Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:36 pm on 10th October 2007.

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Votes in this debate

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

Clause 53 [Power of council to alter years of ordinary elections of parish councillors]:

[Amendments Nos. 66 and 67 not moved.]

Clause 54 [Amendment of existing provisions about schemes for ordinary elections]:

[Amendment No. 68 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

moved Amendment No. 69:

Clause 54, page 27, line 27, leave out "(1)(a)" and insert "(1)"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 56 [Electoral Commission and Boundary Committee: reviews and recommendations]:

[Amendment No. 70 not moved.]

Clause 59 [Change of name of electoral area]:

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

moved Amendments Nos. 71 to 76:

Clause 59, page 31, line 21, at end insert—

"(1A) A local authority must comply with subsections (1B) to (3) in passing a resolution to change the name of an electoral area.

(1B) The local authority must not pass the resolution unless it has taken reasonable steps to consult such persons as it considers appropriate on the proposed name."

Clause 59, page 31, line 22, leave out from beginning to "at" and insert—

"(2) The resolution must be passed—

(a) "

Clause 59, page 31, line 24, at end insert ", and

(b) by a majority of at least two thirds of the members voting on it."

Clause 59, page 31, line 25, leave out "an" and insert "the"

Clause 59, page 31, line 25, leave out "a resolution to change the name" and insert "the resolution"

Clause 59, page 32, line 2, at end insert—

"( ) In subsection (2) the reference to the members of the council includes—

(a) in a case where the council are operating a mayor and cabinet executive, the elected mayor of the council;(b) in a case where the council are operating an elected executive, the members of the elected executive of the council."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 62 [Executive arrangements for England]:

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I am grateful for the support of colleagues in the House, who are showing such an interest in the future of local government by staying for approximately two minutes while we begin Report stage again.

This is a dauntingly long group of amendments, which seeks to achieve just one thing: to give local authorities full flexibility in their governance models. The Bill narrows the range of options to local authorities down to three. One of these, as we will see in later groups of amendments, is to all practical intents and purposes totally unworkable. The other two options are based on the so-called "strong leadership" model, with the council at large taking on a largely scrutiny role.

I start by again asking the Minister why the Government feel it necessary to change the arrangements for local authorities from those currently in place. She talked in Committee about how councils are now agents of change and said that they need to adapt to new challenges. Well, there have always been new challenges for local authorities. When councils were in their heyday in the 19th century, they dealt with the major problems of the time—public health and so forth—because they were free of Whitehall interference and were able to choose governance structures largely of their own making. If councils are to meet the new challenges of climate change, law and order problems and so forth, they can do so if left free from government interference.

There is no evidence of any public appetite for elected mayors. Referendums have been held throughout the country and the electorate have rejected them as an option. Even in those areas where we have an elected mayor, the turnout has been low; there are mayors who operate with no popular mandate. I fully accept that there are areas where the mayoral model is the right one and that people want it—that is fine. However, in other areas, mayors are enjoying pretty much untrammelled power with no popular mandate.

I ask the noble Baroness to consider again that in areas that have no strong geographic identity the mayoral model is wholly inappropriate. To the south of where I live is a local authority called Babergh. Even people who live in Babergh do not know that they live in Babergh. It has no identity as a council. If someone were to stand as mayor of Babergh, that would be pretty meaningless, as you cannot have an identity for an area like that, which was simply a construct of the last round of restructuring.

In Committee, the noble Baroness talked about the importance of strong leadership. We all agree with that, but there is no evidence that mayors are stronger per se. Those in the current round of mayors were often high-profile leaders who came through the old system. The evidence is that, rather than mayors themselves being strong and high visibility, it is the personalities that bring that to the fore. We have seen that with the most high-profile mayor of all, Mr Livingstone. There is no guarantee that moving to a mayoral model will ensure that a person of such a profile and personality will come through.

I also take issue with the Minister about whether the new models will allow for the development of new people coming through. As I argued in Committee, the abolition of the old committee structure does not allow for people to learn their trade in the way that they used to. In Committee, the noble Baroness said that this learning process would come through chairing overview and scrutiny committees. However, that involves an entirely different skills set. Chairing an overview and scrutiny committee is not high profile; it is essentially a technical job, and it will not lead to people coming forward who are then suited for executive power. I suggest that most people think that Gwyneth Dunwoody does a great job chairing a Select Committee, but she is not your Prime Minister. A different set of skills is required.

The Government also quoted studies that show that mayors are more effective at articulating a vision for their local area. Again, that probably has as much to do with personality as position. I challenge the Government to pause. It is not simply the ability to articulate a vision that makes someone a good leader. That is important—of course it is—but so is service delivery, and the Government have, as yet, given us no evidence that those areas that have moved to these models of governance have improved service outcomes, which have to be the most important outcome of all.

I am a member of your Lordships' Select Committee on Communications. We took some interesting evidence this morning from a company that runs local newspapers throughout the country. It said:

"Today there is much less open debate in council chambers with more decisions taken behind closed doors and the outcome being managed by press officers".

In other words, it is all spin. It is no wonder that people feel that a vision is being articulated. It is a vision that is wrapped in spin; it is developed by the press officers and has no real substance in many cases.

Overview and scrutiny still has a long way to go in many areas before it becomes effective. In any event, it can be quite a damaging model. Essentially it involves councillors looking back at decisions that have already been made and, quite probably, picking holes in them. From the public point of view, it portrays the council as inward-looking. What is worse, when the scrutiny process takes place and nothing happens, which is the case a lot of the time, the council comes across as looking toothless and people ask, "Why have we bothered to elect them at all?".

We often hear criticisms of the London Assembly, which, notwithstanding the work done by my noble friend, is often accused of being toothless. But that is exactly how the Government set the models up. This long raft of amendments seeks to bring back the ability of local authorities to choose a model of governance that suits them so that they can, if they wish, revert to the old committee system. I suggest to the Government that there is nothing wrong with councils making decisions by committee if that is what they think suits them.

There is enormous variety in the make-up of our local councils, whether because of size, geography, culture or politics. To straitjacket them as the Bill does—to reduce them to three models of governance—will be to risk the very stability and service improvements that the Government seek to achieve. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Shadow Minister, Home Affairs 3:45 pm, 10th October 2007

My Lords, we had a long debate on this in Committee and I just want to reiterate that our views accord very much with what the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said. The trouble with the Bill is that it is far too prescriptive. The Minister suggests that it gives lots of flexibility; it does not at all, especially in structures, with which we will deal under later amendments. There were a number of reasons for having an election, but one was to have seen the back of this Bill, which would have dropped very nicely under those circumstances. But there we are; we are left facing it. We have discussed this and the Minister knows our views. On these aspects, we are very far from where we want to be in local government.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, we indeed debated much of this in Committee at great length and with some passion, and we return to it today. Amendments Nos. 77, 84, 86, 88, 91 to 93, 114 and 133 to 135 are intended to allow any council to operate alternative arrangements. That is the burden of them. That is to say, they would allow unitary councils and district councils with a population of 85,000 or more, based on the Registrar-General's estimate on 30 June 1999, to operate alternative arrangements. That would be to move back from an executive model to local government by committee—arrangements that for very good reasons we have allowed for smaller councils under the 2000 Act, because of their very different circumstances and limitations.

At root, the amendments would completely overturn the purpose of the Bill as it relates to council governance. Councils in future would be able to give up having executive arrangements and adopt a committee-type structure—the alternative arrangements, in short. The important point is that not only would that return local government to the position that it was in before the Local Government Act 2000; the amendments also reject the changes that are being made, on the basis of evidence and consultation, to strengthen and focus leadership of local government and to ensure that the best practice under the 2000 Act will in future be replicated everywhere.

The noble Baroness invited me to explain why we are doing what we are doing. I hope that I can persuade her of the veracity and purpose behind it. Simply, all that the White Paper and the Bill have sought to do is to build on the work which was started in 2000 and which has been very successful in councils. The 2000 Act required all but one council to have executive models of government. In the Bill, we have strengthened the leader and Cabinet model in three ways: first, by making provision to allow the leader to appoint his or her executive team; secondly, by creating a presumption of a four-year term of office for leaders who are directly or indirectly elected; and, thirdly, by vesting executive powers in the leadership, so that it has the freedom to delegate powers and to make arrangements that will strengthen leadership and direction.

At the same time, the Bill removes the one anomaly that existed in the Local Government Act 2000, which allowed a large council such as Brighton and Hove to continue to operate without an executive. Following the enactment of the Bill, Brighton and Hove will be required to move to a new-style leader and Cabinet executive.

We are also offering councils a third choice of executive model through the introduction of the elected executive model—which we shall debate in a little while—and the removal of the requirement for a council to hold a referendum before moving to a mayor and Cabinet executive model. We will debate that later, too.

In contrast, the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness would overturn what we—and, I believe, the generality of local government—see as the settled and successful position that the 2000 Act established. We have had 18 months of dialogue with local government representatives throughout the country. The message that came through that consultation process, which was open and protracted, was that there was no appetite for a return to the committee system. On the contrary, successful councils, such as Kensington and Chelsea, are already doing what we want all councils to do. That is the purpose of what we are doing. We want to generate best practice. With certain exceptions, all authorities must have executive arrangements.

The noble Baroness would take us back. Hers is a retrograde if not a reactionary step. It would also fly in the face of the evidence that we now have which confirms the benefits of executive arrangements. I will quote this evidence now; I hope not to quote it again in successive debates, but it is important to put it on the record. The Evaluating Local Governance five-year evaluation of new council constitutions, which we commissioned shortly after enactment of the Local Government Act 2000, showed, in its interim report Does Leadership Matter?, published in June, that the two main current models of executive arrangements involving directly elected mayors or leaders and Cabinets clearly demonstrate the facilitative leadership, in terms of visibility, accountability and a streamlined focus for decision-making, that are needed in modern local government. That research also says that the executive arrangements proposed in the local government White Paper, and subsequently in the Bill, are likely to deliver the leadership that favours this facilitative style.

The final report, which we published on 5 October, says:

"There is general agreement that the aim of enhancing effective leadership has been met and that the new executive arrangements have bedded down well, thus providing more visible and effective leadership and quicker decision-making which is in turn associated with better service delivery".

Crucially, the independent ELG report found that councils operating executive arrangements that vested increased power in the leader—allowing leaders to take decisions themselves and to appoint and allocate portfolios—gained higher CPA scores between 2003 and 2006 and performed better with the 2005 and 2006 direction of travel analysis. Those are the changes that we want to see in all local government because, as the report said in its conclusion:

"Taken together our findings show a consistent relationship between on the one hand, authorities with stable political leadership and authorities that have over a period of time given the full range of powers to their leaders and, on the other hand, better service performance and greater citizen satisfaction".

I am sure that noble Lords do not oppose that conclusion, not least because, although I do not doubt or dispute that particular councils may wish to return to the committee system of leadership, more than one-third of the small councils eligible to operate alternative arrangements have opted to move back to executive arrangements. The noble Baroness raised the example of Babergh. I understand that officers of Babergh District Council have been in touch with DCLG officials to discuss moving from alternative arrangements to executive arrangements. That is an example of how the benefits of executive arrangements are being perceived locally; it is an instant and interesting example of how things are moving.

The bottom line is that the committee system served well for a long time, but the analysis that preceded the 2000 Act made it clear that, crucially, people did not know who was in charge or who was accountable. They did not know whom to praise or blame. They did not know how decisions were taken or on what basis. Ultimately, they did not know whom to go to if they had a problem. The Cabinet system identified, motivated and energised people. I do not see it as a default mechanism for councillors who are unable or unwilling to take part in the full business of being a councillor—a ward councillor or representative councillor serving on area committees, overview and scrutiny committees and policy committees.

There is a range of ways in which councillors should be and are active. It is a counsel of despair if we suggest that the leader and Cabinet system debilitates the role of councillors. That is part of the problem that Jane Roberts will look at in her commission. It is part of the problem that we across this House should engage collectively in addressing, whether it is looking to stimulate people coming forward to local councils, educating young people in the role and importance of local government or doing a range of things besides. It is compatible with better leadership. I take the point made in Committee that we are talking not about stronger leadership alone, but about better leadership. I believe that this Bill is about better leadership. It is not the Government being perverse. It is based on the solid evidence and experience of seven years of progress and outstanding councils.

Some amendments in this group seek to retain the mayor and council manager model, which I should like to address briefly. Noble Lords are aware that the mayor and council manager model was introduced by the Local Government Act 2000. Since that time, only Stoke-on-Trent City Council has operated that model. It adopted the new model following a referendum triggered by a public petition under provisions in that Act. Noble Lords will know that the provisions in the Bill now require Stoke to move away from this model. A governance commission was launched last Friday to assist it in deciding to which model to move.

We put forward governance models with the aim of delivering better leadership. In 2000, this innovative model was based on the analogous model of the private sector, where the mayor would resemble a non-executive chairman of a company and the council manager its powerful chief executive. Local authorities need improved, accountable leadership in order to deal with the constant change. The evidence on the operation of this model was that it was not capable of delivering that. It has been stated that, as the executive consists of just two people—an elected mayor and an appointed council manager—who take all the day-to-day decisions, this has resulted in too much power being placed in the hands of an unelected council manager.

There is dissatisfaction across Stoke about the failure of the model. The council is clear that it does not want to continue with it. There have been public campaigns requesting change and there are no voices in support, which is why we have moved to set up a governance commission. Plans have been developed in consultation with Mark Meredith, the elected mayor of Stoke. The commission will consider options about future governance arrangements and will report to Ministers and the council with its recommendations by May 2008.

Learning from that experience, we have proposed a package of governance arrangements. It will strengthen overview and scrutiny, which will ensure that executive and non-executive councillors are able to deliver improved services for their areas. It will deliver increased accountability through the increased availability of directly elected models and councillor calls for action, which we will debate in Part 5. On the evidence, we do not believe that the mayor and council manager model will deliver the better leadership that we are seeking, which is why we want to get rid of it.

