HL Deb 24 July 2000 vol 616 cc22-38

10A Lord Dixon-Smith rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do agree with the Commons in their amendment, leave out "agree" and insert "disagree"

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 10A. The Minister is right to describe this provision as the heart and core of the Bill. I do not apologise for taking what the Minister chose to call an extremist view on the matter. We need to be careful what we are about. As the Minister said, these amendments would allow local authorities to have their existing committee structure amended to make it more efficient and accountable if they choose so to do. That is outwith what the Minister himself said when he introduced his Commons Amendment No. 10.

The Minister began with the words "every council must". Unfortunately he went on to support amendments which provide that every council "need not". I believe that he has launched a considerable torpedo at the principle he enunciated in his opening remarks.

I accept that the amendments of the Liberal Democrats would give a small degree of flexibility by permitting the continuation of present practice for a limited number of small authorities. If one asks the views of the generality of local government, the conclusion is rather different from that of the Government. There is strong support for extending the principle of flexibility achieved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to local government generally. The fact that the Minister thinks that he needs to have compulsion in the Bill does not indicate to me a high degree of confidence in the benefit that would come from the proposals. Over the years, local governments have successfully adopted and adapted legislation—on many occasions it was not particularly good legislation—and made it work. They will do that again if necessary. To compel local government to do so seems wrong.

The background history to the issue goes back a long way. Local government originated from local single purpose boards which raised rates to undertake specific functions. Legislation brought those boards together in the form of local government which gradually evolved into that which we see today. It is a matter of deep regret to me that the standing of local government—when originally formed its standing was high not only in this country but also internationally—has gone down in inverse proportion to the volume of regulation and legislation that has been put upon local government. It gives me no satisfaction to say that.

Behind all this is a British tradition of good local government that involves the participation by election of large numbers of people representative of the community in the executive decisions of authorities. The Bill seeks to change that and place responsibility for executive action in the hands of a limited and differentiated number of councillors. I do not find that principle acceptable, which is why I take an extreme position on this issue.

That idea is a foreign import. It either comes from the Continent, where mayors are wont to have more power and councils are smaller, or from America—where many councils are much smaller. We have imported the idea but not the culture. The culture in both those instances is a much lower level of general representation on local councils.

If the Bill did for local government something that had been established in London with the Greater London Authority, even though I might disagree, there might be some hope that the proposals would work. However, nothing is being done about the number of councils. A large number of people elected by their local communities will see their role as being diminished and be extremely frustrated. That is not acceptable.

We should be careful before imposing on local government an idea that is superficially attractive—anyway, it looks like a frightfully good wheeze. We are about something more serious—keeping a system working that is within our customs and traditions and which is acceptable to our communities. The representations that I have received from throughout the country do not suggest that is the case.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do agree with the Commons in their amendment, leave out "agree" and insert "disagree".—(Lord Dixon-Smith.)

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 10B to 10N and Amendments Nos. 71A to 74A—all of which are grouped with Amendment No. 10A.

I would not call the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, an extremist. We share an enthusiasm for the local element. If he is an extremist in that, so am I. However, we have reached a point with which the House is familiar—how far we should go in challenging the elected Chamber and how serious we are about prolonging the legislative process without the serious intention of blocking the Bill. We have to consider how much more we might achieve by accepting that the Government will get their Bill and instead seek alterations that the Government might agree even at this late stage.

It will come as no surprise to your Lordships that we on these Benches share the view taken by some that the new structures should not be imposed on local government. We are aware that the old ways, particularly among old Labour local authorities, do not always serve their communities well, but we must recognise political reality. Many authorities, seeing the way that the Government are moving, have already started on the path of executive scrutiny. I am sad that we are not to benefit from pilots of the new arrangements. I say that less than three months after the election of a new form of government for London that makes a clear distinction between executive and scrutiny and a mere three weeks since the formal launch of the Greater London Authority. I should explain to your Lordships that I am deputy chair of the Assembly.

