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These amendments have come from the Centre for Public Scrutiny and would have been spoken to far more eloquently by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who serves on its advisory board. I shall endeavour to cover them myself. I share the centre's concern that in some places scrutiny has got a rather bad name. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said earlier, this is partly because it is seen as simply a post-hoc thing, looking back at what was done and might have been done differently rather than as part of a policy development framework, and also because of some of the effects of the rather strict executive/scrutiny split that we have had for the last 10 or 11 years.
Success in scrutiny is about culture and personal relationships, not processes. As it stands, the law makes unrealistic and unreasonable demands on scrutiny
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The first of those, which we have referred to previously, is partnership working. Current powers limit scrutiny in the way that they engage with local authorities' partners. More and more local services are now being delivered in partnership, and it is inconsistent for scrutiny to have only limited powers, as given in the 2007 Act and incorporated into the 2000 Act, to hold those partners to account. Often they provide important local services where there is no real way for local people to exert an influence over how those services are provided. We are suggesting that scrutiny's powers over partners should be brought broadly into line with those over the authority itself-the power to require attendance at meetings, to require the provision of information and certain rights to make recommendations which go beyond what is provided at present. In particular, we want a general description for a local partner as a class of person, rather than legislation setting out a specific list of named partners, which is inappropriate, inflexible and a highly centralised, top-down, government-know-best approach.
Rather than continue at greater length, perhaps I may say that if the Minister is minded to give a sympathetic response, as she did to Amendment 84DA from a similar source, I am happy to discuss this matter further outside the Chamber.
The other key area that I want to cover is parity for counties and districts. At the moment, district councils cannot engage with partners in the same way as other authorities and they are consequently at a disadvantage when trying to work with those partners to improve services at district level. This bears no relation to the demarcation of executive-side responsibilities between counties and districts. This anomaly, brought in by the 2007 Act, has never been explained and there can be no policy reason for its continued existence.
Lord True: My Lords, I support in some measure the remarks of my noble friend Lord Tope. I hear what is said about the Centre for Public Scrutiny and all its recommendations. Equally, I hear all that the Government
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However, as this debate goes on, I sometimes wonder whether the end result might be that parts of the Government involved in providing guidance and regulations could be hived off as a social enterprise, perhaps co-operating with other areas in local government. They could sell the benefits of their advice to local authorities and we might be able to reduce the size of government and perhaps, in partnership, improve the quality of advice. That is a slightly impish suggestion but, on the other hand, it is not entirely without seriousness.
I particularly support Amendment 47A, which addresses the point made by my noble friend Lord Greaves. I think that it would allow issues that were not technically local government matters to be referred to scrutiny. I support Amendment 48A on a probing basis. It would delete from the Bill the words:
This means that if a member of an authority wants to say to a scrutiny chairman, "I think this is something you need to look into", first, he has to refer to the existing legislation, which is before us, and look up the bible of guidance that will be issued by the government department. He may then find that that guidance makes different provision for different cases, with scrutiny into this or that or some other circumstances, and he is therefore entering a potential nightmare world. I know that my noble friend, local government and outside advisers do not want to go there, but I return to my general point. I hope that those discussions can take place but I hope that the presiding principle in all this will be to minimise the requirements on local authorities to read, mark, learn, inwardly digest and obey. Let us please have localism.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their amendments, and I start by saying that I shall be helpful in relation to some but not to others. As noble Lords have said, the various amendments in the group seek to remove the guidance or regulation-making powers of the Secretary of State-a common theme this afternoon. In each case, the powers enable certain safeguards to be in place. Although noble Lords are critical of regulation, sometimes it is necessary at the same time to protect other aspects with which they are concerned.
Amendment 45A would remove the ability to issue guidance on important matters such as scrutiny chairs, as we discussed on the previous group. Amendments 48A, 48B and 48C would remove the requirement for members to have regard to guidance and the Secretary of State's regulation-making power in relation to the referral of matters to a scrutiny committee. However, as I said, these powers enable the Secretary of State to ensure that certain important safeguards are in place. We have discussed some of them, such as vexatious or discriminatory matters being placed before a scrutiny committee, which we talked about on the previous
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Amendments 49U and 49V would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to make regulations to guard against the duplication of requests by scrutiny committees to other partner bodies. They are regulations that seek to minimise the burden on such authorities and make best use of the available information.
Amendments 47A, 49A, 49B and 49D to 49T also look to reform existing scrutiny provisions by simplifying and expanding the definition of "partner bodies". They would expand the matters in relation to which scrutiny committees may rely on their powers, removing the link to local area agreements-which we have already agreed I should look at-and extending the powers of district council scrutiny committees, among other things, as we have already discussed.
As I said in the debate on the previous group, we do not believe that the existing framework hampers innovative practices by scrutiny committees. However, I have some sympathy with the aims of some of the amendments, and, again, I shall draw them into the discussions that we need to have. They seek to bring up to date the scrutiny regime that sits across various Acts of Parliament in light of recent changes, so it is right that we should look at them.
I am happy to consider Amendments 47A, 49A, 49B, and 49D to 49T. In debating previous amendments, we also discussed committee system authorities and the operation of scrutiny. Our view is that such authorities should be able to choose to have overview and scrutiny committees. Proposed new Section 9JA makes this clear. Removing the section entirely would create confusion. It would be unclear whether committee system authorities could operate scrutiny committees, and what the role and powers of such committees would be if they did. Therefore, the amendment is proposing that is unnecessary.
The provisions that Amendments 87ZB to 87ZD seek to change replicate existing provisions in the Local Government Act 2000, which reflect the important interests that the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have in the provision of education, given the significant number of voluntary-aided schools in most if not all local authorities. It is correct that these significant partners in education should by right have representation on the relevant scrutiny committees. Therefore, we do not support the amendments.
With those explanations, the realisation that we discussed some issues when debating the previous group of amendments, and my acceptance of further discussions on some of the amendments, I hope that noble Lords will not press their amendments.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, again I found that a very helpful answer, and I agreed with most of the comments and responses that the noble Baroness gave. I offer a
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Lord Tope: My Lords, as always I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. I rather wish now that I had gone into each amendment in a little more detail, because they are worthy of discussion. I do not accept entirely the responses of the Minister, but now is not the opportunity to discuss them in detail. However, I am grateful for her willingness at least to consider the issues further. As I said, the amendments were suggested by the Centre for Public Scrutiny, which has considerable experience, and an obvious interest, in ensuring that scrutiny, by whatever system, works more effectively and that we learn from the experience of previous years in order to improve it. That is the sole object of my amendments, which I am sure that all noble Lords will share.
We will certainly take the Minister up on her offer of further discussions, not just on the specifics of the amendments-she is sympathetic to some and clearly not to others-but to try to ensure that the Bill achieves what I hope it seeks to achieve, which is to grant local authorities more freedom to conduct scrutiny, to do so more effectively and to do so in respect of other organisations with whom they share services, help to deliver them or play an important part in local communities. Given the assurance from the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the first in this raft of amendments and will try to keep up as we go through the rest.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, the amendment touches on the question of transparency and the openness to the public of meetings. It seeks to reflect what I understand to be the present position, which is that
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Lord Shipley: My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 53, 54 and 55 in my name. Each is a probing amendment to get confirmation from the Minister that there will be no deterioration in the access of the general public, the press and opposition councillors to meetings and to information. I seek that reassurance because, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, says, it is quite difficult to get the right wording. The overriding intention must be that there should be no deterioration in what currently pertains in local government for individuals-the public, the media or other councillors-seeking access to meetings and information. The Bill confers an awful lot of powers on the Secretary of State to make decisions in that area. I understand why that is, but I would be more comfortable if it was absolutely clear to the general public that there will be no diminution in their access to information and meetings.
Baroness Byford: Perhaps my noble friend would clarify the position. I would like to see a presumption that the meetings will be open, but obviously under certain circumstances access will be restricted. As things stand, it is a case of either/or; there is no presumption that open meetings will be the norm and that meetings held in private will be exceptional. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the current presumption of meetings being held in public comes under the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2000, with which I am sure the noble Lord is entirely familiar. The general principle of that is that there is a presumption in favour of openness, where key decisions of executives are made.
We are-I hardly dare to say the word-aiming to make new regulations which will remove some of the current prescription that make it clear that there is a presumption in favour of public meetings. As the noble Lord has already said, it is essential that there is some ability for a committee to close its proceedings for private or confidential reasons, but those must not be outwith what would normally be discussed in public. We are going to retain the parts in the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2000-I will not go through that again-to ensure that written records of certain
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Lord Wills: My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments 133A to 133C and Amendment 181A, which are in my name. I should perhaps apologise to the Minister and her officials for having given them relatively little time to consider these amendments. I will of course understand if she is not yet in a position to respond substantively to all of these amendments, but I should be grateful if she would undertake at least to consider them and perhaps respond in due course. These amendments are grouped together because they all deal with the application of the Freedom of Information Act to bodies being given greater powers under this Bill and are all informed by the principle that with greater power should come greater accountability. It is a principle which of course, chimes with the coalition agreement. As I am sure the Minister will not need me to remind her, it states:
Amendment 52A is my attempt to deal with the issue raised by the amendments which have just been discussed. It is designed to try to increase the transparency of local authority agreements. For those authorities operating executive agreements new regulations are to be made, as the Minister has just said, governing the circumstances in which meetings and documents must be open to the public. I take it that the assumption behind these provisions is that the new regulations will be brought into force before or at the same time as the new executive arrangements take place. However, if that does not happen and new executive arrangements come into force before the proposed regulations, the default position will be that an executive will be free to decide for itself which of its meetings are to be open to the public and which are to be held in private.
In theory, at least, executives would be free to hold all their meetings in private if they so chose. Amendment 52A reverses that default position. In the absence of regulations-with the best will in the world, regulations do not always appear when Ministers intend-
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Clearly, this is not the most fundamental safeguard of openness and, as my noble friend Lord Beecham and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, have said, it is difficult to get the wording right on this issue. Everything will depend on the provision of the regulations that are to come. However, as I understand they are not available yet, even in draft, it is difficult at this stage of the proceedings to comment further. However, I hope that this amendment will be at least a start in bringing transparency to such proceedings.
Amendments 133A to 133C set out to improve the transparency of services delivered by a local authority through others. The Bill envisages that a growing proportion of local authorities' functions will be carried out for them by other bodies operating under contract. Amendment 133A deals with what information the public can obtain under the Freedom of Information Act about the work done for an authority under contract. If the authority carries out the work itself, all information about that work is subject to the Act but the public's rights to information are less straightforward when the work is done by a contractor.