With that explanation on the latter part of the group, plus my response to the earlier parts of the case put forward by the noble Baroness, which were powerfully argued, I hope that she will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, does the Minister accept that she has made my noble friend's case extremely well? She advocates the leadership models. Will she accept that these amendments would still leave a "menu"—as modern jargon would probably have it—from which local authorities can choose? In part, she seems to have characterised a move back to previous models to the exclusion of the Government's proposals.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) 4:00 pm, 10th October 2007

My Lords, that is not how I read the amendments. To reiterate the case, the leadership models offered in the 2000 Act are enhanced in the Bill. This is the right way forward for the reasons that I have given.

Photo of Lord Smith of Leigh Lord Smith of Leigh Labour

My Lords, before the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, responds, how does my noble friend square the idea that she wants to promote leadership in councils with a return to the committee system? Those of us who have experience of that system—

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Government Whip

My Lords, I remind the House that this is the Report stage and noble Lords do not normally speak after the Minister has sat down.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. For about half my adult life I have been involved in local government. People who do that do so for a number of reasons, but it usually comes down to a sense of wanting to deliver for the area in which they live. Differences of opinion arise over how improved services and outcomes are delivered to the people whom they represent. While I was leader of a council group in Suffolk, we moved to the executive model, and did so before the legislation came in. We thought that that was right for Suffolk, and local outcomes show that we were probably right. But that was a decision that we made about Suffolk. The Bill makes the decision for everyone, regardless of the circumstances. That is the difficulty that I have with it. Like the noble Baroness, I am not convinced that the committee system was the best for every local authority, but the system is still being operated by many authorities either because they are small or because they are Brighton and Hove and they are doing very well. My question to the noble Baroness is this: if the outcomes are good, why make authorities change? However, we have such a philosophical difference on this that clearly there is no point in discussing it further.

I want to raise one or two other issues. We have left in the councillor manager model not because we think that it is a good model, but simply because if a local authority wants to use it and thinks that it can work, it ought to be able to use it. I am intrigued that the noble Baroness says that it cannot work because all the power devolves to two people. Under the directly elected executive model, the minimum size specified is two people. Although it can be larger, nevertheless the minimum is two, so I do not see the consistency in that argument.

In later amendments, we shall turn to the problem of what happens in authorities where there is no overall control. That is where my real worry lies. The models offered here may work and be consistent with strong leadership in areas where one political party is in control but, as we shall examine in later amendments, it is difficult to see how they would work in the one-third of councils with no overall control. A significant number of people would be affected.

Lastly, I make the point that having this drive towards so-called strong leadership—with the sense that old governance models in which councillors are elected and serve on committees that are involved in decisions are somehow inimical to good decision-making—is akin to saying that the democratic process is a nuisance and gets in the way of speedy decision-making. That is profoundly dangerous, as is the principle that power should be concentrated in the hands of a few people. The principle of democracy is worth upholding and I see the practicalities of this becoming much more difficult in the future.

We have had two good debates about this and, although I do not agree with the noble Baroness, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 78:

Clause 62, page 34, line 36, leave out "by the executive leader" and insert "according to rules set out in the constitution of the council"

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 78 I shall speak also to the other amendments tabled in my name in the group. First, I apologise for being unable to be here on Monday, and I am not sure that I ought to be here today. But never mind, I shall struggle on for a bit.

These amendments follow on from the group just spoken to by my noble friend Lady Scott. They are about the nature of good leadership and local democracy, and how the two can be brought together. My noble friend alluded to the worry shared by many of us that the Government bang on about leadership—which may be good or bad, but if it is strong it is okay, it seems—but they do not talk very much at all about democracy.

Good local government involves both good leadership and strong democracy, and that leads us, as my noble friend said, to have a series of important fundamental differences with the Government. Some are philosophical differences, if you like, but many are practical as well. We do not think that even in the short run—and certainly not in the longer run—the kinds of models the Government are putting forward will result in good local government as I have just defined it.

Amendment No. 78 relates to who appoints the executive on a council. At the moment—this is set out in legislation—councils have a choice: they can elect a leader at their annual meeting and the leader can appoint the executive; or the annual meeting of the council can appoint the executive as well as appointing the leader. Many councils will be shocked and horrified to learn that they are not to have the ability to appoint what is now, in councils with executive arrangements, the overriding body, the committee, which runs the authority and takes the executive decisions. The idea that that body as a whole, and each of its individual members, will not be able to be appointed by the council is not understood at all.

Since we left these discussions at the end of the Committee stage just before the Summer Recess, I have been asking people whether they know what is in the Bill and what they think of it. I found that a huge number of councillors have not the slightest idea that such matters as this are being put forward. I am not proposing that councils should have to do what I think is right, but I am suggesting they should continue to have the choice they have at the moment: that the arrangements for appointing the executive should be made by the authority. If the council wants to have the executive appointed by the leader, so be it; if it wants to have the executive appointed by the council, let it have it appointed by the council. But to force councils into a position in which one person then decides who is on the executive is wrong. As my noble friend said, in councils which have no overall control or where control is changing, this is a recipe for many messy rows.

Amendment No. 83 seeks to leave out Clause 63 which relates to the discharge of functions. The Minister was very honest: she said that she wants the leader to have all powers to make decisions and that this is the way to run an authority. I beg to differ. Good local government is a matter of discussion, debate and of coming, it is hoped, to a consensus. Very often a consensus is reached, but where there is none, a vote is taken. To put all decision-making in the hands of one person is fundamentally wrong.

Many councils will come to arrangements where this does not happen because if you want to be leader of a council you will not be elected leader unless you have agreed in advance to devolve the decision-making to the kind of arrangements which exist at the moment—to the executive, to area committees, to individual councillors or whatever. But the ability of a leader to take back those decisions is entirely wrong and ought not to be in this legislation. I therefore seek to delete Clause 63, which would leave the existing mayoral arrangements as they are but would remove the ability of councils to have all power to the leader on all executive decisions. That is not right.

I have not had chance to read the second ELG report of 5 October, although the first report was somewhat equivocal and its conclusions were based on the way it did its research. I will read it with interest but will look with great scepticism on the view that only by giving power to one individual are you going to get good local government. The opposite is, in many ways, true.

Leadership is not about one person. Good democratic leadership is about a whole series of people. I should declare an interest, since we are at the start of Report, as a member of Pendle Borough Council and of the executive of that council. I was thinking about how many people on that council are in leadership positions. If you include the leadership of opposition groups, it is getting on for half the council—more than 20 out of 49—who are in genuine leadership positions in different ways. That is how good local leadership should be spread around.

There are other amendments in my name in this group. Amendment No. 128 is specifically about the case of councils in no overall control and the period in office of the leader. We had a lot of discussion about that issue in Committee and I will not go into it again, but many of us believe that having a leader elected compulsorily for four years is not a good idea, particularly where there is no overall control or control of the council changes from time to time, perhaps quite regularly. The amendment puts forward a fairly modest proposal that councils can have in their constitution a provision that the four-year appointment does not apply if the council is in, or goes into, no overall control. That seems sensible in order to make that kind of situation work. If we do not do that, the possibilities are obvious: a lot of trouble, silly arguments and politicking when people ought to be getting on with running the council. That is exactly the kind of thing the Government say they do not want, but it is what will happen if leaders are appointed for four years in situations of no overall control.

The Government will say that those leaders can be removed, but putting down a motion of no confidence in a leader to get rid of him is an extreme move. No doubt the processes of politics in many councils will work behind the scenes, but they ought not to. As my noble friend said, in many places in the past seven years local government has certainly become a lot less transparent and open.

Amendment No. 129 ensures that council constitutions contain a proper procedure for removing a leader who has lost the confidence of the council. If that does not appear in a council's constitution, what is a council to do if the leader has genuinely lost the confidence of the council and refuses to go? That is a crisis situation that will bring the council to a halt and throw its operation into chaos in all sorts of ways. If there is going to be a four-year leader, there must be a procedure for removing him. The Minister will say that we can do that anyway, but if it is in legislation that a leader can be removed and a council has not removed him, that is a recipe for the lawyers getting involved. It is essential that the provision that a leader who is elected for four years can be removed should appear in each council's constitution, and that procedure should be carefully and clearly set out because that is a crisis situation for a council and the rules need to be set down clearly.

Amendment No. 131 is a tidying-up amendment dealing with what happens if a leader has been removed. It contains some provisions relating to the new leader. I will listen to what the Minister says about it with interest before I say anything else about it. Perhaps I will not need to; perhaps she will satisfy me that everything is OK as far as that is concerned.

The Minister said that if there is one leader, it is clear who to praise and who to blame. That set alarm bells ringing. To some extent local government is about praise and blame because people have to be re-elected, but it is not a praise-and-blame game. It is not a television "reality" show, where people are voted in or out at the whim of the moment. It is far more important than that; it is about people working together co-operatively, collectively, collegiately—all the things, as I have said, that the Labour Party used to stand for. Now, apparently, it stands for "leadership", which a few years ago would have been called Stalinist if people were being polite, and would have been called other things if they were not.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour 4:15 pm, 10th October 2007

My Lords, I am interested in the genesis of the amendment. I am aware of leaders of the majority party who have lost the confidence of their group as a result of bad performance and who have been changed by its members. It has been within their power to do that. The amendment would diminish the ability of the party system to continue to govern the situation. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, shakes his head, but I fail to see how the amendment would strengthen the present situation. The raison d'être of the Bill is to create a system of strong leadership, by people who are able, endorsed and competent, carrying out the will of the people. Power comes to the leader through the grassroots of his party. I do not argue against the noble Lord, but I am puzzled by why he thinks that the present system, which allows complete freedom to each party and each council to do as they wish, is unsatisfactory.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the noble Lord is completely wrong in his reading of the Bill. If it is enacted in its present form, and if a leader of a council who is the leader of the majority group is elected for four years, and if the majority group on the council loses confidence in the leader halfway through, it will be unable to remove him if he does not want to go, unless it can get a motion to remove him through the council, which it may not be able to do. If one of us was leader of the majority group and we had fallen out with our own group and joined forces with the opposition, the opposition might keep us in office and refuse a vote of no confidence. The only way in which the majority group could remove its leader within the four years would be either by persuading that person to resign, which they might not do, or by moving a vote of no confidence in them at a council meeting. Expecting a majority group to move a vote of no confidence in its own leader at a council meeting is a step too far. If a majority party has no confidence in its leader, it should be able to change them and the leadership of the council as it can now. The Bill would prevent that. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, Amendment No. 79 raises the same issue as has been raised by my noble friend Lord Greaves; that is, the leader changing the cabinet. Forty-one per cent of councils that operate the leader-and-cabinet model do so as a matter of choice. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said that that model is used in Kensington and Chelsea. However, 59 per cent of authorities that operate that model have decided that the council should choose the member of the executive. The Minister explained when addressing previous amendments how councils which have moved to the leader-and-cabinet model have improved their performance. If they have improved their performance under a system where the council chooses the cabinet, why does she feel the need to force the majority of councils to change the way in which they operate?

There are two potentially unwelcome outcomes. First, in councils in which one group is politically dominant, there is a danger that the loyalty and focus of the Executive will be to the leader as an individual and not to the council as a whole—to their colleagues and their group—because the blunt truth is that they will owe their jobs to the leader and not the council as a whole. That will have a quite a marked effect on the dynamics of the council.

More significantly, I am concerned about the situation in which councils are in no overall control. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, spoke about the will of the people. In many areas the will of the people is that no one party controls a local authority. When a council is in no overall control, it has to be pragmatic about how it finds a way to move the council forward. That may mean all sorts of devices must be used, such as shared leadership or one party being leader for one year and another party taking the leadership for another year. A whole variety of models is in place. The difficulty is, when no one has overall control and two political parties are working together, a leader of one party will appoint members of another party to the Cabinet, which is politically unacceptable. In the councils that I know, that would be, in presentational terms, impossible to justify. However councils have got round it in the past has been a matter for local choice—and this measure will rob them of that.

A similar issue arises on four-year terms, which is the subject of my noble friend's other amendment. I support him very strongly in this because, again, in councils with no overall control it is very unlikely that a minority party in joint administration will put another party leader in place for four years. The result of that may very well be that more councils will be run by minority control, which would be much less stable and would work against the strong leadership that the Minister seeks to achieve.

My Amendment No. 130 deals with new Section 44C and the removal of a leader. The two new subsections make provision for a local authority to remove the executive leader by resolution but do not refer to resignation and what happens should a leader resign.

Finally, my Amendment No. 245 is a tidying-up amendment, removing Schedule 5, which refers to the transitional arrangements for a move to new models. If the other amendments were passed, Schedule 5 would have to go too.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, I have been in almost total agreement with my noble friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches up to now, so I have not felt compelled to join in with the debate. However, I do not agree with the proposal in Amendment No. 79 that the executive leader should not be able to appoint executives to his or her Cabinet. I hold a diametrically opposed view: if a council wants to elect the executive, that is for it to decide, but there is a lot to be said for the leader being able to appoint people with whom he knows he will be able to work, who have a similar outlook on how things should be done and who will work harmoniously for what is likely to be four years to help the council through. So I am not in favour of that amendment. There are problems with overall control, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, highlighted. However, in this particular aspect there are great advantages when the leader appoints his own Cabinet, which we see at the moment in most or many councils, and I feel that he must be entitled to continue doing so.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Baronesses for their comments and to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for moving the amendment. We welcome him back. We missed him on Monday. He would have enjoyed the debates we had then, particularly that on a referendum. It is good to see him in his place. I realise that he has made a heroic effort to be here and we hope that he will be well enough to be present throughout our discussions on the Bill.

I fear that in some ways the case I have made has been somewhat parodied. As I tried to explain on the previous amendment, I do not believe for one moment that leadership is the opposite of democracy or that democracy is in any sense a nuisance. After many years of an evolutionary system of local government, we are trying to equip it with a sharper set of tools which will allow it to facilitate people to work together in leadership teams but with leaders who have the autonomy and scope to do what is necessary. We are facing challenges that 10 years ago we could not have put a name to. The obvious one is climate change. There is a dramatic need to take tough decisions on where and how we build or how we organise our waste disposal. These decisions do not mean that ordinary members of a council have no view or no value—far from it—but ultimately it now behoves us to organise our arrangements so that we have stronger leadership. That is all that the Bill is leading to, but as I keep saying, it certainly does not diminish the notion of co-operation, debate and discussion throughout the range of activities that a council has to continue to do.