Not least among the issues to be addressed is how best to marry the so-called big tent approach of cooperative politics involving all parties—grown-up politics—with the necessary scrutiny of an executive. It is a pity that there will not be the opportunity before legislation to learn from London or pilot local authorities. That said, many authorities have invested a great deal in the new arrangements. If the Bill becomes law—I fear that there is not the will to prevent that—it will do no service to our colleagues in local government to extend the interim period or fail to take the opportunity to make changes where there is most concern. Nor will it help them to lose the considerable benefits of Part I—the powers in respect of the promotion of well-being, which are close to a power of general competence for which we on these Benches have long argued, and the duty to work towards sustainable development.

The Government's acknowledgement of the position of the National Assembly for Wales, which will have a regulation-making power, and the alterations that the Government are prepared to make for access to information and open decision-taking, are matters that we will deal with later but they are part of the approach.

Changes of particular concern relate to smaller authorities, particularly where there is a history of non-party operation. That tradition concerned the Joint Select Committee that considered the draft Bill. The proposed new clause introduced by Amendment No. 10E provides for alternative arrangements in the case of certain local authorities. Districts with a population of fewer than 85,000—I understand that there are 86 of them, which is almost 21 per cent of the total—and other local authorities able to persuade the Secretary of State or National Assembly, could apply to make alternative arrangements that do not involve a separate executive. They must consult the electorate and others and look for arrangements securing continuous improvement to economy, efficiency and effectiveness—the first value duty.

The provisions—this is not current government policy but a future Secretary of State may take a different view—would allow for regulations for other categories of authorities, such as all districts in a county, all authorities sharing particular characteristics or even tiny unitaries, such as Rutland. If they can persuade the Secretary of State or National Assembly that they can meet the conditions, flexibility will apply to them too.

Districts with a population of slightly more than 85,000 may wonder why the threshold is set at that figure. In discussion with the Government that was the point at which we were able to reach an accommodation. Bluntly, it was horse trading. The Government resisted including too many authorities while I was seeking to include as many as I could.

As the Minister said, the amendment has been welcomed by the Local Government Association. In response to the original Bill, it expressed concern that the operation of an executive would not mean better decision making. I am pleased that it welcomes the amendment and I thank its members for their assistance throughout the passage of the Bill.

The amendments standing in my name build on an amendment which I proposed during the Bill's last stage in this House. It allowed different arrangements when certain criteria were met. Your Lordships agreed to that amendment and to complete flexibility. I hope that your Lordships will agree to the proposal before the House today.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I support the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and regret that I cannot support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.

The issues have been before the House, and previously the Joint Committee, since May last year. Seldom has a Bill had so much careful and thorough consideration. During that period the Bill has considerably changed and adapted. That has been as a consequence of the arguments in favour of adjustment made from Members on all Benches in this House. Perhaps I may rapidly remind them of that.

First, the area committees are a valued and important part of local government structures and therefore need to have a prominent role in legislation if councils so wish them. Secondly, access to information was an area of concern to some Members. That has been recognised in another place and there will no longer be concerns that executives might be excessively secret. Thirdly, the major amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, allows small districts, if they wish, to exempt themselves from the full separation of functions. They do not have to do so if they do not want to. That is a massive change which, it is to be hoped, reflects the eloquence of the arguments rather than the expediency of the Government in wanting to get the legislation through before the Summer Recess.

I want to mark two aspects on which I invite the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, to reflect further in deciding whether to press his amendment. The first is the argument that the provisions put power only in the hands of a small cabal of people and that the rest of the council is denuded of influence or role. I do not believe that the evidence supports that, particularly in the light of the guidance issued by the department and heavily consulted on across local government.

The role of the council is, first, to approve the constitution of that body. Secondly, it is to approve the budget, including the capital budget, of the authority. Thirdly, it is to be able to approve any variations to the budget that the executive wants to make. It cannot make variations without the prior approval of the council. All statutory plans, and a wide range of non-statutory plans, have to be decided by the council and not by the executive. The executive proposes, but the council will decide. There is a clarification of powers of the council which, in some cases, go considerably further than exist at present in some authorities. So in some authorities, there will be a strengthening of the powers of the council rather than a diminution.

The final point is the affirmation of the importance of scrutiny. The Bill is as much about strengthening scrutiny in local government as it is about developing executives. Perhaps your Lordships will bear with my repeating what I said at previous stages, but I missed out on scrutiny during the 30 years I served as a local government officer. I did not see much of it taking place, but the Bill will reverse that. More scrutiny is essential to the health of local government.

