent that regulations made by the Secretary of State under this section otherwise provide, an elected mayor of a local authority is to be treated for the purposes of the enactments relating to local government as a member and councillor of the authority.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 243 not moved.]

Clause 25, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 [Voting at elections of elected mayors]:

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 243A:

Page 13, line 38, leave out subsection (1).

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

In moving Amendment No. 243A, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 245A, 245B and 245C. This group of amendments deals with the voting system for the election of a mayor, should such an election take place. Perhaps I may say straight away that, contrary to popular impression, I have spent over 30 years in the Liberal and Liberal Democrat Party and have not spent all my time talking about different voting systems. I recognise that those issues do not greatly excite people, but apparently that is not the case here tonight.

This is an extremely important issue. Should we come to electing a mayor, as in London we shall be doing shortly, it is important that the person who is elected can demonstrate that he demands substantial support. The purpose of our amendments is to substitute the supplementary vote system proposed in the Bill with the alternative vote system. There are important differences. I am fortunate in that the way that the alternative vote system works is set out extremely clearly in Amendment No. 245B. I do not need to take the time of the Committee tonight nor test my intellectual abilities in explaining that.

The defects of the supplementary vote system, which has the effect of eliminating all but the top two candidates, mean that if there are four or more candidates, which is most likely in any mayoral election, the voters who have to decide on their second preference will have to try either to determine that their second preference vote may well be wasted because their favoured candidate will be eliminated or try to determine who, in effect, will come second. Whatever the rightness or wrongness of their choice, it means that, for many, their second choice will be wasted. The result will be that the successful candidate very likely will be elected with the support of less than half the people who turned out to vote. If we are investing the power that we are in an elected mayor, it must be important that that person is able to demonstrate that he has genuine popular support.

We did not succeed in persuading the Government of the rightness of this system for London, but we now offer them another opportunity. I am sure that in the months since we dealt with this issue in the GLA Bill, the Minister will have reflected further and seen the weaknesses of the system that the Government have inflicted upon us for London. They will not wish to repeat that mistake for the rest of the country and will now recognise the support which exists for the elections to take place under the alternative vote system. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lipsey Lord Lipsey Labour

Unlike the noble, Lord Tope, I have spent much of my life thinking about electoral systems. I was going to suggest that we all put on our anoraks for the next hour! However, having listened to this afternoon's debate, I find that there is a subject still more "anorakial", if I may coin that word, than electoral reform, and that is local government reform. That is a subject discussed with lightness and levity compared to the debates we have had this afternoon. Nevertheless, it is a very important subject on which I wish to detain the Committee for a couple of moments.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that I find it slightly ironic that this amendment should come from the Liberal Democrat side of the Committee because the whole purpose of the electoral system is to find the most legitimate way of electing a mayor. Members on that side of the Committee are not terribly keen on mayors in any event. Therefore, I am not quite sure why they should rally to this cause.

I am extremely keen on elected mayors and I want to see the best possible system. That is why I intervene in this debate. The Government have chosen an extremely respectable method for the choice of mayor. It is better by tons than the first-past-the-post system. If we had a first-past-the- post system for electing a mayor, according to some calculations which I did this afternoon, it is quite likely that the winning candidate would have the support of less than 10 per cent of the electors in his area. That would not be much of a legitimacy for him to carry into action.

Therefore, the SV is a perfectly respectable system. It has a number of strong features to commend it. It was the choice of the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Plant for national elections. It is nice and simple. Academic research has found that people like using it. It does not give weight to people's mild choices. It does not matter whether you prefer the Green Party to the Monster Raving Loony Party because those parties are well down on the list of most voters. But that system was chosen for London and there is a sort of Occam's Razor effect in the electoral system as there is in matters philosophical. So there is a case of substance there which is why that system was chosen for London.

On the other hand, there is a strong list of features which should commend AV to the Committee. It was the choice of another committee--that chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, on which I had the great privilege to sit--for electoral reform for Westminster. It is simple to use. Indeed, it is used for the lower House in Australia where there is compulsory voting and, therefore, it is not necessarily the case that every voter is the enthusiastic expert who goes to the polls in this country.

It gives voters more freedom. For example, they can choose between the Green Party and the Fascist Party, which for many of us would be quite an important choice to make. And crucially--and this was the point to which the noble Lord referred--it is the only system which means that when the last ballots are counted, the winning candidate invariably has more than half the votes. That is a powerful case for the AV.

As regards a change since the Bill for London, I would have thought for that Bill it was even-Stevens: there was a case for the SV; there was a case for the AV; and I certainly do not criticise the Government for opting for the SV. But let us look at the concrete situation in which we find ourselves. SV is fine so long as there are only three serious candidates, which has been the case in the country until now. It works fine. But let us suppose in a couple of weeks' time, as I richly hope, my party chooses Frank Dobson as its standard bearer and let us suppose that Ken Livingstone runs as an independent and the Liberals have their charming Mrs Kramer and the Conservatives have their charming Mr Norris. In that case, people's third and fourth preferences may become terribly important.

I know that some members of my own party-- I would not necessarily count myself among them--would do anything to stop Ken Livingstone being chosen. They want to be able to put him fourth. But under the SV system, they do not have that choice. It is only their first two choices which will count and, therefore, they do not have that fully articulated option to express their choices right through.

What has happened in London may happen in other cities. I can imagine situations in which the three parties put forward candidates and some local dignitary or independent puts himself forward. The people there should have the full choice which the AV grants them. We cannot tell the future, but if we were looking again now at a system for London, although I believe the Government made a perfectly good choice at the time, the system of AV would have been better in the situation in which we find ourselves.

Therefore I ask the Minister to reflect on these questions. I hope that the amendment will not be pressed this evening because the issues require serious consideration. I ask him to go further at a later stage and tell the House that, having reconsidered the arguments, he now sees the case made out for the alternative vote.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I see the Conservative Front Bench has no role to play in the slightly esoteric argument taking place among the electoral reformers.

I have considered the alternative proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Indeed, it was considered at some length during the deliberations of the commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield. It may be that that was not the final word of wisdom on the matter. I know that my noble friend Lord Lipsey has sat on other commissions and my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton has had the distinction of being a member of all of them. Therefore, she is probably the greatest source of wisdom on these matters.

Nevertheless, there is a difficulty in accepting the view put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. It may be said that one difficulty we brought upon ourselves; namely, that we have already adopted the supplementary vote system for London. But having done so, the system must have some clarity about it in terms of how the votes are designated. Most people can move quite easily from putting one cross on a ballot paper to putting two. The final run-off, in effect, is between two persons. Therefore, there is a clear choice. It provides a clear solution. It is simple and easy to understand and results in a clear winner.

But even if I were slightly hesitant in those arguments, the fact that we have already chosen one system for London is important in that respect. That system has been chosen for the election of a mayor of London, which is the highest-profile contest that we are likely to see, and some people will say, "Thank goodness for that". The election of a mayor for London will be a high profile political event. Why should we have a different system and how do we explain the need for a different system to the electorates of those other authorities which choose to elect a mayor?

My noble friend Lord Lipsey has explained to the Committee the supplementary vote system. It has certain advantages. The alternative vote system also has advantages and I accept that the balance is a fine one. Nevertheless, I do not believe that there is a clear argument for departing from the decision which we took in relation to London when choosing the system for the election of mayors of other cities and local authorities. Therefore, I am not moved to accept the amendment and I understand that we may return to this matter when we shall probably have a longer and even more arcane debate. However, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Tope, not to pursue the issue this evening.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I shall write down "amendment for Report" now. Before my noble friend responds, perhaps I can ask the Minister to accept that in the alternative vote system, although electors may vote all the way down a list, they need vote only for one, two or three or however many candidates they choose to vote for.

Many of us who advocate the system recognise its benefits in allowing that amount of flexibility but also in allowing, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, indicated, one to show one's opposition to a candidate as well.

I am sure that my noble friends have had the experience which I have had. We use the system of single transferable votes within our party for internal elections. There have been several occasions when I have had quite clear views as to those I would not want to see elected. I have worked on the ballot paper, starting from the top, down a few, then to the bottom and up for a few and then filled in the middle.

Given that we seem to be moving so fast in the direction of "personality politics", there may well be occasions in mayoral elections when certain candidates will raise strong feelings among the electorate, both in favour of and against. The alternative vote system would allow those feelings against to be expressed in a way that is not possible with the supplemental vote system.

As we continue with the Bill I gain the increasingly distinct impression, perhaps wrongly, that because mayors in general were thought to be a good thing, Downing Street--maybe particularly the Prime Minister--felt that there should be mayors up and down the country. We are in a situation where we have to work towards that somehow, however many problems are identified and analysed in the legislative process. To say that because we have a particular voting system in London we must therefore apply it directly in other cities and districts seems in no way to support intellectually the argument for mayors. I believe that such argument is becoming weaker as we continue with the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat 9:00 pm, 1st February 2000

Perhaps I may point out that most people are perfectly capable of ranking 15 items in order of preference, let alone four or five.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

I am not surprised that the Minister rejected the amendments. On these Benches, one tends to get used to that. However, I was disappointed with the way in which he dismissed not my arguments but the much more able and experienced arguments of his noble friend and, indeed, those of his own party's electoral commission and all the bodies with which the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, was involved. I am pleased to see that the noble Baroness has joined us for this part of the debate.

I hope I do not do the Minister an injustice by saying that all the arguments are dismissed on the grounds that the mistake has been made once in London. Perhaps it is a mistake recognised with hindsight on his Benches but, I have to say, not on ours. Therefore, having got it wrong for London, the same mistake has to be inflicted on the rest of the country. That appears to be almost exactly what he was saying.

He also appears to say that the British electorate is not capable of writing down, "1, 2, 3, 4, 5" instead of "X, X". The Minister is not a patronising man. However, that was a patronising statement, although I am sure unintended. I am disappointed by the way in which the Minister dismissed the arguments. I suspect he did so because his brief required it of him rather than because his head told him to do so.

As he goes home and thinks about the issue--I am sure he will think of little else tonight--I hope that he will perhaps consider the plea, not from these Benches but from his own, to reflect further before the same mistake is made for the rest of the country as is now being demonstrated has been made for London. This small change in the voting system is important. It could easily be made and is one which the Government should now adopt. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 244:

Page 13, line 39, leave out from ("have") to end of line 4 on page 14 and insert ("one vote and the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes shall be returned as the elected mayor").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, will not think it ironic to find the Conservative Party trying to change the system of voting for mayors back to first-past-the-post. At least there is an element of consistency in what we advocate. Not only that, we advocate a system which appears to satisfy everybody in the other place. There seems to be no sign at present that they have any wish to change it. One might have thought, therefore, that the first-past-the-post system, which has the merit of even greater simplicity, if perhaps an element of unjust brutality, would be preferable to devising even more complex systems of voting than the one inflicted on London.

The whole authority is an experiment as the Greater London Authority does not exist. It is just being brought into being. Perhaps, therefore, it is not unreasonable to have an experimental system when dealing with an experimental authority. If the Government had been prepared to sit back, draw a deep breath and wait to see how it worked before inflicting the system on the rest of the country, I might have been more willing to go along with what I would call the direction of their legislation. I nearly said "the drift" of their legislative programme. As stated by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, they appear to be committed to a system in which mayors are a good idea, therefore everybody should have them.

In many parts of the country the local government system, although interfered with over the years by numerous governments, has nonetheless been in existence for a long time. We are dealing with longstanding responsible bodies which know exactly the meaning of local administration and do it well. Nonetheless, they are to be changed. If they are to have elected mayors, they will also have inflicted upon them this marginal system of proportional representation. The British people are adaptable and will make of it the best they can. However, as in so many things, I expect that they would prefer the system with which they are familiar. It may not always produce the most just result. However, if we were to explore the result of the last general election there could be some argument about justice and the fact that the Government received fewer votes in 1997 than their predecessors, the Conservative government, in 1992. The difference in results is extraordinary.

However, that is the system we accept and it would seem reasonable to argue for it. Amendment No. 244 would bring that about. If Amendment No. 244 is accepted, Amendment No. 245 would not be necessary. Schedule 2 appears after this amendment. However, perhaps it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to it at the same time. Schedule 2 would also be unnecessary in the event that Amendment No. 244 is accepted. That is the reason why Schedule 2 be agreed to is on the Marshalled List. I do not intend to discuss it again. I understand the procedure, that it must be separate, but I shall certainly not speak to it again.

Our position is clear. We are convinced that the ground on which we are standing is perfectly adequate. I am not optimistic that the Minister will accept my remarks. But if he were to try to impose on Members of Parliament in the other place what he is trying to impose on local government, he might have an interesting debate on his hands. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is right in divining my intentions in relation to this amendment. I regret that I cannot accept it.

The Government have the benefit of consistency, albeit slightly less long-run than the consistency of the party opposite in defending first-past-the-post to the last ditch in all circumstances and at all times, in that we consider that our proposal in relation to the supplementary vote to be the appropriate one for mayoral contests. We enacted that in relation to London and consider it to be appropriate here.

We do not consider the first-past-the-post system to be appropriate for a mayor. As alluded to in the previous debate, it could lead to a mayor in a four-sided contest succeeding with around 28 per cent of the vote. That is not an appropriate way in which a mayor for any local authority should be elected. Therefore, though I have some intellectual cross-over with those advocating the alternative rather than the supplementary vote and feel that there is a fine argument in that regard, I do not feel that there is a fine argument here.

We cannot read across from Westminster seats, whatever one's view may be on how we elect people to the other place. For the institution of mayor we must have a result which at least means that a substantial proportion of the population voted for the mayor either as first or second choice, and not just a potential minority as the amendment suggests. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will not proceed.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

I hear what the Minister says. He may well end up with a minority mayor whatever happens if he finishes up with only a 30 per cent poll. So one has a problem. However, I have said what I have said. I do not withdraw any of it, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments No. 245 and 245A not moved.]

