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Lords Chamber

Volume 693: debated on Tuesday 10 July 2007

House of Lords

Tuesday, 10 July 2007.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.

Introduction: Lord Jones of Birmingham

Sir Digby Marritt Jones, Knight, having been created Baron Jones of Birmingham, of Alvechurch and of Bromsgrove in the County of Worcestershire, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean and the Lord Leitch.

Terrorism: European Court of Human Rights

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they will take to ensure that decisions of the European Court of Human Rights not related to the commission of terrorist offences as such do not inhibit the introduction in the United Kingdom of counterterrorist measures.

My Lords, when we consider whether new counterterrorism measures are compatible with human rights, we take into account all relevant case law. That includes any decisions of the European Court of Human Rights where these are assessed as appropriate to the measures under consideration. We do not believe that this approach inhibits the introduction in the United Kingdom of counterterrorism measures.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. In the wake of a critical alert and of the evidence up the road at the Old Bailey, should not the following steps be taken to avoid the inhibition: to reclaim the surrender of sovereignty under the European Convention on Human Rights; to enable Parliament to enact and enforce counterterrorist legislation and safeguard sensitive intelligence, and so to that end amend the Human Rights Act; and to seek derogation under the convention? The need for those measures could never have been envisaged in 1953 on ratification, in 1999 on enactment of the Human Rights Act or before 9/11, which transformed the world.

My Lords, I understand where the noble Lord is coming from on this issue and respect his point of view, but it is the duty of all Governments carefully to balance human rights and their counterterrorism strategy. This Government have a proud record of undertaking to do that. I am not aware that human rights legislation has inhibited us in carrying out that sacred duty because it is an important balance to strike.

My Lords, if the Human Rights Act has not inhibited the Government in any way in dealing with these matters, how many terrorist suspects have been deported from this country since 7/7?

My Lords, I have some data on deportation which I am more than happy to share with your Lordships' House. We are committed to deporting and excluding foreign terrorist suspects. Thus far we have excluded 124 individuals on national security grounds since the terrorist attacks in 2005. A further 52 individuals have been excluded for unacceptable behaviour and we are considering several other cases. That is a total of 176 people in the past two years alone, so that rather makes our point.

My Lords, I want to ask my noble friend a direct question rather than go round the mulberry bush with it. As the terms of reference for the European Court of Human Rights were established a long time ago and the world has since changed, does he agree that those terms of reference should now be amended?

No, my Lords, I do not. I have made that case. We approach anti-terrorist measures in a proportionate way and we seek to gather all-party support. Our current endeavours in that direction are well understood by your Lordships' House and that is the right and balanced way and the British way.

My Lords, am I not right in recalling from history that Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan and Maxwell Fyfe, the leaders of the Conservative Party in 1949, were the main architects politically of much of the convention and that they were very careful indeed to balance individual liberty with national security? Is the noble Lord aware of a single judgment of the European Court of Human Rights that fails to strike that balance?

My Lords, with regard to counterterrorist measures, is it the case that not a single armed police officer was on duty at Glasgow Airport when it was attacked? Does the noble Lord agree that it is very much in the public interest and highly desirable that the same counterterrorist measures should be in place throughout Britain, especially at major airports? The European Court has done nothing that would prevent that happening.

My Lords, I am not sure that it is the right approach, actually. As for the noble Lord’s point, of course we must maintain the utmost vigilance, and our security forces and law enforcement agencies well understand that.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, as has been pointed out, we have a very proud history on human rights legislation, which we drew up and insisted that European countries signed up to, even though we did not sign ourselves until some years later? It might also be worth pointing out that the problem of derogation comes from two specific issues, in relation to which continental law is different from British common law. That is the area that we need to look at, but there are ways in which to address it without abandoning the Human Rights Act, which is one of our proudest achievements post-World War II.

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is worried about getting rid of terrorists at the end of sentences in this country, would he not have to denounce the convention against torture, too?

My Lords, will the noble Lord answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, which was not how many terrorists have been excluded but how many have actually been deported?

My Lords, I thought that those were the data I gave. Maybe the noble Lord would like to read Hansard tomorrow.

My Lords, after the Statement on counterterrorism, the Minister promised, and we agreed to, cross-party talks on this matter. Can the noble Lord give us some timetable as to when this is likely to happen?

My Lords, my understanding is that it has to take place between now and the autumn. We will want to consider these matters in a balanced and proportionate way, taking into account views from all sides.

Armed Forces: Household Division

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking to increase the number of soldiers from ethnic minorities in the Household Division.

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Rifleman Edward Vakabua, Corporal Christopher Read and Lance Corporal Ryan Francis, who were killed on operations in Iraq this past weekend.

The Army’s Diversity Thread programme seeks to increase the number of ethnic-minority soldiers recruited into all parts of the Army by engaging with key influencers and the target audience. This involves raising awareness of the Army and its place in society and building interest in the Army, its careers, values and standards, all with the intention of potentially securing a commitment to join or simply to support the ideals of the service.

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I chair the Conservative Muslim Forum and the Ethnic Diversity Council. I speak at meetings and seminars encouraging the ethnic minorities to join the police and Armed Forces. My Question was prompted by the fact that, when I attended the Trooping the Colour ceremony, out of some 1,400 officers and soldiers I saw no more than 10 persons from the ethnic minorities. There is something not quite right here. Will the Minister assure your Lordships' House that everything is done to combat racism in any form—I emphasise “any”—in the Household Division, and that if there is a perception of racism, adequate awareness of the Army and its values are raised through enhanced public relations?

My Lords, I very much agree with the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh. It is very important that we continue all the efforts in the tri-services, not only in the Army, to increase the number of ethnic-minority young men and women who want to be part of our armed services.

Recruitment to our armed services from our ethnic- minority communities has increased year on year for each of the past seven years. However, we start, as the noble Lord indicated, from a very low base. For instance, in 1998-99 only 1.7 per cent of enlisted service people were from an ethnic minority. In 2006-07 that has gone up to 3.9 per cent. Our target for 2013 is 8 per cent, the percentage of the population from ethnic minorities as measured in the 2001 census. We will continue all the recruitment initiatives and training going on in the Army and other services to get to that target.

My Lords, we on these Benches add our condolences to the families and friends of servicepeople who have lost their lives recently in Iraq in the service of their country. The Minister will be aware of the National Audit Office figures on recruitment and retention for November 2006, which, as she said, showed an increase in recruitment from the ethnic minorities; but there are also some worrying factors. First, while we have increased the number recruited to some ranks from 1 per cent to some 6.2 per cent in 2006, it has levelled off significantly in the past few years. Secondly, and more importantly, while there has been improved recruitment of ethnic minorities at other ranks, the figures for officers are far lower—only a third of those for other ranks. Will the Minister comment on that and tell the House what the Government intend to do about it?

My Lords, we intend to increase our efforts to recruit both into the other ranks and the officer ranks. The highest-ranking ethnic-minority soldier in the Army is a warrant officer class 1, as the noble Lord will know. The highest-ranking ethnic-minority direct-entry officer is a brigadier. We know that it is a problem and we are on to it. What are we doing about recruiting? We are getting to young people directly by going into schools and youth clubs. We are sponsoring sports events and kit, and doing direct marketing of that kind. We are also trying to get to the people who influence young people, such as their parents, youth leaders and religious leaders.

My Lords, did not the most successful period of recruitment to the armed services and the Household Cavalry in particular follow an investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality which found extensive racial discrimination in the armed services? Since that time, following implementation of the five-year action plan and its monitoring by the CRE, interest has levelled off. Is it not time that another action plan with independent monitoring was put in place to ensure that we hit the targets set for the armed services and the Household Division?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley. The CRE has had a long relationship with the Army and the MoD, looking at the problems, starting 10 years ago, of bullying, perceptions of racist behaviour and so on. It recognised that it had to improve the situation in the armed services. The CRE has worked closely with the Army and the other services. The noble Lord has said in the past:

“The Armed Forces have recognised that equality and diversity are positive strengths for an organisation and their work in this area is setting standards that other sections of society should follow”.

I understand that they still have a relationship with the CRE but that it is not as formal as in the past. I therefore take on board what the noble Lord said.

My Lords, the Minister may not be aware that I spoke recently in Birmingham to some 300 people from ethnic minorities and all religions, mostly Sikhs, about joining the military. It appeared quite clearly to me that there was some holding back because it is felt that this Government, with a little help from the previous Government, have cut the military beyond the quick and that it is no longer a prime service. Ministers need to get around a bit more. Is the Minister aware that I have not heard many Members from the other place trying to persuade ethnic minorities in their constituencies to join the military or the police forces? I am a little suspicious of the Government’s intentions in this area. Not nearly enough force and push is being put into recruitment.

My Lords, I hear the noble Viscount’s concerns and will convey them to the department, but half a million pounds of last year’s recruitment budget has gone directly to recruiting ethnic-minority members. In particular, we are working with the Sikh community in Southall. Sikh Gurdwara staff are working very closely with the Wembley recruiting office. That is a small example of where we are talking directly to communities that traditionally have not looked to the services.

Health: End-of-life Care

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether the health and social care outcomes and accountability framework will have end-of-life care as one of its 40 domains.

My Lords, the new outcomes framework being developed by the Department of Health will strengthen local accountability and decision-making. The framework establishes roughly 40 indicators covering the range of health and social care outcomes. Primary care trusts and local authorities will use it to set priorities against clearly benchmarked performance indicators. It is too early to say whether end-of-life care will be in the final set. We are engaging publicly on these outcomes.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and for outlining the framework. Does she acknowledge that there was a manifesto commitment both to beginning-of-life and end-of-life care, and that the Government with their end-of-life care strategy—and being on the board, I must declare an interest—are trying to establish measurable outcomes to ensure that patients receive the care that they need? Does she recognise that, if one of these domains does not cover end-of-life care, we will effectively not be preparing for the one thing that comes to us all? Given that death will happen to everyone, it must be a core framework for the delivery of health and social care services.

My Lords, I acknowledge the manifesto commitment and pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her expertise and diligence in following these issues. As I have said, it is too early to say whether it will be in the final set of indicators. However, I readily acknowledge that the framework offers an opportunity to place end-of-life care much higher in the consciousness of PCTs. It is going to affect us all, so we all have a vested interest in it.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the United Kingdom’s consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeons were surveyed last year? They deal with perhaps the most distressing forms of cancer, which are so disfiguring and cause difficulty in eating. Seventy-two per cent of the 197 experts consulted in this field considered that it was very important to have a much greater stress on and funding of end-of-life care. Will she take that into consideration?

My Lords, I was not aware of the views expressed by that group of people, for whom I have high regard. However, I know that, when asked, the majority of the population express a preference for the location of their death. People are concerned to ensure that there is much better end-of-life care. Therefore, those surveyed are reflecting the views of the population.

My Lords, in considering this framework, does the Minister think that it might be used to ensure that workers receive regular supervision, particularly those working on their own in the community?

My Lords, I am sure that issue will be considered in the review announced last week by the Secretary of State, which is being undertaken by Sir Ara Darzi.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that chaplains continue to play a vital part in end-of-life care by providing appropriate spiritual care and support to patients and their families, not least by acknowledging and sometimes absorbing the distress—and sometimes the despair and the anger—that is experienced by many in those last days and weeks of life, which other healthcare professionals are simply not in a position to be able to do?

My Lords, I certainly acknowledge the terrific role that chaplains play in end-of-life care. I pay great tribute to and thank them greatly for their work in this area.

My Lords, following the noble Baroness's earlier answer, would it be possible for the department to monitor how many people die either at home or in a hospice as opposed to in an acute hospital—which, as the research shows, is what most people wish to avoid?

My Lords, that sounds like a very simple question, and I would like to say that it should be possible to monitor those numbers, but I will have to look into it before giving the noble Baroness a definitive reply.

My Lords, can my noble friend indicate how the Government’s excellent strategy for the support of carers will link into this work, since the more people die at home, the more burden and distress is likely to fall on their families?

My Lords, one of the most important aspects of the new framework is that it is designed to engage with local people, and carers are extremely important within the community. It is also designed to ensure that there is much more joined-up action between local government and local PCTs. As local government actions and health in the community both have a great bearing on the lives of carers, I think that the framework will have greatly beneficial implications for carers.

My Lords, can the Minister explain what issues are making it difficult for the Government to decide that end-of-life care should be one of the 40 domains?

My Lords, it has been decided that there will be only about 40 outcomes and with so few it is not possible to cover every area in which noble Lords are concerned. However, I hear what the whole House is saying—that end-of-life care is extremely important. I am sure that the Government will take that into account when they decide.

Taxation: Private Equity Firms

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they have any proposals regarding the taxation of private equity firms.

My Lords, there is no specific tax treatment for private equity firms. All taxes are kept under review as part of the Budget process. Two reviews are under way in this area. The first is a review of shareholder debt, announced on 8 March 2007. Another review is looking at the tax treatment of employment-related securities, including carried interest. An update on both reviews will be provided at the Pre-Budget Report 2007.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend. I am sure that he recognises how important it is to be careful here, as this could affect lots of other companies than just private equity firms. There must be hundreds if not thousands of companies borrowing to invest in a way that will help them and the country at large. I declare a small interest in a small company, not a private equity firm. As I am sure he will recognise, it is crucial that we do nothing to endanger that investment—for which a lot of money is borrowed and interest charged—continuing as a tax deduction, otherwise that investment could be jeopardised. Can he assure us that nothing in these reviews will include anything to disallow interest as a tax charge for companies investing for the benefit of themselves and the country at large?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing a note of balance in what have been some fairly tempestuous times regarding these issues. He is absolutely right that there is no specific tax treatment for private equity firms and that we must be concerned about the taxation of interest, which is accounted as a business cost, in circumstances where all major countries adopt exactly this strategy. It would be very ill advised for this country to adopt a different position.

My Lords, given the importance of the international competitiveness of tax rates on business, will the Minister ensure that the reviews that he mentioned take account of the comparative rates of taxation on private equity investment in other countries? Also, what loss of revenue to the Government might ensue if capital moved overseas as a result of a change in tax rates?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that the Treasury review will be comprehensive, covering all aspects. From my answer a moment ago, he will recognise that we are all too well aware of the significance of our taxation regime in terms of international comparators.

My Lords, notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, said a few minutes ago, is the Minister aware of the statement made over the weekend by Jon Moulton of Alchemy Partners, who knows a thing or two about private equity? He said that every time there was a leveraged buy-out,

“in this country, the exchequer loses out. The chancellor should be thinking again about the tax revenue he loses”,

on interest payments. Would the Minister draw that statement to the attention of his colleagues in the Treasury?

My Lords, it is not necessary to draw the attention of the Chancellor and the Treasury to that statement, because it was included in my notes in preparation for today’s response. We need to have a fully rounded picture of the situation, in circumstances where we recognise public anxiety. The House will appreciate that the private equity industry has a case to answer, which it has not always done advantageously in the recent past. A fully rounded picture will be sought by the Treasury before any decisions are taken.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is something wrong when someone admits that his cleaner pays more tax than he does himself? Surely that needs to be looked at.

My Lords, one of the significant figures in private equity drew attention to that, and it certainly needs to be looked at. As I indicated, we need to look at the question of business taxation in the round. However, my noble friend is absolutely right—there is public anxiety about the present position, which is why the issue is subject to review.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that some of the tax incentives utilised by private equity were designed to support and encourage real venture capital? If he agrees, can he explain why investment in early-stage companies has declined from 10 per cent in 1998 to 2 per cent in 2005?

My Lords, our taxation system is meant to encourage such venture capital and, as the noble Baroness will recognise, aspects of private equity development reflect that. The overall position, which she will be all too well aware of, is that over the last decade investment in business in this country—a reflection of low interest rates and of the strength of the British economy—has led us to produce an economy that is the envy of much of the world.

My Lords, is Jon Moulton right when he says that he is paying less tax than his cleaning lady, or does he mean that he is paying a lower rate of tax? If he is paying at 10 per cent when she is paying at a much higher rate, I suspect that the 10 per cent on which he is paying tax comes to a lot more than his cleaning lady’s tax.

My Lords, we all assume that we are talking about rates of taxation and that the basic returns that Jon Moulton was referring to were somewhat greater than the earning capacity of one of his cleaners.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the new Chancellor rightly said recently that there should not be a knee-jerk reaction to some of the rather oversimplified criticism that we have read about? Will the Minister assure us that the reviews will contain no plans that have the unintended consequences referred to by the Chancellor?

My Lords, that is the case. Before the recent furore, the former Economic Secretary, Ed Balls, referred to the need for a balanced position. The private equity industry feels that it has had a bad press in recent weeks, for reasons that we can recognise. It has undertaken to set up an independent working party under Sir David Walker to develop a voluntary comply-or-explain code so that its case can be better presented to the public. At present, only the adverse position has been identified and, as my noble friend indicated, that ought not to lead to immediate reaction from the Government, nor will it.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, at a convenient time after 4.30 pm, my noble friend Lord Adonis will repeat a Statement on children, schools and families, which is being made in another place.

Regulatory Reform (Game) Order 2007

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft regulatory reform order laid before the House on 24 May be approved. 11th Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 3 July.—(Lord Rooker.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Regulatory Reform (Financial Services and Markets Act 2000) Order 2007

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft regulatory reform order laid before the House on 24 May be approved. 11th Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 3 July.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

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

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD SPEAKER in the Chair.]

Clause 52 agreed to.

Clause 53 [Power of council to alter years of ordinary elections of parish councillors]:

88: Clause 53, page 26, line 25, leave out subsection (3)

The noble Baroness said: The business managers should provide the mover of the first amendment after Questions with some standard form of wording that would show all the proper courtesies but allow the House a moment to show how much noble Lords support the development of local government in England and Wales. I hope that is the right formula. Many years ago, when I brought the controller of a BBC radio channel into the Chamber, he looked at the microphones and said, “It must be quite interesting mixing the sound in here”. This is probably an example of that; the volume of my microphone seems to have been turned up.

The amendment is grouped with Amendments Nos. 89 and 90, in the name of my noble friend Lord Greaves. Clause 53 provides for elections for parish councillors to be held in years when there are also elections of district councillors in the same place. I can understand that there would be reasons for having the two sets of elections on the same day, such as cost, convenience and turnout, but there are also good reasons to separate them. Where the parish is the “parish pump” type, beloved of those who write certain types of fiction, and not political, one can understand that cost and convenience would outweigh other considerations.

However, not all parishes are small or apolitical. Where there is a lively local political scene, it would not necessarily be desirable to hold the two sets of elections at the same time. It is useful for voters, first, to be able to show that they understand that this is a different election and, secondly, to reflect shifts in the political mood as the years go by. The two elections can be a useful counterpoint to each other. I have tabled this amendment so that the Government can explain their thinking and to ask them to confirm that in this instance “district” includes a unitary authority. I beg to move.

My Amendments Nos. 89 and 90 are rather more modest in ambition than my noble friend’s, but they cover two important things. My noble friend raised a very important matter about parish councils which will underlie quite a lot of what we say on the next part of the Bill: the great variety and difference there is between the different bodies called parish councils or the larger ones called town councils. Some are large, with a large budget, and function like a town council; others are small, covering a village community or even a community with no obvious village, and operate very differently. They operate under the same law and the same rules, but, as my noble friend pointed out, they can differ greatly. Amendment No. 89 would simply insert the duty of a district council to consult parish councils before it took any action under this clause. It seems reasonable that, if your elections are to be moved from one year to another, you ought to be asked first what you think about it. That ties in with what my noble friend said about choice.

Amendment No. 90 is very specific and would apply in very few circumstances. Nevertheless, I can envisage circumstances in which the year of an election, under the Government’s proposals in this Bill, would be moved from one year to another and there would be a choice. For example, if a district council was moving back from whole-council elections to electing itself by halves every two years, the parish council election date would probably have to be moved under the Bill. There would be a choice of two years in which to do that. It seems reasonable that, under those circumstances, what the parish council thinks should prevail.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on speaking through quite a challenging moment. I am very glad that we have been able to have this debate now. Before I turn to the amendments, let me confirm to the noble Baroness that “district” includes unitaries.

