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Lord Hunt of Tanworth: I, too, have doubts about making this Bill more prescriptive, as I have said many times before. For the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, I would be reluctant to accept these amendments. However, I very much sympathise with what she said about consultation. I hope very much that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lords, Lord Bassam and Lord Hunt of King's Heath, will take up that suggestion and bring forward something at a later stage which will meet the objective which I think we all share.

Baroness Hamwee: I am grateful for that suggestion. For my part--I note that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of King's Heath, nods his head--I should be happy to undertake some collaborative venture. The Minister commented on the cumulative effect of these amendments. She will not be surprised to hear that if I cannot have all of them, I shall of course settle for some of them. There are not sufficient stages in the legislative process to deal with such amendments one by one. The noble Baroness said that the amendment regarding the referendum left unanswered many questions such as who would draft the questions and who would be the returning officer. I wonder whether I should say, "Don't tempt me". However, I shall not be tempted tonight.

More seriously, the response from the Government highlights the fact that a group with a tiny majority--as I have said, that may result only from a casting vote--will be able to entrench its position through such an experiment. Such a group could, through the use of a casting vote, propose new administrative arrangements which would, frankly, give it a much more comfortable time. I do not think that we should easily accept that. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Hunt of Tanworth: Before the Question is put, I realise that I did not give the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, an answer to her question. That is partly because I do not know the answer. I am afraid I shall have to write to her in that respect.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 3, line 36, leave out ("eight") and insert ("four").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 21 concerns the period during which experimental arrangements can exist. Clause 2 allows for experimental decision-making arrangements for a period not exceeding eight years. I am proposing four instead of eight. The period of eight years seems to me to be a considerable time in the life of a local authority. That constitutes two terms of election for a councillor. That period also covers a local authority's own elections, whether they are all out elections or annual elections in the case of those which have annual elections.

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I am unclear how a new administration coming into office during the middle of the period--I accept that my four-year suggestion does not wholly meet this point because the four-year period might straddle an election; but an eight-year period is bound to do so--even one of the same colour as the previous administration, can be expected to respond to arrangements such as those we are discussing which will have been put in place by its predecessor.

However, more importantly, experiments are experiments. If you want to have an experimental road closure, you do not close the road for eight years and wait for responses. If you want an interim response to a planning application--I appreciate that these are service functions and narrow points--you would give permission for a period of, say, a year. You are told that if it does not work properly within that year, it does not have much chance of being continued; but, if it does work properly, you ought not to continue with the experiment.

I have tabled this amendment to probe as much as anything and to find out what is in the minds of the noble Lord and, indeed, of the Government in proposing such a long period because I do not think I have yet heard any argument to support the proposed length of the period. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: As has already been said this evening, the purpose of this Bill is to enable experiments to take place. The purpose of any experiment is to learn something. It may be that a whole new rich seam of practice emerges as a result of the experiments under this Bill which would justify variety in decision-making arrangements in the longer term. On the other hand, it may become clear that there are one or two models which are clearly more beneficial in our culture and society than others that have been tried. No one knows yet, or could know, until the experiments had run for a number of years.

Either way, it is likely that there will be the need for some legislation towards the end of the period in which these experiments will take place to provide for the longer term. I suggest that it is placing a rather awkward timetable upon the Government to expect them to learn all there is to learn from these experiments in only four or five years, prepare and agree draft legislation and bring it forward to enactment when there might be other pressing legislative priorities, all within a maximum of eight years.

It is not as if there is a lack of safeguards in the arrangements proposed which should cause us to worry about conducting an experiment over a longer period. Authorities will not be allowed to experiment unless they have had their proposals approved by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. He will not approve any proposal which does not conform with the guidance he will issue, a very early draft of which has been placed in the Library of this place.

An authority could apply to the Secretary of State for permission to cease operating an experiment if it felt it was not working well. In extremis, if an experiment had, by some chance, disintegrated and the authority did not

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appear capable of resolving the situation itself, the Secretary of State could end the experiment by revoking the order which gave effect to it. That would have the effect of requiring the authority to return to operating under the current legislative framework.

The Government do not see any benefit in reducing the period in which experiments can be pursued. Neither do we accept that there are any particular problems with the eight-year period currently envisaged. Indeed, we would argue that there are positive advantages and therefore urge the Committee to oppose this amendment.