Clause 27 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Election of elected mayor]:

[Amendment No. 245B not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 28 [Entitlement to vote]:

[Amendment No. 245C not moved.]

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 [Power to make provision about elections]:

[Amendment No. 246 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 246A:

Page 14, line 21, at end insert--

("( ) the requirements for nomination of candidates for the position of elected mayor, and").

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

In moving Amendment No. 246A, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 246B and C and 247A.

The first of these amendments seeks to insert in Clause 29 a requirement for the Secretary of State to make regulations as to the nomination of candidates for the position of elected mayor. I included this provision as I am not clear that it is otherwise covered. It seems to me that some attention needs to be paid to the number of nominators that a candidate for the position should have. If a potential elected mayor needs nominations only from the same number of electors as any other councillor, I question whether that would be appropriate. The number for councillors is not large and an elected mayor would, by definition, be representing and dealing with a much wider area. It may be that the Government have in mind a multiple of the number of nominations needed by a candidate to be a councillor. But this is a matter which needs attention.

Amendments Nos. 246B and C deal with the question of elections for the return of elected mayors. I sought to include two relevant points, referring not just to mayors but also to other members of an executive who are directly elected. It seems to me that the way in which the elections of a directly-elected cabinet are dealt with should be set on a fairly similar basis to that which applies to the return of elected mayors. Finally, Amendment No. 247A deals with a similar point to that covered by Amendment No. 246A. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for the issues that she has raised on these amendments. We do not believe that Amendments Nos. 246A and 247A are necessary because the Government already propose powers in the Bill to make such regulations.

Clause 29 already proposes to enable the making of regulations about the conduct of elections by applying or incorporating previous enactments with or without modification. That includes legislation on nomination requirements for candidates. In addition, government Amendment No. 242, to which I spoke during the first day in Committee, provides that the mayor is a councillor and a member (including nomination requirements for candidates) unless regulations provide otherwise. Therefore, we consider that Amendments Nos. 246A and 247A are unnecessary.

However, we broadly agree with the points made by the noble Baroness in speaking to Amendments Nos. 246B and 246C. In fact, this issue goes wider than Clause 29 of the Bill; indeed, it applies equally to other clauses, in particular Clauses 25, 26, 27 and 28. Therefore, we wish to take the matter away and consider it carefully before returning to the Chamber. In the light of my response, I hope that the noble Baroness will not feel it necessary to press her amendments tonight.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for her reply. I wonder whether she can tell the Committee what the Government have in mind with regard to the number of nominations for an elected mayor. Is this a matter that has been considered?

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

We have not yet come to a firm view on whether the nomination requirements for mayoral candidates should differ from those for other councillors. We would like to give the matter further consideration. Perhaps it will be helpful if I point out that regulations under Clause 29 will be subject to the draft affirmative procedure and, as I have already indicated, subject to consultation with the electoral commission once it is established. Therefore, this Chamber will have another opportunity to debate the issue when those regulations are considered.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for that further response. By now she will be very clear that our view is that the number of nominations required for a candidate for elected mayor should be rather more substantial than for a councillor. I am aware of the difficulties that at least one of the independent candidates for mayor of London is having. He is spending all his time going round the boroughs gathering up the 330 signatures that are required, but that figure may be on the high side for mayors outside London. I am grateful to the Minister for her comments about Amendments Nos. 246B and 246C, and beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 246A.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 246B and 246C not moved.]

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat 9:15 pm, 1st February 2000

moved Amendment No. 247:

Page 14, line 24, at end insert ("and

(c) the recall of the Mayor in the event of a loss of confidence and the filling of a casual vacancy").

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

This amendment would give the Secretary of State power to make regulations to provide for the recall of the mayor, should that become necessary and appropriate. I am, again, conscious that we are returning to a subject that we debated on a number of occasions during the progress of the GLA legislation. We failed to convince the Government at that time. However, it is possible that, during the course of events in the Conservative Party before Christmas, the Government began to wonder whether they were right to resist this proposal. I suspect that they may be wondering even more now as regards events which may well unfold in their own party in two or three weeks' time.

We are discussing an extremely important issue. In the case of an elected mayor, whether in London or, with slightly less profile but still high profile, in other major cities, we are vesting in one person very considerable power; and, indeed, even greater profile and influence. I do not put forward lightly the proposal that such a person should easily be recalled simply through any party shenanigans, for whatever reason. But the fact that such a person should be elected for four years and be beyond any recall--subject, of course, to the law of the land--must surely be wrong.

I cannot think of any other elected politician in this county--or, for that matter, in most other countries--with considerable personal power who cannot be recalled for any matter other than clearly breaking the law, or going demonstrably mad. Surely we should have some provision for the recall of a mayor in circumstances upon which we may speculate tonight, but perhaps it would be better not to do so. We can all envisage circumstances when that action might become necessary and it is clearly unsatisfactory at that stage to find that nothing can be done.

I am aware that when we discussed the GLA Bill the amendments we sought to move were objected to at least in part as a consequence of the different mechanisms that we suggested for recalling the mayor. I accept that that was only part of the argument, but it was certainly a part of it. In this amendment we seek to give that power to the Secretary of State to determine. The Secretary of State, of course, can do no wrong and will be far more capable of dealing with this matter than the humble Members on these Benches trying to construct amendments. However, I say in all seriousness that I hope this amendment concentrates on the principle of the issue rather than on the mechanics of achieving the outcome which we seek. The principle is extremely important. We should not allow people to attain such considerable personal power without any means of recalling them under any circumstances. I hope that the Government will give this issue further consideration. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

As the noble Lord said, during the passage of the GLA Bill we discussed this matter several times in connection with the role of the mayor. The question of recall of the mayor became a matter of relatively high drama in this Chamber. I suspect that the arguments behind the amendment will resurface. However, we do not even know what mechanism the noble Lord proposes, as he proposes handing responsibility for the mechanism of removal to the Secretary of State to prescribe in regulations. At least during the passage of the GLA Bill several different mechanisms to remove the mayor of London were proposed. I objected to all of them on the principle that one group of elected politicians should not be able to take a decision--I was going to say "conspire"--to remove another directly elected politician. That does not apply in any other part of our constitution.

It is not correct to say that there is no means of removing the mayor; indeed, the noble Lord in effect referred to them. The mayor will be subject to the law of the land and to local government regulations. Demonstrable insanity is catered for in local government provisions, as it was in the London Bill. Should a mayor be removed for political reasons, or should this important office be subject to recall on the basis of a political arrangement by other elected politicians? We have a judicial procedure in the event of crime being committed. If, however, it is a case of political misdemeanours as viewed by the mayor's opponents within the council, or by some other group that regulations may prescribe, I do not believe that is a legitimate case for recall and I would resist any amendment on those lines.

I accept that there is a slightly stronger argument for recalling a mayor through popular mandate: that is, through a petition or through the demand of a minimum number of the electorate. However, at what figure does one pitch a petition or trigger a ballot to make it legitimate as a means of overthrowing the decision of the majority of the electorate--if the mayor is elected on a majority, or a number close to a majority--without making it appear ludicrously high and unattainable? Therefore there are problems of legitimacy as regards any political means of attempting to recall the mayor.

I do not accept that that is a sensible way to deal with an office which we expect to last a full four-year term and to be responsible for delivering a wide range of services. I do not accept that the mayor should be restricted or recalled because perhaps he or she is not of the same political persuasion as the majority, or a temporary majority, of the council, or there is an issue on which the 5 per cent threshold--if that is to be the relevant threshold of the electorate--might be mobilised through good organisation. It would gravely inhibit the mayor to carry out a four-year strategic approach to his or her task on the basis that such a response as I have described might be provoked if a particular issue was unpopular.

I therefore oppose the amendment in principle in relation to political removal. It is there already in practice in terms of legal crimes and Local Government Act crimes; it is not necessary to get the Secretary of State, with his admittedly vast ingenuity, to draft regulations which would enable the removal of a mayor part-way through his or her term. I oppose the amendment. I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue it.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

I am perhaps a little less surprised at that response, although I am still saddened that we cannot move the Minister even on the principle.

I accept entirely that any measure to remove an elected mayor should not be taken lightly and only in the most extreme circumstances. We would all hope that such circumstances would never arise. But it is probable that, sooner or later, somewhere they will arise. Let us take, first, the circumstances under current legislation in which a mayor could be removed. Demonstrable insanity is not always easy to demonstrate; sometimes it takes some time to do so. Indeed, some would say that insanity is demonstrated merely by wishing to seek the office in the first place. However, in all seriousness, insanity is not easily demonstrated. It also takes time to prove criminal activity through the judicial process. During such processes, the administration of the area concerned is undoubtedly paralysed and polarised.

I understand the principle that concerns the Minister--I share that concern--that someone who has been democratically elected should not easily be removed from office. That is important. One of our proposals under the GLA Bill--I do not want particularly to return to these matters--was described as the nuclear option. In a city as large as London, any popular vote in terms of petition numbers and so on was a practical impossibility. We suggested that the members of the assembly, by a very large majority--I forget the exact figure--should have the right to dismiss the mayor but, in so doing, would dismiss themselves as well. No assembly is likely to vote by a large majority for such an option unless it is absolutely necessary, because its members would then be facing the electorate and having to justify the action they had taken. I thought that was a very fair proposal to deal with such circumstances--which we hope will never arise, but might--in a city as large as London.

We have deliberately not chosen mechanics, which would give the Minister another easy option to shoot us down, but rather we have tried to concentrate on the principle that unfettered power to an individual should not be allowed. There should be some means of recalling a mayor under extreme circumstances without a lengthy and paralysing judicial process in regard to criminal matters or in regard to matters of sanity or insanity.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I apologise to the Committee. I was reminded when the noble Lord said "under extreme circumstances" that there was one measure I failed to mention in my previous remarks--that is, that the new ethical framework will apply to the mayor as it will to other office holders. Therefore the question of disqualification or suspension could arise in that context. Again that is not a political removal but a quasi judicial removal. I thought, for the record, that the noble Lord should recognise that that circumstance is already covered.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

I am pleased to hear that. Again, I do not think that that adequately covers the point. Now is not the time to press the matter further, although I suspect that we shall return to it at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 247A not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 247B:

Page 15, line 1, leave out subsection (4) and insert--

("(4) The return of an elected mayor at an election may be questioned in accordance with any enactment or regulation enabling the questioning of the return at an election of a member or councillor of a local authority.").

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I shall not take long. Subsection (4) of Clause 29 provides that no return of an elected mayor is to be questioned other than by an election petition. My amendment reverses that and gives me the opportunity to ask the Minister what the Government are excluding in the subsection. It appears to provide greater protection for the mayor than for other elected councillors and that requires justification on the record. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip 9:30 pm, 1st February 2000

As currently drafted, subsection (4) of Clause 29 provides that mayoral elections may be challenged only by election petitions under regulations which apply the provisions of Part III of the Representation of the People Act 1983. This deals with the procedure for questioning local elections. Amendment No. 247B would replace that with wording which seeks to apply automatically the Representation of the People Act provisions about the questioning of elections. The noble Baroness's amendment would therefore appear to be unnecessary since it only seeks to achieve what regulations made under the current version of the subsection will achieve. The benefit of doing this by regulations is that they will be able to take account of the particular circumstances of mayoral elections where necessary. The noble Baroness's amendment does not allow for such fine tuning. I hope that she will feel able to withdraw it.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

It may be the time of night, but I am not sure what the Government are achieving here. Perhaps I had better read what the Minister said. It is inappropriate that the problems arising from the election of councillors are dealt with in primary legislation but in the case of an elected mayor are to be excluded from primary legislation and dealt with in secondary legislation. If anything, the regulations dealing with the election of mayor should be on the face of the statute, as is the case with elected councillors. It is a great pity that yet again something which was thought by previous Parliaments to be sufficiently important to be included in statute is being taken out of primary legislation and left for secondary legislation. However, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 29 agreed to.

Clause 30 [Provisions with respect to referendums]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 248:

Page 15, line 7, leave out ("five") and insert ("three").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

I would not wish to raise the Minister's hopes that I have suddenly become a convert to the desirability of having many referendums just because I have tabled this amendment. If that were the case, the certifiable condition referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, might well be applied to me. It would certainly be certifiable inconsistency!

The amendment was tabled in the expectation, which, as I suspected, would not be borne out, that we could enable local authorities to reverse out of the cul-de-sac which the Minister was driving them into by giving them an option to have a referendum to return to a more traditional form of administration. That is not the case, but it was the motivation behind the amendment. Therefore, when the time comes I shall seek to withdraw it. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

I rise to speak to Amendment No. 249 standing in my name. I seek to amend the provision because it seems wishy-washy. When does a five-year period start? By the time one reaches the referendum process, the authority will have produced a lawful scheme, consulted locally, notified the Secretary of State and made the many and far-reaching changes consequent upon the proposal. Therefore, the start of the five-year period should relate to the passage of the resolution under Clause 20(1). That gives us a cut-off period so that the local authority knows from when the five-year period is to run. Otherwise, I suspect that the matter will have to be set out in regulations.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Amendment No. 257A is in this group. It may seem unnecessary and I hope that the Minister will tell me that it is. It seeks to establish that the term "referendum" as used in the Bill means a referendum under the provisions of the Bill--or the Act, as it will be. It seems a matter of common sense that the Secretary of State's regulation-making power in respect of referendums cannot extend to referendums on other legislation. All the amendment seeks is confirmation of that point.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I regret that I cannot accept any of the amendments. In relation to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, we considered the five-year period for some time. It seems to us the most sensible period for a number of reasons. The principal reason is that it does not seem sensible that, having introduced a new executive structure, within the first term of that executive structure there should be another process started for yet another change. We therefore consider that the period between referendums would have to be at least four years and, in reality and in practice, five years; after the end of a full term.

