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If I wanted to engage in political skullduggery or chicanery, I would not be spending hour after hour in this Committee, worrying away at the details of the Bill. I could find other ways to do that which might be more productive in immediate political terms. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, said that we are filled with the possibility of political chicanery. That may be because in our horrifying 90-odd years of council experience, we have come across a bit of it and perhaps understand how to deal with it and stop it. A little bit of that might even be a matter of poachers turning gamekeepers.

My noble friends tell me to speak for myself. That would never happen in the south of England, but when your political opponents behave like that, sometimes it rubs off a little bit.

We understand that the Minister is doing her level best, but, to use a north of England colloquialism, we

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think that she is bragging on a pair of deuces and that there is not much in her hand. There are times when Ministers have to go back, having listened to what has been said, to challenge the department in all its respects to say, “I am not sure that that is right”. We are challenging this because we are trying to rescue the Government from what I might call another Stoke-on-Trent fiasco. In the last version of the Bill, seven years ago, the Government produced a model that one authority adopted which now has to be unscrambled in that area. We have a chunk of the Bill that is the Stoke-on-Trent clauses and a chunk that is the Brighton and Hove clauses. We do not want to have to come back in five or six years to unscramble Stockton-on-Tees or anywhere else. Our motives are pretty honourable on this, if not always in some other circumstances—again, I speak for myself.

My noble friend raised the question of what happens if there is a by-election and someone is elected from a different party. That provision is nonsense and we ask the Government to go back to look at it. The Minister said, “These are things that are being considered as we speak”. I congratulate her on her openness and honesty, but the interpretation that we might put on it is that they are making it up as they go along and have not quite sorted it out yet. By Report, we hope that they will have.

My final point concerns the six-month question. Will there be the six-month rule that normally applies in local authority by-elections—that there will be no by-elections for a vacancy that happens after, usually, the first Thursday in November, or whenever, six months before the normal election day—or can there be by-elections for the leader and executive right up until the next lot of elections? I do not think that question was answered.

Baroness Andrews: The six-month rule will apply; the noble Lord is quite right.

Lord Greaves: I am now trying to get my mind around what will happen during that six months. Presumably, if the leader dies during the six-month period, the existing executive will continue, led by the deputy leader. I understand that now, without thinking that it is sensible. On that basis, for the time being—we will have to come back to all these issues—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 165 not moved.]

Lord Greaves moved Amendment No. 166:

The noble Lord said: The amendment would leave out proposed new Section 40B of the Local Government Act 2000, which is set out on page 42. To some extent, we discussed this yesterday and I do not want to go over that ground in understanding how it would work. Thinking about it overnight, it occurred to me that many councils that may go for an elected executive model, especially those in more scattered

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areas—perhaps county councils or scattered districts that consist of a lot of different communities—may be tempted to put up the maximum number of people that they are entitled to under the rules. The reason for that would be to put up their leading supporters, their leading members, their leading councillors, in the different communities in their districts.

I was thinking about that overnight and for some reason I thought of Macclesfield. I used to live in part of what is now Macclesfield. In Macclesfield district, there is the large town of Macclesfield and the smaller towns of Knutsford and Wilmslow, where I used to live. Then there are places such as Poynton, Prestbury and Disley, Bollington and Alderley Edge, which at the moment have one ward or more than one on the council. I was trying to work out how I would organise the fighting of elections in that area. Fighting local elections is something that I know about. I would want someone on the ticket from each of those areas. Therefore, I would go for the maximum number possible and there would inevitably be more people who would be elected as councillors and then more by-elections. I merely advise the Committee, based on that experience, that if the Government go for an elected executive in areas such as that, it will almost certainly be as big as they can get away with purely for electoral reasons. The situation may be different in a more compact authority of just a town, but there are fewer of those around now. In practical terms, the proposal will skew things towards the higher end rather than the lower end, simply because each party will mobilise itself in the best possible way to maximise its votes. I do not know whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, but it does mean that the by-election problem will be acute. I beg to move.

Baroness Andrews: I simply cannot wait to engage with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I do not want to reiterate anything that I have said. I have listened to the noble Lord, and I really do respect his enormous experience. I do not know how many of the 97 years he personally accounts for—

Lord Greaves: Too many.

Baroness Andrews: Indeed, but I know that I really am in the company of experts on the Bill. I cannot accept the amendment, because proposed new Section 40B is an essential part of what we are trying to do. I have listened to what the noble Lord has said, but I am afraid that I cannot accept his amendment.

Lord Greaves: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 67 agreed to.

Clause 68 [Other elected executive members]:

[Amendment No. 167 not moved.]

Clause 68 agreed to.

Clause 69 [Meaning of “elected executive member”]:

[Amendment No. 168 not moved.]

