My Lords, this is a substantial group of amendments that includes several government amendments. Perhaps I can put our amendments into some context and address the issues raised by the other amendments in this group.
Our amendments set out the requirement for relevant authorities to approve and publish a pay policy statement which, in addition to the measures already in the Bill, must set out an authority's policies on remuneration of its lowest-paid employees and the relationship between the remuneration of its chief officers and the rest of its workforce. As Will Hutton set out in his report on fair pay in the public sector, published on
These measures, therefore, further increase local democratic accountability and transparency over how decisions on pay are made, and embody the commitment given by Ministers to reflect on the measures in the light of Hutton's report. The measures seek to minimise the potential burden on authorities and ensure that decisions on pay remain ones for individual employers to take locally.
The opposition amendments would take those measures beyond the scope of pay accountability. Our intention, through the provisions in the Bill and our amendments, is to bring greater accountability and transparency to an authority's approach to remuneration of its own employees. We do not seek to prescribe what the approach should be by requiring authorities to publish a list of numbers, or by roaming about on other matters such as local decisions around recruitment or engagement with providers-which would be the effect of the opposition amendments. Our Amendment 101, in its requirements relating to the remuneration of the lowest-paid employees, is broader than the Opposition's proposal and will lead to the publication of policies in a rounder way than by focusing on policies relating to total salary costs and numbers of staff, which is what Amendment 101A would achieve.
Amendment 101 would require authorities to disclose their policies on the relationship between remuneration of their chief officers and the rest of their employees, including the lowest paid. We do not feel it necessary to require authorities to break down their policies in this regard in the way proposed in Amendment 101A. Indeed, Will Hutton, in his report on fair pay in the public sector, highlights that, in seeking to measure pay dispersion using a pay multiple, comparison between top and lowest pay is not the most effective approach. As we have made clear, charities, voluntary organisations and businesses-particularly small businesses-have repeatedly called for the amount of regulation and red tape surrounding local government contracts to be reduced. I am sure that noble Lords opposite agree with that general principle. In this context, it is not appropriate to use this Bill to impose further duties on authorities to have policies relating to the pay of those who work for an organisation with which it contracts.
Nothing in the Bill limits the extent of information that an authority may include in its pay policy statement. Authorities may take the local view to include any other policies as they think fit. This could include policies on contracting staff where they have developed them locally. We will undertake to make this clear in guidance rather than set it out in the Bill.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord True for his work in submitting Amendment 105. Perhaps I can reassure him and other noble Lords that local authorities must always abide by relevant employment legislation when carrying out their duties as employers. This obligation extends to the formation of their policies on pay. Pay policy statements are intended to be an articulation of such policies. The measures that we are introducing do not take precedence over employment law. A pay policy statement could not be lawfully used by relevant authorities to sanction matters that are not in line with their existing legal duties and obligations. Similarly, any changes to policies included in a published pay policy statement, which must be approved by a full council, must also adhere to requirements placed on authorities as employers under employment legislation. We can undertake to reinforce this position in guidance, to which authorities must have regard. We believe that this will achieve the aims of the amendment without it being necessary to remind authorities of their duties as employers as set out in the Bill. I hope that I have assisted the Committee in its consideration of this matter. I beg to move Amendment 99.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for introducing the government amendments. Indeed, I thank the Government for bringing forward the proposals, which build on the debate in the other place. I see that he has taken the opportunity to get his retaliation in first on our amendments. I will speak to Amendments 101A, 101B, 102A and 108B.
"made some clear recommendations, particularly about the benefit of setting decisions on senior pay in the context of the pay of the rest of a body's work force"- meaning the median earnings, and I accept that point. He continued:
"We are sympathetic to that idea, particularly the potential for linking lower pay with senior pay"- so the Minister in the other place focused on low pay as well. He went on to say that he did,
"not think it would be helpful to use the Bill to address the pay of contracting bodies", which is consistent with what the noble Lord just said. However, he then went on to state,
"That does not prevent a local authority from developing a local policy to ensure that bodies with which it contracts are open about their rates of pay as a matter of contract".-[Hansard, Commons, 17/5/11; cols. 210-11.]
Although significant growth in executive pay is largely a private sector phenomenon, we support the thrust of greater transparency. We also support the Government's approach to tackling this in the manner provided, rather than as in the other two options set out in the impact assessment. As the fair pay report also concludes, evaluating these by benchmarking off the salary of the Prime Minister is a nonsense, particularly if you add in the benefits that the Prime Minister gets, which include a central London flat with access to rather a large garden, not to mention the odd country estate. A more realistic figure of his remuneration might be in excess of £0.5 million a year. However, the report also concludes that putting in limits of fixed multiples of lowest pay would, in a sense, be unfair as well.
