HL Deb 28 February 2000 vol 610 cc357-94

5.22 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 30.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 7: Page 2, line 31, leave out ("(whether by precepts, borrowing or otherwise)").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as noble Lords move out of the Chamber, perhaps I may say that the previous debate puts our problems into perspective:

Amendment No. 7 seeks to leave out of Clause 3(2) the words in parenthesis: whether by precepts, borrowing or otherwise".

Clause 3(2) provides that the well-being power does not enable a local authority to raise money. At the previous stage, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, confirmed that the clause was neutral. This debate follows on from that which took place before the Statement and we voted with the Government in the Division because of the neutrality of the position. At the previous stage, the noble Baroness said that all the Government are saying is that authorities may not use the power to raise money and that the limitation merely stops local authorities using the well-being power to raise money, whether by precepts, borrowing or otherwise. She stated that the Government do not believe that local authorities should be able to use the power to impose new taxes on individuals or business and that the power to tax should be subject to the specific approval of Parliament.

Although we dislike the control exercised by central government on local authorities in the area of finances, we are content that for the purposes of the Bill the clause makes no difference either way. Therefore, I ask again why the words in parenthesis are required. I read the clause in its context following Clause 3(1), which states that the well-being power, does not enable a local authority to do anything which they are unable to do by virtue of any prohibition, restriction or limitation". I do not see why those words are necessary. Indeed, the more I read them, the more opaque they seem. I repeated the explanation which the Minister gave at the previous stage about tax raising, but the words in this provision do not specifically include tax raising. Perhaps the Minister can say whether anything is added by the words in brackets. I am sure she understands that the concern that we are missing something has not yet been allayed.

During the debate on the previous amendment, she spoke of the Government looking for a sensible relaxation of certain controls and mentioned the consultation paper. Perhaps she can treat our words on these two amendments as a small contribution to that consultation.

We have tabled Amendment No. 9 because we remain concerned about the restrictions on charging. We are bothered that they will, as a matter of fact, act as a break on the application of the well-being power. At the previous stage, other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said that the power to charge is a sine qua non of the power of well-being and we agree with that.

The Audit Commission report, The Price is Right, previously referred to during the course of the Bill, proposed a generic order under Section 150 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 which would allow the kind of flexibility that we are seeking in the amendment. Local authorities need a certainty to what they do. They do not necessarily need complete freedom, although we should like to see that, but they need enough flexibility to be able to exercise the new powers which are conferred on them.

I am aware that the Local Government Association has been in correspondence with the Minister. The chairman makes the point that the LGA is concerned that the community leadership concept embodied in the Bill will be undermined if the charging and trading issues are not resolved soon. He asks for joined-up thinking about what he calls "powers, charging and trading" and says that local government needs the "full tool kit" of powers necessary to promote economic, social and environmental well-being.

Amendment No. 9 deals with the charging provision, addressing the flaws in the existing regime. The order-making power in Section 150 of the 1989 Act is long-winded and cumbersome and I understand that in more than 10 years it has been used only three times. A charging power explicitly linked to the wellbeing power and seen to be in the same legislation, allowing the Secretary of State to designate categories of activity that are suitable for charging, would encourage authorities to develop their use of the new powers. We believe that that is not only desirable but necessary if the new powers are to be used to effect. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am perfectly prepared to accept the—

5.30 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. As this is the Report stage, I believe that if he is to reply now, that would indicate the end of the debate. If I am right on that point, I should like to say something at this stage.

Briefly, I regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, did not find it possible to vote for the last amendment, which on the whole was a mild and modest affair, characteristic of my noble friend. Of course, I understand that the noble Baroness is stricken with a certain affection for the Government and would be reluctant to cross swords with them too often or too openly. For that, I am slightly sorry.

The noble Baroness has now tabled Amendment No. 9, which I regard with considerable misgivings. Why has she tabled this kind of amendment? Is she not proposing to give local authorities power instead of allowing the Secretary of State to make regulations? I cannot remember how many speeches I have made in your Lordships' House and in another place on the subject of Secretaries of State being given further powers. I am certainly not one who is inclined readily to trust the judgment, wisdom and duty of Secretaries of State in administering the law wisely.

I am surprised that these amendments should come from the Liberal Democrat Benches. I believe that the modern tendency to place Secretaries of State in a position where they can bypass Parliament is wrong and unacceptable. I should not be altogether surprised to see such proposals coming from the Labour Benches, but I am surprised to find them coming from the Front Bench of the Liberal Democrat Party. While the previous amendment, tabled by my noble friend, would have helped local authorities, I am doubtful that this one would do so. It simply gives power to Secretaries of State. As I have said many times, I have the gravest possible reservations about Secretaries of State. They are usually much more conscious of the convenience of their colleagues and the interests of their party than they are of helping local government. I have grave reservations about this particular amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his approbation of my previous amendment and, indeed, for what he said about this amendment. If nothing else, it spares me the trouble of saying it in duplicate. It would be highly amusing—to me, at the very least—if the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, were to divide on Amendment No. 7.I should then be able to support her when she would not support me.

As far as concerns Amendment No. 9, as my noble friend said, it would be more appropriate if local authorities had such a power on the face of the Bill rather than having to rely on yet more regulations. We deal constantly with regulation on regulation on regulation. I believe that that is not the happiest situation. In passing legislation, we should be able to deal with matters more concisely and more effectively.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am prepared to take a slightly more benign view of the remarks of the noble Baroness than did the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, but, regrettably, as she said, only in terms of a contribution towards the consultation on the future of local government finance rather than in direct amendments to the Bill. There is some cross-over with the previous debate and with the debate which we had in Committee. A number of longer-term issues about the nature of local government finance and the controls or otherwise thereof are best addressed in a Bill which primarily is concerned with finance rather than the powers of local authorities.

With regard to Amendment No. 7, I reiterate that the limitation in subsection 3(2) simply confirms the status quo. It is entirely neutral in its effect on the ability of local authorities to charge or otherwise for their services. It would also be neutral whether the words to which the noble Baroness objects—"by precepts, borrowing or otherwise"—are retained or deleted. We feel that on balance it would be more helpful than otherwise if we had some indication of what we mean by "raising money" in this context. The list to which we referred in terms of "precepts, borrowing or otherwise" gives some indication of what we mean by "raising money". I appreciate that the noble Baroness takes a different view, but it is our view that the words are slightly more helpful than unhelpful. There would be a little more confusion were they not to be there.

As far as concerns Amendment No. 9, as we said in Committee, the Government accept that there is a case for allowing local authorities a wider discretion to charge. However, these are complex issues which go beyond that of well-being. A number of difficult considerations exist. In respect of some services, of course, local authorities compete with the private sector, and in others they are in a virtual monopoly position. Therefore, there must be some degree of control and regulation of their charging ability. I would not necessarily regard that as giving a Secretary of State overweening powers. However, these factors must be carefully weighed and a number of different interests consulted.

We are considering this whole issue in the approach to the local government finance review Green Paper, which we hope to publish this summer. As a result of that review, I accept that we may need to concede that some legislation will be needed. If it were possible to include some enabling provision in this Bill which could pave the way for such steps, we should be prepared to consider it. However, we are not convinced that Amendment No. 9, as drafted, is such a provision. Certainly, our initial view is that it is little more than a restatement of Section 150 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. Under that Act the Government can already make regulations to allow authorities to charge for services provided under these powers, as under others. Therefore, in this regard it does not add a great deal to the existing law and to the existing powers of the Secretary of State.

There is a problem here and we shall address it in a broader context. However, I hope that for now the noble Baroness can be persuaded not to pursue the amendments.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, "stricken with affection for the Government"! I had believed that we did not insult one another in this House. Certainly not. No more with affection for the Government than with affection for the Conservative Benches. I am entirely neutral.

I shall not pursue Amendment No. 7 further, other than with this response. However, I remain unconvinced. Since the Minister describes it as being almost a matter of taste, it is quite difficult to argue because I believe that we have gone beyond the bounds of drafting technicalities. To our taste, the list is unhelpful, particularly, as I said in my introductory remarks, as it does not include tax raising. So far as a local community sees it, that is the main way in which a local authority raises money. Of course, we all know that the main way in which it raises money is through central government grant.

So far as concerns Amendment No. 9, I worded the amendment in that way partly because I hoped that it might be more appealing to the Government and also partly because, given the complexity of the matter, I was not confident that my drafting would be adequate to cover all the points. It seemed to me that it offered a more practical approach to provide for the Secretary of State. I have no great liking for order-making powers to be given to Secretaries of State. However, that would be a more practical approach in this particular situation.

Amidst his dismissal of the amendment, the Minister gave a little note of sympathy. Given that it will be a little while before the Green Paper is published and that inevitably legislation is some way off, I wonder whether the Government would be prepared to discuss what might be an appropriate amendment in the Bill to allow the Secretary of State to take steps to make regulations and allow for charging. After all, it will still be in the hands of the Government as to whether or not regulations will be promoted. That means that charging in its proper fashion could be introduced a good deal earlier than if we had to wait for primary legislation.

