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The Minister also said that STV would do away with the link between the geographical area, the councillor and the electors. That is not true. STV requires multi-member electoral areas, which we have, as we discussed, in many areas in local government. They might be a bit bigger than three-member wards or they might be three-member wards, but the Scottish local government system has just moved from single-member wards towards those with two, three or four councillors. They retain as much of a link as I have in my ward, where two colleagues sit on the council with me. Whether I get elected by STV is a different matter, but who knows?
The other inaccuracy was that I am not proposing that the supplementary vote system should be replaced in favour of either the additional member
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I shall also reply very briefly to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. Again, we are not proposing proportional representation for the election of mayors because you cannot divide one mayor between different people; it is just a different way of electing the mayor. I ask her whether she and the Conservative Party support the supplementary vote system or whether they would like to abolish it and go back to first past the post for elections of mayors. We already have a different system for electing mayors. My submission is that it does not work; the system was bust before it started. It ought to be replaced with a system that actually does what the supplementary vote system sets out to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Graham, said that we had lots of outlandish electoral systems, but I do not think that the one which I am trying to abolishthe supplementary vote systemexists anywhere else in the world. It is not outlandish in a technical sense; it is an invention of this country and it is time that we uninvented it.
I hope that this was a useful discussion. There is a problem here: the supplementary vote system does not work properly. It has all sorts of problems. Whatever system is used in future for mayors and for any elected executives that ever get off the ground, this system is not the answer. I hope that as part of their review the Government will seriously think about it. My question for the Minister is whether this review of electoral systems includes a review of the supplementary vote specifically. Will the supplementary vote be included in the review when it comes out later this year? It is good to hear that that will happen later this year.
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: I can explain the terms of reference to the noble Lord if that would be helpful. The review is looking at the electoral systems used in the UK for the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the European parliamentary elections and the Greater London Assembly and mayoral elections. It is also looking at the international experience of voting systems which mirror those used in the UK. It will look at findings of the Jenkins report, the Independent Commission on Proportional Representation, the Richard commission, and the Commission on Boundary Differences and Voting Systems. I hope that that helps.
Lord Greaves: Hidden in the middle of that were the words mayoral elections. I therefore take it that the noble Baroness's answer was yes. We look forward to that later this year and to renewing the discussion then. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: I will also speak to Amendments Nos. 113A and 125. This group, which also contains Amendments Nos. 121A and 126, covers two separate issues. I apologise to the Committee if I have contributed to the muddlethere was an attempt at degrouping last night, which does not seem to have stuck. Some of issues were over whether one of the amendments was acceptable, but I do not think that that should prevent us from debating the principles involved.
The first of the two issues is whether an authority should have complete flexibility and a complete menu of choice in the arrangements that it puts in place to undertake and discharge its functions. Our Benches think that it should. Earlier in Committee, my noble friend Lady Scott referred to Henry Ford saying, Any model as long as its black. To continue the analogy, there are one or two different models here, but not the whole range of vehicles. We believe that local authorities should have the choice. The Government talk a great deal about freedoms and flexibilities and about devolving decisions and so on. In short, why do the Government feel the need to prescribe?
The second issue is about what the 2000 Act calls alternative arrangements. I find that terminology bizarre, because those arrangements were the norm; when they became characterised as alternative, that in some way debased and devalued them. It is only so-called small councils, serving populations of fewer than 85,000, that have been entitled to operate the so-called alternative arrangements, which are closer to the old committee system than the executive/scrutiny model. In practice, these arrangements are not now quite the same as the old committee system. Why are the Government so intent on blocking that system? What is the problem? I have not heard any arguments for the structure itself being inherently faulty. I do not recall hearing arguments at the time of the 2000 Act that it was such a bad structure that it should be restricted to small councils. Ensuring that small councils need not go through the upheaval of creating an executive/scrutiny split and enabling them to continue in their old ways was something of a concession. However, it is becoming the accepted wisdom that those old ways have something wrong with them.
In the debates in the Commons committee, the Minister talked about the devolutionary and pragmatic approach taken in 2000. As far as I can see, he did not argue why that was right or wrong then or whether it was something that the Government gave in to. As I was very much involved, I happen to know that the figure of 85,000 was the subject of some trading between the Government and these Benches; we got it up from the original figure to increase choice at local authority level. A lot of what we have heard is not argument but assertion. I hope that tonight we hear argumentabout the merits or demerits of that system and of giving local authorities greater choice than the Government seem prepared to acceptnot simply assertion, which has tended to be the case in a number
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Of the other amendments in the group, we might have tabled Amendment No. 125 as a consequential amendment. However, this is now one of those God and Robert Browning moments. Browning is said to have said, When I wrote this, God and I knew what it meant. Now only God knows. If the Minister feels that it is difficult to respond, I will have considerable sympathy. I beg to move.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I support my noble friend Lady Hamwee in her attempt to introduce more flexibility and choice in the models of governance available to local authorities. I want to make a number of points. The experience of the last few years has shown no particular appetite among the public for the elected mayoral model, which suggests that the general public are wary of the prospect of the concentration of power in the hands of one individual. The public are being rather wiser than the Government. Certainly until now the majority of referendums held on the mayoral model have resulted in no support for a mayor.