The Government are opposed to the amendments tabled against Clause 53 and 45. Current standard practice is that parish council elections are held in the same year as the elections to the district ward within which they are situated. This is to reduce the costs and administrative burdens on electoral administrators. Amendment No. 88 would allow the date to be set for a year different from that for the district ward elections, which would increase costs and administrative burdens. We are therefore opposed to this amendment.

On Amendment No. 89, we do not consider that central government needs to be prescriptive on the consultation procedure that the district council follows. I mentioned that approach earlier in Committee. The aim of devolution is to trust democratically accountable local authorities to act reasonably and to consult those parties which they consider to be interested. We do not believe that provision specifying these specific consultation steps needs to be made in the Bill. However, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is perfectly reasonable. Making an amendment which would allow the parish council’s view to prevail on this issue is not acceptable. We are devolving responsibility to local authorities. The aim is to reduce the administrative burden and costs for electoral administrators, and therefore the district council must decide. There would also be a considerable risk that a political group controlling a parish council might choose an election year that would suit its electoral prospects.

In relation to Amendment No. 90, we have retained the power in the Local Government Act 2000 so that if in the future, for example, the vast majority of councils in England operated whole-council elections, the Secretary of State would be able to move the remaining few councils to achieve a uniform pattern across England. The amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from doing that in the future under any circumstances. We are clear that the power to change electoral cycles should generally be devolved to local authorities. However, we believe it is important that the Secretary of State retains a power that in particular and, I stress, exceptional circumstances he or she may use in the future to change, by order, a council’s electoral cycle to that of whole-council elections. I hope that the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing her amendment.

Why do the Government think that a parish council is potentially too politically charged to choose its own election date, whereas central government does it all the time?

I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention. I was trying to think of one of the most extreme examples of where a parish council choosing that process would be undesirable.

I thank the noble Baroness. The answer to my amendment seems to be that that is what we do now. I do not have any sense that the Government have considered the alternative scenario that I put forward, unless, following on from what my noble friend said, they think that parish politics might get too political and they feel that we had better ensure that that does not happen. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 89 not moved.]

Clause 53 agreed to.

Clause 54 [Amendment of existing provisions about schemes for ordinary elections]:

[Amendment No. 90 not moved.]

Clause 54 agreed to.

Clause 55 [Requests for single-member electoral areas]:

91: Clause 55, page 28, line 4, at end insert—

“( ) A county council in a two-tier area that has at least one electoral division which returns more than one councillor shall within six months of the coming into force of this Part make a request under subsection (1) for a review of any such division or divisions.”

The noble Lord said: This amendment does not need a great deal of discussion, but I thought that it was worth running through what appears to be a wish by central government to encourage more local authorities to move towards single-member, as opposed to multi-member, wards. This is certainly associated with a wish that local authorities that elect every year by thirds, or three years out of four by thirds, should move to whole-council elections every four years.

I am not sure that central government should be taking a view on whether single-member or multi-member wards are good or bad. It seems to me that that should basically be left to local discretion. However, a number of issues arise from it which come from tradition as much as anything else, and it is a tradition based on sensible things. Large county councils with large county divisions have traditionally had single-member electoral divisions. That has worked because they are large both in area and often in terms of the number of people in each ward and each division, and a single-member division is therefore sensible.

On the other hand, there has been a move fairly recently to increase the number of county electoral divisions that elect two county councillors, often resulting in large and sprawling divisions. The authorities ought to be asked to look at that, although the decisions should be basically local.

In large or small urban authorities, multi-member wards are a good idea, whether the elections are by thirds or whole-county elections, because they provide people with a choice of councillors. Councillors are not infallible, although sometimes some of them think they are. Sometimes it is good to have a choice of who represents you in your ward. Sometimes that involves different parties, but even if it is the same party, some people may be very good while others are hopeless. People go through bad patches in their lives; they may be ill and unable to serve the people as well as they might have done previously.

There ought not to be a presumption that single-member seats are better than multi-member seats, and the Government ought to pull back from what seems to be a current wish to move more authorities to become single-member wards. I beg to move.

I will seek to convince the Committee that these amendments are not needed and that the clause should stand part. Clause 55 allows county councils, along with all other councils, to make a request for single-member electoral areas. To require them to make such a request would force county councils that wish to retain two- or three-member divisions to do something they may not want. The Bill provides local choice, and we see no good reason to force county councils to make such a request. If they wish to do so, no doubt they will.

It is questionable whether the Electoral Commission and its Boundary Committee would have the resources to conduct reviews of the 21 county councils that do not have single members in all their divisions if those councils were forced to make these requests within six months.

The noble Lord indicated that he wished Clause 55 to be deleted, but it inserts new Sections 14A and 14B to the Local Government Act 1992. Those new sections enable a principal council that is subject to a whole-council election to request the Electoral Commission to direct the Boundary Committee to conduct an electoral review and to recommend whether each electoral area in a council’s area should return one councillor. The Electoral Commission is not obliged to grant the request, but if it decides not to do so, reasons must be given. Electoral areas in a county council are county divisions, and the areas in a district council are district wards, as I am sure noble Lords are well aware.

In conducting the review, the Boundary Committee will be required to have regard to the following matters, which it must already have regard to when carrying out electoral reviews: it must reflect community identity and interests, ensure effective and convenient local government, and secure equality of representation. If the Boundary Committee, having had regard to these needs, considers that it would be inappropriate to recommend that all electoral areas become single-member electoral areas, it is not obliged to make such a recommendation. The clause devolves to councils the initiative to seek single-member electoral areas where they consider it right to do so. The amendment would force councils to do something they do not wish to do. I hope that the noble Lord will consider withdrawing his amendment. We recognise the importance of tradition, and it is our aim to devolve and delegate as much as possible to local authorities.

My understanding is that an election would take place under the normal system—two or three-member wards, say—and that a council would then decide that it wanted to change to single-member wards, which would reduce the ward size by one-half or one-third. If that review was undertaken, presumably the change in the wards would not come into force until the following election time. What impact might that have on the nature of representation? Presumably, the way that the ward boundaries are formed could affect the make-up of the local council.

I need to make clear that the principal concern here is determining whether a review of the electoral cycle needs to be undertaken. It is for the Electoral Commission to decide that. If such a review takes place, the Boundary Committee would need to take into account the criteria that I outlined. If that does not answer the noble Baroness’s question, I will have to look at it and write to her.

The question is perhaps easier than the Minister thinks. If it is recommended after the review that the council go down to single-member wards, presumably that change would come into force only at the next election, and it would have to be on whole-council not part-council elections.

At lunchtime today, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and I attended the annual meeting of London Councils. My twopenny’s worth on this debate is to observe how enormous the canvas is on which local government is constituted and operates. At the meeting the apologies of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, were given, and I made reference to the valuable work done for London Councils by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. The power and enormity of the responsibilities around that table struck me, in comparison to the field in which I know the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is such an expert. The problem is that there is no situation where one size fits everything.

We have a mechanism that allows these things to be tested. As far as I can see and understand, the Government are genuinely attempting to cut out bureaucracy and waste while providing a mechanism whereby any genuine need for change can be tested. We have the great arbiter of the Electoral Commission to examine all the evidence. So, while I highly and sincerely respect what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, tells us, we cannot interfere very much with the present arrangements. The integrity of the Electoral Commission, which is integral to this part, is not besmirched. It is the best body to listen and to bring forward any changes.

I am grateful for that short debate, which has been a useful run through the issues. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 92 not moved.]

Clause 55 agreed to.

Clause 56 [Electoral Commission and Boundary Committee: reviews and recommendations]:

93: Clause 56, page 29, line 6, leave out from “that” to end of line 8 and insert “each ward in the district returns an appropriate number of councillors”

94: Clause 56, page 29, line 17, leave out from “councillors” to “is” in line 18 and insert “returned by a ward”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

95: Clause 56, page 29, line 20, leave out “divisible by” and insert “1 or”

The noble Lord said: I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 96 and 99 and the stand part in this little group. If I have understood the Bill correctly, an issue of substance here needs to be looked at carefully. These provisions are, as I understand them, about boundary reviews in areas with elections either twice or three times every four years—in other words, elections by halves or by thirds.

Many non-metropolitan districts—districts in two-tier areas where there is a county council and district councils—currently have a range of wards, from one member to three members. There are often quite a lot of three-member wards, but sometimes there are two-member wards and, particularly in rural areas, single-member wards. Some districts have predominantly single-member wards, such as Ribble Valley or Craven near the Pennines where I live, with a few multi-member wards in the towns. Other districts, such as Pendle or Burnley, have mainly three-member wards but may have, as Pendle does, some two-member and single-member wards.

If I have read the Bill correctly, authorities that elect in halves will have to have wards divisible by two and authorities that elect in thirds will have to have wards divisible by three. This would mean a substantial change in the existing pattern and would seem to me in these areas to be a mistake. The existing pattern of wards is deliberately there to reflect the geography of the place; there are towns where multi-member wards are appropriate and rural areas where they are much less appropriate, with a village or group of villages with just one councillor.

The purpose of Amendments Nos. 95 and 96 is to probe exactly what is proposed in the Bill and whether my reading of it is correct. Amendment No. 99 looks at the situation in metropolitan districts. If metropolitan districts are to be able to have wards of different sizes—which is apparently proposed, although I am not sure how it fits in with what I have just been talking about—this issue should be discussed. The proposal may be appropriate, particularly for any that move towards whole-council elections, although I do not think that there will be many. Taken together with the section that I have just been talking about, however, it appears that the choice is between three-member wards and six-member wards. In metropolitan districts, six-member wards would run the risk of being altogether too big. The amendments are a means of probing what these provisions mean with a view to determining later whether they are sensible or not. I beg to move.

I thank the noble Lord for his amendment and hope that I can give him further information to help him in his probing.

The Government oppose Amendments Nos. 95 and 96 because, where there are elections by halves, the wards should, where possible, have two councillors or a number of councillors divisible by two; where there are elections by thirds, the wards should, where possible, have three councillors or a number of councillors divisible by three. This is to provide equity of opportunity for electors at the ballot box.

In an area with elections by thirds, there will be elections in three out of four years in a full electoral cycle. If you have three-member wards in such an area, there will be elections in each ward in each of those three years and all electors will have a chance to vote at every election, giving them the opportunity to influence the composition of the council on each such occasion. However, if there are single-member and two-member wards, in those wards elections will be held in only one or two years of the full electoral cycle and voters in those wards would miss out on the opportunity to vote in years when voters in other wards would be voting. We believe that this should be avoided wherever possible.

However, we have made having the appropriate number of councillors per ward desirable rather than mandatory. This is so that if the Boundary Committee believes that where, for example, there are elections by thirds, having three-member wards would not allow a particular community to be included wholly within that ward, thereby not reflecting the community identity criteria that I mentioned earlier, a different and more suitable number of members for that ward can be recommended.

In January 2004, the Electoral Commission stated that in principle it is fundamentally unfair and unacceptable that within an individual local authority some of the electorate should have fewer opportunities to vote and influence the political composition of the authority than their neighbours in a different ward. We are therefore providing within the Bill that, if there are not whole-council elections, the number of members per ward should reflect the electoral cycle unless for a particular ward the Boundary Committee believes that that cannot be achieved, notwithstanding the downsides that that would bring.

We do not believe that Amendment No. 99 is necessary. The Electoral Commission has stated that its current policy is to avoid wards with more than three councillors per ward as it believes that that dilutes accountability. There are currently no wards with more than three members in any principal council in England. Therefore, the intention of the amendment is already being met. However, we do not wish to reduce the options available to the Boundary Committee. In future, there could be peculiar circumstances somewhere in England where a four-member ward might best reflect the local community. Clause 48 removes the requirement in the Local Government Act 1972 that the number of councillors returned for a ward in a metropolitan district should be divisible by three. In future, the number of councillors returned for a metropolitan district ward can be whatever the Electoral Commission determines following an electoral review. That will bring the arrangements for metropolitan district councils into line with those for shire district councils.

Clause 58 is the result of a request from the Electoral Commission, which conducted a year-long review of the electoral review process. Following the review, the commission requested that it be given greater flexibility in metropolitan areas, and this clause delivers that. The amendment would reduce that flexibility, which would inhibit the independent Electoral Commission and the Boundary Committee in their desire to produce the most suitable electoral arrangements for the different areas of England. I hope that I have helped the noble Lord by giving him further information and that he now feels able to withdraw his amendment.

I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. I am pleased about one thing in it, which is that my reading of what the Bill proposes is correct. However, I am not pleased about being correct, because the Government are fundamentally wrong. With the words “where possible” and so on, the noble Baroness makes it sound as if there will be a few exceptions here and there, but not very many, and that, where there are exceptions, the wards will be bigger to accommodate communities rather than smaller. I am not happy about that. It is a substantial, fundamental change for a number—I do not know how many, but I will find out—of shire district authorities that elect by thirds at the moment and have wards ranging from one to three members. Those authorities will find a significant change in their arrangements when we next have a boundary review. The arrangements that exist at the moment are there for good reasons, and usually accommodate the reasonable needs of rural areas. People do not feel cheated because they do not vote as often as other places, but if you ask them to weigh up the relative benefits of having their own councillor for a group of villages or having three councillors as part of a much larger rural ward, many like the arrangements as they are.

What the Government are trying to sneak through—it is not widely understood that this change is being put forward—is wrong. There may be circumstances where it is appropriate to have bigger wards in rural areas, but in many places people deliberately go for small two-member or single-member wards in those parts of a district where that is appropriate. I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying that my reading of the Bill was correct. For the moment I beg leave to withdraw this amendment, but some of us might like to have further discussions about this and come back to it on Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 96 not moved.]

Clause 56, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 57 [Duty of local authority to provide Boundary Committee with information]:

97: Clause 57, page 29, line 29, after “may” insert “reasonably”

The noble Lord said: I can be brief on this new provision for the Boundary Committee to be able to require information from local authorities. As the clause as it stands says, that is entirely reasonable, but it does not say that the date that the Boundary Committee can set to get that information should also be reasonable. I am trying to put the word “reasonable” in twice. I beg to move.

I, too, hope to be reasonably short on this one. We do not believe that this amendment is necessary, as the Boundary Committee is required to act reasonably, as are all public bodies. The Boundary Committee would require this information as part of a review and we are confident that it would set dates that were reasonable within the context of the review that it was conducting. I hope that the noble Lord will consider withdrawing the amendment.

If the Boundary Committee has a general obligation to be reasonable, why is the word “reasonable” in the clause at all?

Parliamentary draftsmen obviously felt that it was reasonable to include that, but I will check and give a full answer to the noble Lord’s specific question in writing.

I do not think that my noble friend was being frivolous either in tabling the amendment or in asking the question. It is just the sort of thing that lawyers can spend a lot of time on and build up a lot of fees over, if there is a problem. I speak as—

Before the noble Baroness sits down, let me say that I agree with her. That is why I would like to give the noble Lord a fully considered answer, which will be helpful to the whole Committee.

I am grateful for that. The Minister’s reply to me, if not to my noble friend, was almost exactly what I was going to say. This is about the way parliamentary draftsmen think things ought to be. It is not always clear why that is the case. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

98: Clause 57, page 29, line 31, at end insert—

“( ) In section 15 (procedure on a review)—

(a) in subsection (1)—(i) at the end of paragraph (a) insert “and”;(ii) omit paragraph (c) and the word “and” immediately preceding it;(b) omit subsection (2);(c) in subsection (3)—(i) omit paragraph (a);(ii) in paragraph (b) after “prepare” insert “and publish”;(iii) at the end of paragraph (b) insert “and”;(iv) omit paragraph (c);(d) for subsections (4) and (5) substitute— “(4) In conducting a review, the Boundary Committee for England may at any time before publishing draft recommendations consult such persons as they consider appropriate.(5) As soon as the Boundary Committee for England are in a position to submit recommendations to the Electoral Commission they must—(a) submit them; and(b) publish the recommendations and take such steps as they consider sufficient to secure that persons who may be interested in the recommendations are informed of them.”;(e) in subsection (6)—(i) for “the report on a review is” substitute “recommendations are”;(ii) for “(4) above” substitute “(5) above”;(iii) in paragraph (a), omit the words “a further report under subsection (4) containing”;(iv) in paragraph (b), for “report relates” substitute “recommendations relate”;(f) after subsection (6) insert—“(6A) Where the Boundary Committee for England submit recommendations under subsection (6)(a), they must publish the recommendations and take such steps as they consider sufficient to secure that persons who may be interested in the recommendations are informed of them.”;(g) omit subsection (8).( ) Omit section 15A.

( ) In section 17(2) (implementation of recommendations by order), omit the words “or the submission of a report”.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 57, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 58 [Metropolitan districts: councillors per ward]:

[Amendment No. 99 not moved.]

Clause 58 agreed to.

Clause 59 [Change of name of electoral area]:

100: Clause 59, page 30, line 12, at end insert—

“( ) The meeting required by subsection (2) shall not be held unless the authority has given not less than two months’ notice of the proposal or proposals.”

The noble Baroness said: This amendment takes us to the clause dealing with the change of name of an electoral area. It would require the local authority to give at least two months’ notice of a proposal to change the name. I was prompted to pursue the matter because of my experience at London borough level. The ward that I represented for 20 years disappeared as a result of ward boundary changes, and so did its name. I was quite startled by the number of times local people asked me what had happened to the ward that was under that name.

The name is important—it is an identifier—and people can be quite strongly wedded to it because it expresses at a political level the place that they feel is theirs. Again, this is perhaps not the most important part of the Bill but, with a Government who talk a great deal about place shaping and so on, it is not insignificant either. I beg to move.

My Amendment No. 101 pursues some of the issues mentioned by my noble friend. Ward and division names are important. It was interesting to read the report of the House of Commons Public Bill Committee when it debated the issue. A number of Members of Parliament referred to the importance of names in a political context. There are several issues involved. The members of the committee were particularly concerned about the question of marginality, which, as they are Members of Parliament, I suppose they would be. A mixed composition ward might include a huge council estate and great deal of quite prosperous middle-class housing, and whether you name it after the council estate or after the prosperous housing makes a difference to the impression that people have of where that ward naturally lies in traditional political allegiances.

That is the clear message that came across from the discussion in the House of Commons committee. We know that it is true. If you name the ward after the council estate, it sounds as though it might be a Labour ward; if you name it after the posh area, it sounds as though it might be a Tory ward. The truth is, of course, that it might be a safe Liberal Democrat ward. But perception is important. In marginal wards, whether people think it is worth bothering to go out and vote is a crucial matter in local elections and can make a real difference to the result.

Amendment Nos. 100 and 101 run together. A change of name is an important decision and should require a two-thirds majority of the council. The Minister may say that we are being overprescriptive again and that we should leave this to local authorities. However, I come back to the point that I made on the first day of Committee that, for obvious reasons, electoral matters are different in kind from a great many of the other things that local authorities do. Decisions made about electoral matters can influence and determine the results of elections and the people making the electoral decisions may have a vested interest in them. I am not saying that they should not make such decisions, but they should have to think about them.

First, my noble friend and I are suggesting that there should be a statutory publicity requirement so that authorities cannot sneak through decisions. Secondly, I am suggesting that it should be more difficult to pass changes to ward names than to make decisions on most of the other things that local authorities do. This is a part of the electoral process and the impositions on local authorities ought to be greater than they are.

Until the amendments were moved, I was happily thinking that the clause would do but, having listened to some discussion on this issue, I think it is right that where a ward is changed—whether its shape, size or boundaries—and the name changes with it, the people who will be within it should be given a reasonable opportunity to know what that name is going to be. The Bill as it is constructed says that a meeting must take place in order for those names to be confirmed, but it does not actually say a meeting of what. Presumably it is either a meeting of the council, in which case the council can make the decisions, or a local meeting that can be attended by people who live in the ward. Whichever it will be, it seems perfectly sensible and reasonable that the amendment being moved is placed within the context of the fact that people need to know about the name changes. The council has a duty to ensure that people know the names of their electoral areas. I support the amendment.