These provisions regarding transparency on pay are important if we are to address public anxiety about the perceived explosion in senior pay in the public sector. However, transparency on pay is not just about senior pay and fairness in senior pay; it is a matter of understanding the context in which that pay is set.
We accept that there has been growth in pay in some senior roles in the public sector but there are many myths about public sector pay, some of them stoked by the Secretary of State. Will Hutton made a powerful case for fair pay in the public sector. He said:
"Fair pay is essential to high quality, well managed public services. Public services are vital co-creators of wealth and well-being ... Public trust in public services requires that public service pay is fair and seen to be fair, and that public services stand up to high standards of scrutiny".
We agree with that. As my honourable friend Barbara Keeley explained in the other place, the Local Government Association estimates that of 1.7 million employees in mainstream local government jobs, 60 per cent earn less than £18,000 a year. According to the LGA, more than 400,000 council workers earn less than a living wage, including more than 250,000 who earn less than £6.50 an hour. Indeed, a quarter of those experiencing in-work poverty are employed by the public sector, and the average public sector pension is not a gold-plated amount; it is just £4,200 a year. Therefore, we need a rounded approach to transparency in local authority pay which is fair and consistent and which focuses on those at the bottom end of the scale as well as those on median earnings. We also consider that excess pay should not just be tackled in the public sector but that focus should also be put on pay in the private sector which is paid from the public purse.
As we have heard, the government amendments require relevant authorities to prepare pay policy statements to include remuneration of the lowest paid and the relationship between remuneration of their chief officers and employees who are not chief officers. They would lump together all employees other than chief officers. This potentially meets the Hutton criteria of comparison with median earnings, as I think the noble Lord said. Our amendment would simply require the statement to provide information about the numbers as well as about the remuneration of the lowest-paid employees so that the position could truly be seen in context. It would also require that, rather than just look at the relationship between the remuneration of chief officers and other employees, the statement should also look at the relationship between the remuneration of chief officers, the lowest-paid employees and other employees. The retention of a focus on low pay is an alternative approach to the specific linking of senior pay to multiples of low pay-that is, the 20 times factor-which the Hutton report recommended against and which seemed to find favour with the Minister in the other place.
Our Amendment 101B would add to the policies which must be included in an authority's statement its approach to the engagement after retirement of former chief officers. We read press reports of senior officers retiring one day, only to be recycled as expensive consultants the next. I do not assert that to be true; nor do I argue that it should necessarily be inhibited, but transparency will help to set this issue in context.
Our Amendment 108B is an attempt to take account of indirect employment, whether specifically structured-for example, to avoid the rigours of these provisions-or otherwise. It is accepted that to devise a comprehensive description of the range of circumstances might be difficult to enshrine in primary legislation; hence, with some embarrassment I am bound to say, we have resorted to giving the Secretary of State an extra power to produce guidance-but guidance that must be subject to consultation with local authorities and trade unions.
Finally, we included provisions for the statement to cover the approach the authority takes to the pay policy of those providing goods or services. Indeed I think that that was recognised as something which would be appropriate by Andrew Stunell in the other place. It is in a very mild form, and simply builds on the Minister's remarks that authorities are free to adopt this approach. If they are free to adopt this approach, guidance may be one way to remind them of that; putting it in the Bill is another, not as a requirement but as something for consideration.
The Minister dealt with Amendment 105, which is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord True. We accept and agree with that position. Amendment 108A simply reflects the removal of mayoral management arrangements from the Bill and obviously has our support.
I believe that our amendments go with the grain of what the Government are supporting. I accept that the Minister will not accept them today and sees that some of them can be encapsulated in guidance. However, I believe that we ought to be mindful of the fact that people who might be directly employed would be caught within these provisions, whereas those who are one stage away-perhaps in an agency company but otherwise directly engaged in working for the local authority-would be outside these provisions. One can see the scope for those wishing to use those mechanisms to get round these pay transparency provisions. I therefore urge the Government to see whether some mechanisms might not, as we have suggested, be most appropriate to tackle this lacuna in the proposals.
My Lords, perhaps I can speak briefly to Amendment 105 but before doing so, I pray the indulgence of the Committee if the debate is prolonged, as I have amendments to the Education Bill in Grand Committee. I mean no offence if I have to withdraw at some point. I should also say in preamble that, having seen the news yesterday on the transparency of Transport for London and given the matters we will be considering in Clause 206, I wonder whether "a relevant authority" might include Transport for London within the meaning of these clauses.