Section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act establishes that the right of access is to information which a public authority holds. Section 3(2)(b) of the Act provides that information which another person holds,
is treated as being held by the authority itself. However, how much of the information that a contractor holds about the contract is held on behalf of an authority? The answer is not self-evident. The contract itself may specify that particular information is to be treated as held on behalf of the authority or that a specified type of information must be provided to the authority, if it asks for it to help it answer a freedom of information request. Yet what if such a provision applies only to a very limited class of information? The effect may be then to exclude from access any information which is not specifically mentioned.
For example, in 2007, Islington Council received a freedom of information request for information about the criteria used to reward parking attendants for good results. I am sure that noble Lords will know that this is an electrically sensitive issue for many motorists in London and elsewhere in the country. The parking attendants were employed by National Car Parks Ltd under a contract with the council. The rewards included bonus performance payments and points that could be spent at Argos. The requestor wanted anonymised information about the rewards provided to the best performing parking attendants, including the number of penalty charge notices issued by them, the number of complaints involving those attendants and the number of notices subsequently cancelled. The requestor clearly suspected that the incentives were leading attendants to issue as many notices as they possibly could, regardless of any justification-clearly, a matter of considerable public interest.
The council replied that it did not hold such statistics and that the contract did not give it the power to obtain them from the contractor. The Information Commissioner then examined the contract in force at the time and found that it imposed no requirement on National Car Parks to provide statistical information about the Argos points, the performance payments to individual staff or the criteria used to decide who should receive these. He concluded that this information was not held on the council's behalf and not accessible to it under the Freedom of Information Act, yet that information was central to any attempt to understand whether the incentives were encouraging notices to be issued improperly. That is exactly the kind of problem that may occur when people attempt to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information about contracts.
Amendment 133A attempts to deal with this issue by stating that any new contract entered into in future by a local authority will be "deemed to include a" contractual "freedom of information provision". It stipulates that all information about the performance of the contract which is held by the contractor is,
Incidentally, this would also apply to the Environmental Information Regulations, which provide a parallel right of access to environmental information. If such a request for information is made about the performance of the contract, that information would be within the scope of the legislation, even if held by the contractor. No confidentiality clause would be capable of setting that provision aside. The intention is that the public's right to information-that right to "greater transparency" included in the coalition agreement-should be the same whether a particular task was carried out in-house or contracted out.
I should stress that this does not mean that such information will have to be disclosed. The Freedom of Information Act and the regulations contain exemptions to protect legitimate interests. For example, Section 43 protects trade secrets or information likely to prejudice the commercial interests of the contractor or the authority, subject, of course, to a public interest test. Section 40 protects personal information about any identifiable individual, including members of the contractor's staff, if disclosure would breach data protection principles, and there are other exemptions where disclosure would be likely to endanger health and safety or prejudice law enforcement or defence, or cause other types of harm. I stress that this amendment applies only to contracts made in future. It would not be limited to those resulting from the community right to challenge provisions, but it would apply to any new contact.
Where the contract itself is performed under a subcontract with a further contractor, the same freedom of information provision would be deemed to apply to the subcontract. Where a third party holds information on behalf of the contractor or subcontractor-for example, a surveyor or an engineer-that information is also deemed to be within the range of a FOI request to the authority. The amendment does not seek to
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I hope the Minister will recognise that I have tried to frame this amendment in a way that makes it not disproportionately onerous on contractors. It is not the intention of this amendment to impose a disproportionate burden on very small businesses, so I would quite understand if the Government wished to look at the detailed wording of this amendment-for example, perhaps to place a limit on the size of the contract that would fall within scope of this amendment -and certainly to consult small business organisations on where such a limit would be placed. However, at this stage, I would be grateful if the Minister would at least indicate whether the Government might have some sympathy with the principle of greater transparency that lies behind this amendment.
Amendment 133B would bring companies controlled by local authorities within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. At present, the Act applies not only to the public authorities listed in Schedule 1 to the Act, but to companies owned by such public authorities. The existing definition of a publicly owned company in Section 6 of the Act is a company which is wholly owned by a single public authority. The Protection of Freedoms Bill, which is currently being considered in another place, would extend that definition to cover a company which is wholly owned by more than one public authority. That is a very welcome provision. It puts right a long-standing anomaly. When I was the Freedom of Information Minister, it was an anomaly that I intended to put right myself, but time ran out, so I am very pleased that the Government are bringing this provision forward in that Bill.
However, a company that is jointly owned by a public authority and some other body, perhaps a private company, is not subject to the FOI Act at all, even where the public authority is the dominant shareholder. Amendment 133B would bring such companies within the Act's scope. A company in which a local authority owns at least 50 per cent of the shares-again, the Government may want to look at the detailed wording of this amendment, the proportion and exactly how the scope of the amendment should apply-or in which several local authorities between them hold at least 50 per cent of the shares would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. I think
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Amendment 133C is designed to provide greater transparency for the way in which local authorities discharge their responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act. For central government, the regular publication of statistics in monitoring central government compliance with the Freedom of Information Act has been important in driving up government compliance with legislation. Local government is not subject to the same requirement, and it is clear that its performance is variable. There are some excellent examples of good practice. I shall cite the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities. It covers 13 local authorities and has a system in place which allows individual local authorities to input on to shared web pages information on: the number of requests received; a breakdown of those requests; the outcomes of those requests; the number of internal reviews; the number of appeals to the ICO; and the length of time taken to deal with each request. The web pages were simple to create and set up using an off-the-shelf IT package and host spreadsheets into which local authorities can input information. It is an excellent example of good practice, but not every local authority matches those high standards.
Many of the issues which most concern people and about which voters most want information fall within the remit of local authorities, and it is clear that there are still some local authorities where the reflex position is to withhold information rather than to publish it. I shall give one brief example from the constituency I used to represent. From the early years of the last decade, there was a growing and desperate need for a local primary school in the area of Oakhurst in north Swindon. Increasing numbers of local parents were desperate for a local primary school. They were having to travel many miles to get their children into a school, siblings were being separated and they were increasingly desperate. Land had been zoned for a local primary school, and the local authority said it wanted to build it but that the Government had not given it the money to do so. So when in 2007 the Government announced a massive increase in capital funding for schools and an allocation of £52 million for Swindon, I said to the council: "Now you've got the money, you can finally commit to building this desperately needed primary school". I also said that if there were any doubts about the nature of the funding, it should contact me and I would clarify it with Ministers.
No one asked me to do that, but what happened was that in January 2008, an officer produced a report saying that the council did not have £52 million and could allocate only £1.8 million to building a primary school and that as the cost would be £7 million, it could not possibly build this desperately needed school. Not a single member of the cabinet in the council challenged this extraordinary discrepancy between what the Government had said was available and what the officer said was available. It was just accepted. I immediately went to Ministers, as I originally offered to do, and within three hours got clarification that however you construed the funding, the council had at
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I believed it was important to find out why this had happened. By any standards, this was a terrible mistake by the council. It had profoundly damaging consequences for very many local parents. There were only two possible explanations: either the council officer was grossly incompetent and the councillors were not doing their duty properly on challenging him on it or there was some sort of political manipulation. The Conservative Party in Swindon was desperate to blame everything on the failure of the Labour Government to fund it as it saw fit. Some local residents, perhaps even more cynically, thought that the council was trying to hold the money back to spend in more marginal wards. It may even have been that the Conservative council thought that an incoming Conservative Government would slash capital funding for education, which, indeed, they went on to do, and did not want to commit to something if a new Government were going to withdraw the funding. Whatever the explanation-to this day, I still have no idea what is was-there is a clear public interest in local residents knowing it. To this day, I and other local residents have failed to get any explanation from the council about what happened in 2008.
This amendment on its own will not solve such problems. If councils are resolute in covering up their failings, it will not stop them, but it will at least help to reveal councils that are less than diligent in observing the letter and spirit of freedom of information legislation and encourage them to raise their game to the standards of excellent local authorities such as those in Manchester.
I stress that this would not be an onerous burden on local authorities. They have the raw data already and are required to keep them under the Freedom of Information Act, so it would be a question only of compiling them. All the local authorities have to do is process them once a year, not quarterly as central government does. Again, the Manchester example shows how easy that would be.
Finally, Amendment 181A seeks to improve the transparency of the work of the Housing Ombudsman. At present, complaints about social housing are dealt with by two different ombudsmen. Complaints about housing associations go to the Housing Ombudsman and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, while complaints about local authority housing go to the Local Government Ombudsman, who is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. There appears to be no good reason for this distinction, but in any event the Bill proposes that in future there will be a unified complaints system, with both types of complaint going to the Housing Ombudsman. That transfer of functions might be accompanied by a strengthening of the enforcement powers given to the Housing Ombudsman.
The Bill allows the Secretary of State by order to give the Housing Ombudsman the power to make determinations that have the force of a court order, yet the Bill contains no provision to bring the ombudsman under the Act. I can imagine only that this is an oversight, because if the Housing Ombudsman remains outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, the Bill will lead to a reduction in the public's right to information, as the Act will no longer apply to the body that was responsible for dealing with housing complaints against local authorities. This amendment would quite simply make the Housing Ombudsman a public authority for the Freedom of Information Act. I beg to move.
I hope that my noble friend will consider sceptically the case that has been made. I am a strong exponent of the principle of openness-we discussed whether there should be a presumption of openness in our debate on a previous group of amendments. I think that I heard my noble friend give a commitment that it should apply to meetings.
The noble Lord is clearly a significant enthusiast for freedom of information, for which I commend him, but again I hope that my noble friend will be sceptical when she examines these amendments, which not many of us have had the opportunity to look at in detail. I asked my chief executive how much freedom of information implementation had cost my authority so far in the past year, to which the response was £120,000. That does not sound like very much but it approaches 1 per cent of the council's discretionary budget, outside schools. The freedom that has been given is important, but it must be exercised in proportion. In my experience, quite often when someone pursued a freedom of information request they would have been given the answer through the front door if they had simply asked the question, although that clearly would not have been so in the case to which the noble Lord refers.
The noble Lord's Amendment 52A intends to take these procedures into contractor arrangements, subcontractor arrangements, and doubtless sub-sub-subcontractor arrangements. It would end up creating such a cat's cradle of bureaucracy for these arrangements that we might well end up, as the noble Lord himself recognised, deterring small businesses from putting themselves within this embrace. I reiterate that I strongly support the idea of freedom of information in principle, but I hope that when my noble friend considers this group of amendments she will, as I said, exercise due scepticism-on behalf of those of us, as publicly accountable authorities, who have to administer open systems, which we do-about the costs that local authorities, and through them their contractors and subcontractors, might incur. With £120,000, I could have created a fairly large number of very useful public assets. Doubtless some of the requests were extremely worth while, but there should be nothing in excess.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I think that we should thank my noble friend Lord Wills for giving us the opportunity to debate this issue. He had a distinguished ministerial career and responsibility for this area, which very much showed in his contribution today.
