HL Deb 13 July 1994 vol 556 cc1845-76

4.45 p.m.

House again in Committee on Schedule 1.

[Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 not moved. ]

Schedule 1 agreed to. Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Convener and depute convener]:

The Earl of Minto moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 3, line 2, at end insert (", and in the case of an equality of votes the convenership shall be determined by lot as between those who received an equality of votes.").

The noble Earl said: The purpose of this amendment is to make it clear from the outset that in an election of the convener of a council the convenership shall be determined by lot in the case of a tied vote for such office.

Section 3(1) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, which this Bill repeals, mentions specific provision for the situation in which there is an equality of votes in the election of a council's chairman and requires the drawing of lots. Schedule 7, paragraph 5(ii) of the 1973 Act, which is not repealed by the Bill, provides for the person presiding at the meeting of the council not having a second or casting vote where there is an equality of votes in the election of a councillor to any particular office or committee, in which case the decision is by lot.

I suggest that it is preferable to follow the example of the draftsmen of the 1973 Act and to make it clear in the legislation that, in the case of equality of votes in the election of a chairman of a council, at any time the election shall be determined by lot. I believe that explicit provision for a solution to this matter should be made on the face of the Bill, rather than having to refer back to a general provision in the earlier Act.

This is a simple amendment and I hope that it will find favour with the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I support the amendment. The justification is that Section 3(1) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 makes special provision for the situation in which there is an equality of votes in the election of a council chairman and it requires the drawing of lots. I must admit that until I saw the amendment tabled in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Minto, I had thought that that was the done thing because it has happened in a number of cases. It happened in Falkirk and it certainly happened a couple of times in Cumbernauld and Stirling. Therefore, I agree with the proposal.

It is preferable to the prolonged methods that were used and suggested otherwise. As long as there was agreement that that is the right way to proceed, it was reasonable. Therefore, for the sake of efficiency in local government, I hope that the Committee will support the noble Earl's amendment.

5 p.m.

The Earl of Balfour

As Amendments Nos. 26, 26A and 27 are grouped together, I should like to speak now to Amendment No. 27. But, with great respect, I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Minto, will have an opportunity to speak to Amendment No. 26A because I do not believe that he has yet done so.

Perhaps I may deal now with Amendment No. 27. This is a unique occasion for me because it is the first time in all the times that I have tabled amendments to various Bills that I have received support from other noble Lords. I take this opportunity to thank the noble Lords, Lord Hughes, Lord Kirkhill and Lord Mackie of Benshie, for their support.

Before the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland, there were a number of Royal appointments in Scotland: for example, the Lord Lyon King of Arms, the Lord Advocate and the Lord Provost of certain Royal burghs. I believe that the title Lord-Lieutenant goes back several centuries. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has also studied the position of Lord Provost. He was Lord Provost of Dundee. He knows something about the ancient royal boroughs which had a royal charter.

To bring us more up to date, lieutenancies in Scotland are appointed by the Reserve Forces Act 1980 (c.9). The special position of the Lord Provost of a city, being by virtue of his office the Lord-Lieutenant of that city, is covered by Section 131 of that Act.

I shall quote the relevant parts of Section 131 as it will read, as amended by paragraph 119 of Schedule 13, which is to be found at page 210 of the Bill.

Subsection (1) will state: Her Majesty… shall appoint a lord-lieutenant for each area of Scotland; and… may appoint lieutenants for each area of Scotland". Your Lordships can read subsections (1A) and (1B) on page 210. Subsection (2) of the 1980 Act states: The Lord Provost of the cities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow shall by virtue of his office be lord-lieutenant for the district of the city concerned and Her Majesty may appoint lieutenants for each such district". Subsections (3) and (4) are being repealed. Subsection (5) will state: In this section, 'area' does not include the cities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow". Personally, I should not object to the chairman of a council constituted under Clause 2 being called "provost". But in the past, a provost has usually been associated with being the elected chairman of a town or borough and not the rural area of a county or district.

However, as only four cities in Scotland have their own elected councils, I do not believe that Her Majesty or Her Majesty's councils should ever be placed in an awkward position by another local authority choosing the title of Lord Provost for its chairman.

This amendment is designed to remove any doubt which may exist in the future and to preserve in statute the very special and, I believe, unique position of the chairman of a city council being both Lord Provost and Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of a particular city.

Lord Hughes

I support what has just been said by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour. One of the other supporters of the amendment is my noble friend Lord Kirkhill who was Lord Provost of Aberdeen.

It is interesting to note that in this century, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee have had Lord Provosts who were in this House. It is extraordinary that Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, as far as I know, has never had a Lord Provost who reached this House, although there was a very distinguished Lord Provost who became Member of Parliament for an Edinburgh constituency. He was Lord Provost Darling of whom it was said that he knew that he was very well known in Scotland but he did not realise how well known he was in England until he got off the train at King's Cross station and was greeted by charming ladies who said, "Good evening, darling".

I looked at the 1973 Act which reads exactly the same as the present Bill, except that it includes the words: with the consent of the Secretary of State for Scotland". I know that in later miscellaneous legislation in about 1990 those words were taken out. The argument was that the Secretary of State did not think that it was proper that he should tell a local authority what it should call its chairman.

I was tempted to add the words in the 1973 Act, but I reached the conclusion that as there are so many parts of this Bill in which the Secretary of State is taking powers to tell local authorities what they should do, it was not for me to give him yet another opportunity to do so. The amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, which states "other than 'Lord Provost'" asserts the situation without giving power to the Secretary of State.

The argument advanced that the Secretary of State did not want to tell the local authorities what they should do does not gel with the general picture, because he is telling the four cities what they must do: they must call their civic head a Lord Provost. Of course, I am quite certain that none of the city councils will object to that provision.

The wording seems to indicate that the Government's. intention is that the title of Lord Provost should be confined to those four cities. But will it be possible to carry out that intention if the Bill gives authority to any other council to call its civic head by any title that it chooses? Will the Minister assure me that he is satisfied that the Bill as it stands will prevent any other council calling its civic head "Lord Provost"?

The noble Earl, Lord Balfour, referred to the use of the word "provost". If one looks at Whitaker's Almanack, it will be seen that, with one or two exceptions where the council has not given any information as to what it calls its civic head, the ones under the city have either chosen the title of provost or convener. Basically, where the authority is predominantly a burghal area provost was chosen and where it is a county area the word convener has been chosen, There are two exceptions to that and, strangely enough, they are both in Tayside. Perth and Kinross, which is. definitely county, calls its civic head provost and Angus. which is a very proud county title, also calls its civic head provost. However, in all the other areas, the title was convener.

Therefore, at present, the title of Lord Provost is used only in the four cities. If the Minister is not prepared to accept the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, I hope that he will assure us that the Government believe in powers to stop other authorities using that title. I hope that they will not say at the end of the day that Lord Lyon King of Arms is the man who can stop the others. I believe that he has already had to intervene in a case: where someone was using an improper title. Incidentally, I was speaking to Lord Lyon when he received that information. do not necessarily believe that it was related to Lord Provosts; indeed, it may have been something which had nothing to do with civic titles. As I said, I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment so that the matter is placed beyond any doubt. However, if he does not accept the amendment, perhaps he can given Members of the Committee the assurance that the title will be confined to the four cities.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

I support the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and the noble Earl, Lord Balfour. At present, the wording of the Bill seems to me to be highly ambiguous and would leave it open to other authorities to aspire to call their leader the Lord Provost. I do not know how apocryphal the story is, but I am reminded that for many years. Perth had a. Lord Provost along with the other four cities. The story goes that Queen Victoria, while travelling from London to Balmoral by train, often used to leave her sleeper and get off at Perth in the early hours of the morning to have breakfast in the station hotel. On one occasion, perhaps feeling a little sleepier than usual, she inadvertently referred to the welcoming provost of Perth as "My Lord Provost". He was not slow to take advantage of that royal slip of the tongue. I do not believe that we want future slips in that respect. Therefore, we need clarity on the matter.

Lord Kirkhill

I intervene because if anyone in Aberdeen found out that I had not spoken in the debate, I would probably be hung, drawn and quartered, or whatever the modern equivalent of that particular phrase may be, when I returned to the city. I must apologise to the Minister for not being present at Second Reading or indeed at any earlier Committee stage. However, I believe that the Minister knows that I have certain responsibilities in the Council of Europe. That means that my attendance here is sometimes of a sporadic nature.

