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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may take him up briefly on his last point. I shall not go down the road of speculating whether Lady Porter is a good example of what was close to an elected mayor.
The Minister referred to the question of local authorities with no overall control or where there is a tradition of independence, and commented on my amendment. Will he confirm that the Government have made no attempt themselves to come up with an amendment? I am perfectly happy to accept criticism of my drafting, but I should prefer to have drafting from the Government to which we could respond. I am glad to see support being indicated from the Cross Benches.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Government are not in favour of a fourth option. There are a whole range of options under our structure. In so far as we recognise that there may be other options, there are provisions in the Bill. If councils come up with further options which meet our requirements, we are prepared to regulate for them. We are not in favour of a specific fourth option, but in any case I do not believe that the drafting of the amendment confirms to our principles.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, we have had yet another long and interesting debate on this subject. It is right that we should have done so. In my opening remarks I said that we were at the heart of the Bill. The debate on these amendments is at the heart of the principles of the Bill and much more at the heart of the principles of democracy.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about not waiting for London and remarked on the work of Camden Council in that area. Its members came to the completely unanimous conclusion that the arrangements under the Bill would not help them forward much. My noble friend Lord Onslow was quite clear about the reaction of his local authority in Guildford. The noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, came out with the fact that the Joint Committee which considered the draft Bill before it came to the House was also of the view that compulsion was perhaps not the proper way forward.
My noble friend Lady Hanham mentioned the importance of councillors actually wanting to do the work and questioned whether under the new arrangements the job of being a councillor would be as attractive as it has been. The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, gave a good resume of the different systems available in the Bill. I have acknowledged that I have no complaint with any of them. But he did not address the issue of why the Bill has to compel local authorities to make a change. Therefore, I believe that he rather missed the point of the debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said that I seemed to be arguing that London was inspiring. Let us just deal with London. The inspiration that is coming out of the current interest in London has two causes. They are very simple. The first concerns the Government's machinations to try to produce a result that they thought was desirable, if necessary with complete disregard for the views of the members of the London Labour Party. I think that is arrogance of a high order. The second reason that is stimulating interest is the arrival of Mr Ken Livingstone on the scene as a candidate. Apart from the fact that we had a huge Bill, which brought this situation into being, neither of those two facts actually has any general relevance to local government. I agree that they have stimulated enormous interest, but I suspect that the Minister, who is smiling at me rather nicely, would agree that the interest is all of the wrong sort.
The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, rightly raised the role of the staff who work for local government. The changes that will come about as a result of this Bill are not, and cannot be, defined within it and local authorities will have to find a solution to that problem themselves. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, rightly questioned how attractive the role of a scrutineer will be to the electors, and I do not know the answer.
So we come to the Minister. He rightly said, as I did at the beginning, that these amendments go to the heart of the Bill. Of course they do: I do not doubt that. Nothing in these amendments does anything to invalidate any of the proposals that the Government are making--nothing--but these amendments do give local councils and local communities the right to make their own determination on the matter. That is a cause in which I believe in passionately, and it is one on which I think we should test the view of this House.
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.