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Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her explanation, which goes a long way towards setting my mind at rest. I shall study what she said and hope that I need not return to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 56 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 57 not moved.]

Clause 9 [Executive arrangements]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 58:

("( ) A local authority may make executive arrangements for the discharge of certain of its functions.").

The noble Lord said: With Clause 9 we move to a different part of the Bill which contains fundamental problems. It deals with arrangements with respect to executives. Clause 9 and those following require local

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authorities to change their system of management to one which complies with the systems established in Clause 10.

The European convention on local self-government, to which the Government signed up, also states that authorities shall be free to decide their own administrative arrangements. The convention requires something which this Bill denies. That is a serious point.

Amendment No. 58 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 61, 168 to 170, 177, 190 and 191. It suggests as a preamble to the clause:

    "A local authority may make executive arrangements for the discharge of certain of its functions".

It is not the Government's intention that all local government functions shall be dealt with by executive arrangements. They acknowledge that that would not be appropriate, which at least is the beginnings of progress. Our amendment specifically gives local authorities a power rather than a duty to comply with Clause 10.

If the amendment is agreed to, a local authority not putting in place executive arrangements would still be able to continue to discharge its functions and take its decisions in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Local Government Act 1972 and later legislation which has refined and defined that Act and which the Government do not propose to repeal.

In Clause 11 of the Bill, the Secretary of State is empowered to exclude certain functions from executive arrangements and to specify functions which at the discretion of the local authority could be subject to traditional arrangements. The amendment we propose provides further flexibility and discretion and is not a complete departure from the spirit of the Bill, although it is fundamentally important because the Bill as drafted makes the change to executive arrangements virtually compulsory. We submit that, particularly under the European convention, that should be a matter for local authorities to decide.

The Joint Committee which sat in consultation on the draft Bill was of the same view and was concerned about the over-prescriptive arrangements which the Bill makes. Curiously, the amendment is in line with the views of the Labour campaign for open local government, reported in the minutes of evidence of the Joint Committee at Appendix 27. This is therefore a fairly fundamental and important matter. I must say that if one reads what one receives from the Local Government Association, it certainly approves the principle behind the amendment.

We are back to issues that cover ground we have already debated. Are local authorities to be trusted and respected to do their job as they should? Do they have a view which has merit and deserves respect? Do their electorates have views which deserve merit and respect? Are electorates to be trusted? Maybe not, because they are local electorates. However, I remind the Minister that local electorates are also part of the national electorate. If they are not trusted in one regard, how can they be trusted in any other? There are

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serious implications in Part II of the Bill which merit the deepest consideration of all their aspects before we give way to what appears before us.

I do not believe that the Bill as drafted, which makes it virtually compulsory for local authorities to change their internal administrative arrangements, is a proper way of proceeding. I remember numerous occasions during my career in local government when government wished to see changes in local authorities' procedures and arrangements. They were not handled in this way. One of my first jobs in local government, way back in the late 1960s was to consider the implications of a Royal Commission on management services in local government. A small group of us worked in my authority as a result of that commission to see how we could streamline the authority's business and affairs. At the end of it, the chairman of the study group and I looked at each other and said, "We're a pair of asses--we've done ourselves out of a job!" And we had. The fact of the matter is that most local government members, given a task to do, will look at that task and study it objectively. If there is merit in it, they will do what is required.

It must be said that some local authorities see merit in the proposals suggested in Clause 10 and are already on the way to putting in place the structures required. That is as it should be. If those structures and procedures are so superior, it will not be long before the vast majority of local authorities follow. One does not need compulsory legislation to bring that about; still less does one need all the mechanisms of petitions, referenda and all the rest of it. That is simply not necessary.

I happen to believe that local government and local people are sensible. There are some merits in proposing a more streamlined executive system in local government, but I well remember that in my own authority, if the chips were down, there was a small group of six members, including members of all opposition parties, who could do almost anything on behalf of that authority. They could do it because they had the trust of the members of their groups and the general trust of the members of the council. And if they had to act in such a way, they could be confident that the council would back them. That is right. We did not call it a "cabinet"; we did not call it "executive arrangements" or anything else. But it worked, and that is in the structure of many years ago.

I remember occasions when that structure was able to act so quickly that, when necessary, it could do so considerably more rapidly than private industry. Some people criticise local government as being hidebound, committee-bound and always waiting for excuses not to do things. It is true that in an element of local government that attitude is not only the appearance but the reality. However, the truth is that good local government works, and works extremely well and extremely efficiently.

We tabled Amendment No. 58 because we do not believe that it is right that "executive arrangements" should be compelled on local government. We do not believe that that is the appropriate way to proceed. As

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I said, the other amendments flow from, and reinforce, this amendment, which makes the provision a power rather than a duty. I commend them to the Committee.

I believe that we are at a crux point with the difference in approach between this side of the Chamber now--I use the word "now" because unfortunately it was not always so with regard to local government--and the views of the Government. It is rather sad that this clause of the Bill is in this form. I wish that it were not. I believe that I have said everything that it is essential to say on this group of amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: I have tabled a similar amendment which is not grouped with these amendments but is to the same effect; that is, to allow local authorities to take the decision for themselves as to how they should best perform their functions. I shall consider later whether I wish to move that amendment. However, I support the thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said.

Later in the Bill we shall come to the effect of the particular executive arrangements which are on offer. It is quite a short menu. However, our particular objection to this narrow part of the Bill is the complete refusal--apparently almost a closed mind--on the part of the Government to listen to debate at local authority level and to heed the very real objections being made to the proposals which are to be imposed. I can understand the Government saying to themselves, "Well, if it's members and councillors who are objecting, they are just thinking about their own positions. They are not really concerned about the wider good or the real outcomes." I would not say that that is how most councillors approach matters, but I can see that a government, looking at an interest group, would say that that was the attitude. However that does not seem to me the end of the story. Local authorities have been talking--not every local authority but many local authorities--to their communities and reviewing how they should go about conducting their business. Camden is one recent example. That is not an authority of which I should expect the Government to say that they disapprove. They have recently awarded it Beacon status in two service areas--housing benefit administration and schools.

Ten days ago Camden passed a resolution, part of which referred to the major consultation exercise which it has conducted with the people of Camden,

    "which showed that there was no majority for any of the Government's models, rejects the Government's proposals relating to the 'executive/scrutiny split' as set out in the Bill, on the grounds that they will reduce democracy, lessen effective decision-making and seriously weaken accountability".

That was one of two resolutions passed that night to the same effect.

I am sad that we seem not to have a programme of piloting, of incremental change, of seeing how things work out other than that some authorities have--within the extent that it is possible under the law as it currently stands--put new arrangements into effect. It does not seem to me that other local authorities are yet

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in a position to assess the effect of those pilots, if they can be called that. The Government are seeking to leap straight into a narrow selection of possibilities because they know that those are the only possibilities which can be appropriate for the most enormous range of local authorities. Those local authorities have very different characteristics not only in terms of functions but also in relation to size, geographic and socio-economic demographic matters.

It is a great pity that having done such good work in Part I, the Government have now divided Members of this Chamber who wish the best for local government.

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