I repeat that the purpose of the amendment is to support the approach taken by the Government in terms of best value and the exercise of the new powers. We support the new powers and want to see them exercised effectively. Can the Minister give any encouragement as to whether there might be a way forward?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, without commitment, I should be happy to consider the possibility of the provision being included in the Bill. Perhaps we can engage in discussions before the next stage.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 2, line 34, at end insert— ("() Before making an order under subsection (3), the Secretary of State must consult such representatives of local government and such other persons (if any) as he considers appropriate.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 8 introduces a new requirement on the Secretary of State to consult such representatives of local government and such other persons, if any, as he considers appropriate before he makes any order under subsection 3(3). I hope that that does not confirm that the noble Baroness will be stricken with affection for the Government Benches. However, it should please her as she proposed a similar amendment in Committee. As I said then, we would expect as a matter of course to consult all those bodies likely to be affected by regulations. We recognise the concerns of the House in relation to the scope of this particular power. Having considered the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, we agree that a formal requirement to consult local authorities and others is appropriate in this case, especially as we have made clear that the power in subsection 3(3) would only be used in extremis.

Taken together with the amendment made in Committee, which is now Clause 83—making the subsection 3(3) power subject to the affirmative resolution procedure—the amendment will ensure that any order brought under this subsection will be subject to proper consultation and full scrutiny in this House and the other place. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I thank the Minister. It is rare for one's amendment to be adopted by the Government without any change of wording. I am grateful to the Minister for moving the amendment which we shall, of course, support.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.]

Clause 4 [Strategies for promoting well-being]:

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 11: Page 3 line 1, leave out ("is to have power to prepare") and insert ("shall prepare and keep under review").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 11, tabled in the name of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, deals with the fact that local authorities shall prepare and keep under review an overarching strategy.

In drafting the Bill, the Government have simply given local authorities the power to prepare such a strategy and have not required them to do so. We believe that provision to be greatly lacking, particularly given the Minister's reply in Committee. We were told then that there were approximately 40 different plans or strategies which local authorities are required to develop. Given the Government's correct wish that local authorities should be community leaders, and that the community should take an interest in order to realise best value and the way forward for themselves, a coherent overall strategy is needed that can be found in one place, not in 40 different places. We felt that to be extremely important.

The Minister went on to say that the Government do not believe that such a duty—which is what we ask to be included in the Bill—would lead to better community planning. However, since that time the Local Government Association has issued briefing which I am sure many noble Lords will possess. I should like to quote from that briefing because the LGA supports the inclusion of a statutory duty to initiate a community planning process. The association states its belief, that this is an essential prerequisite to ensuring that all other local partners have due regard to the process". Those are strong words from the Local Government Association. It is not resisting an extra duty. It believes, as we put forward in Committee, that that would enable a much more coherent approach for the public, other partners working with local authorities and, indeed, members of the authority to see brought together all the different strands in which the local authority works.

I would be interested to know if the Minister is likely to have a change of heart on this issue, given that local authorities would welcome a more coherent approach from the Government. Perhaps the Government would then be able to rationalise the number of different strategies they currently require. That would create a far more comprehensible picture to both the public being served and to the Secretary of State in trying to keep an overall picture of what is happening in each local authority area and in terms of best value. I beg to move.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I share the view expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. It is good to see the LGA being so clearly supportive of the importance of community planning as a central role for local authorities.

Having said that, I have some doubt as to whether a further statutory duty is necessary in this context, as probably three-quarters of it already exists in the legislation on best value whereby local authorities are required as part of their best value processes to produce a community strategy for their areas.

I am not convinced that the argument given by the LGA really bites; namely, that there is need of a duty to encourage partner organisations to treat the statutory process seriously. That will not be a duty which falls on the other bodies. Were this to be passed, it would only be a duty on the local authority which has to persuade others of the importance of working on a strategy by its stance, leadership and the wisdom it brings to those processes. I am sympathetic in part to the amendment. However, I doubt whether it is strictly necessary.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I do not believe there is a difference in objective; it is more a case of whether it should be a duty or a power. There is perhaps not so great a difference between ourselves and noble Lords opposite, or, indeed, the LGA on the issue as the amendment suggests. We disagree about the means of delivery. Like my noble friend Lord Filkin, I am not convinced that a duty is necessary or especially conducive to effective community planning.

Local strategic partnerships can bring real benefits. A number of local authorities are already part of local strategic partnerships bringing together the other stakeholders in the area. They are already developing the sort of approach which the Government want to encourage. Those authorities, for example Coventry City Council, who have adopted this approach for some time, have demonstrated the benefits it can bring. They did not need to have a duty in that respect.

The evidence suggests, therefore, that it is not a necessary prerequisite for local authorities to develop effective community planning. Moreover, there are other aspects of changes in the pipeline which will encourage local authorities to go down that road.

Under the new executive arrangements in Part II of the Bill, accountability for lack of progress on delivery will be clear. The well-being of their communities should be the most important issue for local councils. Where there is no delivery, it will be clear where the responsibility lies.

It is also the case, as my noble friend Lord Filkin pointed out, that local authorities are already under a duty in relation to best value. The best value guidance makes clear that the preparation of a community strategy, which can help ensure that services are delivered in an integrated and coherent way, should be the starting point for setting the authority's own strategic objectives. Those in turn will form the basis for reporting progress in best value performance plans.

In the longer term there is a potential to use the powers in Clauses 5 and 6 of the Bill to remove barriers to the use of the well-being power and to rationalise the requirements for statutory plans. An authority that already has an effective community strategy in place will be best placed to identify such problems and to take advantage of the potential freedoms that their removal would provide.

On balance, therefore, we are not convinced that a duty laid on local authorities is necessary for what we want to see in terms of turning community planning into reality. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will not feel it necessary to press this point.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, it is strange that a duty will continue to apply to the 40 other plans but there will be no duty to provide something that is overarching. While I accept that the best local authorities do not need to be given a duty, much of the Government's incentive for bringing this Bill and the last Bill forward, and for setting up the Improvement and Development Agency, was to raise the standard of all councils, not to continue to enable the best to perform well. That is why the Bill would have been much stronger if it included a duty.

I feel also that the Minister's response continues to ignore the fact that the best value duty will mainly still apply to local authorities. Of course what they do in partnership will be taken into account, but our amendment would bring in, in a comprehensive way, their work with all the other partners and other local authorities in the area. It would be much more wide-ranging than that which the best value guidance, which is internal to a local authority, will bring forward. I hope that the Government will address the fact that they are imposing a duty to produce lesser plans but no duty to produce a comprehensible, overarching plan. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 12: Page 3, leave out line 2 and insert ("the sustainable development").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 12 seeks to bring the words "sustainable development" into the way in which local authorities prepare community plans. I hope the House will bear with me while I repeat a little history. I do this in view of the Minister's response to our debate on this point in Committee.

In Committee the Minister did not believe that "sustainable development" was widely understood. He regretted that fact and agreed with me that we would like it to be more widely understood. I take the House back briefly to the Government's 1998 publication Opportunities for change. It discusses why sustainable development and the role of local authorities is important and says at paragraph 57, At the local level, we want local authorities to develop their roles as leaders and champions of their local communities … We will complement this through our commitment to give councils a new duty to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area. These are essentially sustainable development objectives".

That defines how the three strands fit together in a sustainable development duty. In 1999 the Government produced the publication, A better quality of life, in which the Prime Minister said, Talking about sustainable development is not enough. We have to know what it is, to see how our policies are working on the ground". Paragraph 7.80 talks about sustainable development strategies and says, Such community strategies may complement Local Agenda 21 strategies, or authorities may decide to integrate the two. Local Agenda 21 strategies should also inform all other local plans, policies and programmes". If we leave the words "sustainable development" out of this paragraph, though it appears in Clause 2(3), the three strands of economic, social and environmental well-being will not be tied together in one objective. During debate of the last Local Government Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, sustainable outcomes and sustainable developments are central to our whole strategy in what local authorities should be delivering for their communities".—[Official Report, 10/5/99; col. CWH 26.]

The Government came to power in 1997 with laudable aims developed through these consultation documents and echoed by the Minister in the debate of 10th May. But those aims have been greatly watered down. The Government seem to be afraid to include the words "sustainable development", as suggested by the amendment. The Local Agenda 21 steering group of the LGA felt that they should be included in Clause 4 and I believe it wrote to Michael Meacher on 4th February in that regard. I hope the Minister has a copy of that letter. It said that, local authorities, their partner organisations and the communities they serve, can look forward to the delivery of sustainable development in an integrated fashion"; in other words, the three strands of economic, social and environmental development are drawn together.

The Government appear primarily to be afraid of the fact that "sustainable development" is difficult to understand. But how many local authorities currently have Local Agenda 21 plans in place? How many have substantially acted on those plans? If that is the main duty that now remains for achieving sustainable development it is proving a slow process and not a very strong one.