My experience is such that I cannot believe that a council faced with some evidence to bring about changes would try by subterfuge to produce those changes without consulting the people affected. The councillors themselves have a vested interest, for the very good reasons set out by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, such as historical attachment.

A name that identifies an area is either posh or otherwise in the minds of the electorate, and they will not take kindly to suddenly discovering that the place where they reside is named differently. As I understand it, the council that has the power to do that would be ill advised to do so and cause a furore, because the political consequences could well be quickly visited upon it and its political complexion. The Minister can help the Committee by explaining the advantage of the amendments to the present situation. At present the council is allowed, in the light of empirical evidence, to decide that there is a need for a change and to propose and effect that change, but only by taking along with it the people who are affected. Although the Minister and others have used the term “far too prescriptive”—that is, there are too many tiny details—there are some people who want everything in tiny detail.

As an ex-councillor, I think councils ought to be given some credit for their political sense in appreciating that changes, which from the town clerk’s point of view may seem to be administratively sensible, need to be looked at in the light of the effect upon ordinary people. I do not have a view on the value of the amendments. I agree with what has been said. The present Local Government Act under which we are operating gives ample provision for the local council to make its decisions, with safeguards. People who control councils are not politically stupid. They know the consequences of what they are doing. If they behave unreasonably—or politically, with a large “P”—they deserve all they get.

This is getting more exciting as each moment passes. Who will be at this meeting? Where will it be held? Who will conduct it? The noble Lord, Lord Graham, has experience in local government that goes back to the previous Local Government Bill and perhaps further, when there were committees responsible for things like this. However, these days, the cabinet could take this decision quite easily without consulting anyone else. An overview and scrutiny committee cannot take it and the council has no role in taking it either. Who will the resolution be passed by and on behalf of whom?

I hope that I can help the Committee by briefly explaining what Clause 59 does. It allows a local authority to change the name of any of its electoral areas—district wards or county divisions—by resolution of the authority at a special meeting. That is our interpretation of the clause. Where the name of an electoral area is protected, a resolution cannot be passed until the Electoral Commission has agreed to the change. The name of an electoral area is deemed to be protected if it has been specified under the Acts in subsection (6)(a) within the past five years. Particular circumstances protect some areas.

The current position is that the name of an electoral area can be changed only by the Electoral Commission following a full electoral review, which takes about 12 months. We are making that change following an evaluation of the periodic electoral review process. The Electoral Commission requested the change. It considers that given that the council can change the name of the district, the parishes and parish wards within the district, it should also be able to change the name of the district wards. This is part of devolving power and flexibility to local authorities. Local authorities should be able to change the names of their electoral areas as they see fit unless they are protected, as I said.

On the point made by the noble Baroness Lady Hamwee, the Local Government Act 1972 already makes provision for the procedural requirements for meetings of local authorities so the question of notice is already covered. It includes requirements about notice and voting. We do not think that it is necessary to supplement the existing provision in this Bill with regard to that issue.

As I said, I agree with the Committee that names are important and the issue can be emotive. We accept that, but we are trying not to be too specific or prescriptive, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, suggested I might say. The aim is one of devolution; to trust local authorities to act reasonably and consult those parties who are interested. We will discuss Clause 139 tomorrow, but in this provision we are trying to devolve decisions to local authorities. We do not consider that a two-thirds majority should be required for a name change in an electoral area. It is unlikely that a name change would be of interest to all members of the council and it would be too great a restriction on an authority to require a two-thirds majority.

I hope that the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing her amendment. I am glad that this matter is interesting. How names are changed is important, and I do not want to diminish its importance by saying that we need to trust local authorities to act reasonably.

The debate provoked more involvement than I expected, but I am glad of that. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, suggests that we should rely on the good sense of the local authority. I shall not go down the road of debating with him whether every authority is full of good sense, but there are certain procedures and notice periods that it is right to make statutory. The Minister referred to the 1972 Act, which I believe includes the five-day notice—but perhaps she can confirm that. Five days is somewhat different from two months, which would allow for some public discussion of the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 101 not moved.]

Clause 59 agreed to.

Clause 60 [Power to change date of local elections to date of European Parliamentary general election]:

101A: Clause 60, page 31, line 5, after “Wales),” insert—

“(a) in subsection (1) omit paragraphs (a) and (b) and after the words “Wales and is” insert the words “the second Thursday in June.”;(b)”

The noble Lord said: This amendment is at the beginning of a string of amendments in this group, all of which refer to the notice that has to be given if the Government wish to change the date of the council elections in a year when there is a European election so that it takes place on the European election day—usually the second Thursday in June—instead of the first Thursday in May. The exception is Amendment No. 101A, which heads the group, to which I shall return.

All the amendments reflect the view that it might be a good idea to have the two elections on the same day but that some notice needs to be given so that everybody knows what is going on, not least the candidates, the political parties, the electoral registration officers and the returning officers. There is a dispute over whether the period should be six months, which I understand the Government will propose in their amendments, or one year, as the Electoral Commission proposed—which in different ways some of my amendments suggest, as well as the amendments of my noble friend. We will have the interesting discussion over whether it should be six months or one year, but there is a general view that the period should be in the Bill.

Amendment No. 101A is slightly more ambitious. It would be over-egging it to say that it was a probing amendment, but it floats an idea in the hope that that might generate a discussion outside the confines of this House.

Three years ago the local elections took place on the same day as the European elections. It was a glorious May and June, and the experience of taking part in those local elections in that fine weather, with light evenings right up to nine o’clock at night and not having to go out canvassing or delivering leaflets in the depths of February, March or April on dark nights, was really delightful. From the point of view of encouraging participation in elections, it would be sensible if we thought about moving the ordinary election day to June. It might also increase turnout. That was certainly the experience in June 2004. Turnout was up in those elections and there were various reasons for it. There were four all-postal pilots, which detained your Lordships' House for some time before it agreed to them. They certainly increased the turnout a little in those areas where they took place. However, the turnout went up in other places as well.

A comparison of the different regions, and of Scotland and Wales, and the different circumstances in those areas suggested that the increase in turnout was down to three things. Some of it was down to the all-postal pilots—perhaps about 5 per cent. Some of it was down to having the European elections and the local elections on the same day, so that those people who cared about local elections also went to vote in the European elections and those people who cared more about European elections found themselves also voting in local elections. That appeared to account for another 5 per cent. However, even in areas where neither of those things applied and where an ordinary election took place at the polling stations, the turnout was up by about 5 per cent.

There was a clear indication of an underlying increase in turnout at those elections. I do not think that anybody has worked out exactly why it was, but I firmly believe that it was because the elections were in June. A lot more campaigning was taking place because of the better weather and better circumstances, and a lot more voters turned out. The Government are keen on increasing the turnout and think of all kinds of strange gimmicks which most of us think are pretty hopeless and do not work, or are dangerous, such as all-postal voting. However, moving the local elections four or five weeks into the summer would do that. It would not have an unfortunate effect on the running of local authorities. Local authorities managed perfectly well in 2004, with an annual meeting a month later, and I am sure they would do so again.

I float the amendment as an idea rather than as a serious matter that I expect the Government to agree to immediately today. However, it is a move that we and the local government community, as it calls itself nowadays, should think about generally. I beg to move the amendment, to allow debate on the group.

I have Amendments Nos. 103 and 108 in this group, which probably pre-date what the Government are going to propose. It is interesting that there is a proposal in the Bill that we should muck about with election dates. We have had a great many debates in this Chamber as elections have moved for various reasons. I well recall the moving at short notice of the date of the general election due to the foot and mouth crisis.

If we are to accept that dates will from time to time be changed, we have to accept also limits within which those dates can be moved unless a national emergency arises. National emergencies do not normally arise where local government elections are concerned. If the European elections are to be taken as the base on to which local elections could or could not be moved, we need a long lead-in. A year is probably a little over the top—I am sure we can debate the virtues of whether it should be a year or six months ad nauseam. However, there must be time, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, for returning officers to be able to prepare, for them to get two lots of ballot papers ready for the counting to be arranged, and for all the administrative tasks that have to be done for elections.

However, I hope that this will not become the normal course of events. I accept that if one has a couple of elections thrown together at the same time, more people may turn out to vote in them, but there is a danger of people of becoming election-weary and just turning up because it is any old election and saying, “It doesn’t really matter whether it is the European election or it’s the local elections because they are all there together and, well, we might or we might not go”. We still want to encourage people to think carefully about what they are voting for and why. Our vote is still extremely precious and should be used in a way that is precious and is recognised as such.

This is a permissive clause that allows the Secretary of State—under an order if necessary or required—to consider moving the date. I hope that it remains permissive only and does not become a regular event. However, if it has to be used, I will propose that at least six months’ notice is given.

Amendment No. 105 seeks to address the same issue; namely, the proposed power for the Secretary of State to move the date of local government elections to coincide with, that of European ones. My amendment seeks to alter the proposed six-month period to one year.

I want to make it clear that I am only discussing the proposed power to coincide the date of local and European elections. It is not about a wider power to move the date of local elections. I have some sympathy with the sentiments just expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. As a former county councillor, I fought two county council elections on the same date as general elections. There is no doubt that issues become clouded and that county seats are won or lost on general election issues. That is a pity. It tends to add to the general sense that local government is somehow secondary and much less important than national government. Nevertheless, if one takes the view, which the Government clearly have taken, that the next set of local elections should be held on the same date as European ones, there are some merits in having a year’s notice period.

From the Government’s point of view, I frankly cannot see the problem with a year’s notice because we know the dates of both those elections. However, it makes a difference from the point of view of councils. For example, council members who are due to retire will need to know that they have to serve an extra month. That might not sound very long. However, people sometimes move away or become less active as they come to the end of their terms of office.

If they are expected to serve out an extra period, there are questions about the level of representation. A year’s notice gives the councils much more flexibility to alter standing orders and change dates of annual meetings and budget arrangements. The fact that the Electoral Commission is supporting one year’s notice should at least give the Government pause for thought that this might be a good idea. A year would be consistent with the existing legislation, the Representation of the People Act 1983.

A general climate of cynicism exists about the manipulation of dates. The noble Baroness referred earlier to—heaven forfend—the idea that parish council election dates might be manipulated. If so, I am sure that that accusation could be levelled even more here, whereas a year takes some heat out of that.

I have been waiting for someone to refer to the Scottish experience earlier this year, when an attempt was made to be neat and tidy and convenient for the electorate. It turned out to be a mini-disaster because there was confusion, lethargy, pigheadedness, or whatever it was.

We are genuinely attempting to bend over backwards to meet what we believe is the convenience of the electorate. Sometimes the electorate are not all that interested. I certainly think that having two elections on the same day is the maximum that we can expect people to absorb. If there are both European and local elections, there is a fair gap between the two so they will not be confused in the minds of the electorate.

As for the question of six or 12 months, I come down on the side of six months. The Electoral Commission recommended 12 months but everyone concerned who is a political animal—there are very few of them about, and their number is diminishing—watches these things and looks for advantages and disadvantages and for someone pulling a fast one and all the rest of it. But events happen and things have to be taken into account. Six months is a decent period in which to give notice. After notice is given by order, that is the law and it has to be carried out. I fully understand the benefits and advantages of trying to minimise the number of times that electors have to go to the ballot box. On balance, I think that the Government’s proposals in the Bill are just about right.

We might find that we are talking about three sets of elections: European, local and even more local in the shape of parish councils, just to pick up the noble Lord’s point. I had not appreciated until quite recently just how much preparation is required by the returning officer and those working for the returning officer—the council officials—to book places for polling stations and a place to hold the count. I am talking partly about the London experience, the scale of which makes matters even more difficult. An enormous amount of work goes on behind the scenes, which even those of us who are closely involved do not appreciate. Time and again I have heard returning officers and those who support them complaining about the late notice that they receive from central government about small changes in the rules. They know that the changes are coming but they cannot act until the change is incorporated in an order.

Six months from today would be around Christmastime and the end of the year, so in terms of practicalities the time available would be cut to about five months. There are very good, practical and sensible reasons why the maximum proposed in the amendment—one year—should be pursued. One does not need to leave the decision until much later but, quite apart from the electorate, it would be enormously beneficial to the electoral officers who have to make the arrangements if the decision was made a year ahead.

We fully accept the points on the administrative burden of organising elections and the need for proper planning and thinking ahead; they are uppermost in the Government’s mind in this discussion. We are proposing an amendment that will require the Secretary of State in England and Welsh Ministers in Wales to make any order moving the date of local government elections so that they take place on the same day as the European parliamentary elections at least six months before the scheduled date of the local government or European parliamentary election, whichever is earlier.

As we have just heard, the noble Baronesses, Lady Scott and Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, have tabled amendments proposing a 12-month notice period. We believe that such a period is too long. I am delighted to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has tabled an amendment proposing a six-month period, which is along the lines suggested by the government amendment.

A similar amendment to the 12-month amendment was tabled in another place following concerns raised by the Electoral Commission. The commission suggested that a 12-month period was needed for three reasons: to prevent present or future Governments from gaining political advantage; to give electoral administrators sufficient time to be prepared for a combined election, as we discussed; and to be consistent with existing legislation. In another place, the Government agreed to give the matter further consideration, which we have done. We accept and have always accepted that there needs to be a substantial period between the making of any order changing the date of a local government election and the election affected. Such a period is needed, as we heard, to give electoral administrators sufficient time to put the necessary arrangements in place.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, illustrated, there have been two recent examples of local government elections being changed: in 2004, the order that combined the local government and European elections was made in March; and, in 2001, following the foot and mouth outbreak, the change was made in April. As the noble Baroness suggested, we can all agree that that was short notice. In each case the circumstances were particular. I accept that such a period in the normal course of business is too short. After careful consideration, we believe that a minimum of six months is the right period and that this should be included in the Bill.

In deciding that six months was the appropriate period, we needed to weigh up the purpose of the order-making power in Clause 60, which was intended to ensure that local government and European elections could be combined in years when they coincide. This is more convenient for voters and has been shown to increase turnout, as has been noted in our discussion. We fear that, if the period is too great, the lack of flexibility would prevent the provisions from being used and we would lose the benefits of Clause 60. It is important that electoral administrators are given sufficient time to prepare for elections on what would be a later date than they were originally planning for. They need to be comfortable that after a certain date there will be no changes to the arrangements for local government elections.

As the Bill is currently drafted, although electoral administrators would be aware of the Government’s intention to combine at an early stage, they would not be able to act with certainty until an order was made. Therefore, we agree that it is important for all those involved in local government elections to be aware of when the decisions to move these dates must be made. We consider a six-month period to provide ample notice to electoral administrators, as well as to parties, candidates and electors.

Section 37 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 gave the Secretary of State the power to move the date of local government elections. However, to our knowledge, this power has been used only once. One of the reasons is that any order under Section 37 of the 1983 Act has to be made in the February of the year preceding the election year. This period of 15 months is a long way in advance of the election date. The Government’s view is that even a 12-month period would substantially reduce the effectiveness of Clause 60, to the point where it might not be practicable for decisions to move election dates to be made. We accept that an amendment needs to be made to Clause 60 to provide a cut-off date for orders to be made, but we do not accept that 12 months is necessary. We believe that six months is sufficient. We understand that the Electoral Commission believes that anything below six months would be problematic.

It is of the utmost importance that any change of date for local government elections is not, and is not perceived to be, made to achieve some political advantage. Ideally, one would wish to see any such move command the support of all parties. A major safeguard against perceived political advantage is that the order would need to be approved by a vote in this House. I do not agree that making the period 12 months, as distinct from six months, would provide any material or greater safeguard. As I hope that I have demonstrated, a 12-month period renders the provisions pointless. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will feel that they do not need to press their amendments and that they can support the government amendment.

Before my noble friend responds, perhaps I may ask whether the Government have consulted the Association of Electoral Administrators, which, quite separately from the Electoral Commission, might well have comments to make about the sort of practical points that I raised.

It is a great pity if the Government have not consulted those who actually set up the practical arrangements for elections, because it shows that that sort of issue was not in the Government’s mind. If I may say so, that is fairly typical of the situation in which we find ourselves regarding many orders in this area. I have heard a lot of complaints from electoral administrators about receiving very late notice of changes and the problems that that causes.

I endorse the comments made by my noble friend. Electoral law used to be almost set in stone and did not change very much. The rules, regulations and complexities seem to increase every year and we should not be unaware of the great extra burdens put on electoral administration, including the new rules on electoral registration, rolling registration and postal votes. The Government will say that electoral administrators nowadays have all these fancy computer programmes. The problem is that the administrators seem to spend half their time trying to make the programmes work, rather than benefiting from them. Perhaps that is life. There is no doubt that the administrators’ work has increased substantially and it is to be welcomed that the Government have agreed to put a period on the face of the Bill. If it has to be six months at this stage, it has to be six months, but that is better than nothing.

I am fascinated by the idea that Governments do not choose election dates for political advantage. Perhaps the logic of the Minister’s statements is that we should have fixed-term Parliaments so that we know exactly when general elections will be. If she were able to persuade the Government to do that, electoral administrators would carry her around the streets of London, or anywhere else, on their shoulders, garlanded with flowers and all sorts of things. However, I do not hold out any hope for that.

I did not manage to tempt the noble Baroness to discuss the prospect of turning May and June into election months, so that those of us who still tramp the streets in local elections could do so in decent weather. Perhaps we might discuss that at another time. I beg leave to withdraw—

I see that the Minister is still not tempted. I shall continue trying to tempt her on this matter. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 102 and 103 not moved.]

104: Clause 60, page 31, leave out lines 23 and 24 and insert—

“(3) An order under subsection (1) must relate to a single year and must be made at least six months before—

(a) the local election day in that year, or(b) if earlier, the date of the poll at the European Parliamentary general election in that year.(3A) For this purpose “the local election day” in a particular year is—

(a) the first Thursday in May, or (b) if an order has been made under section 37(1)(b) (power to change date of council and Assembly elections) in relation to that year, the day specified in the order.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 105 not moved.]

106: Clause 60, page 31, line 28, leave out “or bodies”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 107 and 108 not moved.]

109: Clause 60, page 32, leave out lines 12 and 13 and insert—

“(3) An order under subsection (1) must relate to a single year and must be made at least six months before—

(a) the local election day in that year, or(b) if earlier, the date of the poll at the European Parliamentary general election in that year. (3A) For this purpose “the local election day” in a particular year is—

(a) the first Thursday in May, or(b) if an order has been made under section 37(1)(b) (power to change date of council and Assembly elections) in relation to that year, the day specified in the order.”

110: Clause 60, page 32, line 17, leave out “or bodies”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 111 not moved.]

Clause 60, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed.

Children, Schools and Families

My Lords, with leave, I will repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

“The new Department for Children, Schools and Families brings together for the first time ever in one place the responsibility for all policy across Government to promote the well-being of children and young people. With your permission I start this Statement with a proposition on which I believe every Member of this House and every parent and grandparent in our country can agree: every child matters, and we all have a responsibility to ensure that every child has the chance to develop their talents to the full.

“After decades of underperformance, we have turned the tide. Standards have risen—over 58 per cent of 15 year-olds achieved five or more good GCSEs in 2006 compared to only 45 per cent in 1997. There has been new investment—35,000 more teachers, 172,000 new classroom assistants, over 1,100 new schools and over 1,200 Sure Start children’s centres. Teenage pregnancy rates are at a 20-year low, reoffending rates among young people are down, and 600,000 children have been lifted out of poverty.

“But there remain significant challenges that require us to change and renew. Parents want a greater focus on standards, we have far more to do to close the attainment gap between poorer children and their better-off peers, there are still too many young people not staying on in education and training after 16, and 2.8 million children still live in poverty, with many falling behind in learning before they even start school and more likely to end up in trouble as they grow up.

“In this Statement today I can announce immediate steps we can take to reinforce our focus on standards in the classroom and personalised learning, to back teachers and improve discipline in and out of school, and to strengthen school leadership. We can take these steps as we also begin a national consultation on how we can put the needs of children at the centre of our policy-making and build a stronger, fairer Britain, breaking the barriers to opportunity so that every child and young person has the chance to make the most of their talents, not just a privileged few.