The second aspect is the argument that there is no need for change; that things are all right and should be left alone. Yet 30 years ago the Maud committee was highly critical of the way in which the traditional committee system worked. Some 10 years ago the Audit Commission stated that we cannot carry on like this, yet we have done so. In 1993 the local authority associations—which the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, had the honour to lead and which I. had the honour to serve at some staged—worked jointly to examine the current model and recommended that it could not persist in its current form and had to be changed.

After more than a year of debate the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and the Local Government Association state clearly that we must move forward and make these changes. Most local authorities say the same. They recognise that during that period a remarkable amount of development has taken place within local authorities. I compliment many Conservative and Liberal Democrat-controlled councils which have pioneered the arrangements. They want to get on with them and do not want to see further hesitation or messing about. They have seen the progress that has been made, in particular in your Lordships' House, as a result of the amendments made to the Bill.

Finally, the legislation, as amended by another place and brought before us today, allows a massive range of variation in structures and options. It allows more variations than did the Bill when this House last considered it. It should also end the current practice as regards decision making. It does not take place in transparent open forum in councils, but in a small leadership clique which is not usually open to scrutiny or challenge if such decisions are supported by a majority group. We must sweep away that old-style form of local government politics which was not subject to debate, challenge or scrutiny. I have to say that were the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, to be carried, it would perpetuate that form of practice which would not serve local government well. I believe that most Members of the House want to see a stronger system of local government and to see central government treating it more seriously than did the previous administration, and perhaps this Government. Regrettably, the best way of ensuring that those who do not want local government to have a significant place in the future would be to support the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.

The Earl of Carnarvon

My Lords, I was a member of the Joint Select Committee dealing with the draft Bill and pressed for more flexibility from the Government. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and I again pressed for more flexibility. I believe that the Government have reacted to that argument for flexibility and, much as I dislike not standing shoulder to shoulder with my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, as has been the case for many years, I shall in this instance support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

Lord Hanningfield

My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith. I must contradict the Minister because the Local Government Association does not support the amendments. I am vice-chairman of the association and at this time perhaps I, rather than its chairman, might be able to speak for its majority.

The LGA discussed the Bill last week and although it supports most of it, it does not support the rigidity of the executive/non-executive split. We do not support the idea of two classes of councillor. Last week, the majority of members, including the Liberal Democrats, supported that line. If they have changed their minds, that is new and we have not discussed it at a meeting of the association. Therefore, the association would be against the amendments. I must speak for the Local Government Association and it is wrong that the chairman can speak for us at this stage. At the recent local government conference, the Minister responsible for local government received a slow handclap from the Liberal Democrats when she tried to present the proposals. I am surprised by the amendments the party has tabled today.

I am the leader of Essex County Council. It is one of the largest authorities in the country. It is larger than many American states and EU countries. Three months ago, in conjunction and co-operation with the other two group leaders, we introduce a pilot scheme. For three months we have been operating on a cabinet:select committee split. We have established five select committees and we have put all our members on two select committees in order to try to involve them. I am the leader of the council, so I have a nice job; I am the executive. I have eight portfolio members and we are taking the decisions of the council. But my colleagues from all parties are most unhappy. Indeed, the Labour members are more unhappy than any of the others. They feel totally dissociated from the decision-making processes within the council. A revolt is taking place because they hate the system.

I beg your Lordships to take more notice of the unhappiness in local government. It was divided over local government reorganisation but it is even more divided over this issue. We cannot have two classes of councillor. It is all very fine for executive members. We have 79 councillors: eight of them have a fulfilling role, but 71 are now sidelined. I beg your Lordships to review the matter and to think again before we pass these amendments. It is all very well for 86 councils to be excluded from the new system.

I was contacted by Rushmoor—a small district council with a population of 86,000. There will be dozens of such councils which are excluded from the new system. What about poor Rushmoor, which wants to have its own system? I can see that the arbitrary figure of 85,000 will be subject to judicial review and all kinds of arguments for many years to come. I beg both the Government and the Liberal Democrats to think again because this will be a most divisive system.