I support the remarks made by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, and the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. I should especially like a reassurance from the Minister that the Bill as drafted does mean that only the four cities will be able to call their civic head Lord Provost. In my view there are two principal reasons why a distinction needs to be made. First, there is the historic reason. Traditionally, citizens of the four principal and main cities want that area of demarcation and, if you like, embellishment for their civic head; indeed, it is part of the tradition of those four cities. Secondly, there is the question of the lieutenancy which is involved in the case of each of the Lords Provost.

Perhaps I may be anecdotal for a moment. During my four years in office in the City of Aberdeen between 1971 and 1975, on certain occasions I found that I might spend almost one week on lieutenancy duties. In part, that was because Her Majesty is frequently within the city boundary of Aberdeen because of the proximity of Balmoral. However, there is very much more to it than that. For example, foreign embassies in London constantly got in touch with one because one was Lord-Lieutenant of the major city, and so on. I need not develop that point, because I am sure that Members of the Committee will get the thrust and the impulse of my remarks. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, said all that can be said on the matter. I give general support to the amendment of the noble Earl.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I always admire the meticulousness with which the noble Earl carries out his research. His reasoning is impeccable. The amendment is easy to understand and, I believe, has the support of the whole Chamber. The Minister now has the chance to accept his noble friend's amendment which is a very simple one. Indeed, he does not need to give any other assurance: all he needs to do is to accept the amendment. However, if he does not accept it, he will arouse great suspicions in my mind as to his motives. I trust that the Minister will be able to allay those suspicions, which are not of a nice character, by accepting the noble Earl's amendment.

The Earl of Minto

With the leave of the Committee, I am afraid that, due to the length of the debate on the Statement, I completely forgot about the groupings. I therefore failed to move Amendment No. 26A.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alport)

I must remind Members of the Committee that we are discussing Amendment No. 26 at present.

The Earl of Balfour

Perhaps I may point out to the noble Earl, Lord Minto, that the three amendments are grouped together. With the greatest respect to the noble Earl, I must remind him that he now has a chance to speak to his amendment, but it is not a question of moving it at the moment.

The Earl of Minto

The noble Earl is very kind to have clarified the position I am most grateful to him. The object of Amendment No 26A is very simple indeed: it is to ensure that it is not a question of choice but that it is a question of certainty that the council, shall make provision for—

  1. (a) the duration of the term of office (which may not extend beyond the next ordinary election of the council);
  2. (b) the procedure for early removal from office, of the convener and the depute convener"
who would be elected under the terms suggested in Amendment No. 26.

Lord Hughes

Following on from the remarks made by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, on the Lord Provostship, I should have said that I also wanted to support the noble Earl, Lord Minto, on Amendment No 26 Incidentally, in the unlikely event of the Minister accepting the amendment, perhaps he will ensure that the spelling of "convenership" agrees with the Bill and reverts to the Scottish spelling instead of this bastard English term.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, was anecdotal as I now propose to be There was an occasion way back in 1947 when the Lord Provost of Dundee died in office and another Lord Provost had to be elected by the council When the Lord Provost was not in the building, the chair was occupied by the senior bailie. Two candidates were nominated for the position: one by the organisation which in those days called itself "the moderates" and the other by the Labour Party. The senior bailie was a Labour member When it came to a vote, each candidate obtained 18 votes, whereupon the senior bailie in the chair gave a casting vote in his own favour. He only held the office for the remainder of the deceased Lord Provost's term, but during that time grave doubts arose as to whether he had been properly elected Lord Provost I do not think at that time it was generally understood that this matter would be decided by the drawing of lots The noble Earl, Lord Minto, has made it absolutely clear that a case like this should not be decided by the casting vote of whoever happens to be in the chair.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

I shall deal, first, with the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Minto, Amendment No. 26. The raft of local government legislation prior to this Bill is certainly complex. There have been some repeals, but as the noble Earl clearly appreciated, there are some provisions that remain extant Indeed, as he indicated, paragraph 5(2) of Schedule 7 to the 1973 Act already requires all appointments, in the case of an equality of votes, to be decided by lot Therefore there is nothing between those who have supported this amendment and the Government As I understand it, the only purpose that the noble Earl ultimately had in moving the amendment was that he considered it might be more appropriate to have such a provision on the face of the Bill. I resist his proposal for the following reason. There would, in our view, be an unnecessary duplication in statute of a provision on which we are both agreed. It is on that narrow point that I would invite the noble Lords to withdraw their amendment.

I have no doubt that the Committee has listened with interest to the accounts of the origins of the position of Lord Provost in Scotland. Undoubtedly in the great cities of Scotland for many years it has been a proud office. As the clause makes clear, it is intended that, The convener of each of the councils of the cities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow shall … be known by the title of 'Lord Provost'". There is no intention that that should be removed or altered. The only question that arises is whether some restriction should be placed on the face of the Bill to prevent any other presumptuous local authority trying to usurp that proud distinction which has been conferred on the four cities.

I believe it was my noble friend Lord Balfour who referred to my following point. Back in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1981, the requirement that the Secretary of State's consent be sought if any special title were to be taken, other than convener, was repealed. Given that, it would be simple enough to attempt to do so if some presumptuous rural district council wished to have at its head a Lord Provost. So far as I am aware, none has sought to do that at any time. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has correctly identified, both Angus, and Perth and Kinross, have resolved that their convener should be known—and indeed is still known —as Provost.

I would have thought it extremely difficult for any non-city council to prove any historical title to call its convener Lord Provost. I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the tale which has been told about the city of Perth. I do not know whether that city has a sounder basis for calling its convener Lord Provost. I invite the Committee to allow this amendment to be withdrawn because I would like to check this matter through rather more thoroughly. I would not like to deprive Perth, or Perth and Kinross, of the title if they have a valid claim to it. I would have thought it inappropriate to exclude them from such a title if they have a valid basis for claiming it. I also wish to ensure that this is not an area in which Lord Lyon should give a ruling. It would appear to us to be a matter of precedence. It may be that he exercises an interest in the precedence because, as has been pointed out, those four Lord Provosts who are at present in post in Scotland are always ex qfficio Lord-Lieutenants. However, this is a matter that I should like to explore more thoroughly with him. The broad intention to which the noble Lords have spoken is understood and it is in large measure shared by the Government, unless there is some unlikely authority that could claim that title by historical right.

I now turn to Amendment No. 26A. I can certainly appreciate the sentiments that prompted the noble Earl to table it, but it cuts across the general principle that as much as possible relating to local management should be left for local decision. Under existing legislation once a convener or depute convener is appointed, he remains in office until the next council elections. There is no mechanism for removing the incumbent at an earlier date. It might be invidious to try to identify an example where, under existing practice, that might have been desirable, but looking to the future it is in harmony with the thrust of our proposals for the review of internal management that Clause 4(3) gives authorities flexibility and freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to introduce standing orders on these matters. I would not wish to impose greater rigidity than is necessary. For those reasons I hope that the noble Karl will withdraw this amendment.

Lord Hughes

I am glad that the Minister has said that he would like to consider this mailer further. I am not certain that he is on strong ground when he said he doubts whether any other authority would be so presumptuous as to take the title we are discussing. Perth has been mentioned. I believe that there is a real danger, if the Bill remains as it stands, that Perth will seek to have its head called Lord Provost. The city of Perth had a Lord Provostship until 1973, but then it wa.5 the city of Perth. It was not as it is now—and as it will be—the county of Perth and Kinross. It would be totally inappropriate if the county of Perth and Kinross chose to claim the title of Lord Provost.

As a former Lord Provost of Dundee, I admit that Perth had a Lord Provost long before Dundee had one. I believe it was in the time of King James VI that there was an argument as to whether Perth or Dundee was the more important place. The King said, "We prefer our loyal burgh of Perth to our loyal burgh of Dundee". In the hierarchy the Lord Provost of Edinburgh was followed by the Lord Provost of Perth. It remained that way for a long time until the Lord Provost of Glasgow, on the occasion of processing to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said that he was prepared to march behind the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, but if he had to march behind anyone else he would go home instead. The Minister must take into account the fact that if the Bill remains as it is, there is no one who could stop the county of Perth and Kinross claiming, for the first time in history, that a county could have a Lord Provost.

