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I thought long and hard about moving the amendment today. To an extent, my initial thought was that it should form part of the Bill if the
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First, we have the problem that people are allowed toand willstand for election both as slate members of a Cabinet and as councillors. It is inevitable that they will run for both. If they are successful in getting elected to the Cabinet they will immediately have to resign as councillors. Therefore, as soon as we have had an election, there will be multiple by-elections, depending on the size of the slate. If the turnout in all-out local government elections is low, I hate to think how low it will be for a by-election within three weeks or so of the main election.
The model may well result in the executive being under different political control from that of the rest of the council. I fail to see how that could possibly work. We would not think of running this country under a system whereby we had a Labour Cabinet and a Conservative or Liberal Democrat Parliament. It simply would not work. But this model could foist such a system on to local government. In such a situation a leader and Cabinet could struggle to get their budget past the council, and there could be difficulties regarding their development and local community plans given that both sidesthe executive and the councilmight have legitimate but different political aspirations. That is not a recipe for strong leadership, which I know the Government want. The other solution would be to emasculate the council to the extent that it has no real check on the executive, and local people will then wonder why they bothered electing councillors.
There is a further set of problems with the model. If the leader resigns, becomes ill or dies, the whole Cabinet will have to be re-elected. If one member of the Cabinet disappears for some reason, their work will be spread out among the remaining Cabinet members, thereby increasing their workload, or a by-election for that one place will have to be held. That could result in someone from another political party being elected to the Cabinet. In Committee, the Minister thought that in some circumstances it would be a good idea to have a government of all the talents. After my experiences as a local councillor I find it inconceivable to imagine how a sole person of one party could sit in a Cabinet made up of other parties. How on earth does the noble Baroness think that collective Cabinet responsibility would work in those circumstances?
For all the reasons I have outlined and probably for some more that I have not thought of, we have come to the conclusion that this model is unworkable and really should not be in the Bill. I beg to move.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I have tabled a whole raft of amendments in this groupAmendments Nos. 102, 104 to 106, 108, 119, 123 to 125, 127 and 136each of which would remove from the Bill any
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We had a long discussion in Committee about this proposal, and many of the points that the noble Baroness has raised today were put forward then. But like her, the more I have thought about the proposal since Committee, the more daft it has seemed. It is rather like asking the current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, whether he would stand for election with all his Cabinet at the same time and leave all his MPs shafted, to be elected on their own while he took what he thought was the cream of Parliament for a separate election. Of course, if he did so he would have to do it against the chance that the Conservative Party would do the sameand in the light of all the recent joy, he would probably end up with a Conservative Cabinet and a few Labour Members of Parliament.
The proposal does not make sense. In local government elections, local people will not be asked to vote for a party despite the fact that that is what they do. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, has waxed lyrical about the value of party groups. The electorate vote for a person within a party and that party wins. It is now proposed that, as part of that process, a lump of peopleeither those who are already going to stand as members of the council or a completely disparate and separate groupwill be put forward. One can imagine a leader identifying somebody in the community whom they would like as the Cabinet member for finance and bringing them in. It will not necessarily be someone with experience of local government; it could be someone whom the leader thought was quite outside local government. That person could be brought in and put on top.
If we are not careful about this, we could remove the need for councillors per se. There is a logical progression in these proposals for an elected Cabinet: one could create a smaller system consisting of a leader and a number of people to support him, an election for them, and a shafting of the rest. One can see how it would progress. There is ever less need for a large number of councillors because all the power is being vested in the Cabinet, and the Bill is doing nothing to lessen that. Although the council would have the choice of whether to implement this, I think that it would be the straw that broke local governments back and that it would not do what the Minister believes it will, which is to increase the councils authority. Everyone would be so baffled and bemused by the proposal that they would probably stay at home in droves, and that would give the council no legitimacy at all.
Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I support my noble friend on the Front Bench. When somebody explained to me what was going to happen, I said, That cannot be right. Nobody could have put that into a Bill. They must have got it completely wrong. I still think that that is the case. If you explain to
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I have a specific question. I talked earlier about reorganisation and transitional councils. Can the Minister tell me at what point in the process of a council making the transition from a group of districts to a unitary authority this question would be raised, and how the decision would be made? There is some confusion about that. In Northumberland, those making the two submissions decided that they would go for this option. They thought that they might be able to get their submissions through because the Government thought that this was a good idea. Now they are backtracking like mad after realising exactly what is involved. I would be grateful for that information.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I have a brief point to add to the excellent speeches of my noble friend Lady Scott and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. This is different in kind from other proposals about the internal organisation of councils because this is not fundamentally about the internal organisation of councils but about the method of council election. That is why the dangers put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, stare some of us firmly in the face.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I can see that nothing much has changed over the summer despite meetings and letters, and I cannot say that I am terribly surprised. However, I continue to be a little disappointed by the combination of dire predictions and the fact that the noble Baronesses opposite want to remove choiceand those are the Benches that are always pro-choice. The Government are always accused of not being serious about choice. Here we are trying to offer a third choice of executive model to local government but the parties opposite want to stop us doing so. It is rather paradoxical.
