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Lord Hunt of Tanworth: I have listened with interest to this short debate and I, too, have sympathy with the aims of the amendment. I should be content to accept it. However, as the Minister said, we would like the opportunity to consider the text and its possible relationship to other amendments. If further amendments are required they can be brought forward at a later stage.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2 [Applications for approval of experimental decision-making arrangements]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 19:


Page 3, line 34, after ("resolve") insert ("in accordance with subsection (1A)").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 19 is a paving amendment for one of the amendments in the next group. It may be convenient if I speak to both groups together. I do not intend to move Amendment No. 44 during the Committee stage. Amendment No. 19 deals in part with the mechanisms for resolution. I suggest that resolutions should be taken by at least a

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majority of two-thirds of the local authority membership and with the agreement of the leaders of all the political groups of the authority. Leaders are normally designated. Although the term may sound loose it reflects practice.

When considering the constitution of an organisation, it is conventional to seek more than a bare majority. I do not suggest that a local authority should be run in the same way as a local golf club, but there may be lessons to be learnt. Decisions for such fundamental administrative change should be made on the basis of more than a bare majority or even a resolution passed on the casting vote of the chairman or the mayor. It would also be possible for a large group to force through such changes, but I do not believe that it could healthily be done without a consensus across the authority. Many authorities have no overall political control. Members of those authorities will have to have a debate as to the benefits of any arrangements which may come from any side of the authority.

The second group of amendments relates to information and consultation. Amendments Nos. 23 and 34 deal with the mechanisms for consultation. They refer to publication in local newspapers. I have suggested that because that is increasingly required in legislation dealing with the dissemination of information by local authorities; for instance, league tables and so forth. That is not to say that local newspapers necessarily have enormous readerships, but at least they have a role in alerting residents to what is happening.

Amendment No. 26 deals with similar issues and I support it. Amendment No. 24 proposes more than information. It proposes that there should be a local referendum. That was something floated on Second Reading and it is well worth pausing to consider it. It moves away from a traditional approach to local government and is something on which local groups of residents, the community, should have the opportunity to have their say.

The proposals, which are increasingly being discussed, for directly elected mayors are of course controversial. I do not seek to argue now against directly elected mayors. I shall perhaps do so on other occasions. But it is a considerable constitutional move.

On 7th May we are to have a referendum when Londoners can express their views on a new form of constitutional settlement. I believe that local people should be given the opportunity not just to express their concern about an elected mayor with executive powers, if they have such concerns, by perhaps abstaining in the election for mayor when that comes, but by having a full involvement in the process. A referendum will mean a full debate in a way which general consultation will not achieve because people's minds will be focused.

I strongly advocate reliance on the good sense of local people, of local electors. If a local authority believes it can win an argument for a model which involves a directly elected executive mayor, it should take that argument to local people. It should not take to them a

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decision made, I admit, not behind closed doors but within a council chamber. It should use the opportunity for a local constructive debate. I beg to move.

Lord Hunt of King's Heath: I should like to speak to my Amendment No. 26 and also to Amendment No. 23. One of the key purposes of the Bill must be to enhance accountability of local authorities to the public and their local community. An implication of that is that there should be greater public participation in the work of local government and being able to feed into the decisions which local authorities make.

Therefore, it seems sensible that one of the criteria under which the Secretary of State may make a judgment in relation to an application is the extent to which the local authority has consulted about the proposals with its local communities. Indeed, a local authority which has had the confidence to consult and take note of that consultation is much more likely to implement successfully the proposed experimentation.

Amendment No. 26 does not specify how that consultation should be undertaken, and I think that is right. But we know from the practice of a considerable number of local authorities that they are using innovative techniques, including citizen's juries, focus groups and centralised committees to get a feel of what the local community thinks.

Therefore, it seems to me that while not being prescriptive about the technique to be used, a local authority should have to show that it has used some of those participatory techniques. The advantage is that in seeking to propose experimentation, it will have much wider community debate and support. It will also give the Secretary of State more confidence in agreeing to the proposal.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I would have some difficulty in supporting Amendments Nos. 19, 20 or 22. Unless I have misunderstood, I am concerned about the wording in subsection (1A) which provides that the leaders of all political parties must vote in favour of the resolution. One can envisage a situation in which perhaps there is one political group with only one, two or three members. It seems to me that even if you have 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. in favour of the resolution, it could still be vetoed and that could be quite dangerous.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I very much support what my noble friend said and I support also the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of King's Heath, as regards the need for consultation on these matters. While we are on the subject of elections of mayors and how that should be accomplished, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, will explain to the Committee what will happen to the ceremonial role associated traditionally with ordinary mayors or chairs of local authorities.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I regret to say that the Government are concerned that the cumulative effect of the amendments might be to strangle experimentation at birth. In a way it is helpful that the

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noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Hunt of King's Heath have managed to bring together this group of amendments.

First, the authority would have to resolve to pursue a particular experiment by a two-thirds majority including each leader of a political group. Such a veto for a political group leader is, we believe, unprecedented and it is certainly not something with which the Government feel comfortable. It could allow very small groups to exert undue influence over the decision on whether to experiment and, if the authority does experiment, the shape of that experiment. Furthermore, there are very few matters in local government which require a two-thirds majority.

Next, it would have to consult widely and then win a referendum. I regret to say that this would all look like a set of expensive obstacles to many in local government. Our fear is that this whole process might be seen as so tortuous that some authorities may be put off from embarking upon it, in particular, those which are less committed to change than some others but which were prepared to look at the possibility of experimenting. I think many in the House this evening would agree that that would be counter-productive. I am afraid therefore that the Government could not support Amendment No. 19.

I also regret that we cannot support Amendment No. 24. The authority would have to publicise the proposed amendments and conduct a referendum, only putting forward the proposal for approval by the Secretary of State if there is a positive vote in the referendum. But there are many major questions which are not answered by this amendment. Who would draft the question? Who would be the returning officer? What campaigning would be allowed by whom and who would pay for it? And so on.

I do not mean to suggest that it is not desirable for authorities to consult the community they serve as part of the process of framing an application to operate experimental arrangements. Indeed, our view is very much the opposite. As the Committee will be aware, this Government are committed to modernising local government to make it more open, responsive and consultative in its operation and outlook. They do not want to achieve this result through compulsion, but through exhortation, encouragement and leadership.

The Government would not therefore wish to be prescriptive about how any consultation might take place, or when, or how much of it there ought to be. These are matters which are properly local decisions. However, we do sympathise with the objective of ensuring public consultation in this area. Therefore, I wonder whether the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friends Lord Hunt of King's Heath and Lord Bassam may be able to bring forward on Report a suitable amendment which meets the spirit of Amendments Nos. 23, 26 and 34, and which could incorporate both the important points raised by my noble friend Lord Hunt and also the essence of the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness,

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Lady Hamwee, which deal with informing as well as consulting the public. I hope that response is helpful and that suitable amendments will be tabled on Report.


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