With regard to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, I take the point about having a clear start date. It may well be that that needs to be dealt with in regulations. However, the amendment as drafted would have a perverse effect. Not only would it make it impossible within the five-year period for local people to trigger a referendum when the council had opted for an executive structure, but it could, at least notionally, mean that a council seeking to avoid ever having a referendum could simply tweak its executive arrangements, pass another resolution under Clause 20 and therefore roll on the process for ever. I am sure that was not the intention behind the noble Baroness's amendment but, nevertheless, it could be its effect.

I turn to Amendment No. 257A proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I assure the Committee that the Government do not intend to use the provisions of the Bill, and in particular this clause, to prevent a local authority from holding referendums on issues other than executive arrangements if they wish to do so and have the powers to do so. But a definition of "referendum" for the purposes of Part II of the Bill would not be appropriate because wherever the word occurs it needs to be read in that particular context. It does not have a single meaning applied throughout Part II. For example, in Clause 22 it means a referendum under that clause; in Clause 23 it means a referendum under that clause, and so on.

In Clause 30, the effect of subsection (7) is to ensure that references to referendums in Clause 30 are clearly references to referendums held under that clause. Any other definition in one clause could not necessarily be read across to the others. I hope that that is clear and that the noble Baroness will therefore not pursue her amendment. I hope also that the other amendments will not be pursued.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

Before the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, responds, I obviously did not make myself clear. I was not seeking to apply different definitions to different references to referendums in the various clauses; I believed that I had found the right place to include an amendment covering the whole of the Bill. My point was not the distinction between different types of referendums within the Bill but referendums within the Bill and under other pieces of legislation. It seems to be quite clear that the Government do not intend the various provisions on referendums in the Bill to be read over into any other legislation, but since we do not have a definition of "referendum" as such in a way that limits it, it seemed to me worth pursuing the admittedly rather pedantic but possibly important point. Furthermore, I wanted to make the reason for my amendment clear to the Government, as I obviously had not done so before.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

I indicated earlier that it was not my intention to press the amendment. I therefore beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 249 to 251A not moved.]

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 252:

Page 15, line 20, at end insert ("or referendums").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 253:

Page 15, line 24, at end insert ("(including the publicity to be given with respect to the consequences of the referendum)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

moved Amendment No. 254:

Page 15, line 27, leave out paragraph (d).

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

Paragraph (d) states,

"permitting a referendum to take place in a manner which does not involve a poll".

I have never come across such a provision. One could, I suppose, do this by telephone or one could have a MORI poll, but I assume that a referendum is meant to be done by formal polling and formal marking up of a referendum question. It may be that regulations will describe what a "non poll" is. I should be grateful for an explanation. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I shall try to clarify the intention behind this provision. The noble Baroness will be aware that yesterday we gave the Representation of the People Bill its Second Reading. Among other things, such as rolling electoral registration, that Bill provides for local authorities to pilot innovations in electoral practice and for those successful innovations to be used more generally in elections.

There are some obvious possibilities, which may or may not commend themselves to the Committee, such as conducting an entire election by postal vote, or over the Internet, or by the telephone, which do not involve a poll in the sense that we normally refer to it. Under the Representation of the People Bill, those will be available for piloting. They will obviously require further legislation if they are to be put into general use. Clearly, such possible innovations could apply to referendums as they could to elections. If the amendment were accepted, it would delete from the scope of the Bill the power to make regulations as to how those alternative ways of casting votes could be used and whether any of those innovations could be used in this context. That would be an unnecessary loss of flexibility. The regulations themselves would have to be tightly written. Nevertheless, I do not think that this Bill should prevent that flexibility applying to referendums.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

I rise to support my noble friend's amendment. Perhaps the Minister will clarify this point for me. Whatever form one is using, one is actually taking a poll. There is some form of judgment at the end of the day. That surely is a poll. The difficulty is that the words as set out in the Bill assume a poll in the conventional sense and not in ways that may be used in the future. However, at the end of the day, people are giving an opinion, which surely must be a poll.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I support that view. I have the same difficulty with the provision and was glad to see that an amendment had been tabled by the noble Baroness.

However, I am slightly more disturbed having heard the Minister's response. I do not want to appear to be a dinosaur, unwilling to contemplate the possibility of new voting methods. However, if there are to be new voting methods, they deserve careful parliamentary scrutiny. They should not be the subject of regulations which may not receive parliamentary scrutiny. If that is so, it does not seem necessary to have these words on the face of the Bill. The changes could be made in legislation introducing new methods of voting.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative 9:45 pm, 1st February 2000

It is still my belief that the wording is wrong. If any of the innovations described in the Bill are used, those are still a poll. Proxy voting is part of a poll; it is a formal examination of how people want to vote. The provision states that this,

"does not involve a poll".

Therefore, it raises the question: when is a poll not a poll, and when is it a fiddle?

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

I had not expected to intervene in this debate, but I have considerable sympathy with everything that is being said on this side of the Committee. At the very least, in the interests of clarity it would be helpful if the Minister would agree--even if he is not prepared to withdraw the words from the face of the Bill--to take the matter away and examine it to see whether he can return with a more felicitous way of stating what the paragraph attempts to put out. As matters stand, we could debate the issue of when a poll is not a poll, or whether a poll is a poll, until midnight and get no further, and have no greater clarity at the end of the discussion.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

We could indeed, and those who are fascinated by electoral law may be tempted to do so. However, my understanding of the position under electoral law is that a poll, as tightly defined, means attendance at a polling station. Under provisions in different parts of the Representation of the People Act for a proxy vote or a postal vote, they are to be added to the poll conducted at the polling station. Therefore, we are dealing with a rather tight implication of "poll" as originally defined.

I reassure noble Lords that, were we to come forward with regulations which applied the clause in relation to referendums and provide innovative means of voting--and the only point under debate is whether, with the passage of the representation of the people legislation, we should include the referendum as one form of election which could be subject to pilot studies in that regard--those regulations would (a) have been subject to the views of the electoral commission and (b) would be subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses. I hope that that provides some assurance to noble Lords to keep the present form of words on the face of the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 30, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 31 [Power to make incidental, consequential provision etc.]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 255:

Page 15, line 36, at end insert--

("( ) Before making an order under this section the Secretary of State must consult representatives of local government and of any other persons affected by the proposals.").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

Clauses 30 and 31 together, among other provisions, give the Secretary of State power to combine the normal local elections with a local referendum, to take place on the same day at the same time.

I can applaud and commend the economy in such a move. It may be that, not even being optimistic, we can understand how local electors could separate the two ballot papers and manage that. However, if that kind of combination is to be brought about, we should be sure that at the very least there is thorough consultation with those who might be directly affected by such a proposal, which might well affect an individual local authority. It should be stated on the face of the Bill that the authority should be consulted. The amendment that I have tabled requires the Secretary of State to,

"consult representatives of local government and ... any other persons affected by the proposals".

The Minister may assure me that that will occur anyway, and if he does so I shall be happy to hear it. In the meantime, I believe that it is worth putting this requirement on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I believe that the situation to which the noble Lord refers is already covered. However, the noble Lord must recognise that Clause 31 merely makes incidental, consequential, transitional and supplementary provisions and therefore no new policy is represented in this Bill. The Government already have a concordat with the Local Government Association--to which the clause and no doubt the amendment refer--which is the representative body for local government in England and Wales, to consult on all issues, in particular on developments that directly affect the structure of local government. Therefore, anything of substance that emerges will be covered by that concordat. However, in practice, matters of substance are likely to occur not under this provision but under other clauses which are covered by explicit consultation arrangements. Therefore, on the basis of either the voluntary concordat or other provisions of this Bill the noble Lord's objectives are met.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, which I shall study. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 31 agreed to.

Clause 32 agreed to.

Clause 33 [Interpretation of Part II]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 256 and 257:

Page 16, line 6, at end insert ("unless the context otherwise requires").

Page 16, leave out line 18.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 257A not moved.]

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 258 to 262:

Page 16, line 34, leave out ("of") and insert ("made by or under").

Page 16, line 35, leave out ("and 16") and insert ("to 17").

Page 16, line 35, after ("of") insert (", and Schedule 1 to,").

Page 17, line 7, leave out ("A local authority's function with respect to") and insert ("Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972 does not apply to the function of").

Page 17, line 8, leave out ("may be discharged only by the local authority").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 263:

Page 17, line 9, at end insert--

("( ) Nothing in this Part shall prevent, in the case of a London borough, the person who is referred to in Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Local Government Act 1972 as the Mayor of the borough from using the title and style of Mayor.").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

Amendment No. 263 is tabled in order to make absolutely certain that nothing in this Bill disturbs the traditional arrangements in London under which a borough has a mayor, albeit not an elected one, who can continue to use that title and style. This is a matter of history and tradition. One can well imagine that in years to come there will be a deal of confusion in local government, not exclusively in London. There will be a Lord Mayor of London, although he represents only the City, and an elected mayor of London. There will also be a mayor of a borough who will fulfil all the traditional roles of a mayor. Further, there will be an elected mayor of a borough. Therefore, it is not an unlikely prospect that for the ordinary elector of London there will be four mayors all of whom will have legitimate authority over him, and that may cause a degree of confusion. I do not regard that as a straightforward situation.

The scope of this amendment is limited. It may be that in response the noble Lord will tell me that it is unnecessary. However, so far as concerns the people of London, within a particular borough the mayor is their first citizen and an important figurehead within the community. I do not believe that any of us in this Committee, including the Minister, want to erode that situation in anything that we do in this Bill. Of course, out in the country one could have the equally amazing situation of an elected mayor of a county council, an elected mayor of a district council, and an elected town mayor. I suspect that the possibility for confusion there would be equally great. We have not addressed that issue. However, should the Minister choose to cover it in his reply that would be helpful.

The amendment ensures clarity and that nothing in the Bill disturbs the current arrangements. I am not aware that any of us wish to do so. I believe that it was worth tabling the amendment. I look forward to the Minister's reply. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

As the noble Lord acknowledged, we discussed last week the issues surrounding the title of "mayor" in relation to Amendment No. 75, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The amendment would preserve the title of "mayor" for chairmen, or chairs, of London boroughs.

The Government are strongly of the view that there should be clarity about who is the directly elected mayor where councils adopt such arrangements. Local people need to know who is the elected mayor and therefore who is to be held to account for the services provided by the authority. It is for that reason that the Government believe that where there is an elected mayor the title of "mayor" should be used by that person and not, for example, the chairman, or chair, of the council.

If the amendment were to be accepted, it would be possible for a London borough to have two mayors. We do not think that that would lead to a position of clarity. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord does not believe it to be necessary to press the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

I believe that this is one area in the Bill--there are many--which will cause enormous consternation. To state that the civic mayor cannot be called "mayor" will challenge the community's feelings on the purpose of the Bill. The name "mayor" is well loved and well recognised. It is well supported in particular in the London boroughs. Mayors are well received. To call a civic mayor "chairman" or "chair" seems to be moving in the wrong direction. I realise that the issue has been discussed previously. I simply wish to put my oar in and say that, if any area will be misunderstood, it will be this one.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

I somewhat cautiously put the alternative use of the title "chair" or "chairman", having looked carefully around the Chamber to see which noble Lords and noble Baronesses were in their places.

Where a London borough, or a district council with borough status does not opt for that model and does not have an elected mayor, it will be able to continue as before. We recognise that, in some cases there is a derivation other than from the borough status alone, for example through ancient local custom, charters, and so on. We believe it is important that people should be able to distinguish the option of the local community for a directly elected mayor with executive powers. I ask the noble Baroness to consider this. In those circumstances, the issue would have been widely discussed and therefore is less likely to cause confusion for the local population.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. I appreciate the need for clarity. If it had not been for that need, we would not have tabled the amendment. We shall study carefully the noble Baroness's response. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 33, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 66 [Allowances and pensions for local authority members]:

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 10:00 pm, 1st February 2000

moved Amendment No. 263A:

Page 41, line 4, at end insert ("including regulations to limit the number of councillors in any authority to whom special responsibility allowances may be paid").

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

In moving this amendment, I shall speak to Amendment No. 265A and also Amendment No. 264A, which is an amendment to the Minister's amendment, Amendment No. 264. My noble friend Lord Tope will speak to our two other amendments in the group. Perhaps others would like to speak to their amendments first, so that my noble friend can co-ordinate his remarks.

As to Amendment No. 263A, I failed to find language that is appropriate to the point. I appreciate that providing regulations to limit the number of councillors to whom special responsibility allowances may be paid might indicate that it is not for a local authority to determine how to deal with such allowances. That is not the case because that, together with other ways of conducting business, is a matter for the local authority.

I want to see whether the Government have any response to the situation in at least three authorities where special responsibility allowances are paid to all the members of the controlling group. I understand that in a couple of instances, the number of committees was changed to make that possible. The councils brought to my attention were Swansea, Milton Keynes and Aberdeen. Those authorities may take the view that all councillors of the same political persuasion as those running the administration have particular responsibilities different from opposition members. There is something odd and the system is being distorted if it distinguishes between members of political parties. I do not believe that the system was designed for that purpose.

I was, like others, cheered when the possibility of particular allowances was introduced because it went a little way to recognising the special responsibilities of councillors who undertake arduous and time-consuming jobs. To extend those allowances in the way that at least a small handful of authorities have done is stretching the provision. I hope that there is a way of addressing the problem. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Chair of Labour Peers

In speaking to Amendments Nos. 265 and 377, I fully understand that when amendments are submitted, their wording may not entirely achieve the objective.