Amendments Nos. 78 and 79 would remove the requirement that the leader must appoint the Cabinet and would instead provide for the full council to appoint all the members of the executive. In the same vein, Amendment No. 83 would ensure that responsibility for executive functions remained with the whole executive rather than being vested solely in the leader. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, asked why we think that this is an important move. I turn again to the evidence, which applies to some of the other amendments too, particularly Amendment No. 245, which is rather a general amendment. I have referred to the evidence before. It demonstrates that councils operating executive arrangements, which allowed leaders to take decisions themselves and appoint and allocate portfolios to their Cabinet, gained higher CPA scores in the three years between 2003 and 2006. It clearly shows that there was a positive and statistically significant relationship between the proportion of citizens who were satisfied with council performance and the number of executive freedoms, which included selecting members of the Cabinet. That was already the case for the mayoral models. All we are proposing is to place all leaders on the same footing, including indirectly elected executives and the strengthened leader and Cabinet model.

The noble Baroness suggests that somehow loyalty will switch from the council to the leader in that situation. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, who speaks from great experience—she spoke in Committee and again today—said that it was important for the leader to have confidence in his or her executive team. She spoke about the advantages that the model brings in being able to say to your colleagues, "I would like you to be part and parcel of my team. You have the skills that we need to deal with this particular set of challenges and circumstances". I heard nothing to suggest that that loyalty to the leader does not mean that there is an equal loyalty to the performance of the council. There is a vested interest in seeing the council succeed. That is why one stands for election. One does not stand in order to fail, either personally or as a member of a council. It seems to me that if we set up these straw dogs or straw animals, we are creating problems which do not exist and we are saying to councils, "You may do this but it comes with an awful lot of problems attached".

One thing that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, which I was struck by and will take away and think about, is that councils do not know about some of the Bill's implications for them. I can see noble Lords nodding. That is a serious point, and if the House will allow I will go back and discuss how we can address that problem. I do not want to make a meal of this. Those are the reasons why we feel that enabling the leader now to appoint that Cabinet, to strengthen the collective position of the Cabinet in that way, to demonstrate clear leadership and clear accountability, is important.

Amendments Nos. 128 and 129 are on the presumption of a four-year term. I take the point that this is an issue in councils of no overall control. I hope that I can give some reassurance, because it may not have been entirely clear in our previous discussions. We have made a presumption, which is clear in the White Paper, that it is obviously a four-year term for directly-elected executives. It is also clear in the White Paper that this is a presumption of a four-year term to enable better leadership. As I said in Committee, it is not simply our view that a four-year term brings stability. It is shared by the Local Government Association which, in its Closer to People and Places report, called for,

"the appointment of a leader for the full term of the council ... to encourage development and succession, but also the clear expectation that personal accountability means just that in the event of serious underperformance".

It is important that we are talking about a presumption. We recognise that there will be circumstances where it will be appropriate that the term will be shorter than four years. For example, where a council has partial council elections and a member is elected leader who only has two years before their term as councillor ends, then their term as leader will be two years. Equally—this is where it is important to consider the NOC councils—we recognise that it is only democratic for a council to be able to provide in its constitution for whatever arrangements it thinks are locally right for ending a leader's term of office within the four years. A council may decide and provide for this by specifying a vote of no confidence. However, a council might wish to include in its constitution a range of other circumstances where a council may vote to end the term of the leader, as it does now. I point noble Lords in the direction of several councils that have made specific arrangements in their constitutions for specific circumstances arising, and I will send noble Lords a note on that if they like.

In a situation of no overall control, it could be open to a council to make some expression of that in its constitution when control changes. So let me say again that there will be nothing that imposes a four-year term on indirectly elected leaders. We are talking about a presumption in the constitution. It will be open to a council to provide for the council, if it so votes, to end a leader's term of office, and the constitution may specify the circumstances in which the vote may be put. That allows for a certain degree of freedom.

The White Paper clearly states in paragraph 3.23:

"It will continue to be for councils to decide, through their constitutions, under what circumstances the leader might be removed during the 4 year term".

New Section 44C provides for the removal of a leader in a new-style leader and Cabinet model. We considered over the summer, in response to the debates that we had in Committee, whether we should make it compulsory for local authorities to have a process for a vote of no confidence in the constitution. However, we shied away from that because we did not want to prescribe on matters of detail. We thought that this was the sort of thing that was best left to local authorities. Local authorities will still be able to include in their constitutions provisions to apply in the case of a vote of no confidence, or a change of political control. Indeed, we know of several councils that have provisions for that circumstance.

I hope that on those grounds noble Lords can take some reassurance from what I have said in relation to the circumstances that they have described of instability and the sort of perverse consequences that might arise.

Amendments Nos. 130 and 131 concern the procedure where a leader is removed during their four-year term. These are matters of detail which will be addressed through regulations dealing with vacancies in the office of executive leader, including those resulting from resignation, under new Section 44H. This mirrors the approach we have taken previously to making provision for mayoral vacancies. We do not believe it is appropriate to put that degree of detail in the Bill and I hope that noble Lords will agree that that is sensible.

I have addressed most of the amendments. Amendment No. 245 would ensure that councils operating the current leader and Cabinet model would not be required to move to the strengthened model. Therefore, it is implicit from what I have been saying that it would be difficult to accept that amendment. I hope I have been able to give noble Lords a degree of assurance on both issues raised by the amendments.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government 4:30 pm, 10th October 2007

My Lords, I understand a great deal of what the noble Baroness said and I understand that in practice things will be worked out pragmatically, as they often are; but if a council does not have a provision in its constitution for removing the leader, and if there is clear will on the council—for whatever reason—that the leader has to be changed, how can it do that?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I have to say that I do not know. It seems to me that every council in the country might have to address that in its constitution-making powers. I will have to take advice because I have never come across that situation—or perhaps I have. My note looks like it says, "arrest the constitution", but I think the position is to "amend the constitution". That seems sensible.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part and the Minister for her response. I would never describe myself as heroic. I shall ponder on that. The answer to my question that I would have given the Minister is the one that she has now given. The council would have to start by amending its constitution to allow itself to change the leader. That is not an easy process nowadays. You cannot just table a motion and do it. You must have discussions with the monitoring officer or whatever and go through various processes. My point is to ask why that kind of convoluted, difficult and time-consuming process has to take place. If there is a clear view on the council that the leader needs to be changed, the council should be able to do that as a matter of course. I honestly do not understand why the Minister is resisting this pragmatic amendment.

Some of what I and my noble friend Lady Scott have been saying is a matter of principle. We do not agree with what the Government want to do and the way that they want local government to work. We think that local government will work better and more democratically in a different way—certainly not in the present way or the past way. We must accept that there is a difference of principle across the Chamber. Some of my amendments are an attempt to make the system that the Government want to work in practice. This is a pragmatic attempt to set out in a council's constitution exactly what happens once a leader loses confidence before the four-year term is up. I ask the Government to continue thinking about this, because they have not got it right.

Equally, what we have put down and what my noble friend said about councils with no overall control is a genuine attempt to allow them to continue to operate well, despite the political situation that they are in. We are not trying to be awkward. I would like to wreck a great deal of what is in the Bill, although I recognise that I am not going to do that, but if it is going to go through, I would like it to work in a practical, sensible and pragmatic way. I hope that the Minister understands that we are moving some of the amendments in that light.

The Minister referred to the CPA scores and to what she believes is evidence that more concentrated leadership gives better leadership. There is a problem with the CPA. From the Government's point of view, what they would describe as strong, clear, centralised decision-making is a good thing and a good way to run councils. You get higher CPA scores if you run the council in that way, and so I believe that the CPA scores on which the Minister relies are to some extent circular: people find things that they are looking for, they score those highly and then they use that as evidence that that is a good way of running things. I do not know how far that is the case but I am certain that it is the case—at least in practice.

The Minister said that she would take away and consider the fact that councils do not know what is being proposed. I have talked to a lot of councillors, a large number of whom, I admit, but by no means all, are from my party. I think that if they had known about this a few months ago, we would have heard a lot more protest from local government as the Bill went through Parliament. People do not know about the proposal, but we are where we are and we have to work with that.

I should like to have votes on all these matters but I think that I would be wasting everyone's time if I pressed this to a vote, so I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment. However, in doing so, I want to say that I do not think these issues will go away. Many people in local government will not like what they are being told to do. In councils with no overall control, the normal processes of politics will take over. There will be a lot of negotiation and discussion, and sensible councillors will end up running their councils in the way that they think is best within the framework of the legislation. I think that it was Phil Woolas in the Commons who said that many councils will not change because they will find ways round the legislation, but that is not the way that things should be done. The problem is that, as my noble friend said, those processes of negotiation take place behind closed doors. Nowadays, the rooms are no longer smoke-filled but there are still lots of non-smoke-filled rooms where all this negotiation takes place. We are trying to bring the process into the open and have it done openly at council meetings, but that is not the way that things happen nowadays.

Therefore, with a sense of sadness but with a belief that local government will nevertheless struggle on, despite what is being imposed on them, and probably do it fairly well, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 79 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, with Amendment No. 79A and the long list of amendments grouped with it, we return to the question of directly elected executives. When I first read the proposal in the Bill, I thought that it was a pretty daft idea. As time has gone on and we have had more debate in this place, the flaws in the model have—to me and, I think, to a number of colleagues—become even more apparent.

Like my noble friend Lord Greaves, I have spent quite a lot of time this summer meeting council groups, which I do all the time, and I have talked to them about the Bill. I can confirm, as my noble friend said, that they have no idea what is down the road. I think that, partly because they have been exercised by the restructuring part of the Bill and by whether they will be involved with that, they have rather taken their eye off the ball in terms of structures.

I do not believe that the Local Government Association has helped, because it has had nothing to say publicly about these matters. I would not expect it to take sides; nevertheless, publicising the fact that the Bill is on its way would have been part of its core job and it would have been very helpful to local authorities. I have found a remarkable degree of ignorance about what is proposed here. I can tell the noble Baroness that, when I talk to members of local authorities about the directly elected executive proposal, their jaws begin to drop as they wonder how on earth that will work.

I thought long and hard about moving the amendment today. To an extent, my initial thought was that it should form part of the Bill if the Government wish because, if a local authority is daft enough to choose this model, it should be able to do so. However, as time has gone on, I have come to the view that it is verging on irresponsible to have an option for governance in the Bill that is fundamentally unworkable.

First, we have the problem that people are allowed to—and will—stand for election both as slate members of a Cabinet and as councillors. It is inevitable that they will run for both. If they are successful in getting elected to the Cabinet they will immediately have to resign as councillors. Therefore, as soon as we have had an election, there will be multiple by-elections, depending on the size of the slate. If the turnout in all-out local government elections is low, I hate to think how low it will be for a by-election within three weeks or so of the main election.

The model may well result in the executive being under different political control from that of the rest of the council. I fail to see how that could possibly work. We would not think of running this country under a system whereby we had a Labour Cabinet and a Conservative or Liberal Democrat Parliament. It simply would not work. But this model could foist such a system on to local government. In such a situation a leader and Cabinet could struggle to get their budget past the council, and there could be difficulties regarding their development and local community plans given that both sides—the executive and the council—might have legitimate but different political aspirations. That is not a recipe for strong leadership, which I know the Government want. The other solution would be to emasculate the council to the extent that it has no real check on the executive, and local people will then wonder why they bothered electing councillors.

There is a further set of problems with the model. If the leader resigns, becomes ill or dies, the whole Cabinet will have to be re-elected. If one member of the Cabinet disappears for some reason, their work will be spread out among the remaining Cabinet members, thereby increasing their workload, or a by-election for that one place will have to be held. That could result in someone from another political party being elected to the Cabinet. In Committee, the Minister thought that in some circumstances it would be a good idea to have a government of all the talents. After my experiences as a local councillor I find it inconceivable to imagine how a sole person of one party could sit in a Cabinet made up of other parties. How on earth does the noble Baroness think that collective Cabinet responsibility would work in those circumstances?

For all the reasons I have outlined and probably for some more that I have not thought of, we have come to the conclusion that this model is unworkable and really should not be in the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Shadow Minister, Home Affairs 4:45 pm, 10th October 2007

My Lords, I have tabled a whole raft of amendments in this group—Amendments Nos. 102, 104 to 106, 108, 119, 123 to 125, 127 and 136—each of which would remove from the Bill any reference to an elected leader and Cabinet. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, beat me to it by mentioning it first, and I very much support what she said.

We had a long discussion in Committee about this proposal, and many of the points that the noble Baroness has raised today were put forward then. But like her, the more I have thought about the proposal since Committee, the more daft it has seemed. It is rather like asking the current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, whether he would stand for election with all his Cabinet at the same time and leave all his MPs shafted, to be elected on their own while he took what he thought was the cream of Parliament for a separate election. Of course, if he did so he would have to do it against the chance that the Conservative Party would do the same—and in the light of all the recent joy, he would probably end up with a Conservative Cabinet and a few Labour Members of Parliament.

The proposal does not make sense. In local government elections, local people will not be asked to vote for a party despite the fact that that is what they do. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, has waxed lyrical about the value of party groups. The electorate vote for a person within a party and that party wins. It is now proposed that, as part of that process, a lump of people—either those who are already going to stand as members of the council or a completely disparate and separate group—will be put forward. One can imagine a leader identifying somebody in the community whom they would like as the Cabinet member for finance and bringing them in. It will not necessarily be someone with experience of local government; it could be someone whom the leader thought was quite outside local government. That person could be brought in and put on top.

