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Lord Dixon-Smith: Clause 21(5) provides for the possibility of changing from an elected mayor type of

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executive to another type. I recall passionate debates between the Minister and my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon about a recall of the London mayor, but this is not quite that situation. If there were a referendum on changing from an elected mayor, it would be a vote of no confidence in either the mayor or the executive serving with the mayor. We are on delicate ground, to say the least.

Say that such a referendum, which would presumably be the result of an appeal to the Minister, produced a negative result and the authority were required to change its executive arrangements. As that would in effect be a vote of no confidence by the people who put the elected mayor in place, the Bill could produce an awkward situation. If such a thing happened, the mayor would remain until the end of his term of office--which might be two years away or more. That would not be satisfactory, so our Amendment No. 195 would require an elected mayor, after such a referendum, to retire after the council's next annual meeting--which seems a reasonable way of proceeding in the circumstances. Amendment No. 243 flows automatically.

Any local authority that found itself in the situation that I have described would have considerable difficulty understanding why the system that it had voted against had to continue so long. I hope that the Minister will look at that matter with care. The Bill is not satisfactorily drafted and if the Minister thinks about it seriously, he would not regard it as completely satisfactory either.

Lord Whitty: Amendments Nos. 174 to 176 provide for the Secretary of State to give directions on certain aspects of the preparation and content of proposals drawn up by local authorities. They will allow us to be more specific about the key elements included and permit the Secretary of State to specify the level of detail that the executive arrangements should include. That is necessary to ensure that authorities adopt constitutions that genuinely reflect the views of local people on how future relationships should be structured.

Amendment No. 178 provides that when an authority sends proposals to the Secretary of State, they should be accompanied by an account of how the consultation had been conducted in drawing up the proposals and the outcome of the consultations. The Secretary of State, in noting proposals, would need to be assured that adequate consultation had taken place with the electorate.

Amendment No. 173A from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, deals with consultation with council officers. We expect local authorities to engage in proper consultation with their officers and the trade unions representing them. That is good practice, particularly when faced with significant changes in the way the council conducts its business. It is important that councils involve their employees, particularly senior employees, in reaching decisions as a matter of general involvement of their staff. We have detailed guidance suggesting that they do just that. Clause 18 will ensure that consultation is with

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those who will be governed by the local authority in future. Council employees are in a different category, unless they also happen to be electors in the authority's area. We do not believe that we should statutorily lay down an equivalent industrial relations duty to the constitutional duty to consult local electors on how the new structure should be introduced. By the time the proposals are put to the electorate, it is unlikely that they will be a surprise to council officers--who should already have been involved.

Amendment No. 178 provides a new power for the Secretary of State to specify a deadline by which all authorities or authorities of a particular type must submit proposals. I hope that that reserve power will be used infrequently or not at all, but it is necessary to emphasise that we require all authorities to assess which executive structures they wish to recommend to their electorate and to consult them. We will use that power only if a significant number of authorities do not work actively to observe the timetable.

Amendment No. 179 inserts a new clause after Clause 18. There is nothing mysterious about that new clause, which simply plugs a small gap in the Bill so that authorities that propose a form of executive that does not require a referendum cannot delay its implementation beyond the originally proposed timetable. It provides a more useful definition of "executive" for which a referendum is required. Amendments Nos. 180, 181, 182 and 187 are minor.

We have brought forward substantive Amendments Nos. 182 and 187 in particular as a direct response to the recommendation of the Joint Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, which considered a draft of the legislation. That committee recommended more clarity for local authorities and the local electorate about the options available following a referendum defeat. The amendments provide that clarity and will require a local authority proposing a form of executive for which a referendum is required to produce an outline fallback position before sending the main proposals to the Secretary of State before the referendum. Outline fallback proposals should give a clear indication of the arrangements that the local authority proposes to introduce and the timetable, subject to consultation. Similar provisions have been included for referendums following, for example, a petition or direction under Clause 23 in the draft Local Government (Petitions and Referendums) Regulations which we have made available to the Committee.

Amendment No. 197 also deals with fall-back provisions. The new clause would allow the Secretary of State to specify arrangements for the discharge of functions which do not involve an executive, but which the Secretary of State thinks are likely to ensure that decisions are taken in an efficient and accountable manner. These arrangements must be--as has been remarked upon earlier in Committee--significantly different from current arrangements. They must be significantly different because they must not be precisely the same as those considered at earlier stages.