I am grateful for my noble friend's remarks, but my concern is about politically inspired resolutions put to local authorities, particularly in the run-up to elections. I accept that the wording of my amendment may not be correct. I am not someone who has argued for extensive regulation but we have seen, even from such an august person as the Secretary of State, that public comment on the level of senior officers' pay attracts the attention-often very approving attention-of the press. My fear is that, notwithstanding the niceties of employment law and the effective risk of constructive dismissal, in the approach to an election it would be unbearably tempting for a minority party in a local authority to lay a resolution calling, say, for the reduction of chief officers' pay by 10, 15 or 20 per cent. Why stop there? "Vote for us and we will cut senior officers' pay".
In those circumstances it is politically quite difficult for the governing party in a local authority to resist such a proposal if put as a resolution to a council. Any member of a council can put forward a resolution just as any noble Lord can put forward a proposal here. Clause 23(4) makes it absolutely clear that, including after the beginning of the financial year in which a senior officer's pay statement has been laid, it is perfectly in order for a local authority to seek to change that pay statement. So while I am not calling more regulation down on the heads of local authorities, I warn my noble friend that there is an extremely high risk in the six months before elections of competitive resolutions being laid to reduce the pay of members in authority, which might have pernicious effects and could, in some cases, be contrary to employment law.
Having asked my noble friend to consider the matter, I am grateful for the consideration he has given so far and I am reassured by some of the things he has said on the point, but I hope that, in considering any guidance, he will take very seriously the points that have been made. It would be a great pity to see a rash of resolutions coming out of local authorities asking the impossible of senior officers, who are in most cases distinguished public servants doing their best for local people.
My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's point, but I have to say that it would be a huge infraction on the responsibilities and rights of elected members of councils to indicate what might go on a council agenda and what might not. That is going much too far. Although I expect members to behave responsibly, if they are irresponsible, it would be the task of those answering such a resolution to make the case. We ought to have the self-confidence to do that, so I do not think, with all respect to the noble Lord, that his amendment should progress.
I seek some assurances from the Minister, to see whether I have understood him correctly, apart from anything else. Later-many, many hours later-we will come to the question of the community infrastructure levy and whether or not it should be a material consideration in determining planning matters. There will, I think, be quite strong views about that. I wonder, having heard the Minister, whether it will be permissible for councils to take into account the factors referred to in my noble friend's amendment as a material consideration in the awarding of contracts. If I understood him correctly, the noble Lord indicated that that would be permissible, although it should not be prescribed, and I can understand that position. Perhaps he will confirm or disabuse me of that notion.
I also ask the noble Lord whether he has a view on the living wage, which has been espoused-I think before an election but certainly after an election, to revert to the point of the noble Lord, Lord True-by no less a person than the Mayor of London, who has adopted the concept initiated by his predecessor of promoting the living wage. Does he accept that it is right for councils, if they choose, to adopt such a policy in respect of their own authorities and to seek to reflect that in the conditions upon which they let contracts?
My Lords, this has been a short but very useful debate on a very important aspect of local government policy. I assure noble Lords that the guidance which will be issued will take note of issues raised in this debate. While we may not agree on all aspects, there appears to be a good deal of consensus that the Government's approach on senior pay is to be welcomed as, indeed, are the requirements of our amendments for a pay policy statement. I am grateful to the noble Lord for lending his support to that concept.
Our amendments build on that approach and will increase accountability for local decisions about the lowest paid in the local government workforce. I say local decisions deliberately. The Government are quite clear that these decisions on pay and reward must remain ones for local determination. I hope that noble Lords opposite will acknowledge that the Government have fulfilled our commitment to reflect on discussions around low pay in the other place and brought forward appropriate amendments, as, indeed, we do today.
The Government did not undertake at that time to consider measures to increase duties on local authorities with regard to their relationship with bodies with whom they can contract. We believe such proposals would be burdensome. Charities, the voluntary sector and business have called for regulation around contracting to be reduced. There is general consensus that in order to achieve greater participation of the voluntary sector and small businesses in local government contracting, we need to make the process of contracting as simple as possible.
I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that procurement policy is governed by legislation. There are procedures for procurement, which has to be done on an open and transparent basis. There is no suggestion in our amendments that we are seeking to interfere with that process, nor would we do so in any immediate guidance that we might issue. It remains open to local authorities individually to develop policies in relation to the staff of contractors, if they wish to do so.
I have undertaken to make it clear in guidance that, where authorities have local practices on any matter they deem appropriate to include in a pay policy statement, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent them including them. I cannot comment on the living wage, other than to say that I do not think it is a matter for this Bill. We would wish to be much more specific about what the noble Lord means by a living wage before any legislation could include any such reference.
I am grateful for the participation of noble Lords-
Before we conclude, I thank the Minister for what he said. We accept that from the Government's perspective, they have fulfilled the obligation they made in the other place. As I said in speaking to my amendments, I do not think they have fulfilled it as fully as we would have liked, but when can we expect to see the guidance in this area? That would help our deliberations and could potentially preclude a return visit to this matter on Report.
