Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty: As far as concerns the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I understand that we need to be reassured that representatives of local government will be consulted. As she rightly said, this is provided for in various parts of the Bill, particularly in Clause 34(3) and Clause 35(4), where the Secretary of State has to consult before making any order on general principles or on the code of conduct.

Government assurances in this area should be enough for the noble Baroness. However, I am not entirely clear that the provisions in the Bill on consultation will explicitly cover this particular requirement. I shall check on the situation to see whether it would be sensible to specify what is requested on the face of the Bill or in some other relevant place in the Bill. I thank the noble Baroness for her suggestion. Perhaps I may take it away and consider it.

Baroness Hamwee: I am very happy with the Minister's reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Whitty: I have not yet replied to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. I take the points she made. Although there is a definition of "partner"--which some may feel is even more difficult to define--the definition of "household" is not in the Bill. Once again, perhaps the noble Baroness will permit me to take the point away, look at it and perhaps write to her.

Baroness Hanham: I should be grateful.

Baroness Hamwee: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

3 Feb 2000 : Column 375

Amendment No. 359A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 359, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 359 agreed to.

Clause 54 agreed to.

Clause 55 [Interpretation of Part III]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 360 to 361:

    Page 33, line 37, at end insert--

(""co-opted member" has the meaning given by section 34(6),").

    Page 33, line 44, at end insert--

(""interim case tribunal" has the meaning given by section 50(1A),").

    Page 34, leave out lines 1 and 2.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 361A:

    Page 34, line 2, at end insert--

(""member" is to be construed as including the elected mayor, if any, of a relevant authority,").

The noble Lord said: This amendment can be dealt with in a countable number of seconds because we have already dealt with this matter, at least in principle. Clause 55 deals with interpretation, and an elected mayor, to be a member, should be included in the interpretation. I think that we have covered the matter elsewhere. Unless my memory is seriously adrift, I recall discussing this specific issue earlier this week. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: The noble Lord is correct. We passed an amendment to Clause 25 to the Bill which provided that an elected mayor of an authority is to be treated for the purposes of local government legislation as a member and councillor of the authority. I hope that the noble Lord is reassured by that explanation.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 362:

    Page 34, line 12, at end insert--

("(2) In relation to a parish council, the functions of a monitoring officer under any provisions of this Part are to be discharged by the monitoring officer of the district council or unitary county council which is the responsible authority in relation to that parish council; and any reference in this Part to the monitoring officer of a relevant authority which is a parish council is to be construed accordingly.
(3) Subsections (12) and (13) of section (Standards committees or sub-committees for parish councils) apply for the purposes of subsection (2) of this section as they apply for the purposes of that section.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 55, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 62 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 362A not moved.]

Clause 63 agreed to.

Clauses 56 and 57 agreed to.

3 Feb 2000 : Column 376

Clause 58 [Power to specify a scheme for elections]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 362B:

    Page 35, line 11, leave out from ("order") to end of line 13.

The noble Baroness said: This amendment takes us to the part of the Bill dealing with the options for elections, there being a number of schemes. Under Clause 58 the Secretary of State has the power to make orders for schemes for elections under any of the options set out in the Bill.

My amendment seeks some clarification as to what is proposed. Clause 58(2) provides for a council to be specified, either as being,

    "a principal council ... specified by name in the order",

or a council,

    "falling within any description of principal council specified in the order".

I tabled the amendment in order to ask the Minister to clarify how the Government intend to proceed beyond what will be on the face of the Bill.

First, are individual authorities to be able to apply to the Secretary of State to change arrangements on an individual basis? I am interested in how the arrangements the Government envisage will compare with what happened following the Local Government Act 1972, when districts were given the choice to go for all-out elections or elections by thirds; and also, after the reorganisation following the 1992 Act, when unitary authorities were given a choice.

Secondly, I confess that I am unclear as to what that will mean in practice for particular authorities. How should authorities deal with periodic electoral reviews? Some, of course, are going through them at present or will be doing so shortly. Should they be proposing arrangements to fit the current criteria or to reflect the Government's intentions?

Thirdly, I ask the Minister for clarification of the role of the Local Government Commission for England. At present it makes recommendations to the Secretary of State on those issues. What is to be its role in the future?

Finally, how do the Government envisage that the timing of elections for directly elected mayors and cabinets--if there are to be such--will slot in as part of the overall process? The mayor, as we have just heard, is to be treated as a councillor, although for certain purposes that will perhaps be limited. Will the mayor stand for election at the same time as the councillors? Will there be a deliberate attempt to alternate the process? Where does local choice fit in? I hope that the Minister will assist with all those issues. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I gather that the noble Baroness is seeking some clarification of what lies behind Clause 58 rather than pursuing her amendment. The intention of the amendment is to prevent an order under the clause from applying a new scheme of elections to any council falling within a description of councils specified in the order. On the face of it, the amendment would appear to have such an effect, but in practice, it would make little difference to the exercise of that power, since an order could simply list all the councils

3 Feb 2000 : Column 377

by name instead. For example, a provision could be used to specify all district councils in a particular county. Therefore, the amendment does not achieve its intended purpose.

However, the questions that the noble Baroness raised were more substantive. She asked whether local authorities would be able to take the initiative and to apply to the Secretary of State to change to a different scheme of elections. The drafting of the provisions would in no way preclude a local authority or group of local authorities from making a request to the Secretary of State to make an order under those clauses. However, they would not require the Secretary of State to act upon any such request, just as he is not required to comply with requests under current legislation; for example, requests from shire districts wishing to move between thirds and all-out elections. They may certainly take the initiative, but the Secretary of State would not be required to enact their request.

The noble Baroness asked about the role of the Local Government Commission. It will be required to have regard to the frequency of elections when it goes through its process of undertaking a review of the electoral arrangements of any local authority in the normal process. It is our intention that, once an order under Part IV has been made in respect of an authority, it will not then be open to the commission to recommend a different scheme of elections. Clearly, it would not be appropriate for the commission to be able to recommend a scheme different from the one already provided for under such an order.

There is no timetable on the face of the Bill and movement down that road is not necessarily an immediate government preoccupation. Nevertheless, we need those powers to improve the frequency of elections as we move into the reform of local government. It is therefore unlikely that the first batch of mayoral elections following the earlier provisions of the Bill will interfere with the process of changing from one system to another under those clauses.

The noble Baroness asked about periodic electoral reviews. It is clear that the current periodic electoral reviews cannot reflect provisions under the scheme until we move to enacting orders under the scheme. There will not be confusion on that matter in the immediate future. It may be some time before orders are made under the provisions. Nevertheless, it is important that the provisions are in the Bill. I hope that, following that clarification, the noble Baroness will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: I realise that I should have done the Minister the courtesy of explaining what I was going to ask before Committee stage began. I appreciate that my questions are quite detailed. They relate to the need for the local authorities to understand with some certainty what the future holds for them and to be assured that their voice will be heard in the way that it has been--by custom, if not by statute, as the Minister said. The Bill is no different in

3 Feb 2000 : Column 378

that respect, in that the Secretary of State is not required to follow a request from a local authority. However, that kind of matter of course exercises authorities with regard to planning for their future. It exercises individual councillors who need to plan for their future and understand how matters may proceed and how quickly.

I am sure that further questions will arise on the matter. In particular, the interlocking or otherwise of mayoral and council elections deserves a good deal of thought as to what the implications of one arrangement or the other may be. I see that the Minister wants to intervene.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page