§ .—(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations authorise or require any such relevant authority as may be specified or described in the regulations to make a scheme providing for the payment of—
- (a) a basic allowance for every member of the authority who is a councillor;
- (b) an attendance allowance in relation to the carrying out by any such member of such duties as may be specified in or determined under the regulations; and
- (c) a special responsibility allowance for any such member who has such special responsibilities in relation to the authority as may be so specified or determined.
§ That is an appalling abuse of the procedures of the House, which I thought had been satisfactorily dealt with after the passage of the 1988 Act.
§ I strongly urge you, Mr. Speaker, to exert whatever pressure you can on the Government to ensure that they never again bring a Bill to the House that is so ill-prepared that we end up having a Committee stage on the Floor of the House without any of the usual safeguards being imposed.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am aware that there is a very large number of amendments. I am sure that his remarks will have been noted by the Government. All that I could do was to try to be as generous as possible in selecting the hon. Member's amendments, in the hope that that might help him and the House.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You are well aware that there is a separate legislative process for Scottish legislation. We have a separate Act—the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987—that deals with poll tax in Scotland. The Bill before us is riddled with amendments to the Scottish Act—an Act that Scottish local authorities are trying in vain to administer. Indeed, we are trying in vain to keep track of it. This is a disgraceful way to deal with Scottish legislation and it is a disgraceful way to treat this House.
§ Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The amendments that affect the Scottish legislation introduce four new aspects that have not been debated previously in this House. They have never been debated in relation to Scotland and the Scottish poll tax system. They have suddenly appeared on the Amendment Paper and, under your selection, Mr. Speaker, have been put in a group of almost 200 amendments,. Somehow Scottish Members have to try to debate the Scottish amendments within the context of a whole series of other amendments. Even at this late stage, is it not possible for there to be a separate Scottish debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
If the hon. Gentleman is unhappy with the grouping of amendments, he must raise that matter with the Government.
That the Lords Amendments to the Local Government and Housing Bill be considered in the following order, namely, Nos. 12, 1 to 11, 514 to 581, 583 to 601, 603 to 606, 256 to 264, 328 to 424, 13 to 19, 309 and 310, 81 to 111, 20 to 80, 311 to 317, 112 to 128, 318 to 327, 135 to 255, 129 to 134, 271, 272, 278 to 280, 282, 269, 266, 265, 267 and 268, 270, 273 to 277, 281, 283 to 308, 425 to 510, 513 and 582.—[Mr. Chris Patten.]
§ Lords amendment: No. 12, after clause 17, insert the following new clause—705
§ (2) Regulations under this section may also authorise or require a scheme made by a relevant authority under the regulations to include provision for the payment to appointed members of allowances in respect of such losses of earnings and expenses as—
- (a) are necessarily sustained or incurred in the carrying out, in connection with their membership of the authority or any committee or sub-committee of the authority, of duties specified in or determined under the regulations; and
- (b) are not of a description in respect of which provision is made for an allowance under any of sections 174 to 176 of the Local Government Act 1972 or sections 46 to 48 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.
§ (3) Without prejudice to the generality of the powers conferred by subsections (1) and (2) above, regulations under this section may contain such provision as the Secretary of State considers appropriate for requiring a scheme made by a relevant authority under the regulations—
- (a) to make it a condition of any payment by way of allowance that, in the financial year to which the payment would relate, the aggregate amount which the authority has paid out or is already liable to pay out under the scheme does riot exceed such maximum amount as may be specified in or determined under the regulations;
- (b) to make provision for different maximum amounts to be applicable, for the purposes of any such condition, in relation to different allowances or in relation to different members or members of different groups;
- (c) to make provision in relation to claims which cannot be paid by virtue of any such condition and provision for the payment to members of the authority who are councillors of an amount by way of supplement to the basic allowance where, in any financial year, the aggregate paid out or owing under the scheme is less than an amount specified in or determined under the regulations;
- (d) to provide that the amount authorised by virtue of subsection (2) above to be paid by way of allowance in any case shall not exceed such amount as may be so specified or determined;
- (e) to contain such provision as may be so specified or determined with respect to the general administration of the scheme, with respect to the manner in which, time within which and forms on which claims for any allowance are to be made and with respect to the information to be provided in support of any such claim;
- (f) to contain such provision as may be so specified or determined for avoiding the duplication of payments or of allowances, for determining the bodies by which payments of allowances are to be made and for the apportionment of payments between different bodies.