If we are not careful about this, we could remove the need for councillors per se. There is a logical progression in these proposals for an elected Cabinet: one could create a smaller system consisting of a leader and a number of people to support him, an election for them, and a shafting of the rest. One can see how it would progress. There is ever less need for a large number of councillors because all the power is being vested in the Cabinet, and the Bill is doing nothing to lessen that. Although the council would have the choice of whether to implement this, I think that it would be the straw that broke local government's back and that it would not do what the Minister believes it will, which is to increase the council's authority. Everyone would be so baffled and bemused by the proposal that they would probably stay at home in droves, and that would give the council no legitimacy at all.

We are as strongly opposed to the proposal as the noble Baroness and her party. If she presses the amendment to a vote, we will support her.

Photo of Baroness Maddock Baroness Maddock Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I support my noble friend on the Front Bench. When somebody explained to me what was going to happen, I said, "That cannot be right. Nobody could have put that into a Bill. They must have got it completely wrong". I still think that that is the case. If you explain to anybody outside this Chamber what is being proposed, they will simply say, "It's mad".

I have a specific question. I talked earlier about reorganisation and transitional councils. Can the Minister tell me at what point in the process of a council making the transition from a group of districts to a unitary authority this question would be raised, and how the decision would be made? There is some confusion about that. In Northumberland, those making the two submissions decided that they would go for this option. They thought that they might be able to get their submissions through because the Government thought that this was a good idea. Now they are backtracking like mad after realising exactly what is involved. I would be grateful for that information.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I have a brief point to add to the excellent speeches of my noble friend Lady Scott and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. This is different in kind from other proposals about the internal organisation of councils because this is not fundamentally about the internal organisation of councils but about the method of council election. That is why the dangers put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, stare some of us firmly in the face.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I can see that nothing much has changed over the summer despite meetings and letters, and I cannot say that I am terribly surprised. However, I continue to be a little disappointed by the combination of dire predictions and the fact that the noble Baronesses opposite want to remove choice—and those are the Benches that are always pro-choice. The Government are always accused of not being serious about choice. Here we are trying to offer a third choice of executive model to local government but the parties opposite want to stop us doing so. It is rather paradoxical.

Where did the idea come from? It was not invented by the Government. As we were developing policy around the models last year and the year before, the predecessor to the present Secretary of State, Mr David Miliband, was talking to local councillors and to the council in Stockton. The discussions were prompted by a resolution of Stockton council at its meeting on 14 December 2005 which instructed the chief executive to write to the Minister seeking the Government's support to develop the elected executive model. So the idea came from local government, and it is not a dead issue. The council, in its discussions with officials, is still interested in this model. In all fairness, all we are trying to do is to put this option in the Bill so that councils are able to consider it in the future if they want.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, asked at what point in the transition process it will happen. It will happen when the joint implementation committee which will be set up by the order meets to decide how it wants to take the new structures forward.

Photo of Baroness Maddock Baroness Maddock Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. So the decision cannot be made before the Bill is passed and the joint committee has a statutory basis?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, that is true.

I ask the noble Baronesses opposite whether they really want to remove choice from the Bill. It is not just Stockton, and it is not an unproven model. As I wrote to the noble Baronesses during the Recess, other countries and regions have this model. It is also not unknown for the sort of mixed political economy which was described also to be in place. In fact, international experience in some parts of the world suggests that it is possible to have an executive controlled by one party and an Assembly controlled by another. It is another model. As we have always said and explained, the model is innovative. Innovations are sometimes challenging in terms of credibility but this model is working in other countries.

The model essentially involves putting powers in the hands of a team. Everyone who is in politics is familiar with the notion of a slate, and slates are constructed for different reasons. This team—this slate which will stand for election while individual members also stand as individual councillors—embraces the democratic possibilities of being a local councillor while at the same time standing with a body of people who share the same values and skill-set and who can be recommended to the electorate on that basis. That is all I want to say about why the model should be in the Bill as a matter of choice.

The model includes a complete separation of powers between the executive and the front-line councillors. However, I do not regard that as undermining the possibility that front-line councillors will increase the challenge that they pose to the executive. On the contrary, I see it as an opportunity for councillors to pick up a challenge because they would be faced with an executive that has chosen to stand collectively and that presents itself as such. So I do not think that there is a diminution of democratic activity or responsibility.

We have discussed the matter in great detail and I believe that the noble Baronesses' predictions are dire in the extreme. If the model was adopted I believe that it would be managed sensibly in relation to, for example, how by-elections are managed and the choices available to the executive about whether to run with a smaller council if people lose their seats or whatever. There is not much to be gained by reiterating the detail. I simply return to the argument that the Bill is about a choice of models and that this is one of the models. The parties opposite insist that we consider whether we want to go down this road. We are offering choice but they seem to be rejecting the opportunity to include this as a choice, and it is paradoxical. I hope that they will reconsider.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will she confirm that those who will be standing for this slate do not have to be councillors at all?

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, so they need have no experience of operating in a council?

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, but that could be their first experience of being councillors?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government 5:00 pm, 10th October 2007

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments, but I just want to make a few remarks in closing. She has taken us to task for removing a choice. We may have taken a different view about leaving this appalling proposal in the Bill if it had been part of a much wider menu of choice, but the fact is that the Government have limited local authorities to three options. There is a danger that if they are not very keen on two of them, they may choose this one as the least worst without fully understanding just how damaging and difficult it could be.

I am intrigued that the noble Baroness said that because Stockton-on-Tees has put this forward, it has to be in the Bill. Brighton and Hove are desperately keen to keep their current arrangements but the Government have not listened to them, so what does Stockton have that Brighton does not? I am intrigued to know why the wishes of one local authority are considered so important that an entire model is constructed around it. My inquiries show that the proposal does not have the support of Stockton council as a whole, it does not have multi-party support. That is simply not the case. To include a model in the Bill to be one of only three choices on the basis of some conversations with one local authority where not everyone is in support is highly dangerous.

Finally, all the way through debate on the Bill, we have heard that the Government are seeking to create a framework for strong and accountable local authority leadership. The public in an area will have gone out to elect a Cabinet and to elect their councillors. They may find that they are from different political parties. If the budget does not get passed because the Cabinet puts it forward and the council has exercised its right not to pass it, who is accountable then? Who do the public see as having the clear line of responsibility then? That is creating neither strong leadership nor the sort of accountability that the Government seek. From that point of view, I can see this being highly damaging and absolutely not achieving the Government's stated aims.

I am not satisfied with the response that I have had today and I wish to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 79A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 183; Not-Contents, 140.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill

Aye: 181 Members of the House of Lords

No: 138 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

[Amendments Nos. 80 and 81 not moved.]

Clause 63 [Discharge of functions]:

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government 5:15 pm, 10th October 2007

moved Amendment No. 82:

Clause 63, page 36, leave out line 16

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 83 not moved.]

Clause 64 [Changing governance arrangements]:

[Amendments Nos. 84 to 86 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, these government amendments set out a number of technical changes. On Monday, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, kindly indicated that she had a couple of queries on them, so I shall attempt to address those. I have also placed a short note on this matter in the Library of the House.

The amendments ensure that the Bill's provisions work alongside the existing legislation. During our debates in Committee on directly elected executives, I was asked whether members of those executives will be members of the council in terms of voting in the council. Indeed, the question came up again just before the Division. I informed noble Lords that our policy is that they will indeed be full members of the council.

The Local Government Act 2000 currently provides for an elected mayor to be treated as a member or councillor if express provision is made along these lines in regulations. However, it has come to our attention that there are inconsistencies in this approach and that amendments are needed both to the 2000 Act and to the Local Government Act 1972 to make the position clear. This group of amendments makes amendments to the Bill and consequential amendments to existing legislation to ensure that it is clear when mayors and members of elected executives should be treated as members of the local authority and when they should not.

I will take the amendments out of order, as the key amendment is located in Schedule 4. Amendment No. 226 amends the 1972 Act so that references in that Act to members of the council include mayors and members of the elected executives. This means that, where a council is to vote on normal council business, the mayor or the members of elected executives will be able to vote where those models exist.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, we have an intriguing situation here. The Minister has just lost the clause. As I understand it, directly elected executives have been ruled out of the Bill through the vote by the House of Lords. How can we amend something that we have just lost?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I believe that it is perfectly possible to proceed with these government amendments. If necessary, we can make arrangements at later stages of the Bill, should that be necessary. Perhaps the noble Baroness is teasing me, but she indicates that she is not. If she will forgive me, I shall plough on.

Amendment No. 117 makes it clear that where there are references in legislation to a member of a local authority or a councillor of a local authority, they do not include a mayor unless the legislation specifically states that a reference to a member or councillor should include a mayor. Amendment No. 118 makes similar provisions for elected executives. Through these amendments, in future both an elected mayor and a member of an elected executive will be treated as a member or councillor if either regulations or another enactment expressly provide for this. My noble friend Lady Morgan has already spoken to amendments that expressly state that an elected mayor and a member of an elected executive can vote on resolutions passed under Parts 2 and 3 of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 229, 231 to 244 and 255 make the necessary consequential amendments to the remainder of the Local Government Act 1972 and, along with Amendment No. 226, make it clear that a reference to a member in the 1972 Act includes an elected mayor or a member of an elected executive. So in answer to the specific query of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, a mayor and a member of a directly elected executive are not to be treated as members of a local authority unless the legislation or regulations specifically provide for it. This was the approach used in the Local Government Act 2000. The Secretary of State will be able to make regulations under the 2000 Act specifying when the mayor or a member of an elected executive are to be treated as a member or councillor of a local authority. Again, that was the approach taken in 2000.

The group contains a number of further technical drafting amendments that need to be included in the Bill. I hope that I have explained to the House why the technical issues need to be resolved. To refine what I said earlier, we still need these government amendments for mayors but they will not now apply in relation to elected executives. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for responding to the points that I made the other day on Amendments Nos. 117 and 118. I commented that I could see that there might be a little confusion as to when a member was or was not a member, and some authoritative explanatory note at the end of this process—depending, of course, where we end up—could be quite helpful within the trade.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, another point has just occurred to me which I do not think that we cleared in Committee. The Minister may wish to think about it if she is unable to respond immediately. If there were elected slates—I know that there are not going to be now, but if there were elected people—would they be supernumerary to the number of councillors? The number of councillors is set by the Electoral Commission or the Boundary Commission—I am never quite sure which—as a proportion of the electorate. If there were to be anyone on top of or in addition to those, that would put the proportions out. Is that the situation?

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 88 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 90, which contains the meat of the two amendments. The amendments relate to whether there should be a referendum if a council decides that it wants an elected mayor. There have been a number of referendums under existing legislation for elected mayors, and that is the system. You cannot at the moment make a decision about whether or not to have an elected mayor unless you have a referendum. The proposal in the Bill is that the council will be able to vote to have an elected mayor, by a two-thirds majority, and that decision will be binding. The Minister will say that the council can also make a decision, if it wishes, to have a referendum. It is all rather confusing, because the decision on whether to have a referendum will now be made by the council, a body that may or may not wish to move to an elected mayoral system.

The reason for pursuing the amendment at this stage is to put down the marker, yet again, that out there in the country there will be some very angry people if they find that their council is foisting on them an elected mayor that they do not want and they do not have a vote in the matter. You can argue about whether the decision to have an elected mayor should or should not be subject to a referendum of the people—that discussion took place seven years ago—but the system that is now entrenched is that, if you are going to make such a decision about an elected mayor, you have a referendum. What the Government are now doing in the Bill is potentially taking away that right.

In some of the places that have elected mayors, the decision was not terribly controversial at the time; in other places, it was highly controversial and a matter of great local debate and campaigning. Indeed, in some places far more campaigning and effort went into the referendum on whether to have a mayor than went into who should be the mayor once the elections came round. That turned out to be a damp squib—Torbay is the extreme example, but there are others. Nevertheless, people will feel that that right existed for the people in Bedford, Torbay or Middlesbrough—wherever it was—and it has been taken away from them. I move the amendment to warn the Government that they will get into serious trouble in some places if councils vote to go ahead with an elected mayoral system but people do not have a vote on it.

The case for changing the rules has not been made. As my noble friend has pointed out, elected mayors have become a lot less popular since they first came in, and it is now very difficult to win such a referendum. There is a suspicion that that is why the Government are potentially abolishing the referendum, which may or may not be the case. I do not know why they want elected mayors in the first place, but that goes back to the arguments that we were having before about the nature of leadership and so on.

If we are to have a system in which a fundamental change can take place from the existing way in which local authorities are elected to the election of an executive mayor, taking away the right to a referendum is going to cause a lot of anger and trouble. I tell the Government that, even on pragmatic grounds, it is not worth it. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour

My Lords, I stand not as an opponent to the weapon of a referendum but as someone who wants it to be used sparingly. I fully support its application where it has been applied, but I am wedded to the idea that every four years, or whenever, the best referendum in the world takes place—an election. People might tell me that they know of a referendum in which the turnout exceeded the number of people who vote in a local election or anywhere else, but I doubt it. A referendum on a particular narrow issue is capable of being hijacked by interest groups that have a purpose in mind.

I give way to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his in-touchedness with local government matters. I speak only from my own experience, which is nothing like as wide or as deep as his, but what, after all, do you elect a council for? By whatever method you elect it, you give it the authority to continue to govern. If it decides that it wishes to change, the mechanism already exists to do so. However, if it wants to change but the change is then subject to a referendum, I can see that being a hostage to fortune. Already we are talking about too much bureaucracy, interference and being told what to do by Whitehall.

My days on a council—I still attend group meetings of various kinds—mean that I have every faith in the sagacity and integrity of those who ultimately become elected councillors. We must bear in mind the fact that they are elected on a manifesto. They tell the people of the locality what they believe in and how they will do it, and they are open to criticism. The councils regularly take care, most of them with public relations officers or through some other mechanism, to ensure that people understand what is going on. I have every sympathy with what the noble Lord continues to do: that is, to find a means of making a properly working democratic system work even more democratically. That is a laudable objective, but I do not see any need to do what he proposes in this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) 5:30 pm, 10th October 2007

My Lords, we have a new word in the great British lexicon: "in-touchedness". It is charming and well applied, and we shall have many opportunities to use it. I thank my noble friend for his powerful comments. They echo a point that I will make later in my reply.