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That will ensure that a council could not continue with the traditional committee structure, but provides a wider range of options to councils in the event that, having gone through the assessment of the structures provided by the Bill, the electorate rejects proposals for an elected mayor in a referendum.

Perhaps I may make one point absolutely clear in this context. Alternative arrangements under this clause will be available only as fall-back arrangements. Local authorities will not be able to adopt those alternatives as proposals they positively put to a referendum. Moreover, it is the view of the Government that it is unlikely that arrangements without a separate executive can significantly enhance the efficiency, transparency and accountability which form the objectives of the Bill. We therefore believe that there are unlikely to be many--if any--circumstances where it would be right to provide for alternative arrangements under this new clause. However, we wish to cover this eventuality in order not to exclude possible innovative structures in the event of the preferred option being rejected in a referendum.

If an authority adopts alternative arrangements following a referendum defeat, then the new clause in Amendment No. 198 provides for the adoption and operation of those fall-back arrangements. This new clause also allows the Secretary of State to make regulations enabling local authorities to alter the alternative arrangements they have in place or to move from them to executive arrangements.

For those authorities operating executive arrangements, Amendment No. 196 introduces a new clause in place of the original Clause 21. That clause deals with changing or moving to different executive arrangements. This substitute clause does away with the rather complex provisions of the original clause and provides instead for a regulation-making power. That will enable the Secretary of State to make comprehensive regulations.

Amendment No. 252 makes a minor amendment to the power to make regulations regarding the conduct of referendums. Amendment No. 253 makes another minor amendment to this power so that it is clear that the regulations can provide for publicity material about what would happen if a referendum is lost.

That concludes my rundown of government amendments. Because the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has already moved his substantive amendments, it would be courteous for me to reply to him at this stage, although there may be points that other noble Lords wish to raise in the debate. I am afraid that I must oppose both amendments. The Government do not believe, as would be required by Amendment No. 195, that it is right for a council which is in the process of operating arrangements with an elected mayor to be able to alter to a form of executive arrangements without an elected mayor before the end of the term of office for the mayor.

The noble Lord advanced arguments as to why that should be allowable or possibly mandatory, but in all other circumstances, except in those cases where--without wishing to go over old ground--other

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administrations have terminated the existence of authorities, it has normally been the case that the current term of office would remain in place until any change to the status of the authority came into effect. It would therefore be expected that when a mayor was elected, that mayor would be elected in the belief that he or she would serve a full term of office. Even though alternative proposals may have been advanced within that term of office, it is reasonable for both the authority and the electorate to presume that the term of office of the mayor would be concluded. For that reason, we would not wish to see new arrangements being brought into force before the end of that term. I shall not be able to accept the amendments of the noble Lord and I hope that he will not press them.

I may need to return to certain other points, but I hope that noble Lords will take into account what I have said.

6 p.m.

Lord Harrison: In rising to contribute to the debate introduced by Amendment No. 173, perhaps I may take this opportunity to declare an interest. For almost a decade I was a member of Cheshire County Council. I can well remember that when I first joined the council I was told about the good old days when all the business on council day was concluded by lunchtime and everyone then went off for a jolly good meal. However, in my years as a member, the reverse took place. Great efficiency was shown by the introduction of an early lunch, but not much in the way of accountability or transparency. That was because there seemed to be a proliferation of county council committees of one kind or another in which we dealt in hesitation, deviation and repetition of the council's business. While we certainly had accountability and transparency, I am not sure that we were always guided by efficiency. Indeed I learnt well the longueurs of local government during those nine years, longueurs that I know will never be repeated in this House.

I support very much the Government's approach in saying that no change is not an option in the Bill. The proposed change of creating a divide by introducing an executive and having that mirrored by scrutiny committees has been attacked from all sides. However, perhaps I may put one reflection to the Committee. The notion that the role of a scrutineer is in some way demeaning is, I believe, wrong. After all, is not the larger purpose of much of the work of your Lordships' House in the way of scrutiny? None of us feels demeaned by performing that duty.