§ (4) Regulations under this section may—
- (a) prohibit the payment, otherwise than in accordance with sections 174 to 176 of the Local Government Act 1972 or sections 46 to 48 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 or in such other cases as may be specified in the regulations, of any allowance to a member of a relevant authority who is a councillor or to any appointed member of a relevant authority;
- (b) impose requirements on a relevant authority with respect to the publication, in the minutes of that authority or otherwise, of the details of amounts paid in pursuance of a scheme made under the regulations; and
- (c) contain such incidental provision and such supplemental, consequential and transitional provision in connection with the other provisions of the regulations as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
§ (5) In this section "relevant authority" means—
- (a) a local authority of any of the descriptions specified in any of the paragraphs of section 20(1) below, other than paragraphs (d) and (j), or in section 20(2) below; or
- (b) any body on which a body which is a relevant authority by virtue of paragraph (a) above is represented and which is designated as a relevant authority for the purposes of this section by regulations made by the Secretary of State;
§ and references in this section to an appointed member, in relation to a relevant authority, are references to any person who is a member of the authority without being a councillor or who is a member of one or more of the authority's committees or sub-committees without being a member of the authority."
§ Read a Second time.707
§ Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)
I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, amendment (a), in line 9. after 'regulations', insert—`(bb) a financial loss allowance'.
§ Mr. Blunkett
I wish to support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) about the chaos surrounding the Bill. However, I wish to thank the Minister for his co-operation, within the bounds of the mess that surrounds the Bill, in providing facilities to help to sort out my braille arrangements. I am grateful to him.
Nothing that is said this afternoon can detract from the proposals for financial arrangements for councillors because their voluntary actions are of the essence in making our democracy work. We rely on such people to give their time at weekends and in the evenings, week in and week out, to ensure that local democracy is alive and active. As we said on Report, without proper arrangements for financial remuneration only the rich and the retired could take part in our democratic process, which would be detrimental to us all. Neither in Committee nor on Report did we have the detailed proposals that are before us today. They were introduced in another place and, as my hon. Friend said, it has not been possible to scrutinise as we would wish.
I wish to put it on record that local authority associations and many local councillors are relieved that the Government have been willing to listen and to alter their proposals just a little in line with the suggestions that have been made to them.
In Committee we debated extensively the issue of financial arrangements for councillors, and it was agreed by hon. Members on both sides that it was desirable to make arrangements that do not penalise those who genuinely undertake work—and so ensure that local authorities can go about their business in a reasonable fashion. There were differences between myself and the then Minister for Local Government, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), as to the role of elected members and on the way in which they should undertake their responsibilities. However, at the bottom line we all agreed that it is necessary to make proper arrangements.
We are anxious that the proposed arrangements may penalise the very people whom both Government Members and my right hon. and hon. Friends want to see encouraged to participate in local government. I refer mainly to those who are in paid work and who need time off to perform their local government duties. They must be made to feel that they are damaging neither their own nor their families' financial well-being. They are the people who would benefit by arrangements for compensating for financial loss, rather than be subject to a complicated scheme of flat-rate payments based on councillors' general activities, an attendance allowance covering a 24-hour period, and a special responsibility allowance for those undertaking at leadership level duties that obviously go beyond the normal responsibilities of an elected local government member.
It is making a mistake to proceed without allowing the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment to compensate for loss of earnings in respect of councillors who will otherwise be compelled to play only a minor part in their authorities or to resign their seats.