Amendment No. 12 would make it clear to local authorities that the powers that they have to implement well-being must add up to sustainable development. The conflicts that might arise, such as how one achieves affordable housing, reasonable land use and employment and still keep biodiversity—the Government also face a conflict in relation to land use, new build and affordable housing for people—are exactly what local authorities should be facing in order to come up with the most sustainable means of development. If we do not put these words in the Bill, we discourage local authorities from addressing those issues. Further, the Government undermine their own building block clearly laid out in A better quality of life that the local authority sustainable development plan should lead into the regional development plan, which should lead into the national one.

I am disappointed that the Government now seem to be watering down their commitment from what was a laudable aim when they first came to power. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I reject the accusation made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the Government have backed off from their commitment to sustainable development because it is central to much of what the Government are proposing in the Bill and more generally in their environmental and spatial planning approach.

As the noble Baroness so eloquently stated, local authorities should be committed to sustainability all the time. The aim of the strategic plans setting out local priorities and the actions needed to address them should be sustainable development, and we agree with that aim.

Under Clause 4 a local authority has power to prepare a strategy setting out how it and its partners will promote the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of their area. The strategy is not about any one of those factors, but it is about bringing them all together. We are not speaking of three strategies that overlap or which might be mutually incompatible. That is why the Bill repeals the reference to developing a separate economic development plan, because we want to approach these matters in a holistic way.

An authority that is developing a strategy under this power will need to set out how it and its partners will tackle those things together for the overall wellbeing of the community. That is the essence of sustainability and why sustainable development is written very firmly, as the noble Baroness has acknowledged, in Clauses 2 and 3. It is an indication that everything we do must have regard to sustainable development. The guidance on community strategies in this part of the Bill also emphasises that point.

However much the Government and others repeat the term "sustainable development", it is not as clearly understood as we would like. Unfortunately, contrary to the impressions of some people, the fact that the Government keep repeating something does not necessarily mean that it immediately achieves political and popular assent. Regrettable though that may be, the economic, social and environmental strategies have to be spelt out in the Bill. Mirroring the wording in Clause 2 also reinforces the point that this new wellbeing power will be an important tool in ensuring that we deliver sustainable growth in local authority areas.

We agree with what the noble Baroness is trying to achieve, namely bringing together the different areas of strategies holistically. The framework in Part I of the Bill emphasises the links between well-being and sustainable development. The noble Baroness referred to local Agenda 21 plans, and we must ensure that all local authorities implement those explicitly.

Since Committee stage, we have held discussions with the UK Round Table on sustainable development on these very issues. We are considering a number of suggestions that they have put to us, and we intend to bring forward proposals as soon as possible. However, deletion of the references to "economic, social and environmental" in this context, and replacing them by a simple reference to "sustainable development" we do not believe advances the prospect of local authorities genuinely putting sustainable development in the centre of their approach to community planning and the rest of the wellbeing power.

I agree with much of what the noble Baroness said, apart from her accusations that the Government have backed off. However, I do not believe that that simple deletion and replacement will achieve what she is seeking. I hope therefore that she will not pursue the matter.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I agree with the Minister that people use this term in many ways, and it is mouthed as something that is bound to be good, but people mean different things at different times. Has the precise meaning of the phrase been tested in court yet?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, to my knowledge it has not. I shall check on that point and write to the noble Baroness if that is not the case.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I am pleased to hear that the Government are talking to the Round Table about a way of including what they and we would like to see in the Bill. At the moment there is only a power to produce such a plan, even if the words are interpreted in the way the Minister has interpreted them. It is not a duty.

I hope that it is not simply a question of it being difficult to draft or pressure of time, because I am aware of the reply of the Minister, Hilary Armstrong, to the Round Table on this matter, which was that it is simply not possible in the time available to consider the full extent of authorities' existing functions and the implications of the impacts of such legislation. It sounds as though the Government are now more interested in pursuing the objectives of the Round Table in implementing sustainable development, so I hope that the pressure of time on legislation will not be an impediment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 [Power to amend or repeal enactments]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No.13.

Page 3, line 12, at beginning insert— ("() A local authority may apply to the Secretary of State to amend, repeal, revoke or disapply an enactment (whenever passed or made) which it considers prevents or obstructs it from exercising its power under section 2(1).").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment No.14, which is grouped with this amendment. Clause 5 gives the Secretary of State the power to amend or repeal enactments, when he "thinks" that an enactment may obstruct a local authority from exercising its wellbeing power.

I suggest that it is quite unlikely that the Secretary of State will wake up at three one morning and say to himself, "I must make a note in case I forget this when I wake up at the proper time, and I will write it down now, because it just occurs to me that such and such an enactment might obstruct a local authority from exercising its well-being power". The more likely scenario is that local authorities will realise the problems that confront them, and they will ask the Secretary of State to modify enactments or repeal them.

The Conservative Front Bench tabled a very similar amendment at the last stage of the Bill. The Minister explained that the Government envisaged a relatively informal procedure and that the matter would become an agenda item at the central local partnership meetings, and local government will therefore be able to look at the issues collectively. He stated that there is nothing in the legislation to prevent local authorities individually or as a group putting forward proposals that the Secretary of State should regulate or alter barriers, and he said that they were actively encouraged to do so. I do not quarrel with that statement.

The process described by the Minister should be made more transparent. The Bill should provide explicitly for a local authority to apply to the Secretary of State.

The second amendment is consequential, providing that, whether or not there has been an application by a local authority, the Secretary of State can take the steps that he thinks fit.

The amendments do not seek to alter the direction of the Bill but would merely facilitate proper transparency, which is a word that has already been used many times in debates on the Bill. I hope that it will be put into practice in this clause.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I was delighted to see, on my return from a few days' vacation last week, that the amendment had been tabled, since it spared me the bother of returning to this subject, which we debated at Committee stage, following an amendment that I put down in almost identical terms. Up to a point, the Minister gave a good response to that debate. None the less, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for raising the subject again.

One thought occurs to me in relation to the provision that we are debating. Clause 5 says: If the Secretary of State thinks that an enactment (whenever passed or made) prevents or obstructs local authorities from exercising their power under section 2(1) he may by order amend, repeal, revoke or disapply that enactment". Perhaps the Minister can give me the assurance that that applies to this Bill, as well as to all other Acts. It is quite clear from the drafting of this legislation that aspects of it are particularly designed, shall we say, to squeeze the freedom of action of local authorities in this regard. After a short while, I can imagine that the Secretary of State may face a queue of local authorities—or, indeed, as has been said, a series of pleas may be presented at the central, local partnership meeting—requesting the release of aspects of this Bill. Therefore, I shall be glad to hear that this provision in Clause 5 also applies to the rest of the Bill.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, quite apart from the merits of the amendment, which seem to me to be considerable, can the Minister tell us why this clause says: If the Secretary of State thinks that an enactment … prevents or obstructs local authorities"? The word "thinks" is very tentative. If the Minister was asked whether he considered that this Act obstructed local authorities and he was not sure, he would say, "I think so". Surely the Secretary of State would not take what is really quite drastic action unless he has considered it. The usual word in legislation for such a provision is "considers". The Minister ought to consider that, whatever he thinks.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, perhaps I may, first, assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that my Secretary of State is very frequently and normally up at three o'clock in the morning. Therefore, he would be prepared to consider any application from local authorities in this regard. However, if we were to institute a totally formal process on what is intended to be a collaborative approach to identifying problems and exerting the ability to repeal or modify those barriers, we would be in a bit of a stand-off situation.

After all, we have gone into some institutionalised collaborative activities, such as health action zones and work on regeneration and on the need to encourage local authorities to identify barriers under these powers. But if we were to have a formal application system whereby a local authority transparently, if you like, put forward a proposal that the Secretary of State had to consider and pass judgment upon, the process would be less flexible and open in practice than under the current provisions. There is nothing in the present draft legislation that would prevent local authorities or their representative bodies putting forward any proposal to the Secretary of State in this area for him or her to regulate under the powers in Clause 5.

We are encouraging proposals. But if we have a formal legislative mechanism, I am not entirely sure that that would add to such encouragement. Indeed, it could lead to a too formalised way of considering these issues. It is possible that a particular application might be considered or thought inappropriate—"consider" is probably right in this context, but I shall have to check with parliamentary draftsmen as regards other contexts—in the way proposed, but there could be some other modification that would meet the local authority's point. It would be quite difficult to deal with that situation through a formal application system.

Therefore, although I have some sympathy, as was the case with the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, with the purpose of the amendment—namely, to make it absolutely clear that local authorities, the LGA or combinations of authorities could take the initiative in this area we feel that a formal application system would not help the process and cannot accept the amendments of the noble Baroness. We shall, of course, give more practical encouragement in the statutory guidance in order to highlight to local authorities the availability of this Clause 5 provision on the use of the well-being power. That could provide the kind of permanent reminder to local authorities that they can put forward proposals to the Secretary of State at any time, including three o'clock in the morning. Given the Government's general openness to such proposals, I hope that both parties opposite will accept our goodwill in this area and not seek to institute a formal application system by pressing this amendment.

In regard to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, I should say that she half convinced me when she intervened. I shall check on the wording in this provision to ascertain whether it is appropriate and parallel to other circumstances. I suspect that parliamentary counsel has a good answer of which I am not immediately aware.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I should remind him that he did not respond to my specific point regarding whether the provision in Clause 5 will also apply to this Bill.