I first served on a council 40 years ago when the expenses regime was vastly different from today. There have been great advances, which I have always supported, to make it possible for men and women to serve their community as councillors. I have no objection to that but I refer to a parliamentary Question answered recently by my noble friend's ministerial colleague, Beverley Hughes, in the other place:

"Our policy, as set out in 'Modern Local Government: In Touch With the People' ... is that financial support for councillors must reinforce the culture of the modern council and address, as far as possible, any disincentives to serving in local politics".--[Official Report, Commons, 24/1/00; WA123W.]

I live in Loughton in Essex which is around 20 miles from here. It has a town council of 22 members serving a population of 30,000 people. It was set up in 1996 after a period of 63 years during which Loughton had no council of its own. It does good work. It is small in the hierarchy of councils and no great claims are made for its status.

However, I should like the Minister and his colleagues to pay attention to what I believe to be an anomaly. I have been told that one councillor said that in the three and a half years since the election, he had given 200 hours of his time at council meetings. Others had done the same. We know that nowadays councillors can receive thousands of pounds in allowances to compensate for all kinds of things. However, councillors in a place like Loughton, who live in the town, need to travel around three miles to attend council meetings at the far end of the town. It costs £1 each time they use the bus. But they are not reimbursed because the meetings they attend are inside the area; they do not leave the prescribed area.

Perhaps noble Lords may say, "What is a pound?". For an elderly person--an old age pensioner--who is giving up his time, who might attend 30 meetings a year, that amounts to £60 in travelling expenses. Again, noble Lords may say, "What is £60? That is not much". Again, for an old age pensioner who is giving up his time, that is a considerable amount. This matter should be examined.

The amendment I have tabled is attached to changes made in the Local Government Act 1972. In my researches I noted that the then Conservative Minister, Lord Sandbrook, speaking of claims for expenses by councillors generally, stated that:

"We are all agreed that the allowances should be such that good potential council members are not dissuaded from serving on local councils by financial restraints or worries".--[Official Report, 18/9/72; col. 846.]

I wonder whether my noble friend sees this as an opportunity to put right an anomaly that has been allowed to fester? I do not believe that town councils will disappear, but I do believe that a sense of injustice and unfairness may creep in, especially as in comparison, others who call themselves councillors in different kinds of councils with different responsibilities still receive recompense for their time and--more importantly--for their travel.

I know that my noble friend Lord Murray of Epping Forest, who knows Loughton a great deal better than I, may well rise to say a few words in support of this amendment. I simply say to the Minister that there are many councils--I estimate that there could now be 10,000 small parish and town councils--and the expenses would add up. However, that would be nothing against the good will of this non-partisan Government. When this matter was raised in Loughton Town Council there was no party animus. Something would be moved by one party and seconded by others, and I raise this issue in a non-partisan way. In this House one often wonders how one can take advantage of a peg on which to hang something. I do not want to hang the Minister, either out to dry or otherwise. However, I wonder whether he will agree that this is an issue which his colleagues can look at before the next stage of the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

I should like to speak to Amendment No. 264, although I believe that the Minister will not speak to it until he officially replies to it.

Clause 66 concerns giving councillors a fair deal for the amount of work that they put in. I welcome it from that point of view. For a long time councillors have suffered the jibes of whoever was in opposition whenever it was proposed that there should be an increase in allowances. If there was a change of administration then the boot was placed quickly on the other foot. The rise of independent panels which suggest a fair rate of allowance, not dependent on attendance, is a step in the right direction.

However, I am afraid that Amendment No. 264, which addresses pensions, is probably a step sideways because it singles out executive members for special treatment. Throughout the passage of the Bill, the Minister has been at pains to tell us that other members of the council--the non-executive members--are equally important and will fulfil important roles. Certainly, one can imagine that the chairmen of the overview and scrutiny committee or committees, depending on how many there are, will have their work cut out. If they are doing their work properly, they should have no less an arduous task than the members of the executive. Although they are not making decisions, they are formulating policy and checking up on those decisions. Much of the time they will be the interface with the public which the executive members probably will not be under the models that we have heard described. Therefore, are they not entitled to pensions? If not, I wonder whether the Minister can explain why. Is it due to the fact that their job is less difficult, will take less time or be seen as being less important?

I believe that there are a number of reasons why the decisions as to who should receive pensions will be left quite rightly to an independent panel, which will be set up locally. However, that panel should have the freedom to look at all the members of the council equally and to decide whether or not a particular post merits a pension. It should not be on the face of the Bill that executive members can receive pensions and other members cannot.

I should also like to support briefly the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, because I believe that parish councillors are another group of people who often give up substantial amounts of time, particularly the chairmen of parish councils and town councils. As a result, they are frequently out of pocket. Not only have they given up their time but they spend their own money attending meetings, and so on. It is becoming difficult to secure democracy on the cheap. We are in an age when we should not expect democracy to depend on whether or not people can afford to pay their own money. There will never be a representative cross-section of society if we depend on that.

Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to solve my problems with his Amendment No. 264 and that we can see some equity in the way that councillors are treated, particularly with regard to pensions.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Labour 10:15 pm, 1st February 2000

I too wish to ask a question on Amendment No. 264. Of course, I must lend support to my noble friend Lord Graham whom I regard as our shop steward in these matters in any event. In that case, what else can I do but support him?

The amendment addresses itself to allowances and pensions. The draft regulations address themselves to remuneration panels which are not mentioned in the amendment. Should the Bill not be clearer about the role of remuneration panels in setting the allowances? The local government White Paper said that every council should have such a panel and that the Government would consider proposals in relation to making changes to allowances. They said they would deal with that. But it is not clear on the face of the Bill that those arrangements will be put in place. Therefore, I seek clarification about that link which seems to be missing.

Photo of Lord Murray of Epping Forest Lord Murray of Epping Forest Labour

My noble friend Lord Graham is too modest to expatiate on his own modesty. Perhaps I may underline the modesty of the amendment proposed. For example, the noble Lord could have referred to telephone bills. He has not done so. He has confined the amendment to dealing with travel expenses. I emphasise to the Committee that that would not cost central government one penny. It would cost local electors a few coppers, but a very few coppers. I am sure that they would not begrudge that in order to make it possible for everybody to accept nomination for election. I hope that the Government will not begrudge it either.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

Will the pension schemes and superannuation schemes run by local authorities be authorised to pay pensions to members? If not, the schemes will have to be self-funded and self-financing on an annual basis. If we are not careful we shall encounter the same problems as those encountered by the police with their self-funding pension schemes.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

As suggested by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, I rise to speak on Amendment No. 265A and shall attempt to do so in the co-ordinated fashion promised by my noble friend. The effect of the amendment would be to remove the power of the Secretary of State to specify maximum rates for travel and subsistence allowances for councillors. That power is something of an anomaly these days because there are no longer any government-imposed limits on local schemes of allowances, subject to the provisions in this Bill relating to an independent panel.

That is a real issue and a real problem but it is an anomaly because the operation of government-imposed maximum rates has presented practical difficulties for local authorities and particularly for individual councillors for many years. Typically and inevitably, maximum rates for overnight accommodation do not keep pace with the prevailing rates in major cities and particularly in London, Europe's most expensive city--of which I see the noble Lord, Lord Smith, has some experience--which many councillors must visit when attending Local Government Association meetings. Those maximum rates do not keep pace with the prevailing rates and that often results in members being out of pocket when staying away from home on council business.

Similarly, it is nonsense that central government these days should specify maximum rates for councillors' meals; namely, how much councillors may be allowed to claim for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Councils are now multi-million pound businesses and really should be given the power and authority to determine reasonable amounts for such allowances. That is an anomaly and I hope that the Government will now take this opportunity to correct it.

I turn now to Amendment No. 264A. I assume that it is in order for me to seek to amend an amendment to which the Minister has not yet spoken. I shall do so anyway. It relates to a subject which has been dear to my heart for years and years in local government; that is, cycle allowances. I say immediately that if this amendment is passed, it will be much too late for me but it will be in plenty of time for many others.

Members of your Lordships' House may be paid a cycle allowance. I have no doubt that many of your Lordships claim it regularly. Members of the other place may be paid a cycle allowance. Employees of local authorities may all be paid a cycle allowance, if appropriate. The one category of people who may not lawfully be paid a cycle allowance is that of elected councillors. That is ludicrous. Many councillors of all parties have been in the forefront of promoting the green agenda, green transport, and, in particular, the promotion and encouragement of safe cycling.

Many councillors use bicycles as their preferred means of transport and sometimes as a means of demonstrating in a practical way what they advocate that their councillors and local residents should be doing. However, they are in effect penalised for doing so. Were they to use a car, they could be paid a reasonably generous mileage allowance. Because they choose to use a cycle, which is much more environmentally friendly, they cannot be paid an allowance. I do not claim that, if we were suddenly to receive cycle allowances, all councillors would take to their bicycles. Sadly, I fear that that is probably not the case. However, it is clearly an anomaly that they cannot be paid anything.

I have raised this on a number of occasions over the years. The answer I have received from successive governments is that they recognise this to be an anomaly but it needs primary legislation to correct it. This is our opportunity. We have the primary legislation. It is a small amendment and one which would correct an obvious anomaly which singles out councillors for no apparent reason.

In the past, governments have been able to say that that cannot be done because it needs primary legislation. Now we have this opportunity, I hope the Government will take it. If they choose not to do so, now and in future they will have to explain to councillors and others why they are singling out councillors as being unable to be paid cycle allowances. I do not think this Government--or, for that matter, the previous one, but certainly this one--would wish to do that. Therefore, I feel rather more optimistic than usual when moving or speaking to an amendment that we shall receive a positive response. Both amendments are fairly minor but significant in their consequences. I hope the Government will consider them and feel able to respond positively.

Photo of Lord Smith of Leigh Lord Smith of Leigh Labour

I should like to speak to Amendment No. 264 and Chapter 15 of the draft regulations. Both provisions seek to recompense people who serve their local communities. I agree with my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton, who referred to people who work at parish and town council level who equally try to serve their public.

I agree with the statement in Chapter 15 which suggests that we abolish the attendance allowance for local councillors. My own council did that last year on the advice of an independent panel which made a recommendation on pay. However, I suggest to my noble friend the Minister that there are occasions when an attendance allowance may be required. There are a number of occasions in my council when we expect groups of councillors to make quasi-judicial decisions on matters such as applications for village greens. Such matters can last over several days or weeks when people give evidence and so forth. We expect small groups of members to attend. I hope that perhaps we can consider recompensing the members who act on those occasions.

I support the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, concerning pension rights. The Bill as drafted differentiates between executive members and other members of the council. The provision recognises that people who serve on large authorities make sacrifices as regards their career and pension rights. That could be true whether people are serving at executive level or even senior levels. Certainly those who have played a lead in the scrutiny roles of local authorities will be equally busy as executive members. I hope that that matter will also be considered. We are not asking for them to receive pension rights but for the independent panels which will be set up to review that point.

I support the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that, when setting rates for local councillors, departments do not always upgrade them in line with inflation. Certainly, hotel prices in London are somewhat more than I am able to claim as a local councillor from Wigan.

The one thing that is different these days is that, if one travels by Virgin trains, one no longer pays for food. We may arrive late, due to sheep on the line or numerous other excuses, but we are provided with free food. That food may not be worth eating: certainly some of the meals I have had were not worth eating. In an earlier comment, a reference was made to making meals with one's partner. I believe I am booked in for next Wednesday; that is my earliest engagement in that regard.

On a more serious note, there may be occasions when councils need to recompense non-executive members who are putting a lot of work into quasi-judicial work on the council, which the Government recognise is an important role. Secondly, perhaps we can consider extending pensions beyond executive members. We would be grateful for that.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Perhaps I should start by setting out what Amendment No. 264--the Government's new clause--attempts to do, which will wrap up some of the concerns expressed during the debate.

The policy in Amendment No. 264 arises from the document Local Leadership, Local Choice, referred to earlier in the debate. There are basically two limbs to the policy; it is proposed, first, that the attendance allowance should be abolished because in many cases it represents a perverse incentive; and, secondly, that there should be other changes, including making the payments to some councillors pensionable, aimed at recognising the role that they play and the expenses they incur.

In order for that to be implemented and to prevent some of the political and internal problems that arise from payment of allowances and pensions, each council is required to establish an independent panel to make its recommendations on allowances and pensionability. Changes to an authority's allowance scheme should only be made after recommendations have been made by such a panel and an authority may only decide that a member's allowance shall be pensionable if that panel so recommends.

Furthermore, the amendment gives the Secretary of State the power to issue statutory guidelines to underline those arrangements. The bulk of the policy will be delivered in regulations made under this clause. Those will be detailed arrangements which will need to change from time to time in accordance with the approach under current regulations.

Finally, the amendment clarifies the ability of councils to make payments to councillors who necessarily incur expenditure on the care of children or other dependants in the course of their duties as councillors. I know that that provision will be widely welcomed. It is therefore a whole new system introducing an independent panel, which a number of councils have already adopted, and a new system of defining who shall be paid allowances and what payments shall be pensionable.

In relation to each of the amendments, perhaps I should start with the good news. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, so bowled me over with his enthusiasm for the bicycle that I accept--wearing my integrated transport hat--that there is an injustice in this regard and that we should look at it. I hope he will accept that I will take the matter away and consider how best we can remedy the anomaly. If we were to make a concession in that area, then I hope the noble Lord will consider whether or not it can apply to him.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I wonder whether I can suggest to the Minister--I do not know whether my noble friend made this comment having himself in mind--that, if this amendment were to be incorporated in the Bill, we should make sure it refers to "cycles" rather than "bicycles" because tricycles ought to be the subject of allowances as well.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I shall need to take advice on that point. I suspect that there will not be an enormous implication for public expenditure if we relate it to tricycles; nevertheless, we shall need to consider it.