The Earl of Balfour

I wish to add a few more words to what the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has just said. Let us suppose that that happened. Does it mean that Her Majesty must appoint the Lord Provost of Perth as a Lord-Lieutenant, because I think that the two are distinctly connected? That is one of the reasons that I have put down the amendment. She, through her counsel, can choose virtually any worthy person to be the Lord-Lieutenant for any other area in Scotland However, it is the strange and unique position that the Lord Provost of a city is virtually the elected head of that city, who then becomes Lord-Lieutenant. That is one of my reasons for putting down the amendment.

5.30 p.m.

The Earl of Perth

Perhaps I should intervene because the discussion is about Perth. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, 20 years ago we enjoyed the privilege of having a Lord Provost. The situation changed and we became the counties of Perth and Kinross. The situation may change again at some stage. Therefore, it is right that the Minister should have another look at the matter rather than accepting it now.

There was a time when St. Johnstone was the joint capital with Edinburgh. These matters need to be considered very carefully. Perhaps there should be a reservation that the matter should be subject to the approval of the Secretary of State at the time. That would allow flexibility. None of us knows what will happen in the next 20 to 30 years.

Therefore, I hope that those who move the amendments will accept that the right course is to have another look at the matter and perhaps make the provision a little more flexible given that history changes.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I am disappointed that the Minister has to investigate these matters. I should have thought that the Scottish Office would have officials who would know about these matters and that he could have obtained the information that he wants by means of a simple message to the Box. However, I have no doubt that investigations will go on and on.

Lord Hughes

If the noble Earl withdraws his amendment I agree with him on the basis of the assurance we have been given.

The Earl of Minto

With the leave of the Committee I should like to withdraw Amendment No. 26. However, I remind the Minister that Amendment No. 26A, which I shall not move, has an influence upon a later amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 26A and 27 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Elections and term of office of councillors:]

The Earl of Minto moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 3, line 38, leave out ("third") and insert ("fourth").

The noble Earl said: This is an amendment of quite a different consequence. I believe it to be very important. Its object is to retain the existing period of local government elections every four years.

In 1995 councillors to the new authorities will be elected for a four-year period. The proposed reduction to a three-year cycle will create difficulties not only in terms of the initial acclimatisation and adjustment of new councillors but also because many aspects of local authority work which may be proposed by a councillor could not be brought to fruition within the three-year timescale which is envisaged.

I had the privilege yesterday morning of chairing the council of which I am convener. It was the first meeting that we have held for such business since the elections in May. It was very interesting to note how the new council reacted to the short space of time it has between now and the elections in 1995 and how councillors tried to adjust their minds to the fact that some people would be serving on that council in a year's time as well as on the existing regional council.

Half of our councillors are new members. It came as a rude shock to them to realise that, because of shortage of time, any pledges that they may have made during the past election were not going to be honoured and that money would not grow on trees in the intervening months. That illustrated to me as clearly as it has ever been illustrated before that in the first year following an election the new councillors are dependent upon the policies of the previous council.

A council can only start to change its policies in preparation for the second year. It then has to wait throughout that period for the capital programmes and many other decisions to come to fruition. Very few of the strategic policies which are projected by a council can be implemented and fully recorded in the eyes of those who voted for the council in a period of less than four years because the council gets the jitters in the fourth year as another election approaches. Therefore the two years in the middle are of the greatest possible importance.

I am fully aware of the fact that Members of the Committee must by now know that I am convener of a council. I should like to make it clear that it is on public record in Scotland that I do not intend to stand for election in 1995. Therefore, anything I say is not said in relation to any interest on my own behalf. So it was with genuine satisfaction that I noticed when reading the Committee stages in another place that the Minister, Mr. Stewart, in concluding that elections should be held every three years, stated that the Government are attempting to strike a balance between giving the new authorities a reasonable period during which to formulate and implement their policies while remaining accountable to their electorate. I thought that that was a very fair statement.

It was also argued by the Minister (and this I did not agree with) that the present system allows the electorate to cast their local government vote every two years and that votes every three years rather than four years will enhance local authority accountability. That is not factual because the two-yearly elections are for two tiers of authorities which have absolutely no interchange of fundamental policy. Therefore, I do not believe that that statement bears any great merit.

However, I was encouraged when the Minister stated in Standing Committee on 17th February 1994 (at col. 417 of Hansard):

that reasonable arguments can be made on both sides of the issue. In the end it is a finely balanced argument".

I believe that it is a finely balanced argument, but I believe that it is imperative that we bear in mind the lessons of experience.

The sound local government principle that those to whom services are provided should be involved in their planning is absolute. That is particularly important in terms of capital. In relation to projects, the provision of new schools or community centres takes time and we shall not be able to do that in the period under discussion. With considerable financial assistance from the Government my own council has recently built a high school. It cost £9 million. It took the period of the life of the council to deal with Her Majesty's Government, with the Scottish Office education department, with our own finances and then to get the project off the ground and built. It would be absolutely tragic if we cut off the possibilities which may apply through a four-year period by limiting it to three years.

In Scotland we are sometimes accused of being hypersensitive. But if a four-year period is good enough for England and Wales why is it not good enough for Scotland? I meet my colleagues from local government in England and Wales at conferences, and so on. Their arguments make it clear to me that they would be desperately unhappy if the period changed to three years, as is now proposed.

We also have to consider those people with whom local authorities work; for example, a health board. It has a four-year period. It would be unfortunate to lose such coterminous understanding.

One has also to project one's mind a great deal further down the corridors of time. Voters are becoming tired of voting. Although it is a marginal reduction, it is not uninteresting to note that with a three-year cycle there would be a conflicting election every 15 years rather than every four years. When one considers the European elections conflicting with local government elections, it is better if one can extend the period. In Scotland at present the voters are absolutely exhausted. They have been voting in one election after another during the past 18 months. The voters may have to vote yet again in two years' time, or whenever. From the Government's point of view, the question of cost does not lack significance.

Although I have dealt with delivery of promises, I return to the subject. If one puts democratic powers into the hands of elected persons, those persons should not stand before the electorate making promises that they cannot fulfil. They must be given an opportunity to fulfil their promises. For that reason, probably above all else, as a long term regional councillor I hope that the amendment will find favour with the Committee.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The noble Lord admirably covered the points. We believe that four years is a marginally better period. I remember the days when one-third of the council was elected each time. It was slightly disconcerting, but it had its positive side too. Councils have much higher budgets now. I hope that the Minister will see some value in the four year period.

The Earl of Balfour

With great respect to the noble Earl, Lord Minto, and the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, I must point out that before 1974 local elections were held every three years and that appeared to work well between 1947 and 1974. What happened before that period I do not know.

If the term of office of a local councillor is to be four years it may discourage many young and very able persons from standing. No one will stand for election unless he knows that he can serve at least two terms. I am concerned that with the lives that many young people lead many will not be able to envisage their future for more than six years ahead. They have to contemplate a two-term period. We might lose very able people if they have to look eight years ahead. That is the only point I make in asking the Committee to consider the three year period.

The Earl of Perth

We should listen carefully to the noble Earl, Lord Minto. He has had practical experience of local government. We are considering one-tier local authorities. Therefore, the work that those authorities undertake is important and involves local people closely. One is no longer referring to a region where one might feel, "We don't know those people".

A four year period has much merit from the efficiency point of view. It is a matter of judgment. Some might believe that it is better to have change all the time but people do get fed up with elections and say, "Not another lot of papers. Not another election". There is much merit in that four year period. It gives people an opportunity to get into the ways of local government.

It is true that eight years is a long period as is six years. However, there is no certainty if one does not do well that one will even attain that period. I therefore hope that the Minister will consider seriously the four year period.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

Most of the electorate are not tired of voting because they do not vote. If they do not bother to vote every four years, they will not be bothered to vote every three years.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

I have listened carefully to the arguments advanced in favour of holding elections every four years. It was indeed one of the issues considered last year by the Internal Management Working Group which comprised representatives of CoSLA, local authorities and the Scottish Office. The period between elections subsequently formed part of the internal management consultation paper.

An interesting cross-section of views emerged from that consultation. Some favoured the system which obtained prior to 1975 whereby elections were held annually for a proportion of council seats. However, the overwhelming majority favoured whole council elections. Periods of both three and four years between elections found their supporters.

In the final analysis, a decision had to be reached. In reaching the decision that three years was appropriate, we took into account the fact that prior to 1975 councillors were elected for three year periods, as my noble friend Lord Balfour has remarked.

