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Lord Whitty: My Lords, although I have some sympathy with the difficulty indicated by the noble Baroness, there is a dilemma. It may well be true that people appreciate the non-political nature of the mayor and the presence of the traditional mayor, be it a borough mayor, city mayor or lord mayor, as a ceremonial personage. However, when one asks them about local government, the reason people like the idea of elected mayors, at least at first sight, is that they want someone who has clear executive power. I suspect that, among the population as a whole, most people who are not familiar with local government assume that a mayor does have executive power in some sense. They think of a mayor more in the American or French style than in the British style.

Certainly, if we are to move to a system where directly elected mayors are the executive power, and the title "mayor" is the best way of epitomising that, it is difficult to say that the directly elected person should not be designated "mayor". In those situations where we do move down that road and there is an existing role in the same authority--as a local authority function as distinct from, for example, a charter function--or there is a pre-existing ceremonial mayor, the title would need to be that of mayor or something like it to distinguish those people from the mayor who has statutory functions under this executive structure.

The Government did give some thought to whether "mayor" was the correct title. In the end, we settled for it because it was the obvious choice--indeed almost the only choice. It is used in local government all over the English-speaking world, and similar titles exist in the French-speaking and Spanish-speaking world. I suppose that "Bu rgermeister" is not very different either. In most European languages the title "mayor" has a ring about it. In France, the United States and New Zealand, for example, mayors have similar functions to those envisaged in the Bill for the elected mayor here. If we did not call that person the mayor, we should have to think of some alternative title with a similar ring to it. It has been suggested to me, for example, that "governor" could apply in the counties. In the south of England, "governor" would not convey quite the right message--prestigious though it may be in the United States. No other title has been suggested. The noble Baroness suggested "elected leader". That does not have the right ring about it.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My suggestion was "executive leader".

Lord Whitty: "Executive leader" likewise, my Lords, does not have the same resonance as "mayor".

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If your Lordships accept even three-quarters of my argument--as I am sure you will--I accept that that leaves a problem in relation to ceremonial mayors, if I may so call them. We shall have to find a way--or local authorities may find different ways--of describing the continuing role in those communities. But that seems to me a secondary issue. One has to accept that for those who are lining up to be mayor in the next three or four years it may not be academic. However, it is a secondary issue in terms of the reform of local government that we are trying to put through and the importance of the role of elected mayors in those authorities that choose that system.

I believe that we should stick with the title "mayor". We should accept that an important job is done by ceremonial mayors but that we must find a description which may incorporate the title "mayor" but which will be distinct from the statutory role of mayor under these models. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will not pursue the matter further.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, the Minister is, as always, optimistic when he says that he is certain that we shall accept at least three-quarters of his argument. He began by referring to what people think. Most people do not think about local government, or indeed any government, most of the time. But when they need to know how it works, they are usually pretty canny at finding out. They have no difficulty in distinguishing between the mayor of a borough or city and other people in that borough or city.

The noble Lord referred to lord mayors, whose office is, I believe, governed by charter or statute. It is doubtful that one could ever get rid of that title without a great deal of effort. Perhaps the law which governs the foundation of mayoralties is part of the body of statutes which the Government intend to knock for six in the context of this particular piece of legislation and the powers contained within it. The issue is a secondary one, in the sense that nobody thought about it until the process of legislation began. I suspect that it will be one of those tiresome issues that plague the Minister because insufficient attention has been paid to the obvious problem of what to do with existing mayoralties. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 26:


    Page 6, line 8, at end insert--


("( ) A member of the authority may attend and speak at meetings of the executive as deputy or substitute for a member of the executive by whom the deputy or substitute is appointed but may not vote.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 26 takes us back to deputies and substitutes. My amendment provides that members of the executive may have deputies or substitutes but they may not vote. I raised this issue at Committee stage when the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, said that because the Government were concerned to avoid conflicts of interest no deputation or substitution had been

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allowed. While this amendment would not allow the deputy to vote, it would allow for practicalities: for example, if a member of the cabinet was abroad or ill or, in the interim period before a by-election--if that was how matters proceeded--in the event of resignation or death.

