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Lord Dixon-Smith: I apologise for not rising earlier. I thought that the Minister would rise to answer the question just put. My Amendment No. 239 is in this group and deals with a very small point in Clause 24, which provides that:

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    "(1) A local authority must have regard to any guidance for the time being issued by the Secretary of State ...

    (2) The provision which may be included in guidance under this section includes, in particular, provision with respect to--

    (a) the time within which local authorities must draw up proposals under section 18".

We believe that "must" should be "may" and that we are back in the business of compulsion versus responsible optional action.

This is a very simple little amendment. I shall not take up any further time other than to state what the amendment seeks to do and why it is there. I hope that the amendment will attract the Minister's attention and sympathy, although on current form he is not in the most sympathetic mood this evening.

Lord Whitty: If the noble Lord finds me unsympathetic towards this little amendment it is because Amendment No. 238 in this group would, if accepted by the Committee, delete the subsection to which his amendment applies. Therefore, there would be a certain illogicality in my accepting it. However, if Amendment No. 238 were to be rejected by the Committee I would oppose the noble Lord's amendment. As the noble Lord implies, effectively this is a return to a degree of voluntarism which ensures that there is a method by which local authorities may not draw up proposals after a certain date; in other words, if the deadline is removed they do not have to comply with the legislation. We are not prepared to allow that loophole.

In relation to Amendment No. 240 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, Clause 24(3) gives the Secretary of State power to include different provisions for the different circumstances of authorities. As I explained in relation to an earlier group of amendments, "categories of authorities" tends to imply kinds of authorities, for example district authorities, county authorities and so on. We may wish to differentiate between different classes of authority, if I may use the more normal term, to define districts, counties, London boroughs and so on. We also want to differentiate in some cases between authorities which are operating different kinds of executive systems. We might wish to distinguish between authorities of different populations or different geographical size--rural, urban or riparian. Such flexibility is important because certain details of an authority's constitution may well be different because of the size, nature or geographical location of the authority. That is why we have used the formulation "cases or descriptions" which is fairly commonly used in local government legislation to provide such flexibility. There is no more sinister reason for it than that.

As regards why Amendment No. 242 refers to the mayor being a member and a councillor, I am told that for historic reasons legislation sometimes talks about members and sometimes about councillors. We wish to ensure that both references would apply to the mayor in those circumstances. There is nothing more sinister or complex in it than that. I commend the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 10 [Local authority executives]:

[Amendments Nos. 60 and 61 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 62 and 63:

    Page 5, line 14, at end insert--

("Such an executive is referred to in this Part as a mayor and cabinet executive.").

    Page 5, line 21, at end insert--

("Such an executive is referred to in this Part as a leader and cabinet executive.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Hardy of Wath moved Amendment No. 64:

    Page5, line 25, at end insert (", and

(c) one or more councillors of the authority").

The noble Lord said: I do not wish to detain the Committee. I tabled the amendment because it reflects serious anxieties and fears held by a number of councillors. The fears may be misguided but they are serious. There is anxiety about the risk of continued centralised power; the power of the cabinets within councils; and the nature of the mayor's executive.

I believe that to a large extent the fears are misplaced, but they exist. Perhaps the Minister can say more on the amendment in response to my comments. I think that the fears are misplaced because I do not believe that we shall have from this Government the kind of legislation that was inflicted upon local administration in Britain over the previous 20 or 30 years, largely by the party opposite. I cannot envisage this Government reorganising local government in the inflationary way that occurred in 1974. I do not envisage this Government introducing legislation of the kind which gave us the poll tax--one of the most expensive exercises in British history. I do not believe that most councillors would be prepared to allow a cabinet in their authority to conduct itself with disregard for good sense or to allow unbridled error or excess. There has to be the structure and arrangement within each council which ensures that sanity is served. I note that the Government issue appropriate advice to local authorities.

I am a little concerned about the possibility that an executive role might be filled by a mayor and an officer. I do not criticise many of the devoted people who serve in senior positions in local government. But there must be a democratic base. I do not think it wise to have an executive of two: the mayor and, presumably, the chief officer of the local authority. I do not believe that that would help to meet the basic need of local government today: to restore public regard and respect.