The current system gives electors the opportunity to cast a local government vote every two years, albeit for different tiers of authority. We concluded, very much on balance, that the argument lay in having a local electorate cast its local vote every three years rather than every four.

The noble Earl, Lord Minto, quoted my ministerial colleague, Mr. Allan Stewart.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

Perhaps the Minister will allow me to intervene. For the sake of the record perhaps I may point out that before 1975 elections were not held every three years but every year on the basis that one-third of the council retired each year. Electors were not asked to vote every three or four years but every year.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

If the noble Lord had listened to what I said, I said that representatives were elected for a three-year period, not that there were elections every three years. I went on to say that a proportion of the seats were up for election every year.

As I was saying, my ministry colleague, Mr. Allan Stewart, said that our proposals gave the new councils a reasonable period during which they could formulate and implement their policies and keep them regularly accountable to their electorate. I do not pretend that there is any overwhelmingly powerful argument in favour of three years as opposed to four. At the end of the day, it was after consideration of where the better balance lay that we concluded that we should go for the three-year period, not least because it returned to the pre-1975 position.

The Earl of Minto

I am getting slightly muddled. I was in local government before its reorganisation and I do not remember there being total elections of the council once every three years. I do not think that the noble and learned Lord suggested that. He suggests that a council had a revolving role which frequently gave a longer life to representatives than the three years that is suggested. It came from the very fact that one was working with people who came back again and again. Frequently there was the same council time and time again, almost to the point of danger.

I do not agree with the noble and learned Lord that there are no benefits. I have the document The Internal Management of Local Authorities in Scotland with me. I looked at paragraphs 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3 on consultation and reminded myself of what they said. I believe that there is an important significance in the reference that I made to the Minister in another place. Paragraph 6.1 of the document states: Any elected body needs time to formulate a programme and to carry it into effect, and conversely the electors should be given adequate time to judge whether a council's policies have proved satisfactory". I am sorry to say that I do not consider that on the evidence I have attempted to give the Committee this afternoon three years is sufficient time to meet those two points. If it is not sufficient time in England and Wales, why should it be sufficient in Scotland? I am being forced into a position against my wishes, but if the Committee must be divided on this, then it must be. Why should the noble and learned Lord say that in Scotland we need less time to achieve results than in England? It is simply not true.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

Before the noble Earl decides what he wishes to do with the amendment, the Minister has indicated that it was a nice—a difficult —decision to make as to the time. The noble Earl made the point that a revolving council is a totally different situation from everyone out and a whole lot of new people coming in. Therefore, perhaps my noble and learned friend will consider the matter between now and Report stage and decide whether there is merit in having another look at a four-year term for the whole council. Bearing in mind that the position before 1975 was totally different from what we are considering at the moment, that might be the way forward.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

Some confusion has emerged over this. One has to remember that prior to the reform of local government, different systems obtained in different parts of Scotland. Elections took place every three years in every area other than in the cities and the boroughs. It was in the cities and boroughs that there were rolling annual elections for a third of the council; a third of the council was up for election each time.

I can only come back to this: it is a matter of balance. The noble Earl is a distinguished convener of an authority in Scotland. He makes the point that a four-year period is desirable, as he perceives it, to ensure that the programme that the council wishes to take forward is taken to a satisfactory stage of implementation.

Against that has to be set the desirability of the electorate having the opportunity to decide whether it thinks that the council is doing a good job. In the final analysis, on a narrow balance, our view was that three years was preferable to four. I think that careful consideration has been given to this, not only in the internal management review but in another place. Everyone appears to be agreed that there is no absolutely correct answer but that it would be desirable to leave it as it stands in the Bill.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

Before the noble Earl makes his decision on whether to divide the Committee, I must say to the Minister that his response is worrying. On a matter such as this he could easily have accepted the advice of his noble friend Lord Sanderson of Bowden and taken the matter away to re-examine it.

No evidence has been presented to suggest that the four-year term which was introduced in the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 has produced any problems whatsoever. The Government have produced no reason for the three-year period contained in the Bill. It seems to me eminently sensible for the Minister to take the matter away and come back in the autumn at Report stage for further consideration. If we are going to get bogged down on simple issues of this kind, it is a fair indication of the suspicion in the minds of many of us that the Government seem determined to railroad this Bill through the House in its present form. I have to say firmly to the Minister that that is not acceptable.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

I think that that is ungracious of the noble Lord when, just in the course of the last set of amendments that we considered, I thought that it was accepted that the offer I had made to the Committee was that we should take the matter away and consider it. So it is an ungracious observation.

Of course, if the noble Earl wishes to divide the Committee it is a matter for him. Clearly we shall not conclude the passage of the Bill through this House before we rise for the summer. There will be an opportunity to reflect upon it. But I am bound to say that it would be difficult for me, after the consideration that was given to the matter prior to the Bill being produced and following its passage through the other place, to give any indication that in taking it away I am in any sense making an undertaking to reconsider it.

Lord Hughes

The Minister is talking about all the consideration that has been given to this. However, is he merely talking about the consideration that may have been given by his civil servants? Was this matter extensively discussed in Committee in another place? I doubt it.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

If the Committee wishes me to say that I will take the matter away, I will. We have a great deal to get through. The noble Lord may take the summer to read through what consultation there was on it and he will discover that, following the consultation, there was a narrow balance of view in favour of three years rather than four years. If we can make progress, I will undertake to take the matter away and consider it.

The Earl of Minto

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that assurance and in that case I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 29:

Page 3, line 43, at end insert: ("( ) A person shall not be disqualified from being nominated as a candidate for election as, or for being elected, or for being a member of a local authority by reason of the provisions of section 31 (1) (a) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 unless he holds such paid office or employment as falls within sections 1 to 3 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 or such other paid office of employment or other place as the Secretary of State may specify by order. ( ) An order under this section shall be made by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: This is a very important amendment. Under Section 31 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 council employees are not eligible to stand for election to the council which employs them. Employees may stand for election to councils other than those which employ them, with the exception of certain restricted posts. The current two-tier system of local government has, therefore, generally allowed a regional council employee, such as a teacher or an engineer, to stand for election to a district council in the same area. Similarly, district council employees have been able to stand for seats on regional councils. Island council employees have, however, been barred from serving as councillors in their own areas, given those councils' unitary status.

The establishment of unitary authorities throughout Scotland will have a significant impact on the availability of people willing and eligible to serve as councillors. The pool of people able to stand for election would be substantially diminished, as is already experienced by three all-purpose Island councils that we have in Scotland at present. The effect of continuing the existing qualification rules under the Bill's proposals would be to debar 280,000 employees—that is, approximately 7 per cent. of the adult population — from standing for election to local government. That clearly reduces their rights as citizens. If a commitment to attracting elected members of a high calibre to serve in local government exists, then this problem needs to be addressed.

The noble Lord the Minister will be aware that at Committee stage in another place the Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Allan Stewart, in rejecting an Opposition amendment which restricted the exclusion of those unable to stand for election to those who are already excluded under Sections 1 to 3 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, stated that, the problem is not that people have not considered the issue; many people have examined it. No one has presented a satisfactory answer other than the Government's. If the Opposition present a new proposal between row and Report, the Government will consider it".—[Official Report, Commons, First Scottish Standing Committee, 17/2/94; col. 467.]

However, no such amendment was tabled at Report stage, largely in recognition of the problem of dealing with this matter adequately by including such a scheme on the face of the Bill. That is rather an important point.

In recognition of the complex nature of the issue balanced against the need to avoid debarring nearly 280,000 people from standing for election as councillors, this amendment seeks to bestow upon the Secretary of State the power to make regulations indicating what type of local authority employee is eligible to stand for election to the authority which employs that person. This course of action, while continuing to debar those included under Sections 1 to 3 of the 1989 Act to which I have already referred, would allow the Minister to decide among the remainder of the local authority staff who should be debarred from standing as a councillor because of the introduction of the unitary authorities.

For instance, the Minister may be minded to allow home helps employed by the social work department to stand for election to the council, while requiring that person not to take part in decisions relating to the operation of that department. The major advantage of the amendment, however, would be that it allowed greater time to be taken in considering the problems relating to this matter rather than imposing a blanket ban as is presently proposed. Further consideration and public consultation could be undertaken prior to the final decision being agreed.