We are living in an era of transparency, which has already been very much the byword of many of our debates on this Bill. We are also living in an era in which there will be increasing partnership working, outsourcing and joint working, very much along the lines on which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, focused when he talked about scrutiny functions in our debate on a previous group of amendments. The focus of FOI in the current era is therefore entirely appropriate.
My noble friend's Amendment 52A very much chimes with the group of amendments that we have just discussed in its presumption that meetings should be held in public. On Amendments 133A and 133B, he acknowledged-and the noble Lord, Lord True, touched on this-that we need to focus on the practical ramifications of driving freedom of information through a contractor, a subcontractor and then perhaps a sub-subcontractor chain. I am thinking particularly of the construction industry and how diverse and complex some of its contractual arrangements are.
In a sense, my noble friend offered the route to a solution when he said that there should be some sort of de minimis or cut-off point in the application of this. His focus, as he acknowledged, was partly on the business left over from when he was a Minister, but he also dealt with some practical examples, such as Swindon, and cited the Islington Council situation, which is not theoretical but actual.
The noble Lord, Lord True, said on the one hand that he was an enthusiast for freedom of information, but on the other urged his noble friend to be sceptical about it. I am not sure that those two concepts sit very comfortably together.
Lord True: Forgive me, my Lords, but openness and statutory freedom of information are not the same thing. They overlap, but in some respects openness can go further than statutory freedom of information.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: I do not disagree, but I thought that the noble Lord said that he was also an enthusiast for freedom of information. Maybe I misunderstand him and he is not, but if he is I do not think that that sits with his urging his noble friend to be sceptical.
As I said, my noble friend has given us an opportunity to have an interesting debate on an important subject. In particular, he has done us a service by focusing on particular issues relating to the Housing Ombudsman, and I am keen to hear the Minister's response specifically to those. His request is not for the Minister to give a detailed response to his quite extensive and detailed amendment but for her to say whether the Government agree with the principle behind it. That is a very important ask, particularly, as he pointed out, because the coalition agreement has a commitment to freedom of information and to extending its scope. This area is worthy of further analysis and I hope that the Minister can give us some comfort on that matter.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for his fairly extensive exposition on the Freedom of Information Act and its relationship with local government. I am sure that he will forgive me if I say that, not having had any detail of his speech beforehand, I simply am not out of my own head going to be able to answer all the important points that he raised, but I will do my best to cover some of them. If, later, we find something of significance, I will make sure that we write to him in response.
We have already discussed Amendment 52A, as the noble Lord acknowledged. I cannot say anything more than that we are very much in favour of open access to meetings of local authorities, but we recognise that there are occasions when confidential information has to be discussed-for example, information on contracts and members of staff. Meetings have to be closed sometimes, but we will make it clear that there has to be a presumption in favour of openness. We think that it is there anyway but we will underscore it.
My noble friend Lord McNally had hoped to be here because he has an overall eye on freedom of information. While I am very happy to take on anything, that seems to be one step too far, but he has asked me to say, in response to this, that the Government are committed to increasing transparency and that, almost without exception, central and local government are proactively publishing information about their contracts online. As noble Lords know, it is a requirement of government to do that and many local authorities have now taken that up and are doing it, which means that access to contract information is available to anyone who wants to see it. We feel, too, that in what is being done we have struck a balance between commitments to increase transparency and commitments to reduce regulatory burdens, particularly on business. I will go into that further in a minute. We do not believe that it is necessary to extend the Freedom of Information Act to those bodies at present with information about contracts with public authorities, which can be requested from them. A local authority can be quizzed about any contract that it has and we are proactively publishing contractual information online.
Amendment 133A would impose unacceptable additional burdens on business, similar to those that would be imposed if the Freedom of Information Act was extended to companies-not public companies but private ones. The Government have included provisions in the Protection of Freedoms Bill, to which the noble Lord referred, to extend the Freedom of Information Act with very limited exceptions to all companies wholly owned by public authorities. A few more of those will be coming up in the light of the legislation.
We have considered the extension of the Freedom of Information Act to companies where a majority of shares are owned by any number of public authorities, but to take this step would create uncertainty over which bodies were subject to the Act, particularly as bodies could pass in and out of its scope on transfer of shares. Should there be a strong argument for including a specific body, the option of inclusion through other means, such as an order under Section 5 of the Freedom of Information Act, still remains.
Amendment 133C would introduce a statutory requirement for the publication of an annual report by every local authority, including the smallest parish councils receiving very low volumes of freedom of information requests. We do not think that that is a burden that should be borne. Statistics about compliance with the Freedom of Information Act for government departments and a range of other central government bodies are already published voluntarily by the Ministry of Justice-indeed, the noble Lord may have generated this-on a quarterly basis. We would obviously encourage the publication of similar information by other public authorities receiving a significant number of freedom of information requests, including those within local government. The Freedom of Information Act will shortly be subject to post-legislative scrutiny, as I am sure the noble Lord knows, when it will be reviewed to ensure that it is delivering an efficient and effective mechanism by which the public can exercise their right to know and hold government to account.
Finally, on extending the Freedom of Information Act to cover the Housing Ombudsman, it is worth noting that we are planning to extend the Act to a considerable number of new bodies through legislation and we intend to keep those under review. While I do not say "in", I do not say "out" at the present time.
I am very conscious that I have not been able to do anything like justice to all that the noble Lord has said. I hope that he will forgive me for that. I have answered some of the questions arising from the tabling of the amendments, although I appreciate that the noble Lord went wider than that to some extent. As I said in my previous commitment, we will go through Hansard to make sure that, if there is anything I have not touched on adequately, we will come back to it and write to him.
Lord Wills: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Of course, I understand and I apologise again for not having given her and her officials longer to consider these matters in more depth. I am also extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord True, and my noble friend Lord McKenzie for their contributions to this debate. I understand what the noble Lord, Lord True, says about the burdens on local authorities. I am well aware that transparency can be extremely frustrating and irritating for all those in executive authority.
The noble Lord is right: I am an enthusiast for freedom of information legislation. I think that I was almost alone among my ministerial colleagues in being such an enthusiast and I have no doubt that the same sentiments as he has just articulated are to be found widely among local authorities. All that I can say to the noble Lord and all those who find this legislation irksome, which I well understand, is that I believe passionately that in the end greater transparency helps to improve the services that we all work to deliver, whether in local government or central government. I wish that I shared his confidence that statutory freedom of information requirements are not necessary, which I think was the burden of his remarks. If I shared his confidence, I would not have put down these amendments. Sadly, I do not.
I am grateful also for the contribution made by my noble friend Lord McKenzie, but most of all I am grateful to the Minister for the spirit in which she
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I am willing to accept any suggestions for amendments and I am sure that the Government would be able to improve the drafting. The key point that I ask the Minister to take away is that, if the Government do not engage with the issues behind these amendments-not necessarily to accept these amendments as worded but with the issues behind them-that will mean, potentially, over time, a significant diminution of transparency in the operation of local authorities and those whom they contract to provide services for them. That is very serious for those who believe in freedom of information. It is in breach of a fundamental tenet of the coalition agreement, which is why I hope that this Government will take it seriously.
This Government are committed to greater transparency, but I suggest that, unless these amendments are engaged with in some form or other, we will see the progress towards greater transparency being reversed. I hope that the Minister will be able to write to me to reassure me on that point and possibly even to meet me before Report if she would be so kind, so that we could discuss these issues in more detail. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I am conscious that Amendment 56 is possibly not now the most important or interesting in this group, but we tabled it as a probing amendment with a view to asking the Minister to explain more clearly than is apparent in the Bill itself new Section 9H(3) and (4), which deals with the nature of a mayor and his or her relationship with the council. While I am on my feet, I shall refer to some of the other amendments in this group and, indeed, to others that are yet to come. Again I congratulate the Government on recognising that the whole question of shadow mayors and mayoral arrangements really has no place in a Bill that is about localism. As we discussed at Question Time yesterday, I know that it will be said by some that this is a sensible move by a listening Government, and said by others to be a U-turn. I do not mind very much what it is called; I just feel that the Government are to be congratulated.
I thank in particular the Minister for bringing the decision forward at such an early stage in our consideration of the Bill, which no doubt will save many hours of debate in this Chamber. With that, I beg to move Amendment 56 and I look forward to the debate on the other amendments in the group.
Lord True: My Lords, I have a number of amendments in this group, and I want to follow on from what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has said by thanking very sincerely my noble friend for the leadership and responsiveness she has shown on this matter. Those of us who have been present in the Committee today will also have noted the openness, warmth and positive way in which she has responded to a number of the points that have been put forward. We are all grateful for that.
I am slightly confused by the groupings, which have changed a little overnight, perhaps for reasons related to pre-emption or to a number of other points. By the way, I should pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, who played a big part in raising this issue at Second Reading. There was unity across the House that to create shadow mayors before the electors in the cities concerned had had an opportunity to have their say was not a good idea. The Minister then came forward at the earliest possible opportunity to say that the Government had accepted the arguments, so the principle does not need to be debated at any great length, and I do not propose to do so. However, I should give notice, in speaking to the large number of amendments within this grouping, that it should be taken that I have also spoken to Amendments 74A, 77A, 77B, 79A and 81A. They are not in this group, but they relate to the same subject. Even if I have it wrong, I hope that the Committee will accept that I shall not come back to those amendments later, and I repeat my thanks to my noble friend for taking up the point in the positive way she has.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, relates to the part of the Bill which defines a mayor as distinct from a councillor. I wonder whether that is particularly well advised. I cannot recall the precise clause or paragraph in the schedule that deals with the eligibility of people to stand for election as mayor. It lists a whole series of officers of an authority who may not stand. At the moment, a serving member or employee of a local authority is disbarred from standing as a councillor. If the mayoral position was to be treated for all purposes in the same way as a councillor, you would not need a provision in the Bill to identify all the authority officers who could not stand for that position. Indeed, it could be argued that if you do not treat the mayor as a councillor, you might find that some people are inadvertently omitted but who perhaps should be barred from seeking to be elected because they already hold a position within the authority. My understanding is that the bar will remain in place for some time after their period of service has concluded.
Would it not be sensible for the Government to rethink this provision and simply state, unless there is a regulation the other way, as it were, that all provisions relating to councillors such as declarations of interest
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In relation to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord True, there was a problem, and indeed there still is a problem, in the grouping of these amendments. As I read it, many of the noble Lord's amendments tag on to provisions for the implementation of the mayoral system, with reference to a referendum having taken place on the basis of three possibilities. One is the decision of a local authority itself, but subject to a referendum. Another is a petition from the public generally, and the third, which is the problematic one for many of us, is the requirement to hold a referendum by the Secretary of State. As I understand it, the noble Lord's amendments, along with those of his noble friends, assume for the purposes of their amendments that the compulsory referendum remains part of the Bill. Last night I endeavoured to turn the debate around the other way so that we could deal with that issue first. When we come to consider the Bill on Report, perhaps we might look at how to address the issue.