“First, standards and personalised learning. A child who cannot read, write or master basic maths will never succeed in education. Our priority must be standards, not structures. We will renew our focus on the things that really matter to parents and meet their rising aspirations. That means getting the basics right. Since 1997 we have raised standards in literacy and numeracy in primary schools. We are implementing the recommendations of the Rose report into early reading to ensure that all schools and nurseries teach phonics properly. The Every Child a Reader pilot is now helping 5,000 six year-olds with significant literacy problems to learn to read.

“The next step is to raise our game in maths, building on the successful numeracy strategy we launched nearly 10 years ago. I can tell the House that Sir Peter Williams, Chancellor of Leicester University and chair of the Advisory Committee on Maths Education, has agreed to lead a review of the teaching of maths. His review will look at effective methods of teaching and learning in primary schools and nurseries, and advise us on how to develop pupils’ deeper understanding of maths and on the development of our Every Child Counts pilots to help pupils falling behind in primary schools.

“Effective teaching is increasingly geared to the distinct needs and progress of individual children, so I want to see a greater focus on personalised learning, with appropriate support and schooling for gifted and talented children, those with special educational needs and those falling behind. Regular testing is essential for monitoring the progress of individual pupils, but there should be scope for schools to make well informed judgments on when pupils should be tested. While we do not support streaming, which makes a blanket and often arbitrary judgment on children’s intelligence and can ignore their individual talents, I strongly support setting for individual subjects, with judgments made by heads and teachers according to the needs of their school.

“Today I can tell the House that, building on the £1 billion we have already allocated to personalised learning in 2007-08 and following the recommendations of the Gilbert review, I am allocating £150 million over the next three years to expand the highly successful Assessment for Learning programme to further help teachers build expertise in tracking individual pupil progress and monitoring and mentoring achievement. Greater personalisation, Assessment for Learning and our successful Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning programme will benefit all children, including high achievers. They will also help us to tackle underachievement and raise standards among disadvantaged children.

“As we expand our extended school programme of out-of-hours provision in sport, music and drama to every school by 2010, we need to ensure that children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their parents do not miss out but have a chance to benefit from extra out-of-hours tuition and after-school clubs. So I can tell the House that over the next three years we will provide an additional £265 million to enable extended schools to do more to support disadvantaged children and young people. By year three, the funding will enable all schools to offer these children two hours a week of group activities in term time, plus 30 hours of additional activities over the holidays.

“To secure our economic future and promote opportunity for all, we must also do more to improve the post-16 staying-on rate. We will legislate over the coming year to raise the education leaving age to 18. But we also need a 14-to-19 curriculum that is relevant and engages young people in learning, offering them the skills that they need for future study and to succeed in the workplace. Details of the first five new 14-to-19 diplomas will be available within the month, ready to be introduced into schools and colleges in September 2008.

“Secondly, as we drive up standards, we must also do more to back teachers, freeing them from unnecessary bureaucracy, promoting discipline and letting our professionals get on with the job in the classroom. We are committed to the current workforce reform programme, developed with our social partners, to free up teachers’ time to teach, and I have asked my department to examine what more we can do to reduce unnecessary burdens for teachers and heads.

“Later this week, when we report on our review of the secondary curriculum for 11 to 16 year-olds, we will ensure a more focused curriculum that teaches the basics but reduces prescription and puts more power in the hands of individual schools and teachers. That will enable schools to personalise their teaching to meet the needs of different pupils, enabling us to place trust in the professional judgment of heads and teachers. To give teachers the time to prepare for the new curriculum, I can announce that we will allow an extra inset day for all secondary schools in the school year 2007-08.

“Our Teach First scheme is attracting and keeping high-performing graduates working as teachers in some of our most challenging inner-city schools. From September, it will be extended from London and Manchester to the West Midlands and, by 2009, to Liverpool and Yorkshire and the Humber. Building on the Transition to Teaching programme, we will now consult on a new Teach Next programme to promote mid-career routes into teaching, especially for people from industry and the sciences.

“Teachers cannot teach effectively unless they also have powers to maintain discipline. Teachers now have, for the first time, new statutory powers to tackle disruptive behaviour, including legal rights to restrain violent pupils and confiscate property.

“Every child has the right to feel safe in school. We should expect good behaviour in all our schools and see it in all our schools, so Ofsted will shortly issue strong new guidance to inspectors which will make clear that behaviour by pupils that has a negative impact on learning is unacceptable. Repeated low-level disruption, as well as more serious isolated incidents of bad behaviour, should not be tolerated. By making this clear, Ofsted will, in effect, raise the bar on what is satisfactory behaviour and what is not. Ofsted’s inspectors will focus on behaviour during inspections and, where they find behaviour to be inadequate, they will conduct monitoring visits to make sure it improves.

“Thirdly, as well as driving up standards and promoting discipline, I want us to do more to back strong and innovative school leadership. Specialist schools are driving up standards across the country. Trust schools will cement partnerships between schools, businesses and other local organisations and bring new dynamism and innovation to support strong school leadership.

“Our academies programme is driving radical transformation in weak and failing schools in disadvantaged communities. All academies now actively collaborate with schools and colleges in their area, just as schools should co-operate with academies. Currently, all academies replacing local authority schools proceed with local authority endorsement at the feasibility stage, and at the funding agreement stage we already have a duty to consult local authorities and we take their concerns fully into account.

“Results in academies are improving faster than they are in other schools. Truancy rates are down. Increasingly, inner-city local authorities such as Hackney, Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield are putting new academies at the centre of their local school strategies. But the test of whether an organisation can be a potential sponsor should not be its bank balance but whether it can demonstrate leadership, innovation and commitment to act in the public interest.

“From today, I am abolishing the current requirement for universities and high performing schools and colleges to provide £2 million before they can sponsor an academy. Many universities are already engaged with academies, and I now want every university to actively engage with them.

“At the heart of the innovation in the curriculum that academies make possible is flexibility, which we will maintain for all new academies, built on the platform of the core national curriculum, which all new academies will now follow in English, maths, science and ICT. Academies have told me that they make the greatest impact on standards when they are a central part of their local community. They already have a duty to collaborate with all other schools in their area and are inspected by Ofsted against this. In addition, we have now removed their VAT costs on their buildings when their facilities are used by the wider community.

“It is my belief that, as we move towards our target of 200 academies by 2010, rising thereafter to 400, we should now accelerate the pace of the academies programme over the next few years, with a much greater role for universities. This afternoon, the Minister with responsibility for schools and academies is announcing that funding agreements are being signed off for the following five new academies: Brunel Academy, Bristol; John Cabot Academy, Gloucestershire; Shireland Collegiate Academy, Sandwell; George Salter Collegiate Academy, Sandwell; and St Michael and All Angels Church of England Academy, Southwark.

“On the basis of today’s announcement to abolish the £2 million entry fee, the following nine universities have already expressed their interest in sponsoring new academies: University College London, Imperial College, the University of Nottingham, the University of Manchester, Queen Mary University of London, Aston University, the University of Central England, the University of Wolverhampton and the University of the West of England.

“In this way, by backing strong leadership and backing teachers, we can now focus our efforts not on structures but on standards in the classroom and on giving every child the best possible education. To build a national consensus, to engage universities and the wider public and private sectors, and to drive forward our ambitions for children and young people’s education, the Prime Minister and I will now chair a new National Council for Educational Excellence.

“This council and its members will act as advocates and champions to transform expectations and aspirations for the education system, to mobilise every section of the community behind our national mission to become a world leader in education and, in particular, our aspiration that every secondary school should have a business and university partner.

“Sir Michael Barber has agreed to act as senior adviser to the council, which will meet for the first time later this month. My department’s focus is on raising standards in schools, backing teachers and promoting strong school leadership, but schools cannot bear the whole burden. All the evidence shows that a child’s life chances—and their chance of having a safe and happy childhood—are decisively shaped by their experiences in the first 22 months of life, by early years education, by family income, a supportive family environment and by diet and the opportunity to play and do sport. We need excellent universal services for all children and families, but there will always be some children and families who face additional challenges.

“We must tackle the causes of child poverty, youth crime, family breakdown and wasted potential so that we can strengthen our society and deliver security and opportunity for all. We recognise the importance of early intervention and of targeted support for children with special educational needs and disabled children. As the new department takes over joint responsibility for youth justice with the Ministry of Justice, it is vital that here, too, we spot problems quickly, before they escalate into crises.

“This is a complex agenda. We will shortly publish our 10-year youth strategy, our national strategy on safeguarding and our strategy on teenage parents. I intend to use the opportunity of the new department and the remaining months of the spending review to consult widely on how we can use all the levers at our disposal to promote strong communities and strengthen family life before we set the goals and direction for this department and children’s policy for the next 10 years.

“In the coming weeks, we will launch a nationwide consultation to draw up a children’s plan for our country. To help draw up this plan, over the next four months, we will consult teachers, children’s professionals, universities, colleges, the voluntary sector, parents, children and young people themselves. To do so, Ministers in my department will co-chair three working groups alongside a leading practitioner. The three groups will look across the range of education and wider services affecting children and young people—with one group for nought to seven year-olds, one on eight to 13 year-olds and another on 14 to 19 year-olds—and involve experts from schools, colleges, children’s services, health partners, the criminal justice system and the wider public, voluntary and private sectors. I plan to be able to report the results of this consultation and set out the emerging children’s plan in the autumn.

“This is a challenging agenda, but getting it right is critical to the future of our country. Every child has talent; and, with the measures I have set out today and the consultation we now begin, we will now ensure that every child gets the best start in life and the support they need to make the most of their talents. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made earlier in the other place. It is large and comprehensive, so I will concentrate on only a few issues this afternoon. No doubt, we will have many weeks and months to discuss this in detail.

As my honourable friend Michael Gove said, a new commitment to aspiration, excellence, diversity and discipline in our schools is to be applauded. It goes without saying that we all have a responsibility to ensure that every child has a chance to develop their full potential, because every child matters. So, we welcome much of what has been announced, which is hardly surprising given that a good deal of it chimes with Conservative Party thinking—not least, good discipline in our schools and access for all our children to good after-school activities.

The proposals announced this afternoon are ambitious, but we have doubts about the Government’s ability to deliver, based on their record of the past 10 years. If a child is deprived of the basics in literacy and numeracy, then all the exciting things that education has to offer will be lost, which is why we campaign vigorously for the teaching of synthetic phonics in our schools and welcomed the findings of the Rose review. Can the Minister assure us that phonics will be incorporated in the Every Child a Reader programme?

There has also been a good deal of concern that so much of the modern maths curriculum now requires reading skills, so children who have not mastered reading will also fall behind in maths. So, we were pleased that in their new focus on standards and rigour the Government are reviewing the way that maths is taught in our schools. Almost half of 11 year-olds do not reach expected levels in maths, and the proportion of pupils with good GCSEs in maths has fallen since 1997. The targets for numeracy have been missed in every spending round since 1997, and Ofsted has reported that the national numeracy strategy is having “limited effects”. Why, I wonder, have we had to wait 10 years for this review? Fewer than half the maths teachers in our schools have a maths degree. What is being done to attract more talented maths and science graduates into the classroom?

The Government, as we have heard today, are placing a great emphasis on personalised learning. We agree that ensuring that teaching is tailored to the needs of each child is valuable. Can the Minister explain how this will be achieved, given that the number of pupils in classes of more than 50 has risen in the past two years? That is particularly important among our youngest children. There is, however, concern that lots of children will get their personalised learning from computer screens. While technology has an important role to play in education, it is not and nor should it become a substitute for a teacher or whole-class teaching.

An important part of personalised learning will be setting by ability. Twice last week I tried to tease out from the Minister the Government’s intention on setting, and I shall try for a third time. The Minister said quite rightly that it would be up to head teachers to decide what to do; but, with only 40 per cent of lessons in secondary schools set by ability, how will the Government persuade the rest?

The Minister’s commitment to academies, which build on the Conservative Government’s city technology colleges, is beyond question. There is an energy and sense of purpose in academies. We are pleased that there are to be more, that the Government have spotted a good policy when they see one, and that they have adopted our proposals for relaxing the barriers to involvement in setting up new academies. However, one of their strengths is their ability to run their own affairs. I wonder whether the Minister shares our concerns that their very attractiveness may be undermined by placing them under the control of local authorities once more.

In 2001, my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith, in looking to new ways of delivering policy, created a shadow department for children and families, so we welcome the creation of the new Department for Children, Schools and Families, which has one of the most important briefs and faces some of the most difficult challenges. As the Secretary of State said, getting it right is critical to the future of our country. Conservatives have always had at their heart a commitment to expand opportunity and to champion aspiration for all. We will work with the Government where such measures that they propose are clearly in the best interests of our nation’s children.

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, in thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement. I assure him that all sides of the House agree with him that every child matters.

The Minster talked about turning the tide, and I imagined a rather amusing picture of him standing on the beach trying to hold the tide back. The Government have of course done a great deal to raise standards, which we willingly acknowledge. The Minister gave a long list of the wonderful things that the Government have done, but forgot to mention one or two things. For instance, although 58 per cent of 15 year-olds achieve five or more good GCSEs, the numbers where that includes English and maths are still disgracefully low. About a quarter of young people leave school with no better than a level D GCSE. Teenage pregnancy rates are at a 20-year low, but we still have one of the highest rates in Europe. Although 600,000 children have been lifted out of poverty, the Government’s target was 1 million. However, I do not wish to sound a sour note. The Government have done a great deal, but there is such a lot more to do.

The Minister said that parents want a greater focus on standards. However, parents really want every school to be a good school. They should not be forced to use what choice they have to choose a school on the other side of town, taking their child all the way there with the consequent effects on traffic congestion and global warming.

I was happy to hear the Minister say that the Government’s priority must be standards and not structures. That is a U-turn, because the Government’s agenda has been structures rather than standards, producing a dizzying variety of schools about which parents need a great deal of information to make whatever choice they have.

The Minster raised a large number of issues. First, he talked about the importance of ensuring that all schools and nurseries teach phonics properly. I have some reservations about that idea. There are many good reading programmes and it should be up to the professionalism of the teacher to decide what is appropriate for each child and at what stage. For example, it is simply not appropriate to teach phonics to a child until they have reached the appropriate level in listening and speaking. Here I mention the need for more speech therapists in schools—and, indeed, in nursery schools, because early intervention is so important.

The Minister talked about personalised learning and the importance of adding extra people to help children who are struggling with their literacy. We mentioned last week that diagnostic reading software can be a very useful tool in the armoury of a teacher in helping children who are struggling with reading—not just at the beginning, but at the end of primary—to get their reading up to an appropriate level so that they can benefit from the materials put before them at secondary school. Very often, they stop after their second SATs and do not go any further. That is why we have this transition problem. I shall not repeat the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about maths teachers, but we are equally anxious about the answers.

The Minister talked about a greater focus on personalised learning with appropriate support. Does that mean that he will be looking at the process of statementing? We on these Benches feel that it is important that statementing is done by an appropriate group of professionals and that it is separated from the providers of the services. We welcome the extra resources, but do they also mean additional counsellors and family outreach workers outside the classroom as well as teachers in schools?

I also welcome the fact that the Government are thinking of allowing teachers to make more of their own judgments about when children should be tested. However, the problem is not so much the assessment as what is done with it, and so I come to league tables. These Benches feel that there is a need to broaden the criteria for them to include more value-added information to help parents to make their judgment about what the school is doing.

We accept that the social and emotional aspects of learning programme has been very successful. The Government seem to put great emphasis on it, but I am still puzzled about why they will not make PSHE mandatory. Will there be any development on that?

We also welcome the additional money for extended schools, but two hours a week is not very much and could be gobbled up in using the breakfast club so that there would be nothing left for leisure and other broadening activities. Is there any ambition to make that more in future? I also point out that, when schools have extended hours, there are child protection issues and issues about children travelling home a little later at night. That needs to be thought about.

We look forward to the legislation coming before us to increase the age for leaving education to 18. I am pleased that the Minister said “education leaving age” not “school leaving age” because it is crucial that the curriculum offered is appropriate. The provision must be of high quality if young people are being forced to stay until 18. These Benches are still worried about the level of preparedness for the 14 to 19 diplomas. Some local authorities and schools seem to think that it is way off down the track and are not prepared at all.

The Minister mentioned that schools will have reduced prescription about what they teach beyond the core curriculum. However, that is not new. The Education Act 2002 gave schools the power to innovate, and not many of them have used it.

The Minister mentioned the new statutory powers to tackle disruptive behaviour and restrain violent pupils. I repeat my plea for all teachers to have training in this, otherwise we could have disasters.

Can the Minister clarify whether the story in the Financial Times that no LEA will be forced to have an academy if it does not want it is correct? Even if that story is true, it would only be cosmetic if having a brand-new school building where it is much needed is linked to that school being an academy. Having said that, we welcome the £2 million barrier being taken away from those who know about education and who want to open an academy or sponsor one. Universities do, and they are the people who should be sponsoring academies, if we are to have them.

The noble Lord again mentioned the duty to collaborate with all other schools in the area. No school is an island; every brand-new, shiny school has an effect on the applications to all other schools in the area. Only the local authorities can plan this sort of provision across the board. I encourage the Government to do what they said that they would and make sure that they take into account the local authorities’ views on this. Now that we will have 400 academies, can we stop this pretence that all academies are replacing failing schools? They are not.

We also welcome the council that the Minister announced, but how much is it going to cost and how will value for money be assessed? How will its work be reported to Parliament? We certainly agree that we need excellent universal services for all children and families. Only when these services are universal will there be no stigma to any family taking them up. Universal services to children and families promote social mobility and social cohesion from the earliest days, when children all grow up together.

Youth justice is one of the new responsibilities coming into the Minister’s department. When I visited a young offender institution recently, I was most concerned to discover that many of the release plans break down so quickly and frequently. Part of this is because there is nobody there to make sure that it all happens as planned. We all know that when young people go into these institutions, the release plan is worked on from day one. They go out with all flags flying, but often, sadly, it all breaks down and their education plan or whatever just does not happen. With that new responsibility, will the Minister look into that? If the plans were implemented, we could reduce reoffending.

My Lords, I was amused by the image conjured up in the mind of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, of my standing on the beach seeking to turn the tide like Canute. I prefer to put it rather differently. A strong sense of shared purpose has animated us all in education over the last few decades. As a nation together, across parties and across different parts of society, we have made education a much stronger priority. This is not like King Canute trying to achieve the impossible on the beach but a perfectly possible set of ambitions that we have taken on as a nation. A substantially higher proportion of our young people should achieve to high levels, comparable to the proportions that we have seen in other countries. We should get as close as we possibly can to having all our young people mastering basic skills, which is possible with good-quality teaching starting from the earliest years. The failure of our education system and inadequate investment in the past prevented us from getting there. However, through a strong sense of shared national purpose over recent years, including an injection of significant new investment in the past 10 years, we have seen progress towards goals that are readily attainable provided that we have the national will to achieve them. They are not utopian or unachievable in any sense.

I was glad to see in the responses of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Morris, a strong sense of unified purpose. Usually when I write my notes on responses, it is the hostile points that I need to answer that occupy most of the space. In fact, I agree with most of the points made by the noble Baronesses. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said that we were stealing her clothes. I would say that she is stealing ours, but I am happy that we should engage in mutual cross-dressing on many of these issues, because it matters so much to our schools, young people and families that we do not see these as party-political issues. I do not believe that the questions of discipline in schools, after-school activities, setting, good-quality school leadership, educational participation to the age of 18, valuing our teachers more or any of these issues should be regarded as party-political. The issue is simply one of will, purpose, investment and real determination to achieve results, which I believe we share on all sides of the Chamber.

I welcome most of the comments made by both the noble Baronesses and the support that their parties have offered. On the more specific comments, I agree for example that ICT is not a substitute for good teachers. Hand in hand with the significant investment that we have had in ICT over the past 10 years has gone a significant increase in the numbers of teachers and assistants. I agree that we need assistants of all kinds, including counsellors and family outreach workers, an issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. Of course, the big increase in the numbers of assistants has included outreach workers of the kind that she described.