Lord Whitty

I am sorry, my Lords. The answer is yes.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I am not attacking the goodwill that may apply to relations between local authorities and the Secretary of State, because I would want to encourage that. I shall leave the matter as it is, but I suggest that there are certain situations where goodwill is fine but where a degree of formality, because of the transparency and clarity, should accompany it. That is an important point. There are occasions—the revocation of enactments is likely to be quite a serious one—when the processes that would be put in train to enable all those who are interested in the subject to be properly informed would be quite appropriate.

I used the word "transparency" because, as I said, it has been recognised as being very important in relations between local and central government. In wider constitutional terms, I believe that the Government are making a mistake here if they think that informality is the right way to go forward. Having made that point, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 15: After Clause 5, insert the following new clause—


(" .—(1) If the Secretary of State thinks that an enactment (whenever passed or made) or a requirement (whenever imposed) is unnecessary as it applies to local authorities following the enactment of section 4, he may by order amend, repeal, revoke or withdraw it.

(2) In this section "enactment" has the same meaning as in section 5(4) and "requirement" includes guidance and directions.")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, again, this amendment relates to the word "thinks": If the Secretary of State thinks that an enactment … is unnecessary", he may go ahead and repeal it. This builds on the provision in Clause 5. On the last occasion when I tabled a similar amendment, the Minister said that I was being rather too ambitious on the part of the Secretary of State. I replied that my ambition was for local authorities, not the Secretary of State.

The substantive criticism of the amendment at the last stage was that it applied to other bodies and not only to local authorities. The Minister said that government should not amend or revoke an enactment without consultation. I agree with that, but I believe that the consultation should be about whether or not the enactment should be repealed and not whether there should be power to do so. In any event, I have accepted the Minister's point and narrowed my amendment so that it now applies only to local authorities. I have also changed the word "shall" to "may", although, on reflection, I am not sure whether I have shot myself in the foot a little in respect of that drafting.

We have heard at this stage and at previous stages of the Bill of the 40 or so plans that local authorities are required to draw up. As my noble friend and I have said, we support community leadership plans, or sustainable development plans, whatever one calls them, and we support the rationalisation of the planning process which local authorities have to apply. The approach of rationalising the process was fundamental to the Green and White Papers which preceded the Bill. I may again have shot myself in the foot by using the term "rationalisation" rather than "modernisation" but I am sure that noble Lords will know what I mean. It is important that the Government give a clear indication of how they propose to proceed. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I appreciate that the noble Baroness has changed her amendment as compared with the one that was proposed in Committee. While I do not think that she has completely shot herself in the foot the net result is that she is not proposing in the new clause anything that is not already contained in Clauses 5 and 6, which already enable the Secretary of State to rationalise or remove statutory planning requirements. We all agree that there should be some rationalisation. We hope that the development of the new community strategy and other aspects of the Bill will provide a context in which some amendment of the current statutory requirements in relation to plans might be sensible and deletions and modifications might be proposed by the Government to dovetail with that. However, the Clause 6 powers already provide the remedy for that.

It is also conceivable that in implementing the strategy to promote or improve the well-being of their area, authorities may encounter legislative obstacles, notwithstanding the broad new powers in Clause 2. However, if that is the case, we can use the Clause 5 powers to make changes to the legislative framework. Therefore I am not clear that any area falls between Clauses 5 and 6 where the Secretary of State would not have the appropriate powers, which he may or may not exert, to use the phraseology of the noble Baroness. Were she seeking to make it compulsory for the Secretary of State to exert the powers, the situation might be different. However, he may already exert those powers under Clauses 5 or 6 of the Bill as drafted. Therefore the noble Baroness's proposal does not add anything to his powers as regards the ability to achieve the objective which I think we all share; namely, to rationalise and make compatible the various statutory requirements on the production of plans in this area. I hope that on that understanding the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, we sometimes run into difficulties—I certainly do—through the drafting conventions in regard to using the terms "may" and "shall". One says politely that the Secretary of State may do something when sometimes one understands that he will do it and not just think about it. On other occasions we take the words at their normal meaning; that is, that he may do something and, implicitly, may not do it. I am concerned that if the Secretary of State thinks that a repeal or a revocation is a good idea, he should carry that out. However, I recognise that I shall not succeed in taking this matter any further. I leave the House with the thought that I hope that there will be fewer plan making requirements imposed on local authorities a year or so after the enactment of the Bill. We would be doing all of them a favour if we could achieve that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Power to modify enactments concerning plans etc.]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 3, line 38, at end insert— ("() If the power under subsection (1) is exercised pursuant to subsection (2)(b), the enactment in question shall be amended, repealed, revoked or disapplied in relation to those authorities for a temporary period only.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Clause 6 allows the Secretary of State to exercise a power of modification in relation to all local authorities, or in relation to particular local authorities, or in relation to particular descriptions of local authority. At the previous stage the Minister described what the term "particular local authorities" might comprise if they do not comprise categories such as district or unitary authorities. He gave the example of groups of authorities designated by their geographical or economic position. I rather enjoyed the terminology in Hansard which rather unusually missed the point. The Minister stated that the term "particular descriptions of authority", could mean authorities which have rivers or repairing responsibilities".—[Official Report, 25/1/2000: col. 1486.] I think that the phrase should have been "riparian responsibilities". However, the thought of authorities with repairing responsibilities is quite nice.

The Minister also mentioned a pilot approach. I do not wish for one moment to restrict innovation on the part of authorities. However, what I see here—I alluded to this at the previous stage—is a danger of favouritism. I understand the Minister's explanation as regards what is meant by the term "particular local authorities". However, the natural meaning of the words is not necessarily confined to the kind of group which the Minister mentioned, such as those with particular economic or geographic characteristics. They could comprise authorities which happened to have caught the Minister's eye in a favourable way in the previous month—to mention a trivial example—and not authorities which fall within a particular group which can be judged in an objective, proper and (I repeat this) transparent fashion.

Amendment No. 16 states that if the power is exercised with regard to particular local authorities rather than to all, or to all within a description of local authority, it should be exercised so that the enactment in question is amended for a temporary period only. I believe that if the temporary period is to be made permanent, the powers in Clause 6(2) with regard to all local authorities or to particular descriptions of local authority could be used. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I recognise that there is a concern on the Benches opposite with regard to favouritism. I had hoped that my remarks in Committee had indicated that we are talking about local authorities in a particular situation. That could involve the groups of local authorities to which the noble Baroness has referred, health action zones and so on, where an individual authority or a number of authorities may be involved in a special relationship with the Government.

Having attempted to move an additional Henry VIII power on the previous occasion the noble Baroness now tries to reduce this Henry VIII power substantially by saying that it should be required only for a limited period. The word "temporary" is not defined in the noble Baroness's amendment and I am not aware that there is any legal definition of it. Therefore I believe that there is a problem with her amendment in any case. However, there is also a principle involved here. There cannot be a standard time for piloting new approaches. In some cases it will be several years before we can assess whether or not a measure is still needed. Amendments that we introduced subsequent to the occasion when we previously discussed this issue require that the procedure set out in Clause 8 will guarantee not only extensive consultation but also rigorous parliamentary scrutiny of any order made under this provision. In that context, clearly the Secretary of State could propose a time limitation or it could be suggested that a time limitation should be established. I do not think that committing ourselves to a rather vague "temporary" in the way the amendment is drafted would help matters. Indeed, in many cases there may well be a permanent or, certainly, a very long term distinction between authorities. It would seriously reduce in general the flexibility of the Secretary of State to operate under this clause where, in particular cases, it may be appropriate to deal only with a defined and temporary period in terms of removals or of special provisions.

I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that we do not intend that there should be favouritism and that we intend there should be some degree of flexibility for the benefit of local authorities.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I have used the occasion to express our concerns. I accept, of course, the Minister's good faith in the matter. We have it on record. If any future Minister were to apply inappropriate favours, it would be an issue to which we could return. I am content with that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 17: After Clause 8, insert the following new clause—


(" .—(1) Each local authority shall make appropriate arrangements with a view to securing that—

  1. (a) in the exercise of its powers, and
  2. (b) in the discharge of its functions,
there is due regard to the principle that there should be equality of opportunity for all people.

(2) Each local authority shall have regard to the need—

  1. (a) to promote equality of opportunity for all persons irrespective of their race, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or religion;
  2. (b) to eliminate unlawful discrimination; and
  3. (c) to promote good relations between persons of different racial groups, religious beliefs and sexual orientation.

(3) Subsection (2) is without prejudice to subsection (1) and is subject to any provision made under any other enactment.

(4) Each local authority shall publish a report in each year containing—

  1. (a) a statement of the arrangements made in pursuance of subsection (1) which had effect during the year which is the subject of the report, and
  2. (b) an assessment of how effective those arrangements were in promoting equality of opportunity.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 17 seeks to bring back the issue of promoting equality. I feel that it is important to keep the matter on the agenda. At the previous stage the Minister said that he and his department would consider how the objectives with which we are all concerned could be achieved and he spoke about the review that the Government are undertaking. He is aware of my view that we should use the opportunity presented by this legislation to place on the face of the Bill a provision about promoting equality. If it should have to be altered and tweaked to fit in with another approach when future legislation comes before Parliament, then so be it. We are not alone on these Benches in feeling strongly that the opportunity which now presents itself should be taken.