In respect of the contribution by the noble Lord, Lord True, who is no longer in his place-I understand he has to be elsewhere-competitive resolutions are not quite the environment I would have expected. It is certainly not how we conduct politics in Luton, but it raises all sorts of interesting questions, not for debate now, about people addressing those resolutions on a predetermined basis.
I understand exactly what the noble Lord is referring to, but I hope it has expedited this debate to the advantage of the Committee. I cannot give an answer on when the guidance will be available. If I am able to get that information, I will write to the noble Lord.
Amendment 99 agreed.
Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach
100: Clause 22, page 25, line 34, leave out "senior"
Amendment 100 agreed.
Amendment 101A (to Amendment 101) not moved.
Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach
101: Clause 22, page 25, line 35, at end insert ",
(b) the remuneration of its lowest-paid employees, and
(c) the relationship between-
(i) the remuneration of its chief officers, and
(ii) the remuneration of its employees who are not chief officers.
(2A) The statement must state-
(a) the definition of "lowest-paid employees" adopted by the authority for the purposes of the statement, and
(b) the authority's reasons for adopting that definition."
Amendment 101 agreed.
Amendment 101B not moved.
Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach
102: Clause 22, page 26, line 5, leave out "senior"
Amendment 102 agreed.
Amendment 102A not moved.
Clause 22, as amended, agreed.
Clause 23 : Supplementary provisions relating to statements
Amendments 103 and 104
Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach
103: Clause 23, page 26, line 9, leave out "senior"
104: Clause 23, page 26, line 15, leave out "senior"
Amendments 103 and 104 agreed.
Amendment 105 not moved.
Amendments 106 to 108
Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach
106: Clause 23, page 26, line 17, leave out "senior"
107: Clause 23, page 26, line 34, leave out "senior"
108: Clause 23, page 27, line 2, leave out "senior"
Amendments 106 to 108 agreed.
Clause 23, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 24 to 26 agreed.
Clause 27 : Interpretation
Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach
108A: Clause 27, page 27, line 28, leave out from "following" to end of line 32
Amendment 108A agreed.
Amendment 108B not moved.
Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach
109: Clause 27, page 28, line 20, at end insert-
"(5A) In this Chapter "remuneration", in relation to a relevant authority and an employee of its who is not a chief officer, means-
(a) the employee's salary,
(b) any bonuses payable by the authority to the employee,
(c) any allowances payable by the authority to the employee,
(d) any benefits in kind to which the employee is entitled as a result of the employee's employment,
(e) any increase in or enhancement of the employee's pension entitlement where the increase or enhancement is as a result of a resolution of the authority, and
(f) any amounts payable by the authority to the employee on the employee ceasing to be employed by the authority, other than any amounts that may be payable by virtue of any enactment.
(5B) References in this Chapter to the remuneration of an employee who is not a chief officer include-
(a) the remuneration that may be provided to that employee in the future, and
(b) the remuneration that is to be provided to employees of the same kind that the authority may employ in the future."
Amendment 109 agreed.
Clause 27, as amended, agreed.
Clause 28 : Repeal of duties relating to promotion of democracy
Debate on whether Clause 28 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I expect your Lordships will be familiar with the provisions of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, and specifically all the requirements laid down in Chapter 1. On the off-chance that all its details do not immediately spring to mind, perhaps I might be forgiven for outlining the relevant chapter.
The duties referred to relate to the promotion of democracy, and the Act sets out a number of issues upon which councils have a duty to promote understanding. They include the democratic arrangements of authorities: that is,
"(a) the functions of the authority;
(b) the democratic arrangements of the authority;
(c) how members of the public can take part in those democratic arrangements and what is involved in taking part".
The duty also includes:
"a duty to promote understanding of the following among local people-
(a) how to become a member of the principal local authority;
(b) what members of the principal local authority do;
(c) what support is available for members of the principal local authority".
This is obviously designed to encourage greater participation and greater willingness on the part of people to stand for election and to serve as elected councillors.
In addition, the Act requires councils to promote the understanding of and information about a range of other organisations with which local councils are connected: for example, monitoring boards, courts boards and youth offending teams. The Act also requires councils to promote understanding among local people about the magistracy:
"(a) the functions of a lay justice;
(b) how a member of the public can become a lay justice;
(c) what is involved in being a lay justice".
These are fairly simple tools with which to promote the involvement of people in local governance-using the term broadly-with both local authorities and, as I have indicated and as the Act makes clear, a range of other local institutions that impinge upon the life of the community and are very often dependent on the voluntary participation of members of that community. They are examples of engagement with society which any Government, including the present one, would presumably wish to encourage very strongly. I therefore do not understand why this Bill seeks to remove that duty. This Bill purports to be about localism and local government, about involving people in the decisions affecting their lives and those of their community, about encouraging wider civic responsibility, so why does this clause remove a basic, not particularly elaborate or expensive, duty to promote exactly that? What is this clause doing in this Bill?