However, I am afraid that I cannot be quite so forthcoming as regards the other amendments in this group. Perhaps I may, first, address Amendment No. 264, which would give the Secretary of State the power to limit the number of councillors in any authority who may receive a special responsibility allowance. I believe that all this will be wrapped up in relation to the independent panel. Without passing judgment on any particular council that has been mentioned, I appreciate that there is an identified problem here in that some authorities seem to pay this allowance to a rather large proportion of their members. I believe that the independent element in the system will take care of such anomalies and potential abuses.

I turn next to the amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Graham which relates to parish councils. I take note of some of my noble friend's points in this respect. Of course, a parish council may pay its chair an allowance to meet the expenses of his office and parish councillors are entitled to travel, subsistence and attendance allowance, or financial loss in respect of certain duties, but, as my noble friend said, they are outside of the parish or town council area. We think that there would probably be few cases where there would be serious expenditure considerations, but we will look into the matter. I have to say that the chances of movement in that area are not guaranteed. I shall need to seek further advice on the matter.

As regards Amendment No. 265A, tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the Committee may recall that the White Paper committed the Government to a review of all current rules on travel and subsistence, as well as on compensation, for co-optees. The Government are attracted to the proposition from the noble Baroness that we should not be in a position to set ceilings for travel and subsistence. We believe that the method of determining allowances should very much be a matter for local decision, based on the independent panel. We need a thorough review, as envisaged by the White Paper. We do not wish to pre-empt that review; but, nevertheless, the objectives of the proposed new clause will be taken care of in that review.

A number of other points were made in relation to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, as regards clarifying where remuneration should be available, and in relation to the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Thornton on the role of remuneration allowances and panels. I believe that the amendment we have already brought forward clarifies much of that area of policy. Nevertheless, with the agreement of noble Lords, I should like to consider further the various points that have been raised in that respect to see whether the powers would permit a rather different policy to be implemented. If the Committee will bear with me, I shall consult certain people on allowances and return to the matter at a later stage of the Bill's proceedings.

Allowances within councils are a fairly emotive subject, but this is not something that has affected me very directly in recent years. There are some serious problems to be addressed, some of which need to be addressed in our review. I hope that I have said enough to convince the Committee that their particular concerns will be taken care of in the course of that review under the new system. I trust, therefore, that they will not press for changes--

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Chair of Labour Peers 10:30 pm, 1st February 2000

Before my noble friend the Minister sits down, I should like to say that I am grateful for what I would call a glimmer of light and hope in that he is prepared to look at the matter. However, I hope that he will bear in mind the infinitesimal sums of money that the public will bear. As my noble friend Lord Murray said, what we want is the sanction, the right: we want the words that will enable the local council to reimburse people their bus fare. We are not talking about thousands of pounds of allowance and we are not talking about paying massive hotel bills. We are talking about ordinary little people whom we are trying to encourage to run literally their parish council.

I have not had the pleasure of serving on a parish council: mine was the London Borough of Enfield, of which I had to honour to be leader in the 1960s. It is a different world. People who serve on parish councils are entitled to equity and justice. They do not want payments or allowances. They want to be reimbursed for the cost of a bus fare. I am grateful that the Minister is prepared to reconsider the matter. I hope that he will recognise that he could bring enormous satisfaction to thousands of people who at present cannot legally claim their bus fares when attending meetings on behalf of their communities.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

I hope that the Minister will answer the question I asked; namely, whether, as members had not contributed to the superannuation pension funds of local authorities, they will be entitled under legislation to receive pensions out of those superannuation funds, which are largely for the staff?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

It is intended that they would be paid through the local government scheme. Therefore an employer contribution would need to be paid in respect of those individuals who would be pensionable under the new service. It may be helpful if I write to the noble Baroness explaining the matter in more detail.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

This is a difficult area. The exchange of views that has just taken place reminds me of the problems that have arisen with regard to the Police Service and the Fire Service where pensions comprise an enormous part of an authority's budget. There are important issues with regard to who has contributed to the pensions which have to be paid.

Much of what the Minister has said is welcome. I am particularly glad that we appear to have made some progress on behalf of those who use cycle transport when carrying out their duties. It seems to me that a number of the points that have been made should be capable of being taken forward without waiting for the review. I refer to the upper limit on expenses in this regard. I shall not ask the Minister to respond to that point now. However, I leave him with the thought that there may be many areas where local authorities resent the interference of central government with regard to issues connected with allowances, expenses and other such matters. To be able to look to central government to take a decision on these matters away from the "heat" of a particular local authority--clearly that would happen under the arrangements which are proposed--would be welcome. If such an arrangement could be put in place quickly, in particular in regard to expenses, that would be welcomed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 264:

Leave out Clause 66 and insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:ALLOWANCES AND PENSIONS FOR CERTAIN LOCAL AUTHORITY MEMBERS

(".--(1) The provision which may be made by regulations under section 7 of the Superannuation Act 1972 (superannuation of persons employed in local government service etc) includes provision for or in connection with the provision of pensions, allowances or gratuities to or in respect of such members of an executive of a local authority as may be prescribed by the regulations.

(2) In subsection (1) "executive" and "local authority" have the same meaning as in Part II of this Act.

(3) Section 18 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 (schemes for basic, attendance and special responsibility allowances for local authority members) is amended as follows.

(4) At the beginning of subsection (1) there is inserted "Subject to subsection (1A)," and after that subsection there is inserted--

"(1A) In relation to a district council, county council, county borough council or London borough council, subsection (1) above shall have effect with the omission of paragraph (b)."

(5) After subsection (2) there is inserted--

"(2A) Regulations under this section may authorise or require a scheme made by a district council, county council, county borough council or London borough council to include provision for the payment to members of the council of allowances in respect of such expenses of arranging for the care of children or dependants as are necessarily incurred in the carrying out of their duties as members."

(6) In subsection (3), for "and (2)" there is substituted "to (2A)".

(7) After subsection (3) there is inserted--

"(3A) Regulations under this section may make provision for or in connection with--

(a) enabling district councils, county councils, county borough councils or London borough councils which are operating executive arrangements to determine which members of the executive are to be entitled to pensions, allowances or gratuities,

(b) treating the basic allowance and the special responsibility allowance as amounts in respect of which such pensions, allowances or gratuities are payable.

(3B) Regulations under this section may make provision for or in connection with requiring every district council, county council, county borough council and London borough council to establish and maintain a panel which is to have such functions in relation to allowances, or pensions, allowances or gratuities, payable to members of the council as may be prescribed by the regulations.

(3C) Regulations under subsection (3B) above may include provision--

(a) with respect to the number of persons who may or must be appointed to the panel of a council,

(b) with respect to the persons who may or must be appointed to the panel of a council,

(c) for or in connection with the appointment by councils of joint panels,

(d) for or in connection with enabling the panel of a council to consider and make recommendations to the council on the level of allowances payable to members of the council,

(e) for or in connection with enabling the panel of a council which is operating executive arrangements to consider, and make recommendations to the council on, which members of the executive are to be entitled to pensions, allowances or gratuities."

(8) In subsection (4), for the word "and" at the end of paragraph (b) there is substituted--

"(ba) make provision with respect to the amendment, revocation or replacement of a scheme made by a relevant authority under the regulations; and".

(9) After subsection (5) there is inserted--

"(5A) In making or operating any scheme authorised or required by regulations under this section, a district council, county council, county borough council or London borough council shall have regard to any guidance for the time being issued by the Secretary of State.

(5B) In this section "executive" and "executive arrangements" have the same meaning as in Part II of the Local Government Act 2000."").

[Amendment No. 264A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 264, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 264 agreed to.

Clause 66, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 265 and 265A not moved.]

Clause 67 agreed to.

Clause 34 [Principles governing conduct of members of relevant authorities]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 266 to 268:

Page 17, line 14, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").

Page 17, line 16, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").

Page 18, line 6, at end insert--

("(6) In this Part "co-opted member", in relation to a relevant authority, means a person who is not a member of the authority but who--

(a) is a member of any committee or sub-committee of the authority, or

(b) is a member of, and represents the authority on, any joint committee or joint sub-committee of the authority, and who is entitled to vote on any question which falls to be decided at any meeting of that committee or sub-committee.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 34, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 35 [Model code of conduct]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 269 to 271:

Page 18, line 8, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").

Page 18, line 11, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").

Page 18, line 36, after ("concerned") insert ("or the Partnership Council (as the case may be)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 35, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 36 [Duty of relevant authorities to adopt codes of conduct]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 272 and 273:

Page 18, line 44, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").

Page 19, line 16, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 273A:

Page 19, line 23, after ("newspapers") insert (", which may be or include a newspaper published by the authority,").

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

Amendment No. 273A seeks clarification of what is a "newspaper" for the purposes of Clause 36(5). The provision requires a local authority, after adopting or revising a code of conduct, to publish certain matters in a newspaper circulating in its area. My amendment proposes that such a newspaper may include or may be a newspaper published by the authority. In raising this point I am aware of the issues concerning what is proper publication of indicators and reaching performance indicators where local authorities are required to publish details of how they have met certain targets.

It may well be that a local authority newspaper which is delivered free to every household will have a better circulation than a commercial newspaper. In moving the amendment I seek to learn the Government's intention in this matter. I hope that they will feel able, if not to accept the wording, at least to accept the spirit of this amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, adoption of the amendment would mean the Bill being amended in order that information regarding the adoption of a code of conduct would be published in a newspaper published by the authority alone. While we would certainly encourage local authorities to circulate their code of conduct through their own publications--the Bill as drafted would not prevent that--we are wary of including an amendment that could reduce the requirement for publication of information on the adoption of a code of conduct solely to a newspaper published by the authority. I can see a position arising where an authority may be tempted to publish even though the circulation of the newspaper is based on membership of the electoral roll. That can exclude people who are new to the area and people working in the area and can be limiting.

I should remind the noble Baroness that we are not asking for a large item to be published in a newspaper. We are asking only that information about the code being adopted and where it can be seen is published. In the light of that and the reassurance that there is no need for a specific amendment which requires a local authority to publish information about the availability of the code in one of its own newspapers as well, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I take the point that one has to be careful about using an authority's own publication, but it seems to me that it is doing no more than meeting a bit of fine print to have a small advertisement in a commercial newspaper which is unlikely to be read by anyone other than its most devoted reader. It might be more effective to have the information published in an authority's own newspaper.

As I was speaking, it occurred to me that there might be a mechanism allowing the standards board to assess the means of publication proposed by an authority. It is not a major issue but one which is worth considering. Perhaps I may leave that thought with the Minister and with myself because it has only just occurred to me. It may be that we can discuss the matter after this stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 10:45 pm, 1st February 2000

moved Amendment No. 274:

Page 19, line 29, at end insert--

("(iii) specifies the address of their principal office, and").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 36, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 37 [Duty to comply with code of conduct]:

[Amendment No. 274A not moved.]

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 275 to 277:

Page 20, line 13, at end insert--

("( ) A person elected as a member of a relevant authority to which section 83 of that Act does not apply may not act in that office unless he has given the authority a written undertaking that in performing his functions he will observe the authority's existing code of conduct under section 36.").

Page 20, line 15, at end insert ("after a member of the authority has begun to act in that office").

Page 20, line 16, leave out ("each member of the authority") and insert ("he").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 277A not moved.]

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 278 to 280:

Page 20, line 22, at end insert--

("( ) Any person appointed as a co-opted member of a relevant authority may not act as such unless he has given the authority a written undertaking that in performing his functions he will observe the authority's existing code of conduct under section 36.

( ) Where a relevant authority adopts or revises a code of conduct under section 36 after a co-opted member of the authority has begun to act as such--

(a) he must, before the end of the period of two months beginning with the date on which the code of conduct is adopted or revised, give to the authority a written undertaking that in performing his functions he will observe the code or revised code, and

(b) if he fails to do so, he is to cease to be a co-opted member of the authority at the end of that period.").

Page 20, line 30, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").

Page 20, line 33, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 280A not moved.]

Clause 37, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 38 [Standards committees]:

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

moved Amendment No. 281:

Page 20, line 38, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (1A),").

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

In moving Amendment No. 281, I shall speak to the other amendments in the group. We want to ensure that the same high standards of conduct apply to all local authority members. Local people must be able to trust their councils to serve them properly. A consistent conduct framework that applies to all levels of local government is vital to achieving this.

Clause 34 lists the relevant authorities to which the general principles, and hence the code of conduct, apply. Parish councils, joint authorities, police authorities, fire authorities, national park authorities and the Broads Authority are included in the list. However, Clause 38 of the Bill, as currently drafted, excludes parish councils and all the other authorities I have listed from the requirement to establish separate standards committees. The original reason for this was to avoid placing an extra administrative financial burden on these relatively small councils.

Amendment No. 282 and the consequential amendments extend the requirement to establish standards committees to all the relevant committees listed in Clause 34 of the Bill. Amendment No. 307 achieves an anomaly whereby the parishes within the framework would not, because of the varying size and character--in England alone there are more than 10,000--and without overburdening themselves be able to set up an arrangement under these proposals.

Amendment No. 307 achieves that by providing that every district council within which parish councils are situated should carry out the functions of a standards committee on their behalf, either within their own committee or within a sub-committee set up specially to consider parish council conduct issues. It must be subject to consultation and agreement with the parishes involved. The amendment further provides that at least one parish member must be present when the committee or sub-committee discusses parish issues.