It is in the context of leadership that we discuss the amendment, which would require an authority that proposes to change its executive arrangements to a mayor-and-Cabinet executive to hold a referendum. As champions of their communities, local authorities should be able to propose the executive arrangements that enable them best to deliver strong and effective leadership, which was the burden of my noble friend's argument. However, I make it clear to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that that does not mean that local people will no longer be able to have their say about executive arrangements. The Bill proposes not to do away with local voice or local choice, but to give a locally elected council a power that it does not, and should, have; that is, to propose a move towards a mayoral model if it resolves to do so. The 2000 Act did not permit a decision on moving to a directly elected model to rest solely on such a decision. That may have reflected the novelty at that time of the directly elected option.

The Government are not anti-referendum, but pro-council. There is no reason why a referendum on a mayor should not take place. I shall explain the conditions in which it would apply. First, as the noble Lord said, subsection (5) of new Section 33E will allow authorities to choose to make their proposals subject to a referendum. They will continue to have that choice. They will be aware of their electorate and be cautious of the matters that the noble Lord mentioned.

Secondly, local people will still be able to petition their local authority to hold a referendum on its executive arrangements where they feel strongly about it. That ability is not being taken away. It could be a referendum for a mayor-and-Cabinet executive and all other models.

The third condition applies to all the executive models. Wherever an executive model is put in place following a referendum, local authorities will be required to hold a referendum on any proposed change to a different model. They would be able to implement the change only where the proposals were supported by the referendum.

However, if none of those situations were to apply, the council would still be unable to move to a mayoral model without inviting the views of local people. A new model could not be foisted upon them without consultation. Local authorities which intend to change their arrangements will be required to consult their electorate and any other interested parties in their area, such as businesses and the voluntary sector, before drawing up proposals.

Where councils go on to draw up proposals, they will be required to make them public by making available for inspection at their principal offices a document that sets the proposals out. People will be not only consulted at the beginning of the process but informed as it goes through. Ultimately, as my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton said, if the council goes ahead against the wishes of the people, the people will certainly have their say at a subsequent council election.

In short, the change that we are proposing will provide an important additional option whereby a council can move to a directly elected mayor if it resolves to do so. It is right for the democratically elected representatives of an area to be able to take such a decision. They decide local taxes; they create an area's sustainable community strategy. I do not understand the rationale for their not being able to decide the form of local governance for their area. I am sure that all noble Lords share our belief and confidence in representative democracy, the case for which was well put by my noble friend Lord Graham.

I understand the intention behind the noble Lord's amendments, which seek to give the public greater say over executive arrangements. However, as I have set out, significant new and existing opportunities for the public to express their views are available.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I think that when the Minister reads what she has said she will realise that she was digging great holes for herself, at least in terms of logic. She said that she was not sure why a council should not decide its model of government, but we have spent a lot of this afternoon being told by the Government that councils are not allowed to decide their own model of government but are allowed to choose only between some very narrow, restrictive models of government laid down in great detail from above. That is the whole basis of our deep concern about this Bill. The arguments that the Government are using are being used, once again, in favour of the things that the Government want but are not being used when other people put forward things that they do not want.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, said some interesting things. He talked about people making a choice every four years at a general election. I am not quite sure what general election votes have to do with whether you have an elected mayor. However, I understood what he said about referendums. I am not a great fan of them—

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour

My Lords, it is not just that, broadly, every four years we have a general election—which of course is not the field that we are discussing—but that every four years people vote locally. That is what I meant to imply.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, in our area people vote every year locally, and long may we continue to do so. I say "we" because local elections are ones in which noble Lords are allowed to take part. We are not banned from them as we are from general elections.

The question that has to be asked is that if the Government are saying that there is no right to a referendum on a proposal for an elected mayor, why have people got that right now and why have they had it for the past seven years? Why was it thought suitable seven years ago and what has changed? None of this has been explained in any way. We do not in general have a presidential system in this country; we have a democratic system of electing legislatures; the elected bodies, the legislatures and councils, then choose the leaderships. When you move to an elected mayor at a local level, you move to a presidential system. It is not just a question of how the council works and makes decisions but a fundamental matter of the distribution of power in the local community. That is why it is probably right that there should be a referendum on such things. I do not want to get diverted into whether referendums are good or bad and in what circumstances they are but, in my view, the more local and specific they are the more relevance and value they probably have.

The Minister said that if the people do not like the decision that the council makes they can have their say at the next election, but that will be too late because the whole system of electing the council and mayor will already have changed and it will be irrevocable in most places. The Minister said that she was pro-council—

Noble Lords:

Phone!

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, my number is up. I do not understand these things. I think that there are buttons on it that turn it on when you pat your pocket.

The Minister said that there is no reason why a referendum will not take place. I have to ask her to consider those words. The reason why and the circumstances in which a referendum may not take place is if a council decides not to have one. If a council proposes an elected mayoral system under this Bill and decides not to have a referendum, there will be no referendum. I accept that there will be a referendum in some cases but when the noble Baroness says that there is no reason why a referendum will not take place, the reason is that the council will decide not to have it.

I forecast that there will be bother in some places as a result of this and I shall not enjoy watching it. I hope that it is not anywhere near me. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 90 to 93 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 94:

Clause 64, page 38, line 43, leave out "the end of the permitted resolution period in" and insert "an appropriate period of time during"

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 95 and 109. These amendments apply to the provisions for a new executive or a move to executive arrangements and seek to remove the restriction on the time when a local authority may pass the relevant resolution. They are both directed at paragraphs which apply where a local authority is not currently operating a mayor-and-Cabinet executive or elected executive. Therefore, at this point I do not think that I need be too troubled whether they are affected by the Divisions that we have just had. Amendment No. 109 would take out the definition of "permitted resolution period" at the end of the clause.

To my mind this is simply another aspect of maximum choice. In the amendment on directly elected executives, the noble Baroness teased us about not permitting choice, which was the opposite of what we intended. Had she accepted our amendments in the first long group we would not have needed to debate directly elected executives in the way that we did. This is a micro example. I can see that there may be good reasons for not taking resolutions to change constitutions at particular points in a council's cycle, but that should be a matter for the council itself to determine. It should not be told what is good for it by central government. If a local authority wants to ignore what central government think is sensible in this regard, we should let it do so and then sort it out.

On the part of the Bill dealing with elections, the Government have extended the period when certain resolutions can be made or perhaps introduced—I cannot remember which—which is welcome. Would the Minister defend central control in this regard? I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I do not see the provision of resolution periods as a draconian attempt to impose central control. By making this framework in this way, we are simply trying to provide a predictable, limited and orderly window within which an authority can resolve to change its governance arrangements, because a resolution is required before there can be a change in governance arrangements. I argue that, by removing this framework, the noble Baroness's amendments would constitute a far greater recipe for chaos. However, I shall run through the argument for the permitted resolution period set out in new Section 33P(5). It provides for a time-limited resolution period from the day after the council's annual meeting until 31 December in the year before the relevant election when the change will be implemented.

The initial resolution period will, however, run from commencement to 31 December in the year before the election when the change takes place for that class of authority. Where councils decide that they want to change their governance model, this can be given effect at the relevant election. Let me be clear: where there has been no referendum in an area to approve an executive model, change to a new governance model can only take place three days after the relevant election. Clause 75 defines the relevant election years. As noble Lords will see, those are every four years.

We have tied a change in governance arrangements to those relevant election years to ensure that there is consistency with the four-year term of the leader. That is only sensible. Given that change, not prompted by a referendum, can only take place every four years, it fits that the period in which a council can pass a resolution for change is a limited time period that ends just before the relevant election year.

Noble Lords will recall that when we were debating Part 2, my noble friend Lady Morgan explained that we have also decided by amendment to extend the resolution periods in this part of the Bill, aside from the initial resolution period, which is longer anyway. That will mean that the resolution period will run from the day after the council's annual meeting until 31 December, effectively extending it from three months to approximately six months.

In the case of a metropolitan district wishing to change its governance arrangements in 2013, for example, it will be able to pass a resolution between the day after the council's annual meeting and 31 December in that year and give effect to that change in May 2014. It is important that there is only a limited period within which a council can pass such a resolution for change, as there is a risk that without that limitation, despite everything that the noble Baroness said, a council could become virtually obsessed with change and pass numerous resolutions for different models throughout a four-year period. That is not good for anyone.

We want to reduce levels of uncertainty. We have been talking about that in different ways this afternoon. The level of uncertainty that this free-for-all would bring to an authority would surely have the effect of undermining the leader or mayor of that authority, making it difficult for them to be able to provide any leadership and direction. It would be very distracting for the council as a whole. We spoke in our first day of debate about the debilitating effect of change. Councillors and officials would not know whether they were coming or going. The amendments are not a good idea.

Probably most importantly, this would also be confusing for the electorate. They would have voted in, for example, a leader and Cabinet executive, and perhaps thought that the model was operating very effectively, and then two years into the leader's term the council might resolve to move to a mayor and Cabinet. There is nothing to stop them under the amendments resolving to move back to an elected executive, and subsequently back to a mayor. All that one is left with is the local community wondering what on earth the council is doing and why there is constant change. That is what the amendments would allow. I do not think it is a good idea to introduce such a distraction. The framework is deliberate, it is generous, and it creates flexibility for change balanced with the stability of a four-year cycle. The resolution periods are an essential element of that. I hope that the noble Baroness is persuaded and will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government 5:45 pm, 10th October 2007

My Lords, the persuasion and the withdrawal are not necessarily cause and effect. I was slightly thrown by the fact that one of my amendments appears to have changed between the first Marshalled List, which is the one on which I had made notes before Monday, and the revised, second Marshalled List. However, these mysteries continue to make life interesting. It does not affect the argument. I was grateful to the Deputy Speaker for reading out the amendment, because that alerted me to the fact that it had changed.

The real point is whether local authorities are to be trusted. I thought that we had heard today from the Government that local authorities should be trusted. In my book, if you trust someone you have to put up with them making the occasional mistake as you see it. It might not be a mistake as they see it. But trust cannot be artificially constrained.

As I said, it is not cause and effect. I am not persuaded, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 95 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

moved Amendments Nos. 96 to 101:

Clause 64, page 40, line 8, after "meeting" insert " which is"

Clause 64, page 40, line 9, at end insert "of deciding the resolution with notice of the object"

Clause 64, page 41, line 1, at end insert "regulations under"

Clause 64, page 41, line 5, after "meeting" insert " which is"

Clause 64, page 41, line 5, at end insert "of deciding the resolution with notice of the object"

Clause 64, page 41, line 6, at end insert—

"( ) In subsection (6) the reference to the members of the council includes—

(a) in a case where the council are operating a mayor and cabinet executive, the elected mayor of the council;(b) in a case where the council are operating an elected executive, the members of the elected executive of the council."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 102 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, we can deal with this briefly. Clause 64 inserts new Section 33O into the Local Government Act 2000. It led to some debate in Committee about whether a mayor or an elected leader has an effective veto on any proposed change in governance arrangements. At the time, the Minister was not sure and she wrote to us on 28 September and clarified the situation, as I understand it, to show that the mayor or elected leader does not have such a veto. Therefore this amendment serves as an invitation to the noble Baroness to put that on the public record. I beg to move.

Photo of Viscount Ullswater Viscount Ullswater Conservative

My Lords, I must advise your Lordships that if the amendment is agreed to I will be unable to call Amendments Nos. 104 to 106.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I am happy to respond to the noble Baroness's invitation because we did have exchanges during the summer, but it is important to put this on the record. The amendment seeks to remove new Section 33O which Clause 64 inserts into the Local Government Act 2000. The amendment removes the requirement on local authorities operating mayoral or elected executive models to seek the written consent of the mayor or executive leader prior to any variation within their existing model of executive arrangements. Similar provisions already exist for mayors in secondary legislation made under the Local Government Act 2000. New Section 33O simply extends these provisions to elected executives and places them in the Act.

I wrote to noble Lords on 1 October clarifying what the clause meant, and I set out that the written consent of mayors or elected executive leaders is needed only where a council is already operating one of those models and proposes a variation in relation to that current model—for example, changing the executive from seven to six members, which is a variation under new Section 33B. It does not mean that the written consent of mayors or elected leaders is needed to move to a different form of executive—for example, a move under new Section 33A.

The effect of the amendment would be to enable an authority to make changes to the authority's constitution, such as changes to the allocation of responsibility for functions as between the full council and the executive, without needing to ensure beforehand that the executive was content with this. We cannot accept the amendment because we believe it could undermine the stability and accountability of executives.

I hope that with that explanation the noble Baroness is content that we have dealt with the problem that she thought the clause created and that she is now clear that it is perfectly sensible. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I am grateful for that clarification and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 104 to 109 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

moved Amendments Nos. 110 to 113:

Clause 64, page 42, line 16, leave out "1 October" and insert "the day after that council's annual meeting"

Clause 64, page 42, line 21, leave out "1 October" and insert "the day after that council's annual meeting"

Clause 64, page 42, line 26, leave out "1 October" and insert "the day after that council's annual meeting"

Clause 64, page 42, line 31, leave out "1 October" and insert "the day after that council's annual meeting"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 65 [Referendum following petition]:

[Amendment No. 114 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 115:

Clause 65, page 43, line 6, at end insert—

"( ) In section 35(1) of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) (referendum following direction) omit the words "which takes such form permitted by or under section 11 as may be specified in the direction"."

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 116. I am not sure what force is left in Section 35 of the 2000 Act, which is the subject of these two amendments. The section provides that the Secretary of State can direct a local authority to hold a referendum on whether it should operate executive arrangements involving an executive—these are the words in issue—which, essentially, takes such form as he directs. The Government have taken away the mayor and council manager model and the House has deleted the directly elected executive model.