708 Although the retired or the wealthy who serve as councillors make a valuable contribution, we do not want to rely on them alone. In a few local authorities, the regulations will have no detrimental effect on their financial arrangements, and the cash limits imposed on those authorities will not affect individual councillors. Those councils' traditions and functions will allow elected members to continue undertaking their responsibilities without difficulty. However, many local authorities shoulder a larger burden of functions and have bigger populations. Some of them cover wide areas of the country, involving long travelling distances for those attending official meetings. In such areas, councillors may be required to observe traditional shift work patterns and are unable to pop around the corner for an evening meeting. Therefore, some councillors will be badly hit unless the financial arrangements made for them are not altered and improved.
Although local authorities welcome the fact that the global sum available to them has been improved slightly, it is still abysmally short of the level recommended in the Widdicombe report. The figure of £42 million now proposed compares with the sum of £75 million that the Association of Metropolitan Authorities extrapolated in its updating of Widdicombe's proposals. The most worrying aspect of all is the cash limit on individual authorities. An authority could get halfway through the year and then literally run out of money, which would be absurd. I hope that the Minister will allow teaming and lading between particular authorities, and will be flexible in respect of their cash limits, so that the system can operate sensibly.
The local authority associations say that they are willing to monitor the arrangements with the Government to ensure that there are no wide variations in spending or in the criteria for claiming allowances. They are willing to co-operate and to ensure that the system works properly, but their role must be acknowledged and their voice must be heard. The associations will find it unacceptable if magistrates, co-opted local authority members, those appointed to quangos, and people still running residuary bodies—such as the chair of the London residuary body—receive salaries of as much as £55,000 per year, while being told that local councillors with responsibility for education, social services, housing, transport, environmental and leisure facilities must manage on sums that will damage not only their own finances but those of their families.
In the past, there would have been no ideologically division between the Opposition and the Government, and neither should there be one in the future. On behalf of people who have spent all their lives in local government service, I make a plea that we get this right. When coupled with the restrictions on the amount of paid time off from public service that will be allowable, the financial arrangements will be crucial in determining whether both Tory and Labour councillors in all parts of the country will feel able to continue contributing their time to their communities and to perform a decent job on behalf of those who elect them.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory)
In replying to amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 12, I shall speak 709 also to Government amendments (b), (c), and (d), and to Government amendments (a) and (b) to Lords amendment No. 554. In doing so, I may point out that the line references in some of those amendments on today's Amendment Paper are incorrect. On page 3709, the line references in Government amendments (b), (c) and (d) should be to lines 77, 81 and 86 respectively. Government amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 554 on page 3711 should refer to line 6.
Lords amendment No. 12 introduces a new clause to provide a system of remunerating councillors. We have come a long way since the House last considered that subject on Report, following discussions with local authority associations on how to implement proposals for the basic flat-rate allowance set out in the White Paper that formed the Government's response to the Widdicombe report. We made progress, but there was concern in local government that a flat-rate allowance by itself, without any attendance-related element, would be unfair on those hard-working councillors who put in most time and effort.
The special responsibility allowance can of course provide additional remuneration for holders of key posts, such as the chairmen of committees. However, it was pointed out that many back-bench members work long hours on specialist committees—such as those dealing with licensing and appeals.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), as Minister for Local Government, met representatives of the local authority associations in July and listened carefully to the concerns that they expressed. He agreed to consider any alternative proposals that met the Government's objectives.
To their great credit, the associations responded quickly with an outline proposal for a combined system of attendance and flat-rate allowances coupled with the existing special responsibility allowance. The local authority associations met the Government's anxiety about possible abuse of what would effectively be an open-ended attendance allowance system by suggesting that a limit be imposed on the total amount that each council could spend on allowances and that a restriction be placed on the definition of approved duties for which the attendance allowance could be paid. Those proposals form the basis of the new scheme for which the amendments provide.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) generously acknowledged the success of the consultation exercise, and I believe that we have got it right. The new clause to be inserted after existing clause 17 will require each local authority to draw up a scheme for payment of the three main allowances. First, there will be a basic allowance, previously referred to as the flat rate. Secondly, there will be an attendance allowance, as at present, but with the definition of "approved duties" determined by the Secretary of State. Thirdly, a special-responsibility allowance will be payable—as at present—to councillors with special responsibilities, such as committee chairmen.