There are some practical difficulties, which are not insurmountable, but about which the Government need to think carefully before going too far down the road of forcing local authorities to choose the mayoral model. There is a real possibility that in many areas, at the time of election, there might be a particularly contentious local issueit might be not even council related, but something like a hospital closure. A mayor might get elected on the back of a single-issue campaign. There is nothing wrong with that, except that under this model that person will then have complete control of the local authority, with a budget of many millions of pounds, and yet might well have had almost nothing at all to say about other council services.
Nor is there any evidence of a great groundswell of support for mayors once the referendum has decided that there will be a mayor. My noble friend Lord Greaves, speaking to an earlier amendment, referred to the situation in Torbay. There the turnout for the mayoral election was 24 per cent, and there were 14 candidates. The level of popular support for the winning candidatefor the person who exercises all this executive authority in that areawas very low indeed. The Government need to understand that someone is not a strong leader because they or the Government say that they are a strong leader; they are a strong leader partly because of the way in which they govern in their area, but also partly because they have a level of popular support. With the low turnout and all the problems that we have heard about from my noble friend Lord Greaves about how the supplementary vote system works, there is a real problem for people identifying with the mayor.
I urge the Government not to get too carried away with the London example, because London is not typical. Around the country, there are few figures as prominent and well known as Ken Livingstone is
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Another practical difficulty worries me, to which I hope the Government have given some thought. Under the old committee system in particular, people rose through the ranks, in effect. They chaired sub-committees and then they chaired major committees or held Cabinet positions. All those jobs provided testing grounds for them where they learnt their craft and where colleagues and the public could decide whether or not they were suitable people. Under the new system it is difficult to see where the mayors of tomorrow will come from. Where will they get their experience when there are no other executive positions on offer?
I strongly support my noble friend Lady Hamwee in saying that there is no evidence from past performance that the leadership models impact directly on the quality of local government produced. In recent years, central government has thrown a raft of inspection regimes at local government, all of which have shown an improvement across the board, with no evidence to link that to the style of governance. I could be cruel and point out that the governance model chosen for Stoke-on-Trents council resulted in its performance plummeting.
I support the amendment and urge the Government, if they really want to be taken seriously on devolution, to give local authorities more choice over the single most important issue facing themtheir style of governance. If the Government are not prepared to let go and give local government that choice, I am afraid that all their words on devolution will be seen as meaningless rhetoric.
Baroness Hanham: Amendment No. 121A in the group seeks to do very much the same as the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamweeto restore to local government, if it wishes, the possibility of a committee system. That is ruled out by the Local Government Act 2000, except in local authorities with populations of 85,000 or under. Neither of the Ministers was here at that time, but I assure them that it was a very hard-fought battle that ended up with a limit of 85,000no more than thatfor local authorities to be allowed to maintain their committee system.
It would be a flight of fancy if anyone believed that the Cabinet model or the elected mayor model worked to the benefit of all councillors. It is of enormous importance to people in the Cabinet, who now earn enormous sums of money for being thererightly, in view of their extra responsibility. But to think that overview and scrutiny is the perfect role for ward councillors who are not in the Cabinet or not associated with it would, frankly, not be exact. It is not a great job and it carries with it no power of decision. Many people elected to local government believe that they will go in with an ability to influence decision-making.
Practically all overview and scrutiny is retrospective. In my local authority, there is a very short timescale for calling in a decision before it is made. That is one
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I do not imagine that all local authorities would want to go back to a committee and sub-committee system. I do not imagine that they would necessarily want to adapt an executive to have a supporting committee system. But why should local authorities not have the option of doing that? Why should they not have the option of making sure that their back-benchers are included in a way that is satisfactory to them? We are going around in hoops and loops trying to make sure that this has happened. The right to call in decisions will do something simply to rectify what cannot happen under the present system of bringing matters forward. One was always able to do it, but now it is not possible and we have to have different ways of doing it.
There are many structures and we need to look at all of them. This structure was denigrated and ruled out at the time. We should expand our systems of administration to allow the committee and sub-committee system to come back as part of the arrangements that local authorities are allowed to adopt.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: Not for the first time today I have been educated in the current practices within councils. I have never hidden the fact that I am a yesterdays man in terms of involvement in local government. I attend my party meetings and I meet my local councillors, who all have my respect. We are reflecting on whether the existing system is working. Colleagues involved in it are telling me that it does not. As an observer of the situation, I have no evidence that it does not.
