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On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 158 to 159B not moved.]

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Clause 64, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 159C not moved.]

Clause 65 [Referendum following petition]:

Baroness Andrews moved Amendments Nos. 160 and 161:

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 162 not moved.]

Baroness Andrews moved Amendment No. 163:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 65, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 66 agreed to.

Clause 67 [Elected executives]:

Lord Greaves moved Amendment No. 164:

The noble Lord said: I hope I know where we have got to and what we are doing. I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 165 and 170 and to the Question whether Clause 70 shall stand part of the Bill. Clause 67 sets out what will happen when an elected executive leader leaves office for whatever reason, how the vacancy will be dealt with and whether there will be by-elections. Amendment No. 164 would leave out lines 18 and 19 on page 42, which read:

As the Bill stands, if an executive leader leaves office at any time during the four years, the whole of the executive will be deemed to have lost their seats. They will no longer be councillors or members of the executive and the work that they have been doing will cease. The Government might seek to persuade some councils to experiment with this so they need to explain why they think it is a good idea.

It is certainly a recipe for instability; one of the Government’s watchwords in favour of their proposals is “stability”. It will leave a council without an executive for whatever period it takes to fill the vacancies, depending on how they are going to be filled. If there are to be by-elections—it is suggested that there could well be by-elections—that could certainly be a period of two months. I am not quite sure what the provision for calling a by-election in the event of an elected leader dying, resigning, being sacked, being put in prison, or whatever, will be. I

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assume that election regulations will be produced to cover this. Assuming that they are similar to the regulations which apply to local elections generally, the minimum period of time in which the by-election could take place is a bit less than six weeks. It could be quite a lot longer than that, depending on the provisions—up to seven weeks, or perhaps two months or even longer.

The Government must explain what they think will happen in that interregnum, how the work of the council will continue, and why it is a good idea that other members of the executive who have presumably been working away on their portfolios and collectively running the authority should be booted out while that is taking place. It seems wrong or, at least, a recipe for uncertainty and instability.

Amendment No. 165 replaces a little item in the Bill that says that the Government may, in effect, by regulations explain how the office will be filled if an elected leader or member of the executive dies. I have set out some provisions which are, to some extent, contradictory, because they form a probing amendment to find out what kind of things the Government are thinking of if this happens. Perhaps I should have tried to amend Section 41 of the Local Government Act 2000, but it does not matter because this is a probing amendment. It is a question of finding out what the Government think should happen. I shall go through them quickly.

Paragraph (a) probes whether there will be a by-election, and if there is a by-election, whether it will be time-limited. Will there be a by-election if there are only three months or one month to go before the normal round of elections starts when nominations will be sought for a new leader? Does it depend on the new elected leader and his team having a longer period? How will that work? If the vacancy is not to be filled by a by-election, should it be filled by the council in any circumstances? If an elected executive member ceases to occupy the post for whatever reason, will there be a by-election or can the leader simply appoint somebody to the team or, as has already been suggested by the Minister, may there be circumstances in which the vacancy is not filled? Could it be filled by the council? If the vacancy is not to be filled at all unless and until the executive is too small—if there is an executive of five and three people resign, die or whatever and there are only two left—is there provision for filling one seat to reach the minimum of three, or would the executive be returned to its previous size? How would that happen? Would there be a by-election for a mini-slate of three? If there was a by-election for a mini-slate of three, could we go back to people saying, “No, we want six”, “We want only one”, or whatever? Could there be different slates? From the information we have had so far, it does not seem to me that this has been thought out at all.

Subsection (7) states that there shall be regulations. I am probing to see what the Government think they should be. Subsection (8) states in the normal way—I say “normal” but this is a very abnormal situation—that if a vacancy on the executive is filled by a member of the council, there would then be a council by-election. Subsection (9) covers the transitional

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period and how a void—a complete absence of an elected leader and elected executive—would be filled for however long it takes to fill it because otherwise the council would be left leaderless. I do not think that is what the Government want.

Amendment No. 166 is not in this group, but I shall speak to it now as it would be to the advantage of the Committee to speed things up a bit. It is about the strange proposal set out in the proposed new Section 40B of the Local Government Act 2000, which is set out on pages 42 and 43. We discussed it a little yesterday.

Baroness Andrews: I am advised that the noble Lord has to speak to Amendment No. 166 separately.

Lord Greaves: I shall do that. I have the right to group the amendments if I wish to do so, but if the Minister does not want me to, I shall extend her the courtesy. If it is easier for the Minister to deal with Amendment No. 166 separately, I shall speak to it separately. That is fine.