I am glad that both noble Baronesses welcome the steps that we have taken to engage universities much more strongly in the education system, including in academies; I welcome the fact that they agree with us on the relaxation of the financial barriers to participation in the academies programme. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and I have differences, in theory, on academies; I simply note, as the Minister, the huge enthusiasm among many Lib Dem authorities for engaging in the academies programme. Indeed, the London Borough of Southwark, whose leader and I engage frequently on the issue of academies, has one of the highest densities of academies of any local authority in the country and, unless my facts are mistaken, it is run by the Liberal Democrats. So in many areas, even where we profess to disagree, the common ground between us is much greater than might be thought from some of the rhetoric.

Let me respond to some of the specific other questions that were raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asked whether the attractiveness of academies would be undermined by placing them under local authorities. It is very important to understand what we have said today in respect of academies. We welcome the fact that academies that are replacing existing local authority schools are, in effect, jointly commissioned by my department and local authorities. Local authorities are increasingly seeking out potential sponsors, including universities, colleges, businesses and individuals. We welcome that and want to build on it. We want the new local authority of the future to be increasingly a commissioner of services, including educational services, and not the direct provider. However, the management and operation of academies will continue to be subject to their sponsors and their boards of governors; there will be no change in the effective autonomy that they have in that respect.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, raised the issue of the maths review and said that she had doubts over our ability to deliver. However, the national literacy and numeracy programmes over the past 10 years have been extremely successful. The proportion of 11 year-olds reaching the required level 4 in the key stage 2 tests has risen dramatically since 1997. More than 100,000 children a year now reach the standard required at the age of 11 in maths than was the case 10 years ago. So there has been a significant improvement. But we need to be honest about the fact that one in five 11 year-olds is still not up to that standard. We believe that it is right to look in a fundamental way, after 10 years’ experience of the operation of the national numeracy strategy, at how we can improve that situation. Sir Peter Williams will look not only at pedagogy, which is important, and at how mathematics is taught, but also—linking into another question raised by the noble Baroness—at the qualification and training of teachers. Unless the teachers have the competence to teach mathematics effectively in primary schools, they will not be able to deliver higher standards, particularly at the more challenging end of the ability range where pupils are falling behind.

We are also asking Sir Peter to advise us on the design of effective catch-up schemes in maths, which will perform a role similar to that of the Every Child a Reader programmes. As the noble Baroness and I constantly say in exchanges across the Chamber, we want the catch-up to be as limited as possible because we have got it right first time. We want to ensure that, by using effective phonics programmes for teaching reading and effective programmes for teaching numeracy, we steadily and dramatically reduce the proportion of those in the earliest primary years who fall behind.

That links, of course, directly into personalised learning, an issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I noticed that in another place her colleague David Laws, who is new to education, said about personalised learning that he now understood what the educational jargon meant; he thought that it was what teachers had been doing for 50 years, which, of course, it is—every teacher seeks to personalise their provision. However, small-group tuition, programmes for gifted and talented pupils, a much wider array of after-school activities and so on are all expensive areas of educational provision and it is important to consider what we are proposing in terms of personalisation hand in hand with the increased resources that we are making available to schools. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, it is only by providing more resources to schools that it is possible for them to become 10-hour-a-day institutions that offer a whole programme of after-school activities—including the arts, sport and so on, which were not present before—as well as childcare and other provision of that kind. We are seeking increasingly to personalise provision as we provide more resources in ways that simply were not possible before, because the resources were not there to provide smaller-group tuition, a wider curriculum and a much richer range of after-school activities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked about the national council. I cannot tell her precisely how much it will cost, but I can say that it will be lean and mean. We do not intend it to be a great drain on the public purse; it will need only the resources necessary to cover its running costs. The first meeting will take place shortly, and we will soon thereafter set out the council’s goal and work plan, which is what we will judge its work against. A very distinguished group of business leaders, university leaders and others is engaging in it, which testifies to our profound shared national purpose. I agree with the noble Baroness’s points about the importance of youth justice to the new department. I will come back to her on her comments on release plans in particular.

The reduced prescription that we are talking about, in the key stage 3 review whose conclusions will be published shortly, is available not just to a small number of schools that, for example, apply for the power to innovate, which the noble Baroness mentioned. It will apply to all schools, so that we give greater flexibility in the development of the curriculum, including a vocational work-related curriculum for those young people for whom it is suitable beyond the age of 14.

The noble Baroness rightly said that the introduction of the new diplomas is an immense challenge. I do not minimise the challenge; it is one of the biggest things that we will be doing in education over the next period. It is important that we get it right. Personalisation is not simply about additional resources, but also about having a more fit-for-purpose curriculum. If we are honest and look at the history of education policy in this country over the past 50 years, we see that the area in which we have been weakest is vocational and work-related skills and making them properly available in schools.

There are immense challenges ahead. I am delighted that we have such strong consensus across the Chamber. We intend to continue to build on the progress that we have made over the past 10 years.

My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for arriving half way through his Statement. I warmly welcome the Council for Educational Excellence under his chairmanship with the Prime Minister. I hope the terms of reference will not be “lean”, but that they will be wide enough to encompass all issues of concern to the successful education of the child, which is the spirit of his department.

On the membership of his council, in the light of what he said in his Sir John Cass memorial lecture, has the Minister thought whether there might be any advantage in having one or more overseas members, in the light of their successful achievements, from which we can probably learn?

My Lords, the noble Lord, as ever, makes helpful suggestions. We shall consider the issue of an overseas member. We study overseas practice carefully and, as the noble Lord said, I have been looking particularly at the educational progress of Pacific Rim countries recently to see what we can learn from them.

I should correct one point that the noble Lord made. When I said in the Statement that “I” would be chairing the council along with the Prime Minister, I was repeating a Statement made by my right honourable friend. For greater accuracy, I point out that he will be chairing the council and I will be one of his minions in attendance.

My Lords, these are great days, with so many Conservative policies being taken up by the Government and so many of the Government’s policies taken up by the Liberal Democrats, who are asking for more league tables. These are wonderful times—and the Minister is still here, which is the crowning pleasure for all of us.

My Lords, may I please clarify something? I am not asking for more league tables. Rather, if we must have them, can we have a broader remit?

My Lords, there has to be a fly in every ointment, I suppose. Given what was said in the Statement—the greater emphasis on maths, the relaxation in the rigours of the national curriculum to allow more space for schools, personalisation of learning and various other directions—can we hope for a proper consideration of the place of IGCSE in schools? It is such a successful examination—a great British examination—taken up by over 100 independent schools now as providing something over and beyond GCSE. It seems ridiculous that we should ban it in state schools, when Botswana is putting all its pupils through IGCSE maths. We are limiting our ambitions to mastering basic maths. We must have something that goes further than that and allows the expression of the great achievement that is possible by so many pupils in the examination structure. IGCSE seems to me, and to many independent schools, to fill that role.

My Lords, for about 15 seconds, I thought that noble Lords had brought about a transformation in Lib Dem education policy but, alas, the noble Baroness was quick off the mark and made it clear that that welcome change has not taken place. However, I know that the IGCSE is very dear to the noble Lord’s heart and that of other noble Lords. As he knows, we commissioned the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to look at the whole issue of the IGCSE. It has published a report and consulted. We are considering the results of that consultation now and I hope that we will have more to say soon.

My Lords, the Statement is rightly very strong on education because the Government have an impressive record on improving standards. I would like to know a little more about the behavioural side. This new department gives us a great opportunity to improve our record of early intervention on a range of behavioural problems—whether health problems such as obesity or more serious behavioural problems resulting from family breakdown, poor parenting and so forth. If we are really clever at this, it does not have to be about more money. It is about getting better at identifying problems at an early stage and intervening. Rather than having more of the existing agencies, do we not need a pool of teachers who are trained to intervene with families and children who are getting into difficulties? Teachers going into such situations will often be more acceptable than people wearing a welfare hat.

My Lords, as ever, my noble friend makes a very good point. Having trained practitioners in this area can make a big difference to the way that behaviour is managed in schools. Increasingly, schools have trained practitioners in the way that he suggested. The additional resources available to schools will enable us to have trained professionals in a way that would not have been possible in the past because there was simply not a large enough budget.

However, serious behavioural problems are rare in schools. Indeed, Ofsted's own data show that, at 3 per cent, the proportion of secondary schools judged unsatisfactory on behaviour is at an historic low and half what it was in 1997, so we must keep this issue in proportion. A good deal of the challenge lies in helping families at the earliest stage of their children's lives. The big expansion of children’s centres, Sure Start and support for families in the earliest years of their children's lives will make a big difference to behaviour over time. In particular, it will equip parents to become better parents and support their children better through school. I hope, therefore, to see that proportion of bad behaviour decline still further.

My Lords, I join others in welcoming the Statement as evidence of the new Prime Minister's commitment to education. I have two questions for the Minister. First, on page 3 when discussing the new 14-to-19 diplomas, the Statement says:

“Details of the first five new 14 to 19 diplomas will be available within the month, ready to be introduced into schools and colleges in September 2008”.

That is only a year and two months away, but the curricula have not yet been published. The QCA has been careful in allowing federations of schools and colleges to go through the gateway, and a number will effectively be piloting the diplomas in the first year, but am I right in thinking that the new diplomas will not generally be available within schools until the pilots have been completed?

On diplomas, will the Minister assure us that there will be sufficient careers guidance within schools early enough for young people to be able to make proper choices between the GCSE and vocational routes? That is essential because careers guidance in schools has not been up to the mark recently. It would be good to see it improved.

On academies and universities, the Statement says that the Government have an,

“aspiration that every secondary school should have a business and university partner”.

Does that mean that existing academies will acquire university partners and that academies sponsored by universities will acquire business partners? The language on page 7 says very explicitly that,

“every secondary school should have a business and university partner”.

My Lords, in respect of diplomas, the noble Baroness is right that we will be scaling up. We are starting with a more limited scale in the first year, after which we will learn the lessons from that and scale up. She is right, too, in saying that guidance for students up to the age of 14 in potential diploma lines will be vital, alongside guidance on potential GCSE options. That will be one thing that we will look at very carefully as we begin that work.

On the business and university partners, we are saying that every secondary school over time will have one. That is an aspiration policy for the future—we are not in a position now to ensure it—but we believe that it is a goal that we should work towards. Looking at how we can make that achievable is one of the goals that we are setting for the new national council that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has set up. Noble Lords on all side of the House will probably regard that as a desirable goal. It is absolutely desirable that state schools, as private schools have done since time immemorial, should have the closest possible links with universities and should simply take it for granted that they have university partners, as almost every private school that I know does.

We think it right to build on the success of the specialist schools programme, whereby schools have sponsorship to become specialist schools, much of which has come from local businesses, which have often given support with governance, curriculum, mentoring, work placements and so on. They have given support for schools in kind that is much greater than the financial support that they have offered. Building on that, it will be possible to have a much richer array of business partners for schools. That directly links to the noble Baroness’s first point. If we have much stronger business links with schools, the diplomas will also be more successful, because the emphasis on work-related learning and the quality of the work-related learning that takes place in schools will be enhanced.

I do not disguise from the House the scale of the ambition. We have 3,500 secondary schools, so it is a very ambitious goal to ensure that they all have a meaningful higher education and business partner, but we believe that it is an appropriate goal. Learning from the experience of the specialist schools, academies and the large number of trust schools being established, many of which have university and business partners, we believe that it is an achievable goal for the future.

My Lords, I greatly welcome the Minister’s Statement, in which there is so much to welcome with eager anticipation. I have a couple of small points.

One of the programmes that the Minister mentioned seemed to stop at Yorkshire and the Humber. Will the Minister please not forget the needs of Tyneside? I say that coming as I do from the north-east.

On the further expansion of the academies programme, will the Minister clarify the position of the Church of England-sponsored academies? Will they be treated in the same way as those he mentioned that will be sponsored by universities?

My Lords, I believe that the right reverend Prelate was referring to Teach First, which is the programme expanding out of London. I would dearly like to see it play a role in the north-east, too. We are expanding it progressively because it is very important that the quality of the management of the programme, which has been very high, and the attractiveness that it has to high-performing graduates, is not diluted as it expands. That is why we are moving at the rate of one city a year, building up from London where it started. It is a testament to the success that we are having in recruiting good graduates into teaching that, from the leading universities, which 10 years ago were sending very few of their graduates into state school teaching, we now have massive overapplication to Teach First. This year there were over 1,500 applications for 300 places.

Teach First is regarded as a highly prestigious programme, which is a testament to the changing attitudes of young people to teaching—and very welcome that is too. It is also a testament to reform, because the establishment of Teach First, which was done in partnership with the teaching unions, involved a complete rewriting of the rules on teacher education. We ended the requirement to do a full-time PGCE for one year; in place of that, teachers train at Canterbury Christ Church University for six weeks over the summer and are then placed in properly supervised groups in schools. Their commitment to teach is for only for two years. We were led to think that the overhead cost of training them might not be justified but, in fact, more than half of Teach First graduates stay in teaching for more than two years, which is an immensely valuable resource to our schools. I give the right reverend Prelate the assurance that we shall seek to expand the programme and not neglect the needs of the north-east.

The Church of England has been a very important and highly successful promoter of academies. As the right reverend Prelate will have heard, one of the new academies that I announced today is a Church of England academy in the London Borough of Southwark. We want to see the church play a key role in the expansion of the programme, as local communities wish to see the church engaged, because this is all about local consent and preference. However, it will not have escaped the notice of the right reverend Prelate that the church is not itself a high-performing university, college or school. It has many other attributes but those three are not among them, so it will not qualify for, so to speak, passing “Go” without making any payments—the concession that we are announcing today.

My Lords, I join others in welcoming the Minister’s commitment to the expansion of the academies programme. In addition to the assurances that he gave my noble friend Lady Morris on preserving the existing freedoms of the academies, do the Government have any plans—based on the success of the initial academies—further to extend their freedom so that they have more freedom to develop in ways that will enable them to attract parents and pupils?

Furthermore, is there any plan in the Government’s programme to enable new schools to be set up within the state-funded sector, so that they can provide a further strand of choice, innovation and excellence alongside existing state schools?

Lastly, I welcome the Minister’s commitment to setting in individual subjects, but if he embraces the idea that teaching by ability group is an important part of achieving academic excellence and opportunity for children, does he recognise that some schools may not have enough children to create an adequate set of high-ability children? Therefore, the Government may want to consider allowing sets to be created across schools to provide that high-ability teaching group.

My Lords, it is open to schools to collaborate as the noble Lord suggests and to have groups that span schools. That is a matter for local arrangements. It is also possible to have oversubscription criteria for schools, such as banding. I am getting rather technical now, but there are systems of admission that ensure a proper cross-section of the ability range and therefore make it more likely that schools have top sets than they might otherwise have done, although that depends on their being oversubscribed. If they are undersubscribed, they may have difficulties in that regard. But on the issue that the noble Lord raised—the ability of pupils to be taught across schools—that is possible and will become increasingly common as we develop diplomas and see more collaborative working between schools in offering a wider curriculum.

On the noble Lord’s point about new schools being established, under the Education and Inspections Act 2006 local authorities have a duty to respond to proposals for the establishment of new schools and can themselves commission new schools. It very much depends on the commissioning state of mind of the local authority. A local authority that wants to see new provision can commission it, and there are requirements under the 2006 Act that new schools that local authorities decide to commission must be subject to open competitions.

We have just seen the first two competitions for new schools completed, the first in Haringey and the second in Southampton. I shall send the noble Lord details of those competitions, as I know that he has a keen interest in this matter. What is striking is the wide range of different proposals coming forward in those competitions—and these were the very first ones. A vibrant debate took place in local communities in both Haringey and Southampton about the rival merits of the different proposals, the different curriculum strengths, and the strengths and weaknesses of the different educational partners associated with the proposals. I believe that the strength of competition that will develop over time as the school competitions advance will be very great and that they will be both welcome to new promoters wanting to establish schools and beneficial to local communities, which will have a wider range of options from which to choose and be more likely, therefore, to secure a high-quality school as a result.

Academies already have substantial freedoms and flexibilities so I am not sure what the noble Lord had in mind, but if he has any particular ideas that he would like to put to me, I would be glad to look at them. There is great flexibility within the academy framework to enable innovation to take place. We have not found that academy sponsors feel hidebound.

My Lords, in welcoming the Statement as have many others in the House, perhaps I may seek a little clarity on the implementation of the Rose report. To what extent will it be directed from the centre? To what extent will its advice sit on the table? The advancement of literacy is vital for raising standards in both education and behaviour. It is particularly important to make sure that children from age 11 to 14 do not slip behind in the transition from primary to secondary school.

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very important point. Children who are engaged in education from the earliest years, which means above all else being able to read effectively, are much less likely to engage in disruptive behaviour thereafter or to cause problems of other kinds in the education system. She was therefore completely right.

The noble Baroness asked what we are doing to implement the Rose review. We are providing a great deal of high-quality resource to schools on the teaching practices in respect of reading which come out of the Rose report. We have just issued to schools new teaching materials, handbooks and CD-ROMs, which give good supporting guidance to them on how to implement Rose. The materials have been extremely well received by schools and, although we do not formally direct them, virtually all of them will implement Rose. The materials that we have put out have had a very positive response from teachers.

My Lords, exactly what will the Council for Educational Excellence do and exactly what will it cost? In addition, why are the Government still so much against streaming? I think that it was my noble friend Lord Blackwell who said that they accept that setting is a way of getting away from mixed-ability teaching—people are taught among their peers. However, people of secondary school age value their friendships greatly and develop through them. Where setting takes place in a big school, and you are with one group of people in one subject and another group for another, you keep losing your friends, whereas with streaming you are with the same group and you benefit from being with friends throughout your time at school, except that you have the flexibility of moving between streams if you develop in such a way that you can. Why are the Government still so against streaming?

My Lords, I accept that streaming can keep friendship groups more together, as the noble Baroness said, but the advantage of setting is that it enables judgments to be made on the aptitude of students in individual subjects. Student aptitude varies between subjects. We favour setting over streaming because it enables the aptitudes of students to be much better reflected in the quality of teaching that they receive than is possible if one were simply to put them in a standard group across all subjects.

In respect of the national council, the Statement said that our aim is,

“to mobilise every section of the community behind our national mission to become a world leader in education, and in particular, our aspiration that every secondary school should have a business and university partner”.

That is why we are so keen to engage business and university leaders in the council. We will set out a more precise work plan in due course. Although I do not imagine that we will set out the precise cost, I hope that I will be able to provide more ballpark figures once the council’s work is under way.

Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill

House again in Committee.

112: After Clause 60, insert the following new Clause—

“Voting at elections of elected mayors

(1) The Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) is amended as follows.

(2) For section 42(1) (voting at elections of elected mayors) substitute—

“(1) Each person entitled to vote as an elector shall have one vote and the elected mayor is to be returned under the simple majority system, unless there are three or more candidates.

(1A) If there are three or more candidates to be the elected mayor, voting shall be by means of preferential voting in which electors may list the candidates in order of preference.

(1B) If there are three or more candidates to be the elected mayor, the elected mayor is to be returned under the alternative vote system in accordance with Schedule 2.”

(3) In section 43 (entitlement to vote), omit subsection (2).

(4) For Schedule 2 substitute—

“SCHEDULE 2Election of elected mayorApplication1 This Schedule applies where there are three or more candidates to be an elected mayor of a local authority.

Method of voting2 Each voter shall have one transferable vote.

3 (1) A voter must place the figure 1 against the candidate he or she wishes to vote for (the “first preference”).

(2) A voter may indicate the order of his or her preferences for as many other candidates as he or she pleases by placing against their respective names the numbers 2, 3, 4 and so on.

Procedure for counting4 (1) The returning officer shall examine the papers and shall sort them into parcels according to the first preference recorded for each candidate, rejecting any that are invalid; and he shall count the papers in each such parcel and shall credit each candidate with a number of votes equal to the number of valid papers on which a first preference has been recorded for that candidate.

(2) If the vote for any one candidate equals or exceeds the votes of all other candidates combined, that candidate shall be declared elected.

