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Lord Fowler: My Lords, with great respect to the Minister, I set that out in my initial remarksI do not know whether he is trying to delay things. As to
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I have come here to help the Minister. I have tried to get an assessment of his intentions in the legislation. Post-legislative scrutiny could be done at very little cost by a committee in ParliamentI have no particular views about whether it should be a Joint Committee or a Select Committee. I have tried to leave the Government as much flexibility as possible.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. In doing so, perhaps I may take the opportunity to thank all noble Lords from the Opposition Benches, from my own Benches and from the Cross Benches, as well as stakeholders, who have taken the time to make their representations and who have ensured through their enthusiastic and knowledgeable engagement that the Bill has had a thorough examination. This is nothing less than such landmark legislation affecting millions of people deserves.
I should also like to take the opportunity to give a big thank you to the Bill team for their patient explanations and their thoroughly professional approach to the legislation. I know that they probably look forward to the end of this Bill with the same enthusiasm as they look forward to the start of the next pensions Bill.
From the start of the pension reform process, the Government have been determined to achieve change through consensus. I hope that noble Lords will agree that consensus continues to be very much in evidence, notwithstanding our last vote; for example, where we responded to the Houses concerns through concessions on the clarity of policy and drafting for the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority. It is true that there are still areas of the Bill on which there is less consensus, and we will wish to return to amendments made in this House on the financial assistance scheme. Similarly, we will be seeking to change the provisions to introduce retirement income funds as an alternative means of providing retirement income. Finally, although we recognise the strength of feeling on the payment of voluntary national insurance contributions, this is another area that we intend to return to during the other place's consideration of Lords amendments.
We could never expect pension reform to be straightforward. This is a complex subject, and getting a fair and affordable solution demands a careful examination of the issues; but that has not
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I look forward to Royal Assent later this month so that we can get on with implementing these reforms. As a result of the changes, we are proposing to raise payments made by the financial assistance scheme to 80 per cent, ensuring that more people receive more money immediately. My thanks again to all noble Lords who have contributed to the Bills progress through your Lordships' House.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, on behalf of, I hope, the whole House, I thank the Minister very much for his constructivecertainly behind the scenes, not always in front of the scenesapproach to our miscellaneous queries and worries about the Bill. He said that his advisers would look forward to the next pensions Bill. One rather wonders, after some of the speeches we have heard this afternoon, how many of them will still be en poste in carrying the pensions brief. I am sure, though, that that will not apply to the Minister. He says that the House will wish to return to the various amendments that we have passed, but I think, on reflection, that that may have been a slight exaggeration on his part. I am sure that we will forgive him.
Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Oakeshott, I, too, thank the noble Lord for all his patience. We look forward also to the next stage of the Bill. Although the process has not quite finished, we thank him for his patience during this time.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
The noble Baroness said: This is a formidable group of amendments, but they are all about one topic. If the Committee will allow, I shall address the government amendments and the opposition amendments at the same time. I do not believe that the amendments are controversial; indeed, they are enabling. They seek to provide local authorities with greater flexibility in the use of referendums. They will allow them to respond more quickly to their electorate where a referendum has been conducted.
The amendments address an anomaly in the Bill as drafted whereby councillors may have to wait several years before they are able to implement the result of a referendum. Clause 64 allows councils to pass a resolution for change only during their permitted resolution period. Essentially, that means that, where a council has held a referendum for change, it would have to wait until its next permitted resolution period before it could give effect to such change. Given the electoral intervals, that may mean several years.
I am sure that we can all agree that that is not right. The electorate should not have to wait to see the change that they have voted for. Indeed, the council would not want to leave them wondering whether such a change will happen. Therefore, the amendments will allow local authorities to give effect to change more quickly. Amendment No. 148 ensures that, where a referendum has been carried out and the result is positive, the authority has to resolve to change within 28 days.
When we were considering the timing issues that had arisen in relation to referendums and the permitted resolution periods, we felt that it was also an opportunity to provide greater clarity about allowing councils to make their proposals for change subject to a referendum. As such, we decided to include this in the Bill. Amendment No. 138 does that. It allows councils, when drawing up a proposal to change, to make it subject to a referendum.
The Committee will be aware from the 2000 Act that it was a requirement for mayors to be appointed, but only subject to a referendum. The Bill before us replaces those provisions and removes that requirement, but puts in place new arrangements for referendums which extend opportunities for them to be held in the way that I suggested. Now a local authority is able to choose to make its proposals for any change subject to a referendum. The 2000 Act also allowed local citizens to petition for referendums. This Bill leaves those provisions completely intact and indeed extends them to allow for the new models that we discussed yesterday, as introduced by the Bill. That is achieved by Amendments Nos. 160 and 161. Obviously, this is about providing greater flexibility and choice for local authorities and the electorate.
