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Clause 66 concerns giving councillors a fair deal for the amount of work that they put in. I welcome it from that point of view. For a long time councillors have suffered the jibes of whoever was in opposition whenever it was proposed that there should be an increase in allowances. If there was a change of administration then the boot was placed quickly on the other foot. The rise of independent panels which suggest a fair rate of allowance, not dependent on attendance, is a step in the right direction.
However, I am afraid that Amendment No. 264, which addresses pensions, is probably a step sideways because it singles out executive members for special treatment. Throughout the passage of the Bill, the Minister has been at pains to tell us that other members of the council--the non-executive members--are equally important and will fulfil important roles. Certainly, one can imagine that the chairmen of the overview and scrutiny committee or committees, depending on how many there are, will have their work cut out. If they are doing their work properly, they should have no less an arduous task than the members of the executive. Although they are not making decisions, they are formulating policy and checking up on those decisions. Much of the time they will be the interface with the public which the executive members probably will not be under the models that we have heard described. Therefore, are they not entitled to pensions? If not, I wonder whether the
I believe that there are a number of reasons why the decisions as to who should receive pensions will be left quite rightly to an independent panel, which will be set up locally. However, that panel should have the freedom to look at all the members of the council equally and to decide whether or not a particular post merits a pension. It should not be on the face of the Bill that executive members can receive pensions and other members cannot.
I should also like to support briefly the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, because I believe that parish councillors are another group of people who often give up substantial amounts of time, particularly the chairmen of parish councils and town councils. As a result, they are frequently out of pocket. Not only have they given up their time but they spend their own money attending meetings, and so on. It is becoming difficult to secure democracy on the cheap. We are in an age when we should not expect democracy to depend on whether or not people can afford to pay their own money. There will never be a representative cross-section of society if we depend on that.
Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to solve my problems with his Amendment No. 264 and that we can see some equity in the way that councillors are treated, particularly with regard to pensions.
Baroness Thornton: I too wish to ask a question on Amendment No. 264. Of course, I must lend support to my noble friend Lord Graham whom I regard as our shop steward in these matters in any event. In that case, what else can I do but support him?
The amendment addresses itself to allowances and pensions. The draft regulations address themselves to remuneration panels which are not mentioned in the amendment. Should the Bill not be clearer about the role of remuneration panels in setting the allowances? The local government White Paper said that every council should have such a panel and that the Government would consider proposals in relation to making changes to allowances. They said they would deal with that. But it is not clear on the face of the Bill that those arrangements will be put in place. Therefore, I seek clarification about that link which seems to be missing.
Lord Murray of Epping Forest: My noble friend Lord Graham is too modest to expatiate on his own modesty. Perhaps I may underline the modesty of the amendment proposed. For example, the noble Lord could have referred to telephone bills. He has not done so. He has confined the amendment to dealing with travel expenses. I emphasise to the Committee that that would not cost central government one penny. It would cost local electors a few coppers, but a very few coppers. I am sure that they would not begrudge that
Baroness Hanham: Will the pension schemes and superannuation schemes run by local authorities be authorised to pay pensions to members? If not, the schemes will have to be self-funded and self-financing on an annual basis. If we are not careful we shall encounter the same problems as those encountered by the police with their self-funding pension schemes.
Lord Tope: As suggested by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, I rise to speak on Amendment No. 265A and shall attempt to do so in the co-ordinated fashion promised by my noble friend. The effect of the amendment would be to remove the power of the Secretary of State to specify maximum rates for travel and subsistence allowances for councillors. That power is something of an anomaly these days because there are no longer any government-imposed limits on local schemes of allowances, subject to the provisions in this Bill relating to an independent panel.
That is a real issue and a real problem but it is an anomaly because the operation of government-imposed maximum rates has presented practical difficulties for local authorities and particularly for individual councillors for many years. Typically and inevitably, maximum rates for overnight accommodation do not keep pace with the prevailing rates in major cities and particularly in London, Europe's most expensive city--of which I see the noble Lord, Lord Smith, has some experience--which many councillors must visit when attending Local Government Association meetings. Those maximum rates do not keep pace with the prevailing rates and that often results in members being out of pocket when staying away from home on council business.