The Minister must realise that there is quite a distinct difference now that we have gone from two-tier to one-tier local government and that a lot of very good people will be lost if we do not introduce some easing of the restrictions that already exist. I beg to move.

6 p.m

Lord Mackie of Benshie

This amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 102B, which refers specifically to the Island councils, and I shall cite particularly the example of the Western Isles. The Western Isles suffers, as do many Highland areas, from the difficulty of finding sufficient people of good calibre who are willing to spend the time on council work In the Western Isles the problem is much worse than elsewhere. The figures are these. The total population of the Western Isles is 29,600. Of that total the number of economically active persons—that is a curious phrase; I suppose it means those who are in work—is 13,385, of which 2,336 are employed either full-time or part-time by the council. So 17.45 per cent. of the employed workforce in the area is disqualified from standing. That anomaly needs looking at.

This amendment would be helpful in overcoming the difficulty in that it says quite simply that, where 12.5 per cent. or more people in the area are employed by the council, then certain exceptions can be made. It does not ask for senior employees to become members. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has already given examples, but Ministers do not need telling the difference between the Highlands and other places. This is an example where the Government ought to give some positive answer that they will look at this and make an exception which would improve the quality of representation on the Island councils.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I should first declare my interest in this matter, since I am an adviser to the trade union UNISON. The union is extremely concerned about the loss, as it sees it, of the civil rights of its membership. Since it represents most of the employees who are in local government in Scotland—about 280,000, I believe—that is a very legitimate interest. The number of people who work in Scottish local government, as we have heard, represents something like 10 per cent. of the total electorate. That will not happen in England under the unitary authority system as I understand it. So there is a particular problem in Scotland.

As my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, said, in relation to Scotland this matter needs special consideration because of the very high proportion of the population who will be disfranchised. We must bear in mind the interests of the staff, which I have already mentioned, and the value of such people to Scottish local government. They have a great deal to contribute —experience, commitment; it is all there. We should not debar such people from serving in a voluntary capacity, with proper safeguards. I understand the problems; I was a leader of a local authority in England —of a county borough council in Reading. We should not under these circumstances disbar people with commitment and experience from serving their communities and their colleagues in the new Scottish local government system. I hope therefore that the Minster will consider very seriously what has been said.

Lord Kirkhill

I wonder whether I might just add one point to the remarks that my noble friend Lord Stoddart has just made. As to my noble friend's latter point, I do not entirely agree with him, and I shall say why. I had considerable experience of local government, as some who are present may know, up until 1975. My experience of the system as it then was was that, if domiciled within the city concerned (in my case Aberdeen), employed though you might be by the local authority, you could stand for election. I saw and experienced no problem whatsoever with the system as it then was. Those who sought election became valued councillors, and they brought an extra dimension to decision-making. They could sometimes challenge an official view emanating from the cadre of professional advice open to the councillors as a result of their experience, sometimes gained at a different level. That brought a more interesting dimension to the decision-making process. My view is that this present Administration and their predecessor have treated most harshly those who serve local government in an employee capacity.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

My noble friend Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove in introducing this amendment said that the effect of the Bill's proposals would be to debar 280,000 employees. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and my noble friend Lord Kirkhill, when it comes to the Island communities, we are working on a much smaller scale. In the last elections in the Western Isles there were many areas in which no one stood for the local council. That is a very serious matter. I do not know whether it has to do with employment in the local authority. However, when we reach a situation in which people cannot fill an electoral ward in local elections, democracy is at risk. If there is to be an imposition upon local authority employees, democracy becomes even more diminished.

For the life of me, I cannot see why people are considered to be suspect if they work for a local authority. What is wrong with them? Do they not have honesty or integrity? How did they obtain their jobs in the first place? Why cannot they stand for the local authority and get on with their jobs, declaring an interest? That situation may well be reflected in another place this afternoon. The Speaker of another place is about to tell Members how to behave. "Mother" Speaker—if I may call her that—is about to tell Members of the other place what they can and cannot do. Let us have the same thing in local democracy. If someone is elected as a Member of Parliament but does not know how to behave that is his or her problem. I see that the Minister is perhaps suggesting that I should not say such things, but I shall say them. Here we are debarring people from taking part in local democracy while in the other place they are debating how Members of Parliament should behave. I want to make the point that there is a lecture to be given next door and Members of Parliament are to be told how to behave, but it appears that members of the local authority are not to be trusted.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

The noble Lord made reference to my gestures. I was just a little concerned with the propriety of what the noble Lord was saying. He made an interesting point and I understand the parallel that he seeks to draw. I just wanted to be sure that what he says meets the proprieties of this Chamber.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

I do not see that I am doing anything wrong. I make no apologies. I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. The people of this country are entitled to know why Members of Parliament have to be told how to behave and at the same time the Government debar perfectly reasonable people from participating in local democracy. The whole thing is a contradiction in terms. I say no more than that.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

I wish to support Amendment No. 29. I should declare that I was a local authority basic grade social worker for many years. I believe that it would be a most serious case of disenfranchisement for the whole local government staff group in Scotland if those people were to be ineligible to stand as local councillors. It is very important that local government employees should be given the opportunity to take the decisions which directly affect the industry to which they are committed.

I accept the proviso that a councillor who is a local government employee should not be involved with his or her departmental committee. Obviously, conflicts of interest could arise. I can also understand that the hypothetical situation in which all the elected members are also employees of the council would be unacceptable, perhaps verging on being incestuous. I doubt that that would ever happen.

In the search for high quality councillors there is a wealth of knowledge and talent among the local authority staff which should not go untapped. That would be equally true for the staff member's own employing council as well as his or her neighbouring council. In the industrial belt of Scotland that would be very practical and likely.

Finally, I am unhappy about the provisions for excluding higher paid local government officers from standing for election. In the district council elections of 1992, there was the galling situation in Clackmannan district whereby a most effective leader of the district council had to stand down for no better reason than that he was paid above the prescribed level, despite being a field grade officer. That was not a triumph for local democracy.

6.15 p.m.

The Earl of Balfour

I am genuinely concerned about this amendment because I feel that no local authority employee who is elected as a councillor should ever have the opportunity to criticise a senior local government official in a meeting. I realise what is behind the amendment. However, there is that very serious risk.

I also feel that, from the employee's point of view, if he is elected as a councillor of the local authority and criticises his senior officials for some reason or other, that may be the end of any chance of him ever getting any promotion. That is why I am not happy about the amendment.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

Let me say immediately that we are fully aware that the eligibility of local government employees to stand for election to their employing council is an extremely difficult issue. The difficulty with each of the amendments before us today is that neither tackles the fundamental problem of the potential conflict of interest that is inherent in any proposal to allow local authority employees to stand for election to their employing council.

I am sure noble Lords will agree that there are conflicting issues which offer up no easy answers. That has been the experience of previous inquiries which have examined the issue, such as the Widdicombe Committee in 1986 and the Montgomery Committee which looked into the issue in 1984 in the context of the Islands councils.

More recently, it was one of the issues on which views were invited in the context of the review of the internal management of local authorities in Scotland. The consultation paper, which was based on input from a joint central government/local government working party, set out as impartially as it could the arguments for and against change to the existing rules,. That exercise benefited from input from local authorities at both elected members and officials levels.

The responses to that consultation were particularly revealing inasmuch as they served to highlight the sharp division of opinion that exists both generally and within local government itself. Some argued for no change to the existing rules. Among those who advocated change, there was no consensus over the extent to which the rules should be changed or precisely how that might be achieved. For example, some councils argued for "guidelines" to be established to prevent a conflict of interest; others suggested identifying a range of "restricted" posts or "politically sensitive" posts.

In reaching our conclusions in favour of retaining the existing rules—this is a point that should be emphasised —we paid particularly close regard to responses from local authority organisations, such as the Society of Directors of Administration (known as SODA).

While expressing some reservations about the numbers that would be affected if the existing rules remained unchanged, SODA pointed out, quite rightly, that the statutory prohibition, which is a long-standing one, exists in order to remove the conflict (or, indeed, the potential conflict) between the public and private interest that would otherwise occur in respect of the councillor/employee concerned. SODA further pointed out that there could potentially be considerable problems in respect of the relationship that the employee would have with his employing authority or his manager through his also being a councillor.