Clause 70 is about related matters—the timing of elected executive by-elections—and I am probing to find out what system the Government intend to put into effect for elections to fill a vacancy in the membership or for the leader because of resignations. It is designed to find out the Government’s thinking on that.

I look forward to the Minister’s reply. I beg to move.

6.15 pm

Baroness Hamwee: Whether or not Amendment No. 165 is agreed, if there is a vacancy in the executive and there has to be an election or someone is moved up through some mechanism which causes a vacancy on the council, there would have to be a by-election for the ward councillor. My noble friend raised some interesting points about the timing. Normally, if there is a vacancy on a council six months before an ordinary election, it is not filled. The issues of democracy here are extremely interesting. I am sure that there are even more permutations than my noble friend was kind enough to raise this evening.

Baroness Hanham: This has raised an interesting aspect of the Bill. We have been picking away at the question of elected executives, and yesterday we touched on the problem of having a block of people elected to one job who are then no longer councillors because they have been taken out of the system. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has put his finger on a potential problem. I am looking forward to the Minister’s reply because it may generate even more questions. It will be helpful to hear it before we have more debate on this matter. This is an extremely important area.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I have given notice of my intention to oppose the Question that Clause 70 stand part of the Bill because I was reflecting on the nature of the slate model and how it

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might work in practice. It seemed to me that whatever may be the chances of the leader having to go during a four-year period, the chances of someone from the slate having to go in four years are pretty high. We all see that. People become ill, change their jobs or move away. All sorts of things can happen. Whatever the legislation states, only a limited range of options would be available in practice. One would be to keep the vacancy open until the end of the four-year term. That would be unsatisfactory because it would spread the work among a smaller number. Alternatively, the entire slate could be re-elected. It would be unfortunate for people who had settled into their job and were doing it well to have to be up for re-election because one person goes. There could be a by-election for one position on the slate with a slate of one, but there would be a real chance of somebody from a different political party being elected and being on the slate. It would then not be a slate at all. The leader could choose the replacement, in which case he would have no elected mandate. In practical terms, only one of those four courses of action could be taken. Since all of them are unsatisfactory, that shows how unsatisfactory the model is.

Baroness Andrews: I have a terrible sense of déj vu because we addressed some of these issues in some detail last night. However, I am happy to go over some of the issues and think about some of the permutations that have been raised. It might make sense if I were to address Clause 70 first, give the narrative and try to address some of the questions that have been raised. I preface that by saying—noble Lords must be weary of hearing this—that this is a new model that serves the purpose of creating an executive that stands on a slate and is separate from the work of the ward councillors. It is a collective leadership model.

Clause 70 and Schedule 4 amend Section 41 of the Local Government Act 2000 in the light of the Bill’s provisions on directly elected executives so that the Secretary of State can make provision in relation to the election of a new elected executive if vacancies arise.

Clause 70 also amends Section 41 of the 2000 Act, so that regulations under that section take account of where councils specify the minimum effective membership of the elected executive. The clause also states that regulations under Section 41 may not provide for an elected executive by-election if the number of members is still above or equal to the minimum effective membership. We talked that through last night.

Schedule 4, which interrelates with the clause, allows the authority to specify the minimum effective membership below which a by-election must be held in authorities that have specified a number of members or a range of numbers for the members of elected executives. That provides the leader of the executive with the discretion whether to call a by-election where there is a vacancy but the minimum effective membership is still met. Those provisions do not have effect where there is a vacancy for the position of leader; that is, where the elected leader

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ceases to hold office, there must be an election for a new executive—noble Lords are quite right. The argument is that that is because it is in the nature of the slate. I think we can all subscribe to that. However many complaints noble Lords have, they understand the logic of that.

Those provisions are necessary because of the way in which an executive is to be elected. A proposed executive will put itself forward as a group, branded alongside the leader as a team that will do the job for the council. When a vacancy occurs on the elected executive and the minimum effective membership is still left, the responsibility rests with the leader to decide whether such a vacancy should be filled, given the flexibility and the range of numbers which we have discussed. Clause 70 provides the flexibility to ensure that vacancies can be handled appropriately.

Amendment No. 164 would do away with that. The noble Lord would like to remove the provision that an elected executive falls if the executive leader ceases to hold office. As I have explained, that contradicts the logic and intention of what we are trying to achieve by means of the slate; therefore, I take issue with the amendment.