My Lords, the noble Lord began by suggesting that we might not remember the provisions of the local democracy and everything else Bill. Some of us in this House remember it only too vividly. The noble Lord had the good fortune, if I might say so, not to have been a Member of the House then, but I remind your Lordships that we spent many, many hours on this part of that Bill.
The short answer to the noble Lord's question as to why my noble friends and I rejoice at this clause is prescription. We spend many hours in this House, including on this Bill, complaining about central government prescribing in detail to local government what it should and should not do, what it can and cannot do, and even more particularly how it should do it. That is what Part 1 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill did in enormous detail. I am sure my noble friend Lord Greaves will remind us exactly how many pages, words and possibly even letters it took to do this. That Bill started in your Lordships' House and we spent a long time trying to improve that part of it, arguing that it was not the business of central government to prescribe exactly what local government should do and how they should do these things. Of course we should promote democracy. Of course we should encourage all these things. All good local authorities of whatever political control are already doing that. They have been doing it, in most cases very successfully, for many years and will carry on doing so whether there is an Act of Parliament requiring them to do so or not. So I, for one, rejoice at this clause, and this might be one of the few times I say that during this Committee.
My Lords, I underline what my noble friend has just said. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, is not here to take part in the discussion today because she was the Minister who had to take this nonsense through the House. She did it with great composure and good manners, although I am not sure what she secretly thought about it. The other Minister involved was the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, who is here. Perhaps he can tell us whether he is quite as appalled that this duty is going as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, suggested.
I regret to say that I, too, am extremely familiar with the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, particularly this part of it, and it is seriously flawed. As an explanation of local democratic involvement, it completely missed out the voluntary sector, local partnerships and so on, which some of us tried to put in but failed. As my noble friend said, it is extremely prescriptive. If it is localism, it is top-down localism of the kind that we are criticising in this Bill, and it is very pleasant to see that this Bill is getting rid of a bit of that.
The effect that this part of the Act has had since it was passed appears to have been zero in most parts of the country. I am not aware of any authority having done anything significant as a result of this legislation, and in two-tier areas it set up a ridiculous bureaucratic system of exchange of information. Again, I have no idea how many councils have actually been carrying out this duty, but I suspect that a lot of them have just been ignoring the legislation because it was fairly useless. So I, too, rejoice that this duty is going, and I wish that the spirit behind this clause was more prevalent in some other parts of this Bill.
My Lords, I will not please you all but I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. This clause removes the duty on principal local authorities in England and Wales to provide information to people about how local government systems work. This might include providing information on the role of councillors, councils, relevant public bodies, civic roles and so forth. As has been indicated, it was part of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. My noble friend Lord Greaves has not heard much about it is because the duty has not yet commenced and therefore its repeal will have no significant impact on authorities. We therefore wish to remove it from the statute book as it would constitute, if it were to be enacted, an unnecessary burden on local authorities.
The Government are committed to enhancing local democracy, but they also want to guard against adding costly burdens to local authorities. Many authorities are already doing lots of good work to provide information to people about local government systems without having a duty placed on them to do so.
In the debates on Thursday, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, was concerned about guidance and notes being produced in Eland House. Of course, guidance and notes were ready for this duty, which has not been commenced. They would have said that each authority should hire an office manager, administrative support and promotions and systems at £86,000. For 154 authorities that would cost £13.2 million. Districts with two-tier authorities would need half an officer and a promotions budget, amounting to another £9 million. At the prices of three years ago, it would cost £22.2 million. That is the burden of doing the work as well as the financial burden.
My noble friends and noble Lords opposite, many of whom have been part and parcel of local government, have barely made speeches in town halls up and down the land without promoting local government and local democracy. We do not need this provision, which can be left to the good nature, without prescription, of local government. I urge that the clause should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I entirely agree with noble Lords who reject the notion of overprescription in this or any other part of the Bill. However, removing a duty to promote democracy altogether sends an unfortunate signal. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, seemed to admit that he wanted to add to prescription when the Bill was originally debated because he wanted to include bodies to which reference is not made, which is a slight inconsistency.
In my defence, I should say that there are two lines of attack for Governments, although I should not use that phrase at the moment. The first is that the whole thing should not exist. The second is that if it does exist, we should try to improve it, which is our view on a lot of this Bill. If this was such a wonderful thing, why did the previous Government spend two years after the Bill was enacted not commencing this part?
