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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, we on these Benches support all the reasons advanced by the noble Lord as to why Wales should place such a duty on its local authorities. I shall not detain the House by repeating the arguments that I advanced on the first day of the Report stage on 28th February (at col. 363). In reply, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that, on balance, he was not convinced that a duty should be placed on local authorities. Over the years I have learnt to regard "on balance" as sometimes being an optimistic sign.

If, as I hope, the Government are minded for reasons of good argument advanced previously also by the LGA and now by colleagues in Wales to rethink this matter, that will be widely welcomed. I hope that the same provision will apply to local authorities in England--without which they will continue to struggle with the many statutory plans that they must prepare. I believe the noble Baroness said that they number over 40. We should welcome a rationalisation of the position in regard to England as well as Wales.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, has spoken eloquently in favour of the duty of community planning in Wales. We have also heard a strong case put, both inside this House and in discussions outside, by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and her noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford.

As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Local Government Association have expressed similar views. Where a different approach to local government matters in Wales is justified, we are, of course, prepared to consider that.

So far as concerns a duty, it is fair to say that the views expressed in relation to Wales were no different from the general views which have already been expressed in this House and by organisations such as the LGA and the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development.

I think that there is widespread agreement within the House and beyond as to what could be achieved at local level through effective community planning. We

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have always said that community strategies--developed by local strategic partnerships, involving local agencies, the private and voluntary sectors and the community--have the potential to deliver real benefits for local people. They can improve local quality of life and enhance local pride.

We have always considered that effective community planning can help to deliver many of the changes that the Government believe are essential if local quality of life is to be improved. The legislation, therefore, has to be seen in the context of the Government's efforts to ensure coherent delivery of public services and to tackle such issues as social exclusion and neighbourhood renewal. Policy in these areas is developing rapidly. The Social Exclusion Unit is due to report soon on its national strategy for neighbourhood renewal. A crucial part of that strategy will be broadly-based, local strategic partnerships along the lines that we envisage here. It should come as no surprise to noble Lords that against that background we have kept the legislative provisions in the Bill under constant review.

We have always recognised that a duty to prepare community strategies would emphasise the importance that we attach to local action to tackle these issues and deliver sustainable development. Clearly, it would also provide the means to ensure that more reluctant local authorities also take action for the benefit of their communities. But equally, we have always believed that it is not a prerequisite for effective community planning.

Nevertheless, given the way in which the policy is developing and the critical role that we now see being played by local strategic partnerships, we are minded to reconsider the approach currently taken in Clause 4. We shall need to give careful consideration to the way in which a duty might be framed. We shall want to ensure that it does not preclude the sort of local flexibility that is crucial to the success of local partnerships; and the proposals will need to reflect the different structure of local government in England and Wales. We shall bring forward appropriate amendments for both England and Wales when the Bill passes to another place.

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Conwy and Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, for their interest and their explanations and comments within this field. I hope that on that basis the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Baroness on the Liberal Benches for her support. I also thank the Minister for the change of attitude that I detected. Her promise to consider further and bring forward amendments in the other place has been duly noted and welcomed. As I am speaking on behalf of Wales, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness whether, as I presume is the case, the promise to reconsider which covers Clause 4 extends to England as well. Perhaps she will confirm that. I understand the noble Baroness's change of heart in that it was a duty promised in the White Paper

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1998. Indeed, the Partnership Council in Wales has gone ahead, as I said, to form a working group with local business and so forth. Therefore, I am glad that the work is clearly not going to be in vain. Perhaps the Minister would like to clear up the point about the impact of what she said on the English situation.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am sorry, but I may not have been as clear as I might. The proposals brought forward will need to reflect the different structures of local government in England and in Wales.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply and explanation. Obviously the Government are going to reconsider the situation as regards Clause 4 and England as well as Wales. With that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 [Power to amend or repeal enactments]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 6:

    Page 3, line 23, at end insert--

("( ) In exercising the power under subsection (1) the Secretary of State--
(a) must not make any provision which has effect in relation to Wales unless he has consulted the National Assembly for Wales, and
(b) must not make any provision in relation to legislation made by the National Assembly for Wales without the consent of the Assembly.
( ) The National Assembly for Wales may submit proposals to the Secretary of State that the power under subsection (1) should be exercised in relation to Wales in accordance with those proposals.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 8 [Procedure for orders under section 5 or 6]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendments Nos. 7 to 9:

    Page 4, line 24, at end insert--

("(1A) Where those proposals affect any local authorities in Wales, the Secretary of State must also consult the National Assembly for Wales.").

    Page 4, line 25, leave out ("subsection (1)") and insert ("the preceding provisions of this section").