(3) If no candidate has been declared elected, the returning officer shall exclude together the two or more candidates with the least votes if the total vote of such two or more candidates does not exceed the vote of the candidate next above, otherwise he shall exclude the candidate having the fewest votes.

(4) The papers of the excluded candidates shall be transferred to whichever of the continuing candidates is marked by that voter as the next available preference, and the votes thus transferred shall be added to the first preference votes of those candidates.

(5) Any paper on which no further preference is marked, or where there is uncertainty as the voter’s intention, shall be set aside as non-transferable and the total of such papers shall be recorded.

(6) When the vote for any one candidate equals or exceeds the votes of all other candidates combined, that candidate shall be declared elected at that stage.

(7) If when a candidate has to be excluded, two or more candidates have each the same number of votes and are lowest on the poll, the candidate with the lowest number of votes at the earliest stage in the count at which the candidates in question had an unequal number of votes shall be excluded.

(8) If two or more candidates are still equal and lowest, the returning officer is to decide by lot which of them is to be excluded at that stage.

(9) “Next available preference” means a second or subsequent preference recorded in consecutive numerical order for a candidate who has not yet been excluded, passing over earlier preferences for candidates already excluded.”.”

The noble Lord said: This small group of amendments deals with some important matters. Amendments Nos. 112, 171, 172 and 255, tabled in my name, would replace the supplementary vote with the alternative vote. The other amendment in the group, in the name of my noble friend, is rather more ambitious. She will speak to it in due course.

Amendment No. 112 would replace the existing system of the supplementary vote for mayoral elections with the alternative vote. My other three amendments would use the alternative vote, rather than the supplementary vote, for elections which the Government proposed for any elected executives. We have not discussed elected executives yet, so the amendments pre-empt the question whether we will have them, but it seems sensible to discuss the two voting systems together. The third area in which the supplementary vote is used is London mayoral elections. My amendments do not cover them, because they are subject to different legislation, but I would in spirit make the same change in their case, too.

The supplementary vote is a rather cack-handed voting system, which the Government cobbled together when they set up elections for mayors and the Mayor of London. It is election by a traditional “X”-voting system. After the first vote, people are given the opportunity of marking their second preference with an “X” in a different column. The two candidates with the most first-preference votes progress to the second round. Any second-preference votes for those two remaining candidates are then transferred to them and added to their total, giving the result of the election.

In moving the amendment, I should perhaps have welcomed the Minister to what I think is her first discussion in Committee on electoral systems. There will no doubt be many more to come. They are all great fun.

The supplementary vote differs from the alternative vote in that candidates are numbered one to five by voters and votes are simply transferred until somebody has gained over half of the votes cast. That system is used for the election of the leader and deputy leader of the Labour Party, so it has achieved a certain amount of fame recently. It is used also in elections in this House, so it is not without some background. If it is good enough for the Labour Party, it should be good enough for mayors and elected executives; and if it is good enough for the House of Lords, it should certainly be good enough for mayors and elected executives.

What are the problems with the supplementary vote, and why did I say it was cack-handed and cobbled together? First, it seems to cause unnecessary confusion. The number of spoilt ballot papers is significantly higher than usual, certainly higher than in normal elections: around 3 per cent in the first-preference count and around 8 to 10 per cent on the second count, not including those that cannot transfer because they would go to the wrong candidate. I had difficulty researching previous elections by the supplementary vote. I asked the Government what the situation was, but they said that they did not collect data. It is time that somebody started.

Secondly, the supplementary vote is not efficient, and there is a very high drop-out rate on the transfer to the second round; it can be as high as 80 per cent and is typically 60 or 70 per cent. Although people are offered a second vote, in general most of those votes do not count. They are not used because people use their second preference for somebody who has already dropped out, and the vote is then lost. Your second vote only counts if it goes to one of the candidates in the top two; therefore whether your second vote counts is accidental, which is not an efficient voting system.

Thirdly, the supplementary vote distorts choice. As I have said, whether your vote is counted on the second ballot is accidental; therefore, that must distort the result. I have been doing a bit of research and have just two or three examples.

The 2005 Torbay mayoral election was unusual because there were 14 candidates, despite which the turnout was only 24 per cent. However, 15,000—62 per cent—of the votes were for candidates not in the top two. Of those, nearly 12,000—almost 49 per cent—were not transferred. As a transferable voting system, it was a flop.

In the election for the mayor of Hackney in 2002, 76 per cent of votes did not transfer to the second round; the rate was almost as high in the next election, four years later. There were a huge number of rejected ballot papers in Hackney: 619 were rejected because of voting for more than one candidate as the first preference; 209 were unmarked or wholly void for uncertainty; and 4,400 were rejected in part. The system was not working properly. As I have said, up to 10 per cent of papers tend to be rejected as void or spoilt at either stage.

In the Mansfield mayoral election earlier this year, nearly 8 per cent of ballot papers were spoilt. There was a great scandal at the level of spoilt ballot papers in the Scottish parliamentary election; however, the same level seems to apply in these mayoral elections. That cannot be a good thing.

Those are typical. I will not detain noble Lords with statistics on lots of other places. Typically a high proportion of votes are not transferred and quite a lot of people who want to vote spoil their papers inadvertently. About 10 per cent of ballot papers are spoilt. Around two-thirds of second-preference votes are not transferred. Therefore, the system is not efficient.

The alternative vote is easier to use; it gives maximum choice and is easy to understand because anybody can number. It is an efficient system in that a high proportion of the votes are transferred until somebody is either elected or is named the runner-up.

I do not know why the supplementary vote was invented. Most electoral systems are a matter of principle—what they are based on—the purpose that they exist for and the outcomes. We can argue about first past the post, the alternative vote and various kinds of proportional representation but those arguments are about principles, purpose and outcomes. The supplementary vote is a defective system and is not fit for purpose. It does not work, and that is the main argument against it.

I beg to move Amendment No. 112, which would introduce the alternative vote instead of the supplementary vote for elected mayors.

My noble friend’s amendment referred to the use of the supplementary vote for electing mayors. My modest amendment—I do not see it as ambitious contrary to what my noble friend said—seeks to introduce the single transferable vote to local council elections.

On these Benches, we are dedicated advocates for the single transferable vote and like to bring it up at every opportunity. We have always made the case that in a well functioning democracy every vote should have equal weight. In first past the post elections, this evidently is not the case. Lest I be charged with naked self-interest, there are parts of England, south-west London, for example, where first past the post works very much in favour of the Liberal Democrats, but that still does not make it right.

The single transferable vote provides an opportunity for political parties to get more people elected from underrepresented groups, such as women and the black and minority ethnic population. It has never been more important to improve that representation.

The Government have the example of Scotland to see how the single transferable vote has worked and will be able to assess the difference it makes to how Scottish councils are governed. We also have proportional voting systems in operation for the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the European Parliament and the London Assembly; therefore, it is not new. I would like the Government to consider the single transferable vote as an option for English local government elections as they have done in Scotland.

I am always lost in admiration for how the Liberal Democrats manage to produce a proposal for proportional representation at every opportunity—not just one version, but at least two, and I am sure there will be a third. We are not in favour of proportional representation. We are in favour of the simple majority. Therefore, I will not be supporting these amendments but could not resist saying how much I would want to oppose proportional representation.

The Liberal Democrats should feel pleased at the progress made over the years in considering change. I go back long enough to believe that the changes proposed, even by the Government and certainly by the Liberal Democrats, in the past few years have been outlandish and far-fetched.

However, we are in a period where experiments have taken place, experience has been learned from and, as I understand it, the various systems are being reviewed, which is likely to provide some guidance. It is so patent to see a political advantage in a system. Probably the reason that the Labour Party resisted major change is that the existing system favoured it. Before anyone talks about chicanery or corruption or anything like that, one has to understand that the method and manner whereby an electoral system can bring party-political advantage have been there from time immemorial. You win some, you lose some.

To give my own illustration, in 1964 we won Enfield council by 31 to 29; four years later, we lost by 51 to nine. That reflected substantially the change in the mood of the people of Enfield. Over the past 40 or 50 years, we have been not only recognising the illogicality of the existing systems but genuinely seeking to engage the electorate much more than in the recent past.

As always, I listen to the experience and point of view of colleagues who have worked in local government. I confess that I was always a first past the post man in anything. However, I am beginning to change. Like most people of my age, I think that too much change and too quickly is not good for my system, so I would like to hear what the Minister has to say.

I thank my noble friend very much for his comments and for giving me the opportunity to offer a few words from the Government—I do not know if clarity is the word—on this very interesting subject. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for welcoming me to my first House of Lords debate on electoral systems. I have what may be a guilty secret to share: I have been rather enjoying the debate. It could be a mistake to admit that.

As I am sure the Committee would expect me to say, every voting system has advantages and disadvantages. The Government acknowledge that there are arguments both for and against the various proportional voting systems, and we have introduced new voting systems for the devolved Administrations as well as for the mayoral elections in local authorities. As we know, mayors in local authorities are elected by the supplementary vote system. We have also proposed in Part 3 of the Bill that the supplementary vote system be used for electing an elected executive. More widely, the elections conducted in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Assembly use the additional member system, and for the European Parliament the list system is used. In each of those cases there was a good reason to adopt the voting system that is now in place.

Noble Lords seek today to change the system for electing mayors across England from the supplementary vote system to the single transferable vote system. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, also wishes the directly elected executive to be returned via the additional member system. He has set out why he considers those systems are advantageous. However, the Government do not believe that now is the time to make changes to any of the electoral systems in England.

The noble Baronesses’ amendments were described as both ambitious and modest. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, set out why they wish to see the single transferable vote used for elections to principal and parish councils. However, that would mean that the first past the post system would no longer be used. One of the advantages of the first past the post system is that it ensures a direct relationship between those who are elected and the electorate within a specific geographical area. This system has historically been used to elect councillors to all local authorities. By tying members to a geographical area, a ward or a division which is constructed to reflect the identities and interests of communities, first past the post ensures that citizens know who represents them and, very importantly, representatives know whom they are representing. We believe that that is a significant advantage of the current system.

The Government are, however, carrying out a review of the new voting systems used in the UK for the devolved Administrations, the European Parliament and the London mayoral and Assembly elections. I hope and believe that this review will pick up the issues of confusion, transfers and spoilt papers to which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, pointed. We are of the view that it would be inappropriate to pre-empt the findings of this review by encouraging the introduction of changes to the voting systems in the Bill.

As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister stated in another place:

“We will fulfil our manifesto commitment to publish our review of the experience of the various voting systems introduced in 1998”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/7/07; col. 818.]

The review should be completed and published by the end of the year. Given my remarks, I hope that noble Lords will consider not pressing their amendments.

I hesitate to turn this into a seminar on voting systems but I think that it is necessary to point out one or two of the Minister's comments which I do not think are quite accurate. First, on behalf of my noble friend who is proposing STV in local elections, it is rather odd that the Government are not going to allow some councils that might want to move to STV as a pilot scheme to do so, particularly as most of those councils are currently controlled by a majority of Liberal Democrats and would almost certainly go without overall control under STV. In terms of political advantage, I would have thought that the Minister would be grabbing our hands off, but never mind.

The Minister also said that STV would do away with the link between the geographical area, the councillor and the electors. That is not true. STV requires multi-member electoral areas, which we have, as we discussed, in many areas in local government. They might be a bit bigger than three-member wards or they might be three-member wards, but the Scottish local government system has just moved from single-member wards towards those with two, three or four councillors. They retain as much of a link as I have in my ward, where two colleagues sit on the council with me. Whether I get elected by STV is a different matter, but who knows?

The other inaccuracy was that I am not proposing that the supplementary vote system should be replaced in favour of either the additional member system or STV; I am proposing that it should be replaced by the alternative vote system. That is not a proportional representation system; it is a different way of electing a single person. I hope that those are helpful comments.

I shall also reply very briefly to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. Again, we are not proposing proportional representation for the election of mayors because you cannot divide one mayor between different people; it is just a different way of electing the mayor. I ask her whether she and the Conservative Party support the supplementary vote system or whether they would like to abolish it and go back to first past the post for elections of mayors. We already have a different system for electing mayors. My submission is that it does not work; the system was bust before it started. It ought to be replaced with a system that actually does what the supplementary vote system sets out to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, said that we had lots of outlandish electoral systems, but I do not think that the one which I am trying to abolish—the supplementary vote system—exists anywhere else in the world. It is not outlandish in a technical sense; it is an invention of this country and it is time that we uninvented it.

I hope that this was a useful discussion. There is a problem here: the supplementary vote system does not work properly. It has all sorts of problems. Whatever system is used in future for mayors and for any elected executives that ever get off the ground, this system is not the answer. I hope that as part of their review the Government will seriously think about it. My question for the Minister is whether this review of electoral systems includes a review of the supplementary vote specifically. Will the supplementary vote be included in the review when it comes out later this year? It is good to hear that that will happen later this year.

I can explain the terms of reference to the noble Lord if that would be helpful. The review is looking at the electoral systems used in the UK for the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the European parliamentary elections and the Greater London Assembly and mayoral elections. It is also looking at the international experience of voting systems which mirror those used in the UK. It will look at findings of the Jenkins report, the Independent Commission on Proportional Representation, the Richard commission, and the Commission on Boundary Differences and Voting Systems. I hope that that helps.

Hidden in the middle of that were the words “mayoral elections”. I therefore take it that the noble Baroness's answer was yes. We look forward to that later this year and to renewing the discussion then. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 112A not moved.]

Clause 61 agreed to.

Clause 62 [Executive arrangements for England]:

113: Clause 62, page 33, line 6, leave out subsection (2)

The noble Baroness said: I will also speak to Amendments Nos. 113A and 125. This group, which also contains Amendments Nos. 121A and 126, covers two separate issues. I apologise to the Committee if I have contributed to the muddle—there was an attempt at degrouping last night, which does not seem to have stuck. Some of issues were over whether one of the amendments was acceptable, but I do not think that that should prevent us from debating the principles involved.

The first of the two issues is whether an authority should have complete flexibility and a complete menu of choice in the arrangements that it puts in place to undertake and discharge its functions. Our Benches think that it should. Earlier in Committee, my noble friend Lady Scott referred to Henry Ford saying, “Any model as long as it’s black”. To continue the analogy, there are one or two different models here, but not the whole range of vehicles. We believe that local authorities should have the choice. The Government talk a great deal about freedoms and flexibilities and about devolving decisions and so on. In short, why do the Government feel the need to prescribe?

The second issue is about what the 2000 Act calls “alternative arrangements”. I find that terminology bizarre, because those arrangements were the norm; when they became characterised as “alternative”, that in some way debased and devalued them. It is only so-called small councils, serving populations of fewer than 85,000, that have been entitled to operate the so-called alternative arrangements, which are closer to the old committee system than the executive/scrutiny model. In practice, these arrangements are not now quite the same as the old committee system. Why are the Government so intent on blocking that system? What is the problem? I have not heard any arguments for the structure itself being inherently faulty. I do not recall hearing arguments at the time of the 2000 Act that it was such a bad structure that it should be restricted to small councils. Ensuring that small councils need not go through the upheaval of creating an executive/scrutiny split and enabling them to continue in their old ways was something of a concession. However, it is becoming the accepted wisdom that those old ways have something wrong with them.

In the debates in the Commons committee, the Minister talked about the “devolutionary and pragmatic approach” taken in 2000. As far as I can see, he did not argue why that was right or wrong then or whether it was something that the Government gave in to. As I was very much involved, I happen to know that the figure of 85,000 was the subject of some trading between the Government and these Benches; we got it up from the original figure to increase choice at local authority level. A lot of what we have heard is not argument but assertion. I hope that tonight we hear argument—about the merits or demerits of that system and of giving local authorities greater choice than the Government seem prepared to accept—not simply assertion, which has tended to be the case in a number of answers to earlier amendments. Ministers have said, “We don’t agree with the noble Lord because we don’t agree”, instead of taking us through all the arguments and enabling us to understand how the Government arrived at their conclusion.

Of the other amendments in the group, we might have tabled Amendment No. 125 as a consequential amendment. However, this is now one of those God and Robert Browning moments. Browning is said to have said, “When I wrote this, God and I knew what it meant. Now only God knows”. If the Minister feels that it is difficult to respond, I will have considerable sympathy. I beg to move.

I support my noble friend Lady Hamwee in her attempt to introduce more flexibility and choice in the models of governance available to local authorities. I want to make a number of points. The experience of the last few years has shown no particular appetite among the public for the elected mayoral model, which suggests that the general public are wary of the prospect of the concentration of power in the hands of one individual. The public are being rather wiser than the Government. Certainly until now the majority of referendums held on the mayoral model have resulted in no support for a mayor.

There are some practical difficulties, which are not insurmountable, but about which the Government need to think carefully before going too far down the road of forcing local authorities to choose the mayoral model. There is a real possibility that in many areas, at the time of election, there might be a particularly contentious local issue—it might be not even council related, but something like a hospital closure. A mayor might get elected on the back of a single-issue campaign. There is nothing wrong with that, except that under this model that person will then have complete control of the local authority, with a budget of many millions of pounds, and yet might well have had almost nothing at all to say about other council services.

Nor is there any evidence of a great groundswell of support for mayors once the referendum has decided that there will be a mayor. My noble friend Lord Greaves, speaking to an earlier amendment, referred to the situation in Torbay. There the turnout for the mayoral election was 24 per cent, and there were 14 candidates. The level of popular support for the winning candidate—for the person who exercises all this executive authority in that area—was very low indeed. The Government need to understand that someone is not a strong leader because they or the Government say that they are a strong leader; they are a strong leader partly because of the way in which they govern in their area, but also partly because they have a level of popular support. With the low turnout and all the problems that we have heard about from my noble friend Lord Greaves about how the supplementary vote system works, there is a real problem for people identifying with the mayor.

I urge the Government not to get too carried away with the London example, because London is not typical. Around the country, there are few figures as prominent and well known as Ken Livingstone is here. The political realities and the cultures of local authorities vary enormously across the country and reflect the history of the area. A wider range of leadership models enables councils to choose a model that better suits their culture, ethos and tradition.

Another practical difficulty worries me, to which I hope the Government have given some thought. Under the old committee system in particular, people rose through the ranks, in effect. They chaired sub-committees and then they chaired major committees or held Cabinet positions. All those jobs provided testing grounds for them where they learnt their craft and where colleagues and the public could decide whether or not they were suitable people. Under the new system it is difficult to see where the mayors of tomorrow will come from. Where will they get their experience when there are no other executive positions on offer?

I strongly support my noble friend Lady Hamwee in saying that there is no evidence from past performance that the leadership models impact directly on the quality of local government produced. In recent years, central government has thrown a raft of inspection regimes at local government, all of which have shown an improvement across the board, with no evidence to link that to the style of governance. I could be cruel and point out that the governance model chosen for Stoke-on-Trent’s council resulted in its performance plummeting.

I support the amendment and urge the Government, if they really want to be taken seriously on devolution, to give local authorities more choice over the single most important issue facing them—their style of governance. If the Government are not prepared to let go and give local government that choice, I am afraid that all their words on devolution will be seen as meaningless rhetoric.

Amendment No. 121A in the group seeks to do very much the same as the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—to restore to local government, if it wishes, the possibility of a committee system. That is ruled out by the Local Government Act 2000, except in local authorities with populations of 85,000 or under. Neither of the Ministers was here at that time, but I assure them that it was a very hard-fought battle that ended up with a limit of 85,000—no more than that—for local authorities to be allowed to maintain their committee system.

It would be a flight of fancy if anyone believed that the Cabinet model or the elected mayor model worked to the benefit of all councillors. It is of enormous importance to people in the Cabinet, who now earn enormous sums of money for being there—rightly, in view of their extra responsibility. But to think that overview and scrutiny is the perfect role for ward councillors who are not in the Cabinet or not associated with it would, frankly, not be exact. It is not a great job and it carries with it no power of decision. Many people elected to local government believe that they will go in with an ability to influence decision-making.

