Additional memorandum by Professor Stewart NEW
The threshold for a referendum
The triggering of a referendum is a serious
matter, not to be lightly undertaken. Precedents are being set
should the use of citizen's initiatives develop. Five per cent
triggers are low. In Switzerland the triggers normally vary between
10 per cent and 20 per cent. If support for elected mayors is
widespread, 10 per cent should be readily obtainable. Signing
petitions has been shown by research to be the most readily undertaken
public activity apart from voting in national elections, with
63 per cent of the population having done so at some time (George
Parry, George Moyser and Neil Day (1992) Public Participation
There is an argument that where a referendum
is held, there should be a threshold for the percentage of the
electorate voting before change was justified. It would seem to
be unwise to change the structure of local government if there
was so little interest that the turnout was below that in local
The conduct of a referendum
The government has powers to determine the nature
of the issue posed in a referendum. This will not carry credibility
as ensuring fair conduct, as the government have clear views on
the issue. Arguments against government controlling the conduct
of the referendum are as strong as those against the local authority.
It would be an appropriate task for the proposed Elections Commission
or in its absence an independent committee.
There are authorities in which party politics
are limited and an "Independent-style" is adopted with
committees being settings in which meaningful discussions take
place and decisions are made. Where existing structures are working
in this way, it seems unwise to require a change or even to enforce
a referendum for an executive model, which does not sit easily
with independent-style politics. This could be met by laying down
criteria specifying when the intervention powers of the Secretary
of State both can and cannot be used.
The size of the executive
It seems unnecessary to specify in legislation
the size of the executive and attempts to do so lead to inevitable
difficulties in unitary authorities with a small number of councillors.
Public and press pressure have proved an effective restraint upon
authorities in relation to payments for councillors and would
be a constraint on over-large executives if payments were at stake.
It is better to allow for these constraints within a local democracy
than to rely on prescription.
The removal of a mayor
There is no provision in the proposed legislation
for the removal of a directly elected mayor other than for crimes
or breaches of the code of conduct. This means there is no way
of removing an ineffective or incompetent mayor until the four-year
term is expired, making it a unique executive political position
in this country. In other countries methods can be found, such
as the right of recall or qualified votes of confidence. Such
methods should not be easily triggered but should be available
as safeguards and a check whose very availability could be a valuable
Other options are possible which should be considered.
One such option would incorporate area executives. Another option
would be a council manager option with a leader, which is an option
close to the original council manager model in the United States.
The inclusion of other options would signal the readiness of the
government to encourage innovation and diversity.