I realise that there are two tiers of councillorsthose who are at the top table and those who are notbut my knowledge of my local councils is that those councillors who are not at the top table are keen to get there. They have opportunities of demonstrating to their colleagues that they are able or more able to serve at the top table, because that is where the power lies. The breadth of change, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred, is that those who have Cabinet responsibility have been remunerated considerably. I come from an era when I did not get a penny. I soldiered on, always thinking that I ought to get a penny, but I never did. I have no hang-up regarding those who carry responsibilities of not only taking decisions but defending them afterwards being paid for that. That is the way that the system works herepeople who have responsibility are paid for it and are answerable.
The thrust of the Bill from the beginning has been to try not only to elevate the concept of leadership, with a capital L, in relation to the mayor, the leader or the chairman, but to change the atmosphere and the environment of leadership. We can all think back over previous years when there was a good man or woman in local government who, in the first instance, had the respect of their colleagues and, in the second instance, demonstrated their abilities to the public.
On balance, I am in favour of trying to ensure that there is powerful leadership in the council. That does not mean that people who do not have ebullient personalities are debarred from leadership, because quality of leadership comes in many shapes and sizes. It is not always the best speaker or debater who is the best leader, because the leader not only has to speak, but also has to weld the team together, create the best policies and be the best public relations man or woman.
The system that we have in existence, for good or ill, is still at a very early stageonly six or seven years in. I do not detect a groundswell among councillors, and certainly not among members of the Labour Party, that there is something inherently wrong in the present system, but I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, because she will be equipped not only with a point of view, but with experience and evidence to back it up.
Lord Greaves: My Amendment No. 126 in this group would tackle the problem in a slightly different way by simply removing the 85,000 limitwhich is an odd historic limit anyway going back eight or nine yearsand allowing councils to have what are called alternative arrangements but which I would call, following the language used in the House of Commons debates, an enhanced committee system. Nobody is suggesting going back to the old systems in every detail. What we are suggesting is a system based on committees or a hybrid system. There is no reason why a hybrid executive and committee system cannot work. Indeed, many councils have one because they have area committees which take quite a lot of executive decisions. That is allowed under Section 18 of the 2000 Act. We will discuss that when we reach later amendments.
It does not matter whether there is a groundswell across the country. The important thing in a devolutionary era is whether people in an authority feel strongly that they want to change the system and have the ability to change it in the way that they think will deliver the best local government. The Government sometimes talk as though they are the ones advocating good community leadership, efficient councils, good delivery of services and lots of local vision and everyone else is going back to the 19th century. There was plenty of local vision in the 19th century. It is simply a question of there being different ways of achieving the same things. Why should people on the ground in their own councils not make those decisions? We have heard so much devolutionary rhetoric but now that we are getting on to some major issues, the devolutionary rhetoric seems to be scuttling away under the floorboards.
We will discuss the role of councillors later so I will not go into that now. When the word committee is raised, people talk about horses and camelsa camel being a horse designed by a committee. That may be true but what are committees for? Nobody would employ a committee to design a new house orI was going to say transport system but perhaps that is wrong. Design is something best done by professionals who go away and do it. Then it comes back and, like the Olympic logo, you say, Yes, this is wonderful, or, This is a load of rubbish. If you are sensible and it is a load of rubbish, you kick it out. That is how good design is done. You would not employ a committee to design a horse. Let us look at some other analogies. What is a donkey? A donkey is a horse designed by bureaucrats. What is an elephant? An elephant is a horse designed by self-important leaders. What is a giraffe? A giraffe is a horse designed by policy wonks in Downing Street.
Take that as you wish, but what are committees good at? Committees are good at discussion. We are in Committee now and we are discussing things. It is far easier to involve members of the public in council decisions if you have good functioning committees because there is a forum where people can take part in the discussion. If they are run properly, are efficient and are given or develop choices, they are actually quite good at making decisions, particularly at local level where they are acting on behalf of the community. Nobody ever agrees on everythingthere are always different interests and different points of viewbut a good functioning representative committee can make the decision in open session in public. People may not like it, but at least they are able to come along, listen, take part and see that decisions are being taken democratically. If decisions are made by one person, how on earth does that process happen? If there are single-party executives on councilsI have to point out that I am a member of oneit is not satisfactory.
I am, for my sins, the executive member for housing market renewal in Pendle. As part of the housing market renewal pathfinder, the council gets about £9 million a year to invest in the area, which is a lot of money for an ordinary, small district council, so we wanted an executive member who was responsible for it. I said that I would do it, but only on the condition that I could have a committee. I now chair the housing market renewal committee. People can come along to the forum. If they do not like our decisions, they come and shout at us. When we have real choices to make, people come and tell us what they think. It is all done in public and the debates are reported in the local newspapers. This year, I have even insisted that we have members of the opposition groups on the committee. That is the scrutiny element of committees that the noble Baroness spoke about, which is so important.
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