Practically all overview and scrutiny is retrospective. In my local authority, there is a very short timescale for calling in a decision before it is made. That is one way of looking at a decision, but the decision is in the hands of either the Cabinet member—as is mostly the case—or the Cabinet. A back-bencher’s role in that is limited. It is also true that decisions are not scrutinised before they are made to anything like the same extent as previously. People used to deride the committee system and say, “Oh, it was only a rubber stamp”, but I can remember many occasions when it looked as if committee decisions were about to go through but came under very sharp scrutiny from back-bench members who knew exactly what they were talking about and who could make a committee chairman extremely uncomfortable because he had not taken into account a lot of the detail.

I do not imagine that all local authorities would want to go back to a committee and sub-committee system. I do not imagine that they would necessarily want to adapt an executive to have a supporting committee system. But why should local authorities not have the option of doing that? Why should they not have the option of making sure that their back-benchers are included in a way that is satisfactory to them? We are going around in hoops and loops trying to make sure that this has happened. The right to call in decisions will do something simply to rectify what cannot happen under the present system of bringing matters forward. One was always able to do it, but now it is not possible and we have to have different ways of doing it.

There are many structures and we need to look at all of them. This structure was denigrated and ruled out at the time. We should expand our systems of administration to allow the committee and sub-committee system to come back as part of the arrangements that local authorities are allowed to adopt.

Not for the first time today I have been educated in the current practices within councils. I have never hidden the fact that I am a yesterday’s man in terms of involvement in local government. I attend my party meetings and I meet my local councillors, who all have my respect. We are reflecting on whether the existing system is working. Colleagues involved in it are telling me that it does not. As an observer of the situation, I have no evidence that it does not.

I realise that there are two tiers of councillors—those who are at the top table and those who are not—but my knowledge of my local councils is that those councillors who are not at the top table are keen to get there. They have opportunities of demonstrating to their colleagues that they are able or more able to serve at the top table, because that is where the power lies. The breadth of change, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred, is that those who have Cabinet responsibility have been remunerated considerably. I come from an era when I did not get a penny. I soldiered on, always thinking that I ought to get a penny, but I never did. I have no hang-up regarding those who carry responsibilities of not only taking decisions but defending them afterwards being paid for that. That is the way that the system works here—people who have responsibility are paid for it and are answerable.

The thrust of the Bill from the beginning has been to try not only to elevate the concept of leadership, with a capital “L”, in relation to the mayor, the leader or the chairman, but to change the atmosphere and the environment of leadership. We can all think back over previous years when there was a good man or woman in local government who, in the first instance, had the respect of their colleagues and, in the second instance, demonstrated their abilities to the public.

On balance, I am in favour of trying to ensure that there is powerful leadership in the council. That does not mean that people who do not have ebullient personalities are debarred from leadership, because quality of leadership comes in many shapes and sizes. It is not always the best speaker or debater who is the best leader, because the leader not only has to speak, but also has to weld the team together, create the best policies and be the best public relations man or woman.

The system that we have in existence, for good or ill, is still at a very early stage—only six or seven years in. I do not detect a groundswell among councillors, and certainly not among members of the Labour Party, that there is something inherently wrong in the present system, but I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, because she will be equipped not only with a point of view, but with experience and evidence to back it up.

My Amendment No. 126 in this group would tackle the problem in a slightly different way by simply removing the 85,000 limit—which is an odd historic limit anyway going back eight or nine years—and allowing councils to have what are called alternative arrangements but which I would call, following the language used in the House of Commons debates, “an enhanced committee system”. Nobody is suggesting going back to the old systems in every detail. What we are suggesting is a system based on committees or a hybrid system. There is no reason why a hybrid executive and committee system cannot work. Indeed, many councils have one because they have area committees which take quite a lot of executive decisions. That is allowed under Section 18 of the 2000 Act. We will discuss that when we reach later amendments.

It does not matter whether there is a groundswell across the country. The important thing in a devolutionary era is whether people in an authority feel strongly that they want to change the system and have the ability to change it in the way that they think will deliver the best local government. The Government sometimes talk as though they are the ones advocating good community leadership, efficient councils, good delivery of services and lots of local vision and everyone else is going back to the 19th century. There was plenty of local vision in the 19th century. It is simply a question of there being different ways of achieving the same things. Why should people on the ground in their own councils not make those decisions? We have heard so much devolutionary rhetoric but now that we are getting on to some major issues, the devolutionary rhetoric seems to be scuttling away under the floorboards.

We will discuss the role of councillors later so I will not go into that now. When the word “committee” is raised, people talk about horses and camels—a camel being a horse designed by a committee. That may be true but what are committees for? Nobody would employ a committee to design a new house or—I was going to say transport system but perhaps that is wrong. Design is something best done by professionals who go away and do it. Then it comes back and, like the Olympic logo, you say, “Yes, this is wonderful”, or, “This is a load of rubbish”. If you are sensible and it is a load of rubbish, you kick it out. That is how good design is done. You would not employ a committee to design a horse. Let us look at some other analogies. What is a donkey? A donkey is a horse designed by bureaucrats. What is an elephant? An elephant is a horse designed by self-important leaders. What is a giraffe? A giraffe is a horse designed by policy wonks in Downing Street.

Take that as you wish, but what are committees good at? Committees are good at discussion. We are in Committee now and we are discussing things. It is far easier to involve members of the public in council decisions if you have good functioning committees because there is a forum where people can take part in the discussion. If they are run properly, are efficient and are given or develop choices, they are actually quite good at making decisions, particularly at local level where they are acting on behalf of the community. Nobody ever agrees on everything—there are always different interests and different points of view—but a good functioning representative committee can make the decision in open session in public. People may not like it, but at least they are able to come along, listen, take part and see that decisions are being taken democratically. If decisions are made by one person, how on earth does that process happen? If there are single-party executives on councils—I have to point out that I am a member of one—it is not satisfactory.

I am, for my sins, the executive member for housing market renewal in Pendle. As part of the housing market renewal pathfinder, the council gets about £9 million a year to invest in the area, which is a lot of money for an ordinary, small district council, so we wanted an executive member who was responsible for it. I said that I would do it, but only on the condition that I could have a committee. I now chair the housing market renewal committee. People can come along to the forum. If they do not like our decisions, they come and shout at us. When we have real choices to make, people come and tell us what they think. It is all done in public and the debates are reported in the local newspapers. This year, I have even insisted that we have members of the opposition groups on the committee. That is the scrutiny element of committees that the noble Baroness spoke about, which is so important.

The old committee system was not wonderful in all places. In some places it worked very well and in others—such as Lancashire County Council, of which I used to be a member—it was not all that good. But a huge amount of scrutiny took place. That was the function. Far better scrutiny took place under that old system than takes place in the artificial, manufactured way in which overview and scrutiny committees work nowadays.

I am not saying that all the new arrangements are bad and that they do not work in many places. They do. We are saying that people should be given the choice to do what is best for their council in their circumstances and to evolve the structures that they want. If the Government really believe in letting go, that is what they have to do.

This has been an important debate as Clause 62 is part of the main architecture of the Bill. I am grateful for all the contributions. I was particularly struck by the excursion of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, into some of the wider issues, because he was exploring, in different ways, some of the tensions between leadership and scrutiny. We shall talk about some of those issues on later amendments.

Clause 62 provides for changes to the executive arrangements that local authorities in England can adopt. It does that by amending Section 11 of the Local Government Act 2000. The three executive models that we propose will be set out in the Bill. I hope to meet the challenge that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, raised about providing evidence, not assertion, on why leadership is important and why we have chosen this route.

Amendments Nos. 113, 113A, 121A and 126 all have the same effect, which is to reject that route and, in different ways, to seek to maintain the status quo, enabling any council, regardless of size of type, to operate any form of governance arrangements as they see fit, including alternative arrangements or other arrangements which do not involve any form of executive.

I shall try to explain our thoughts on Amendment No. 125 to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, when I reach that point. Briefly, as I understand it, it seeks to preserve for England the option of all members of the executive being elected to the council, but I shall have a slightly longer answer to give on that. I shall not reiterate what the amendments seek to achieve but will move on to the debate about the system of governance that we are proposing.

The first thing that we can all agree on is that the challenges facing local councils are different from what they were five or 10 years ago. It is not just that the pressures are intensifying or that resources have to be spread wider. As was summed up in the Lyons report, councils are no longer just agents of service delivery. What Lyons said, and what the councils themselves are saying, is that there is more to the local council than simply ensuring that schools are good, hospitals thrive and the streets are clean. It is not just about meeting new challenges that we could not have envisaged 10 years ago, such as climate change, mitigation and anticipation, and all the changes that they imply, or the pressures of ageing. It is about the role of the council in envisaging and developing the shape of the place. It is a good phrase because, although it is slightly elliptical, we all know what the making and shaping of a place means. It is a broader vision that requires different sorts of leadership. In order to underpin this change of culture, about which my noble friend who is not in his place was talking and which we set out in the White Paper, we collected evidence over a period about the real impact of leadership on best value and effectiveness. I shall come to that shortly.

As we stated in our White Paper:

“Places need clear vision and strong leadership to deal with constantly changing economic, social, environmental, and cohesion challenges”.

The New Council Constitutions: Findings from the 2005 ELG Sample Survey showed that the arrangements that were introduced by the 2000 Act support visible and effective leadership. It was an independent report that was updated in June. It showed that since 2000 there have been changes. Councils have taken on the new freedoms. There are three sets of new freedoms. Some have taken on all of them and others have made cautious progress. Nevertheless, there has been a shift towards more concentrated leadership. The final report of the Long-term Evaluation of the Best Value Regime showed clearly that leadership is the most significant driver of change and improvement in local authorities.

That is one set of evidence, but we also have another very recent set of evidence. At Second Reading, we published a report, Does Leadership Matter. It was a thorough academic report undertaken by the same research team led by Professor Gerry Stoker. The evidence is very comprehensive but it boils down to this:

“There is general agreement that the aim of enhancing effective leadership has been met and that the new executive arrangements have bedded down well, thus providing more visible and effective leadership and quicker decision-making which is in turn associated with better service delivery ... Taken together, our findings show a consistent relationship between on the one hand, authorities with a stable political leadership and authorities that have over a period of time given the full range of powers to their leaders and, on the other hand a better service performance and greater citizen satisfaction”.

On the one hand we have the challenge of doing things differently because we need to, but we also have the evidence that building on what came in 2000 is a movement for a greater concentration of power. That is the direction of travel and the evidence suggests that it is working.

We believe that the key to success in local government is strong and accountable leadership. We have come forward with what we think is necessary. All the surveys of stakeholders, councillors and officials demonstrate four things: the new arrangements show that decision-making is quicker; the role of the leader has become stronger; the leader of the council has a higher public profile; and the council’s relations with partners have improved.

We are in no way pushing the mayoral model to the exclusion of the other three set out in Clause 62, but the mayoral models are perceived to be out-performing the non-mayoral authorities when it comes to effective local leadership. They get higher marks across a whole series of criteria. They also get higher overall approval ratings. More than 50 per cent of councillors and nearly 75 per cent of officers also believe that under the new arrangements the executive has become more effective in articulating a vision.

I would not dispute that the best leaders can be successful in any system, but the executive governance arrangements that we have set out are most likely to lead to and support strong accountable leadership. I think that we have reached a point in local government history and in national and local government where we need to take more decisive steps, which is what the Bill will bring about.

Noble Lords have spoken with great eloquence, but with a little scepticism too, about the old committee system. It found few friends. Even Simon Milton has been quoted as being critical of the system and saying we would not want to return to it. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said that it was not perfect. From reading the deliberations in another place and from what people said, it was virtually invisible to most people. Nobody knew who were on these committees. When I was working in the voluntary sector it was extremely hard to find out whom one should approach and how, or what the process was.

Perhaps I may invite the noble Baroness to have discussions with her colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, who was chairman of the education committee of Lancashire County Council. She was one of the best known politicians in the county; she had a presence and was highly respected throughout the county. I give that as one extremely good example, but what the Minister is saying is not actually true.

If we had had a Labour council and Josie Farrington in East Sussex things might have been very different. She is an outstanding example.

Very few people knew what the remit of the committees was. In the other place, a whole raft of arguments was given from first-hand experience about the obstructive nature of some of the committees and the obscure nature of some of the work. I do not want to denigrate the committees, nor, God forbid, the people who served on them, because they worked very well over many years. But the 2000 Act recognised that things had to change. The noble Lord seemed to suggest that they worked better for smaller authorities—the fewer than 85,000—than for larger authorities where there was a bigger challenge. We began to explore the tension between leadership and scrutiny. That is the balance expressed in the White Paper and the Bill. Yes, we have to have stronger leadership, but we also have to have greater powers of scrutiny. This is an opportunity for the ward councillors now to develop their own profile in a way that has not been possible before. We shall come to the role of the overview and scrutiny committees and the community calls for action, and so on.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said that the committee system brought on trained people but I fail to see why that cannot be developed under the existing and future system. Many of the overview and scrutiny committees themselves are turning into policy and development committees as they review the work of the council. As my noble friend said, it feeds ambition.

In the three models that we have set out—the leader and Cabinet executive, the mayor and Cabinet executive, and an elected executive—we are allowing for choice, but within a set of principles that say that we require stronger, more visible and more accountable leadership. That is required in modern local government and that is where the strength lies. This is an area on which we disagree, but I hope that we can tease out some of these issues during our deliberations.

I turn briefly to Amendment No. 125, which seeks to preserve the option of a council being able to elect all the members of the executive. As we have previously discussed, the new leader and the cabinet model, which the Bill introduces, removes that option. In future the cabinet will be appointed by the leader. We shall debate that on the next amendment. In this way, as I have explained, we think that coherent and stable leadership is more easily created.

Noble Lords might have asked why Welsh authorities appear to retain the option of electing their leadership group—I know that I am giving the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, even more ammunition for a future exchange. Clauses 62 and 63 seek to modify the 2000 Act provisions in relation to English authorities but we intend to leave unchanged the detailed provision in relation to Wales, as that is obviously a matter for the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government.

While I suspect that we may not agree, I hope that, with that statement of principle, I have been able to provide at least more than an assertion of why we are doing what we are.

I thank the noble Baroness and wish to continue the debate with a few further points. First, I want to put on record that no one on these Benches is suggesting that leadership is not important. As someone who worked for some years undertaking assessments of councils for the Audit Commission, I was always absolutely clear that the highest performing councils were those with the most effective leadership.

The point at issue is that the 2000 Act brought in some changes to the governance of councils. My own council at the time, Suffolk County Council, made an early move away from the committee system towards a cabinet style because we felt it a better system of governance. At that stage, it was our decision to make, based on our assessment of what was best for our area.

That philosophical point underpins the fundamental problem that the Liberal Democrats have with the Government’s position. The Government say that the various challenges faced by local authorities are so dreadful that they absolutely must have strong leaders—super-people, who will appear to lead councils and sail through all the challenges—but that none of those people can be trusted to decide how their own areas should be governed; they can only have a range of options from central government. The Government seem to have a Janus-type attitude, saying on the one hand, “We want strong, powerful councils” and, on the other, “You are not sensible enough to choose your own model of governance”.

If some systems of governance have clearly better outcomes than others, councils will move to those themselves having seen the benefits. They should not have to be required by central government, through legislation, to adopt a particular style. It is difficult for the Government to say to local councils, on the one hand, “We trust you and want you to be strong”, and on the other, “We do not trust you enough to decide how you run your own affairs”.

I am sure that we will continue this subject through the subsequent stages of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, suggested that I wrote down “Too soon to change”, and then I wrote “Exactly!”— for the benefit of Hansard, there is an exclamation mark after that.

My noble friend Lady Scott has made the point well that effective leadership is not the same as so-called strong leadership. Leadership can be shown not merely through the Government’s formal leadership models; there were some good examples of it under the old style. We are told that the new models will help with—it is so full of jargon—place-shaping. The noble Baroness’s description of that as moving away from local administration of services dictated centrally made me think, “Yes, that was what we had before there was so much dictation from the centre”. I agree with her analysis that there is a problem there, although not with her solution.

As my noble friends and others have said, there is further debate to be had on the role of the ward councillor, so I wish to make only one further comment. It was suggested that, currently, where a strong leader is identified, the council’s relations with its partners have been improved. I find that a curious concept. If relationships with partners depend on there being an individual to whom they can relate, that is a poor state of affairs when we are talking about public services. As I say, I am sure that we will come back to this area.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining my Amendment No. 125. I knew that I had a good reason for tabling it. I was confused when I looked at it again today and thought, “Aren’t we letting the Welsh do their own thing?”. That would be the right thing to do, but my analysis of it in the first instance was better than I had realised. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 113A not moved.]

114: Clause 62, page 33, line 19, leave out “the executive leader” and insert “one of the following—

(i) the executive leader, or(ii) the authority.”

The noble Lord said: This amendment appears on its own because it deals with a specific issue: who appoints the executive of a council when there is a leader and executive model. Section 11(3)(b) of the Local Government Act 2000 is exactly as set out in my amendment. I am merely trying to maintain the status quo.

The Government are trying to suggest that the executive, in a leader and executive model, should simply be appointed by the leader of the council. When, or if, this provision goes through, and when it is reported to councils that this is what they have to do, there will be astonishment in the land. The idea is that the whole council will not be able to choose the members of its executive or cabinet body—I hesitate to use the word “committee”, but I do not know what executives are, if not committees—and will only be able to appoint a leader, who will then appoint the members of the executive. Some councils may do that at the moment under the 2000 Act, or they can elect the executive, probably at their annual meeting.

I do not know of any council with the model that the Government suggest. I am sure there are plenty, but they are perhaps not councils that I know about, which would suggest that they are not ordinary district councils. Most of the councils that I know about around the country, where I have colleagues with whom I communicate quite frequently, tend to be district councils or metropolitan district councils. People will be astonished at the idea that a council’s constitution cannot provide for a system in which the executive—by far the most important body in the council now—is appointed or elected at the annual meeting.

When this was discussed in Committee in the House of Commons, there was some fascinating debate. The then local government Minister, Mr Woolas, a Nelsonian gone to other pastures, said—and I paraphrase him—“Well, it does not really matter, because councillors will get round it anyway, won’t they?” That is, they will come to their own arrangements, and things will carry on much as before, which may be the case. In my council, if we had a model where the leader appoints the executive, the leader would be appointed only on the terms that the executive is agreed by a much wider group of people than himself or herself. That is how a lot of councils will work; many get round what they saw as restrictions in the 2000 Act arrangements in such a way. They are probably making themselves more efficient and approachable, and better councils with better leadership, as a result. This will be regarded as an absolutely astonishing provision. People will think that the Government and this Parliament have gone mad if it goes through. I beg to move.

I support my noble friend’s amendment. The 2006 census of local councils showed that 41 per cent of those with the leader and cabinet model had adopted the approach proposed in the Bill; in other words, the leader appoints the cabinet in only 41 per cent of councils operating that system. That means that 59 per cent have a model that will be outlawed by this Bill. Again, that runs counter to all the devolutionary rhetoric of the Government. The Minster has talked about how much local government has improved under the new models. Since the majority are operating this system, it is difficult to see why the Government want to get rid of it. It is hard to see their rationale.

There are issues, particularly in areas where election by thirds will continue. Some councils will continue to exercise that option. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that political control would change but that, unless the leader himself is subject to a vote of no confidence, the council will not have to make any changes to the cabinet. Furthermore, the provision will be seen as a nail in the coffin of the back-benchers who, as we have heard and will continue to hear, feel disempowered by successive government policies. My noble friend is absolutely right that, if they feel that the opportunity to even have a say over who is in the cabinet is taken from them, people in local government up and down the land will be mystified.

I am only half in support of the amendment. It is worth thinking more about it. I come from an authority where the leader appoints the cabinet. There is quite a lot to be said for the fact that a leader who has been elected by the council should then be able to pick those whom they believe will do the job best. I accept that it is possible under an election system within a council for people to stand, be put forward and voted on. However, a leader must have confidence in the people with whom he or she serves. There are enormous advantages in being able to say to your colleagues, “I would like you to be part and parcel of this team”. It is ultimately a team. If the team does not work, and there are scratchy issues because somebody has been elected into it—forced in by other colleagues, as it were—there can be difficulties in how it operates.

