Examination of Witness (Questions 700
TUESDAY 13 JULY 1999
700. You mentioned earlier on the issue of increasing
participative democracy and the importance of doing that. If there
was one change in the Bill as currently drafted that you would
like to see or one addition to the Bill that you would like to
see, what would it be to increase participative democracy?
A. I am going to give a disappointing answer
because I do not think you should legislate for participative
democracy. There are limits to what you can do by legislation.
If you legislate that you have to participate in this and participate
in that, it could become a meaningless formality in the situation.
I think there are one or two points where things could be clarified.
There is some uncertainty about the right of a local authority
to hold a referendum and the Government in its original legislation,
in the first White Paper,
I may be wrong, but I think it said it was going to clarify that.
Sir Paul Beresford
701. Since I am the last one I think the rest
of Committee would echo me in thanking you for your evidence,
particularly for the fact that it has been succinct and to the
point which has not always been the case. The core of your evidence
comes from the very first question onwards in the opinion of the
Committee. You have explained, as we have picked up from other
evidence, that there is enormous variety in England now. Much
of it is meeting many of the problems that the White Paper has
set out to address and what the Bill has set out to do. Should
we look at the three possible alternatives and add a fourth or
more? In which case what should they be, how should they be? Should
we really say do we need the Bill at all?
A. My view is that you need the Bill. I would
have preferred it to have been an enabling Bill to encourage experiments
and what was in fact in the original Hunt Bill. If we have a Bill
I would have wanted to add two, possibly three options. I would
want to add a council manager option just to clarify the position
there because the present Bill is very confused. It says the executive
will be the mayor and the council manager and then it says the
council manager will have the executive powers so there is a contradiction
in the Bill at the moment. The second thing is I would want a
model to allow an executive like Somerset and such things. Thirdly,
I would want either a model or a restraint on the intervention
restraining the Secretary of State from intervening in an authority
where the committee system met certain criteria. In other words,
it was not subject to the faults identified in the paper as being
the reason for changing it, but it would be up to the local authority
to have demonstrated it was meeting those criteria.
Mr Pike: Is there anything, Professor Stewart,
you feel we should have asked you but we have not asked you?
702. May I follow up with a quick point on the
basis you have just answered really that there should be enabling
legislation so that local government should consult and choose
its own forms? Does that not really completely disagree with the
Government's analysis and the reasons it is bringing this legislation
forward? It says that local government is if not in a malaise
is poorly for whatever reasonswe all know the history of
the last 20 yearsand that it is incapable of reinvigorating
itself. Do I take it from your answer to Sir Paul that you basically
disagree with that?
A. I disagree to a degree with that. I think
that local government has shown a tremendous capacity to innovate
and change over the last five to ten years and it goes totally
unrecognised. Part of the demoralisation in local government is
that the people in local government say, "We have been changing
and nobody recognises we have been changing." Not everywhere,
I know that. That is the first reason I disagree to a degree.
I think there is a momentum for change taking place in local government.
But my more fundamental reasonand this might mean I might
give a different answer to Sir Paul in five or six years' timeis
that most of the arguments for and against these new models are
finely-balanced. If you take the elected mayor model, there will
be very good mayors, there will be inadequate mayors. There is
no evidence that it affects turnout. There is some evidence that
it tends to lead to concentration of certain types of activities
and neglect of certain social problems and issues. If one moved
to a situation where, for example, every authority or every large
authority had an elected mayor in a situation where the arguments
are in my view finely-balanced, we could be taking huge risks
in the situation. That is why I believe it was right to a) allow
experiments and b) allow a wide variety of experiments and then
later on see if we have learnt enough from that to your recommending
more responsibility for some of them. I think there will always
be a need for a considerable diversity because of the great diversity
of local government itself.
703. To come back to the question I asked, do
you have a compelling urge to say to us anything more now or have
you had the ability to put all your points?
A. I think I have had the opportunity to put
most of my points. I made a note of some detailed points and I
will leave that note behind.
Mr Pike: Thank you very much. Can I on behalf
of the Committee thank you very much. It has been an interesting
session. We are grateful to you for giving us your time. I declare
the meeting closed.
2 I would add Legislation should also allow councils
to delegate functions to area committees or neighbourhood councils
with representatives of local communities with voting rights as
well as councillors. Back