Clause 64 puts this into effect for making change, and the proposals for change are made under new Section 33E. Amendment No. 138, as I mentioned before, will allow councils, in making a proposal for change, to choose that change subject to approval in a referendum. They will have that choice in all circumstances.
Amendments Nos. 139, 141, 146, 147, 148, 186 and 187 are all consequent to this principle. They are all
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If the authority were operating a mayoral model but resolved, after a referendum, to move to an elected executive, the appropriate election of councillors would take place on the day on which the next election of the mayor was due to take place.
I have already explained why it is important for an authority to be able to move as quickly as it can to a new model agreed in a referendum. Such a change can also result in the first election under the new model being out of sync with elections for that class of authority. I will give one illustration. I know that this is slightly complicated because we are talking about different timescales, different models, different relationships between the electoral year and the mayoral election and whatever. I wish that I had an overhead projector, but in the absence of that it is better that I promise to write and set all this out, because verbally it is difficult to follow.
One example will explain what I mean. If a referendum in a London borough in June 2008 resulted in support of a mayor, the council would be required to pass a resolution 28 days later, in July 2008. If it was previously operating a leader and cabinet model, the mayor would be elected in October 2008. Subsequent mayoral elections would be due to take place four years later, in October 2012, but the problem is that all other local elections in London would be in May 2014. Having the mayoral election in October 2012 but all other councillors elected in May 2014 would be confusing. Amendments Nos. 186 and 187 mean that that can be avoided, by allowing the Secretary of State to extend the mayors first term so that the mayoral election could happen at the same time as the election of the councillors for the borough, in 2014. It is sensible just for that one process.
When the governance arrangements have been put in place as a result of a referendum, a further referendum is required to change that model. Under Amendment No. 151, there are two cases in which a change in governance arrangements is subject to a referendum. We insert new Section 33L to make that clear. The first case is when the governance model that the authority is already operating has been put in place as a result of a referendum. In such cases, any subsequent change must be done by referendum. The second case, which I have addressed already, is when the local authoritys proposal provides for a change to be subject to approvalthe choice model. That
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Opposition Amendments Nos. 138A, 147A, 138B to 138E, 159A and 159B, 187A and 187B attempt to do different things. Amendments Nos. 138A and 147A would require that any change to governance arrangements was subject to a referendum. Amendments Nos. 138B to 138E would require councils to place information about proposed changes in governance arrangements on their websites. Amendments Nos. 159A and 159B would put a bar on an authority resolving to change its governance arrangements in the six months before the date of the ordinary elections. Outside that period, councillors will be free to make such a resolution at any time. Amendments Nos. 187A and 187B are about how we might use powers to make incidental or consequential provisions in relation to the term of office of any member of any form of executive in the intervals between the relevant elections.
We cannot accept Amendments Nos. 138A or 147A, which would require a referendum in every case of change, because that would cut across the idea of councils as being democratically elected bodies that are well placed to lead their communities and take the difficult decisions. I am not saying that direct forms of democracy do not have their place; indeed, we provide them by extending the referendum opportunity, but they cannot supplant all decision-making by those elected.
While we have some sympathy with Amendments Nos. 138B to 138E as regards making information widely available, they are unnecessary as there is already a comprehensive regime for access to local authority information in the Local Government Act 1972. Specifically, new Section 33E to the 2000 Act, inserted by Clause 64, makes specific provision about how a local authority must make available its proposals for governance change. I am sure that local authorities will use all the technologies available, not least their websites. I believe that we can confidently leave that to councils.
Amendments Nos. 159A and 159B seek to replace the concept in Clause 64 of the permitted resolution period. This concept is that councils should be able to consider governance matters only during a limited periodthe permitted resolution periodunless there is a referendum for change. We agree that this period should not be too close to an election. We think that a resolution changing governance arrangements should take place at least four months away from the electionsnew Section 33Q provides for that. We believe that that is sufficient. However, we do not agree that, outside this limited period prior to an election, it should be possible to make resolutions about governance changes at any time. We think that that is a recipe for instability. We seek to avoid governance changes becoming part of the normal processes of democratic engagement. For example, when there is dissatisfaction with an elected mayor, the normal democratic process is to vote that
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On Amendments Nos. 187A and 187B, I indicated when I spoke to government Amendments Nos. 186 and 187 how we might alter the term of members, including a mayor of an authority, to line up in the way that I suggested. I believe that that is the most sensible way to proceed.
I am very conscious that these are complex issues. I am very happy to give Members of the Committee examples in writing, which I think might help. However, I hope the noble Baroness will now feel able to withdraw the amendment. I beg to move.
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