The final piece of the jigsaw for parish councils is the provision of a monitoring officer. Parishes are not currently required to appoint such officers, but the monitoring officer has an important part to play in the operation of the new ethical framework. Amendments Nos. 361 and 362 therefore provide that the monitoring officer of the appropriate district or unitary council will take on similar functions in relation to parishes in their area. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Liberal Democrat

I wish to refer to Amendment No. 282, which concerns relevant authorities. I ask the Minister a simple question: what consideration have the Government given to the impact of those proposals on police authorities? I chair a police authority and I am a deputy chair of the Association of Police Authorities, so I have something of a vested interest in her answer. I assure the Committee that all police authorities are committed to high standards in public life; in fact, we feel it incumbent on ourselves to set an example because we expect absolute integrity and professionalism from our police services.

Police authorities throughout the country greatly welcome the Bill generally. But we are different from other local authorities. We are single service, single purpose authorities and we are independent of local government. Having worked with the Government in that area, we believed that they had listened to our concerns about the excessive bureaucracy that would be created were such measures imposed on us. That is why, when the Bill originally came to the House, it excluded police authorities from the obligation to have standards committees. It was rather a shock to discover that the Government had reversed their position.

My association has made it clear on numerous occasions that we are only too willing to help the Government to reach sensible arrangements to embrace the spirit of the proposals. But the problem may be that proper consultation has not perhaps taken place across government departments. Has the Home Office been consulted on the new move? Equally importantly, the provisions before us do not currently apply to the new Metropolitan Police Authority or even the service authorities for the National Crime Squad, of which I am a member also, or the National Criminal Intelligence Service. Should it not do so?

Furthermore, what about Wales? Responsibility for policing the area has not been devolved to the National Assembly, yet where will Welsh police authorities fit into the framework? I wish to work with the Minister in a positive and constructive way to try to resolve those issues and I offer to put my services at her disposal.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

I assure the noble Baroness that the Home Office has been consulted. However, I guarantee and undertake to consider carefully the points that she raised. Amendment No. 282 and the consequential amendments extend the requirements to establish standards committees and, as the noble Baroness says, include the police authorities. Following the consultation that took place, we believe the setting up of standards committees within such authorities as police authorities is unlikely to be as onerous as was originally believed. It would indeed be possible under the legislation as amended for the whole authority, with the addition of an independent member, to act as a standards committee if the authority so decided. If it was felt appropriate, through correspondence or meetings, to continue examining the points of concern raised by the noble Baroness, I should be only too happy to undertake to do so.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

I wish to address Amendment No. 307, which is grouped with Amendment No. 281. Why have the Government chosen district councils to operate the standards committees on behalf of parish councils? Having been a member of a parish council, a district council and a county council, I can see why the National Association of Local Councils is worried by the fact that district councils are to be the operators of the standards committees. The functions of district and parish councils are more likely to overlap. In fact, more district councillors are parish councillors than are county councillors. Some districts have devolved certain planning functions to parish councils. Some parish councils have housing allocation rights to social housing within their parishes and district councils may also, through their housing needs register, have a part of that. Such connections are less close with regard to county and district councils.

Planning and housing are probably the two most contentious areas when it comes to interests which should be declared but sometimes are not. Therefore, I believe that the standards committees should operate at county level for the parish councils. It should also be remembered that the local associations of local councils are set up on a county-wide and not a district-wide basis. A collection of parishes will have its association on that county-wide basis and therefore it would be a more natural association if the county were the parent standards committee for all of the parishes.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

In response to the final point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, it is my understanding that not all parish councils are in membership of the county branches within a particular county area. There can be a very large number of councils within a county area. That would therefore make the task of a committee quite onerous at county council level.

I appreciate the point that has been raised but I would draw attention to the fact that, within a sub-committee set up specifically to consider parish council conduct issues--that has to be subject to consultation and agreement with parish councils--it would be possible to have regard to the concerns that were raised. Close functional links are helpful, not unhelpful, in many ways. There can be a problem with counties. For example, in north Yorkshire there are almost 900 parish councils. We accept that a degree of co-operation will be needed between districts and their parishes to make the provision work smoothly.

I shall consider carefully the points raised by the noble Baroness. However, I do not say that in the context of believing that we would wish to change our position on this matter.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

Perhaps I may add my voice to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. I have been in contact with local councils serving both towns and the country. They state clearly that they are concerned about the direct link to district councils. But I am somewhat relieved by what the Minister has just said. Therefore, I shall save my remarks until I have had a chance to read Hansard and then may come back to this matter.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

moved Amendments Nos. 282 to 287:

Page 20, line 38, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

Page 20, line 40, leave out ("section 39") and insert ("this Part").

Page 20, line 40, at end insert--

("(1A) Subsection (1) does not apply to a parish council or community council.").

Page 20, line 41, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

Page 20, line 43, leave out ("subsection (5)(a))") and insert ("any provision made by virtue of subsection (5)(a) or (6)(a))").

Page 20, line 44, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 11:00 pm, 1st February 2000

moved Amendment No. 287A:

Page 21, line 1, leave out ("one person who is not a member, or an officer,") and insert ("a majority of persons who are not members or officers").

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

The amendment relates to standards committees. The Bill provides that a standards committee must include,

"at least two members of the authority, and ... at least one person who is not a member, or an officer, of that or any other local authority".

The amendment suggests that that balance may not be appropriate.

The possibility of the majority of the committee being members of an authority may not be right. The amendment proposes that, rather than have a single person who is "independent"--I use the term as shorthand--adequately fulfilling the provision, it would be more appropriate to have a majority of people who are not members or officers.

It is important not only that standards committees operate properly--using the term to mean "with propriety"--but that they are seen to achieve the job that they set out to do. There should be no suggestion that, because the committees include members of an authority, they are almost by definition and from the outset tainted. It might be more appropriate to show the world that the standards committee has a majority of independent members who do not have the kind of vested interests that the public might regard members of the authority as having. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Labour

I am minded that the provisions relating to the standards board and the adjudication panel have changed considerably since the publication of the draft Bill. In the draft Bill the board was very much concerned with investigating individual cases of misconduct. Under the Bill as it now stands the board has a wider remit to consider a range of guidance-making powers and will administer the adjudication process as well as overseeing investigations into misconduct as originally intended.

In those circumstances, I wonder whether the wider remit that is now given to the board under the terms of the Bill might benefit from the setting out of some over-arching or guiding purpose to inform its work, or to ensure that it pays due regard to the wider responsibilities conferred on it. That might be a way of introducing a broad purpose or function for the board, perhaps to uphold the principles of conduct set out under Clause 34.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

In relation to the noble Lord's last point, it is true that some of the functions of the standards board have changed. Consideration of its over-arching objectives may well be appropriate. Perhaps I may take the matter away and return to noble Lords on that point.

Our approach in the Bill is to provide as much flexibility as possible at local level. Therefore, the provisions on the face of the Bill and the regulations would provide for a wide range of circumstances with minimum criteria on membership, which would prevent, for example, a mayor being elected or an executive member chairing a committee, and provide for at least one independent member. It does not preclude a majority of independent members. However, we felt that in this area it would be appropriate to leave the exact composition of the standards committee to local circumstances. There are sufficient safeguards in the provisions as a whole to ensure that councils are guided in a reasonable way but retain choice as to the precise composition. The Secretary of State has power to make regulations in this area, although our preferred approach is not to be too prescriptive. We shall review the matter in the light of experience. If it proves necessary to be more prescriptive in relation to the number of independent members, we shall do so by regulation rather than on the face of the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

The Government do not want to be too prescriptive but have prescribed that the standards committee should include at least two members of the local authority and one person who is not. If the Government want to leave it to each authority, possibly under some kind of overarching guidance from the standards board as the Minister suggested, the logic of it is that this provision merely requires one member of the authority and one independent member. I am at a loss to understand that approach. The words used by the Minister do not appear to be reflected in the provisions of the Bill that the Committee is asked to address.

Nor is it appropriate--the Minister draws my attention to this matter--that under subsection (3) there is a requirement as to the composition of a standards committee and in subsection (5) the Secretary of State may make regulations for the composition of standards committees. I had initially read it as meaning that the regulations to be made under subsection (5) could not override the primary legislation in subsection (3).

I end by being more rather than less concerned. However, this is not an area in which we seek to lock horns with the Government. By and large, we support this part of the Bill, but it is important that the details are correct. I do not pursue the point at this moment, but I invite the noble Lord to reflect on whether the answer that he has given is supported by the words that the Committee is being asked to agree.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Perhaps I may seek to clarify the matter. The ability to make regulations does not override the provisions on the face of the Bill which are the minima. The Secretary of State can make more substantial regulations.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

One supposes that the Secretary of State could reverse the balance between members of the authority and independent members, which I sought to do. I believe that to have that balance on the face of the Bill is a more straightforward approach. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 288 to 292:

Page 21, line 2, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

Page 21, line 3, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

Page 21, line 8, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

Page 21, line 16, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

Page 21, line 20, leave out from second ("of") to end of line 21 and insert ("such committees").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 293:

Page 21, line 21, at end insert--

("(6A) The Standards Board for England--

(a) may issue guidance with respect to the size and composition of standards committees of local authorities in England, and

(b) must send a copy of any such guidance to the Secretary of State.

(6B) The Standards Board for Wales--

(a) may issue guidance with respect to the size and composition of standards committees of local authorities in Wales, and

(b) must send a copy of any such guidance to the National Assembly for Wales.").

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Amendment No. 293 is part of a separate group and I speak briefly to it. This amendment is concerned with part of the provisions that deal with the standards board. In addition to investigating breaches of codes of conduct, we envisage that the standards board will have an important role in best practice, to which my noble friend Lord Filkin has just referred. The power to issue guidance on the size and composition of standards committees is part of that role. Once the basic framework is in force the standards board will be able to issue further guidance, for example on the details of the appointments process for independent members, suitable membership balance and so on. This is guidance short of regulation, as we debated in the context of a previous amendment. The Secretary of State will still be able to make regulations, but the standards board can issue guidance in this area.

The other two amendments in this group, Amendments Nos. 310 and 313, serve to clarify that the standards board may publish any guidance it issues on the conduct of members. That guidance may be issued to an individual authority, a group of authorities or local authorities generally. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 294 to 296:

Page 21, line 22, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

Page 21, line 24, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

Page 21, line 29, leave out subsection (9).

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Conservative

I understand that by pre-emption, with Amendment No. 296 agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 296A.

[Amendment No. 296A not moved.]

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 297:

Page 21, line 38, after ("committee") insert ("of a relevant authority").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

moved Amendment No. 297A:

Page 21, line 40, at end insert--

("( ) Nothing in this section has the effect of abolishing existing parish council powers and delegated functions.").

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

We on this side of the Chamber have been concerned by reports that the Secretary of State at the DETR has ambitions to abolish all 10,000 parish councils in England. The noble Lord, Lord Graham--he is no longer in his place--touched on the issue when using the phrase "if" they were allowed to continue. He, therefore, has heard rumblings.

The matter was first reported in October of last year and reiterated on 23rd January this year in a Sunday Express article headed "Parish Councils face axe". Some 10,000 parish councils cover hamlets, small villages, large villages and towns as big as Hereford, Lichfield and Weston-Super-Mare. Together they are responsible for some 15.8 million people and are a working example of devolution at the lowest possible level.

The fact that this Bill carries no reference to parish councils has alarmed citizens throughout the country. It has attracted cynosure from no less a body than the National Association of Local Councils, to which we referred earlier. Their influence may have permeated the corridors of power, as I note that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has tabled a lengthy and related amendment.

Mr Meacher stated that Her Majesty's Government are more in favour of neighbourhood fora than parish councils. However, I have difficulty in embracing the concept of a code of conduct being applied to a talking shop. Presumably that is why neighbourhood fora are not covered in this Bill. If the principle of local acceptance of local responsibility has any importance in this Government's scheme of things, the Minister must accept that parish councils play a vital role, particularly in rural affairs. Those who live in the countryside are subject to the same law, statutes and--alas, sometimes--European directives as those who dwell in large towns and cities.

Codes of conduct are all the rage at the moment and may turn out to be shortlasting, but to exclude parish councils from this clause implies that someone feels the latter are of no value. Perhaps the Minister, especially in the light of Amendment No. 307--we touched on it a little earlier--will interpret Mr Meacher's pronouncements for us. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that we are even more concerned by the rumours in such papers as the Sunday Express, to which she referred, knowing them to be false and knowing that the Government have absolutely no such plans. The fact that during the course of legislation parish councils have been treated differently with regard to standards committees is a recognition that they are different, not that they are of no value or in any way less important. I assure the noble Baroness from my background of the very rural county of Lancashire that I am fully aware of the nature of the role fulfilled by parish councils.

Clause 38 of the Bill sets out the requirements for local authorities to establish a standards committee. Amendment No. 297A would add a new subsection at the end of the clause specifying that nothing in that section would abolish any existing parish council powers or delegated functions. I should like to reassure the noble Baroness that in introducing a new ethical framework for local government we have no intention to reduce or abolish the powers of parish councils or the functions delegated to them. There is certainly no such suggestion in Clause 38 but I recognise that it does not make suitable provision for standards committees for parish councils--which was the reason for tabling Amendment No. 307, which sets out the detailed arrangements. Amendment No. 297A is therefore not required and I beg the noble Baroness to withdraw it. I hope that she will join me in making sure in future that the Sunday Express and other newspapers are properly informed of Government policy.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

I thank the Minister for her robust reply. I obviously read the newspapers and sometimes treat stories with great scepticism, but it is important to clarify the matter in respect of not only that but other articles. At a fringe meeting attended by Mr. Meacher at last year's Labour Party conference, such views were expressed and discussed.