The implementation points are perfectly valid and apply to the two non-compulsory forms of acquiring an elected mayor, but while I know that the Committee will not divide on them today, if the amendments were to be accepted on Report, it would be assumed that the compulsory referendum had been agreed. Some of us, perhaps many of us, have different views about that. In today's groupings there are amendments which address that issue of principle, and I hope that the noble Lord understands where some of us are coming from in that respect.
Lord True: I thank the noble Lord. I have seen his Amendment 81B, and obviously that implies the direction he is coming from, but I certainly do not want to be unhelpful to the Committee in any way. My objective, which the Government have now said is theirs as well, is to erase the principle of shadow mayors. However, I agree that the point of principle he has raised does merit discussion at some point in our proceedings. I will be as co-operative as I can, under advice.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, unfortunately these amendments were grouped and degrouped rather speedily overnight, so we were slightly surprised to see this morning where the degroupings were. However, I accept the fact that the noble Lord will want to deal with the referendum issue at the next stage. Is there an amendment to which he wants to return? Otherwise I will accept all the amendments I have already said that I would accept, and I will go through them quietly again. The noble Lord indicates that he does not have an amendment to which he wants to return. That being the case, within the groupings of the noble Lord, Lord True, I shall list which amendments I am willing to accept, and if there are any differences about that, we shall look at the issue again. The amendments are Amendments 62A, 66A, 69A, 69B, 69C, 73A, 74A, 75A, 77A, 77B, 79A, 81A, 84A, 84B, 84C, 84D, 87A, 87B, 87C, 87D, 108A and 187. In listing them, I repeat the undertaking that I gave at the outset of Committee to remove the provisions for mayoral management arrangements.
I shall deal finally with Amendment 56, to which I suspect the noble Lord will want to return at some stage. The amendment would remove the provisions about whether an elected mayor is to be treated as a member or councillor of a local authority. I am told that these provisions replicate those in the Local Government Act 2000, which put in place the default position that a mayor is not to be treated as a member or councillor unless regulations provide that they should be. I do not know which side of the bed we are now on, or whether we are getting into it or out of it, as the noble Lord has said, but the default position is already in regulations.
Lord Beecham: I am just anxious that we should not have senior officers of the authority clambering into the bed. It might be easier to deal with it in the way that I have described, but perhaps that can be looked at. If regulations already exist and the intention is to replicate them, that might serve. On the other hand, it may be simpler just to revert to the principle of treating the mayor for all purposes as a councillor. But we can look at that before Report.
Baroness Hanham: I thank the noble Lord for that. Unless I have not done something that I ought to have done, I ask that the amendments that I have listed be accepted and that the noble Lord withdraw Amendment 56 for the moment.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I guess that I am grateful to some extent for the Minister's explanation, but I am not sure that her telling me that the provision is taken from a previous Act, which I already knew, necessarily explains more fully the issues which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has referred to. I do not think that we will get very much further with this matter today, but we will need to look at it again.
We have a raft of amendments which the Government are supporting. They are in various different groups, which I think the Minister is struggling with-certainly, I am; I admit to that. I think that we are all struggling with it; we were all dealing with it in the middle of the night last night trying to understand it. When the Bill is eventually reprinted on Report, we will inevitably have to look at what is left in it and at what some of the consequences may be. We will undoubtedly return to it if necessary. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 56.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market, perhaps I may give a very short introduction to this group of amendments. I say at once that my noble
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Lord Tope: My Lords, my name, too, is on this amendment like that of my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market. Unfortunately my noble friend is unable to be here today-which I think she particularly regrets given the other names that have now been added to the amendment. I echo all that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has said, and I am relieved to know that even with all his experience, he is possibly nearly as confused as I am about exactly where we are left with this, except that it is certainly in a much better place than it was a few days ago, which is welcome.
I understand now-in the proper spirit of localism, I suppose-that those mayors who are minded also to become chief executives, as I think is intended in Leicester, are at liberty to do so. I said at Second Reading that localism must mean the right to make the wrong decision. Therefore, I have to defend the right to make the wrong decision. There should be a clear difference between the role of an elected political leader and the role of a chief executive-I realise that we still have a head of paid service. A chief executive is usually, in theory, apolitical. There is a clear distinction and I regret the extent to which that is becoming blurred.
Once again I thank the Minister not only for her support for the amendment but for being willing and able to come out and say so at an early stage in the Bill. Like the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, I look forward to a clear exposition of exactly where we are, and what is and is not in the Bill, as we go forward.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I join this love fest with enthusiasm and congratulate not only the Minister on working this small miracle but other noble Lords-particularly the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, whose long experience and stature have no doubt contributed to bringing about a change of mind on the part of Ministers generally-on achieving this very satisfactory result to what would otherwise have been a very unfortunate situation. I am happy to endorse everything that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in thanking all those involved.
Lord True: My Lords, perhaps I may take a minute of the House's time and speak now to the two other amendments in the group on which I lead and which
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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I hope that we might be able to get back on track again without me having to swing round to make sure that I have done all the right things. We are happy to accept Amendment 57; I made clear my support for that previously in Committee. We recognise that there is great concern about the combination of the mayor and chief executive under the shadow arrangements and are content to support the amendment.
We are not quite so happy with Amendment 58 and I am going to reject it-I cannot see why, but I am. By the time we get round to the next stage I will have recovered my composure. I think that I was so taken by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, being so nice about me that I completely got underneath this. No doubt he will return to the issue at the next stage if he feels it necessary. In the mean time, I am not going to accept that amendment but have spoken to all the others.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I am not sure that I can accept her reasoning for rejecting Amendment 58, which is also in my name-not least because I have been nice to her and about her for at least 21 years; she should be very well used to it by now. That is not a reason for being unable to give the reasons for rejecting the amendment. However, as I am moving Amendment 57 in this group, I beg leave to withdraw that amendment. No, I am sorry. I am so unused to this. I beg to move.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I have already moved Amendment 57. I had originally hoped that my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market would be here to move the amendment. We have had an exchange of e-mails and I am sorry to see that she is not. In those circumstances, I moved the amendment. I repeat, this is not so much a love fest as a return of common sense, and we are all delighted with that.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, this group of amendments relates to still more regulatory powers conferred on the Secretary of State, this time in connection with the mayoral position, however derived, in respect of terms of office and the like. The schedule gives the Secretary of State power to regulate the term of office of an elected mayor. I am asking, through the amendment, whether "the term" is used in the sense of a four-year or five-year term, or whether it also gives the Secretary of State power to limit the number of terms. For example, under the police reform Bill, there is a limit to the number of terms that a police commissioner can serve-if that cataclysmic proposal should reach the statute book-to two terms of four years. There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that that is the Government's intention this time, but it would be welcome if we could have an indication that it was not intended to limit the number of terms for an elected mayor. I say that having served what would have been four and a bit terms, had that term applied to the leadership of the council in Newcastle. But I declare no interest whatever in being elected mayor of Newcastle. I make that very clear.
Amendment 65 refers to the wide-ranging powers in regulations and would restrict those necessary for the purposes of this part of the Bill. Amendment 66 relates to a curious provision on elections and their administration. Under subsection (5) of new Section 9HN, the Secretary of State may make regulations,
Amendment 67 seeks to ensure that the exercise of the Secretary of State's powers to regulate in this whole issue of elected mayors and their elections is subject to approval by the Houses of Parliament. These are matters going to the heart of the exercise of local democracy, and they should be subject to affirmative resolution.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, will speak to Amendment 86. One particularly odd matter is covered by Amendment 87ZA, which curiously has the Secretary of State involved in the appointment of mayoral assistants. I cannot think why that should be the case. I recall once in Newcastle, when we had a twinning relationship with a city in China, their mayoral delegation came over and the mayor addressed the council. He went up to the dais and one of his retinue came up with his spectacle case, opened it and handed the mayor his spectacles. That seemed an interesting position to hold, and I thought I would indent for a spectacle bearer to the leader of the council, but in the end refrained from doing so. Presumably the Secretary of State would now get involved in such an appointment. It cannot be right, can it, for the Secretary of State to be making regulations for the appointment of a mayoral assistant? Perhaps the Minister can explain. If she
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Lord Tope: I shall speak to Amendments 86 and 87 in this grouping. My noble friend Lord Shipley has unfortunately had to leave for an hour for another very important engagement, as things would have it at exactly the moment when his amendments come up, so I find myself once again in that position.
The amendments are fairly self-explanatory. They deal with the appointment by the elected mayor of a deputy mayor. Amendment 86 says that such an appointment should be subject to agreement by a majority of the executive. That is certainly desirable; the amendment would say that it was essential, and that would be quite proper given what the role of the deputy mayor could be.
Amendment 87 deals with a situation when there is a vacancy in the office of deputy mayor and the elected mayor has to appoint another person to be deputy mayor. There is no provision that that other person need be a member of the executive; therefore, it is even more important in those circumstances that the other person appointed by the deputy mayor should meet with the agreement of a majority of the executive. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham said earlier in a slightly different context, any sensible mayor, like any sensible leader, would make sure that they did that. On the other hand, it is still a little easier to remove a leader if it is necessary than, quite rightly, to remove an elected mayor. Therefore, we feel that this provision should be in the Bill for the sake of good government.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Beecham's comments on Amendment 64. I am not a supporter of term limits. I think that it is up to parties and their candidates, and then it is for the voters to tell them who they want to elect. If the Minister can give us some clarification about term limits, that would be useful.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for this little exchange. I will see what I can do. Amendment 64, as the noble Lord said, seeks to remove the power of the Secretary of State to make regulations changing the term of office of elected mayors. This is an important power that allows for transitional arrangements to be made following the first election of mayors. In October 2001, when a number of mayoral elections were held, the Secretary of State was able to vary the mayors' terms of office so that the second elections were held in May, and in some local authority areas the mayor's term was varied to enable the mayoral elections to be held at the same time as local government elections. We believe that it is important that this power, which has been available to the Government since 2000, is retained.
Amendment 65 is unnecessary as regulations made under new Section 9HN can relate only to the conduct of mayoral elections, and changes to electoral law or regulations cannot be made for any other purpose under this power.
The noble Lord has queried the provision at new Section 9HN(5). The Secretary of State is able to make regulations placing limitations on election expenses. However, in most cases he must do so only following a recommendation from the Electoral Commission. The only exception when a commission recommendation is not necessary is where the Secretary of State makes changes to any limits in line with inflation. That would mean an upgrading of the mayor's election expenses owing to the fact that there had been inflation, which of course we do not have at the moment so it would not be necessary. The noble Lord asked what "money" relates to here. It means election expenses, which can be uprated by the Secretary of State. Again, this replicates provisions in the Local Government Act 2000.