Briefly, my point is that this seems to be yet another piece of central control. I should have commented—and possibly even did comment—on this seven years ago. However, looking through the 2000 Act and trying to find bits that needed to be filleted in connection with the long list of amendments which my noble friend moved at the start of this afternoon—the aim of which was essentially to try to provide for maximum choice—I stumbled over this. It felt like a bit of central direction, with which I was not happy, so, again, I thought that I would take advantage of Report to ask the Minister to justify the provision in Sections 35(1) and 36(1) in the context of the Government's new arrangements. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining why she is concerned and how her amendments reflect the concern that here we have another example of the Secretary of State's "authoritarian powers". I hope to be able to prove to her that that is not the case and that the provision is necessary and very specific.

Amendments Nos. 115 and 116 remove the provisions within Sections 35 and 36 of the Local Government Act 2000 which provide for the Secretary of State to require an authority to undertake a referendum in relation to its executive arrangements, whether by direction or by order. The amendments would limit the Secretary of State's directions or orders for referendums to the question of whether an authority operates executive arrangements, of whatever kind, rather than to the question of whether it cannot adopt a particular form of executive arrangements.

There is an implicit suggestion that this power might be used to force a referendum on an authority for, for example, a mayor and cabinet, but I want to show that that is not the case. The retention of the power is necessary in situations where the Secretary of State believes that the authority has failed to pay due regard to the results of its consultation. I can explain that in relation to some specific examples, and I reassure the noble Baroness that there is nothing sinister about this; it is very sensible. Under the Local Government Act 2000, we have had to exercise this power in relation to an authority that in the Secretary of State's opinion was ignoring the wishes of its community and had failed to pay due regard to the results of its consultation. Perhaps I may explain.

Under the 2000 Act, authorities were required to consult their communities on executive arrangements and, in submitting their proposals to the Secretary of State, had to show that they had taken the results of the consultation into account. The majority of authorities acted appropriately and took the results of the consultations into account but some did not.

In 2001, therefore, the Secretary of State issued a direction under the provisions in Section 35(1) to the London Borough of Southwark requiring it to hold a referendum on whether to adopt a mayoral form of governance. It was issued on the grounds that it had failed to pay due regard to the results of its consultation on which new governance arrangements to adopt where the results of that consultation favoured a mayoral option. It was left open to the council to decide which of the two mayoral models available at the time it would run in the referendum. The Secretary of State has been minded in the past to issue directions to hold a mayoral referendum in three other authorities—Birmingham, Bradford and Thurrock—in 2001 on similar grounds to Southwark. However, in June 2002, Ministers announced that they would not be using their powers to intervene and direct a referendum in these three areas.

I understand that noble Lords may be concerned about the Secretary of State requiring authorities to hold referendums on particular models, forcing them down roads that are inappropriate, but this is simply not the case. I understand that there is a default position on this. The examples show that this is simply about allowing the Secretary of State to take action where an authority does not act in a manner compliant with the wishes of its electorate. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness can agree that that is right and appropriate for the use of the power.

Noble Lords should also be aware that the Secretary of State does not wish to be prescriptive. It is about taking measured decisions that are absolutely necessary. The Secretary of State is also under an equal obligation to act reasonably at all times. That requirement applies to the use of power as well.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government 6:00 pm, 10th October 2007

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I cannot remember whether Southwark did hold a referendum in the event. I think that it did. It seems to me that the authority got it right and the Secretary of State got it wrong, as that referendum must have got lost. It is not operating a mayoral model. We come back to trust in local authorities. Goodness knows how much that cost unnecessarily because the Secretary of State was not willing to believe the local authority in its assessment of its own consultation. As I said before, persuasion and withdrawal are not necessarily connected. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 116 not moved.]

Clause 66 [Elected mayors]:

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

moved Amendment No. 117:

Clause 66, page 43, line 14, at end insert—

"( ) For subsection (5) substitute—

"(5A) A reference in any enactment (whenever passed or made) to—

(a) a member of a local authority, or(b) a councillor of a local authority,does not include a reference to an elected mayor of the authority.

(5B) But subsection (5A) is subject to—

(a) regulations made by the Secretary of State under this paragraph which provide that an elected mayor is to be treated as member or councillor of a local authority for the purposes of an enactment (whenever passed or made), and(b) any other contrary intention that appears in any enactment (whenever passed or made).

(5C) Sections 2(2A) and 21(1A) of, and paragraph 5C(1) of Schedule 2 to, the Local Government Act 1972 are not to be taken to indicate any contrary intention for the purposes of subsection (5B)(b).""

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 67 [Elected executives]:

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

moved Amendment No. 118:

Clause 67, page 43, leave out lines 30 to 33 and insert—

"(2) A reference in any enactment (whenever passed or made) to—

(a) a member of a local authority, or(b) a councillor of a local authority,does not include a reference to a member of an elected executive of the authority.

(2A) But subsection (2) is subject to—

(a) regulations made by the Secretary of State under this paragraph which provide that a member of an elected executive is to be treated as member or councillor of a local authority for the purposes of an enactment (whenever passed or made), and(b) any other contrary intention that appears in any enactment (whenever passed or made).

(2B) Section 2(2C) of, and paragraph 5AA(2) of Schedule 2 to, the Local Government Act 1972 are not to be taken to indicate any contrary intention for the purposes of subsection (2A)(b).""

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 120:

After Clause 67, insert the following new Clause—

"Membership of mayor and cabinet executive

(1) The Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) is amended as follows.

(2) In section 11(8) and (9) for "10" each time it appears substitute "15 or a number equal to 25 per cent of the total membership (including the elected executive if any) of the local authority, whichever is the smaller"."

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, Amendment No. 120 is about the size of the membership of a cabinet executive, which was a matter raised by my noble friend Lord Greaves at the previous stage. My noble friend Lord Tyler came in on it as well, arguing that the size of an executive should be a matter of some choice. We have accepted that there may be limits on the choice, but for a large local authority or one that covers a very wide geographical area, the maximum of 10 may be inappropriate. It occurred to me after the debate that there is the issue of allowing for resignations and other casualties. The issue of a parallel limit as a proportion of the total membership of the council might be a way of dealing with that. I hope that this is a theoretical situation in connection with directly elected executives, but on the basis on which the noble Baroness moved an amendment earlier, perhaps I had better not lose the opportunity of raising the issue again. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Smith of Leigh Lord Smith of Leigh Labour

My Lords, I do not understand this amendment as it seems to me that the size of the executive should relate to the functions of the authority. The size of the authority does not affect the number of functions. What roles will the people on the executive play that we need more of them? One cabinet member will be responsible for children's services. The fact that it is a bigger authority will not mean that we need more than one. Surely there will not be cabinet members on an executive for different parts of an authority. It seems that we should look at the whole area as one. If the executive is to have people playing real roles in the authority, size does not matter. Ten seems to be perfectly adequate for most large authorities for which we now have executives. Under this scheme my council could probably go up to an executive of 50 or 60, but there are not that many executive roles. Will we have executive members with no portfolios just to have more people being paid executive allowances? Size is not everything. We should just make sure that the executive is doing a real job; we do not need more people to do it.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour

My Lords, these are early days for the present system. It was a novelty. I have to tell your Lordships that not only being old Labour but of the old school and the old method whereby local government was administered, I took a rather jaundiced view of the changes that came about a few years ago. But that is all it was. It is far too soon to begin to tinker or interfere with something that may or may not be seen as a workable model in time.

What faces the council and the people who elect it is the opportunity of being governed by a much more focused group of people. When I was the leader of a council in the London Borough of Enfield many years ago, of course there were a lot of young Turks, old lags and people with ambition, but some just wanted to serve on the council. They did not wish, nor were they able to take a higher position than that. That is all very well, and my noble friend Lord Smith has put his finger on a part of it. We could always find people to fill places if the number was more than 10. That is not a magical figure but it is the one that we have at the moment. It provides opportunity for those who have ambition, ability and capability to aspire to be one of those cabinet portfolio holders. As such there is a bit of excitement.

I have been to one or two meetings where there is opposition and disagreement internally within a group about the persons, but I dislike the idea that if you cannot satisfy a proposition by, for instance, 10, you should extend the number so that you subsume into the enlarged number all of those who are either able or ambitious. That does not denigrate for a moment what is behind the amendment. It is a reasonable amendment if one never believed in the system in the first place. But if we believe in the system and want to be fair, we have to allow a reasonable time to operate. The present system elevates the stature and eminence of the people who are portfolio holders. They are very proud; I shall not say they are arrogant, but they know that they are one of the chosen few, chosen by a variety of methods. They do a job and get paid for it. They have responsibility and they have to be accountable. There is no benefit in the amendment and I hope that it will not be pressed.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I was not going to speak to the amendment but was encouraged to do so by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh. We thrashed out the details of the amendment in Committee, so I will not go through that again.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said that the present system has not been going very long. It has been going seven years, which is a long time by modern standards. In the old days, things went on for 30 or 40 years; now, with the sort of Maoist revolutionary ethos we have about the place, everything has to be reformed every two years. The only thing that has survived in reasonable form so far has been the House of Lords. Perhaps it is next in line. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Graham. Some of our concerns over the Bill are that the Government is again messing about too soon with structures which have only really been operating effectively for perhaps four to six years. They are still bedding down, and people are still finding out how to work them—particularly things like overview and scrutiny.

The reason I want to comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, said comes back to something I say from time to time: even with all the detailed, top-down centralised control the Government try to impose on local authorities nowadays, they are still diverse and different. It is not just the diversity between a great, far-flung county like North Yorkshire and a little shire district in Lancashire, or big cities like Manchester and Birmingham; it is diversity between what, on the face of it, look like quite similar authorities. How the executive system works is also diverse.

Some councils have quite small executives, others have 10 members on theirs. There is not much relationship between how many people are on the executive, the type of council or the extent of their powers; it is to do with how that council wants to run its own affairs. There are councils where a large amount of decision making is devolved to individual members of the executive, so the executive member for—I was going to say education, but it is probably "children's services" nowadays—actually takes a huge number of decisions personally. That seems to be the system, for example, in Lancashire County Council. There are councils where no powers are devolved to individual members of the executive—although they will have portfolios and get heavily involved—and the decisions are taken collectively by the executive. There are councils where executive members are all virtually full time; in fact, some of them I know are far more than full time, spending their entire lives on it. There are other councils where executive members are still traditional part-time councillors, who do their council work in their spare time. I do not know what the executive allowances are in Wigan, and had probably better not inquire. In my council, in Pendle, we have an executive of 10 but the allowances are very small indeed. All those 10 people have got valuable jobs to do. It is all a question of how you work it out, divide it up and organise it. I would argue strongly for councils to be able to do it in as diverse a way as possible, according to what they think is best for their circumstances.

If we had the ability, we would increase the size of our executive because we would give non-portfolio positions to the leaders of at least two of the opposition parties. They would want that, because we want them to discuss things with us because we think that discussing things in an open executive with the press there is a good way of thrashing out the issues and coming to decisions. Other councils would not want to do that at all. But, unless they are actually members of the executive, with that status, they will not come. I am really arguing along wider lines than my noble friend: let us have more diversity and more ability on the part of councils to do their own thing. It is only through diversity that you find out what works. If everybody does the same thing, you find out whether it works, but not whether all the other ways of doing it work. That is the practical argument in favour of diversity. I speak in favour of my noble friend's amendment, and counsel the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, to accept that the world is not all the same as Wigan.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, we would no doubt say "More's the pity".

I have always wanted to belong to a Maoist revolutionary Government—I have tried to keep this fact from the Prime Minister—and was intrigued by the presentation of the current Government in that form. Essentially, however, we are having an important debate, and I am grateful for the contribution from my noble friends Lord Smith and Lord Graham and their powerful accounts of why size is not everything and should be limited to function.

The amendment means that councillors would have the freedom to increase the size of their executive up to 15, or one quarter of the membership of the council, whichever is smaller. When we debated this in Committee—he returned to this argument a moment ago—the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, told us that we were trying to squeeze people into a limited number of models, and that an amendment of this sort might enable single-party executives to involve opposition groups. That seemed to me then, and seems to me now as he restates it, to threaten to reintroduce the committee system by the back door.

I agree with the noble Lord on the clear need to respect and reflect diversity. However, I would argue that there are a number of different ways that councils can do that without expanding the executive: how they choose to operate their executive arrangements, for example; developing their area or advisory committees, which I know the noble Lord applauds with good reason. They are so effective and play a key role in councils.

We will not have to look to the single instrument of the council size and membership itself to do this important job. There is a lot of evidence for the benefits of having a small, coherent leadership group at the heart of the council. I gave that evidence in Committee, and have not heard a case challenging it. I remind noble Lords that The New Council Constitutions: The Outcomes and Impact of the Local Government Act 2000 report I quoted earlier supports Parliament's judgment in the Act that executives of a size up to 10 are right for delivering visible and effective leadership. We stand on a point of evidence and it is supported by experience, certainly by the powerful cases of my noble friends. I regret that we cannot accept the amendments. They would put back the clock. Rather than, as the noble Lord described it, "messing about", the Government are simply seeking to build on what the 2000 Act has delivered, not to unpick it. I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, when the reference to a Maoist Government was made, I wrote down, "Maoist—don't shoot the messenger". Perhaps I should not defend the Minister's remarks in that way.

Interesting points have been made. There might be a role for children's services south, for instance. There might certainly be the non-portfolio roles to which my noble friend has referred. The point is that we should not be standing in SW1, attempting to design what goes on in—I have no idea what the postcode for Wigan might be—other parts of the country.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said that it was too soon to be tinkering with the 2000 Act. That was rather where we on these Benches started when we opened this Bill. I think that we have lost that argument, or at least we are not going to persuade the Government of it. We do believe it is too soon. The noble Lord also suggested that there might be all sorts of reasons for increasing the size of an executive. In Wigan I am sure that allowances would not be a reason to include people in an executive. I hope that that was not directed at anybody in this Chamber. There are sometimes good reasons in the management of a group to include people in a tent rather than to leave them outside. However, I am not making progress on this. I beg leave to withdraw amendment.

j

Baroness Hamwee would surely be disappointed if she checked out the composition of the Wigan executive/cabinet and its distribution of allowances.
The reference to tents presupposes an individual to be unwilling to withstand a little golden rain, in exchange for dictatorial powers.