Earlier, I said that my amendment was probably not in the right place. It was difficult to find the correct location, so I am grateful to the Minister for her tolerant response. Many amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, respond to conversations with local councils, for which I am grateful. When the Bill was published, it did not give that recognition--which was the theme of my amendment. I heard the Minister's reply and will certainly read Hansard. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 38, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 39 [Functions of standards committees]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 11:15 pm, 1st February 2000

moved Amendments Nos. 298 to 302:

Page 21, line 41, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

Page 21, line 44, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").

Page 22, line 1, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").

Page 22, line 4, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

Page 22, line 8, after ("members") insert ("and co-opted members").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 303:

Page 22, line 9, leave out from ("conduct") to end of line 10.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

The Bill provides for ethical standards officers to determine whether a case should be referred to an authority's standards committee. Amendments Nos. 328 and 335 change that, so the ethical standards officer will instead refer a case to the authority's monitoring officer. Under the new ethical framework, the monitoring officer will have responsibility for probity within the authority, including the provision of support to the standards committee--and so will be the person best placed to handle issues raised by the standards board.

Amendment No. 373 amends Section 5 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 to ensure that the chief executive is not appointed as the authority's monitoring officer, for obvious reasons. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 304 to 306:

Page 22, line 11, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

Page 22, line 14, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

Page 22, line 17, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 39, as amended, agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 307:

After Clause 39, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:STANDARDS COMMITTEES OR SUB-COMMITTEES FOR PARISH COUNCILS

(".--(1) A standards committee of a district council is to have the same functions in relation to--

(a) the parish councils for which the district council are the responsible authority, and

(b) the members of those parish councils, as the standards committee has under section 39(1) and (2) in relation to the district council and the members of the district council.

(2) A standards committee of a unitary county council is to have the same functions in relation to--

(a) the parish councils for which the county council are the responsible authority, and

(b) the members of those parish councils, as the standards committee has under section 39(1) and (2) in relation to the county council and the members of the county council.

(3) A standards committee of a district council or unitary county council may appoint a sub-committee for the purpose of discharging all of the functions conferred on the standards committee by this section.

(4) In deciding whether it will be their standards committee, or a sub-committee of their standards committee, which is to discharge the functions conferred by this section, a district council or unitary county council must consult the parish councils for which they are the responsible authority.

(5) The number of members of a sub-committee of a standards committee of a district council or unitary county council, and the terms of office of those members, are to be fixed by the standards committee after consultation with the parish councils for which the district council or unitary county council are the responsible authority.

(6) Where the standards committee of a district council or unitary county council discharges the functions conferred by this section, the standards committee--

(a) must include at least one member of any of the parish councils for which the district council or unitary county council are the responsible authority, and

(b) must ensure that at least one person falling within paragraph (a) is present at any meeting of the committee when matters relating to those parish councils, or the members of those parish councils, are being considered.

(7) Where a sub-committee of the standards committee of a district council or unitary county council discharges the functions conferred by this section, the sub-committee must include--

(a) at least one member of the standards committee who falls within section 38(3)(b), and

(b) at least one member of any of the parish councils for which the district council or unitary county council are the responsible authority.

(8) Regulations under section 38(5)(a) and (c) may make provision in relation to sub-committees appointed under this section, and regulations under section 38(5)(b) may make provision as to the appointment of persons falling within subsection (6)(a) or (7)(a) or (b) of this section.

(9) Subsections (6A), (7), (8) and (10) of section 38 apply in relation to sub-committees of standards committees appointed under this section as they apply in relation to standards committees.

(10) Subsections (4) and (6) of section 39 apply in relation to sub-committees of standards committees appointed under this section as they apply in relation to standards committees.

(11) In relation to a parish council, any reference in the following provisions of this Part to the standards committee of a relevant authority is a reference--

(a) to the standards committee of the district council or unitary county council which is the responsible authority in relation to the parish council, or

(b) where that standards committee has appointed a sub-committee under this section, to that sub-committee.

(12) A district council or unitary county council is the responsible authority--

(a) in relation to a parish council which is not a common parish council, if the parish is situated within the area of the district council or county council,

(b) in relation to a parish council which is a common parish council--

(i) if the parishes in the group are wholly situated within that area, or

(ii) where that is not the case, if the greatest number of local government electors for the parishes in the group is situated in that area.

(13) In this section "unitary county council" means the council of a county in which there are no district councils.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 40 [Standards Boards]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 308 to 313:

Page 22, line 37, at end insert ("under this subsection").

Page 22, line 42, leave out ("their members") and insert ("the members and co-opted members of such authorities").

Page 22, line 42, at end insert (", and

(c) may arrange for any such guidance to be made public").

Page 22, line 45, at end insert ("under this subsection").

Page 23, line 5, leave out ("their members") and insert ("the members and co-opted members of such authorities").

Page 23, line 5, at end insert (", and

(c) may arrange for any guidance so issued to be made public").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 40, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Standards Boards]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 314:

Page 46, line 23, leave out from ("person") to ("an") and insert ("may not be employed as").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 314A:

Page 46, line 26, after ("is") insert ("or has within the previous three years been").

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I beg to move Amendment No. 314A and I shall not yield to the temptation to say, "moved formally". Paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 sets out certain disqualifications to being appointed as a member of a standards board. Those include being a member or an officer of a local authority. The amendment seeks to extend the disqualification to include membership or having been an officer within the previous three years. I take the point that it would be inappropriate for a current member or officer to serve on a standards board. Obviously there might be conflicts of interest and criteria must be laid down that will enable the public to know that the right thing is not only being done but is being seen to be done. I believe that that should include recent past membership or postholding.

One carries one's personal baggage, but it diminishes in size as time goes on. Nevertheless, recent membership might give an individual a particular slant on affairs which would not be appropriate for a member of a standards board. In particular, I believe that the public would expect to see those with recent local authority membership being disqualified.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

The Government feel that personal baggage can be positive as well as negative and that the amendment tabled in the name of the noble Baroness would be unduly restrictive. The problems she envisages have already been provided for in Clause 43(3), which states that an ESO cannot conduct an investigation in relation to a member of an authority if within the past five years that ESO has been a member of an authority. Clause 43(4) provides that an ESO who is directly or indirectly interested in any matter likely to be the subject of an investigation must disclose that interest to the standards board and must not take part in the investigation. Therefore, the issue of abuse is already covered. I believe that it will be unduly restrictive to exclude anyone who has had recent experience of membership or employment by a local authority from the possibility of being appointed an ESO. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I was not seeking to deal with a particular interest or involvement. Of course, I accept what the Minister said, but it does not address the point that I was making. I believe that a little gap gives greater objectivity. However, that is another point of disagreement between ourselves and the Government. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 315 to 319:

Page 46, line 27, leave out ("(by co-option) of a committee") and insert ("of a committee, sub-committee, joint committee or joint sub-committee").

Page 47, line 20, leave out ("case").

Page 47, line 23, leave out ("case").

Page 47, line 27, leave out ("case").

Page 47, line 41, leave out ("Secretary of State") and insert ("National Assembly for Wales").

Page 48, line 36, leave out ("local") and insert ("relevant").

Page 48, line 36, leave out ("(or a member by co-option of a committee)").

Page 48, line 37, at end insert ("or

(b) a member of a committee, sub-committee, joint committee or joint sub-committee of that authority").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 41 [Written allegations]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 320 to 323:

Page 23, line 9, leave out ("members") and insert ("co-opted member").

Page 23, line 10, leave out first ("have") and insert ("has").

Page 23, line 16, leave out ("members") and insert ("co-opted member").

Page 23, line 16, leave out ("have") and insert ("has").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 323A not moved.]

Clause 41, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 42 [Functions of ethical standards officers]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 324 to 329A:

Page 23, line 26, leave out ("members") and insert ("co-opted member").

Page 23, line 26, leave out ("have") and insert ("has").

Page 23, line 34, leave out ("members") and insert ("co-opted member").

Page 23, line 34, leave out first ("have") and insert ("has").

Page 24, line 4, leave out ("standards committee") and insert ("monitoring officer").

Page 24, line 7, after ("referred") insert ("to").

Page 24, line 8, leave out ("case").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 329B:

Page 24, line 8, at end insert ("falling within section 50(1)").

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I beg to move Amendment No. 329B and the other amendments referred to in this group. The Committee will recall that Part III was fortunate to be considered in draft by the Joint Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. One of the recommendations of that committee was that the power of interim suspension currently vested in the ethical standards officer should be reserved to the adjudication panel, where appropriate, on application from the ESO. Government Amendment No. 329B and the amendments grouped with it give effect to that recommendation, making consequential amendments to the Bill where necessary. I commend this group of amendments which implement the Joint Committee's recommendations.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 42, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 43 [Conduct of investigations]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 330:

Page 24, line 11, after ("member") insert ("or co-opted member").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

moved Amendment No. 330A:

Page 24, line 14, at end insert--

("(2A) An ethical standards officer to whom an investigation under section 42 is assigned may--

(a) cease the investigation at any stage before its completion, and

(b) refer the matters which are the subject of the investigation to the monitoring officer of the relevant authority concerned.").

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

Amendments Nos. 330A and 344C concern the referral of cases from the ethical standards officer (ESO) of the standards board to the monitoring officer of the local authority and the action that a local authority may take on them. As Members of the Committee know, we agree with many of the recommendations made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, in his report--the third report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. However, we have decided to go further than that report by establishing external independent investigation and adjudication. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, envisaged, we have assigned important roles to local authorities, through the adoption of codes of conduct and the establishment of standards committees. The draft Bill published in March did not, however, assign a role to local authorities in dealing with individual cases.

That issue was considered by the Joint Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, and we are grateful for that consideration. The committee recommended that a,

"power of temporary exclusion of members of the authority--perhaps for a period of up to four weeks--be given to the local standards committee".

In their response to the Joint Committee, the Government accepted that there may be occasions when standards committees would wish to impose penalties on councillors but recognised that before conferring such powers, they would have to be assured that they would be exercised fairly and responsibly and dovetail with the statutory powers conferred on the adjudication panel.

Because it will be for the standards committees to establish their credentials within their councils before becoming involved in what are potentially more controversial matters and, as we pointed out in our Joint Committee response, we need to be confident that an authority's procedures are robust and fair, the provisions in these amendments will enable the role played by the standards committees to grow as the system evolves. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 11:30 pm, 1st February 2000

moved Amendment No. 331:

Page 24, line 16, leave out ("members") and insert ("co-opted member").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 331A and 331B not moved.]

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 332:

Page 24, line 19, leave out ("(by co-option) of a committee") and insert ("of any committee or sub-committee").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 43, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 44 agreed to.

Clause 45 [Investigations: further provisions]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 333 and 334:

Page 25, line 12, leave out ("members") and insert ("co-opted member").

Page 25, line 27, leave out ("members") and insert ("co-opted member").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 45, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 46 [Restrictions on disclosure of information]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 334A:

Page 26, line 32, leave out ("case").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 334B:

Page 26, line 40, leave out from ("Kingdom") to end of line 41.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I am rather reluctant to do anything for the convenience of the Committee because I have a personal feeling--and I speak only for myself--that we are failing to do justice to some of the amendments, no doubt because there are some Members of this Committee who simply want to get to the end of the Bill.

However, as it may be for the convenience of the Committee, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 334C because the amendments deal with the same or a related point.

Clause 46 deals with restrictions on the disclosure of information and Clause 46(1)(d) allows information to be disclosed if it is,

"for the purposes of criminal proceedings in any part of the United Kingdom and the information in question was not obtained under section 45(2)".

My two amendments deal with that paragraph. They suggest, first, that we exclude the reference to information not being obtained under Section 45(2) and, secondly, provide that if the disclosure is ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction--which I readily accept may be more contractual language than parliamentary but nevertheless serves the purpose--that information should be disclosed.

In particular, I seek to understand the position of the information in connection with civil proceedings. Is information not to be made available for civil proceedings, or is it for criminal proceedings only if it is obtained in certain circumstances?

I am concerned about the restrictions contained within the section, which on the face of it seems to be lifting restrictions. I wonder how that fits into the slightly wider scheme of things. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I understand the apparent attractions of this amendment. We certainly expect the standards board and its ethical standards officers to co-operate with the police as far as is practical. They have wide powers to collect information. In addition to their rights of access to all relevant documents, they may make whatever inquiries they think appropriate and require whatever information or explanation they think necessary. That may require someone to attend before them.

The Bill obliges individuals to comply with the requests from ESOs for information. If they do not comply, they may well be found guilty of a criminal offence. We believe that ESOs should have those powers. However, having those powers also means that we need to make them compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 6 of that convention provides the right for a fair trial. The recent judgment in the case of Saunders v UK ruled that some of the basic components of that are the right to silence and the right not to incriminate yourself. In the transfer of documents, one could find oneself in that territory.

It would not therefore be correct for the Bill to compel someone to provide information which might then directly be used to incriminate them in a criminal prosecution. That could breach the individual's rights to silence and prejudice a criminal prosecution.

If people are to be compelled to give evidence to an ESO, we need to ensure that that evidence cannot then be used in a criminal prosecution. We therefore believe that the amendment is flawed in that respect. I assure the Committee that that would not hamper subsequent criminal proceedings. Documents collected by the ESO could be shared, but it would be for the police to collect their own witness statements and not for the ESOs to pass them on.

