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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness a definitive timetable in relation to the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill. It should be conducted and completed during this parliamentary Session. Wider consideration would not be instant on Royal Assent to the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill, but it would take place thereafter. I shall see whether I can give any greater clarity on timescale to the noble Baroness, but as of now I cannot.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, that would certainly be helpful because even if we do not take the matter any further in this Chamber, I should be very surprised if my honourable friends in another place, and indeed other honourable Members, did not wish to pursue the issues. To know what the likely timetable will be obviously will assist them considerably. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 18:


(" .--(1) A local authority may make executive arrangements for the discharge of certain of its functions.
(2) Nothing in this Part shall have effect in respect of a local authority not making executive arrangements.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my Amendment No. 18 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 19, 20, 47, 48 and 49. Amendment No. 19 comes from my noble friend on the Liberal Democrat Benches. The amendments are designed to change the ambience of the Bill from one of requiring local authorities to

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introduce executive arrangements by law to making it optional for them to introduce such executive arrangements.

It is perhaps necessary to remind ourselves that the process that has led to the Bill began a long time ago with a White Paper. In the White Paper the Government set out their views on particular matters and their policy. The issue then was what should local authorities do about it. It is interesting that the Local Government Association has now undertaken a survey. One can argue as to whether the consequences revealed in that survey are the result of the White Paper setting out the Government's policy, or whether they are the result of the Government's force majeure which the local authorities can see coming in the form of the Bill. The GLA has constantly pleaded in the past that the Government do not pay sufficient attention to what actually happens when government start announcing policies at local authority level.

The fact of the matter is that local authorities are responsive. This survey reveals that 92 per cent of all authorities have already considered or have in progress a proposal for an executive representational split: 79 per cent of authorities will opt for a cabinet leader; 20 per cent of authorities say they will go for another option, and so on; 32 per cent of authorities have consulted the public; 29 per cent of authorities have already implemented their chosen proposal for political management structures.

When one goes on to the executive: 40 per cent of all authorities will adopt a party executive; and 60 per cent of all authorities will adopt mainly a party executive. Of those that have decided to set up an executive, 35 per cent will have this membership, and so on. That simply reinforces an argument which I have made to the Minister on a number of occasions in the past that local authorities are responsive. If an idea is a good one, they will adopt it. What I find so difficult is that under the Bill local authorities have to adopt executive arrangements. Clauses 9 and 10, together with subsequent clauses, provide for a genus of executive arrangements. Within that there are some species, but they are executive arrangements.

If Clause 9 stands without amendment, the genus of executive arrangements will be mandatory, and any species that survives within the management arrangements of local government will have actually to fit in with the definition of "executive arrangements". That is rather less than fortunate. We have had this argument before as to whether local electors who have a vote, opinions and rights, actually deserve consideration in this sort of arrangement. I think that they do.

If one looks at the pattern of local government across the country one is likely to see a range of arrangements introduced, probably depending very much upon the locality which is considering the matter. I can imagine some of the unitary cities wanting to go for an elected mayor, or even an elected mayor and a town manager. We shall come to that as an issue later on. In the shire areas, where one is dealing not just with a unitary authority, but with a

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county council, a district council, and under that there may be a town council, one has a dramatically different situation. It is the element of compulsion that is implied by Part II of the Bill that I find objectionable. If the Bill had come forward in a form which was designed to give legislative authority to local authorities to permit them to adopt executive arrangements, I would have had little to argue about, certainly on matters of principle, although there might have been points of detail.

There is here an issue of principle which I think is rather less than fortunate in the Bill as it stands. It is with that in mind that I have introduced these amendments.

7 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, we have two amendments in this group. Their effect is similar to that of the amendment moved and the amendments spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. At the previous stage, the Minister was firm in his argument that the Government do not believe in one form of executive arrangement across the board. Despite his protestations about the options that might be available within the three models set out on the face of the Bill, he seemed very much opposed to loosening the constraints in any way at all. I give as an example whether directly elected cabinets should be elected to specific posts or generally.