    Page 4, line 30, at end insert (", and

( ) where consultation has taken place under subsection (1A), sets out the views of the National Assembly for Wales").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 10:

    Before Clause 9, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) A local authority may make executive arrangements for the discharge of certain of its functions.
(2) Nothing in this Part shall have effect in respect of a local authority not making executive arrangements.").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I regard Part II of the Bill as its heart. Therefore, it is right that at previous stages we have devoted considerable time to debating it; and it is right that we should do so again this afternoon.

For me, the prime reason for debating this again with great care and attention is not just because of the content of the Bill but, more importantly, because of what it says about the Government's attitude to local government, democracy, the electorate and regulation. On odd occasions when those on this side of the House have suggested that a small insertion might help the Bill or local government, we have had it thrown in our teeth that, in fact, it would be intrusive regulation which would not help and that therefore the matter should be left to local authorities to decide. This Bill is a huge series of regulations and, my goodness, they are intrusive. In this part of the Bill the intrusion is at its most prominent.

The Government say that this part of the Bill will support, strengthen and stimulate local democracy. I wish that there was some evidence that that might be the case. It is true that there have been pilot schemes, but they have not lasted for a sufficient length of time to show any impact at all on the electorate or the interest that local communities take in what their authorities do.

The Government have quoted national statistics in aid of this part of the Bill. I accept that they show that those surveyed--they are quite narrow surveys--in the majority of cases are in favour of the kinds of proposal that are envisaged. In particular, they say that if there were a local mayor they might be more inclined to vote at local elections. Perhaps that is not surprising.

But the bulk of the population is urban, not to say metropolitan. When one surveys many people on a national base, inevitably one will have a natural slightly urban bias. However, local government is about communities. Many of them are not urban, but they are included in the national figures. They might have been the 40 per cent who said "no" or who have not expressed very great interest. They might be 100 per cent of a rural community. Therefore, the basis of the statistical support for this part of the Bill seems flawed. If we are looking at stimulating local democracy, it seems to me that Ken Livingstone might be doing more about this matter in a real sense than are the Government.

The Government assert that these provisions will reinvigorate the interest of local communities and electorates. The loss of interest that has continued consistently for a very long time in local communities and among local electors about what happens to local government and local councils has been driven by increasing government control and regulation of what local authorities can and may do. This Bill does nothing to tackle that fundamental issue.

Even if the Government are correct and executive arrangements are in fact as virtuous and as good as they hold them to be--I have already said that they have no evidence which demonstrates that that is so; it is an assertion--I must point out that local authorities

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and councillors are not insensitive, and still less are they not keen, to see improved performance in their authorities. If these ideas are good, local councillors and local authorities will adopt them without the compulsion that this Bill imposes.

Even if local councillors were reluctant, and there were a better system, given that local electorates are neither ignorant, insensitive nor stupid, they would rapidly demand that the system be changed. Sadly, if one looks at the way the Bill is worded and what is done in other cases, one might suppose that the Government have little confidence in either local councillors or local electors.

Local electors are the same as those who vote in national elections; but that is all right and the vote is valid. But if those electors vote in a local referendum--an issue on which I pressed the Government that there should be a floor in the number of people voting in order to make sure that a sufficient number of electors support a proposal before it is made mandatory--the Government said that they do not need such a floor and that vote is valid. However, all of a sudden, when those same electors vote for a local councillor, that vote is discounted. The Government's attitude is just too inconsistent, and they cannot have it both ways. That is the difference between the Minister and myself. Whatever may have happened in the past--my position has not altered--we are now prepared to trust local communities, but the problem is that, as revealed by the psychology of Part II of the Bill, the Government are not.

That brings me to the amendments. Part II of the Bill as drafted will require local authorities to change their ways and operate under "executive arrangements". They are not given an option; they are required to do it. The Government may slide around the edges and say that there are a number of ways in which that may be done, which is perfectly true. However, the principle is there: it is a requirement. I have already said that sensible, sensitive and efficient local authorities will, if the principles are correct, adopt those arrangements. Amendments Nos. 10 and 12 are designed specifically to remove the compulsion and make it possible for local councils to decide for themselves whether or not to adopt those arrangements.

I do not oppose the suggested arrangements contained in the Bill. My opposition is to a provision that forces local authorities to adopt those arrangements on a time-scale that the Minister can determine, which is wrong. That represents a fundamental division between us. My amendments correct that flaw in the Bill. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, my name is added to the two amendments in this group which have been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. We on these Benches have tabled Amendments Nos. 11 and 13 to which the noble Lord has added his name.

During earlier debate on this matter the Government made much of the great variety of executive arrangements on offer. I still find it difficult

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to read into Clause 10 an almost infinite variety of arrangements, especially when the options on offer in future are subject to what regulations "may, in particular, provide for". In this context, I believe that, yet again, "may" means "shall". I find it even harder to appreciate what we are told is the open mind of the Government since local authorities must have executive arrangements. The strong term "must" is used in Clauses 9 and 10. In legislation one is accustomed to seeing the term "shall" or "may", which itself sometimes means "shall", but very rarely does one see "must". Here one sees "must" without allowing for an incremental approach and the experience of pilots in areas with different geography, demography, political history and background.

The noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, spoke powerfully about the differences between almost single-party-dominated authorities, perhaps in inner cities, and those in rural areas which involved members of all parties and of none. What is proposed will take place without waiting to see what may be learnt from the experience of London. I do not suggest that the Greater London Authority and local authorities which adopt executive arrangements are absolutely equivalent. We are, however, in the middle of a mayoral election at the moment from which lessons can be learnt--and not only on such matters as how best to adopt candidates!

It would be understandable if the Government's objection was based on the suspicion that those who are currently councillors simply seek to defend the status quo. It would be understandable if the Government regarded that with some cynicism. I referred at an earlier stage to the work undertaken by Camden council. I believe that that council has acquired beacon status from the Government in two areas: housing benefit and schools. That authority undertook major consultation with local people and rejected the proposals. I quote the resolution passed by that council which rejected the proposals,

    "on grounds that they will reduce democracy, lessen effective decision-making and seriously weaken accountability".

Academics and commentators are not united behind the Government's proposals. It is not suggested that local authorities should not be allowed to adopt an executive/scrutiny split; rather, that there should be local choice. We on these Benches are very ready to acknowledge that the Government have moved on important matters, such as area committees and, to an extent, the role of the overview and scrutiny committee. Sadly, we have not yet succeeded in explaining sufficiently clearly to the Government our concern about the likely split into two classes of councillor. We believe that the proposals with which we are now dealing are flawed because of the Government's innate preference for a system that is centred on personality.

A few days ago I spoke at a meeting in London about the forthcoming elections. The view of a number of people who attended that meeting can be summarised as follows: they do not like something that is going on locally and want to be assured that the

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mayor will put everything right. It is very dangerous to allow people to get into a mindset about the position of an individual, even with the benefit of an overview and scrutiny committee to look at decisions and actions, who is in control of a large community. The Government's attitude encourages that rather disingenuous approach on the part of those who believe that a new type of government will somehow make all the decisions perfect.

The Government are concerned that councils which fail to modernise (to use their term ) will be the ones that opt out of the executive arrangements. I acknowledge that there is something in that. However, this is a matter of local choice. It is to be expected that if an authority is not a good one there will be opposition to the administration at the next election on the basis of modernising that authority, and that will allow for local debate.

Amendment No. 13 deals with the criteria for executive arrangements, if there are to be such, in addition to those which the Government propose. The amendment, which is the same as that tabled at the previous stage, proposes that the executive arrangements,

    "may take such form as the local authority considers, after it has taken reasonable steps to consult local government electors and other interested persons in the authority's area, will ... enhance decision-making ... meet the principles of transparency, accountability and efficiency"--

as we have debated throughout the Bill, those matters should underlie good local government--

    "and ... be appropriate to local circumstances".

The Minister dismissed the amendment on the basis that a local authority could, should it so wish, devise a form of executive arrangement which approximated very closely to the status quo. He talked about other enactments needing to be modified but it is not clear how that will be achieved. If there is a problem in drafting, let us face that problem and not dismiss the principle because putting it into effect is too difficult.

If the new executive arrangements are close to the status quo but meet the tough criteria, what is the problem? Why could not that model be adopted? The Government's answer at the last stage was that Clause 10(5) allows for other models. I do not regard that as a complete answer. We shall need the Secretary of State's model before a locally devised model can be put in place.

Your Lordships will understand the strength of feeling from these Benches. In the context of the good new powers for local government, we are sad that what is being given with one hand may be taken away by imposition by the other. We support the amendment.

4.15 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I apologise for not having intervened previously on the issue and for my presumption in making even a small speech. I do so because I live in Guildford, and Guildford justifiably prides itself on being one of the best local authorities in England. At present it is a hung council; it is normally Conservative. It treats its Labour members with

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immense respect and great honour. It is privileged enough to have a chief executive who would have been undoubtedly in earlier years a star in the Indian Civil Service. He would have been Watts' protector of the poor.

He wrote to me--it was too late for me to take an active role in past debates--of the view held by himself and most of the Guildford borough councillors. They believe that the new arrangements will have the effect of concentrating power more than occurs at present. If matters were to go seriously sour fewer people would need to be bribed. They say, "We are a good authority. Please could we have the right to continue as we are".

I am sorry that I have not intervened previously on the issue. I apologise on behalf of Watts protector of the poor because he, too, missed the opportunity. I wish to put into the public domain that a very good chief executive of a well run borough council is deeply unhappy about the proposed arrangements, as are the independent members of Guildford Borough Council. It is that factor which worries me about the Government's plan. To allow people to keep the status quo if it is good, subject to controls and checks, would not be a bad idea.

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