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Baroness Hamwee: I should like to put one short question on Clause 17. The clause provides that it is not necessary to have political balance on a local authority executive or a committee thereof. If so, can an elected mayor choose to be supported by a cabinet in effect that bears no resemblance to the political balance of the elected council? I make a point against my own party. It is not unknown for some Liberal Democrats not to get on with party colleagues as well as they might. I daresay that that is replicated in all parties. It is possible that there is a Liberal Democrat majority on a council and a Liberal Democrat mayor but that individual finds greater identity of view, or fewer difficulties of personality, with members of another party. Therefore, the administration may not reflect the council as elected. I believe that that is correct but I should be glad to have the Minister's view. It would take a fairly daft leader to do that on the basis of the leader and cabinet model, but such has

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been known. One can imagine the mayhem if an elected leader chose an executive from a minority party.

Lord Whitty: The understanding of the noble Baroness is correct. In those circumstances, the Act will not lay down the requirement that there be political balance, or that the leader must necessarily draw his or her executive from either a politically balanced council or his or her own party. I do not know what deep anxieties within the Liberal Democrat Party are reflected by the possibility of any alternative. Perhaps I should not inquire in case the question is returned to me. The principle behind the clause is that in these circumstances there should be flexibility and the composition of the executive is not politically defined.

Clause 17 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 166 and 167 not moved.]

Clause 18 [Proposals]:

[Amendments Nos. 168 to 170 not moved.]

Lord Laming moved Amendment No. 171:

    Page 9, line 13, leave out paragraph (b) and insert--

("(b) ensure they deliver both value for money and quality standards of service").

The noble Lord said: I shall be brief in moving Amendment No. 171. I am sure that the Committee does not want me to rehearse the points I made at Second Reading. I regard certain parts of this Bill as a continuation of the process of centralisation. For many years there has been an increase in central control over local government. Clause 18 accentuates the power of central government even to determine the structures to be used by local authorities. There are more than 400 local authorities in this country where populations range from 30,000 to over 1 million. Yet each local authority will be required to submit to the Secretary of State proposals to manage its business. Earlier the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, indicated his concern, shared by many of us, about ensuring that good, capable people put themselves forward to be elected as members of local authorities. I believe that requirements of this kind will deter such people if they believe that local government is becoming more and more an agent of central government.

Central government has established through the best value initiative a powerful method to evaluate performance, and I applaud the excellent work that has been done under it. A methodology has been established whereby it is possible to judge performance against both value for money and quality of service delivered. A number of interesting developments are taking place, including joint reviews of local authorities, to look not so much at the process but the impact of local government achievements. Surely, it is that about which we should be concerned. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: We on these Benches have some sympathy with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Laming. In

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particular, of all the matters that a local authority may be required to do when it draws up proposals for the operation of executive arrangements, Clause 18(1)(b) is perhaps one of the least important. It might have said that the matter should be debated by the full council, or that the council should ensure that the arrangements fulfilled what one would like to see as the principal purposes under Clause 2(1) and those things that the council should be doing, which the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, also seeks to achieve. However, to write onto the face of the Bill that one of the important duties of the council is to send a copy of the proposals to the Secretary of State is a centralist sentiment. I do not believe that that is the central issue to be addressed once the local authority has drawn up its proposals. Clause 18(3) provides that,

    "a local authority must take reasonable steps to consult local government electors, and other interested parties".

I would have thought that that was far more important than informing the Secretary of State.

If the object of the Secretary of State seeing the proposals is to ensure that, for example, the executive's balance of functions is about right in order to fulfil the purposes outlined in Clause 2, it is reasonable to have the views of the local population as to the fulfilment of that function. I do not believe that the local electorate would have an enormous interest in whether or not the executive arrangements were of one kind or another until it had seen them in operation for a period. But I understand the point to which the noble Lord is moving with his amendment. I shall be interested to hear from the Minister why it is of particular importance that this matter is on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Amendment No. 171 replaces a requirement on authorities to send their proposals to the Secretary of State with a requirement that authorities should deliver value for money and quality standards of service. The Government have no problem with the localist sentiment behind the amendment of the noble Lord, nor with the laudable objectives of value for money and quality standards of service which the amendment proposes. We support the view that that requirement should be placed on authorities. The Government are keen to see a great diversity of practice emerge under this Bill and best value legislation is already in place. As the noble Lord said, some striking examples of good practice are emerging.