We all agree that we should speed up the processes of decision-making. I am the first to agree with that, and I am the first to agree that we cannot stand still. In Essex we have never stood still. We need to review our practices and to modernise our councils. No one disagrees with that. However, having an arbitrary line between two types of council is so divisive that we should try to avoid it. Therefore, I beg noble Lords to support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith.

4 p.m.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, I am no authority on local government and my sole purpose in intervening is to seek clarification. As I understand it, the amendment of my noble friend Lady Hamwee clearly spells out the matter. It limits the powers of a council with a population of under 85,000 to seek relief under Clause 28.

I want to ask for clarification of the position of a council in Wales—my own council, Powys County Council—which is approximately 140 miles in length. It covers 2,000 square miles but its population is 123,000. I do not suppose that there is a comparable council in England. It is run entirely on a shire committee basis with supervisory control. One councillor has to travel 70 miles back and forth to the county town.

Will the limit of 85,000 apply in Wales or will it be open to the Welsh Assembly to make an exception with regard to a council such as Powys County Council, which is run entirely on a non-party basis? I do not believe that there is any grouping of parties there. Therefore, the need for flexibility cannot be demonstrated better than by the need of Powys.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hanningfield described to the House the feeling of members of his council about the introduction of this new system. He is not alone. Many other councillors up and down the country, where the flirtation has already taken place with the executives, are, if I can put it no higher, utterly brassed off with the whole situation. They are brassed off, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said, because they do not have a meaningful role to play. Eight or 10 of them are having a marvellous time. They are making the decisions, spending the money, and being excessively well paid for doing the job and for carrying the burden of the council on their shoulders.

It does not matter about the others. Whatever one says about scrutiny—and I have no difficulty with decisions being scrutinised—under this proposed system there is still no role in decision-making for the majority of members of a council. They are not part of the decision-making process.

The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, mocked the fact that decisions used to be taken in private and behind closed doors. I challenge that. There have always been some perfectly atrocious councils, and I am glad to say that most of them have not been in my party. There have been some atrocious councils where things have gone wrong but, by and large, all decisions must be taken in the open. Some say that when decisions are taken everyone is put under a whip and must do what they are told. However, many decisions have been overturned because they have been taken in public. The public have access to meetings and councillors who are elected to represent their members have the right to take decisions in the open.

What will happen if we do not allow that type of flexibility? No one on this side of the House is asking that the executive system should be abandoned. We are asking for councils to have the flexibility to decide whether they want to commit to, or continue with, a committee system whereby the responsibility for decisions lies on the shoulders of all members of the council. We are asking for that to be an option. I believe that it is inescapable that there will be a role for scrutiny within that option. We are asking for the option of a committee system, or something similar, to remain for councils which wish to go forward with that system.

That does not seem to me to be a tremendous concession for the Government to make. They have sold their scheme of executives and mayors to a number of authorities. However, I believe that what undermines the whole situation is the fact that so many of their own labour councillors do not like it. I am sure that I am not the only person to have received a letter from some of those Labour councillors saying that they do not like it and that they are not part of the council. They believe, as do I, that if this system goes ahead without including another option, the next thing that we discuss in this Chamber and elsewhere will be the reduction in the number of councillors who represent any community. For, peradventure, there will not be enough jobs for them to do and, peradventure, they will not want to stay or offer themselves for service to their communities.

I believe that at this stage it is sad that once again we are having to debate this issue. I am somewhat demoralised that the Liberal Democrat Party, which stood so firmly, shoulder to shoulder, with us, as did the Cross-Benchers, having believed that this was a matter of principle as well as a matter of concern, should have decided that there are other ways of achieving an end. It is not an end which I want; nor do I believe that it is one that either my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith or Members of this side of the House want. Therefore, I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith.

Lord Tope

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, cast some doubt on the position of the Local Government Association. I want to record that I received a letter today from the chairman of the Local Government Association, Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham, as, I imagine, did many other noble Lords. In it he says: I am writing to you to express the Association's support for the Baroness's"— that is, my noble friend Lady Hamwee— proposals and hope that you too will support them (although I do need to say that the LGA Conservative Group is not in support). I believe that through existing provisions, namely Section 10(5) which provides for other forms of executive, and the Baroness's amendments, the Bill now adequately provides for the flexibility that local government and many other supporters of local government like yourself have been calling for". That is a very clear expression of support from the association. Of course, he makes the point that the Conservative Group does not support it, but the majority of the members of the association support the amendments. I suggest that it is reasonable, therefore, to say that the proposal is supported by the association.

