|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
'.--(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for a local authority to apply to propose to the Secretary of State arrangements not provided for by or under sections 10(2) to (5).
(2) In submitting a proposal to the Secretary of State under regulations issued under subsection (1) an authority must:
(a) demonstrate that the proposals have the support of the local government electors for, and other interested parties in, the authority's area,
(b) ensure that the arrangements include provision for the appointment by the authority of one or more overview and scrutiny committees,
(c) explain why the authority considers that the proposed arrangements would be more suitable to local circumstances than a local authority executive as specified in sections 10(2) to (5) and
(d) explain why the authority considers that the proposed arrangements would be likely to ensure that decisions of the authority are taken in an efficient, transparent and accountable way.
(3) In issuing a regulation under subsection (1) the Secretary of State may, in particular, include:
(a) details as to the number or class of authorities to which those regulations apply,
(b) the criteria to which the Secretary of State must have regard in considering any proposals submitted under those regulations. In particular these criteria may include:
(i) the population of the authority,
(ii) the number of members of the authority,
(iii) the nature of the communities in the authorities area, and
(iv) the history of the authority's political control.'.
'which determines to adopt executive arrangements'.
'( ) by a committee of the authority.'.
'( ) a committee of the authority.'.
'( ) by a committee of the authority.'.
Mr. Waterson: We now come to what Lord Whitty, the Minister in the Lords, called the central part of the Bill: the Government's intention to impose structures on local government. The avowed intention behind the new clause and amendments Nos. 1 to 3 is to return the Bill to the form that it took on this issue when it last left the Lords and to reflect strong feelings across local government throughout the country.
Amendments Nos. 57 to 60 would deal essentially with what we regard as the Government's bogus fourth option, which they are peddling to local government, although I gather that they had a signal lack of success at the Local Government Association conference last week. There are three central flaws in their so-called fourth option: it still requires the production of a council executive, it seems to apply to whole categories of councils rather than to individual ones--that flexibility is absent--and, inevitably, the say-so of the Secretary of State is required. Amendment No. 214 would remove clause 23--I shall return to that--and amendment No. 21 would remove clause 28(3).
On structures, despite having relatively pleasant debates in Committee--I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is not in the Chamber--we were subject to an awful lot of sloganising by Ministers. One was the famous slogan of the Minister for Local Government and the Regions: no change is not an option. The problem is that the Government purported to give local government three options for structures--although they now claim to have added a fourth--but, depending on which survey we accept, perhaps 1 or 2 per cent. of councils are remotely interested in having a directly elected mayor. Perhaps that figure will have decreased following the experience of the London mayoral elections.
I have yet to meet any council that seems at all interested in the council manager model, but one may exist. The Minister may wish to quote it or them when she responds. However, the Minister's attitude reminds me of Henry Ford's attitude to car buyers--they could
A question is bound to be asked, and it has been by Conservative Members and an increasing number of right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches. If the Government's idea is such a good one and is so popular, why not ask people to choose? Give them a set of options. If an option really means an option, they can decide, or they can operate their status quo if that works for them. They can operate an updated version of that status quo or other models that they may be able to construct.
I shall refer to the latest briefing on the Bill by the Local Government Association. It states in its covering letter that its main remaining concern about the Bill is the lack of flexibility in the Government's approach. It states:
The London borough of Camden, for example, might well have embraced these wonderful modernising ideas. However, when it came to it, Camden, which is an overwhelmingly Labour-controlled council, voted 43 to zero against the Government's proposals. It is--[Interruption.] The Minister always dissolves into paroxysms of laughter whenever I read out these figures. It is the way that I tell them. Surely it is vaguely depressing for her that Camden is so utterly unenthused by her proposals. Perhaps she finds the situation amusing because she fully intends to drive the Bill through the House and force Camden, 43 to zero or not, to put into effect the cabinet system. It is interesting that the then leader of Camden, Councillor Arthur, who I believe is now the ex-leader, was one of three abstentions.
Another good example is that of Brighton and Hove. We had quite a detailed discussion about it in Committee. It was one of the first councils to adopt the cabinet system. The now Lord Bassam, the then leader of the council, was enthusiastic about making Brighton and Hove one of the pioneer authorities in implementing a new Labour system. Only this May, despite the fact that Labour has a 12-seat overall majority, councillors voted by 34 to 31 against changes to the current set up. They ordered a plan to be drawn up for a three or four-party committee system.
Since then, things have moved on somewhat in that the cabinet system is still being operated on an interim basis. It seems that some of the Labour rebel members were got at. I believe that an all-party task group is considering the future structure of Brighton and Hove council.
It is strange that two councils that might be expected to be at the cutting edge in modernising local government would vote against the Government's proposals. [Interruption.] The Minister is keeping up her usual running commentary on these matters. I am sure that she will have the chance to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Labour local government has not exactly embraced the Government's proposals with great enthusiasm. I know that the right hon. Lady will groan, if only inwardly, at my reference to the Labour campaign for open local government. She and her right hon. and hon. Friends have succeeded in creating a sort of resistance movement within Labour local government. It is made up of about 1,000 supporters, of whom about 500 are councillors in about 90 local authorities. I understand that they include leaders, chief whips and other leading councillors.
We heard at great length about the views of the Labour campaign for open local government in Committee, and I do not intend to repeat them now. Its views are not limited to those councillors who are members of it. These views have spilled over and are now shared by a number of Labour Back Benchers.
Camden has shown the way. It has demonstrated that, with the right council taking the right approach, voters--residents--will take an interest in the structures of, and changes to, local government. It has shown also that in the real world there is no enthusiasm for the Government's proposals.
I was at the Local Government Association conference in Bournemouth last week, and heard of the less- than-warm reception that the Minister received from local government in its massed ranks when she announced the Government's proposals. Local government gave her the Women's Institute treatment. I challenge her, as I did in Committee, to tell the House who wants the changes. Who is driving them? Apart from a small coterie of Ministers and others in the new local government network and a