I move the amendment in the hope that the Minister will be able to tell us how the matter is progressing. He said on a previous occasion that he saw some problems with the drafting of the provision. That is not a good enough excuse for not getting something in the Bill. I accept that it may not be the something that we have drafted. But this exchange is taking place a year after the publication of the Macpherson report and it would be sad if the House was not to take this opportunity. I make no apology for bringing back the matter so quickly. I have no doubt that it is also on the Minister's agenda. I beg to move.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, I agree with the sentiment of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in terms of promoting equal opportunities. Indeed, in her argument she could have added that the matter appeared in the GLA Bill. None the less, more recently the Government have made it clear—especially in terms of the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill—that they are considering a positive statutory duty to promote, in this case, racial equality on all public authorities. To include a separate duty on local authorities at the moment, in advance of this legislation, may not be sensible. Indeed, it could lead to a need to amend the legislation again as soon as it reaches the statute book.

Moreover the Government are proposing comprehensive legislation. The amendment has more the air of a general aspiration, which may in turn be differently interpreted by local authorities in a way which would be unhelpful to the shared common objective of equal opportunities. In addition, such comprehensive legislation must pass the tests of being effective, clear and able to be used. It needs to be carefully crafted before it is agreed to by your Lordships' House.

The Government have embarked on consultation in regard to racial equality as well as in regard to the equal opportunities aspects of the Bill. We want to find and spread best practices in this area and to see how such legislation may apply to different kinds of public bodies. We are widening the consultation to include public bodies which may find themselves in varying and differing circumstances. I repeat that the Government are keen to introduce appropriate legislation on equal opportunities in a calm, competent and considered way.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I read the amendment with great interest. There is, of course, already legislation on the statute book governing the first three aspects of the amendment—that is, the aspects of race, of gender and of disability. When one comes to consider the other three aspects covered in the amendment, it raises some very difficult questions which require answers.

Let us take, for instance, the issue of age. Are we to understand that non-discrimination on grounds of age means that one would not have a retirement age? It is perfectly arguable—one may well say this when looking around your Lordships' House—that some people of 65 and 70 are in much better shape and much more intellectually vigorous than some people of perhaps 45 or 50. But, in life, when one employs people, the reality is that, on the whole, they work until they are about 65 and then they retire. Should we say that that is discrimination? If one is fit and able, why should not one continue to work? What would happen in issues such as that?

Other people, through no fault of their own, may have done a very stressful and exhausting job and may wish to retire much earlier. Perhaps they will not be allowed to because that might be seen as discrimination. I can see all kinds of practical problems with something which, in theory, sounds splendid but which opens up difficulties.

As to the aspect of sexual orientation, I thought that the Government believed at least they have said that marriage is the basis of society. Certainly it is my own view that marriage has always been the basic tenet of society. It is only since marriage has started to break down and things have gone wrong in the past 25 or 30 years that we have run into an awful lot of the social problems with which we are now confronted. This is not the time to go into all of them. Certainly, marriage would be downgraded by the amendment. One should clearly understand that. Would a housing authority, for example, be able to give priority to married families with children? Or would that be some kind of discrimination against someone else?

As to religion, again it is an enormous subject. Many people—for example Muslims and Jews—think that homosexuality is wrong, full stop. We have here a clash of rights and interests with which it is very difficult to deal. Before one takes up and accepts the amendment, one should consider very seriously a great many complicated and important issues of belief. As I argued during the passage of the Human Rights Bill, when there is a clash of rights between one group of people and another it is difficult to resolve. It will go to the courts, but that takes time. Until some of those great problems have been considered in great detail, it would be unwise to accept an all-embracing amendment which is unclear.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, waxes extremely eloquent on the subject of equality of opportunity. I hope that one day she will set one of her speeches to music, because she is extremely good at it. However, as my noble friend Lady Young said, the subject is absolutely fraught with problems, particularly when it comes to local authorities with their many responsibilities which impinge on the areas mentioned by my noble friend.

I hope that the Government will tell us that they are being extremely cautious and thinking carefully about every aspect of the matter. We do not want them to get into a muddle over local authorities in the way they have got into a muddle over one or two issues which have come to the surface lately, causing anything but harmony in local communities. I am sure that the Government are right if they tell us that they are proceeding slowly and carefully and that they are considering the extent to which they need to go beyond existing legislation as it applies to local authorities.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, both noble Baronesses who have just spoken highlight exactly the need for our amendment. It is precisely in difficult areas such as housing need that local authorities require most help and guidance from the Government by way of having clearly spelt out on the face of the Bill what they are supposed to do. There should be extremely clear guidance. One should not give people houses because one believes they are morally nicer than the next person. One gives them houses because they and their children are in need of housing. The decision should be made on an objective basis, not according to whether one feels that someone is a better person in society's terms.

I shall keep off the thorny subject of sexual orientation. However, to expect housing officers or the member of the executive responsible for housing under the structure of the new Bill to judge on a subjective basis whether people are deserving of housing would be highly regrettable. Other difficult issues may rear their heads, for instance, those relating to new age travellers. Local authorities which address such issues in the most objective way possible and which bear in mind equality of opportunity fare much better than those which take a hostile, moral tone and effectively pass the problem on to the neighbouring authority to deal with. I support my noble friend's amendment most strongly.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, we are in a difficult area. I am grateful to my noble friends for mentioning the difficulties. The problem for a local authority is that in many aspects of its work, in order to make sense of a wide problem such as housing, a degree of discrimination is essential. One cannot work without that. The question now arises as to whether such discrimination involves other aspects, be they race, sex, disability, or whatever. Of course, disability might well be argued to enhance the need for proper housing.

My reaction to the amendment is perhaps rather a pragmatic one. If the absence of such a clause were really causing major problems, I would have expected to see far more cases for judicial review of decisions by local authorities. The fact that we do not see them suggests that the community at large probably recognises how extremely difficult and complex these issues are and how local authorities do their best in difficult circumstances to try to rationalise the situation. I must admit that I am not wholly convinced that including such an amendment in the Bill would necessarily be helpful. It might lead to a reverse situation and a whole series of judicial reviews. I have a feeling in my bones that the best course is to leave well alone.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I shall be rather cautious about the amendment, but not on the grounds urged on me by the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Carnegy of Lour. Clearly, strong views are held about morality and the way in which people wish to run their lives and to see their children and families brought up. That is one matter. However, there is an overriding principle when writing the law: equality before the law. Unjustified discrimination before the law should not be practised by local authorities in any of the areas mentioned in the noble Baroness's amendment.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, there is bound to be some discrimination in the approach of local authorities in order to meet broader needs. However, that is not discrimination on the grounds of any of the issues referred to in the noble Baroness's amendment. It is therefore not for that reason that I am being cautious; it is more for the reason outlined by my noble friend Lord Harrison. He indicated that since we inserted a similar clause in the Greater London Authority Bill, we have begun to move a good deal in terms of race relations—which is an extremely important part of local authorities' responsibilities—and we have stated our intention to introduce a wider duty in the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill which, when carried, will inevitably mean that we have to return to this provision and amend it virtually as soon as it reaches the statute book.

Although we recognise that there are existing requirements on local authorities and that the legislative requirements will be changed if and when the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill is carried—and it may be sensible to clarify the responsibility of public authorities at that point—we do not believe it sensible to insert this provision in the Bill at this point until such clarification is achieved, particularly in relation to race equality pooled together in a wider assessment of the equality responsibilities of public bodies. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept our intentions in this area and will not press for this formulation in the Bill at this time.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, before responding to the Minister's remarks, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, it may well be the case that we have not seen applications for judicial review because there is no legislative basis for applications to be made. He said that we should leave well alone. It is because we fear that things are not as well as they should be that we are persisting with the amendment.

I do not for one moment suggest that the situation is easy. I am flattered by the suggestion that my speeches might be set to music, but I do not know that that would take the debate much further forward other than that we would debate the type of music. The wording of the amendment to, have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity … to eliminate unlawful discrimination and … to promote good relations", does not go as far as some noble Lords have suggested. I take the point that there are difficulties over age. When that was debated in the context of the GLA Bill we made the point that we were not necessarily thinking of old age; there are issues regarding young people as well. Furthermore, with regard to sexual orientation and the example used of housing provision, as my noble friend has indicated, the major consideration is likely to be not if there is a married couple with children as distinct from a same sex couple, but the children. We believe it is important that the regulations followed by housing officers should be clear with regard to the process and should be clear about what is relevant and what is not relevant.