I will deal next with Amendment No. 170. I think I said this last night: we have not invented this model from scratch. This is the same notion that applies for the elected mayor. It is provided for in the regulations under Section 41 of the 2000 Act. The second issue, which is touched on by Amendment No. 170, is where a vacancy arises in an elected executive. It is exactly to introduce further stability that we amended the clauses on Report in another place so that the council can specify a minimum effective membership of an elected executive below which a by-election must be held. It gives the leader of the council discretion over the need to hold by-elections where membership of the executive falls below a specified minimum. The amendment removes that safeguard.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: Will the noble Baroness consider the fact that under those circumstances it would be entirely possible for a leader to choose not to have a by-election, not for any reason of good governance—he or she might ignore the interests of governance—but simply because they perceived they would be unlikely to win it, and the alternative then would be to have an elected executive slate member from another political party? Does the noble Baroness accept that the opportunity for political manipulation is immense in this?

Baroness Andrews: I am not sure whether political manipulation is the correct phrase. As I understand it, if a council chooses this option it will set out the conditions that will attach to the size of the executive and the conditions under which the leader might choose to have a by-election. That would be set out in the individual constitutions of the councils which choose. We have allowed enough discretion for this to happen and a range of numbers, for example, in between which these decisions can be made, on the assumption that it is better for councils to have as much flexibility as possible to decide.

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I cannot say that what the noble Baroness talked about will not happen; she identified a number of variations on that. But the situation we are in means that that discretion has to be allowed within the model; it is contained within the notion of leadership—this power attaches to the leader. As I have said, we recognise that by-elections in certain circumstances are inevitable when the minimum number is reached, but how they manage within that range will be a matter for the councils. We have tried to build both discretion and stability into the model. I do not think that I can go further than that, because these things are still being considered.

Amendment No. 165 seeks to remove the Secretary of State’s power to make provisions for elected executives. Those provisions are currently in place for mayors. We have made regulations regarding the filling of casual vacancies occurring in the office of the elected mayor. The parallel here is that an election to fill the vacancy shall be held within 35 working days from the date the office is declared vacant. The provision made for this transitional period is that the office will be filled by the deputy mayor until such an election has taken place and the vacancy has been filled.

Obviously, we want to provide for as smooth a transition as possible. So, where there is a vacancy in that office, an election for a new executive will be held within 35 days from the date that the office is declared vacant; that is, the election of the new leader and the slate. We intend to provide that, until such an election has taken place and the new executive is in office, the old executive, led by the deputy leader, will continue. That should address the concerns the noble Lord raised about the transitional period. We have tried to build in that stability.

I do not think that there is any opportunity for political manipulation because the provision would allow for the leader to decide that he could manage with a smaller executive for the duration. I think that that is a perfectly reasonable discretion to allow the leader.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: As the Committee knows, I have sat through most of these debates. It strikes me that noble Lords, especially from the Liberal Democrat Benches, are filled with the possibilities of chicanery and deliberate misinterpretation. They obviously have experience of all those things. We all have. I know the illustration about the six months. When a councillor retires or resigns, as noble Lords very well know, the date on which the vacancy is declared is a moveable feast. Very often, in my experience and that of other Members of the Committee, that sort of thing has happened.

The Minister—and the Bill in general—has sought to put flesh on the bones of revolutionary ideas, every single aspect of which can be questioned. Everybody can bring their experience, but I wonder whether we are spending rather too much time on the minutiae of the Bill, when a mass of work is still waiting to be done. That may well suit some purpose or other, but I cannot quite see it myself. The Minister is saying to us, “Trust the models that we have put forward and

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trust the good sense of the people we are trying to assist: the elected councillors, who represent the local populace”. If the view is held that whatever is put forward is capable of being improved or changed, we will not get very far. I think that I have provoked the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, enough for me to sit down.

6.30 pm

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I briefly point out to the noble Lord and to the Committee that the four Liberal Democrat Members on these Benches have between us 97 years as councillors in local government. When we express our concern about the model, it is from a genuine belief in and conviction about the importance of local government and about the unworkability of the model.

Baroness Andrews: I am grateful for the support of my noble friend, but I respect the reasons why noble Lords are raising these questions. I am doing my level best to give the Committee as much information as I have. I do not want to keep reiterating that whether or not by-elections are held will depend on the discretion of the leader and the conditions created by the constitution within the choice of model. There is certainly no opportunity just to appoint someone willy-nilly. I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said. Of course we are concerned that this is an innovative model and we will try to explain how we think that it will work, but I hope that noble Lords will feel that they have explored this in as much detail as is practicable at the moment.

Lord Greaves: I am slightly surprised by the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, who suggested that we are looking at the minutiae when there is still a lot of work to be done. Looking at the minutiae and challenging the Government to tell us what they are going to do in ways not set out in the Bill is one of the very important tasks that Committees of this House have to do and, in my view, do very well on a lot of Bills, so I do not apologise for trying to do that. If this House lets through legislation that is unworkable or, even worse, is silly nonsense, we are not doing the job that we are here to do.

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