The Secretary of State will be able to set a limit on the total that each authority may spend on the main allowance. It is intended that the amount should be calculated according to type of authority, and population in Scotland, and that it should take account of the number 710 of councillors in each authority. Within that amount, authorities will be free to determine the level of allowances, subject to any limits on different types of allowance set by the Secretary of State. That will ensure that a minimum proportion of the overall amount is allocated to the basic allowance, and will provide upper and lower limits for the special-responsibility allowance.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Am I right in assuming that that will prevent local councils from dreaming up extra meetings to obtain extra cash?
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
My hon. Friend is quite right: there have been instances of apparent abuse, in which a proliferation of meetings, committees and sub-committees has been observed. The new scheme will end that, and it will cease to attract the minority of councillors who seek to increase their attendance allowance by such means.
§ Mr. Maxton
Has the Minister made any allowance for Scotland's island councils—the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland? They have specific problems over allowances. Councillors have to be away from home to attend meetings of, for instance, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, but small councils with few councillors would not be covered in the same way as those with a large membership.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
The attendance allowance will continue to be paid as part of the overall scheme, which may be adopted by the councils concerned. In addition, there will be a flat-rate allowance. If, however, the hon. Gentleman was referring to the equivalent of parish and community councils, the present provisions will remain more or less unaltered.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
I have already explained that the overall amounts that can be spent by each local authority will be subject to limits set by the Secretary of State. That was one of the agreements that we reached with the local government associations.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
The needs of the islands were considered as part of the overall settlement. We are legislating for the United Kingdom, and each part was considered before we finalised our proposals.
The principal advantage of the scheme is that it will enable each local authority to decide on its own system of allowances, within the framework that I have described. Some authorities may wish to opt for a flat-rate system with no attendance allowance, as originally envisaged in the White Paper, and they will be able to do so. Others will continue to be able to provide for an element of attendance allowance in recognition of the differing work loads and commitment of their members. Equally important, however, is the fact that the scheme will make councils more aware of the cost of allowances and what they are paid for, as well as focusing attention on the timing, extent 711 and necessity of meetings. I believe that that covers the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman).
I will not trouble the House with details of all the consequential amendments that deal with the administration and application of the provisions, except to mention that the arrangements for travel and subsistence allowances, and allowances for parish and community councillors, will remain broadly unchanged.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
I may have missed something; if so, I apologise. Is the Minister saying that local authorities will receive a grant and will then be able to choose the method by which they decide how to pay councillors—whether they are paid a flat rate or, in certain circumstances, receive an enhanced payment? Will the system be based on the present payment of councillors, or on the "X thousand pounds a year" that is currently spent on allowances?
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
I shall deal with the question of overall resources later, but I think that I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the total allowable expenditure on councillors' allowances will be no lower than it is now. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that, within the guidelines laid down by the Secretary of State, authorities will be able to decide on the mix between the three types of allowance that I have described.
The five amendments that the Government have tabled to the Lords amendments are all minor and technical, but they are necessary if the provisions are to operate effectively. Amendments (b) and (c) ensure that appeal committees set by governors of maintained schools continue to be able to receive allowances under the new arrangements. Amendment (d) enables the Secretary of State to provide that members of bodies to which the provisions apply are to be treated as councillors for the purpose of the new allowances. Without that, members of the London and metropolitan joint authorities would not he able to receive attendance or special-responsibility allowances as they do at present.
The two amendments to Lords amendment No. 554 make consequential changes to ensure that the Broads Authority can be brought within the new arrangements. There is, I hope, nothing controversial there.
Amendment (a) would enable councils to pay a financial-loss allowance to council members. If he will excuse the pun, I am at a loss to understand quite why the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) considers such a provision necessary. At present, only 1 per cent. of councillors claim the allowance—only 250 in the whole of Great Britain—so it is clearly not popular. The main benefit that it provides over attendance allowance is that, for historical reasons, it is paid at a higher rate.