I made reference in passing to the Widdicombe report. What it had to say at paragraph 6.36 was: The existing ban on local authority employees being members of their employing council is soundly based. No person in the public sector should be his or her own employer". Similar views were expressed in the Montgomery report and in the views that Highland Regional Council offered. It was said that there would appear to be no scope for workable exceptions to that rule. Those views were shared by a substantial number of local authorities from different parts of the country. Interestingly, though reference was made to the Islands councils, where there may be a significantly greater proportion of the population employed by the authority, both Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council were firmly against any change to the rules.

Other proposals were put forward such as that those who were employees may stand for election provided they are prepared to take unpaid leave of absence during the period in which they are councillors. Frankly, that seems to me to be an extremely unattractive proposal. I cannot see those in the employment of local authorities the length and breadth of Scotland queueing up to take advantage of any exception of that character. While I understand the basis on which the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, puts forward his proposal and seeks to find a distinction, it would be extremely difficult to identify in Scotland at any time whether the specific percentage figure came into play or remained constant.

For all those reasons and on the basis of all the information available to us, we do not consider it to be right to change the existing rules across Scotland as a whole or in relation to specific areas which may meet the criteria of the amendment, however difficult that may be. What we suggest is in line with the findings of the Montgomery Committee and also in line with the Widdicombe proposals. Also, from what I think is underlying an earlier intervention, it is in line with the existing rules not only in England but also in Wales. It is also consistent with existing rules which prevent serving civil servants from standing for election as Members of Parliament.

While I do not dispute that it is a difficult issue, what has come clearly through from extensive consultation is that no one can set out a workable exception or offer any clear distinguishing line. On that basis, the weight of evidence adds up to a formidable case in favour of the retention of the status quo.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

Before the Minister sits down perhaps I can ask him, from a position of pure ignorance—if there is such a position I speak from it —whether the Widdicombe Report considered the position of small communities such as the Western Isles where, in Lewis and Harris, for example, the communities are made up of only 30,000 people. Earlier we were talking about areas of 280,000 people and so forth. But the percentages become greater the smaller the community becomes. That is one of the great problems within the local community which I tried to emphasise when I made my earlier remarks. Did the Widdicombe Report carry out any research in the Western Isles in relation to the desire of professional people and so forth to become local councillors? Perhaps the Minister could enlighten the Committee as to the conclusion the Widdicombe report reached in relation to the Western Isles.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

The Widdicombe report was a more general application. But the Montgomery report had specifically within its remit to look to the Islands councils and at paragraph 16.4 it said, We recognise that this disqualification is a cause of real disappointment to many council employees in these [existing] single tier [island] authorities. We have given serious consideration to how this might be overcome, if not for all employees, then at least for certain designated groups. However, we find it impossible to draw any satisfactory distinction between those who should remain disqualified and those who should not". My answer therefore is that the matter was carefully examined and what proved to be extremely difficult, if not impossible—there have been a large number of conflicting proposals none of which seem to have found much favour—is that no real distinction can be sustained.

Lord Kirkhill

Perhaps I can again intervene briefly. I do not wish to protract the proceedings unnecessarily, though there is a good political reason on the Opposition for always wanting to do so. However, I am now too old a Peer to want to sit around too long in an unnecessary manner. Perhaps the Minister can help me. There never was a good reason for trying to make a line of delineation. He says that there are lines of delineation that were considered but that it is difficult to know where to draw them. Why draw them at all? Why is it necessary? I return to what was said by my noble friend Lord Macaulay of Bragar: it disenfranchises perfectly honest, straightforward, good people. Why?

Lord Hughes

The only alternative is that under the present set-up of a two-tier structure an employee for one authority may be a councillor in one of the other authorities. Is it still a condition, as I presume it is, that one can only be elected to an authority in which one resides? Is that still part of the law? If not, then somebody living in the area of one authority may seek to be elected to another authority even though he does not reside there. I do not believe that that is possible, but it may be.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Perhaps I, too, can make a point because this is an important matter. As everybody observed, we are disenfranchising around 10 per cent. of the Scottish electorate from serving on local authorities. We must understand that it is not easy to persuade people to serve on local authorities. It is an unpaid, grinding job that councillors do on behalf of their fellow countrymen. We must understand, therefore, that it is not easy to obtain councillors.

However, I well remember when we had an education committee in the county borough of Reading. It was composed of 18 members, two of whom came from the technical college which was run by the county borough council and two of whom were representing teachers. There was no conflict of interest in that committee. Where decisions impinged upon their conditions of service, the members did not vote and declared an interest. But on all matters to do with the administration of education and so forth, they could vote. They did not always do so; they were intelligent enough to know when they should and should not vote. That is the case for all local authorities.

The difficulties being put forward could be overcome as they were overcome on the statutory education authorities, at least throughout England and Wales. I am not an expert on Scottish matters but that may be so also in Scotland. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will take that into consideration. It has been done, and is done, in all sorts of ways. It is done in industry where there are consultative committees; employees serve on them and may want to criticise their boss. I often did and never got the sack.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I recognise that it is a difficult decision to make but the longer we postpone it the more difficult it will become. It only needs someone to grasp the nettle at some point. I remember the days when a councillor, if he was serving when council house rents were reduced, was not allowed to benefit from the reduction, whether or not he voted. He was a councillor and the council voted and he was not allowed to benefit. A close friend of mine was, in Whitehall terms, a low-grade civil servant. When he was adopted as a parliamentary candidate—this is within the past 10 to 15 years—and turned up at his office the next day the manager ran down in a panic with a rubber to rub his name out of the book because he had broken some Civil Service law. He had been a councillor but when he became a parliamentary candidate it broke the Civil Service rule. The Government are worried about a conflict of interest. Many of the councillors in the big cities are contractors with important connections with the council. They will be asked not to participate in voting but no one can tell me that they do not have an influence with their friends when they are sitting round the tea trolley or wherever they may be.

I know that the Minister would probably like to find a way out of this problem, but this is a decision by the Government. If the amendment is not accepted, the Government will be making decisions for the electors. We should let the electors know exactly what the person's job is and let them decide whether they want him. It would also be very healthy if councillors had a few people from the slightly lower echelons of the council sitting on committees or even just discussing matters with them. I have found that local authorities tend to have too great a reliance on their most senior officials. Without being disrespectful to them, many of the most senior officials learnt their skills a long time ago. Perhaps they received their degrees 30 or 40 years ago. It might be a big advantage if they listened to some of the younger people who are in the technical jobs.

I have sympathy with the Minister, but I hope that he will have sympathy with the 10 per cent. of people who will be disenfranchised.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

I am in danger of repeating myself but three positions can be taken. The first is that there should be no restriction whatever. If such a position were to be adopted, there would be very real risk of a public perception that this was a cosy little number where people were both councillors and employees. That, in a single line, is the conclusion reached by the Widdicombe Committee and many of those consulted in Scotland. There may be a middle position: is there a line or a level of responsibility below which those employed by local authorities can nevertheless be councillors? As I have sought to point out, while a number of different proposals have been put forward, no one has come forward with any point at which disqualification should bite and has secured any general level of agreement on that.

This matter was carefully looked at in the context of the Island authorities where the problem might be thought to be most acute. The firm conclusion was that no distinction could properly be drawn. Orkney Island Council, for example, was particularly concerned about the public perception if there were to be any such change. I do not deny that it is a difficult issue but I believe that Scotland should march in step with England and Wales on this and stick with the existing rule.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I wonder how European law will look on this. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon has advisers on European law. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clauses 6 and 7 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Establishment of new local authorities:]

Lord Ewing of Kirkford moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 130, line 41, at end insert: ("( ) For the purposes of the direction required by paragraph 1(1) above the number of councillors should be no less than 1680.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment: deals with the number of councillors who are due to be elected to the new authorities. Before I enter my argument I say at once to the noble and learned Lord the Minister that I am very impressed by his constant reference to the lack of consensus as a defence for his position and then to the presence of consensus as a defence for his position. One is seen as an argument for not changing the Government's position. The consensus is seen as a ganging up against the Government and therefore an argument again for not changing his position. I hope that we can get away from this consensus argument.

Perhaps I may leave your Lordships with the story of a seminar I attended only three weeks ago. I never spent such a fruitless day in my life as I did at the seminar which dealt with the responsibilities of corporate directors. The lecturer gave the 15 students a pro forma in which it was assumed that we had all been abandoned in the desert. Fifteen items were listed and we had to place in order—one to 15—the most important items for our survival. Because all 15 of us did not come up with the same answer we were told that we could not work as a team. I found that consensus argument to be absolutely amazing. I hope that the Minister gets away from that.

