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Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, on Saturday by chance I happened to meet what might be termed "my Somerville constituency". About 10 of them were involved in local government across the whole range, including a very senior head of an authority, and in every party. They all felt a deep anxiety--I accept that this is a matter of perception--about the prospect of the cabinet system, for the precise reasons just given by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming. A number of people have always regarded local government as a thoroughly worthwhile career, many of them women at home with children who can do that but not other things. They wish to engage in public service without the expectation of much money but with responsibility and an interest in working with people. Those people believe that in future there will not be a place for them in local government, which will become a highly management-oriented business, as it were. I believe that that perception, which was so strong and universal, should be placed on record. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for intervening in a highly specialised debate.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the Government inherited a situation in which local government had been undermined for about 18 years and was fraught with one-party states which they wanted to remove. Therefore, they seek to address that situation in the Bill. I am interested to hear that those on the Government Benches believe that what is now before us in the Bill will encourage the public to
Motivated councillors and officers will work with this structure and probably make it work very well because they are good at adapting. However, the structure will be very divisive for councillors and fairly divisive for officers. As the Government still insist that executives can meet in private, it will not give the public any greater confidence. When the public look at their local councils they are concerned with two matters: first, that they have influence over decisions before they are made. As the Bill is currently drafted, people will not be aware of the decisions and will not have an input until they have been made. The executive can meet in private and make decisions that are not publicised. Secondly, the public care about their council tax. We have already debated the money issues and therefore I shall not go over them again. Under these arrangements there is no power properly to tie the local population in with the way that their councils raise and spend money. Although there may be a few good things in the new structures, as we spend hours debating them we should not be under any illusion that they will make much difference to the public. Without PR and proper financial powers being given to local councils, I do not believe that the public will give much more of a toss than they do now.
Lord Smith of Leigh: My Lords, we are still debating Amendment No. 18 rather than other amendments that come later. The survey quoted earlier shows that the spirit of change that the Government seek to bring about is very exciting to local government. Local government wants to do it. The response is in part to the principle and in part to the Bill, which clarifies the changing powers. As my noble friend Lord Filkin reminded us, the only legal system that operates at the moment comprises a council, a social services committee, an education committee and so on. We have by law to work in that way.
An interesting survey has been cited by noble Lords on all sides of the House. One is reminded of the quotation by Mark Twain about "Lies, damned lies and statistics". I view the response as positive. Ninety-nine per cent say that they are looking towards change, or will change when they see what the Bill states. All local authorities were consulted. Over 85 per cent responded. That is a high rate of response. A clear majority of all local authorities, whether in large cities, rural areas, or county or district councils, want to change; they want to move forward. There will be an anomalous situation in areas where people do not have choice.
Although I might have wished for other choices, there is a wide choice. There are three choices on the face of the Bill. There are options for area committees, a majority party or all-party executive models. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. From his description, his seems an exemplary and perhaps
I am saddened at the misunderstanding, which was exemplified by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, that we are downgrading the work of council members. There is a terrific amount of work to do. Those who believe that it involves only scrutiny are wrong. There will be more time and opportunity for members to represent the people they are elected to represent. If some do not believe that, they should attend some of the many seminars which are being held.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Laming. Measurable outputs are important. However, if I understood the noble Lord correctly, he spoke about outcomes--changing the way in which communities work. That is important; it is what people want. It has been said that people want to see local authorities deliver; in a sense, the argument about the structure is somewhat academic and remote. It is not that people want an elected mayor; they want someone who can deliver. We must give people choice. In his interesting introduction to the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, did not cover the argument about how people would have such choice. If a local authority determined that it did not want to change, how would the people be given the opportunity to say that they want change? We must not deprive them of that opportunity. It is an important principle of this part of the Bill.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, in many respects we are at the heart of the Bill. I regret that the parties opposite seek by these amendments to alter one of the Bill's major provisions. It is one which has led all local authorities to examine their structures, looking to a new way of conducting affairs within local authorities. I could go through each amendment separately but it is probably more sensible to deal with the central issues of principle here.