I must ask the Minister whether the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, can give us any further indication as to the timing. As he says, the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill is about racial issues, and we have quite deliberately listed other issues which give rise to discrimination in this amendment.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness a definitive timetable in relation to the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill. It should be conducted and completed during this parliamentary Session. Wider consideration would not be instant on Royal Assent to the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill, but it would take place thereafter. I shall see whether I can give any greater clarity on timescale to the noble Baroness, but as of now I cannot.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, that would certainly be helpful because even if we do not take the matter any further in this Chamber, I should be very surprised if my honourable friends in another place, and indeed other honourable Members, did not wish to pursue the issues. To know what the likely timetable will be obviously will assist them considerably. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 18: Before Clause 9, insert the following new clause—


(" .—(1) A local authority may make executive arrangements for the discharge of certain of its functions.

(2) Nothing in this Part shall have effect in respect of a local authority not making executive arrangements.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my Amendment No. 18 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 19, 20, 47, 48 and 49. Amendment No. 19 comes from my noble friend on the Liberal Democrat Benches. The amendments are designed to change the ambience of the Bill from one of requiring local authorities to introduce executive arrangements by law to making it optional for them to introduce such executive arrangements.

It is perhaps necessary to remind ourselves that the process that has led to the Bill began a long time ago with a White Paper. In the White Paper the Government set out their views on particular matters and their policy. The issue then was what should local authorities do about it. It is interesting that the Local Government Association has now undertaken a survey. One can argue as to whether the consequences revealed in that survey are the result of the White Paper setting out the Government's policy, or whether they are the result of the Government's force majeure which the local authorities can see coming in the form of the Bill. The GLA has constantly pleaded in the past that the Government do not pay sufficient attention to what actually happens when government start announcing policies at local authority level.

The fact of the matter is that local authorities are responsive. This survey reveals that 92 per cent of all authorities have already considered or have in progress a proposal for an executive representational split: 79 per cent of authorities will opt for a cabinet leader; 20 per cent of authorities say they will go for another option, and so on; 32 per cent of authorities have consulted the public; 29 per cent of authorities have already implemented their chosen proposal for political management structures.

When one goes on to the executive: 40 per cent of all authorities will adopt a party executive; and 60 per cent of all authorities will adopt mainly a party executive. Of those that have decided to set up an executive, 35 per cent will have this membership, and so on. That simply reinforces an argument which I have made to the Minister on a number of occasions in the past that local authorities are responsive. If an idea is a good one, they will adopt it. What I find so difficult is that under the Bill local authorities have to adopt executive arrangements. Clauses 9 and 10, together with subsequent clauses, provide for a genus of executive arrangements. Within that there are some species, but they are executive arrangements.

If Clause 9 stands without amendment, the genus of executive arrangements will be mandatory, and any species that survives within the management arrangements of local government will have actually to fit in with the definition of "executive arrangements". That is rather less than fortunate. We have had this argument before as to whether local electors who have a vote, opinions and rights, actually deserve consideration in this sort of arrangement. I think that they do.

If one looks at the pattern of local government across the country one is likely to see a range of arrangements introduced, probably depending very much upon the locality which is considering the matter. I can imagine some of the unitary cities wanting to go for an elected mayor, or even an elected mayor and a town manager. We shall come to that as an issue later on. In the shire areas, where one is dealing not just with a unitary authority, but with a county council, a district council, and under that there may be a town council, one has a dramatically different situation. It is the element of compulsion that is implied by Part II of the Bill that I find objectionable. If the Bill had come forward in a form which was designed to give legislative authority to local authorities to permit them to adopt executive arrangements, I would have had little to argue about, certainly on matters of principle, although there might have been points of detail.

There is here an issue of principle which I think is rather less than fortunate in the Bill as it stands. It is with that in mind that I have introduced these amendments.

7 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, we have two amendments in this group. Their effect is similar to that of the amendment moved and the amendments spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. At the previous stage, the Minister was firm in his argument that the Government do not believe in one form of executive arrangement across the board. Despite his protestations about the options that might be available within the three models set out on the face of the Bill, he seemed very much opposed to loosening the constraints in any way at all. I give as an example whether directly elected cabinets should be elected to specific posts or generally.

The noble Lord was concerned that decisions should be clear, transparent and accountable. As a result of the Bill, we will know where the buck stops, but we will be much less clear about how it reached there. The noble Lord also referred to councillors being equal and we have had debates about the role of councillors who are not part of the executive. In these amendments we are not saying that the present committee system is perfect—far from it—but what we are saying is that there should be local choice. It is extraordinarily heavy handed not to allow either the status quo or what has become known as the status quo plus—an improved system but built on the present structures—if that is what, after local consultation, appears to be preferred. That is over-control by the Government.

In addition to Amendment No. 19, we have Amendment No. 56. Clause 32, to which Amendment No. 56 relates, was introduced by the Government as a safeguard to ensure that councils progress to new constitutions at a reasonable pace. At the previous stage the Minister said that the clause does not give powers arbitrarily to require local authorities to hold referendums or to intervene in other circumstances. Amendment No. 19 seeks to put on the face of the Bill that Clause 32 will not be used when a local authority can show that it has carried out proper and full consultation of its local community. In other words, having complied with Clause 33, it should not then be forced in a direction which neither it nor its local community wants to take.

We very much support the thrust of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and, far more importantly, are being made powerfully and loudly on the Bill by almost every sector of local government and by commentators, academics and so on. I said at the previous stage—I shall say it again because it bears repetition—that we are sad that the Government have taken one or two steps too far in a Bill where we very much support a good deal of what is being proposed. In particular, we support the powers of well-being in Part I. We are sad that we are forced to part company with the Government when we come to Part II of the Bill. We feel that we must go on pressing for the Government to listen to the voices that are making these points so loudly outside the House.

Lord Laming

My Lords, I wish to speak in support of Amendment No. 20. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will agree with me that the amendment should refer to line 10 and not to line 15 as set out on the Marshalled List.

The Bill has many virtues but they are in danger of being undermined by a greater exertion of central control over local authorities. I have no doubt that the Government wish to see local authorities revitalised and made more effective, but I fear that that will not be achieved by strengthening even further the grip which central government have on local decision making. Nothing could illustrate that better than a Bill which says that local government can decide on any structure that it thinks best to meet local needs as long as it is one of the models that the Government have designed.

Whether the authority is serving a population of 20,000 or more than 1 million, whether it is in a rural area or urban area, inner city or suburban, whether it is a county council or a district council, if the Bill remains unamended, the structure adopted by the authority must conform to a model set out by central government. Even worse, that seems to give local government absolutely the wrong message, because it elevates process over outcome, it confuses means with ends and it sets a performance standard which is administrative rather than productive. I believe that the Government deserve great credit for having introduced a programme of best value which combines value for money with quality of services delivered. That process evaluates impact and effectiveness. It is at the heart of economic regeneration and it is the best way of tackling social exclusion. Therefore, I wish to ask the Minister this question. Would it not be better to continue to say to local government, "Make no mistake, your performance will be evaluated, and therefore we will continue to monitor your effectiveness, but we will do that not so much by how you do it but by what you do and what you achieve with the resources allocated to you"?

As has already been indicated, the amendment is a variation of the "may" or "shall" debate which often takes place in your Lordships' House. It has been the pattern of successive governments to exercise a preference for "may" rather than "shall". Indeed, only a few days ago, in a debate on the Children (Leaving Care) Bill, when some of us pressed the Government to use "shall" with regard to a provision which we felt was very important indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, rehearsed the argument, albeit with great charm, that the Government could never foresee every eventuality and therefore "may" was always to be preferred in the use of language in legislation. We now have the reverse of that. Although, throughout the rest of the clause, "may" is used in almost every provision, in this case the word that is used is "must". That is over-regulation of local government and takes away too much discretion from it about how it should devise a structure for organising its work and its responsibilities for local communities.

In those circumstances, we should not mourn the poor turn-out at local government elections, or express the hope that more able people will come forward to be elected members of local authorities, or ask local government to be more innovative and to show more vigour if at the same time we tie its hands and limit its freedom even to fashion a structure to meet local needs. Furthermore, if the clause remains unamended, it will tie the hands not only of local government but of the Minister. For example, let us suppose that a beacon authority or one with action zones of one kind or another demonstrated that it could do even better with a structure different from that represented in the Bill. If the Bill remains unamended, even in those circumstances the Minister would not be able to approve such a variation. I very much hope that the Minister will see the wisdom of holding to the well-tried use of the language in the Bill and accept the amendment.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, it is with some sorrow that I take issue with a number of local government colleagues for some years. I refer to the noble Lords, Lord Dixon-Smith and Lord Laming, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The amendments proposed are subtle in wording but would be catastrophic in effect. They go to the heart of the Bill and of the reforms that it attempts to introduce. I do not want to repeat remarks made at Second Reading, but we are in danger of speaking as though there were no problem as regards local government's standing with the public and with central government, whether this or previous governments. Local government has a major problem of respect, legitimacy and relevance.

The governance arrangements are part of that problem. They are basically 19th century arrangements. The committee system may have served well enough at that time, but we are now two centuries further on. The problem is that the present arrangement seeks to combine in one body strategic leadership, operational implementation and management, and scrutiny—and fails lamentably. There is ample evidence, from Audit Commission studies and elsewhere, that none of those three functions is fulfilled effectively in one body. Moreover, the arrangement is frequently a sham: decisions are taken elsewhere.