Amendment 67 seeks to require regulations made by the Secretary of State under new Section 9ID on the election, terms of office and filling of vacancies of executive leaders to be subject to the affirmative procedure. We envisage that any regulations made under this section would be used for transitional purposes when a change in governance arrangements takes place. Furthermore, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, having completed its review of the Bill, is satisfied with the level of parliamentary scrutiny of regulations made under new Section 9ID. We are therefore not convinced that the existing arrangements in the 2000 Act, whereby such provisions have been subject to the negative procedure, should be changed. That remains the situation.
On the question of deputy mayors, Amendments 86 and 87, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, seek to require the mayor to gain the agreement of his or her cabinet when appointing their deputy mayor. The Government's view is that the decision about who to appoint as their deputy mayor should be a decision for the mayor alone. It seems unnecessary for a directly elected mayor, accountable to the electorate of an entire local authority area, to have to seek the agreement of a cabinet, the members of which they themselves have appointed, to determine who the deputy mayor should be.
Amendment 87ZA seeks to remove an elected mayor's ability, if he or she wishes, to appoint an assistant. Such assistants can currently fulfil a similar role to those carried out by political assistants to the main political groups on the council. Given the significant role that elected mayors play in their local communities-taking key strategic decisions, acting as ambassador for the area and facilitating effective partnerships are just part of what they do-then, in the same way as leaders are supported by political assistants, elected mayors will need an assistant to effectively carry out these roles. There are currently four independent and local authority mayors in England. As such, independent mayors are ineligible to have a political assistant who works only to the main political groups on the council. Amendment 87ZA may have the effect of leaving such mayors without any access to any political support or assistance.
However, we are not saying that an elected mayor must appoint an assistant. The appointment of a mayoral assistant is entirely optional and we would expect mayors to have regard to existing support structures
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The Bill will enable local authorities to return to a committee structure and, indeed, to be more free than they have been for some time to determine what governance structure they wish to have, and which best suits their particular circumstances. That is wholly to be welcomed. It is clear that the Government rightly believe that that should be a matter for the local authority in a local area rather than central government.
A number of local authorities are already working in anticipation to improve, in their eyes, their decision-making structure, particularly to enable all councillors to play a more effective part in decision making than many of us feel has been possible with the executive/scrutiny split. Indeed, I have for the past couple of months been chairing a working party for my own local authority, looking at exactly that. It proved rather more difficult than I had expected because most of my colleagues in my local authority do not remember
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All of that is to be welcomed. On Monday evening, I will present these proposals to my council group in the hope that they will be acclaimed. However, I think that they will initially be met with some puzzlement: "Are we really there to make decisions?". "Well, yes, there were another 44 of you elected who ought to have a part in the decision-making process, because that is what you were elected for". Hopefully all of that will happen but, as things stand, I then have to break the news to them that, desirable though all this is, and much as though the Government are happy for all of this to happen, none of it can happen for another three years. The Bill says that none of this can be introduced until after the next elections. In the case of London boroughs, that is 2014. For those authorities that have only this year had whole-council elections it will be a further four years.
If the Government believe it is right for these things to happen, I can see no reason why, once an authority, through the proper process, has agreed what it wants to do, it should not implement that now. I hope that we shall have a sympathetic response from the Government. I shall not challenge the Minister to explain why she feels that in London-in her own authority perhaps-there needs to be a three-year gestation period, or in other areas a four-year period, while we all wait.
Some authorities, some quite well known to the Minister and some certainly known to me-it will possibly happen more so in my own authority-have de facto set up a committee system already. The committees meet and de facto make recommendations, but in fact the executive, as it is legally required to do, meets immediately afterwards for no more than five minutes simply to rubber-stamp decisions made by the committees. That must be a nonsense. At the moment, it is a necessary nonsense, as that is what the law requires, but for us to continue in that ridiculous state for another three or four years makes no sense at all.
I hope that the Minister will be able to accept our amendments-it would be an unusual victory for me to achieve-or at least be able to express sympathy with them and say that she will come back on Report with something to give effect to them. It is quite important that we get an indication that this will happen on Report, or that it will not happen, because many of us will be looking to implement the changes from the next annual council meeting in May. It so happens that my authority is well advanced with this but others may perhaps only just be starting to think about it or may not even yet have realised that they can think about the changes. I beg to move.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we have sympathy with these amendments and look forward to the Minister's reply about why there should be this proposed three-year wait. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, talked with some affection about the committee structure. I was leader
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One thing that was lost with the committee structure was the opportunity for new councillors, particularly younger councillors, to get involved with the cut and thrust of political debate because the structure and role of scrutiny committees are different. I think an opportunity to learn through that route and to have that debate was missed. We support the right for councils to choose and to revert to a committee structure, if that is what they want. On that basis, it seems that there is no great justification in waiting three years, but the Minister may be able to convince us. Subject to that, we support the amendments.
Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: My Lords, speaking as yet another dinosaur who remembers the old system and who was a councillor and is still a councillor in the London Borough of Barnet, I think that the proposal to allow local authorities to choose whether they return to the committee system is very welcome. The only thing I disagree with, and my noble friend Lord Tope obviously disagrees with, is that one has to wait three years before a local authority can make that decision. I cannot see the logic of that.
I have had the benefit of being a cabinet member, as they are called, in a joint administration in the London Borough of Barnet and I am currently an opposition member in that borough. When I was a cabinet member, one of 10 people exercising full executive power in the London Borough of Barnet, I enjoyed the power wonderfully. I used to give little speeches saying that democracy was not being exercised as 10 people had executive power but 53 people in the ruling parties and in the opposition had no real role to play and roles were found for them rather than their playing a constructive part, as they did under the committee system. Therefore, I have experience of being in power and in opposition and I still believe that the committee system is the right one. Under the system we are discussing, back-bench members in the ruling parties and in the opposition feel that they do not have much of a role to play.
I have had many meetings with people from other local authorities and I have yet to find anyone who feels that overview and scrutiny committees are as beneficial to local councillors as the committee system which enabled them to be involved in making democratic decisions. The current system with executives encourages tribalism within councils. I relate just one anecdote in that regard. I was on a minor committee which had executive power over environmental decisions and I asked for an electronic traffic signal which told people that they could not go over 30 miles an hour. I was the
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A committee system which enables the public to see what is happening and in which other people have a role is much sought after. All this amendment seeks to do is to allow local authorities to take the relevant decision when they want to rather than having to wait three years in the case of London, or possibly four years in other authorities, until the next local elections. I support the amendment.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, made some very welcome points. Many years ago I was a councillor in the London Borough of Southwark. I left the council in 1994, so I experienced only the traditional committee system. Many years later as a Labour Party official I attended Labour group meetings at which many members said that they were not so keen on the present system and would prefer to go back to the committee system. My noble friend Lord McKenzie made an important point about younger councillors getting fully involved in the council's business. It is not so easy for them to play a scrutiny role. I hope that the Minister will explain why the three-year period is necessary and why the relevant matters cannot be dealt with more quickly.
Lord True: My Lords, I do not want to prolong the philosophical discussion about which system is better but given the principles behind a Localism Bill, clearly the matter should be decided locally and as soon as possible. I am not speaking as a representative of London Councils, but the matter came up at a recent meeting of the leaders' executive of London Councils and the leaders of all the parties unanimously agreed that they would like the Government to think again about this proposal. We hope that the amendment spoken to by my noble friends Lord Tope and Lord Palmer will gain favour in the Government's eyes. I submit that what goes for London goes for authorities outside London as well.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I support this sensible and well drafted amendment; my noble friend understands that joke. I want to make two points. First, if councils are to be able to choose the system of governance that they want, let it not be too bound by lots more regulation. Councils used to exist before 2000 and operated committee systems. They did not have lots of statutory guidance, regulations and orders telling them how to run them. They do not need that. Councils can perfectly well set up committees and run sensible committee systems without lots of new regulations.
Secondly, let us not imagine that there was a wonderful era of local representative democracy before 2000, when local authorities everywhere used the committee system, and that it suddenly all went bad when we had to have the executive/scrutiny split, the appointment of leaders, and so on. Life is not and was not like that. In the past, there were councils that operated efficiently, openly and transparently, involved residents and carried out their duties sensibly and efficiently; and there were councils that were pretty hopeless. That has remained the case, even though their systems have changed. Surprise, surprise-those councils that were not so good before 2000 have been not so good since. Of course, councillors can improve and some go the other way but, by and large, it is simply not true that everything was wonderful before 2000 and that everything has been awful since. Different systems may well suit different types and sizes of councils, and the dispositions of different councillors.
I hope that my council will adopt a new committee system and abandon the executive/scrutiny split, although I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, that when you are in control of the council, the executive system allows you to do all sorts of things fairly quickly, and you can just get on and do it. Looking back on the five or six years during which we controlled my council and I was involved on the executive, I have to say that I am not terribly proud of the way in which we made some of the decisions out of the public gaze. Of course, they were all rubber-stamped in a proper and legal manner but, in practice, the decisions were made by a small group of people consisting of top councillors and officials who decided what we wanted to do. It may be that that was always the case and that it will happen under a committee system, but the importance of a committee system, as a noble Lord said earlier, is that the scrutiny process can take place at the time that the decision is being made in the committee. This is one of the real reasons for committees and for not having single-party executives making all the decisions.
I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, is not in her place. She and I were together on Lancashire County Council and we have discussed this in the past. I extolled the virtues of the committee system when it all changed to what I think is the appalling way in which that council now makes decisions, a large number of which are made by a single member of the executive-a cabinet member, portfolio member, or whatever they call themselves-sometimes meeting as a single-person committee, with all the officers and just one person in the middle making all the decisions. That is not the right way to do local government. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, would say, "Yes, but even under the committee system, when the Labour Party controlled the county council, the decision was made in the Labour group and very rarely changed". I would say, "Yes, but occasionally it was changed, particularly when I stood up and pointed a few things out. You made a few changes". The point is that the decisions were subject to debate and scrutiny in public at the time and at the moment they were being made. That does not happen under a lot of executive systems. The decisions we made on my council, when we were able to do so through the executive route, might have been
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However, I hope that people will not continue talking about "going back" to the committee system. We do not want to go back to the old committee system. We who hope that our councils will now move to a committee system want them to learn from the experience of the last 10 years and adopt some of the good things that have happened-scrutiny done well is very good. I know that many councils do not do scrutiny very well at all and that scrutiny committees are simply places to make back-bench councillors think that they actually have a job on the council, but scrutiny can be done very well indeed.
I am sorry that my noble friend Lady Hamwee is not here because she is an expert in scrutiny and would wax more lyrical about it than me. However, I hope that councils which are going to move forward to a new committee system-not an old dinosaur system-will keep the best parts of scrutiny because, done well, it has a role to play. What it does not do is the day-to-day, week-by-week scrutiny of decisions as they are taking place and that is why we want to go back to committees.