The noble Lord was concerned that decisions should be clear, transparent and accountable. As a result of the Bill, we will know where the buck stops, but we will be much less clear about how it reached there. The noble Lord also referred to councillors being equal and we have had debates about the role of councillors who are not part of the executive. In these amendments we are not saying that the present committee system is perfect--far from it--but what we are saying is that there should be local choice. It is extraordinarily heavy handed not to allow either the status quo or what has become known as the status quo plus--an improved system but built on the present structures--if that is what, after local consultation, appears to be preferred. That is over-control by the Government.

In addition to Amendment No. 19, we have Amendment No. 56. Clause 32, to which Amendment No. 56 relates, was introduced by the Government as a safeguard to ensure that councils progress to new constitutions at a reasonable pace. At the previous stage the Minister said that the clause does not give powers arbitrarily to require local authorities to hold referendums or to intervene in other circumstances. Amendment No. 19 seeks to put on the face of the Bill that Clause 32 will not be used when a local authority can show that it has carried out proper and full consultation of its local community. In other words, having complied with Clause 33, it should not then be forced in a direction which neither it nor its local community wants to take.

We very much support the thrust of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and, far more importantly, are being made powerfully and loudly on

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the Bill by almost every sector of local government and by commentators, academics and so on. I said at the previous stage--I shall say it again because it bears repetition--that we are sad that the Government have taken one or two steps too far in a Bill where we very much support a good deal of what is being proposed. In particular, we support the powers of well-being in Part I. We are sad that we are forced to part company with the Government when we come to Part II of the Bill. We feel that we must go on pressing for the Government to listen to the voices that are making these points so loudly outside the House.

Lord Laming: My Lords, I wish to speak in support of Amendment No. 20. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will agree with me that the amendment should refer to line 10 and not to line 15 as set out on the Marshalled List.

The Bill has many virtues but they are in danger of being undermined by a greater exertion of central control over local authorities. I have no doubt that the Government wish to see local authorities revitalised and made more effective, but I fear that that will not be achieved by strengthening even further the grip which central government have on local decision making. Nothing could illustrate that better than a Bill which says that local government can decide on any structure that it thinks best to meet local needs as long as it is one of the models that the Government have designed.

Whether the authority is serving a population of 20,000 or more than 1 million, whether it is in a rural area or urban area, inner city or suburban, whether it is a county council or a district council, if the Bill remains unamended, the structure adopted by the authority must conform to a model set out by central government. Even worse, that seems to give local government absolutely the wrong message, because it elevates process over outcome, it confuses means with ends and it sets a performance standard which is administrative rather than productive. I believe that the Government deserve great credit for having introduced a programme of best value which combines value for money with quality of services delivered. That process evaluates impact and effectiveness. It is at the heart of economic regeneration and it is the best way of tackling social exclusion. Therefore, I wish to ask the Minister this question. Would it not be better to continue to say to local government, "Make no mistake, your performance will be evaluated, and therefore we will continue to monitor your effectiveness, but we will do that not so much by how you do it but by what you do and what you achieve with the resources allocated to you"?

As has already been indicated, the amendment is a variation of the "may" or "shall" debate which often takes place in your Lordships' House. It has been the pattern of successive governments to exercise a preference for "may" rather than "shall". Indeed, only a few days ago, in a debate on the Children (Leaving Care) Bill, when some of us pressed the Government to use "shall" with regard to a provision which we felt was very important indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt,

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rehearsed the argument, albeit with great charm, that the Government could never foresee every eventuality and therefore "may" was always to be preferred in the use of language in legislation. We now have the reverse of that. Although, throughout the rest of the clause, "may" is used in almost every provision, in this case the word that is used is "must". That is over- regulation of local government and takes away too much discretion from it about how it should devise a structure for organising its work and its responsibilities for local communities.

In those circumstances, we should not mourn the poor turn-out at local government elections, or express the hope that more able people will come forward to be elected members of local authorities, or ask local government to be more innovative and to show more vigour if at the same time we tie its hands and limit its freedom even to fashion a structure to meet local needs. Furthermore, if the clause remains unamended, it will tie the hands not only of local government but of the Minister. For example, let us suppose that a beacon authority or one with action zones of one kind or another demonstrated that it could do even better with a structure different from that represented in the Bill. If the Bill remains unamended, even in those circumstances the Minister would not be able to approve such a variation. I very much hope that the Minister will see the wisdom of holding to the well-tried use of the language in the Bill and accept the amendment.

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