In moving the amendment, it is important to stress to the Minister that we are within nine months of the election to these authorities. We still do not know— there is nothing in the Bill and the Government have said nothing—how many councillors there will be in the election to these authorities. It is true that in the White Paper the Secretary of State, Ian Lang, said that it was the intention of the Government—certainly at that stage —to follow the existing district council boundaries. I say to the Minister that at the moment there are 1,601 local authority seats in mainland Scotland, of which 445 are regional seats and the balance of 1,159 are district council seats. If the district council boundaries are followed, as was suggested in the Government's White Paper, the number of councillors in Scotland would be reduced from its present level to about 1,000. Our amendment is designed to ensure that the number of councillors does not fall below 1,680.

There are good and sound reasons for that. The Minister referred extensively in the previous debate to the Widdicombe Report. Perhaps I may refer the Minister to the very same report. The report points out that the proportion of councillors to electors in Scotland is very much smaller than it is in England and Wales. We come back almost to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Minto, in relation to the constant difference between the democratic process and democratic accountability in Scotland and in England and Wales.

To be fair, the Widdicombe Committee went on to say that during its investigations, particularly in relation to Scotland, it discovered that most of the people it interviewed could name their councillor—which is more than they can do of their Member of the European Parliament or some of the other people who are elected and most who are not elected as well—and most had had some contact with their councillor. The committee did not find that in England and Wales.

The Widdicombe Committee made another very interesting point. Local authorities in the United Kingdom as a whole have a far smaller proportion of councillors to population than the rest of Europe. Examples were given from Germany and various other parts of Europe of councillors representing smaller electorates than is the case in Scotland.

If the district council boundaries are followed, the Minister must accept that there will be major disparities between different areas of Scotland. In certain parts of mainland Scotland, a councillor could represent up to 5,000 electors. However, in the cities of Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth, and especially in Glasgow and Edinburgh, a councillor could easily have to represent 10,000 electors according to the district council boundaries. I can remember parliamentary constituencies that did not have as many as 10,000 electors. All right, that is not the case now—

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

They were Labour.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

The Minister says that they were Labour. He had better check his facts. Those are the kind of disparities that would be produced by following the district council boundaries.

My noble friend Lord Macaulay referred earlier to the Islands where councillors would represent 2,000 electors. So, at one end of the scale, a councillor would represent 2,000 electors on the Islands whereas at the other end of the scale in, say, Glasgow or Edinburgh, a councillor would represent 10,000 electors. The Minister must see at first glance that there would be grave disparities throughout Scotland in relation to the number of electors each councillor would have to represent.

The other point that Widdicombe made should not pass unnoticed by the Minister. Widdicombe carried out a major examination of the position in Scotland after the passage of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, making the point that the balance between elected representatives and the bureaucracy—that is, the executives—was very delicate. He said that it was absolutely essential to preserve the balance between those who were elected to the local authorities and those who were appointed to administer those authorities. During the debate on the 1973 legislation, I can well recall making the point that one of the effects of that legislation would be to reduce the number of councillors in Scotland by 50 per cent. I forecast then what would happen: that, as the democratic element was reduced, the bureaucratic element would increase. That is in the very nature of bureaucracy and that is something that we must guard against. Therefore, when the Minister replies to the amendment, I hope that he will be able to give the Committee and, indeed, Scotland, an indication of the Government's thinking about the number of councillors who would be elected to the new authorities.

Perhaps I may leave the Minister with this final word. I hesitate to make this point. The Minister should understand the effect of reducing the number of elected councillors to 1,000. Those 1,000 elected councillors would have to be set against the 7,500 people whom the Secretary of State has appointed to serve on quangos. I know that the Minister's response to that will be to say to me, "Well, you're one". That is why I was so reluctant to make that telling point, but it is a telling point because those 7,500 appointees have the power to spend two-thirds of the budget of the Scottish Office, leaving only a small part of the budget for the 1,000 elected councillors.

By moving this amendment, I hope that I have given the Minister an opportunity to spell out in detail exactly how many councillors will be elected. We need to know how many places there will be on the new authorities for elected councillors because to date—that is, only nine months from the date of the first elections—we have had absolutely no indication of that whatever. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

The role of the councillor is wide and varied and it is proper that we should have the opportunity to discuss the number of councillors under the new structure of local government that is proposed for Scotland. This was also one of a range of issues considered in the context of the review of the internal management of local authorities in Scotland.

The clear message from that consultation is that each new authority area must be considered individually. The number of councillors needs to reflect local needs and circumstances. The issue does not lend itself to the setting of a minimum number, nor indeed to the setting of a maximum number.

As the noble Lord rightly stated, already, throughout Scotland, we see wide variations in the numbers of electors for district wards: for example, in Sutherland, the average is about 750 electors per ward. In Glasgow, the rations about one councillor for 8,000 electors.

The question of council size was also considered at the time of the last reorganisation by Lord Wheatley. That report recognised that a balance had to be struck between the important representative side of a councillor's work and the need to ensure the efficient despatch of council business. A maximum council size of 75 was suggested. This, I think, serves to illustrate the point that the issue is not best approached by setting maximum, minimum or even target levels for Scotland as a whole. A flexible approach is required.

What we have proposed, therefore, is that the normal rule which should be adopted for drawing up the new ectoral areas is that these should be based upon the district wards which are currently being reviewed by the Local Government Boundary Commission.

We made clear in our White Paper that we would depart from this general principle only where necessary to remove anomalies or to reflect local circumstances such as where this would produce councils that would be too large. In such cases, we would, of course, first consult with the existing councils concerned and publish proposals for public comment.

That reflects the assurances contained in the White Paper. We believe that this is a sensible approach for a number of reasons. In the first place, it will mean that in the great majority of areas, the electoral wards will be up to date and newly reviewed. This is clearly more satisfactory than any attempt to draw completely new lines on the map. Secondly, in the great majority of cases we believe that this approach would produce a sensible number of councillors for the new councils.

Balances have to be struck and other solutions investigated, but I believe that our proposals strike about the right balance. However, I remind the Committee —I made this point earlier—that our initial proposals will subsequently be subject to regular independent review by the Boundary Commission.

Perhaps I may deal with the question of whether the figure of 1,200 or so councillors, which would emerge under our proposals, is too low. As I have sought to say, it is our view that this is not a meaningful approach. What matters, ultimately, is the power of councillors to represent their constituents properly and to get things done. Single-tier local government will significantly strengthen the status of councillors in their communities, identifying them with a single local authority for the area. It will increase their ability to get things done across a range of services in a way which is inevitably restricted under a two-tier system.

I accept that the whole issue of councillor numbers is not going to be easy, but I believe that the approach we have adopted is sensible administratively and will provide in most cases councils of a size that is appropriate to their areas.

At earlier stages and, indeed, in this Committee, we have been accused of being inflexible. I must underline and emphasise our willingness to be flexible in particular areas. We shall be listening carefully to what councils and others have to say to us. Indeed, in some parts of Scotland that dialogue has already begun. While the noble Lord is correct that we do not as yet have a complete picture of the number of councillors there will be around Scotland, I have set out what we believe to be the starting point. We intend to be flexible and, where we depart from the basic rule, to go out for public comment and discussion. Accordingly, I do not believe that the amendment will be helpful to the process of drawing up the new electoral map. With that explanation and indication of flexibility, I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

I am grateful to the Minister for his flexible approach, but I notice that his flexibility was within his 1,200-councillor flexible limit. I hope that we can move him a bit from that between now and Report. On that basis, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Minto moved Amendment No. 31:

Page 132, line 5. leave out from ("1994") to end of line 7.

The noble Earl said: The amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 32 to which I shall also speak. The purpose of Amendment No. 31 is to remove the power of an existing authority, where a casual vacancy occurs after 16th November 1994, to co-opt a member rather than hold a by-election. There is a problem here. At present, if a vacancy arises on a council within six months of an ordinary election, there is no need to hold a by-election. That is widely agreed in local government as being acceptable. But paragraph 6 of Schedule 2 would disallow by-elections to an existing council between 16th November 1994 and April 1996—a period of 17 months. I believe that that is too long.