I am pleased that the Bill states decisively that no change is not an option and that when that happens there should be a speedy application of the new constitutions in local government. Later amendments moved by my noble friend give effect to that. May and June 2002 are the dates given for when the changes should happen. That will also be around the time that the euro--the single currency--will appear in notes and coins. That in itself will have--although I shall whisper this--implications for local government.

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Amendments Nos. 174 and 176 specify more precisely the areas for consultation when the proposals are developed. That is right and proper. I listened carefully to the proposals of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on officers and in other areas on consultation. I believe that the heart of the noble Baroness is in the right place on this issue, but as regards officers--anyone who has had experience of local government will know this--it is absolutely essential that relationships between members and officers are of the best in terms of sharing information on the various ways forward. The idea of needing legislation to enable this to happen would serve only to cover a deficiency because such close co-operation and contact should already be in place.

I believe that some of the other amendments which are to be moved, including those of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, are covered by some of the amendments tabled by the Minister, are superfluous or suggest a second referendum in terms of consultation, which I am not sure is a purposeful way forward.

I move to the question of the referendum being binding. As it is a point which may not otherwise arise, I should like to make it. It is important to state that any referendum result is binding on the local authority. There is no greater way to induce cynicism among the electorate than to fail to move forward and oblige the result of a referendum to be put in place.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister about fall-back. I am pleased to see that the government amendments to Clause 19 clearly set out the options available to councils after a referendum defeat. The Government's response to the Joint Committee and the draft guidance each mention that the fall-back position needs approval by the Secretary of State. However, I cannot find any such provision in the government amendments, and I ask my noble friend to comment.

Finally, I believe that it is right to make clearer to the public what we suggest in terms of fall-back. In a sense, the first-line proposals, complemented by the fall-back position as sketched in outline, offer choice to the electorate in knowing that there is a fall-back position. Secondly, although we talk in terms of an outline fall-back position, the amendments suggested by the Minister impose on the authority a clear indication of what is proposed and also the timetable. Those are all appropriate amendments to the Bill. In conclusion, fall-back is not an excuse for local authorities to "fall out" of the responsibility which they bear to a modern electorate.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: The Minister commented on my Amendments Nos. 173A and 178A, describing them as some kind of industrial relations duty. I did not propose the amendments in that sense but simply sought to make the point that I believe that officers will have a real contribution to make to the likely operational success of whatever proposals are put before an electorate. Of course, the best authorities may well have been closely involved in the proposals. However, we are seeking to provide not only for the best authorities.

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I turn to the other amendments in my name. Amendment No. 182A asks: what if? Clause 18 requires proposals to be drawn up to a timetable. Clause 20 requires the resolution of a local authority to operate executive arrangements. Amendment No. 182A asks: what if there is no such resolution; for example, because control of the authority has changed or some members have changed their minds?

Amendment No. 183 asks (at least, between the lines) how in the real world a local authority can consult on alternative proposals for its preferred version at the same time as the referendum. If a local authority were to vote in a referendum against the proposals, it would appear that one was picking one arrangement. However, it may be that the electorate likes neither the proposal nor the fall-back arrangement which is on offer. I confess that I have some difficulty in envisaging how such a referendum, as currently proposed by the Government, would operate.

Amendment No. 198 pursues the point further by proposing that a local authority may not implement detailed fall-back arrangements until it has held a referendum on those arrangements. As I said, that those arrangements were known in outline at the time of a referendum on whether or not there should be a mayor does not seem to me to amount to approval of the fall-back arrangements.

I turn to the amendments which I have tabled to the Minister's Amendment No. 196. Amendment No. 196A is consequential to Amendment No. 196C. Amendment No. 196B seeks to leave out subsection (2)(b) of the proposed new clause which requires the consent of an elected mayor to the operation of different arrangements. I question whether it is appropriate to require a referendum to create the post of mayor and then put the individual who is elected in a kind of self-perpetuating position; that is, whoever is in post as mayor must give consent to the introduction of different arrangements. Amendment No. 196C, which aims to add another provision at the end of the clause, would permit a move to non-executive arrangements. I know the Minister's answer to that point.

I turn to Amendment No. 198A. The Minister's Amendment No. 198 provides at subsection (3) that a local authority which passes a resolution to operate alternative arrangements subsequently may not cease to operate those arrangements. I propose the amendment because I want to ask: why not?

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