Where did the idea come from? It was not invented by the Government. As we were developing policy around the models last year and the year before, the predecessor to the present Secretary of State, Mr David Miliband, was talking to local councillors and to the council in Stockton. The discussions were prompted by a resolution of Stockton council at its meeting on 14 December 2005 which instructed the chief executive to write to the Minister seeking the Governments support to develop the elected executive model. So the idea came from local government, and it is not a dead issue. The council, in its discussions with officials, is still interested in this model. In all fairness, all we are trying to do is to put this option in the Bill so that councils are able to consider it in the future if they want.
The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, asked at what point in the transition process it will happen. It will happen when the joint implementation committee which will be set up by the order meets to decide how it wants to take the new structures forward.
I ask the noble Baronesses opposite whether they really want to remove choice from the Bill. It is not just Stockton, and it is not an unproven model. As I wrote to the noble Baronesses during the Recess, other countries and regions have this model. It is also not unknown for the sort of mixed political economy which was described also to be in place. In fact, international experience in some parts of the world suggests that it is possible to have an executive controlled by one party and an Assembly controlled by another. It is another model. As we have always said and explained, the model is innovative. Innovations are sometimes challenging in terms of credibility but this model is working in other countries.
The model essentially involves putting powers in the hands of a team. Everyone who is in politics is familiar with the notion of a slate, and slates are constructed for different reasons. This teamthis slate which will stand for election while individual members also stand as individual councillorsembraces the democratic possibilities of being a local councillor while at the same time standing with a body of people who share the same values and skill-set and who can be recommended to the electorate on that basis. That is all I want to say about why the model should be in the Bill as a matter of choice.
The model includes a complete separation of powers between the executive and the front-line councillors. However, I do not regard that as undermining the possibility that front-line councillors will increase the challenge that they pose to the executive. On the contrary, I see it as an opportunity for councillors to pick up a challenge because they would be faced with an executive that has chosen to stand collectively and that presents itself as such. So I do not think that there is a diminution of democratic activity or responsibility.
We have discussed the matter in great detail and I believe that the noble Baronesses predictions are dire in the extreme. If the model was adopted I believe that it would be managed sensibly in relation to, for example, how by-elections are managed and the choices available to the executive about whether to run with a smaller council if people lose their seats or whatever. There is not much to be gained by reiterating the detail. I simply return to the argument that the Bill is about a choice of models and that this is one of the models. The parties opposite insist that we consider whether we want to go down this road. We are offering choice but they seem to be rejecting the opportunity to include this as a choice, and it is paradoxical. I hope that they will reconsider.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments, but I just want to make a few remarks in closing. She has taken us to task for removing a choice. We may have taken a different view about leaving this appalling proposal in the Bill if it had been part of a much wider menu of choice, but the fact is that the Government have limited local authorities to three options. There is a danger that if they are not very keen on two of them, they may choose this one as the least worst without fully understanding just how damaging and difficult it could be.
I am intrigued that the noble Baroness said that because Stockton-on-Tees has put this forward, it has to be in the Bill. Brighton and Hove are desperately keen to keep their current arrangements but the Government have not listened to them, so what does Stockton have that Brighton does not? I am intrigued to know why the wishes of one local authority are considered so important that an entire model is constructed around it. My inquiries show that the proposal does not have the support of Stockton council as a whole, it does not have multi-party support. That is simply not the case. To include a model in the Bill to be one of only three choices on the basis of some conversations with one local authority where not everyone is in support is highly dangerous.
Finally, all the way through debate on the Bill, we have heard that the Government are seeking to create a framework for strong and accountable local authority leadership. The public in an area will have gone out to elect a Cabinet and to elect their councillors. They may find that they are from different political parties. If the budget does not get passed because the Cabinet puts it forward and the council has exercised its right not to pass it, who is accountable then? Who do the public see as having the clear line of responsibility then? That is creating neither strong leadership nor the sort of accountability that the Government seek. From that point of view, I can see this being highly damaging and absolutely not achieving the Government's stated aims.
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