I said that I was only half supporting the amendment, but there is probably a rationale for saying, “If you don’t want to do it that way, don’t”. You can have another way of doing it, and the authority can elect a cabinet as it elects the leader. I understand that that is what the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is doing, and see some sense in people having an alternative. My own preference would be to leave it as the Government have.

I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s support—I think it was actually slightly more than half. I was going to quote her outstanding example of Kensington and Chelsea as having a leader who elects the team. As we all know, her colleague the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, runs the council of a county the size of a small developing nation, and it has this same model. So, although the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, says that it is astonishing that we brought this provision forward, I do not think that it is. Indeed, 41 per cent of councils having followed this model is a significant number; I was going to quote that statistic myself. Across the Chamber, we will have disagreements on principle, but much of the logic of what we are trying to do will follow from Clause 62.

As reflected upon in the previous debate, there are ways of enabling leadership. Leadership does not happen by accident, and part of the logic we are faced with in this part of the Bill is that of building visibility and accountability—building what the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, called the team—so that people know who is taking the decisions and why they have chosen their routes across the different services, or whatever. I obviously cannot agree with the amendment, although I understand the spirit in which it is moved. However, in all the ways in which we have set out the notion of strong and prosperous communities, we have always explained why we would change the status quo and seek to make it possible for the leader to appoint the other members of the executive. This is one of the three freedoms identified in the research that I spoke of earlier. It is to enhance the effectiveness, coherence and collectivity of the leadership that they will be visible across the local area and, in so doing, encourage better leadership.

I do not see how the provision is a disincentive for ward councillors. The aspiration to become part of leadership is there in any case. However, it also shows that it is possible to grow leadership in different ways. Another piece of evidence I would like to refer to is the conclusions of the report on the state of English cities, published in 2006. That evidence shows that entrepreneurial leadership is absolutely crucial to finding new economic futures for cities, businesses and residents. All that inclines us towards thinking that we must have a more predictable system which plays to and identifies strengths. Enabling the council leader to build a team is the right way to go.

I am afraid that I am unable to accept the noble Lord’s amendment. I hope that he will feel able to withdraw it.

Can the Minister clarify a point for me? My understanding of the current system is that it is perfectly possible for leaders to operate the system now proposed. They do not need this legislation to do it. A council currently has a choice between a model in which the cabinet is elected by the council and one where it is chosen by the leader. I make no judgments about the relative merits of those two systems; for me, the important thing is that the choice remains. We have a problem with the removal of that choice under the Bill.

The noble Baroness is quite right. As I said, it is in the logic of the situation that we are trying to enable leadership to be stronger. We see this as part of that process.

I object to the continual assumption that those who do not agree with the Government’s polices and models are in favour of weak leadership.

Let me correct that impression. I never said that, and I do not believe it. I simply have some different ideas about how to enable leadership, and maybe about the imperatives of the conditions facing local government and the nation. I certainly would not parody the noble Lord’s position by saying that he was in favour of weak leadership.

I am grateful for that. I was being provocative, but there is an assumption throughout that, when the Government say “strong leadership”, that is what matters, as though opponents are not in favour of good leadership. We ought to be talking about the nature of leadership, and the Government’s view is oversimplified, to put it fairly simply. We are talking not about strong or weak leadership, but about good and better leadership. If that is what the Government mean by strong leadership, they must understand that there are different ways of doing that. Different ways may be appropriate for different councils, different communities and so on. For the Labour Party, of all bodies, to appear to dismiss the concept of collective leadership is an astonishing ideological U-turn that I do not subscribe to. It is perfectly possible to have consensual leadership, co-operative leadership, collective leadership or collegiate leadership and for it to be very good leadership indeed. If it works really well, it is better than having leadership by one person. The noble Baroness talked about entrepreneurial leadership. I keep trying to avoid talking about Pendle, but a good example of entrepreneurial leadership is the council’s incredibly quick decisions to invest in new buildings in the middle of Nelson as a joint venture with a local company.

That must be my phone. I beg the Committee’s pardon. It must be somebody from Pendle ringing to say, “Come on, get on with it”. If I can find out how to operate this thing—this is hopeless; I should curl up and die. There, I’ve switched it off. I apologise.

I shall say two more things. I agree that leadership does not happen by accident, but nor does it happen by imposing structures. It happens by good people getting into leadership positions and working together to make the structure work. Any structure that is adopted will have advantages and disadvantages, yet it has to work. I fear that the structures that the Government are proposing will be quite brittle when things get to crisis point.

My second point relates specifically to this amendment. It is okay if there is a group in overall control and it appoints the leader, who is elected by the council. The leader will probably appoint the people who have been negotiating within the group by one means or other. That will work. In a council with no overall control, as is often the case, that approach does not work quite so well. Who is on the executive will be a matter of negotiation between two or more of the parties or groups on the council. That is underpinned by the numbers on the council and by who sticks their hands up to vote. If that decision is taken away and put in the hands of one person, particularly if that person will be there for four years, everything can break down fairly quickly and a series of crises might result, because the system is not resilient or flexible enough to cope. I ask the Government to look at that. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

115: Clause 62, page 33, line 28, leave out subsection (6)

The noble Lord said: Am I on again? This is the first amendment in a long group about the proposed model for elected executives. This is an important issue in the Bill and will be a sticking point. There is considerable controversy about it. We are talking about it, yet I wonder whether it will happen very much. I wonder how many councils in the country will want to get involved in an elected executive model. I think I am on fairly safe ground in saying that there are not very many. From reading the interesting discussions in the House of Commons, we understand that a lot of this came from Stockton-on-Tees, which looked at the possibility in the 2000 Act to move to an elected executive and expressed an interest in it. It seems that it was given the advice that it was rather difficult and the Government had not thought it out, so the idea got stuck in this Bill to set out a perhaps more coherent, and certainly more comprehensive, model of how we might have an elected executive.

Amendment No. 115 is one of a number of amendments I have tabled to try to remove all the references to elected executives from the Bill. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, who found even more references than I did and has helped to produce a thorough list of things that need filleting out of the Bill. No doubt there are others that we have missed. The principle is that we would like to remove the references to an elected executive being a model because it is, frankly, daft. We can talk about the details of the Bill, but this is a matter where we have to say that the proposal being put forward is simply silly.

What is it? It is a proposal that a group of people, a political party or any other group of people can put forward for election across an authority a slate consisting of a proposed leader and a number of other members of the executive. As I understand it, between three and 10 people would stand for election and, having been elected, would form the leader and executive of the council. I think they would be councillors, although I am not very certain because the Bill states that the Government may make regulations to what extent they will be councillors. Presumably they will be councillors and will be called Councillor Bloggs or Councillor Ali or whatever. They will be elected across the district, so they will not represent wards. They will have no direct link of the kind that the noble Baroness was talking about, which is the link between a councillor and the people who regard him as their councillor and go to him when they have a problem or something to say. We all think that is important in whatever electoral system we want.

Who wants it? It is rumoured that Stockton-on-Tees may want it, or perhaps one or two leadership people in Stockton may want it, but it is not clear who else does. According to the report on the Public Bill Committee in the House of Commons, when the witnesses from the LGA were giving evidence they were asked where the demand came from and who put it forward. It is reported that the witnesses looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. They did not know, so it does not seem to have come from representatives of local government.

What effect would it have on the council? It would have all sorts of effects. There would be two kinds of councillors, so the problems that we have in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly with the additional member system would be repeated and would probably be much worse. The divisions that exist in many councils at the moment between executive and Cabinet councillors and back-benchers would inevitably be exacerbated because there would be councillors with no wards. It could unbalance the numbers—although the extent to which it would do that is not very clear—and produce a council that is not representative. If people voted differently or if there was a close vote under the supplementary vote system a slate could get in with perhaps only 35 per cent of the vote across the borough, whereas in individual ward elections quite different people might be elected because the votes would pile up in individual wards rather than being spread across the authority. There are all sorts of questions to be asked about electoral systems, and we will come on to them.

Finally, there is stand part on Clause 67. Clause 67, which is printed on pages 42 and 43 of the Bill, sets out in great detail how the executive will be elected. When the debates took place in the House of Commons, a number of people—my honourable friend Andrew Stunell was particularly prominent— pooh-poohed the idea that the size of the executive had to be fixed before the elections took place. The argument was that people might well have a choice of a small executive of three or four full-time people or a big executive of perhaps 10 people who would be part-time and would operate in a very different way, and that that choice could be put before the people.

The Government responded to that, and we now have the extraordinary stuff on pages 42 and 43 about the different kinds of election there might be. It is not that there will be a choice of the people standing, but that the council will decide whether it has to be a definite number of people, can be a number of people,

“the same as, or greater than, the specified minimum membership, but ... must not be greater than the specified maximum membership”,


“must be 3 or more”.

The whole system is a muddle and quite extraordinarily complex. Few people if any are going to take part in it—there might be two or three councils putting themselves forward as pioneers but my guess is that they will come scuttling back like Stoke-on-Trent, saying, “The Government got it wrong. Can it be unscrambled?”.

I hope this House might take these provisions out before the Bill goes back to the Commons, and ask the Government to seriously think again about what is an incredibly flawed proposal. We are not there yet—we are in Committee, discussing it in detail—and on that basis I look forward to the Minister’s reply and what she can possibly say to justify this extraordinary nonsense. I do not want to blame her for it, but she has to defend it. I look forward to the debate. On that basis, I beg to move.

I have a number of amendments in this group and also support Amendment No. 115. I agree with the noble Lord; this is one of the most extraordinary proposals in the Bill. It is also extraordinarily inchoate. I start by drawing the Committee’s attention to the amendments that I have tabled. Rather magnanimously, Amendment No. 152 is an admission that if there were an elected executive, it ought to be able to increase in size if it needed to. The amendment would allow it to do so, though I hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, that by the time we get to the end of this Bill there will be neither sight nor sign of an elected executive.

Amendments Nos. 154 to 156 and Amendment No. 159 would all remove references to the elected executive and elected leader. Amendments Nos. 168 and 169 cancel out the references to an elected executive in new Section 40D. Clause 76 provides for supplementary provision for the dates of the years of the election of mayors and executive members, and the amendments would remove that as well.

The arguments against an elected executive are manifold. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has laid out a number of them. The questions that arise from this are also extensive. First, where in the world has a system such as this been used before? Secondly, how will this elected executive be supernumerary to the council? That is what it looks as if it will be under new Section 40C. Thirdly, how can councillors be elected to an elected executive if they have not been elected? Presumably the elected executives have to be elected at the same time as the elections. Do you stand as both an elected executive member and a councillor, or can you stand for just one? If, as I understand it, you stand as both a councillor and a member of the elected executive and you are then elected, do you have to then stand down as a councillor? If so, a by-election is caused.

Where on earth does this get us? It presupposes that there are insufficient people on the council suitable to be senior executives on that council. What does that say of the confidence that people have in their council and councillors? Why should local authorities be hoicking around trying to find people suitable to run education, housing or finance who cannot be found from within the council? That is what it amounts to. You will have to find specific people to adopt specific roles and then try to have them elected on a slate. What happens if you then want to extend that executive? As it is, you have to go with a certain number to have them elected. If anyone is subsequently appointed to the Cabinet, does that leave them as second-class citizens because they were not elected as a member of the executive?

It is the most extraordinary proposal I have seen. I have not seen any justification for it, nor have I heard through my local government networks any support for it whatever. Presumably the Government have ideas as to how this should work and what its value would be, yet it is hard to see what that is. My amendments try to ensure that it does not see the light of day.

I find myself in something of a quandary on this because I agree absolutely with the assessments of my noble friend Lord Greaves and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, that this has to be one of the daftest proposals that has ever come forward. In the interests of consistency, having argued all the way through Committee for choice, part of me thinks that this should remain on the table so that any local authority daft enough at least has the option to choose it. Since we have been talking about leadership so much tonight, there is a question about the leadership of the Government. By putting this option into the Bill, with all its unworkable elements, I am not convinced that they are exercising their leadership responsibilities. They are tempting local authorities into choosing a model with all these inherent flaws.

I am mystified by the genesis of this option, too. My noble friend Lord Greaves referred to the allegation of Stockton-on-Tees being the birthplace of this. I am mystified as to why some chance remarks by one local authority have led to pages and pages in a Bill, whereas on the previous amendment we were discussing a model which is currently used quite well by 59 per cent of local authorities being thrown out by the Government. I fail to see the logic of the Government’s position on that.

I must confirm a couple of facts to check that have I understood this correctly. If the leader goes, does the entire slate then go too—so that everyone goes, whether the leader went under a bus or simply became ill or resigned? Does that also apply to each individual member of the slate? What happens if a member of the Cabinet is seen not to be performing well? Does the leader have the option of sacking and replacing them, or do we again have to have a fresh set of elections? Under this model, can members put themselves forward both as members of the slate and as ward councillors? If they are elected to take Cabinet office, will they automatically have to resign immediately from their ward council role, causing an immediate by-election? What is going to happen if, as a result of by-elections, there is a change of political control? These questions highlight just some of the potential flaws in the system.

I am in no doubt about where the noble Lords opposite stand on our proposals. Their position is rather unfair, and I am glad that the noble Baroness acknowledged this. Having berated us for being so draconian, they now tell us, when we come forward with the choice of three executive models, to take one away because of what has been said about it. I can best answer the questions that have been raised if I address the stand part debates, which will enable me to take the Committee briefly through the clauses themselves. Many of the amendments that have been brought forward in the filleting process that has been so expertly and jointly carried out by the parties opposite relate to the same issues and are consequential.

This is a new, innovative model. There are international precedents and we should not turn our backs on the experience of the directly elected executives in Switzerland and Portugal. Indeed, it was the Geneva council that inspired our interest in the model. Essentially, this is a new model, which has the potential to deliver visible and accountable leadership. It is very similar to the elected mayor model but powers are put in the hands of a slate. This is not a new concept in British politics; a slate reflects the notion of a team rather than an individual. In this model there is a complete separation of powers between the executive and front-line councillors, which will enhance the competence of the councils to challenge the executive. It will also do another job in representing the local community. So it is not as daft as it has been described.

Perhaps I may now address the stand part debates. Clause 67 amends the Local Government Act 2000 to provide for the new model. Clauses 69 and 71 are consequential to that and ensure that there are provisions in relation to executive members and the elections to the executive. How will that work? Clause 67 makes provision in relation to elected executives by inserting new Sections 40A to 40C into the 2000 Act. New Section 40A provides for the leader and other members of the elected executive to be elected by all local government electors in the authority’s area. It requires that elections for an elected executive take place on the same day as ordinary council elections, as for elected mayors. Yes, to answer the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, new Section 40A provides that members of the elected executive, once elected, are treated as members of the council for the purposes of enactments to be specified in regulations, subject to all the normal rules of qualification, disqualification and so on, just as with the elected mayors.

New Section 40B makes provision for the election of the slate. Anyone wishing to be a member of an elected executive—

Perhaps I may ask one question: will they be members of the council in terms of voting in the council? Will they sit in the council chamber and vote with the other councillors?

As an interruption has taken place, perhaps I may ask a question. This slate of people could be put together by the ruling party when going up to the election, but presumably rate payers could put together a selection of people whom they would like to elect. You could end up with a leadership consisting of people who were completely away from the majority of the elected council.

But there is no reason why anyone should. It is unlikely. We are looking for local parties to put forward their own slates, of which there may be more than one.

New Section 40B makes provision that anyone wishing to become a member of an elected executive must be included in the list of persons who are seeking to be returned. The council can specify whether or not the elections for elected executives should be contested by proposed executives consisting of the same number of members or whether to allow the elections to be contested by proposed executives of different sizes. That is what the noble Lord was referring to in the table that specifies the different sizes. There is a minimum and a maximum size. In fact, the Local Government Act 2000 determined the maximum size as 10. But where a council specifies the minimum and maximum number for proposed elected executives, it will also be able to specify a minimum number below which the membership of the elected executive may not fall without triggering a by-election. I shall come on to what triggers a by-election in a moment.

New Section 40C allows a person to stand as both a councillor and a member of the proposed executive—that answers the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham—and makes provision as to what should happen in the event of a councillor being returned as a member of the executive. If elected, a vacancy will arise in the office of councillor and it will prompt the need for a by-election. So, yes, if a member of the slate also stands as a ward councillor and is elected as a ward councillor, a by-election will at that point be triggered. It is the same situation as arises when a person is returned at the same time as both an elected mayor and a councillor. Like an elected mayor, an elected executive member will have been elected by all the electors and therefore should act in the interests of the whole council area, not just in the interests of a specific ward or county division. Clauses 69 and 71 are consequential on that.

I apologise again for interrupting. I hope that the noble Baroness was not suggesting that all the existing councillors who represent wards and divisions in England represent only their wards and their divisions and do not look at the interests of the whole area. That would be outrageous.

I am not suggesting that. In this model, we are making a distinction between the executive, which represents the whole area, and the ward councillor, who represents his ward. Of course the ward councillor will also take an interest in the whole area but, in the executive model, there is a difference in the function of the executive and the ward councillor in that sense.

I am sorry. I speak as a member of an executive who has got to know lots of others. Surely the vast majority of people who are in executives and in cabinets in local authorities, whatever model it is, represent their ward just as much as they represent the whole area. What are known now as front-line councillors or ward councillors, particularly in regard to their overview and scrutiny functions, are councillors for the whole area. It has always been the case that councillors have different responsibilities; they represent the people who have elected them and they represent the council in the whole area. There is no real conflict in this. The Government are introducing conflicts and tensions that they cannot get rid of at the very heart of local government.

I stick by what I have said. I am certainly not disputing what the noble Lord said about the present arrangements.

Clause 69 includes within the definition of “elected executive member” the members of an elected executive. The legislation provides that the other categories of members that come within the definition of elected executive member could be—would be—members of some new form of executive created by regulations under Section 11(5) of the 2000 Act. That section provides for other forms of executive models, which we will discuss later. We do not have any plans today for any extra executive models, but the power is there. Finally, Clause 71 inserts into the 2000 Act new Section 42A, which extends the preference voting system to the election of an elected executive.

The amendments are both significant and consequential. Essentially, Amendments Nos. 122 to 124, 140, 152, 154 to 156, 158, 159, 162, 167 to 169 and 194 are all consequential amendments, for the reason given by the noble Lord. I have explained why we have put this model in place as an option that supports the notion of visible executive leadership in a novel way. Removing the model would remove a choice. The Committee has asked where the model has come from. I have explained that there are some European models but, as the notion of a slate is not new, we also responded to suggestions from Stockton that this model was worth looking at and trying. In order to be inclusive and to offer choice, there was no reason why we should not put it on the face of the Bill as another option.

Noble Lords have argued that the processes are unworkable and that it makes no sense to have a system under which, after the election, there might be several by-elections for councillors if candidates on the successful slate also stood as ward councillors. In fact, the system is simply an extension of the 2000 Act, which provides that, if a person stands as both a councillor and an elected mayor, he has to stand down. Again, there is nothing very new about this. We have taken it forward in the notion of an elected executive, elected on a manifesto for the authority as a whole. Everyone aspiring to office will be identified. It provides greater clarity and I believe that the model is entirely compatible with the direct and democratic role of ward councillors.

I do not have time now to go into the processes in detail. I will be happy to explain at length to noble Lords how we think the model will work, in conversation or in writing. I hope that noble Lords will feel that they can live with this and not press their amendments. We will come back to this issue.

I would like some advice. We are in the midst of one of the most important debates that we shall have on this part of the Bill. Either we are allowed to carry on and keep the next business of the House waiting, or we could stop and come back to it. I feel extremely uncomfortable that we are not going to be allowed to continue with the debate on the amendments, because there are many questions left unanswered. I would be grateful for the advice of the Clerk on that.

It is possible for us to adjourn in the middle of a debate, if the Committee wishes to do so. With nods all around, that is what I will do. I beg to move that the debate on Amendment No. 115 be adjourned.

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

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.40 pm.

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

House resumed.

Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill

Brought from the Commons, certified by the Speaker as a money Bill, and read a first time.

Building Societies (Funding) and Mutual Societies (Transfers) Bill