I say these things because this is the first time we have discussed the very welcome proposals by the Government to allow councils to make the choice, which some of us have argued for whenever it has come up in this House in the last 10 years. It is very welcome, the Government are to be congratulated, and I hope as many councils as feel it is sensible will go ahead with it.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, that was a short debate and I can probably give a reasonably short answer. We have some sympathy with the points that have been raised, particularly about the time that has to elapse before the changes can be implemented. I will not accept the amendment today but I am happy to take it away and consider whether those provisions are as good as they can be.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I think I am grateful for that reply, which I think was an encouraging one. I spent 13 years as leader of a council under a committee system. I stood down on the day that we adopted the executive/scrutiny split-not for that reason, but it was a convenient time to do so-and spent the subsequent 12 years as a member of the executive, so I have experience of both.
I am sorry that I led us into a debate on what the best system is. It was probably inevitable that we would have a debate on what the best system is and what our personal experiences are, but the noble Lord, Lord True, was absolutely right to remind us that that is not our business to debate today. Having rightly left local authorities to determine for themselves what system they want, the only decision for us on these amendments today is the date on which that can be implemented. That is the sole purpose of my amendments, whether they are perfectly drafted-as I am sure they must be-or whether there is something more or different that needs to be done.
I hope very much that the Minister can be as clear as possible that when we come back on Report we will have amendments, moved in whoever's name, that will make absolutely clear that there is no need and that it makes no sense for local authorities which have whole-council elections to wait three or four years before implementing the changes that we say they should have the right to do. In hopeful anticipation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Tope: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Shipley wished to move this amendment but, as I explained earlier, he has unfortunately, from my point of view, had to go to another engagement and will be there, I think, for another 15 minutes or so.
At a later stage of the Bill, we will probably spend a considerable amount of time discussing local referendums and the many issues that arise in connection with them. This is the first, and perhaps in some ways slightly premature, time that we come to this subject. Amendment 73 would raise the threshold for calling a referendum from 5 to 10 per cent of local government electors. We believe that 5 per cent is too low a figure. When we get to the later provisions, we will have a lot more to say about what the threshold should be and how we should get there, as well as other issues.
My noble friend Lord Shipley would have said that, if the need for a referendum is strong, there really should be more signatures to demonstrate that, and they should be easy to collect. I think we all recognise that the cost of a referendum, wherever it is conducted, is significant-it is not something that is simple to carry out. A whole range of matters has to be dealt with in conducting a referendum and, if it is to be done at significant cost, the need for it must be truly demonstrated. Public demand for it should be there, and 10 per cent-I would say at least 10 per cent-is a better figure because it balances the right to have a referendum, which is conferred under this legislation, with the need for it to be held and the implications of doing so. I beg to move.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, this is another example of possible misplacement in the groupings, for which I do not blame anyone. It is very difficult to get a perfectly rational system. In fact, I pay tribute to the officer of this House who works so hard, so long and so late in trying to make sense of my and other noble Lords' belated efforts to table amendments. She does a wonderful job and I have every sympathy for her. At least she does not have to read my handwriting, which would make the task impossible and not just difficult.
In relation to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I certainly concur, as, I think, do these Benches, with the proposal for a higher threshold. However, I want to address the rest of the amendments in this group, which go to the critical question in relation to governance of whether there should be compulsory referendums at the diktat of the Secretary of State. The amendments that follow essentially relate to that.
The Minister has fortunately helped us by removing the conflation of the position of mayor and chief executive, and she has dealt with-perhaps liquidated-the position of shadow mayor. We are now left with this element of the compulsory referendum. In that respect, it is necessary to look at the whole question of the mayoral system-its provenance and development.
I was present at the meeting about 15 years ago when Tony Blair launched on an unsuspecting Labour Party, and an even more unsuspecting shadow Secretary of State in the person of Frank Dobson, the notion of an elected Mayor of London and, following that, the possibility of having elected mayors elsewhere. I took his motivation at face value. He thought-and others who have advocated this in the past have thought and currently think-that it would invigorate local democracy, improve turnout at local elections and enhance the accountability of local political leadership because the elected mayor would have a mandate from across the whole authority. That was the theory; let us look a little at the practice.
Bearing in mind that until now, and until the legislation changes, only 5 per cent of the electorate in any authority has been needed to requisition a referendum, there have been, I think, only 41 referendums, if one takes Leicester into account, in the 10 years in which this option has been open. One area has had second thoughts and has terminated its adoption of the system. Of the 40 referendums, 14 were in favour of an elected mayor and 26 against.
What is perhaps more significant is the turnout in the referendums and the turnout in the local elections. This, after all, was going to be the great advantage to local democracy of this new system. There have only been two referendum turnouts greater than 40 per cent and both of those took place on a general election day. Some referendums had turnouts of less than 20 per cent, 10 had between 20 and 30 percent, and 17 had between 30 and 40 per cent. The upper thirties is probably about average for a local election-by no means satisfactory, but self-evidently at least no worse, and in many cases better, than the turnout in these referendums. It is quite significant that the turnouts were also very low in the ensuing elections. Some of the referendum turnouts were abysmally low: Bedford had a turnout of 16 per cent; Lewisham had a turnout of 18 per cent; among the best were Hartlepool with 34 per cent and Torbay with 32 per cent. However, this does not give any grounds for saying that this is an enormously popular reform that people are rushing to adopt.
Nor has the turnout in elections been very much greater, even in London. The turnout in the first mayoral election in London was 37 per cent. In the
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The other arguments were about visibility and effectiveness. Many of the elected mayors have been capable people. In London, I can certainly cite three of them: Robin Wales in Newham; Steve Bullock in Lewisham, albeit with a referendum there of only 18 per cent and, I think, a mayoral election turnout of about the same, when he was first elected; and Jules Pipe in Hackney. All of them, incidentally, had been council leaders before they became elected mayors. However, what sort of alchemy is it that is necessary to transmute a council leader into a mayor? Or is it-and I hope the right reverend Prelate will not take exception to my analogy-some process of transubstantiation that transforms a less visible and accountable leader into an all-singing, all-dancing mayor with much enhanced visibility and effectiveness?
It was interesting that, in promoting the idea of elected mayors, the Labour Party saw fit to send a delegation to the Netherlands to see how this wonderful system was working. They slightly overlooked the fact that, in the Netherlands, mayors are in fact Crown appointees and not elected at all. Similarly, those who pointed to very successful continental mayors, such as the mayor of Barcelona, seem to overlook the fact that he was not personally directly elected-he was the leader of the largest group or faction in the Barcelona council. He was a very able-in fact a brilliant-local politician and extremely effective, but he but not directly elected. In our own politics, although I remember Tony Blair saying in a television broadcast, "The people of Britain elected me Prime Minister", actually they did not. They certainly have not elected the present Prime Minister. That is not to disparage him; it is just a fact. Why should it be assumed that it is necessary to have that direct personal mandate to be a legitimate leader?
It is said that if authorities adopted the mayoral system, extra powers would be given and a certain amount has been given to mayors in that position. Yet the question arises that we discussed briefly at Second Reading and earlier in Committee: why should those powers be confined to the directly elected mayor, as opposed to the leader and executive model? There seems to be no particular rationale on that. One thinks of great local government figures of the past, from all parties: of Joseph Chamberlain in his initial, Liberal incarnation; of Neville Chamberlain, who was slightly dismissed by Lloyd George as a good mayor of Birmingham in a bad year but who nevertheless had a considerable local government reputation and, it is fair to say, did a lot for it as a Minister; or of Herbert
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There are problems stemming from the system as it has been created, not simply because of the accretion of powers in a single pair of hands but because of the structure around that. It takes a two-thirds majority to overturn an elected mayor's budget. Yet you can have a situation with an elected mayor from one party and a majority of the council from another. It has happened twice in the authority adjoining mine. It happened with a Labour mayor and a Tory council and it is now exactly the other way round, with a substantial Labour majority in North Tyneside and a Conservative mayor. That highly anomalous situation raises two questions. First, what is the other councillors' role in that kind of situation? It has to be a substantially downgraded role from what we are used to and what is appropriate. Secondly, will there not come a day when people wonder, "What is the point of electing councillors at all, or of voting for a particular political party, if you are required to have at least two-thirds of the council to vote down a proposition from the mayor"? Most particularly, there is the most crucial decision of all: that about the budget. There are, it seems, real difficulties inherent in the system.
There is also a suspicion, certainly on this side of the Chamber-it may be in certain parts of the other side of the Chamber-about the current political motivation for this decision to take the power to require referendums to be held. I refer in particular to a speech made by the Member for Grantham and Stamford in another place, Nick Boles. He is, I suppose, a Tory intellectual. There are people unkind enough to think that term a bit of an oxymoron but I would not allege that in the case of Mr Boles, who is an extremely bright, intelligent and articulate man. Yet he said some time ago, apropos of this position about elected mayors, that it was the only way in which there would be a ladder back into power for the Conservative Party in places where its chances were pretty minimal. I think that he cited Manchester and other places where Conservative representation has been minimal, if not nil, for some time. I hope that is not the Government's motivation and I would not for a moment imagine that the Minister would subscribe to that motivation, but others elsewhere might.
Going back to the original idea that Tony Blair had, the problem is that as a great charismatic figure-and whatever views one might have about him, he was the most effective politician, certainly in Labour Party terms, for generations and had a hugely charismatic style-he envisaged that there were around the country at least 430 charismatic town-hall Tonys able, willing and ready to step forward and operate in the same way. That assumption is not necessarily true or desirable.
Having said that, there may well be cases where the mayoral system actually offers a way out of a very difficult political situation. I referred to the mayor of Hackney as a very successful and capable mayor, and he was a very successful leader, but he inherited an extremely dysfunctional council in which there was little prospect for many years of getting anything done at all. One can well see that in those circumstances, a mayoral system might actually be the only way of carrying forward necessary change and getting a degree of consistency, clarity and political leadership.
We are in that sort of gridlock situation, and there seems to be a strong case for having the possibility of an elected mayor. There may be a genuine popular demand. Nobody is suggesting for a moment that there should not be the option of an elected mayor. It has been there for 10 years. It has been little used, but it is still there. For those who want it, there is every opportunity, at the moment requiring a 5 per cent threshold-perhaps they should be heading for the petitions now before the threshold is increased, if that is what happens as a result of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tope-and they should certainly take advantage of it if they wish.
The question the Minister and the Government have to answer is: why should local authorities be compelled to have a referendum when the opportunity has existed for 10 years and there has been no petition? The point of these amendments is therefore to dispense with the element of compulsion and leave it to people to exercise the right they have, to political parties in those areas, if they wish to promote the cause, to call a referendum or, indeed, to councils, as Leicester has done recently and Tower Hamlets did a little while ago, to call a referendum under the existing provisions. Why should there be this element of compulsion?