The Bill proposes an executive. That is nothing unusual. It is the arrangement to which virtually every other local government system in the world has moved, having experimented for years, in some cases with committee systems. Moreover, we are not asked to support a single model. Three options are proposed, and the Government have spelt out that area committees can play an important part.

In addition, the system will not be imposed by central government. So long as local authorities consult with the public, they will be able to determine which model is appropriate for their differing circumstances. At present, there is only one model that local authorities can choose; namely, the committee system, which is flawed and which does not function effectively in most cases.

It is seductive to think, as the LGA states, that only a few would go down this route were the provision to be changed to "may". I am sorry, but I do not believe that to be true. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is right to compliment local authorities on the way in which they have responded to the Bill in its shadow form as discussed by the Joint Committee in the summer. It is correct to say that most are now seriously considering the options and how to address the proposals. But, in a considerable number of cases, it is only because the authorities recognise that the legislation will require change. That is certainly what local authorities say to me, both at political and managerial level, when I discuss the matter with them. The survey evidence of the LGA affirms that.

The LGA asked all of its members which of the three options allowed under the Bill they would choose. Over 100 of the 300 that replied answered, "another option"—which in most cases meant the status quo. If the amendment were accepted, the reform that is central to this legislation would not come about. That would be to the damage of both the public and local government. It would mean that we had bumped along in the same 19th century manner which is known to have failed in the past.

Baroness Young

My Lords, this is a very important amendment. I support not only what my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith said in moving it, but also the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in speaking to her two amendments in this grouping.

I listened with great care to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, in defence of the Bill and the Government's approach. We are all saddened by the low turn-out at local government elections and wish that it were higher. However, I believe that the idea that it will be improved by these arrangements will prove a triumph of hope over experience. When one considers that in response to the referendum regarding a mayor for London barely 30 per cent of the population bothered to vote, it hardly suggests that people cannot wait to have an elected mayor and an elected cabinet or management committee around the mayor. Whatever else may arise from all of this, I do not believe that the proposal in itself will improve the standing of local government.

Furthermore, the noble Lord is being very hard on the current arrangements in local government. Of course there are authorities which have not succeeded and which have been rightly criticised by the Audit Commission, in the press and no doubt by the public at large. But a great many have managed satisfactorily, and have been responsive to their electors and the people whom they serve through the committee structures. If, as the noble Lord says, the Local Government Association asked its members about the options and over 100 said that they preferred the status quo, that should tell us something. What are we in business for if not to try to identify the structures and forms that local people would like? If they would prefer something else, I really cannot see why, in a democratic society, we should not try to provide it for them. To say that they have only three options and that they must vote for one of those could be to say that they will choose the best of a bad selection. But if people want something which suits them better—and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, illustrated the various types of local government, the difference between big urban towns and country districts, and the tremendous variety that exists in our country—they should be allowed to have it.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, my point was not necessarily that the public had decided on the status quo as the preferred option, but that local authorities themselves have an inclination in that respect. The LGA survey indicating that most local authorities have determined which option they prefer signalled that two-thirds had not even consulted the public.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, we should remember that this is Report stage and, as I understand it, a Member may not speak twice. If that was an intervention in my noble friend's speech, that is fair enough. However, that was not clear.

Baroness Young

My Lords, perhaps I may respond. The amendment simply provides the possibility of retaining the status quo or of some other arrangement providing a change other than the three options. If the drafting of the amendment is not quite right to meet the requirement, that could be looked at. However, I do not see from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, that that in any way invalidates the argument that some authorities—presumably it is their representatives who are speaking—would prefer the status quo. They can, of course, always vote to have an elected mayor or whatever the arrangement is. This is not a debating point; it is a very serious point. Why are we in business if it is not to attempt to provide what local people would like to have at local level? I hope that the House will support the amendment.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Oxfordshire County Council. Last week, I had an interview lasting an hour with a consultant who has been hired to come round and talk to all councillors about the new arrangements. That focused my mind sharply on what was going to happen. It made me think carefully about whether the new arrangements proposed in the Bill constitute an improvement.

Perhaps I should first provide some background. Oxfordshire is one of the councils that are fairly equally divided between Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour, with a couple of Green Party councillors. The county is divided geographically and demographically. It is a classic city region, with a city in the centre and a large green belt and many people living outside that. The authority is able to take land use and planning decisions within such freedoms as the Government allow within the boundaries of the county.

Divisions among councillors are not always political. For example, there are those who represent rural areas and those who represent the city. Relationships between ourselves and the five district councils are quite good. Executive control is neither necessary nor appropriate. Although we have not had a council leader in Oxfordshire for at least 12 years, the council is reasonably efficient.

I take up the points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Filkin and Lord Laming. I believe that the real issue is whether the council is efficient and discharges its responsibilities well. For example, our fire service is the cheapest in the country and our trading standards organisation keeps winning charter marks. We were told that our education service, which was investigated by Ofsted only a few weeks ago, was lean and efficient. However, we were criticised for having an insufficient number of people in county hall to administer the service.

Despite the fact that we have no executive or controlling party, some of the decisions that are made are difficult and courageous. For example, I refer to the Oxford transport strategy, of which I am aware the noble Baroness, Lady Young, may not approve. That is a very radical decision for a local authority to take. My experience of other organisations in which I have worked has never led me to believe that the council is overstaffed. It is extremely careful with its resources. There are advocates of change among some senior political leaders and officers who perhaps may be motivated more by personal ambition than the efficient discharge of the responsibilities of the council. However, the concerns that I express this evening reflect the views of councillors of all parties.

At the moment all councillors participate in the decision-making process but many fear that as backbenchers they will be shut out of it. They may be denied open access to officers if the latter regard their primary task as to serve the executive. That has a parallel with the Civil Service here where it is unusual for opposition and even minority parties—for example, the two Green councillors—to have equal access to officials as the majority party.

I believe that to reduce the role of councillors to badly informed scrutineers will make the task very much less worth while. It is extremely difficult to recruit people as candidates, and that is perhaps the biggest defect of local government today. While the low turnout is a worry, it is extremely difficult to get people of ability to come forward and offer themselves as candidates. I do not see why anyone would want the job if he was unable to deliver to his local community what it wanted. Most councillors in Oxfordshire represent one town or a group of villages and they are the only individuals to whom people can turn. They are expected to deliver a wide range of matters, which means that they need the contact with officers that they now have.

The Government may be justified in their dissatisfaction with the performance of some local authorities. As the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, suggested, those failings need to be addressed. But I believe that here the Government play the part of the weak schoolmaster who punishes all the pupils in the class for some misdemeanour rather than deals with the individuals who merit attention. Why do the Government want to impose these matters upon authorities that perform well against objective measures? I fully endorse the view of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, that what is important is the objective measurement of performance, not the form of administration. These measures will create upheaval which in turn will cost a lot of money. I do not see how they will improve local government. They will certainly de-motivate councillors of every political party. I beg the Minister not to insist that local authorities choose from the unsatisfactory and inappropriate alternatives which are currently on offer in the Bill because I do not believe that they represent a genuine choice.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, on Saturday by chance I happened to meet what might be termed "my Somerville constituency". About 10 of them were involved in local government across the whole range, including a very senior head of an authority, and in every party. They all felt a deep anxiety—I accept that this is a matter of perception—about the prospect of the cabinet system, for the precise reasons just given by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming. A number of people have always regarded local government as a thoroughly worthwhile career, many of them women at home with children who can do that but not other things. They wish to engage in public service without the expectation of much money but with responsibility and an interest in working with people. Those people believe that in future there will not be a place for them in local government, which will become a highly management-oriented business, as it were. I believe that that perception, which was so strong and universal, should be placed on record. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for intervening in a highly specialised debate.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, the Government inherited a situation in which local government had been undermined for about 18 years and was fraught with one-party states which they wanted to remove. Therefore, they seek to address that situation in the Bill. I am interested to hear that those on the Government Benches believe that what is now before us in the Bill will encourage the public to become more involved in local government and excited by it. A simple way to do that would be to introduce PR, which would get rid of the one-party state in one go. It also means that people would not feel that their vote was wasted and they would be tied more closely to their local councillors.

Motivated councillors and officers will work with this structure and probably make it work very well because they are good at adapting. However, the structure will be very divisive for councillors and fairly divisive for officers. As the Government still insist that executives can meet in private, it will not give the public any greater confidence. When the public look at their local councils they are concerned with two matters: first, that they have influence over decisions before they are made. As the Bill is currently drafted, people will not be aware of the decisions and will not have an input until they have been made. The executive can meet in private and make decisions that are not publicised. Secondly, the public care about their council tax. We have already debated the money issues and therefore I shall not go over them again. Under these arrangements there is no power properly to tie the local population in with the way that their councils raise and spend money. Although there may be a few good things in the new structures, as we spend hours debating them we should not be under any illusion that they will make much difference to the public. Without PR and proper financial powers being given to local councils, I do not believe that the public will give much more of a toss than they do now.