I say to my colleague from local government—the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, whom I have known in London government for many years—that we must now ask, as, indeed, must she, how far the Conservatives are prepared to push their opposition. Are they prepared, for example, to put the whole Bill at risk? Although many of us share the concerns that have been expressed, there is much in the Bill which we support and which we want to see on the statute book as soon as possible. Are they prepared to push it to the extent that we lose the Bill? Are they prepared to push it to the extent that in the end the Government get their way and we do not even have the concessions that my noble friend Lady Hamwee has fought very hard to wring out of the Government?

We feel that this is the right compromise and that it will serve local government best. I am very pleased to support my noble friend's amendments.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I hope that the Minister will answer specifically the questions asked by the Labour Campaign—I stress the word "Labour"—for Open Local Government. It has written to 694 Members of the House, to point out the dangers to local democracy—despite the concessions made by the government". The letter then lists the dangers. The first is: The 'behind closed doors' secrecy still implicit in the legislation". The second is: The concentration of power in too few hands with a cabinet or executive system and in particular with a directly elected mayor". Thirdly, the letter refers to: The discarding of all other councillors from the decision-making process". The fourth danger is: The fact that so-called 'scrutiny' does not work in the proposed structures and was more effective under the old system". As reference was being made to that letter, but nobody was quoting from it, I thought that your Lordships should know the concerns of the Labour Campaign for Open Local Government.

Lord Smith of Leigh

My Lords, as I said at Second Reading, I am the leader of a council. I welcome the thrust of the Bill and the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. They will allow flexibility. The three options that were put forward may have been too much of a straitjacket for smaller councils.

The amendments define smaller councils by size, although we may want to have another definition by function, because the two main activities of district councils are probably planning and housing. If housing has been transferred to another provider, there is not a lot for an executive to do, because planning is not a function that can be exercised by an executive.

After more than 20 years' experience in local government, I was intrigued to know what kind of nostalgic world the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, was referring to when he was describing what went on. It was not a description of any council system that I know of, party-controlled or not. In no council in this country does every councillor exercise a similar influence on how decisions are made. Some councillors have more influence than others. That is simply being recognised by making it clear who is an executive or non-executive councillor.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningford, said that in Essex many councillors who are not in the executive do not have enough to do. That says more about the system in Essex than it says about the Bill. There is a great deal that councillors can and should be doing. As well as scrutiny, which is an important and recognised part of the Bill, we want councillors to contribute to policy. Many council policies, including the budget, have to be gone through at a full council meeting and will need to be scrutinised properly.

In addition, the Bill reminds and encourages us all to get out and work in the community. Not all the work of local authorities is done in the town hall. We want councillors to work with people in their communities to ensure that what happens in the town hall is a better reflection of what local people want.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, we all regret the lack of recognition of the work of local authorities in the turn-out at local elections. Most people are confused about who makes the decisions. Many think that the mayor does, even though most parts of the country have a non-executive mayor. I hope that the Bill will help by identifying who makes the decisions. If we can make sure that people in the community with an interest in what is going on know who to approach directly about particular issues, local government will be improved. We should support the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and not support those of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there is clearly a fundamental difference on this issue between me and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, but we are all united in our respect for the record of local government in Britain and, in this context, in England and Wales in particular. Great work continues to be done by local government. This national Government have been the first to recognise that. That work has been achieved in a changing world and in changing circumstances for local authorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, accuses me of compulsion and of trying to impose a straitjacket. We are moving from a system in which only one structure of local government—the committee-based system—is available to all authorities regardless of their geographical area or their form of political control to provide three alternatives, as well as the additional possibility in the amendment. Local government and local people will have a choice.

Our consistent policy has been that every council must adopt a new constitution, giving it increased efficiency, transparency and accountability, and that local people should decide. That is the element of compulsion—to require choice for local people. We are moving away from a straitjacketed system that has been condemned—or at least adversely commented on—from the time of the Maud committee through to the recent report of the Joint Committee of this House and another place, to which the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, referred.