All the amendments in one way or another seek to alter the requirement on local authorities to come forward with an executive structure. They seek to alter the proposition that we should separate out executive powers of local authorities from those of scrutiny powers. Those are pretty fundamental approaches of the Bill. They are fundamental in relation to the White Paper. They are fundamental in relation to the Joint Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. They are changes in local authorities which, in concept at least, are quite popular in relation to the public as a whole.
It is true that the initial reaction of many local authorities has been negative--although not entirely negative. Virtually all of them in considering the options have seen ways in which they can improve their own structures. Even those who wish to retain what are essentially committee-based structures have
We are debating whether we should remove the central requirement that all local authorities have to move to some form of executive structure. We believe that the range of forms of executive structure is pretty wide. I accept the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that different local authorities will require different structures and that different local authorities have different problems. That is why we have provided a much more flexible structure for local authorities to adopt than the present committee-based structure of the past 100 or so years.
Noble Lords have referred to the 100 councils which have said they want to keep the status quo. Few of them want totally to keep the status quo. But that is interpreted by noble Lords opposite as meaning that local communities want the status quo. Such evidence as we have of the views of local communities is utterly different. We know that not all the structures have been explored and explained properly. We know that in reaching their views the majority of local authorities--I think that it is two-thirds--had not conducted a full consultation exercise with the local communities.
We also know that the evidence indicates that over 60 per cent of people polled are in favour of elected mayors. When they consider it in more detail, they may not be absolutely in favour of elected mayors, but they are clearly in favour of a change to a more executive structure for local authorities than that which exists. They want to know who takes the decisions, who is accountable for those decisions and who will be made responsible at the ballot box for those decisions. They also want their own individual interests to be represented. That is why we provide for a powerful overview and scrutiny committee which will hold that executive to account--whatever structure of executive an authority ends up with--in relation to the interests of the individual electors.
I agreed with much that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, said. He said that we are concerned ultimately with outcome; and indeed we are. We need to place this in the context of best value, as a later amendment indicates and as we have indicated from this Dispatch Box. However, I do not accept that compulsion is getting in the way of innovation. Indeed, I would argue that had we not placed in our intentions in the White Paper the need to move towards a compulsory situation within local authorities, the rate of innovation would have been relatively limited. That is not to say that local authorities have been doing a bad job. It is not to denigrate the activities of local authorities of all parties over the past years. But a
Many points were made during the debate and there was much discussion in the context of the White Paper. Much assessment and many views were presented to the joint committee and they were taken into account in making its recommendations. But the overwhelming view of the electorate and of the Government is that change is necessary. We believe that within the structure of the executive options that we are providing there is enough range and flexibility to meet every size and type of local authority of every political balance and every nature of population. We may be proved wrong. It may be proved that there is another form of executive which will do the job just as well as one which to a limited extent is constrained by the three broad options that we are proposing.
However, we are absolutely convinced that an executive structure is needed and that there needs to be a difference between the executive function of the council and the scrutiny responsibilities of the councillors. If noble Lords believe that we have not provided enough flexibility they can return to the issue at a later stage. However, if they believe that we are wrong to insist on some form of executive being adopted by every council, we have a fundamental difference. I had hoped that we had overcome that issue and that the debate since the White Paper had resolved it. It has certainly been resolved in the eyes of the public. We are looking for local people to be served by an authority for which they have respect, whose decisions they understand and which has clear lines of accountability to the electorate.
We may have a difficulty between the parties. I hope that the amendment will not be pushed to a Division today and that on a later day of the Report stage there will be a little more scope for meeting some of the anxieties expressed today in terms of executive structures, more flexibility and so forth. However, if the noble Lord and the noble Baroness wish to pursue their amendments the Government will have to resist them and would regard it as a serious problem between the parties. That would be most unfortunate because we share much in our view of local government. I hope that we shall not fall out on that.
I repeat that, if the parties opposite take an alternative view, they should not pretend that they are in tune with the people. On this, from what evidence we have, the people are clearly on our side.
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