Submitted by john shale

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 68 [Other elected executive members]:

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 121:

Clause 68, page 45, line 24, at end insert "subject to removal from office by the elected leader"

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I also speak to Amendment No. 122. The amendments probe the nature of the post of a member of an elected executive. The matter was raised briefly with the Minister privately but I think that two or three minutes might be spent on it in public. Being a member of an executive in some cases is becoming very close to employment. As we have heard, it is often the only activity, and a more than full-time activity, of certain councillors. We may be told that an elected leader cannot sack a member of his slate because that person has been elected. If so, it seems to me that there might almost be an issue over constructive dismissal where a member is part of a slate but the elected leader does not give him anything to do. In an employment situation, you could find all sorts of confusion arising over that.

My main amendment is Amendment No. 122. It would be useful to have the Government's view—not that that would necessarily be persuasive to a tribunal should there be a row over this—on what would happen if a member of an elected executive who was paid the equivalent of a reasonable salary, certainly something that he was living on, found that he was constructively dismissed or whatever. I have chosen to probe this with an amendment that says that there would be "no claim for compensation" in the event of dismissal. As I say, I extend that to constructive dismissal. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, this is a slightly surreal point given the circumstances. I am not entirely certain that I will be able to give the noble Baroness a huge amount of detail on the precise point that she has raised. I may end up writing to her about this. However, I will run through the impact of the amendments.

Essentially, Amendment No. 121 would allow the leader of a directly elected executive to remove members of the executive before the end of their four-year term. Amendment No. 122 would ensure that any member of an executive who was removed from office would be unable to claim compensation. We understand that the noble Baroness is seeking to make modifications to the directly elected executive model. We have listened carefully to the comments. On Report in another place, we tabled amendments to clarify the provisions following concerns raised by the Liberal Democrats in Committee.

This set of amendments would undermine some fundamental principles. The directly elected executive allows the electors of an area to vote for a slate of members. All members who appear on a slate will have a direct mandate from the electors to serve a four-year term. On those grounds, we do not believe in principle that a member of an elected executive should have their term of office cut short. They have been elected. That is the whole point. The leader will be responsible for ensuring that the members of the slate are all people with whom he can work. The dire prediction made by the noble Baroness about falling out with someone and then keeping them in post with nothing to do is rather far-fetched. Where disagreements arise, the executive would have to resolve them and concentrate on delivering a high standard of public services for the area. If it was unable to do that, obviously that would be something on which the electorate would reflect.

An option would be for the elected executive member to resign if they felt that they could no longer work with other members. My main point is that they have a direct mandate from the electorate. We cannot conceive of a situation in which anyone other than the electorate should remove them from office. The noble Baroness extrapolates from that a possible constructive dismissal. I simply do not know enough about employment law to say anything on that. I appreciate that she may well have given me prior warning of this, but I cannot say anything more at the moment. I will have to write to her on that point.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. That was exactly the point: that resignation might be claimed to be constructive dismissal. I hope that in the best of all possible worlds this is never an issue, but there we go. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 122 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 123:

Clause 68, leave out Clause 68

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 69 [Meaning of "elected executive member"]:

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 124:

Clause 69, leave out Clause 69

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 70 [Time of elections etc]:

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 125:

Clause 70, leave out Clause 70

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 71 [Voting at elections of elected executives]:

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 126:

Clause 71, page 46, line 34, leave out from beginning to end of line 3 on page 47 and insert—

"(1) If there are two proposed executives, each person entitled to vote as an elector shall have one vote and the elected executive is to be returned under the simple majority system.

(2) If there are three or more proposed executives, voting shall be by means of preferential voting in which electors may list the proposed executives in order of preference under the alternative vote system.

(3) Regulations governing the election of an executive held under the alternative vote shall be made by the Secretary of State after consultation with the Electoral Commission, and may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament."

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 225. These amendments would replace the supplementary vote system with the alternative vote system in elections for elected executives and so on. I find myself in the slightly surreal world in which my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the Minister have been, in talking about something that we have removed from the Bill. Nevertheless, we had an interesting wander down the byways of electoral systems in Committee and pursued this question of a supplementary vote—what it is and how it works. If this Bill has done nothing else so far as I am concerned, it has caused me to do some research on the supplementary vote. I have added it to those things that I shall spend some time in the rest of my life campaigning about—in this case, to try to abolish it, because it is really a silly system.

I have drawn in the amendments that I moved in Committee, so that these amendments now apply only to the executive. I want to add two points to what I said in Committee. I do not want to repeat what I said; it is all there in Hansard, as evidence. First, I asked the Minister whether the Government's famous review of electoral systems, whose results we are all agog to see, would include the supplementary vote. The information that we had from the Minister, who kindly wrote to us about this, is that the review would cover it only to the extent that it covers the Greater London Mayor. That is my understanding of it. It is a pity if that is the case, because it is the supplementary vote systems for the elected mayors that are really relevant in the context of this Bill. The extension of the supplementary vote is at a local level around the country—if the provision ever gets back in the Bill and if anywhere gets to have an elected executive—and for any more mayors who might be elected under the new provisions in the Bill.

I think that the Government and other people really ought to have a look at how the supplementary vote works in practice. It is not an efficient voting system; it is a very confusing voting system. All the evidence is that it results in a lot of votes being wasted at an early stage of the count—the first and second preference. There is a very efficient, well known voting system available that does exactly what the supplementary vote is meant to do but much better. That is the alternative vote, which is the vote that we use for elections in this House—it is the vote that is used for Peers' by-elections. Whether that is a recommendation I am not sure, but it is the voting system that this House thought was sensible to use for elections to itself, and it is the electoral system that is used in many organisations, including the Labour Party.

There is a small but growing amount of evidence on whether the alternative vote is an efficient system for public elections. That is in council by-elections in Scotland because, since Scotland adopted the single transferable vote as its local election system, which was used for the first time in May, subsequent by-elections—which are obviously for single seats—have been held under the alternative vote. There have been two so far and the evidence is that it is efficient and that a large proportion of the electorate number their ballot papers to such a stage that their vote is counted between the final two candidates, which simply does not happen under the supplementary vote, on the evidence that we have.

The most recent of those by-elections, in Argyll and Bute a couple of weeks ago, resulted in a Liberal Democrat victory, but that is not the basis for my arguing that it is a good system. The Liberal Democrat candidate, Andrew Nisbet, would have won under first past the post if people had voted the same way; it is just that he had a resounding democratic mandate as a result of the alternative vote, instead of being elected on a minority of 30 per cent of the people. I do not expect that the Government will suddenly say that they are going to accept the alternative vote here, but I ask them, even at this late stage, to please add the supplementary vote in mayoral elections to the review of electoral systems, because it is not working very well. Whether we agree with it in principle or not, surely we want a voting system that will be efficient in practice. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) 6:30 pm, 10th October 2007

My Lords, it has been one of my lifetime's ambitions to debate voting systems with the noble Lord, and now I have the opportunity. I am afraid that it will be rather short, because we had quite a long debate in Committee and my noble friend Lady Morgan then explained that every voting system has advantages and disadvantages. The noble Lord has explored some of those advantages and disadvantages this evening. I agree with him about the need for appropriate systems. I was surprised that he is still having to do research on the supplementary vote system. I thought that he gave an absolute masterclass on the supplementary vote system in Committee, but I listened with interest to what he said.

We acknowledge that there are arguments both for and against the various voting systems. I do not need to go on a great deal, because the noble Lord will know that the reason why we have proposed using the supplementary vote system for the elected executives is that mayors are elected by the supplementary vote system. It was as simple and consistent as that; we believed that it was appropriate to use the same voting system. I have no argument in my text about the alternative vote system because, as I said, we made the decision.

All that I want to put on record is that we commissioned the review. The result will be announced before the end of the year. It will consider the experience of new voting systems used in the UK since 1997, which is why it includes the London Mayor and the supplementary vote system. The noble Lord would be extremely surprised—probably bewildered—if I attempted to pre-empt the findings of the review by encouraging the introduction of further changes to the electoral system. He spoke very seriously about those different ways of voting. It is an important part of the democratic process that we get the right system for the job in hand and I appreciate that his remarks are on the record. I am sure that he looks forward to receiving a copy of the review. We will no doubt pore over it together but, in the mean time, I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, that is an offer that I cannot refuse. I will withdraw the amendment. I must tell the Minister that I had not really discovered the supplementary voting system or looked at it in any detail until it appeared in the Bill. That is what launched me on this path and I promise her and the Government that I shall return to it vigorously, but not under the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 127:

Clause 71, leave out Clause 71

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 72 [Leader and cabinet executives (England)]:

[Amendments Nos. 128 to 131 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 132 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 76 [Larger authorities to cease operating alternative arrangements]:

[Amendment No. 133 not moved.]

Clause 77 [Failure to cease operating alternative arrangements]:

[Amendment No. 134 not moved.]

Clause 78 [Sections 76 and 77: supplementary]:

[Amendment No. 135 not moved.]

Clause 80 [Supplementary provision]:

[Amendment No. 136 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

moved Amendment No. 138:

Clause 81, page 55, line 2, at end insert—

"11B De-grouping: alternative styles

(1) This section applies if—

(a) the parishes in a group of parishes have an alternative style, and(b) an order under section 11(4) dissolves the group or separates one or more parishes from the group.

(2) The order under section 11(4) must provide for each de-grouped parish to continue to have the alternative style.

(3) In subsection (2) "de-grouped parish" means—

(a) in the case of dissolution of the group, each parish in the group;(b) in the case of separation of one or more parishes from the group, each parish that is separated.""

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we had a useful debate in Committee on the community governance review processes. Members opposite tabled a number of amendments, to which we have given careful consideration over the summer. The amendments in this group are brought before the House as a result of those considerations and we believe that they will strengthen the Bill, as well as making some of the provisions clearer. As noble Lords are aware, my noble friend wrote on 1 October 2007 setting out why the amendments are required.

First, we are proposing amendments to Clause 81 to ensure that existing groups of parishes are able to adopt alternative styles. As the Bill was drafted, only non-grouped parishes and new groups of parishes—those that were grouped for the first time—could have an alternative style. All parishes should be able to have an alternative style if that is what the parish council or parish meeting decides is in the best interests of the area. The amendments ensure that that is the case.

During Committee, it was highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that the wording of Clause 90(1)(a) and Clause 90(1)(c) was contradictory. Clause 90 should set out that, where the council receives a petition for an area that is wholly outside the area of an ongoing community governance review, the principal council must undertake a community governance review of the petition area. We have taken the opportunity to redraft Clauses 89, 90 and 91 so that it is clear in what circumstances a council is under a duty to—or when it has a power to—conduct a review. We emphasise that, where local people petition for a review and a review is not under way for that area or has not been completed for the area in the previous two years, the principal council is under a duty to conduct a review for the petition area.

During the debate on Clause 93 in Committee, we were asked to replace the word "available" with the word "unparished". We agree that this would be a sensible amendment, as "unparished" is the term that is used by practitioners and is well understood. We are therefore proposing an amendment to give effect to that in relation to paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause 93(2) and Clause 93(3). For clarity, we are moving the requirement to publicise the recommendations emerging from a review into Clause 99 rather than Clause 102. That is because the publication of the recommendations is actually part of the review and should therefore be under Clause 99, which is entitled, "Duties when undertaking a review".

General concerns were raised in Committee that a principal council could choose to ignore the recommendation of a community governance review and simply decide not to give effect to the recommendation. It is of course only right that, as we are devolving power to local authorities to take decisions, they must equally be able to decide not to adopt the review's recommendations, if appropriate, in the same way that the Secretary of State can now decide not to adopt a review's recommendation.

However, we have noted the concerns raised and we are bringing forward amendments to Clause 102 so that a local authority is under a duty to give reasons to explain its decisions. Therefore, following a review, the principal council will consider whether to implement the recommendations resulting from a community governance review. Whatever decision it takes will need to be justified and local people will be able to see clearly on what basis the decision was taken. We believe that the amendment strengthens the Bill and ensures that the entire process of deciding whether or not parishes should be created is conducted openly and transparently, which is what the Committee requested.

We are making an amendment to Schedule 6. This will amend Section 16(1) of the Local Government Act 1972 to ensure that where parishes are grouped they do not end up with an excessive number of councillors. Currently, that provision reads that each parish should have five councillors. We are amending the reference in Section 16(1) so that it refers to the number of parish councillors for each parish council rather than for each parish. We wish to avoid a situation where a group of six parishes would be forced to have 30 parish councillors on the grouped parish council.

Finally, we are making amendments to Clauses 86, 92, 94, 106 and 108. These amendments are all minor drafting improvements to ensure clarity and consistency between clauses. I hope that noble Lords will agree that this group of amendments responds to concerns raised by Members of this House. They also make some additional technical changes to the provisions. I commend them to the House and I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government 6:45 pm, 10th October 2007

My Lords, I ought to thank the Minister for the titbits that I have been thrown. Sometimes, when noble Lords go home to their own communities, especially if they are far away, people come up and ask, "When you go down to that London, what do you do in that Lords place? Is it any use? Do you ever achieve anything?" In future, I will always be able to reply, "Yes. I am responsible for the word 'unparished' being incorporated into the law of England". There we are. At least it shows that the Minister and her team considered the amendments that we moved, even if they rejected 99 per cent of them.

I was flabbergasted when I discovered that there were another two full pages of stuff about alternative styles in the Bill. I return to what I said in Committee. This approach is a good example of how lawmaking nowadays is far too detailed and takes up far too many pages in the Acts. I blame computers, because they make it all possible. I do not understand the difference—I do not think that there is any—between the ability of parish councillors in future to call themselves neighbourhood councillors, community councillors or village councillors and the ability that they have now to call themselves town councillors if they wish. That seems to be an identical provision with identical effect, yet in 10 lines Section 245(6) of the Local Government Act 1972 gives parish councillors the right to call themselves town councillors—I think that that was introduced as an amendment as the Bill went through. There are two or three more subsections to allow them to change back if they want to, but the basic provision takes up 10 lines. We have a whole chunk of the Bill for that.