As regards Amendment No. 334C, we have included the restrictions in Clause 46 simply to protect individuals from the inappropriate disclosure of sensitive material. I am sure that the noble Baroness and the Committee will agree that we must be careful not to prejudice the ESOs' function of investigating allegations of misconduct. As such, access to information held should not undermine the investigation or punishment of breaches of the code. We are concerned that if information could be released for purposes other than those currently listed, that could happen. That may simply be because the information is released earlier than is helpful giving a councillor under investigation the opportunity to destroy related evidence, for example. In such cases it would be contrary to the public interest to disclose the information.

The amendment, as it stands, would allow for anyone to seek a court order for the release of the information held. That could create obvious problems in the disclosure of confidential and personal information, much of which would be vital to an investigation and would be subject to the need to retain control of that information until the investigation is concluded. It would also allow for the disclosure of sensitive information which, although collected during the course of an investigation, would have no bearing on the final result.

The amendment, as drafted, would override the other provisions of Clause 46 and would therefore remove these protections, and we could not accept it.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

Those comments are helpful. It is a difficult area. I was going to say that it is a technical area, but it is much more than that.

It occurs to me that I might take a little further advice on this matter and the obvious person from whom to take advice--I am sure that the Minister will regard this as helpful and not a threat--is my noble friend Lord Lester. That is not for this evening. I shall look at the matter again but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 334C not moved.]

Clause 46, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 47 [Reports]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment Nos. 335 to 337:

Page 27, line 40, leave out ("standards committee") and insert ("monitoring officer").

Page 28, line 3, leave out ("case").

Page 28, line 3, after ("tribunal") insert ("falling within section 50(1)").

Page 28, line 8, leave out ("a member or") and insert ("any members or co-opted").

Page 28, line 11, after ("member") insert ("or co-opted member").

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

With the leave of the Committee I shall move Amendments Nos. 335 to 337 en bloc. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 47, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 48 [Interim reports]:

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

moved Amendment No. 338:

Page 28, line 18, leave out ("or on their behalf").

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

Amendment No. 338 is a technical amendment to achieve our intention that ethical standards officers--ESOs--should have full responsibility for the conduct of investigations into allegations of councillor misconduct. In order to ensure that the function of conducting the investigation, and therefore responsibility for it, remains with the ESO, the Government are advised that it is necessary to make a technical amendment to remove the words, "on their behalf" from the draft Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 339 to 340A:

Page 28, line 20, leave out ("a member or") and insert ("any members or co-opted").

Page 28, line 27, leave out ("52(3)(b)") and insert ("52(3A)(b) or (3B)(b)").

Page 28, line 29, leave out ("conclude") and insert ("include a recommendation").

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

With the leave of the Committee I shall move Amendments Nos. 339 to 340A en bloc. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 340B:

Page 28, line 29, after ("suspended") insert ("or partially suspended").

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

In moving Amendment No. 340B I shall speak also to the related amendments. Amendment No. 340B deals with the provisions in relation to the extent of suspensions but the substantive amendment is Amendment No. 347 and I shall speak primarily to that.

The Bill currently provides that a case tribunal may suspend a councillor from being a member of an authority or from any committee or sub-committee of an authority. In addition, Amendment No. 347 would enable the case tribunal to suspend the councillor from the executive or any other bodies on which they serve in their capacity as councillor, such as, for example, a school governor or local authority company.

It is important that in making its recommendations the case tribunal has as many options as possible at its disposal. The tribunal must be able to impose the penalty best suited to a particular breach of the code. In certain circumstances it may be felt necessary to suspend the councillor from the whole council but it is conceivable that for many breaches suspensions from individual activities, such as membership of a planning committee or a scrutiny committee, would be more appropriate. We do not want to tie the hands of the tribunal so that it is limited in the number of choices it may make.

Amendment No. 347 is the substantive amendment. The other amendments effectively carry it through. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 341 to 344B:

Page 28, line 30, after ("member") insert ("or co-opted member").

Page 28, line 30, leave out from second ("authority") to end of line 31.

Page 28, line 31, at end insert--

("( ) The period of suspension or partial suspension which may be recommended under subsection (3) must not exceed six months or (if shorter) the remainder of the person's term of office.").

Page 28, line 32, after ("Where") insert ("an ethical standards officer produces").

Page 28, line 32, after ("section") insert ("which").

Page 28, line 32, leave out ("conclusion") and insert ("recommendation").

Page 28, line 33, leave out from ("(3)") to end of line 46 and insert ("he must refer the matters which are the subject of the report to the president of the relevant Adjudication Panel for adjudication by a tribunal falling within section 50(1A).").

Page 29, line 1, leave out ("subsection") and insert ("section").

Page 29, line 2, after ("member") insert ("or co-opted member").

Page 29, line 4, at end insert ("and

( ) to the president of the relevant Adjudication Panel.").

Page 29, line 5, leave out subsections (10) and (11) and insert--

("(10A) Any reference in this Part to a person being partially suspended from being a member or co-opted member of a relevant authority is a reference to a person being prevented from exercising particular functions or having particular responsibilities as such a member or co-opted member.").

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

With the leave of the Committee I shall move Amendments Nos. 341 to 344B en bloc. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

Perhaps I can ask the Minister to explain the thinking behind Amendment No. 342A relating to the period of suspension or partial suspension. The Government have clearly gone through a thought process in arriving at this proposal. Perhaps in two sentences the Minister could share it with the Committee.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 11:45 pm, 1st February 2000

This was dealt with when we discussed Amendment No. 329B. I referred to the matter in that context. I believe that the noble Baroness said then that she would need to consider my comments. Amendment No. 342A refers to a,

"period of suspension or partial suspension which ... must not exceed six months".

I think I had better beg the indulgence of the Committee and that of the noble Baroness and say that I shall write to her on this particular proposition.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 343 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 48, as amended, agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 344C:

After Clause 48, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:MATTERS REFERRED TO MONITORING OFFICERS

(".--(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision in relation to the way in which any matters referred to the monitoring officer of a relevant authority--

(a) under section 43(2A), or

(b) as a result of a finding under section 42(5)(c), are to be dealt with.

(2) The provision which may be made by regulations under subsection (1) includes provision for or in connection with--

(a) enabling a monitoring officer of a relevant authority to conduct an investigation in respect of any matters referred to him,

(b) enabling a monitoring officer of a relevant authority to make a report, or recommendations, to the standards committee of the authority in respect of any matters referred to him,

(c) enabling a standards committee of a relevant authority to consider any report or recommendations made to it by a monitoring officer of the authority (including provision with respect to the procedure to be followed by the standards committee),

(d) enabling a standards committee of a relevant authority, following its consideration of any such report or recommendations, to take any action prescribed by the regulations (including action against any member or co-opted member of the authority who is the subject of any such report or recommendation).

(3) The provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (2)(a) includes provision for or in connection with--

(a) conferring powers on a monitoring officer of a relevant authority to enable him to conduct an investigation in respect of any matters referred to him,

(b) conferring rights (including the right to make representations) on any member or co-opted member of a relevant authority who is the subject of any such investigation.

(4) The provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (2)(d) includes provision for or in connection with--

(a) enabling a standards committee of a relevant authority to censure a member or co-opted member of the authority,

(b) enabling a standards committee of a relevant authority to suspend or partially suspend a person from being a member or co-opted member of the authority for a limited period,

(c) conferring a right of appeal on a member or co-opted member of a relevant authority in respect of any action taken against him.

(5) Nothing in subsection (2), (3) or (4) affects the generality of the power under subsection (1).

(6) An ethical standards officer who refers any matters to the monitoring officer of a relevant authority--

(a) under section 43(2A), or

(b) as a result of a finding under section 42(5)(c), may give directions to the monitoring officer as to the way in which those matters are to be dealt with.

(7) In its application to Wales, subsection (1) is to have effect as if for the reference to the Secretary of State there were substituted a reference to the National Assembly for Wales.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 49 [Adjudication Panels]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 344D to 344L:

Page 29, line 14, leave out ("case").

Page 29, line 14, at end insert ("drawn from the Panel").

Page 29, line 16, leave out ("case").

Page 29, line 16, at end insert ("drawn from the Panel").

Page 29, line 33, leave out ("case").

Page 29, line 33, after ("tribunals") insert ("drawn from the Panel").

Page 29, line 37, leave out ("case").

Page 29, line 37, after ("tribunals") insert ("drawn from the Panel").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 49, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 50 [Case Tribunals]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 344M to 346C:

Page 29, line 40, leave out ("for adjudication") and insert ("under section 47(3)").

Page 29, line 42, at end insert--

("(1A) Adjudications in respect of matters referred to the president of the relevant Adjudication Panel under section 48(4) are to be conducted by tribunals (referred to in this Part as interim case tribunals) consisting of not less than three members of the Panel.").

Page 30, line 2, at end insert ("or interim case tribunal").

Page 30, line 5, leave out ("for adjudication") and insert ("under section 47(3)").

Page 30, line 5, at end insert--

("( ) An interim case tribunal drawn from the relevant Adjudication Panel may conduct a single adjudication in relation to two or more matters which are referred to the president of the Panel under section 48(4).").

Page 30, line 7, after ("tribunal") insert ("or interim case tribunal").

Page 30, line 9, after ("tribunal") insert ("or interim case tribunal").

Page 30, line 10, leave out ("members") and insert ("co-opted member").

Page 30, line 12, leave out ("(by co-option) of a committee") and insert ("of any committee, sub-committee, joint committee or joint sub-committee").

Page 30, line 13, at end insert--

("( ) A person who is a member of an interim case tribunal which, as a result of an investigation under section 42, conducts an adjudication in relation to any person may not be a member of a case tribunal which, on the conclusion of that investigation, subsequently conducts an adjudication in relation to that person.").

Page 30, line 15, after ("tribunals") insert ("or interim case tribunals").

Page 30, line 18, after ("tribunals") insert ("or interim case tribunals").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 50, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 51 [Adjudications by case tribunals]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 346D to 346K:

Page 30, line 22, after first ("tribunal") insert ("or interim case tribunal").

Page 30, line 27, after ("tribunals") insert ("or interim case tribunals").

Page 30, line 30, after ("tribunals") insert ("or interim case tribunals").

Page 30, line 33, after ("attend") insert ("adjudications")

Page 30, line 38, leave out ("conducted by a case tribunal").

Page 30, line 40, leave out ("to a case tribunal").

Page 31, line 3, leave out ("case").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 51, as amended, agreed to.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 346L:

After Clause 51, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:DECISIONS OF INTERIM CASE TRIBUNALS

(".--(1) An interim case tribunal which adjudicates on any matters which are the subject of an interim report must reach one of the following decisions--

(a) that the person to whom the recommendation mentioned in section 48(3) relates should not be suspended or partially suspended from being a member or co-opted member of the relevant authority concerned,

(b) that that person should be suspended or partially suspended from being a member or co-opted member of the authority concerned in the way and for the period recommended in the report, or

(c) that that person should be suspended or partially suspended from being a member or co-opted member of the authority concerned in a different way or for a different period from that recommended in the report.

(2) The period mentioned in subsection (1)(c) must not exceed six months or (if shorter) the remainder of the person's term of office.

(3) An interim case tribunal must give notice of its decision to the standards committee of the relevant authority concerned.

(4) If the decision of an interim case tribunal is that a person should be suspended or partially suspended from being a member or co-opted member of the relevant authority concerned-

(a) the notice must specify the date on which the suspension or partial suspension is to begin, and

(b) the relevant authority must suspend or partially suspend the person in accordance with the notice.

(5) A decision of an interim case tribunal under this section shall not prevent an ethical standards officer from continuing with the investigation under section 42 which gave rise to the interim report concerned and producing a report under section 47, or a further interim report under section 48, in respect of any matters which are the subject of the investigation.

(6) The suspension or partial suspension of any person under this section shall cease to have effect on the day that a notice under section 52 is given to the standards committee of the relevant authority concerned with respect to that person.

(7) A copy of any notice under this section must be given--

(a) to any member or co-opted member of the relevant authority concerned who is the subject of the notice, and

(b) to the monitoring officer of the relevant authority concerned.

(8) An interim case tribunal must take reasonable steps to inform any person who made any allegation which gave rise to the investigation under section 42 of its decision under this section.

(9) A person who is suspended or partially suspended under this section may appeal to the High Court--

(a) against the suspension or partial suspension, or

(b) against the length of the suspension.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 52 [Decisions of case tribunals]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 346M to 357:

Page 31, line 11, leave out ("is to adjudicate") and insert ("adjudicates").

Page 31, line 21, leave out from beginning to ("member") in line 23 and insert ("suspended or disqualified in accordance with subsection (3A) or (3B).

(3A) A member of a relevant authority may be--

(a) suspended--

(i) from exercising particular functions as a member of the authority, or

(ii) from being a member of the authority, or

(b) disqualified for being, or being elected or appointed, a member or co-opted member of that or any other relevant authority.

(3B) A co-opted member of a relevant authority may be--

(a) suspended from being a co-opted member of that authority, or

(b) disqualified for being, or being elected or appointed, a member or co-opted").

Page 31, line 26, leave out ("(3)(a),") and insert ("(3A)(a) or (3B)(a),").

Page 31, line 30, leave out ("(3)(b),") and insert ("(3A)(b) or (3B)(b),").

Page 31, line 34, leave out ("(3),") and insert ("(3A) or (3B),").

Page 31, line 41, leave out ("(3)(a),") and insert ("(3A)(a) or (3B)(a),").

Page 32, line 1, leave out from ("authority") to ("for") in line 3.

Page 32, line 3, after ("period") insert (", and to the extent,").

Page 32, line 9, leave out ("(3)(b),") and insert ("(3A)(b) or (3B)(b),").

Page 32, line 14, leave out ("and") and insert ("or").

Page 32, line 14, after ("elected") insert ("or appointed").

Page 32, line 15, after ("member") insert ("or co-opted member").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.