Draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 440 - 451)



  440. I would like to hear from Ms Osbourne.

  (Ms Osbourne) As a young black person in Lewisham when I was elected to be on the panel I felt quite honoured because 20 years ago I would not have had a telephone call from the authority unless I owed them money or something like that.

Mr Pike

  441. I get them!

  (Ms Osbourne) For me to be involved in consultation with what is going to happen in the future is very important and it can only be a way forward.
  (Ms Ryan) I think if central government made the same effort to listen to the people we would not have a problem with voting turnout.

Mr Burstow

  442. I wanted to come back on something which was said earlier on about the power of parties in making decisions behind closed doors, that being a concern that came up in the conference of the way that Lewisham worked up until May. You also said that scrutiny is going to be very important for this new system to work successfully. I was wondering whether or not there was any discussion about whether or not those councillors who are elected to be on the scrutiny committees should not be subject to the same rules that parties have to make them follow an agreed line that was agreed in private before they turn up for the public meeting, whether or not whipping should be brought to an end or at least be brought into the public?

  (Ms Ryan) I do not think we talked about that one explicitly, but we will go home and have a word with the others.

  443. I would be interested to hear Lewisham Panel's view on that, if they are able to discuss it and give us a view.

  (Ms Clarke) I do not think it was discussed. I am sure you will appreciate that with this new structure coming into place a lot of these issues are currently being worked through and the relationships between the assembly and the cabinet.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

  444. So there is not an assumption that the party discipline system will operate within the scrutiny process, there is no given that that is going to happen?

  (Ms Clarke) No. I think it is currently under quite a lot of discussion.

Mr Pike

  445. Some of the issues you have raised clearly are not being addressed within the Bill. Would you accept that some of the things do need to be looked at, perhaps on the question of election method, without getting into arguments on PR and all that, the fact that this would not necessarily solve that particular problem within the confines of the Bill? You view the scrutiny committee as important and see that it has an important role. Having looked at the Bill and you have said you studied the Bill, do you think it goes sufficiently far in that because it does not lay down that the scrutiny committee should be not whipped? I got the impression that you believe the scrutiny committee should be objectively there to challenge what the cabinet committee or whatever else is doing and if it has not got that neutrality it is not doing what you would want it to do.

  (Ms Ryan) Exactly. I do not think the Bill does go far enough in that. I think politicians will always be scared of somebody seeing their dirty linen.

  446. Fine. If you were the Minister drawing up the Bill—and you could end up the Mayor of Lewisham, I do not know and I have to say that my daughter lives in Lewisham and she is a member of the Labour Party, she lives in Forest Hill—what would you want to put in the Bill that is not in there and should be in there to improve it?

  (Ms Ryan) Definitely the issue of making sure that the scrutiny committees are independent, they do not have to be dictated to.

  447. It defeats the object if it is whipped.

  (Ms Ryan) Yes. They would just be a sham.

Sir Paul Beresford

  448. How realistic do you think that would be if any of the councillors belonged to a political party? How realistically could that be achieved bearing in mind the selection procedures and so on?

  (Ms Ryan) I am just all for changing the whole political structure!


  449. How different were the findings at the end of the seminar from the poll that you took beforehand? Had it changed people's mind very much?

  (Ms Ryan) We were not polled, as in voting, at the beginning.

  450. But you had a poll.

  (Ms Clarke) What I was saying about the poll was we also did a random survey of 1,000 residents, but that was separate to this process.

  451. Was it significantly different?

  (Ms Clarke) The poll of 1,000 residents found 58 per cent in favour of a directly elected mayor. All they had was a very short introductory paragraph saying, "This is how the council is now and this is what we are thinking about. Are you in favour of a directly elected mayor?" 58 per cent said yes. These are 75 panel members not necessarily representative of the population as a whole, but nevertheless people had been through quite a thorough process of information and discussion. When we voted at the end of the community workshop the results were that it was 64 per cent in favour of one of the directly elected mayor models. Of that 64, 11 per cent were in favour of the mayor and council manager model.

  Chairman: Can I thank you all for coming to the Committee. Thank you for your presentation and your answers. We are adjourned until Tuesday at four o'clock.

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