The way things are done nowadays is ridiculous. It means that poor old parish clerks will have to spend hours reading the Bill, trying to understand it to tell their councillors what it means, when it is really dead simple. If they want to call themselves a neighbourhood, a village or a community, they will be able to do so, just as they can now call themselves a town. That could all have been done in 10 lines.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

moved Amendments Nos. 139 to 145:

Clause 81, page 55, line 25, at end insert—

"12B Groups of parishes: alternative styles

(1) This section applies to a group of parishes.

(2) The common parish council of the group may resolve that each of the grouped parishes shall have the same alternative style.

(3) If each of the grouped parishes has an alternative style, the common parish council of the group may resolve that each of the grouped parishes shall cease to have that style.

(4) A single resolution may provide for each of the grouped parishes—

(a) to cease to have an alternative style, and(b) to have the same one of the other alternative styles instead.

(5) If the common parish council passes a resolution under this section for each of the grouped parishes to have an alternative style, the group of parishes shall have the appropriate one of the following styles—

(a) "group of communities";(b) "group of neighbourhoods";(c) "group of villages".

(6) As soon as practicable after passing a resolution under this section, the common parish council of a group must give notice of the change of style to all of the following—

(a) the Secretary of State;(b) the Electoral Commission;(c) the Office of National Statistics;(d) the Director General of the Ordnance Survey;(e) any district council, county council or London borough council within whose area the group lies.""

Clause 81, page 56, line 10, at end insert—

"(2D) If parishes are grouped under a common parish council—

(a) subsection (2), (2A), (2B) or (2C) (as appropriate) applies to that council as the subsection would apply in the case of the council of an individual parish; but(b) the names of all of the parishes, communities, neighbourhoods or villages in the group are to be included in the name of the common council.""

Clause 81, page 56, line 24, at end insert—

"(14) If parishes which have an alternative style are grouped under a common parish council, subsection (11), (12) or (13) (as appropriate) applies to the chairman and vice-chairman of that council as the subsection would apply in the case of the council of an individual parish.""

Clause 81, page 56, line 31, at end insert—

"(9) If parishes which have an alternative style are grouped under a common parish council, subsection (6), (7) or (8) (as appropriate) applies to the councillors of that council as the subsection would apply in the case of the council of an individual parish.""

Clause 81, page 56, line 43, at end insert "or 12B"

Clause 81, page 57, line 3, after "12A" insert "or 12B"

Clause 81, page 57, line 4, after "12A" insert "or 12B"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 82 [Appointed councillors]:

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 145A:

Clause 82, page 57, line 23, at end insert—

"( ) The appointment of a person as an appointed councillor shall be made by a resolution of the council and a resolution of confirmation by the annual parish meeting.

( ) The term of office of an appointed councillor shall be for one year and will be renewable up to a maximum of four annual terms."

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the amendment pursues slightly further the question of appointed members of parish councils. Noble Lords will remember that we discussed this at some length in Committee and had some useful clarification of what an appointed member is, as opposed to an elected member or a co-opted member appointed to fill a vacancy that had not been filled in an election.

Some noble Lords expressed grave doubts about appointed councillors and whether appointing members to any elected body in a democracy was the way we should go. A further amendment from my noble friend Lady Scott would do away with the whole thing, which I will support because the provision is wrong in principle. However, if we are going to have appointed members, it is important that they are closely constrained.

We learnt in Committee that only one, two or at the most three members could be appointed. You could not appoint half the council, change the political composition of the council or build up an unassailable majority on larger councils which have political representation. The Minister wrote to us to explain that the appointment of an appointed councillor probably would be for one year under the regulations.

The second part of the amendment states:

"The term of office of an appointed councillor shall be for one year and will be renewable up to a maximum of four annual terms".

The period of four years is deliberate. A parish council is elected for four years, at the end of which anyone who has been appointed can stand for election. While there might be value in having expertise on a parish council, at the end of that period they should stand for election like everyone else and not just expect to be appointed again without further ado or having to ask the people for their support.

The first part of the amendment states that an appointment of a member should be subject to,

"confirmation by the annual parish meeting".

During our discussions in Committee on parish councils, I got the impression that the Government do not really understand annual parish meetings. They are not just public meetings called by parish councils. They are an integral part of local government at parish level and have specific powers, including receiving information from the parish council, receiving accounts and so on.

Even if the Government, or legislation, allow appointment to a council, it should be subject to the minimal democratic endorsement of the parish meeting which has to take place each year. It is a statutory meeting consisting of local government electors in the parish who turn up at the meeting. Clearly, if a parish were to make a highly controversial appointment, it is likely that a lot of people would turn up to discuss it. Most annual parish meetings are not controversial and are not well attended, but occasionally they are. If someone wants to build a bypass through a village, 200 people could attend the annual parish meeting. That is how it works. Because the annual meeting exists as part of the system, the whole process of appointing someone to an elected position or a position which would otherwise be elected is unusual, to put it mildly. It should be subject to that minimal democratic authorisation. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his amendments. I endorse his underlining of the importance of the annual parish meeting. As a former councillor, I understand the importance of that. We are sympathetic to what appear to us to be the underlying principles of the noble Lord's amendments. In Committee, I gave a number of assurances about our intentions for the regulations. In particular, I said that we have it in mind to limit the term of any appointment to one year, to which the noble Lord has referred. Appointments will have to be reconfirmed at the annual parish meeting of the parish council and will automatically end at an ordinary election. The first new provision suggested by Amendment No. 145A is broadly consistent with that. We have no difficulty in accepting the idea that reappointments should not go on ad infinitum. However, there are some technical issues with the amendment to do with timing and there is a certain amount of ambiguity which would be best addressed in regulations for which this clause provides. Given the assurance that we accept the general thrust of these amendments and that we will consider the extent to which we can include them in regulations, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I am rather more pleased to withdraw this amendment than some of my previous amendments. Obviously, one reason to table the amendments was to invite the Minister to make the kind of statement that she has now made, which is very welcome. I look forward to seeing the regulations, as, I am sure, do all noble Lords. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, Amendment No. 146 also deals with appointed parish councillors. I welcome the assurances which have just been given by the noble Baroness to my noble friend Lord Greaves. When scrutinising legislation, it is always a problem when so much is left to subsequent regulation. It means that we have to take everything on trust, but it makes it essential that we go into the detail of these matters at this stage in order to feel comfortable about going ahead.

My amendment is much more straightforward. I should like to do away with this provision altogether. I am still unable to see what an appointed parish councillor will be able to do that a co-opted member cannot. The principle of co-option is widespread, particularly where you cannot find enough people to stand for a parish council. But it is well understood and people know what they are getting. It is not entirely clear why this whole new category of appointed members is required.

In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, outlined the Government's intentions. She said that there would be a body of non-elected councillors who would be appointed and co-opted—they would be one category—and that elected councillors would form another. She then suggested that councillors would be appointed by both the elected and the co-opted members; that is, one bunch of non-appointed people will have a say in appointing more non-elected people. I am slightly nervous about where that ends. Is there a limit below which the people who are either appointed or co-opted can fall? Otherwise, the elected element could become smaller and smaller.

Can the noble Baroness confirm beyond doubt that appointed members will be within the scope of the standards regime and the ethical code of conduct? What advantage might an appointed member have over a co-opted member? If they are subject to the standards regime, they will have to declare interests in all sorts of things and probably not take part in the business. If the whole point of appointing them is to bring in some specialist expertise or because they represent a group and they then cannot do that because they are barred by the code of conduct, it would be a bit of a nonsense.

We have to take parish councils very seriously. "The Vicar of Dibley" is a splendid programme, but it gives the impression that parish councils are funny little bodies populated by odd characters. The "Vicar of Dibley" is about a parochial church council and not a parish council: it is not the same thing. People do not understand that their parish council is a tier of government and that larger parish councils spend many hundreds of thousands of pounds and set a precept. Therefore, we have to take their provisions seriously in so far as they are a properly constituted tier of local government. We should not treat too lightly this proposal to do away with the democratic process and to appoint people.

My big fear is that we are seeing the thin end of the wedge and that some years down the road we will be in your Lordships' House debating a proposal to appoint councillors to principal authorities. That frightens me even more and is one of the reasons why I am very keen to understand more about why the Government see this as necessary. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 7:00 pm, 10th October 2007

My Lords, I hope that I shall be able to give the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, the assurances she is looking for. We talked about this issue to some extent in Committee. One group who may perhaps see themselves as appointed councillors would be young people between the ages of 16 and 18. They would not come within the normal range of co-opted councillors, but could be appointed because they may have views on affordable housing in rural areas or suggestions about making the social life of their community more exciting. That is one group which may come under the umbrella of appointed councillors. It would also cover those who would not automatically think of themselves as people with a local government role, but whom the community and the council see as having a valuable contribution to make, even if only for a short period of time. In Committee I gave the noble Baroness the assurance that appointed councillors would be subject to the code of conduct, and I am happy to repeat it.

While the National Association of Local Councils has some doubts about this clause, it has also expressed considerable enthusiasm for the idea of using it as a way of bringing young people into local government; that is, 16 to 18 year-olds. Using the measure for this purpose is an exciting innovation, and I am a little disappointed that the noble Baroness is not as excited about it as I am. After having expressed doubts in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said that the suggestion was interesting and that noble Lords would certainly want to go away and think about it.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, will the noble Baroness explain why such young people, with all they have to offer, could not be co-opted?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I may have to write to the noble Baroness about that. Obviously there is a rational reason why they would fall into this category, but I shall write to her with the answer.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the Minister has invited me to give her the results of my thoughts. If you want 16 and 17 year-olds on parish councils, why not extend the qualification to be members and to stand for election to 16 and 17 year-olds? Surely that is the more democratic and less patronising way to do this.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, perhaps not for this Bill, but it is certainly another way of approaching the issue. While opposing the principle of the clause, in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, tabled amendments probing our intentions for the regulations that would flow from this clause, and I believe that we gave detailed assurances on the points he raised. I think I made it clear that obviously 16 year-olds cannot stand for election, while co-opted members can. At present we regard co-opted members as those able to stand for election. While I shall write to the noble Baroness, I see that as the main difference between co-option and appointment.

The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has expressed doubts about using the negative procedure for making regulations, and in particular recommended that any exercise of the power which permits a majority of parish members to be appointed or enables an appointed member to be treated as an elected member for the purpose of the chairmanship or vice-chairmanship should be subject to the affirmative procedure. The assurances I gave in Committee made it clear that we have no intention of allowing these circumstances to arise; that is, those about which the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee had doubts. We have here an opportunity to put new energy into the operation of the most local level of local government. It is not a major part of the Bill but we think it would be a useful step forward. It is an enabling measure which does not require parish councils to do anything they do not want to do. We have given clear assurances that the regulations will be framed so as to prevent misuse.

The fact that already a great many parish and town councillors are appointed by co-option, while many more are elected unopposed, means that on the purity of local government argument, quite frankly the pass has already been sold by the reality. As I have said, we already have a large number of co-opted and elected unopposed councillors. This measure will give parish councillors a little more freedom to ensure that they can be as effective as possible. It opens up possibilities for engaging young people, which the sector has warmly welcomed, and for engaging hard-to-reach groups, which the Commission for Racial Equality has welcomed. Regretfully, therefore, I continue to resist the amendment and commend the measure to noble Lords.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, will the Government be monitoring the use of these powers, should they become law? If I were to ask a question in a couple of years' time—if we are all spared until then, as a House or otherwise—I wonder if I would be told that this information was not collected centrally or if there would be a sensible answer saying how many there were and under what circumstances they had been appointed.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I rise to give the noble Baroness a little more thinking time before she answers that question. Perhaps I may ask her about ethical standards and conduct, a point raised by my noble friend. The Local Government Act 2000, which introduced the new conduct regime, states in Section 41 that the Secretary of State may by order specify the principles which are to govern the conduct of members and co-opted members, so that the order is about the principles. A co-opted member is defined as someone who is a member of a committee or sub-committee, or represents the authority on a joint committee and is entitled to vote. It seems to me that an appointed member does not fall within that definition. Is it the use of what will be new Section 16A(3)(e) which allows for regulations as to the,

"purposes for which a person appointed is to be treated as an elected councillor"?

I may appear to be labouring the point, but if we are to have a new class of person, not only should we have an assurance that the standards regime will apply to them but we should understand how it does.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I have given an assurance to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the full standards regime will apply to appointed councillors. I will write to her with more detail on the chapter and verse of what the standards regime currently provides for co-opted and unopposed councillors.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked about monitoring. While the department will not monitor directly, it will of course be working closely with the sector.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have contributed to this short but important debate. The Government intend to introduce a new category of people into local government—people who will have been appointed and not elected. I do not think we should lose sight of that; it is a very important departure from the principles of local democracy.

I was accused earlier of a counsel of despair and negative thinking. But the noble Baroness's assertion that because it is not always easy to find people to stand we should just give up and start appointing people really is a counsel of despair. If it extended to other tiers of government, it would be desperately worrying.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I did not say that we just give up. I said we use this as an opportunity, given the reality of where we are.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the noble Baroness used the expression that the pass has already been sold and I took that as a gloomy prognostication for parish councils.

My noble friend Lord Greaves asked the Government how this will be monitored. The Government do not even know how many parish councils there are. I have been told this by the national association. There is not a list held of how many there are, where they are and what their names are. It has never been known. It is not only this Government who do not know; no Government have ever had this information. So if the Government do not know that, they are not going to know how these powers are being used. The proposal may be full of good intentions and considered a way of bringing in 16 and 17 year-olds, but it will be interesting to see how many of these young people are appointed. As far as I can see, other than that category, every other person who could be appointed to a council could be co-opted under current procedures.

I remain totally unconvinced by this proposal and I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 146) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 38; Not-Contents, 113.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill

Aye: 36 Members of the House of Lords

No: 111 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Government Whip

My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8.23 pm.

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