In contrast, the Conservative amendment would not provide such choice, except by providing the additional option of the status quo. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said that he was the first to agree that councils could not stand still. To that extent, I accept—perhaps more than does my noble friend Lord Smith of Leigh—that Essex has not stood still. The same applies to many other councils. However, they have been constrained by the committee system. The Conservative amendment would allow councils to stay still. That option would undoubtedly be taken by the least effective councils.

The Conservative amendments are not about choice. There will be choice in the structures that we have proposed. The councils to be given special provisions under the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will also have to make a choice. They, too, will have to examine and review their constitution to ensure that it meets the overall obligations of efficiency, transparency and accountability. Those councils will be able to choose not to adopt executive arrangements, but they will still have to reform. In particular, they will have to adopt overview and scrutiny arrangements.

It is important to recognise that all councils need to assess their structures and that they should all be involved in the Bill. However, it is equally important to emphasise the element of choice.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, said that the concession on English shire districts with a population fewer than 85,000 had been wrung out of the Government. I am probably the one that it was wrung out of—and I feel squeezed accordingly. It seems a sensible provision. I accept that it is not what everybody wants, but it does not torpedo the principle, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, suggested. It is a legitimate and sensible compromise and I commend it to the House. The Secretary of State could designate other such groups. To respond to the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, the National Assembly for Wales could allow any variation of the type to which he referred.

The other criticism which has been made has run through the whole course of the Bill. It relates to the division between executive and scrutiny and overview members. The noble Lords, Lord Hanningfield and Lord Elton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, all referred to that and we have discussed it many times. But to say that councillors outside the executive have no real role fails to understand the nature of overview and scrutiny committees. I suggest that it also fails to recognise the nature of people who win council seats.

Clearly, there will be something of a hiatus as we move into the new system. Things will need to settle down and people will need to adapt to their new roles.

But as my noble friends Lord Filkin and Lord Smith have both said, those roles are as important—and in some ways more important—in safeguarding the public interest than those of individual members of the executive. All councillors will have an important role. All councillors will have a role to play in policy development.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to things happening behind closed doors. We shall discuss that on Amendment No. 52. I believe that he is wrong to describe that situation as being behind closed doors. Nevertheless, some adjustments are being made in that context and have been made in another place.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, has spelt out the real position in relation to the LGA. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is right that there are many within the LGA and many within all parties in local government who do not like elements of the Bill. But recognising the situation we are in, the LGA has supported the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The Government, with some persuasion, have also agreed to it. It seems to me that after the many hours we have spent on the Bill, a compromise is a sensible way forward. The Government have moved from their original position; the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has yet to move from his position; rather than pursue his amendment, I suggest that he should now do so. I suggest that he should pursue the noble Baroness's amendment and not support his own.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, we have had a good debate on this subject. The quality of the debate, if nothing else, has justified the tabling of these amendments.

I am most grateful to the Minister for his response. The noble Lords, Lord Smith, Lord Tope and Lord Hooson, my noble friends Lady Hanham, Lord Hanningfield, and the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, have all made a number of points which had common themes. I shall try to sum up the themes which have come through rather than address every individual point.

Something has been made of the fact that there was a Joint Committee of the two Houses which did not recommend the status quo. If my memory is correct—and I am open to correction—that Joint Committee was considering a draft Bill. Therefore, it considered what was before it. If it had been invited to consider a blank sheet of paper, it might well have reached a different conclusion. I say no more on that. That remains a fact.

I deal next with the question of the executive/scrutiny split. Quite fortuitously, I happened to meet the former chairman of the Institute of Directors. Knowing that he was the former chairman of the Institute of Directors, I inquired how he was passing his time. He said, "I am still working extremely hard. I have a large number of non-executive directorships". "Oh", I said, "That sounds fun. How do you find it?" He said, "Well, it is extraordinary but we find that we have more and more work and are under more and more pressure and we do not seem to be able to avoid being executive".