Lord Smith of Leigh

My Lords, we are still debating Amendment No. 18 rather than other amendments that come later. The survey quoted earlier shows that the spirit of change that the Government seek to bring about is very exciting to local government. Local government wants to do it. The response is in part to the principle and in part to the Bill, which clarifies the changing powers. As my noble friend Lord Filkin reminded us, the only legal system that operates at the moment comprises a council, a social services committee, an education committee and so on. We have by law to work in that way.

An interesting survey has been cited by noble Lords on all sides of the House. One is reminded of the quotation by Mark Twain about "Lies, damned lies and statistics". I view the response as positive. Ninety-nine per cent say that they are looking towards change, or will change when they see what the Bill states. All local authorities were consulted. Over 85 per cent responded. That is a high rate of response. A clear majority of all local authorities, whether in large cities, rural areas, or county or district councils, want to change; they want to move forward. There will be an anomalous situation in areas where people do not have choice.

Although I might have wished for other choices, there is a wide choice. There are three choices on the face of the Bill. There are options for area committees, a majority party or all-party executive models. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. From his description, his seems an exemplary and perhaps exceptional authority, even if it has no leader. Perhaps each of the groups on that council work together rather than with the whole membership of the county council. The executive would be an all-party executive containing those leading members.

I am saddened at the misunderstanding, which was exemplified by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, that we are downgrading the work of council members. There is a terrific amount of work to do. Those who believe that it involves only scrutiny are wrong. There will be more time and opportunity for members to represent the people they are elected to represent. If some do not believe that, they should attend some of the many seminars which are being held.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Laming. Measurable outputs are important. However, if I understood the noble Lord correctly, he spoke about outcomes—changing the way in which communities work. That is important; it is what people want. It has been said that people want to see local authorities deliver; in a sense, the argument about the structure is somewhat academic and remote. It is not that people want an elected mayor; they want someone who can deliver. We must give people choice. In his interesting introduction to the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, did not cover the argument about how people would have such choice. If a local authority determined that it did not want to change, how would the people be given the opportunity to say that they want change? We must not deprive them of that opportunity. It is an important principle of this part of the Bill.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, in many respects we are at the heart of the Bill. I regret that the parties opposite seek by these amendments to alter one of the Bill's major provisions. It is one which has led all local authorities to examine their structures, looking to a new way of conducting affairs within local authorities. I could go through each amendment separately but it is probably more sensible to deal with the central issues of principle here.

All the amendments in one way or another seek to alter the requirement on local authorities to come forward with an executive structure. They seek to alter the proposition that we should separate out executive powers of local authorities from those of scrutiny powers. Those are pretty fundamental approaches of the Bill. They are fundamental in relation to the White Paper. They are fundamental in relation to the Joint Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. They are changes in local authorities which, in concept at least, are quite popular in relation to the public as a whole.

It is true that the initial reaction of many local authorities has been negative—although not entirely negative. Virtually all of them in considering the options have seen ways in which they can improve their own structures. Even those who wish to retain what are essentially committee-based structures have seen ways of moving towards an executive structure in many respects. Some seek a wider range of options. We have to face the fact, as my noble friend Lord Smith of Leigh said, that we are moving from a system which has only one model of local government to one in which not only are there three principal areas but a whole range of possibilities within those areas. We shall address later whether more options for the structure of the executive could be introduced. I think that that will be on Clause 23.

We are debating whether we should remove the central requirement that all local authorities have to move to some form of executive structure. We believe that the range of forms of executive structure is pretty wide. I accept the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that different local authorities will require different structures and that different local authorities have different problems. That is why we have provided a much more flexible structure for local authorities to adopt than the present committee-based structure of the past 100 or so years.

Noble Lords have referred to the 100 councils which have said they want to keep the status quo. Few of them want totally to keep the status quo. But that is interpreted by noble Lords opposite as meaning that local communities want the status quo. Such evidence as we have of the views of local communities is utterly different. We know that not all the structures have been explored and explained properly. We know that in reaching their views the majority of local authorities—I think that it is two-thirds—had not conducted a full consultation exercise with the local communities.

We also know that the evidence indicates that over 60 per cent of people polled are in favour of elected mayors. When they consider it in more detail, they may not be absolutely in favour of elected mayors, but they are clearly in favour of a change to a more executive structure for local authorities than that which exists. They want to know who takes the decisions, who is accountable for those decisions and who will be made responsible at the ballot box for those decisions. They also want their own individual interests to be represented. That is why we provide for a powerful overview and scrutiny committee which will hold that executive to account—whatever structure of executive an authority ends up with—in relation to the interests of the individual electors.

I agreed with much that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, said. He said that we are concerned ultimately with outcome; and indeed we are. We need to place this in the context of best value, as a later amendment indicates and as we have indicated from this Dispatch Box. However, I do not accept that compulsion is getting in the way of innovation. Indeed, I would argue that had we not placed in our intentions in the White Paper the need to move towards a compulsory situation within local authorities, the rate of innovation would have been relatively limited. That is not to say that local authorities have been doing a bad job. It is not to denigrate the activities of local authorities of all parties over the past years. But a system which may have been appropriate in the late 19th century does not serve as a proper system of executive decision and accountability for the 21st century. We believe that people need to know who is taking the decisions and we believe that an executive structure is central to that objective.

Many points were made during the debate and there was much discussion in the context of the White Paper. Much assessment and many views were presented to the joint committee and they were taken into account in making its recommendations. But the overwhelming view of the electorate and of the Government is that change is necessary. We believe that within the structure of the executive options that we are providing there is enough range and flexibility to meet every size and type of local authority of every political balance and every nature of population. We may be proved wrong. It may be proved that there is another form of executive which will do the job just as well as one which to a limited extent is constrained by the three broad options that we are proposing.

However, we are absolutely convinced that an executive structure is needed and that there needs to be a difference between the executive function of the council and the scrutiny responsibilities of the councillors. If noble Lords believe that we have not provided enough flexibility they can return to the issue at a later stage. However, if they believe that we are wrong to insist on some form of executive being adopted by every council, we have a fundamental difference. I had hoped that we had overcome that issue and that the debate since the White Paper had resolved it. It has certainly been resolved in the eyes of the public. We are looking for local people to be served by an authority for which they have respect, whose decisions they understand and which has clear lines of accountability to the electorate.

We may have a difficulty between the parties. I hope that the amendment will not be pushed to a Division today and that on a later day of the Report stage there will be a little more scope for meeting some of the anxieties expressed today in terms of executive structures, more flexibility and so forth. However, if the noble Lord and the noble Baroness wish to pursue their amendments the Government will have to resist them and would regard it as a serious problem between the parties. That would be most unfortunate because we share much in our view of local government. I hope that we shall not fall out on that.

I repeat that, if the parties opposite take an alternative view, they should not pretend that they are in tune with the people. On this, from what evidence we have, the people are clearly on our side.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, he referred to the polling evidence as "what evidence we have". Can he place that evidence in the Library because it is a matter of concern to the whole House?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, if it is not already in the Library, yes.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, we have had a good and long debate, as we had at this point during Committee. It has been a helpful and enlightening debate, although the longer we continue it the sharper the focus on the differences becomes. While the Minister may say that public opinion points in a different direction, I believe that to be the case because only one side of the argument has been presented. The other side has not been properly stated, still less have the implications of the changes been considered by the public.

I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Laming, because it is line 15. However, it is Clause 10, and with the figure at the beginning of the line it is confusing. He rightly said that local government is all about performance.

The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, missed the point that we on this side are trying to argue. It is not that executive arrangements are wrong; not that there is something bad about them; not that they should not be adopted; and not that local authorities will not adopt them. My view is that local authorities will adopt them. The issue is whether they should be compelled to adopt them. That is what the Bill does and that is what is wrong.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, gave an excellent description of Oxfordshire County Council. It sounded a familiar picture of a lean, mean county organisation. There are many about the country and I dare say that there is one in Lancashire. There may be disagreements between authorities on policies, but in my view most county councils are good at their job.

My noble friend Lady Young made a valid point in commenting that the enthusiasm with which London is likely to adopt an elected mayor was not supported by the turnout at the referendum. Therefore, the great change might not be as stimulating as the Minister implies.

My noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth made a simple and valid point about the anxiety felt by so many people who give their lives to their local communities. They are beginning to feel that in these new structures they will not be wanted because they will not have a job that is worth doing.

I do not want to enter a debate with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about whether a different electoral system might stimulate greater interest in local government. I suspect that we could debate that between ourselves for many hours. However, the fact is that these changes will be divisive.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, appeared to be half in favour of the voluntary principle but was also doing his best to support the Bill. We have no problems with the changes that the Bill introduces. Our problem is with the method. That is what we must address.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, rightly spoke about the voices of local government and of commentators who have seen this dividing issue. The Minister, in his peroration, reminded us that we have further clauses to deal with at the Report stage and that there might be some reason for deferring a decision on the issue. I have some sympathy with that argument and it appears to be worth listening to. But that said, I doubt whether he will be able to resolve our problems. I hope that he will do so because, like other noble Lords, I should be a happy man. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 [Executive arrangements]:

[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]

Clause 10 [Local authority executives]:

[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Report stage begins again not before 10 minutes before nine o'clock.

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

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