The noble Lord will be aware that, no doubt for good reasons, I was not a member of the previous Labour Government and I cannot answer for them. They did not do everything that we would have wished in local government. Perhaps this matter did not achieve the priority that some of us would have liked. In replying, the Minister is right to point out possible costs of the detailed guidance that his civil servants are so ready to produce. Of course, that does not mean that that degree of prescription is unnecessarily desirable and that the costs will necessarily have been incurred.
If we want to encourage participation in local government and voter turnout, the people standing for election or seeking to serve their community as magistrates need encouragement and information. The community as a whole needs to be informed about what its local authority can and cannot do, and how it might be influenced. Much of the Bill is about those processes going on in different ways at different levels. The duty would have reinforced the thrust of the Bill. With respect, I still do not see why it is being removed.
Indeed, but had he been here, I assume he would have supported the amendment to which he has ascribed his name, and with his long experience of local government-including as leader of the council in which we both serve-I would have thought that might carry some weight with his colleagues, but apparently not.
However, I hope it will be recognised that all of us have a responsibility in public and political life to encourage greater participation. If we are not going to do it under the auspices of a duty, let us at least in our various capacities endeavour to do it more broadly, because local democracy needs that kind of support.
Clause 28 agreed.
Clause 29: Repeal of provisions about petitions to local authorities
Debate on whether Clause 29 should stand part of the Bill.
This is another example, and I think I can anticipate the response that I am likely to receive from the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Greaves, and the Minister. I would invite them to think a little more carefully about this, and, again, I would accept in advance criticisms about the degree of prescription. It does not seem to be necessary or desirable for Government to lay down how things should be done, as opposed to setting out, in some areas, what should be done. In this instance, we are faced with a less satisfactory alternative to the process of petitioning, which would require public petitions to be dealt with in a systematic and proper way, including consideration at a meeting of an authority, holding an inquiry, commissioning of research, giving a written response. These are a variety of ways of dealing with public petitions, and for that matter holding officers of the council to account.
The Bill proposes a different method, which I consider to be less satisfactory and which I believe the noble Lords may also consider unsatisfactory, which is the system of local referendums. We will debate it later today, no doubt. This is a much more elaborate system in a different context, because in that case one is seeking the opinion of a community on a simple proposition, subject to a referendum with little authority, given that there will hardly be a significant threshold to call a referendum, let alone in respect of turnout. This is a much more elaborate and expensive way of doing things than dealing with petitions properly and encouraging them to come forward.
Again, I do not understand why the Government feel it necessary to remove these provisions, accepting, again, that the prescriptive element is otiose and could be dispensed with. Petitions are a better way for the public to draw attention to matters with which they are concerned, and for the public to get a response to those concerns in a reasonably structured way. It is true that in some councils there is a process for public petitions-certainly, in my council there is, and no doubt others as well-but it is not universal, and it is not something which is sufficiently developed. In terms of local accountability and transparency, petitioning is a good method, and preferable to the alternative which is enshrined in the Bill. I ask the Government to reconsider this clause. Even if local referendums remain, which will be debated later, and perhaps a view taken on report, it is not mutually exclusive, and the petitioning process could be left as it now stands in the Bill.
My Lords, I do not want to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and I will not do so. Once again, I rejoice at this clause and very much wish it to stand part of the Bill, unlike my noble friend, Lord Shipley, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. We spent many hours-I have a recollection that it was probably many days-on this part of the Bill. We discussed pages and pages in extraordinary detail, debating how to collect, submit, and process petitions. When the Bill started in your Lordships' House, the debate seemed to be based entirely on the premise that a petition to a local council was of the same format and standing as a petition to Parliament. In fact, all of us who have been councillors will have seen petitions to councils, and know that they are not usually the most formal documents you are likely to come across. They are of their nature at their best, because they are collected by and within the local community and do not have any formal standing or, often, any formal wording, as was originally suggested in the Bill.
We asked for evidence during all of this that local authorities were not dealing properly with petitions. I find it hard to believe that there can be a local authority of any size in the country that does not receive petitions. I wanted evidence that they were not dealing with them properly. The one merit of our hours of debate was that we discovered that quite a lot of local authorities, including the local authority of the then Secretary of State, did not adequately describe their procedure for dealing with petitions on their websites. The fault was not so much with the procedures of the council as with the adequacy of their websites. My own authority, and I am sure many others, improved their websites considerably as a result. That was a useful outcome, but it justified neither the hours that we spent on it nor the fact that it was all laid down in such prescriptive detail in a Bill.
The other useful factor of the debate was that it addressed the rather more modern issue of e-petitions, to which some local authorities probably had not then given sufficient attention. As a result of the Bill, and subsequently the Act, some authorities, including my own, probably gave them more consideration and put them on their websites.
