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The policy in Amendment No. 264 arises from the document Local Leadership, Local Choice, referred to earlier in the debate. There are basically two limbs to the policy; it is proposed, first, that the attendance allowance should be abolished because in many cases it represents a perverse incentive; and, secondly, that there should be other changes, including making the payments to some councillors pensionable, aimed at recognising the role that they play and the expenses they incur.
In order for that to be implemented and to prevent some of the political and internal problems that arise from payment of allowances and pensions, each council is required to establish an independent panel to make its recommendations on allowances and pensionability. Changes to an authority's allowance scheme should only be made after recommendations have been made by such a panel and an authority may only decide that a member's allowance shall be pensionable if that panel so recommends.
Furthermore, the amendment gives the Secretary of State the power to issue statutory guidelines to underline those arrangements. The bulk of the policy will be delivered in regulations made under this clause. Those will be detailed arrangements which will need to change from time to time in accordance with the approach under current regulations.
Finally, the amendment clarifies the ability of councils to make payments to councillors who necessarily incur expenditure on the care of children or other dependants in the course of their duties as councillors. I know that that provision will be widely welcomed. It is therefore a whole new system introducing an independent panel, which a number of councils have already adopted, and a new system of defining who shall be paid allowances and what payments shall be pensionable.
In relation to each of the amendments, perhaps I should start with the good news. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, so bowled me over with his enthusiasm for the bicycle that I accept--wearing my integrated transport hat--that there is an injustice in this regard and that we should look at it. I hope he will accept that I will take the matter away and consider how best we can remedy the anomaly. If we were to make a concession in that area, then I hope the noble Lord will consider whether or not it can apply to him.
Baroness Hamwee: I wonder whether I can suggest to the Minister--I do not know whether my noble friend made this comment having himself in mind--that, if this amendment were to be incorporated in the Bill, we should make sure it refers to "cycles" rather than "bicycles" because tricycles ought to be the subject of allowances as well.
Lord Whitty: I shall need to take advice on that point. I suspect that there will not be an enormous implication for public expenditure if we relate it to tricycles; nevertheless, we shall need to consider it.
However, I am afraid that I cannot be quite so forthcoming as regards the other amendments in this group. Perhaps I may, first, address Amendment No. 264, which would give the Secretary of State the power to limit the number of councillors in any authority who may receive a special responsibility allowance. I believe that all this will be wrapped up in relation to the independent panel. Without passing judgment on any particular council that has been mentioned, I appreciate that there is an identified problem here in that some authorities seem to pay this allowance to a rather large proportion of their members. I believe that the independent element in the system will take care of such anomalies and potential abuses.
I turn next to the amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Graham which relates to parish councils. I take note of some of my noble friend's points in this respect. Of course, a parish council may pay its chair an allowance to meet the expenses of his office and parish councillors are entitled to travel, subsistence and
As regards Amendment No. 265A, tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the Committee may recall that the White Paper committed the Government to a review of all current rules on travel and subsistence, as well as on compensation, for co-optees. The Government are attracted to the proposition from the noble Baroness that we should not be in a position to set ceilings for travel and subsistence. We believe that the method of determining allowances should very much be a matter for local decision, based on the independent panel. We need a thorough review, as envisaged by the White Paper. We do not wish to pre-empt that review; but, nevertheless, the objectives of the proposed new clause will be taken care of in that review.
A number of other points were made in relation to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, as regards clarifying where remuneration should be available, and in relation to the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Thornton on the role of remuneration allowances and panels. I believe that the amendment we have already brought forward clarifies much of that area of policy. Nevertheless, with the agreement of noble Lords, I should like to consider further the various points that have been raised in that respect to see whether the powers would permit a rather different policy to be implemented. If the Committee will bear with me, I shall consult certain people on allowances and return to the matter at a later stage of the Bill's proceedings.
Allowances within councils are a fairly emotive subject, but this is not something that has affected me very directly in recent years. There are some serious problems to be addressed, some of which need to be addressed in our review. I hope that I have said enough to convince the Committee that their particular concerns will be taken care of in the course of that review under the new system. I trust, therefore, that they will not press for changes--
Lord Graham of Edmonton: Before my noble friend the Minister sits down, I should like to say that I am grateful for what I would call a glimmer of light and hope in that he is prepared to look at the matter. However, I hope that he will bear in mind the infinitesimal sums of money that the public will bear. As my noble friend Lord Murray said, what we want is the sanction, the right: we want the words that will enable the local council to reimburse people their bus fare. We are not talking about thousands of pounds of allowance and we are not talking about paying massive hotel bills. We are talking about ordinary little
I have not had the pleasure of serving on a parish council: mine was the London Borough of Enfield, of which I had to honour to be leader in the 1960s. It is a different world. People who serve on parish councils are entitled to equity and justice. They do not want payments or allowances. They want to be reimbursed for the cost of a bus fare. I am grateful that the Minister is prepared to reconsider the matter. I hope that he will recognise that he could bring enormous satisfaction to thousands of people who at present cannot legally claim their bus fares when attending meetings on behalf of their communities.
Baroness Hanham: I hope that the Minister will answer the question I asked; namely, whether, as members had not contributed to the superannuation pension funds of local authorities, they will be entitled under legislation to receive pensions out of those superannuation funds, which are largely for the staff?
Lord Whitty: It is intended that they would be paid through the local government scheme. Therefore an employer contribution would need to be paid in respect of those individuals who would be pensionable under the new service. It may be helpful if I write to the noble Baroness explaining the matter in more detail.
Baroness Hamwee: This is a difficult area. The exchange of views that has just taken place reminds me of the problems that have arisen with regard to the Police Service and the Fire Service where pensions comprise an enormous part of an authority's budget. There are important issues with regard to who has contributed to the pensions which have to be paid.
Much of what the Minister has said is welcome. I am particularly glad that we appear to have made some progress on behalf of those who use cycle transport when carrying out their duties. It seems to me that a number of the points that have been made should be capable of being taken forward without waiting for the review. I refer to the upper limit on expenses in this regard. I shall not ask the Minister to respond to that point now. However, I leave him with the thought that there may be many areas where local authorities resent the interference of central government with regard to issues connected with allowances, expenses and other such matters. To be able to look to central government to take a decision on these matters away from the "heat" of a particular local authority--clearly that would happen under the arrangements which are proposed--would be welcome. If such an arrangement could be put in place quickly, in particular in regard to expenses, that would be welcomed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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