We need to be well aware that there is no clear dividing line between responsibility for executive action and responsibility for scrutiny. If scrutiny is to work and be effective, it must have power to control executive action. As soon as it has that power, it is taking executive action indirectly itself. We must not miss that.

Something has been made of the fact that under the present system, party groups may well take decisions behind closed doors. Party groups are party groups. They are not banned under the Bill and they will continue. They will continue as they have done in the past. They will not be able to do anything without the consent of the majority of their members on the council. It does not matter whether or not there is an executive. That remains the fact: ultimate decisions are taken in the open.

Nothing in this Bill prevents party groups from existing and behaving as they have done in the past. But they depend now and in the future on the consent of the members of the authority.

I want to come back to the degree of disillusionment that there is among councillors of all parties at the present time. That arises because they are experienced people who know the job of a local authority. They see their ability to act on behalf of their community being reduced.

It may well be that many people who feel like that will not stand at another election and there will be a new generation who feel that what they are doing is adequate. But I suspect that that will be because they do not know what they have missed.

That just about sums up the situation. Two other things need to be said. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, ask how far we are prepared to go to hold up the Government on this matter. That is not an easy question for me to answer because the Minister did not come to me with a proposal. But I should not have stopped at 20 per cent. The price would have been higher. If we cannot agree in the end and the Government want the Bill as badly as they say they do—and I want a great deal that is in this Bill too—it is always open to them to concede the issue. But I do not suppose that they would be as generous as that. That is not my problem.

We have had a very good and worthwhile debate. The amendments which I put forward do nothing to prevent the creation of executives in local government. I go back to where I began. The fact that that is what was on offer in the Bill is, in my view, a weakness and a lack of confidence by the Government in the system which they are proposing. That is neither right nor acceptable. My amendments are appropriate and I wish to test the opinion of the House.

4.28 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 10A), as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 10, shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 169; Not-Contents, 221.