We do not need an Act of Parliament to do that; we do not need pages and pages of prescription to do that; it is quite simply good practice, which could, possibly was and certainly should have been disseminated by the Local Government Association, in which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, played such a leading part. I shall not disappoint the noble Lord: I once again rejoice at this clause.
My Lords, I cannot resist adding just a little bit to what has been said. I went back to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act when I saw Clause 29 stand part on the Marshalled List. There are in it 10 pages of detailed, prescriptive instructions to local authorities about how to receive petitions. Our discussions on that part of the Bill were extremely long, and I hold my hands up and say I was largely responsible for that. I remember my noble friend Lord Tope, having arrived back from one of his European trips, coming into the Moses Room, where we were discussing the Bill in Committee, and saying, "Good heavens! You're not still on petitions, are you?". But we were. I again pay tribute to the two then Ministers, including the noble Lord, Lord Patel, who is in his place, for making some effort to improve that part of the Bill. I think that it was 14 or 15 pages when it started off, and we at least got it down to 10.
My view is that very few authorities have taken petitions through this system, and that most petitions to local authorities since the legislation came into operation have continued to be dealt with as they always have been. I do not think that my own council has had a single one. We have had one or two that appeared to qualify. In those cases, we have suggested that the petitioners do what everybody else does and just go along to the area committee, talk to the petition in the normal way, and get it dealt with within days rather than the weeks and weeks of bureaucratic procedure set out in that part of the Bill. So I, too, rejoice that this nonsense has gone. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that we are getting a bigger and more dangerous nonsense, which we will discuss later on today.
My Lords, I am delighted to respond once more to further rejoicing. I thank the noble Lords for their contributions.
At present, local authorities are required to make, publish and comply with a scheme for the handling of petitions made to the authority. It must include centrally prescribed information, and the scheme and any subsequent changes to it must be approved by a meeting of the full council. Local authorities are also required to provide a facility for making electronic petitions to the authority.
The current legislation means that local authorities must respond to a petition in a certain way and must hold a full council debate if it is signed by the number of people specified in the council's petition scheme. Senior officers can also be called to account and are required to take part in a public meeting if a petition meets a signature threshold. Petitioners can request that the council's overview and scrutiny committee reviews the council's response to the petition if it feels it is not adequate. The prescription and cumbersome bureaucracy this has piled on local authorities is unjustifiable. I am not aware of any evidence that the service received by local people has improved, yet unlike the previous matter it has already resulted in a burden of £4.2 million across the sector, as well as money spent on set-up costs.
I am delighted that the Local Government Association has been brought into this because it says that the prescription around petitions is one of the "top five" burdens that it has asked this Government to review. I want to remove this prescription while protecting and enhancing the democratic voice of local residents and saving money. When I served for 25 years as a member of Calderdale Council we had many petitions. They came in many ways but they often came to full council. They were brought to the council, handed to the mayor by a member and then the council either looked at them on that occasion or more likely then said that the appropriate council committee would look at them. I never recall a problem about a petition being ignored; petitions were always looked at. If we are about localism and local people doing their own thing, I believe that people who are involved locally and involved in local authorities know what to do with petitions and how to cope without this overarching prescription.
I thank the Minister for this reply. His council's example is one that many councils follow and would have followed without the legislation and if the legislation goes will continue to follow it. However, that does not necessarily mean that all councils will do that. This ought to be the general practice. The Minister referred to consideration at a meeting or referral to an overview and scrutiny committee. These are examples of good practice which ought to be universal not optional. Again, taking the point about overprescription in terms of the details of how things are to done, I am sorry that the principle of a universal approach to enhancing local democracy, which the Minister and his noble friends will undoubtedly endorse, will suffer as a result of the removal of this duty. It is of a piece with the inconsistent approach that the Government are adopting in this Bill which, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has confirmed, we will be discussing later and in a form which is certainly worse than the worst allegations that could be made about the section which the Government propose to amend and delete from the 2009 Act.
Clause 29 agreed.
Clause 30 : Schemes to encourage domestic waste reduction by payments and charges
Debate on whether Clause 30 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, this is a different matter. We are now on to a substantive issue which the Government seek to introduce into the law of the land and to bind into the practice of local authorities.
I understand that John Major as Prime Minister was a great devotee of the novels of Trollope, regularly reading them, and I think his predecessor Harold Macmillan was much the same. I am wondering whether the present Secretary of State, Mr Pickles, has become a devotee of Dickens. He seems to be metamorphosing into a fusion of Dickens' characters-a combination of Wackford Squeers, Mr Bumble and Gradgrind, leavened by a dash of Mr Pickwick. However, he is now developing, and has for some time developed, an obsession with waste and refuse collection. This seems to add Boffin, the golden dustman, to the cast list of Dickens' characters which he is absorbing into his persona. I have never understood the Secretary of State's obsession with this issue. He has, to put it mildly, irritated local politicians of all parties, including the then chairman of the relevant board of the Local Government Association, Paul Bettison-a leading member of the Conservative Party and a leading figure in Conservative local government circles-by suggesting that charge and waste reduction schemes should not be implemented. He has, of course, opined many times about the number of refuse collections that should take place nationally.