Similarly, it is nonsense that central government these days should specify maximum rates for councillors' meals; namely, how much councillors may be allowed to claim for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Councils are now multi-million pound businesses and really should be given the power and authority to determine reasonable amounts for such allowances. That is an anomaly and I hope that the Government will now take this opportunity to correct it.
I turn now to Amendment No. 264A. I assume that it is in order for me to seek to amend an amendment to which the Minister has not yet spoken. I shall do so anyway. It relates to a subject which has been dear to my heart for years and years in local government; that is, cycle allowances. I say immediately that if this amendment is passed, it will be much too late for me but it will be in plenty of time for many others.
Members of your Lordships' House may be paid a cycle allowance. I have no doubt that many of your Lordships claim it regularly. Members of the other place may be paid a cycle allowance. Employees of local authorities may all be paid a cycle allowance, if appropriate. The one category of people who may not lawfully be paid a cycle allowance is that of elected councillors. That is ludicrous. Many councillors of all
Many councillors use bicycles as their preferred means of transport and sometimes as a means of demonstrating in a practical way what they advocate that their councillors and local residents should be doing. However, they are in effect penalised for doing so. Were they to use a car, they could be paid a reasonably generous mileage allowance. Because they choose to use a cycle, which is much more environmentally friendly, they cannot be paid an allowance. I do not claim that, if we were suddenly to receive cycle allowances, all councillors would take to their bicycles. Sadly, I fear that that is probably not the case. However, it is clearly an anomaly that they cannot be paid anything.
I have raised this on a number of occasions over the years. The answer I have received from successive governments is that they recognise this to be an anomaly but it needs primary legislation to correct it. This is our opportunity. We have the primary legislation. It is a small amendment and one which would correct an obvious anomaly which singles out councillors for no apparent reason.
In the past, governments have been able to say that that cannot be done because it needs primary legislation. Now we have this opportunity, I hope the Government will take it. If they choose not to do so, now and in future they will have to explain to councillors and others why they are singling out councillors as being unable to be paid cycle allowances. I do not think this Government--or, for that matter, the previous one, but certainly this one--would wish to do that. Therefore, I feel rather more optimistic than usual when moving or speaking to an amendment that we shall receive a positive response. Both amendments are fairly minor but significant in their consequences. I hope the Government will consider them and feel able to respond positively.
Lord Smith of Leigh: I should like to speak to Amendment No. 264 and Chapter 15 of the draft regulations. Both provisions seek to recompense people who serve their local communities. I agree with my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton, who referred to people who work at parish and town council level who equally try to serve their public.
I agree with the statement in Chapter 15 which suggests that we abolish the attendance allowance for local councillors. My own council did that last year on the advice of an independent panel which made a recommendation on pay. However, I suggest to my noble friend the Minister that there are occasions when an attendance allowance may be required. There are a number of occasions in my council when we expect groups of councillors to make quasi-judicial decisions on matters such as applications for village greens. Such matters can last over several days or weeks when people give evidence and so forth. We expect small groups of members to attend. I hope that perhaps we can consider recompensing the members who act on those occasions.
I support the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, concerning pension rights. The Bill as drafted differentiates between executive members and other members of the council. The provision recognises that people who serve on large authorities make sacrifices as regards their career and pension rights. That could be true whether people are serving at executive level or even senior levels. Certainly those who have played a lead in the scrutiny roles of local authorities will be equally busy as executive members. I hope that that matter will also be considered. We are not asking for them to receive pension rights but for the independent panels which will be set up to review that point.
I support the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that, when setting rates for local councillors, departments do not always upgrade them in line with inflation. Certainly, hotel prices in London are somewhat more than I am able to claim as a local councillor from Wigan.
The one thing that is different these days is that, if one travels by Virgin trains, one no longer pays for food. We may arrive late, due to sheep on the line or numerous other excuses, but we are provided with free food. That food may not be worth eating: certainly some of the meals I have had were not worth eating. In an earlier comment, a reference was made to making meals with one's partner. I believe I am booked in for next Wednesday; that is my earliest engagement in that regard.
On a more serious note, there may be occasions when councils need to recompense non-executive members who are putting a lot of work into quasi-judicial work on the council, which the Government recognise is an important role. Secondly, perhaps we can consider extending pensions beyond executive members. We would be grateful for that.
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