Division No. 1
Aberdare, L. Hanham, B.
Ackner, L. Hanningfield, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Hanson, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B. Harris of High Cross, L.
Arran, E. Hayhoe, L.
Astor, V. Henley, L.[Teller]
Astor of Hever, L. Higgins, L.
Attlee, E. Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Barber, L. Hogg, B.
Bell, L. Home, E.
Belstead, L. Hooper, B.
Blackwell, L. Howe, E.
Blatch, B. Howell of Guildford, L.
Bledisloe, V. Hunt of Wirral, L.
Boardman, L. Hurd of Westwell, L.
Bowness, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Jellicoe, E.
Bramall, L. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Bridgeman, V. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Brigstocke, B. Jopling, L.
Brittan of Spennithorne, L Kelvedon, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. King of Wartnaby, L.
Burnham, L.[Teller] Kingsland, L.
Buscombe, B. Kirkham, L.
Butterworth, L. Knight of Collingtree, B.
Buxton of Alsa, L. Laing of Dunphail, L.
Byford, B. Laird, L.
Caithness, E. Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Lane, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Lane of Horsell, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Liverpool, E.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Lucas, L.
Chadlington, L. Luke, L.
Chalfont, L. Lyell, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Coe, L. McConnell, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Macfarlane of Bearsden, L.
Courtown, E. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Cowdrey of Tonbridge, L. Mancroft, L.
Cox, B. Marlesford, L.
Craig of Radley, L. Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Cranborne, V. Miller of Hendon, B.
Crickhowell, L. Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Cumberlege, B. Montrose, D.
Darcy de Knayth, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Moynihan, L.
Denham, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Naseby, L.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Nickson, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Norfolk, D.
Elles, B. Northbrook, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Northesk, E.
Elton, L. Norton of Louth, L.
Ferrers, E. O'Cathain, B.
Fookes, B. Onslow, E.
Forsyth of Drumlean, L. Onslow of Woking, L.
Freeman, L. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Oxfuird, V.
Geddes, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Gilmour of Craigmillar, L. Peel, E.
Glentoran, L. Perry of Southwark, B.
Goschen, V. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Platt of Writtle, B. Sharpies, B.
Plumb, L. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L. Sheppard of Didgemere, L.
Porter of Luddenham, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L
Prior, L. Stewartby, L.
Pym, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Quinton, L. Strange, B.
Rawlings, B. Strathclyde, L.
Rawlinson of Ewell, L. Swinfen, L.
Reay, L. Taylor of Warwick, L.
Rees, L. Thatcher, B.
Rees-Mogg, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Renton, L. Trefgarne, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L. Trumpington, B.
Rotherwick, L. Vivian, L.
St John of Fawsley, L. Waddington, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Weatherill, L.
Sanderson of Bowden, L. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Seccombe, B. Wolfson, L.
Selbome, E. Wolfson of Sunningdale, L.
Selsdon, L. Young, B.
Younger of Leckie, V.
Acton, L. Donoughue, L.
Addington, L. Dubs, L.
Ahmed, L. Eatwell, L.
Alderdice, L. Elder, L.
Alli, L. Evans of Temple Guiting, L
Amos, B. Evans of Watford, L.
Andrews, B. Ezra, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Falkender, B.
Ashton of Upholland, B. Falkland, V.
Attenborough, L. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Bach, L. Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Barker, B. Filkin, L.
Barnett, L. Fitt, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Fyfe of Fairfield, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Gale, B.
Berkeley, L. Gavron, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L. Gladwin of Clee, L.
Billingham, B. Goldsmith, L.
Blackstone, B. Goodhart, L.
Blease, L. Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Borrie, L. Goudie, B.
Bradshaw, L. Gould of Potternewton, B.
Bragg, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Brennan, L. Gregson, L.
Brett, L. Grenfell, L.
Bridges, L. Hamwee, B.
Bristol, Bp. Hardy of Wath, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Brookman, L. Harris of Haringey, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Harris of Richmond, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Harrison, L.
Burlison, L. Haskel, L.
Carnarvon, E. Hayman, B.
Carter, L.[Teller] Healey, L.
Castle of Blackburn, B. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Chandos, V. Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Christopher, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Hooson, L.
Clement-Jones, L. Howells of St. Davids, B.
Clinton-Davis, L. Howie of Troon, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Hoyle, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Crawley, B. Hunt of Chesterton, L.
Currie of Marylebone, L. Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
David, B. Hutchinson of Lullington, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Hylton, L.
Desai, L. Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor)
Dholakia, L.
Diamond, L. Islwyn, L.
Dixon, L. Jacobs, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L. Rennard, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord Privy Seal) Richard, L.
Jeger, B. Richardson of Calow, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Judd, L. Rogers of Riverside, L.
King of West Bromwich, L. Roll of Ipsden, L.
Kirkhill, L. Roper, L.
Laming, L. Russell, E.
Layard, L. Russell-Johnston, L.
Lea of Crondall, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. Sandberg, L.
Levy, L. Sandwich, E.
Lipsey, L. Sawyer, L.
Lockwood, B. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Lofthoase of Pontefract, L. Scott of Needham Market, B.
Longford, E. Serota, B.
Lovell-Davis, L. Sewel, L.
Ludford, B. Sharman, L.
McCarthy, L. Sharp of Guildford, B.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L. Shepherd, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller] Sheppard of Liverpool, L.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B. Shore of Stepney, L.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L. Shutt of Greetland, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L. Simon, V.
McNally, L. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Maddock, B. Smith of Clifton, L.
Mallalieu, B. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Manchester, Bp. Smith of Leigh, L.
Mar and Kellie, E. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Stone of Blackheath, L.
Massey of Darwen, B. Strabolgi, L.
Methuen, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Mishcon, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Mitchell, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Molloy, L. Thornton, B.
Morgan, L. Tomlinson, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L. Tope, L.
Morris of Manchester, L. Tordoff, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Turnberg, L.
Newby, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Nicol, B. Uddin, B.
Northover, B. Varley, L.
Orme, L. Walker of Doncaster, L.
Patel of Blackburn, L. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Peston, L. Walmsley, B.
Phillips of Sudbury, L. Warnock, B.
Pitkeathley, B. Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Plant of Highfield, L. Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Watson of Richmond, L.
Portsmouth, Bp. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Prashar, B. Whitaker, B.
Prys-Davies, L. Whitty, L.
Puttnam, L. Wigoder, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B. Wilkins, B.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Razzall, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Redesdale, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B. Williamson of Horton, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Young of Darlington, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.40 p.m.