However, we would be concerned about striking from the Bill the requirement on an authority to send to the Secretary of State a copy of its proposals. This is not an approval mechanism. It is in place so that Government can have a picture of what is occurring and the progress being made. We want to see efficient, transparent and accountable local government and we believe that it will be delivered through the establishment of new executive arrangements with a separate accountable executive. We therefore naturally want to be able to monitor what is going on

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and a simple duty on local authorities to send copies of their proposals to the Secretary of State seems an eminently sensible way to proceed.

The Bill includes the power, therefore, in Clause 23 to require a referendum in circumstances to be prescribed in regulations. A draft of those is at page 141 of the package of draft guidance and regulations made available recently to the House. The circumstances expressed in general terms include where the timetable for implementation of proposals is very protracted, where reasonable steps have not been taken to consult openly in developing those proposals, and where the authority does not implement in line with the stated timetable in those proposals. Such a power is necessary to ensure that the actions taken locally reflect what local people want--here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer--and that those wishes are put in place. I can reassure the noble Baroness that there is nothing sinister in this. The power to intervene is a fall-back power to deal with situations of inertia or abuse. But the power cannot operate if authorities are not required to send to the Government a copy of their proposals.

The Government cannot accept this amendment as drafted, therefore, but would be happy to consider how provision on the basis of the noble Lord's amendment might be included in the Bill in addition to the current wording of Clause 18(1). On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Laming: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for her support. If I may say so, she expressed the issue somewhat better than me, and I am grateful.

I am grateful to the Minister for that constructive and helpful reply on the basis of which I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 172:

    Page 9, line 17, leave out (" 11(1)(b)") and insert (" 11(2)(b)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 173:

    Page 9, line 18, leave out ("subject of the executive arrangements") and insert ("responsibility of the executive").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 173A:

    Page 9, line 21, at end insert ("and representatives of officers of the local authority").

The noble Baroness said: Grouped with Amendment No. 173A is a number of amendments. It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to the first amendment in the group but speak to my amendments to the Minister's amendment only after he has spoken to his amendment. The grouped

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amendments are Amendments Nos. 173 to 176, 178, 179 to 182, 186, 187, 189, 195 to 198, 243, 252, 253 and 370.

Amendment No. 173A proposes that representatives of officers of the local authority shall be included in those who are consulted when a local authority draws up its proposals with respect to executive arrangements. Clause 18(3) provides, quite properly, that a local authority must take reasonable steps to consult local government electors and other interested persons. The Minister may tell me that officers of the authority come within that latter category. However, I believe that they have not only a specific interest but a contribution to make because of their experience.

I spoke earlier of the difficulties that I foresee for officers. There may be considerable tensions for officers who seek to serve effectively and impartially the administration, members of the opposition, an executive and members of an overview and scrutiny committee. The officer structure required for the proposals deserves careful consideration. Officers should be in a position formally to comment on them.

Other noble Lords in different parts of the country will be aware that, increasingly, chief executives and senior managers tend to leave a local authority following a change in political control. We were not accustomed to that 10 or 15 years ago. It illustrates the difficulties that follow from the close relationship that senior officers have with the senior members of an authority.

Officers will have responsibilities to deal with the probing of the overview and scrutiny committee. They must be clear about the separation of responsibilities and accountabilities between the staff serving the executive and those serving the overview and scrutiny committee. Consideration must be given to the support provided to the latter through background papers, framing questions and progress chasing; and consideration of the extent to which a member of an overview and scrutiny committee should be assisted, or briefed, in challenging the decisions made by an executive member. Where do loyalties lie?

Those difficulties could impact adversely on the member-officer relationship. If there is an over-emphasis on informality, back benchers may feel excluded. If relatively junior officers--they may not have a great deal of experience of dealing with elected members--are not helped to develop their political awareness, they could fail to provide the support which members may require. One can anticipate the frustration of members and the difficulties of officers.

I take my comments from a paper by an academic on concerns that might arise and could describe them at greater length. I shall not do so tonight but return to the thrust of the amendment. It should be recognised that officers have a place in the consultation leading to the decision on executive arrangements and, the converse, on the overview and scrutiny arrangements they serve. I beg to move.

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