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(1) In any of the following cases where a principal council receive a community governance petition, it is for the council to decide what action (if any) to take under section (Councils power to undertake review) (power to undertake review) or (Terms of reference of review)(4)(b) (power to modify terms of review) in response to that petition.
(b) the duty in section (No review being undertaken: duty to respond to petition)(2) does not apply because of section (No review being undertaken: duty to respond to petition)(3) (no duty to respond to petition because previous review concluded in relevant two-year period).
(b) the duty in section (Review being undertaken: duty to respond to petition)(2) does not apply because of section (Review being undertaken: duty to respond to petition)(3) (no duty to respond to petition because previous review concluded in relevant two-year period).
(d) in the case of a district council that is subject to a scheme for elections by halves or by thirds, or that has resolved to revert to being subject to such a scheme under Part 2 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, the desirability of securing that an appropriate number of councillors is elected in each ward at each ordinary election of councillors.
(a) a council is subject to a scheme for elections by halves if one half (or as nearly as may be) of its councillors are to be elected in each year in which it holds ordinary elections of councillors;
(b) a council is subject to a scheme for elections by thirds if one third (or as nearly as may be) of its councillors are to be elected in each year in which it holds ordinary elections of councillors;
(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for or in connection with enabling a local authority which is operating executive arrangements to operate alternative arrangements in place of the executive arrangements... [Alistair Burt.]
(1) Any local authority in England may submit a scheme of internal governance appropriate to its circumstances, which shall stand deferred until the next ordinary day of election and may not take effect until the day after that day.
Alistair Burt: I shall do my best to be brief. New clause 34 stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and a number of other colleagues. The Bill has generally been consensual, but now the rubber will hit the road: we now need to ask the Minister to choose from some of the issues at the heart of the Bill.
Committee members will remember a champagne moment when the Minister, having been chided for being over-centralist, stood back from the Front Bench and said, I want to be devolutionary; let them choose. That was a moving moment and, as we have seen in Committee and in the Chamber, he has in limited respects been open to allowing people to choose, but not on executive arrangements. I have three particular concerns to raise, and as I suspect that a couple of other Members want to speak I shall do my best to be brief.
Local freedom is a key issue. At the heart of our debates on the Bill is an issue that we have discussed intermittently during its passage: whether it is truly devolutionary. The Bill provides an acid test. Local decision making is key to local government. The Government are right that local authorities need to have good, clear, effective and efficient leadership, but it must be local. Our principal complaint with the Bill is that the Government are being prescriptive in having a limited number of models for efficient and effective local government. We simply pose this question: why?
Do the Government truly trust local government to deliver? The Minister has made much of the progress of local government over the past 10 years, which he claims is due to the targets exerted by Government, but which local government feels owes much to its ability to respond.
Mr. Woolas: I and my ministerial colleagues always acknowledge the three factors that have led to improvement: the hard work of councillors and officers; the extra resources provided by this successful Government; and the performance regime. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that.
Alistair Burt: I am pleased that the Minister took the chance to respond to that. I am sure that he would agree that a key factor is the ability of local councils to have responded and to have worked hard.
This is where the issue of trust comes in. Our contentionand that of many Committee membersis simply that the Government should not be so prescriptive. Do they truly trust local government? Have lessons been learned from 20 years of central direction to cure various ills in local government, and from local governments response to that? Now is the time to let local councils choose what model of leadership they want.
There are serious penalties if councils get things wrong. The electorate is increasingly sophisticated. The Minister said recently that it is increasingly hard to discern national swings in local elections. He is right. One of the things that is interesting about local election results nowadays is that councils get thrown out of office for poor performance no matter what political hue they areand no matter what hue are the Government of the day. Councils know that there are
now penalties if they get things wrong. So why cannot we let local authorities choose what executive model they think suits them best?
Mr. Heath: I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman and I agree that it is not for the Secretary of State to prescribe matters in such detail. However, I am puzzled that the hon. Gentlemans new clause 34 gives all the power to the Secretary of State to prescribe, and if he or she chooses not to prescribe, not to do so. That is an internal paradox in the new clause.
Alistair Burt: No, what I am doing is using this new clause as a symbolic way of opening up the possibility of a variety of alternative arrangements being available to local councils. We could move a series of new clauses; I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to go through all the amendments in this group. We have chosen this one to be a key new clause, and it allows us to raise the possibility of alternative arrangements, and we intend to press it to a Division.
In Committee, we raised the growing risk of separation of the people from local and national Government, and the sense that their vote now counts for rather less than it used to. The Local Government Association supports our amendments and agrees that local councils should have more say in which executive arrangements best suit them. Therefore, my first point was about the need for greater local freedom.
My second point is that the prescriptive models used do not allow the opportunity to go for some form of revised committee system. I ask Members to note that I did not propose that we go back to the old committee system. We seek to give authorities who so desire the opportunity to go to a modernised and revised committee system.
Mr. Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): The hon. Gentleman will be aware that some authorities, such as North Cornwall district council in my constituency, have never moved from that committee system. What proposals does he have for councils that feel that the arrangements are working well for them?
Alistair Burt: It is a fortunate council, but the vast majority of councils have had to move from that system. We wish to enable those authorities that want to retain such a system to continue with the alternative arrangements for as long as they wish. That is contrary to the determination of Government; they would sooner or later close down that option.
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