It is just conceivable that the Government may not accept these amendments either here or on Report. There is that remote possibility, in which case noble Lords will notice that Amendment 81B, which was tabled very late, I am afraid, effectively preserves the current decision of the Government to proceed with an order in respect of the 11 authorities. There were originally 12, but Leicester anticipated the Government's wishes, held a referendum and now has an elected mayor, as we have already heard in another context. We understand that this proposal for these-previously 12, now 11-referendums was part of the coalition agreement. We are not incapable of simple arithmetic, and it seems to us unlikely that we would have an accretion of strength from the Liberal Democrat Benches were an amendment pushed to the vote. I certainly will not be voting for a referendum in any debate in Newcastle. On the contrary, I will be part of a campaign that I think both the Labour group and the Liberal Democrat group in Newcastle will be waging-and I think it will be the same in many, if not all, of the other authorities-against having an elected mayor, should the legislation go through. We think it better to have a fallback position in case the Government perchance are not minded to accept the proposition that we should be abandoning the concept of compulsory referendums tout court, which we would very much like to see.
We will not divide in Committee, but we will do so on Report unless there is a change of policy. In our view, the Government have a long way to go to make the case for compelling referendums in the absence of any evidence of any desire for them either in authorities that have not yet had them, or indeed in those that have.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made a very interesting and thoughtful intervention which I hope everyone in the House will reflect on. It is absolutely beyond doubt that the coalition agreement, and indeed my own party's manifesto, made very clear that it wishes the mayoral principle to be extended further, specifically in the cities listed in the noble Lord's amendment, and he has acknowledged that. From my point of view, therefore, it is absolutely clear that we should support and accept that, as I believe it has, in the traditional sense, a mandate. However, our own party's manifesto, and the coalition agreement as I read it, did not go beyond that into extending the general principle.
There is at least scope for some discussion on this subject. I have an open mind on it, and I am open to be persuaded by my noble friend and others in the House. In the context of a localism Bill, it is a very strange concept that a Secretary of State of whatever political hue can in effect lift the telephone and say, "You're going to have a mayoral arrangement in your authority", even if there has been no clear localist wish for one. If people want a mayor and there is scope for one, and if a campaign for a mayor gains ground, there may be circumstances in which the Secretary of State might be tempted to wish that he had such a power, but I hope that over the next few weeks, while assuring my noble friend of my absolute support for the principles set out in the coalition agreement and in the manifesto, she might be prepared to reflect on whether the best way to advance even what you think is a good idea is to take the power to impose it potentially on the unwilling.
In some way or another we might be able to explore, in the traditions of this House, some way in which the absolute exercise of such potential power could be limited. My noble friend will be relieved to hear that I cannot support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, but I hope that we can have some constructive engagement on this point.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I have one or two questions. First, what evidence do the Government or anyone else have that in these 11 cities, including Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Wakefield-the metropolitan district of Wakefield is technically a city, but is in fact a collection of towns, as I know well because I grew up there-Sheffield, Birmingham, Bristol, Coventry, Nottingham and Bradford-there is an overwhelming demand, or indeed any significant demand, in these places for an elected mayor? In the absence of such a demand, forcing a referendum on people that is likely to be rejected in the majority of these places-perhaps all but two or three places are likely to reject it, or perhaps they will all reject it-is an astonishing waste of money.
Secondly, can the Minister tell us how much it will cost to hold a referendum in each of these 11 places? Although I may have missed something, the only place I can recall where there was a significant campaign for an elected mayor was Liverpool. It was led by some high-profile people, some of whom were connected with broadcasting organisations. However, the campaign failed to get through the present system to requisition a referendum. It is clear that in each of these places it would be difficult to raise the 5 per cent of genuine signatures for a referendum. In those circumstances, it is extraordinary that in a Bill called "localism", the Government are imposing from the centre their own version of how local democracy should work.
People might argue that an elected mayor is a more localist system than an elected council, council leader and so on. But it is difficult to see how they can argue that it is more localist. They might argue that it is more efficient, more effective or more exciting, or that more people will turn out to vote, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said, that is not likely. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us the criteria that the Government have used to make them think that this provision of top-down centralised instructions to people on the ground on how to run their cities fits in with a Bill called "localism".
Thirdly, what evidence have the Government got that, in those places which have already got elected mayors, taking them as a whole, the system of local government is better than it was previously? There are places where the system is working very well. I would point, as I would anyway, to Watford, which has a Liberal Democrat mayor and a Liberal Democrat council, which helps a lot because they work closely together. But I suspect that, without an elected mayor but with a Liberal Democrat majority, the Liberal Democrat elected councillors and, thus, mayor would work together and would be a good council anyway.
I am not arguing that Liberal Democrat councils are always better than other councils. We all know perfectly well that, while we all pretend that our councils are better in different ways than everyone else's, it is not always the case. As I keep saying, there are good councils and bad councils, and most councils are somewhere in-between, which goes right across the parties. They may have different approaches to things but in terms of whether they are good, bad, efficient, inefficient or whatever, it goes across the spectrum.
There are councils run well by mayors. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, mentioned some in London. There are also councils which may have elected mayors but do not run so well. Local politics and local administration in Stoke-on-Trent has been a basket case for some considerable time. Having an elected mayor made absolutely no difference. You could argue that it made it worse. Another example is Doncaster, another council which has not had a good reputation for being efficient, open, honest and all sorts of things over the years. It now has an elected English Democrat mayor. Does that make the administration in Doncaster any better? The Government do not think so because they keep putting people in Doncaster to sort it out and to run things.
There are places where the local political culture is conducive to being run efficiently, whichever party is
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Unless we can be given some very clear evidence, this just seems to be policy developed on the whim of a few people at the top of and within the present Government. That is not a reason for supporting it. I accept that if something is in the coalition agreement, as a Liberal Democrat I start from the presumption that I will support it. Some things in the agreement are so important to the coalition, so crucial and critical, that even though I think they are completely bonkers, I will go through the right lobby in support of the Government. There have been certain constitutional issues recently where that has been the case. However, I do not believe that whether you have elected mayors in 11 places, or you have expensive referendums for elected mayors to decide whether to have them in London, are matters that are fundamental to the foundations of this coalition Government. So if the House of Lords booted it out or if it goes to a Division at any stage, I have to say to my own party and anyone else who wants to listen, I will find it very difficult indeed not to support the proposition.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is one that certainly deserves some study. It is clear that he has put a lot of thought into it and he spelt out the case very clearly. I have had a slightly chequered experience of the mayor in London, having been the Minister responsible for the legislation that abolished the GLC and leaving it, I have to say, in a pretty unsatisfactory arrangement afterwards. The previous Government picked it up and took through Parliament the Bill that established the Mayor of London. After Mr Livingstone's election, we bumped into each other-where else?-in a television studio. I said to him, "Ken, I should congratulate you on a remarkable victory". "Oh, Patrick", he said, "you were responsible for it". In a sense I was, since I had created the situation where the position of a mayor for Greater London was possible, particularly a mayor who in his earlier capacity as leader of the GLC I had had a considerable passage of arms with. He was therefore perfectly entitled to make that remark.
Having said that, the fact is that it has worked in London; it has been a very considerable success. I did not agree with most of the things that Mr Livingstone did as mayor, and I am much more supportive of his
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I have come to the conclusion that there is a temptation for us to imitate the continental pattern, where mayors of major cities have risen to considerable prominence-indeed, some of them have become Prime Ministers. On one occasion, I was a member of a consultative body with Raymond Barre, who made his great reputation as the mayor of Lyon. There are plenty of other examples: Mr Chirac was the mayor of Paris. I do not know whether Boris Johnson has any ambitions in that direction, but at the moment he is seeking to defend his seat in London as the mayor. However, we have not had that tradition. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, mentioned Joseph Chamberlain and Neville Chamberlain. In earlier decades, being a mayor may have been seen as a pathway to the highest post in government but, on the whole, we have not followed the continental example.
I said at Second Reading that I supported the proposal to encourage the election of more mayors. I made it very clear that I was totally against the proposition for shadow mayors and my noble friend Lady Hanham has already conceded that provisions for that are being removed-she has been as good as her word and signed the amendments on it. Curiously enough, the other point on which I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is that, despite our best endeavours and those of the excellent lady in the Government Whips Office who does the groupings, the groupings list is still not quite right, because my Amendment 82 is in this group, whereas it might well have been in the group following. It would be sensible for the moment just to discuss both groups together.
The Government have conceded that the proposals for shadow mayors have gone, but have proposed instead Amendment 81A, which my noble friends Lady Hanham and Lord Attlee have both signed. It leaves out the provisions for shadow mayors, but then goes on to insert:
I share some of the anxieties about that and cite only one example. It was a referendum not on a mayor but on an elected regional assembly in the north-east. It was where, apparently, the then Government thought they had the best chance of securing an elected regional assembly. In fact, despite their enormous efforts-virtually all the big guns from Westminster went to make the case in Newcastle and all around-they got, if I may put it crudely, a bloody nose. It was electorally for the then Government a disaster, and no further attempt has been made to establish by referendum an elected
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The other factor-I have to say that I have had family involvement here, which, to spare them embarrassment, I will not mention-is that the referendum's having been imposed by the Government was a very good reason why the good people of the north-east said that they were not going to have anything to do with it. It was the imposition of a referendum which partially ensured its defeat. I am glad to see the Front Bench opposite nod on that.
That leads me to question, as did my noble friend Lord True, the wisdom of imposing referendums on a city for a mayor. I am not quite sure what is sought to be gained by this. I know that my noble friends have pointed to some of the very successful mayors-Barcelona is frequently mentioned-but I just question whether one can translate some of those continental examples to our big cities here in this country.
The city with which I had the most connection during my period of office as Environment Secretary was, of course, Liverpool. I inherited from my noble friends the rather unwelcome title of the Minister for Merseyside. It was the same election when the Militant tendency gained its supremacy in Liverpool and I had two extremely difficult years. My Prime Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, came up to see how I was getting on. She met some of the characters of Liverpool Council-and there was no meeting of minds. To my great relief she said, "Well, Patrick, I see what you are up against and we shall back you. But get on with it". In the end, of course, it was a Labour leader who defeated the Militant tendency-it had to be. I had always said that only the Labour Party could do that; the Conservative Government could not. Liverpool is now becoming one of the most successful cities in the country. It has had a huge resurgence as the European City of Culture and a great deal else. I am not sure that it would have gained much by having a mayor-I do not know. When it was asked to, it did not elect a mayor, as has already been mentioned.