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Clause 69 agreed to.

Clause 70 [Time of elections etc]:

[Amendments Nos. 169 and 170 not moved.]

Clause 70 agreed to.

Clause 71 [Voting at elections of elected executives]:

[Amendments Nos. 171 and 172 not moved.]

Clause 71 agreed to.

Clause 72 [Leader and cabinet executives (England)]:

Lord Greaves moved Amendment No. 173:

The noble Lord said: I have tabled a string of amendments, starting with Amendment No. 173, which deal with the proposal that the leader of the council should be elected for four years. I am trying to take out that proposal so that the leader of the council will still be elected at the annual meeting.

I tabled the amendment so that we could discuss the proposal—in many ways, it is freestanding and does not rely on the rest of the Government’s proposals—consider the arguments in favour and against, and, in particular, consider different circumstances in which this may or may not be appropriate. My first argument is that if this is permitted by new legislation—at the moment, it is not—it should certainly be a permissive power. It should be something that councils could do but do not have to do. Once again, the Government are claiming to be devolutionary and to want to let go, but in practice are laying down yet more detailed rules and regulations about how councils should run themselves. In a sense, I am falling into the Government’s trap by moving the amendment, as we have done already by moving a number of other amendments. What many of us would like to do is simply to sweep away a whole swathe of existing regulations and these regulations and let councils organise themselves sensibly. However, we are not in that position; we have the proposal in the Bill.

6.45 pm

Different councils are controlled in different ways; so the election of the leader differs. First, there is the council in which one party has majority control. The reality then, as we all know, is that that party will decide whom it will nominate as leader by whatever internal processes it has, and that person will be voted through at the appropriate meeting. In those circumstances, if the control of the council is pretty stable and is likely to stay the same for some time, there is something to be said for this proposal. The one argument that I have read in favour of the proposal and which does seem to make some sense is that it prevents people in the majority party spending all their time engaging in unproductive political activity, such as trying to get rid of the leadership, change the leadership, or return it. If a local party is in that state, I wish it the best of luck because it will need all the luck that it can get. Nevertheless, there are circumstances like that, and the proposal may well

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be sensible, although it seems to be aimed mainly at certain Labour groups but may not be.

Secondly, a council may have no overall control. If we are not careful, and if the structures and processes are too brittle, the council could be very unstable. It could certainly be more unstable than a council in which one party has overall control. The number of councils with no overall control has increased over the years. There are certainly many more such councils now than there were 20 or 30 years ago, except in areas in which independents used to rule the roost, and we must come to terms with that. I argue that imposing a leader for four years could create instability, which we need to avoid.

On the other hand, there are two different types of election. The first are whole-council elections. Councils that have whole-council elections and have a good political majority will probably not change political control for four years. Again, there is a much stronger case to be made for councils that elect a leader immediately after their whole-council elections and who then stays for four years. Of course majority parties can break up, and do so quite frequently around the country, and there may be a huge spate of by-elections. By and large, however, the proposal is not geared to that situation. The second are elections by thirds. Councils that hold elections by thirds have, by their very nature, a very much greater chance of changing overall political control in the next four years. The Government will set an arbitrary date on which the leader must be elected, but there will be two more rounds of annual elections in those four years. By the very nature of things, there is more chance of a council changing its political control and overall composition, or even the composition of the members of the controlling group, if they hold normal elections by thirds in two of the four years than if they rely simply on by-elections.

If you combine these two groups of factors, the proposal might work very well for councils that have a clear majority and are elected for four years. However, it is likely to cause more trouble than it is worth for councils that have no overall control or are very marginal and are elected by thirds or by halves. What normally happens at the moment is that there is an annual meeting in which a change of political circumstances can be reflected in the normal way in which the council works and without a crisis or a vote of no confidence. That is more stable than having to have a vote of no confidence or a resolution to remove the leader. I believe that the Government are not necessarily wrong in allowing this in all cases, but councils should be able to make a choice. In particular, where there are annual elections and likely to be changes in control, the situation is dangerous.

No overall control requires the council to come to an arrangement between the councillors and the groups on the council, including independents or whoever else, to provide a stable way to run the council. There is a lot of experience of this around the country. It is not a disaster: it can work very well and can produce good leadership. However, it depends on the situation in the council, and on people going to

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the annual meeting and putting up their hands in favour of what has been negotiated and agreed.