The amendment seeks to permit by-elections until October 1995, which is much more reasonable because that is six months before the abolition of the present council and is as presently required under the 1973 Act. That takes care of the purpose of the amendment with regard to timing, but there is another part of Schedule 2 which also causes me deep concern and which comes within the same amendment.

It is undemocratic to carry through the suggestion that one can co-opt a member of a council, who would be selected by the council itself. We have democratic-ally held elections within local government so that the electorate can have its say. It is unworthy to place us in a situation where someone could be co-opted onto a council for the whole period of 17 months. There are in Scotland a number of hung councils. There are others where the political majority is small. I am not sure how the selection of a member in those cases would be carried out. Will there be guidance as to how the person should be selected?

Should the person be of the same political persuasion as the majority of the council or of the same political persuasion as the member who has left the council? It is possible that the individual might be an independent. What does one do then? This is not a good situation in which to find ourselves. The amendment takes care of it. However, I accept—I know that the noble and learned Lord is likely to aim this comment at me—that it will require electoral registration officers to keep a second record, because the amendment would require that the present electoral rolls are kept. I suspect that a cost would be involved, but I consider it to be a small cost in the interest of the democratic process. On that basis, it would be in the interest of Members of this place.

Amendment No. 32 deals with the election of a convener. Once again I say categorically that I have no personal interest in the matter. At present there is a requirement to elect a convener in April 1995 and again in April 1996. I do not believe that it is in the best interests of any council to have a convener elected in one year for a period of one year. It would be destabilising. Come 1996, it would be most unfortunate if someone chosen the previous year were asked to stand down.

As it stands, the Bill allows for a council to remove a convener if it does not want one. I consider that the matter should be left that way and that the necessity to hold an election of a convener in two concurrent years, just once, for the first time in the life of a council, is something which I hope the noble and learned Lord will accept is an unnecessary burden and destabilising. With those comments, I beg to move.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

As we get nearer to the dinner break the Minister becomes more and more reasonable. I wonder whether I can persuade him to reconsider seriously and give a commitment, if that is possible, that the Government will return on Report and withdraw the proposal relating to co-option in the event of a casual vacancy. Let me frighten the life out of the Minister and put him off his dinner. At present, on Stirling District Council there are 10 Labour councillors and 10 Conservative councillors. The Conservatives have the majority because the provost drew the joker of clubs while the Labour candidate drew the seven of diamonds. It is as simple as that.

Let us picture for a minute that the casual vacancy is caused by the departure, for whatever reason, of a Conservative councillor. I shall give the Minister an absolute guarantee, and I should be the first to encourage my Labour colleagues to do it, that the casual vacancy will be filled by a Labour nominee. If the roles were reversed, the Conservatives would fill a Labour vacancy with a Conservative nominee. But if my original presentation is right, I can just picture Michael Forsyth hammering on the Minister's door wondering what on earth is going on and saying, "How did we get into the position where the balance of power was changed not by the electors but by this clause?". The Minister has an opportunity to save himself, if not from my wrath certainly from that of Michael Forsyth. I should have thought that that was something that would appeal greatly to the Minister.

Lord Hughes

I was going to refer also to the situation in Stirling. In the business of co-option it has been generally accepted that a party would bring in another candidate of the same political party so that the balance of power in the council did not change, but there is no legal compulsion to do that. I should not go so far as my noble friend and say what I would encourage because, after all, I have no right to stick my nose into the affairs of Stirling. The temptation for a political party to change the majority position of a council would be very great. I am certain that if the situation arises in Stirling, whether a Conservative or Labour group is faced with the temptation either is likely to succumb to it.

The Government have proposed a period of 17 months before there can be a by-election. That is a tremendous departure from the existing position and the best solution would be that proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Minto. If that were not possible, would it be possible for the Secretary of State to give administrative guidance to local authorities, stating that if during that period a vacancy occurred as a result of death or resignation the council should fill the place with a representative of the same party? I know that that does not deal with the situation of independent councillors, which was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Minto. Theoretically, none of them has anything to do with any of the others. Obviously, the most suitable suggestion is that contained in the noble Earl's amendment.

Lord Kenyon

No doubt the Minister will recall that in the Welsh local government Bill a similar clause exists. However, it does not contain the final two sentences to which the noble Earl is objecting. Will the Minister explain clearly why there is that difference between Wales and Scotland? In Wales, if a councillor dies after the cut-off date there is no need to replace him; but in Scotland the replacement is to be elected by the council.

7 p.m.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

The example of Stirling was clearly interesting. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, that in such an eventuality I would have a greater faith in the honourable conduct of Labour councillors on Stirling District Council than does the noble Lord.

There is a difficult course to steer between making a whole host of detailed provisions that would cover all eventualities during the transitional period and making no provision at all.

In coming forward with paragraph 6 of Schedule 2, we have sought to steer a middle course. I should like to emphasise also that the provisions that we have proposed follow very closely those which applied at the time of the previous reform and I am not aware of any difficulties arising from them at that time. I cannot say what the position has been in Wales but we are following through what was the position in Scotland in previous reorganisations.

We have taken the view also that those in local government are responsible people and they would not seek to abuse the trust implicit in the provision relating to the filling of casual vacancies.

I turn specifically to Amendment No. 31. This seems to accept the principle of having a cut-off date for the holding of elections to fill casual vacancies on existing councils in the run up to the shadow elections and during the shadow year.

We are firmly of the view that it makes sense not to hold elections in such circumstances. Besides the time and costs involved, there is the point made by the noble Earl about electoral registers having to be compiled on the basis of new and existing councils.

There is also the question, which we approached in previous debates, of whether candidates would be willing to come forward in such circumstances. That said, I recognise also the anxieties that have been expressed over the concept of co-option to fill casual vacancies during the transitional period. A number of perfectly valid points have been made.

As I said, there are strong grounds for not holding elections in such circumstances but I do not believe that there is a case for permitting vacancies to remain unfilled during this period. In any event, some kind of provision is necessary in the Bill to cover, for example, the eventuality not of one councillor in Stirling falling under the proverbial bus but possibly a large number of members doing so. This is, of course, in practice most unlikely to happen; but, nevertheless, it must be covered.

In the final analysis, this provision will be short-lived, given its transitional nature. As regards the 1973 Act, the transitional period was also about 17 months. It then operated satisfactorily and we see no reason why that should not prove to be the case on this occasion.

Turning to Amendment No. 43, I have to say that paragraph 7 of Schedule 2 was inserted into the Bill for a very specific and, it was intended, helpful purpose. Its removal would in practice fetter local authorities rather than assist them.

It may be helpful therefore if I explain to the noble Earl the thinking behind this provision. Clause 4(3) permits local authorities, if they so wish, to make standing orders providing for the duration of the term of office and for the procedure for early removal from office of convener and depute convener.

The effect of this amendment would be to remove the requirement to hold an election for the offices of convener and depute convener at the first meeting on or after 1st April 1996. However, this would deny authorities the opportunity to benefit from the provisions of Clause 4(3) until 1999 at the earliest.

In other words, because the council could not elect a convener on 1st April 1996 under any revised standing orders that had been drawn up in the shadow year, the convener elected in 1995 would have to remain in office until the elections in 1999; there would be no authority under the Bill to remove him.

By providing for the convener and depute convener to be elected in April 1996, councils are given time in their shadow year to make standing orders if they wish to do so. These could make provision relating to the convener's term of office or to early removal from office and could apply from the effective vesting date of the new authorities on 1st April 1996. They would thus apply to any convener or depute convener elected on or after that date. The existing convener could of course stand for re-election in April 1996.

While it is not intended that there should be regular elections and re-elections of conveners, this rather complicated device is intended to ensure that once the local authority is up and running any revised rules allowing for removal should be in place at the beginning of that period. I regret that the matter is somewhat complicated and I hope that in reading the explanation the noble Earl will appreciate exactly why we have had to resort to this somewhat elaborate mechanism.

The Earl of Minto

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his explanation of both amendments. I am not happy with his explanation of Amendment No. 31. I was surprised that the situation was similar in 1974. I must openly admit that I had not realised that. I am uncomfortable about the possibilities of there being some form of undemocratic process taking place behind the scenes which, if we had taken action, we might have prevented.

I think that I understood what the noble and learned Lord said in respect of Amendment No. 32. I am not sure whether I am still a convener because the issue appeared to be inexplicable. I shall do my best to read what was said; and on that condition, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 32 not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Lord Annaly

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving that Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before ten minutes past eight.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.