It has been an interesting discussion and I look forward to hearing what my noble friend has to say. I share the doubts about the wisdom of imposing a referendum on a city. The precedents are not encouraging -I have cited a couple of them-but my noble friend may well be able to persuade me. However, I sit down on a happier note: at least we are not going to have shadow mayors-and for that I am truly grateful.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the amendment has excited a deal of interest. I wish to make it absolutely clear that we are not talking about imposing mayors on cities; we are talking about imposing a referendum. It is crucial that we do not get too exercised about the imposition of a certain form of government. We are saying that it is the coalition Government's view that cities would benefit enormously from having a mayor; they would benefit democratically and from all the interests that a mayor brings and all the influence that
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We are trying to give a similar profile to other cities or to give local people the opportunity to say whether they think that would be an appropriate form of government for their city. The only imposition will come from the requirement to hold a referendum, and that requirement will be introduced under this legislation.
We believe that the economic growth and prosperity of our larger cities is absolutely essential to the economic recovery of the country as a whole. If we do not have good economic situations in the cities, things will look very dismal. We believe that a mayor would promote extra economic growth.
The Institute of Governance and the Centre for Cities have highlighted in their recent joint report that cities are the heartbeat of the United Kingdom's economy. I think we would all support that. Although they occupy less than 10 per cent of the United Kingdom's land, they contribute 60 per cent to its economic output.
The Government believe that it is clear that mayors are right for every major city. We remain true to our localist credentials, and it is absolutely up to the citizens to decide whether their city will have an elected mayor or not. We think they should, and we will be doing our utmost to ensure that everyone has all the facts about how a mayor can benefit the city and do a good sales job for its businesses and the people who live and work there. But finally and ultimately, the decision will be theirs.
We are committed to this in the coalition agreement. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was going to go seriously off-message and he may indeed seriously be still off-message. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is not off-message, or all the other people who have signed up to this amendment. This is part and parcel of the coalition agreement that we should give local people in the larger cities in England a direct say on whether they want their city to have an elected mayor.
I know that local people can already petition for such a referendum. They can do it under previous legislation, and their elected representatives can decide, as they did in Leicester, where they have gone ahead of the game. There the council decided that the city should have a mayor, with the first mayor being elected there in May. We are convinced that the issue is now of pressing importance for the cities and for the country as a whole, and that people in the major cities should have a simpler, more immediate means for addressing the question. In short, as soon as practicable, people in each of the largest cities should have an opportunity of deciding whether they want an elected mayor. Some see this as central government imposition and "anti-localist". We disagree completely with that. It will be for the local people to decide.
We have listed the cities, but the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, tabled Amendment 81B, where he wants specifically to have the cities named in the Bill. We will not agree to this, as it would have the effect of making
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I will be resisting the other amendments, including that on raising the threshold from 5 per cent to 10 per cent. In the cities, 5 per cent would be a very substantial proportion, and we should not make the hurdle any higher than that. As it is cities that we are talking about, we would not want to change that percentage.
I am not going to address each amendment. I have given an indication of why we believe that the mayoral referendum proposal should first of all come to this House and, if agreed, should go on to the cities to be carried out as soon as possible so we can have a decision and get on with having elections in the next year or the next 18 months. I thank noble Lords for their contributions but regret to say that I will not be accepting any of the amendments. I ask the noble Lord who moved the amendment to withdraw it.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, which was almost precisely in the terms that I expected. I shall refer briefly to the interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, who talked about the success of the mayoral system in London. Arguably, that is the case, but there were successful leaders of London before the mayoral system-Herbert Morrison has been cited but one could also cite Horace Cutler as a Conservative leader or indeed Ken Livingstone in his original incarnation.
I am not sure whether it was the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, or the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, that Ken Livingstone was referring to on one occasion when, on emerging from Marsham Street, as it then was, having had one of a series of meetings in the dark days of the 1980s when the GLC was at loggerheads with the Government, he was asked, "Why are you going to see him again?" and he replied, "I think he likes me for my body". Whether it was the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, or the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, who said that, I am not entirely sure.
Lord Beecham: I recall seeing it on television at the time. At all events, the noble Lord refers to a continental pattern, but the continental pattern is actually very varied. He mentioned Barcelona but, as I pointed out, in Barcelona there is no direct election for mayor. There are direct elections or indirect elections in different places and, as I also indicated, there are places where the mayor or burgermeister is a Crown or state appointment. The proposition here is more American in its origins, rather like the unfortunate police commissioner proposal -and equally tainted, in the view of some of us.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, also referred to Liverpool. I well remember those days, and I remember the noble Lord going out of his way to be helpful to a very difficult group of people who, having managed to persuade him to make some concessions, then went extremely triumphalist at his expense and indeed may have caused him to move on from his job, an ill reward for a Minister who was doing his level best to help a difficult situation, but not one that surprised those of us who knew those with whom he was dealing. I recall a Sunday Times "Life in the Day" when Mr Hatton was talking about his family and how his daughter was very keen on horses. The article ended by saying that she liked nothing better than "to have a little trot around", which seemed to me entirely appropriate. The noble Lord was extremely patient and forbearing, and those of us who remember him at that time acquired then and have since retained great respect for him and his style of politics.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: The noble Lord is being more than generous. I should point out that that most demanding of bodies, the 1922 Committee, had absolutely no doubt that I had been suborned by the leaders of Liverpool, and I had overwhelming support from that committee.
The Minister talked about Amendment 81B as being out of place because it would provide uncertainty. On the contrary: the point of that amendment is to limit the operation of the imposed referendum-I accept entirely that an imposed referendum is what we are discussing, not an imposed mayoral system-to these 11 cases. If there is a technical problem with what is in effect a sunset clause dealing with that group of authorities, perhaps on Report we will have to recast it. I think that it is fair to say that it will be our intention to test the opinion of the House at that stage about whether it is right to press on with imposing referendums in the way that the Bill provides. We do not think that it is right to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has raised a legitimate question about the cost, which will no doubt feature in any campaigns which have to take place.
One further point is something of a puzzle. The expression regarding the definition of these authorities was that they were the "11 largest cities". Well, that is not the case. Assuming, for the moment, that some of them are in fact cities, there are others: the city of Sunderland has a larger population than Newcastle; Kirklees, a collection of Yorkshire towns, is also substantially larger than Newcastle; and there is Hull. I do not quite know the basis on which the 11 have been chosen. However, these are the lucky 11 that remain in the frame. We on this side of the House will do our best to see that the overall principle is rejected by the House and then, if not, that the mandatory exercise is confined to these 11 authorities.
Baroness Hanham: I will address two issues. I said that we were rejecting Amendment 74A. Of course, we are not; we have already accepted it. We were asked for
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Lord Beecham: My Lords, the noble Baroness has a rather more pleasant duty to attend to in a few minutes when she goes to, presumably, the town hall in Kensington and Chelsea. We wish her well, and an enjoyable evening. We look forward to resuming the debate next week with the new freeman of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I will be very quick; we would not want the Minister to be late. She is quite right: I am totally off message on this issue as far as the coalition agreement is concerned. I am not off message as far as the coalition is concerned. The Government should learn. They have had a huge car crash, as people say nowadays, with the AV referendum; I voted loyally for that on every occasion and now I wish I had not. This will be another, in the modern phrase, car crash.
Whatever has been in coalition agreements and manifestos, there are times when, politically, Governments have to consider what is likely to happen. In most if not all these places, it seems likely that the Liberal Democrats will be campaigning vigorously against having an elected mayor-alongside the Labour party in many cases, and, I suspect, the Conservative party in so far as it still exists in some of these places; it certainly exists in some of them.
I am grateful for the information on the cost. I did not quite catch who was going to bear it. Was it central government? Yes. Well, a waste of public money is a waste of public money, whoever pays for it. I wonder whether the Government can direct me to some serious evidential basis for the view that having elected mayors provides better local government than would otherwise have been the case. I have not seen that evidence. There is lots of political and other argument about it, but I have seen no serious evidential basis for that proposition. If the Government have it, I would be grateful if they would make it available.
Lord Tope: My Lords, the Minister has warned me not to allow my noble friend Lord Greaves to let me stray off message. I have actually said nothing at all on the subject yet, and that might well be a message in itself. I am rather too mindful of the Minister's immediate appointment elsewhere to take more time with this. I am struggling hard to resist the debate that has been held about the benefits of a London Mayor. Having been a member of the London Assembly for the entire reign of the first London Mayor, I can say that any strategic government for London has to be better than no strategic government for London. What none of us can know-so I will not bother to argue it-is whether another system of strategic government would have been as good, worse or better. At least, there could have been an alternative to an elected mayor, which has not been considered.
Lord Greaves: Perhaps my noble friend would pay attention to the point that having an elected mayor for Liverpool does not provide strategic government
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Lord Tope: My Lords, I will certainly pay attention, as I always do. For the past 40 years, I have paid attention, in every sense, to my noble friend Lord Greaves, who was required to throw me out of the Liberal party 40 years ago, if I remember rightly.
Lord Tope: He refused and it was one of his wisest decisions, because the person who requested him to do so did not distinguish himself in the interests of the Liberal party within a few years of that. I refer to our then party leader. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is probably too young to remember such an occasion in the 1970s.
I must get back to the point. The amendment relates to the threshold, and I am grateful that, in the end, the Minister paid some attention to it, because no one else has done so throughout the entire debate. Therefore, I have very little to reply to, except to say that we shall be returning to the issue of thresholds for referendums and so on at a later stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, as I spoke at length to the earlier amendment, I can deal with this extremely briefly. This amendment and Amendment 79, which are in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, are intended to be paving amendments to the substantive amendment which we discussed in the previous group, Amendment 82. My noble friend may wish to refer to some of the amendments to which she has put her name in this group. I beg to move.
Lord Beecham: I just want to confirm that the effect of the amendment is to remove the possibility of an authority being required to hold a referendum again within 10 years once a first referendum has rejected the idea of a mayor. I understand that to be the position, but having worked quite long and late on these matters, I was not entirely sure that my mind was sufficiently clear to appreciate that point. The Minister seems to be confirming that situation, which is eminently satisfactory.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, we had a long discussion on the previous amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, says, and I think that that covered what has been raised here. I can confirm that Amendments 76 and 77 would prevent another referendum within 10 years. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord not to press Amendments 76, 77, 78 and 79. Government amendments have already been agreed to. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for his very kind remarks. I am off now to become a free woman.
Lord Best: I send the Minister on her way with further congratulations on the changes that have withdrawn the offending passages about shadow mayors. The top three in the Local Government Association's long list of hopeful amendments include removal of the references to the combination of elected mayor and chief executive and removal of the issues around shadow mayors. That just leaves in our top three the question of EU fines, which will come up later. However, two out of three so far is extremely satisfactory and we are extremely grateful to the Minister for that.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, we have rightly just had a long debate about a major issue. In moving Amendment 88, I wish to speak also to Amendments 89, 90, 91, 92, 94, 95 and 96, with which it is grouped. Somebody who looked at them said to me that they were typical fiddly House of Lords amendments, by which I think they meant the kind of amendments that try to probe what is meant by the words set out in the Bill.
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