Over the next one or two years, circumstances may change and some of those groups may decide to change their allegiance and to form a different kind of coalition—a different way of running the council. Under the present circumstances, that happens naturally, organically and evolutionally. The Government are proposing that a leader who might be obstructing and trying to hang on must have a vote of no confidence in him or her. That is potentially destabilising and will take up a great deal of time and energy in the council, which will not be productive. That might cause the breakdown of personal and political relationships in the council, which might do more harm than good. I would argue strongly that this should not be imposed on councils. They perhaps should be encouraged to do it in the right circumstances, but it should be up to local decision-making. I could repeat all the rhetoric that the noble Baroness uses when she has circumstances in which that is appropriate to her case. I beg to move.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I support the amendments and the points made by my noble friend Lord Greaves on councils in no overall control. I was leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Suffolk County Council which was in no overall control between 1993 and 2005. In those 12 years, it was possible to have stable and effective government in Suffolk because we were able to form a coalition. By all government standards and performance measurements at the time, Suffolk council did very well in those 12 years. It was able to do so because two political parties—it could have been a different combination—were able to come together to form a majority.

I can tell the noble Baroness and the Government that, had these arrangements been in place, where agreeing to a leader for a four-year period was an inherent part of our choice, we would not have been able to support any political party. Neither would any of the other political parties have been able to work together under those circumstances. The result in a no-overall-control council like Suffolk would have been—far from having the stable government that the Government are seeking to achieve—a ruling group in a significant minority, although obviously holding the majority of the seats. I urge the Government to consider this, because they could end up with a situation which is the opposite of that which they intend.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: The word for which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was searching to describe what happens in groups on a council was “plotting”. Plotting goes on and we are all plotters. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but that is the cement that binds those of us who are interested in local government. I see no objection to that because I have won some and I have lost some.

A distinct difference in culture is being argued in this debate. I respect very much the points that have been made, and they could all happen. I certainly respect the experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. I favour the thrust in the Bill; that is, the strong

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leadership model. I should like to think that when a person is elected leader for four years it gives him a scope and an extent to which he and his colleagues can apply some strategic planning to the shape of the council and the community over that period. If the leader is subject to election every year in a no-overall-control council, I would assume that this would be an opportunity for the malcontents and the dissatisfied elements on the council to take their revenge on a leader who has lost their confidence and to get rid of him or her. There are various ways to do that, including a vote of no confidence from people who are fed up and are not prepared to carry on.

I favour what the Government are trying to do. We will not get it perfect in every dimension. It is a question of whether you want to see whether this new system is capable of working. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, proposes substantially the status quo in respect of the present arrangements. I am not saying that they are a disaster. There is not a national outcry that they ought to be changed. But the Government, rightly or wrongly, sense that this is a time when they want to see what has been epitomised as strong leadership. I am bound to say that my experience is wholly metropolitan. Although I am not a councillor now, I attend Labour group meetings in more than one constituency. My old constituency is Edmonton where I am the president of its party and I attend its functions, but I live in Loughton and I am involved in the Epping party. So I have a rough idea.

The nature of people does not substantially change. If a person is not the leader, I see nothing wrong in them being ambitious enough to aspire to be the leader. Good luck to them. They will use all the weapons that they can, the greatest of course is to undermine the standing and the confidence in the existing leader, which I have seen happen more than once in my time. I respect very much the experience from the other Benches—I believe someone said that it was 97 years. I almost have got that on my own. With the four of them, plus the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, who now has appeared, there is probably more than 100 years of experience on the Liberal Democrat Benches, which I respect very much. I am not knocking in any way the integrity, experience or sincerity of the Liberal Democrat Benches, but on this issue they just are not quite grasping what the Government are trying to do.

Baroness Andrews: Again, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing another range of political realities. He is right. We are introducing these ranges for a four-year term precisely to address the constant turbulence and change in the present system. Amendments Nos. 173 to 176 would effectively remove that four-year term. It goes very much to the heart of what we are trying to do. Amendments Nos. 177 to 182 would remove the provisions which allow an elected leader of an authority operating the leader and Cabinet executive and partial-council elections to continue as leader until their term of office as a councillor ends. In sum, the effect of Amendments Nos. 173 to 182 would be that usually the leader would serve only a single year before facing re-election at each annual meeting.

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I do not have to say that we are opposed to this, but I want to call in evidence the Local Government Association, which made it absolutely clear in the Closer to People and Places report, which we stated in the White Paper that we would look to build on. The report recommended shifting responsibility to council leaders and strengthening visible local accountability. It recommended,

That is a very strong statement from a representative body for local government about why it wants these changes. That is underpinned by our research on leadership, which reflects the importance of stability and the fact that stable leadership is seen as producing better performance and greater citizen engagement. This provision is an important development for local government.

7 pm

The noble Lord said that this may be acceptable and bring something to the four-year term when whole council elections take place. That means that the leader will be in office for the four years that coincide with the council’s four-year term. We said on Second Reading that we were in favour of whole council elections, but much of the debate has turned on what happens in areas that retain partial council elections. We have provided for this as well because we recognise the political realities.

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