I regard this as an entirely practical matter which would not do any harm to transparency or accountability. I said in relation to an earlier amendment that academics, among others, had analysed and criticised--I use that term in a particular way--the Government's proposals. One particularly well known academic commented that the arguments about transparency and accountability did not appear to create problems at national level when another Minister acted in the absence of the Cabinet Minister. The Minister and the noble Baroness are perhaps in a far better position than I am to comment on that, but I believe it to be a fair point. Executive members are likely to carry a heavy load. I believe that to prevent them from being supported by deputies in the rather modest manner that I propose will not assist them in carrying out their functions. I beg to move.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I rise to give strong support to the amendment. Perhaps I may illustrate the point in a slightly different way. As I am not currently on the Front Bench I draw attention to my own local authority, to which I referred during Second Reading. In Sutton we have 46 Liberal Democrat, five Labour and five Conservative councillors. We have restructured the council to separate the executive and scrutiny functions. We have a 10-member cabinet, although we prefer to call it a strategy committee. Eight of its members are Liberal Democrats; one is Labour and one is Conservative. That is done with all-party agreement. That model and the Government's alternatives were put out to public consultation last summer. The Local Government Association told us that we received what was, at least at that stage, the largest public response that anyone had had. Eighty per cent of the public who responded supported our model, which has been working very well since September. At present we allow substitutes. However, if the Bill is passed, and the regulations are implemented, we shall not be able to do so.

If one of the eight members of the majority party is not present, of course he is missed; he makes a valuable contribution. But it is not the end of the world; there will be seven others of us there. However, as we have decided to adopt an all-party model, supported by all parties and the public in our borough, if one of the opposition members is not present, the voice of the opposition is denied to us.

In Committee, the Minister's reply was clear: we want to separate the executive and scrutiny functions. I understand that. In this amendment, we are providing for someone to attend and to speak--in the instance I cite, to give the opposition view--but not to have a vote. In other words, he does not share directly in the decision of the executive. It may happen occasionally that the voice he gives may not be entirely

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supportive of the majority of the executive. But we believe that it is an important function. Unless deputies or substitutes are allowed to attend and speak, under our model--and I am sure Sutton is not the only place where it occurs--we shall, in effect, deny the opposition party the right to put its view while the cabinet, the executive, considers what it wishes to do.

The opposition party will have later opportunities. It will be able to raise the issue in full council when all 56 of us can have a grand debate. That is not the same. The role that the opposition plays in the executive is valuable. The model has been in place since September, and it works well. We have met fortnightly; it will be every three weeks. Inevitably, there will be times when one of the opposition members cannot attend. Indeed, one member from the Labour Party is working hard to become a member of the assembly; and I am sure working hard for the official Labour candidate. Very occasionally, for some strange reason, he sees that as a higher priority than attending the fortnightly executive meeting. I am sure he will learn the error of his ways soon enough. However, if the Bill were enacted now, the Labour Party would be denied the voice which at Second Reading, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, assured me it would continue to have for as long as it wished.

I hope that the Minister will see the good intent underlying the amendment and will either accept it or assure us that, once the Bill is enacted and the regulations in place, appointed substitutes will still be able to attend and speak at meetings of the executive, although they will not have a vote.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, perhaps it would be helpful if I begin with the issue relating to the role of Ministers on the Government Front Bench. Although there may have been occasions when the combination of noble Lords' interests in this Bill and on potential aspects of the Learning and Skills Bill led to a degree of repetition, as a member of the executive neither the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, nor I were able to go away leaving noble Lords speaking at length on specific matters while Members from the Back Benches sat on the Front Bench. That is the difference. As members of the executive, we have the pleasure of sitting on the Front Bench and hearing all the points of view put forward by noble Lords, sometimes with repetition to add emphasis to their point of view.

Amendment No. 26, dealing with deputising or substituting, is in conflict with our view about the nature of the executive member and the overview and scrutiny committee role. We believe that the position should be clear. Whether the proposed deputy would have a vote, frankly, misses the point. We believe that the clear lines of responsibility are important in this context.

However, having said that, I must emphasise that we believe that it should not be seen as providing for a total separation in terms of the policy implemented by

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the local authority. The executive will wish to take advice from other councillors and they will all come together to determine the policy of the authority. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, in giving his example, saw the scrutiny role always occurring after the event and there being no contact with the executive role. I suspect that with his many years' experience in local government, the noble Lord is well aware of the position taken by minority groups on key policy issues.

We believe that it is important to avoid the possibility of conflicts of interest. We do not see the scrutiny role as being subordinate but see it as being complementary. Therefore, we believe that people's clear view of where the executive decision and responsibility lie would be blurred and damaged by the process which the noble Baroness seeks to introduce in the amendment. I hope that she feels able to withdraw it.


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