I have no direct modern or recent experience of local government but I recall with some affection my own service as a young man. Between 1947 and 1974, in an authority with five wards and annual elections, our local council had over 140 elections, or possible elections, in that period; and my friends and I won every single one. That is quite a good record.

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We won because we conducted our affairs responsibly and openly and were ever mindful of the democratic basis of our existence as local authority representatives. We must ensure that that democratic base is well served. If it is, not only can we ensure that standards remain high and that, where they do not, more prompt attention is given, but that public respect and regard for local government, which has diminished, is strengthened. In the areas which I know best, regard has fallen, as is illustrated by the decline in election turn-out, which is a disgrace. If we are to counter that tendency, we need to ensure that the democratic base is fully served. There should be no democratic deficit in the structure of executives in British local government. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: I rise to speak to my Amendments Nos. 65 and 69. The first seeks to extend the number of possible forms of executive and builds on terminology used by the Local Government Association in giving evidence to the Joint Select Committee which considered the draft legislation. It provides for,

    "a form of executive which meets prescribed requirements of transparency, accountability and efficiency".

I readily accept that I am going down the route of enabling the Secretary of State to prescribe matters in regulations, but, if we are to extend the number of forms and have an input into what they might be, I realise that without lengthy amendments that is the way to approach the matter.

I am sure that issues of transparency, accountability and efficiency will not divide the Committee. They are, as has been said tonight, the sine qua non of local government. Although we and many people outside the Chamber are concerned about the forms of executive we may be forced to adopt, I shall be interested to hear the Minister's defence of a system which will not incorporate the approach I have proposed, even if the drafting is incorrect.

Amendment No. 69 provides for a form on which the local authority has consulted its electors and other people in its area. The form enhances the decision-making process and meets the principles which I have set out. I have no doubt that the Committee could extend this debate to the length of our first debate today. I may have tempted it to do so, but I shall not speak longer tonight. However, it is part and parcel of the larger argument with which we began today.

Lord Harris of Haringey: I am slightly perplexed by my noble friend's amendment. Despite the objectives, which he set out cogently, relating to the importance of democratic accountability for any new system, his proposal appears to end up with a messy hybrid which satisfies none of those objectives.

When the Government consulted through their White Paper on the proposals, it was always clear that there was a third model which comprised a directly elected mayor and a city manager who would be responsible for many of the day-to-day executive functions. That is a clear model. I must say that it is not a model in which I am aware that many, if any, local

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authorities around the country have expressed the slightest interest. However, it has a certain purity, although not one I find particularly attractive.

If my noble friend's amendment were passed, one would end up with an executive which consisted both of paid officials appointed by the authority and elected representatives. That seems a hybrid form of government which would lack the clarity of one where there is direct election of an executive or an elected mayor or the executive consists entirely of elected councillors. For those reasons, the amendment is in my view misguided. It does not seem to satisfy the concerns apparently expressed by some people about the way in which executives function.

In any event, it makes the situation more complex, because as far as the public are concerned the executive responsible for decisions is a mixture of a directly elected mayor, some directly elected councillors--not necessarily elected for the function of being on an executive--and an official appointed by the council for that purpose. That seems a messy arrangement and one which does not really satisfy the objectives of transparency to which Members of the Committee have already referred.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Amendments Nos. 67 and 70 are in this group. I shall not take up the Committee's time for long but they need mentioning in passing, so to speak, although it is in passing in the light of the previous major debate we had.

Amendment No. 67 provides at page 5, line 25, that there should be a fourth option which would give local authorities the opportunity to pick their own form, which they consider, after proper consultation with their electorate, to be appropriate to their particular circumstances. We have debated the principle behind the amendment and I am in a sense slightly surprised that the amendment survives to this group. I have no intention of going over that ground again.

Amendment No. 70 removes subsections (5) and (6) from the clause. In effect it removes the power of the Secretary of State to make regulations because the regulations,

    "may, in particular, provide for"

the form of the executive, and so on and so forth. We have covered that ground extremely well; I do not see any point in covering it in detail again. It is not appropriate that the Secretary of State should have that power. We may have a wonderful volume of draft regulations, but if anyone in the Committee has read them in detail and understood them, they are better men--or ladies, as the case may be--than I. These amendments are significant. I am happy to see them on the Marshalled List and I commend them to the Committee.

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