In speaking to an earlier amendment the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to the history of local government. She spoke of a period in which the relationship between central and local government was perhaps not good. One of the concepts that marked that period was a Monday morning launch of a pilot project, then an assumed evaluation the following Monday in favour of its working well. Thereafter, the following Monday, it was extended through legislation which usually involved orders which could not be voted against in this Chamber. I hope that the noble Baroness will do nothing to erode the eight-year period which enables full and adequate evaluation.

9 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Tanworth: How long is temporary? It is a difficult question to answer. But the objective of experiment is to learn. There may be cases where a period of up to eight years will prove desirable. For example, where an authority has adopted a model with a directly elected mayor, it is likely that the dynamics of the situation and the relationships between the different parties will still be developing after four years, as such a model would be a considerable departure from existing practice. Moreover, if the experiment with an elected mayor were to last for two terms rather than just one, it would be more likely to involve cohabitation between a mayor and a leading group on the council of different political complexions. Experience of these circumstances would be very important in assessing how models with executive mayors could best be introduced in this country more permanently, if at all.

There is another point which the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, mentioned. When these temporary experiments come to an end, they either cease or have to be replaced by primary legislation. There is the problem of assessing the experiment, deciding whether it should be a matter of primary legislation, achieving a place in the programme and getting the legislation through. It is difficult to contemplate a period of less than eight years. I hope that the amendment will not be accepted.

Baroness Hamwee: The Minister is most beguiling in reminding us of former bad practices. I am not necessarily persuaded that in order not to put something in place by a week on Wednesday one must have it in place as a temporary arrangement for eight years. However, I shall not pursue the matter at this time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 22 to 24 not moved.]

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Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 3, line 42, at end insert--
("( ) must describe the electoral arrangements for the election of any executive elected mayor;").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 27, 28 and 32.

Amendment No. 25 relates to electoral arrangements. It provides that the information in the application will include a description of the arrangements for the election of any executive elected mayor. I hope that I may tempt the Minister to offer some encouragement to those of us who support a move to more modern and fairer methods of election. I refer to the preferential model by the alternative vote; or--I do not think that it is such a good model--the supplementary vote, which does not allow the expression of preferences through the list, instead of the first past the post system.

I do not simply bang the old Liberal Democrat drum that we are in support of proportional representation by single transferable vote. We are. But we are most concerned not about the detailed mechanism but about the need to include the electorate in order to help it feel that it is part of the process and has a real opportunity to influence the outcome, and in order to make elections more inviting.

A preferential system avoids the dangers of the imposition of an elected mayor with, for instance, 20 per cent. of the vote. I am sure we can all imagine how that might come about: with a long list of candidates, the vote is split and a person comes top of the poll but with a small majority and unable to demonstrate majority support across the electorate.

The country appears to be moving towards more proportional systems. I do not have great expectations that the Minister will be able to say that the Secretary of State will not permit such an election unless there is to be a preferential system. However, I hope that she will be encouraging about the need to include the electorate in the process.

Amendment No. 27 seeks to find out the expectations of the Minister as regards the arrangements in respect of a power of recall of an executive, elected mayor, and a power of veto. In other words, apart from scrutiny, are any constraints to be written into the arrangements? I should like to have on the record the expectations in that connection.

Amendment No. 28 provides that the information includes an estimate of the costs of the new arrangements. Among the electorate, cost can be controversial. The electorate wants the services to be provided; it is a little less happy about paying for them; and it is much less happy about paying for what are regarded as the fripperies of local government--although many of us would regard them as the support systems. An executive elected mayor, or a lead member, perhaps a cabinet committee (but it is most starkly demonstrated in connection with individuals), will need considerable support to carry out his or her functions: There will be the overall costs of the mayor's or

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member's office; and the staff required to assist in the exercise of the functions. The question of political officers is addressed either in the Bill or in one of the later amendments. Government increasingly have support from political advisers. I do not seek to argue against that. I merely use the debate to highlight that it will be an on-cost of such a new arrangement.

As regards allowances for council members, I do not have much sympathy with many of the criticisms made by the public. Members of local authorities are expected to do jobs which require them to be paid allowances in order to concentrate on those jobs. Nevertheless, it is a matter of public concern and I seek to suggest that information regarding these should be part of the application.

The final amendment in this group, Amendment No. 32, is concerned with any modifications. The Secretary of State can come back to a local authority and say: "Your application is by and large OK, but I should like you to modify it in the following ways". The Bill appears to allow the Secretary of State to impose arrangements modified by him without consultation with the local authority. I hope that consultation with the local authority on amendments would be automatic; however, in Amendment No. 32 I seek to ensure that that is the case. I beg to move.

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