First, this obsession seems inappropriate in any event for a Secretary of State. Secondly, one has to ask: what is a specific provision on a particular service doing in a Bill about localism? The Bill makes considerable play of giving councils a power of general competence and talks about the role of local government generally and of local communities, while Ministers frequently refer to the need to avoid prescription-we have heard that more than once this afternoon already. What could be more prescriptive than banning local authorities from a proposal to deal with waste problems, especially since the prescription that the Secretary of State would apply takes no notice of differences in localities or the implications for environmental issues such as recycling?
It is not as if the proposals about charging schemes were prescribed in their turn or as if councils had to embark on such policies. That would have been equally wrong because, again, different circumstances apply to different places. Even within an individual authority, there are areas where particular schemes would be appropriate and others where they are clearly not. It is obviously a matter for local decision but this Secretary of State, in his obsessive regard to this topic, seems to be intent on ruling out something that not many authorities have actually chosen to do. That is their choice. I do not think that many have gone in for those schemes so, again, the question has to be asked: why is this being inserted into the Bill? If it is to be a matter of political debate, should it not be debated rather than prescribed?
Noble Lords opposite have rejoiced at the abolition of prescription in the two areas which we have debated so far this afternoon. I hope they will join me in rejecting this considerable area of prescription that the Secretary of State wishes to impose on local government with absolutely no warrant at all, on the basis of evidence or of the public good.
My Lords, the noble Lord is persuasive in his arguments by suggesting that what is happening here is that the Government are removing the freedoms of local authorities, but it is not quite like that. The freedoms that he is talking about are very prescriptive and if he reads the particular part of the Climate Change Act, he will discover that. These waste reduction schemes are all nonsense, really. I keep using that word but I remember that this is another part of a Bill where I made a nuisance of myself in your Lordships' House by detaining the House for probably too long while it was being debated and discussed.
The Bill refers to schemes relating to the amount of waste, the size and type of the containers and the frequency of collections. There was what was colloquially known at the time as the chip-in-bin scheme, where a chip in a bin would in some magic way measure the amount of waste being provided. There was the big bin and little bin scheme, where if you had a little bin you were okay and got it for free, but if you had a big bin you had to pay more for it, which affected large families. There was the pound-a-sack scheme, where you had to go and buy approved sacks for a pound each and fill them up-a scheme which was reported to have worked extremely well in Maastricht, but probably nowhere else. There was also a frequency of collection scheme, where you had a weekly collection, but if you wanted it more frequently you had to pay-the pay per day scheme. So these four schemes took on an iconic quality as far as the last Government were concerned, but they have never been brought into effect because they are not the way to go about it.
Rather unusually, what the Secretary of State is doing is championing a waste collection service that is a universal free service. That is what he is championing and I thought the Labour Party used to believe in such things. But not now, it wants the chips-in-bins and the pound-per-sacks schemes and all the rest of it. I am delighted to see this go. I wish we had been able to persuade the last Government that we should not have wasted all that time on legislation that was never introduced.
My Lords, Clause 30 removes powers that enable local authorities to run pilot waste reduction schemes. We announced our intention to remove these powers in June 2010. We believe that rewards rather than penalties are the best way to encourage people to reduce the amount of waste they produce. We wish to see local authorities helping householders to do the right thing with their waste, rather than punishing them for doing the wrong thing. We also consider that schemes which include fines based on the weight of residual waste left out by householders are likely to result in fly-tipping and other anti-social behaviour.
This Government are clear that rewarding householders for recycling or for reducing waste is to be encouraged; we want to help them to do the right thing. Removing these powers in the Climate Change Act will free up local authorities to use their broader well-being powers or general powers of competence, as appropriate, to provide rewards for waste reduction. Since their introduction there has been little appetite for using the Climate Change Act powers. No local authority has yet applied to take up a charge-and-reward scheme and no schemes will be dismantled as a result of their removal.
This clause simply removes Sections 71 to 75 of Part 5 and Schedule 5 from the Climate Change Act 2008. This will remove the provisions for waste reduction schemes but have no wider effect on the powers of, or burdens upon, local authorities. It is interesting that Royal Assent was on
My Lords, this is another case of local authorities having the power to do anything they like except what the Secretary of State decides they should not do. It is on a simple point of principle that this amendment is moved. I regret very much that the Minister and his noble friends do not seem to grasp the inconsistency inherent in their position, but so be it.
Clause 30 agreed.