There must be doubt about any system that allows some councillors—those whose circumstances permit it—to claim a higher rate of allowance than others. Such an arrangement becomes even less justifiable under the new system, in which total expenditure will be limited: high levels of financial-loss allowance would be paid to a few councillors at the expense of those receiving attendance allowance. The new system provides for three types of allowance, to take account of differing requirements. We did not want to complicate it further by defining another 712 sub-group of councillors entitled to claim not because of extra duties, but because of background circumstances or business commitments.
The hon. Gentleman alleged that only the rich would be able to participate in local government. That is not the case at present, and the hon. Gentleman must know that the present financial-loss allowance, when it is paid, frequently goes to the self-employed, who tend not to be among the poorest councillors. I am convinced that the system that. I have outlined is adequate to compensate all councillors for the work that they do.
Let me say a word about resources. The local authority associations have estimated that councils will spend about £37 million on the main allowances in the current year, if all councillors claim their entitlement. In the joint letter in which they put forward the new proposals they said that this was a minimum level of resources that they would consider as acceptable for the new scheme. Against that background, we have decided that the allocations to individual authorities for next year under the new scheme should be worked out within the context of a clear ceiling of £42 million at current prices. We believe that this is a fair and reasonable starting level which takes account of the fact that, in future, expenditure on allowances will be subject to limits. We shall be discussing ways in which this could be distributed with the local associations, together with the other details of the scheme which are to be prescribed in regulations.
I hope that the House agrees that the provisions represent a great improvement over the existing arrangements.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
The Minister clearly does not understand how local government works. When he replied to the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) he made it clear that only a small minority abuse the system by creating meetings that they can attend. It is important to emphasise that it is only a very small percentage who abuse the system. The Government are therefore legislating for the 99 per cent. who do not abuse it.
The amendment to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) spoke relates to loss of earnings. The Minister does not understand that many of those who serve in local government lose out in two ways. They incur a financial loss, through loss of earnings. They are entitled to have reasonable time off to attend to council duties, but they do not have to be paid and a large number of them are not paid for the time that they have off work. Increasing pressure is being placed on the definition of "reasonable time." Many employers are putting pressure on employees who serve on local authorities and on those who undertake other duties, such as magistrates, not to undertake those duties because they do not like those employees having time off.
Furthermore, it does not help people's promotion prospects if they wish to serve on local authorities. I know many people who have not been promoted because they have undertaken local government duties. A good friend of mine was the leader of Burnley council for many years and he lost out twice on promotion. It was only when he stood down as leader of the Labour group and leader of the council that he was promoted. Within a couple of weeks of standing down he was promoted and became a 713 shift engineer at a local factory. The fact that he missed out on promotion for many years affected not only his financial position but that of his wife and the whole family.
The Minister may be correct when he says that only 1 per cent. take that form of payment, but that is because of the way it is handled. Local authority members have to determine at a certain point during the year which method of payment they want to have. When they have taken that decision they do not have the option of moving from one method of payment to another. That can lead to difficulties; it is not always easy to work out in advance how best to minimise financial loss. No Opposition Member would want people to make money out of local government, but those who undertake important public duties should not suffer as a result of doing so. We must do everything that we can to minimise financial loss.
A certain amount of time may be spent on travelling to meetings. Local authorities take arbitrary decisions on attendance times. If a person has to attend a county council meeting rather than a local council meeting, his pay for the whole day may be affected because of the time it takes him to travel to that meeting. Account should also be taken of working patterns. Some people may not be able to take just an hour off work, early or late, to attend a meeting. If somebody works on a production line, another person may have to cover his position on the line for four hours. I was in that position when I worked shifts. Somebody else had to cover my shift, or half my shift, because if I had been missing from my position on the production line the whole system would have ground to a halt.
Amendment (a) is sensible and positive. People would not be put at a financial disadvantage. We have a responsibility to ensure that people do not lose out financially, especially as it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract people to serve on local government. That is partly because the Government continue to remove responsibilities and duties from local authorities, but it is also because of the increasing pressure that is being put on employees by their employers not to take time off. The Minister ought to respond more positively to that point than he has done so far.
§ Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)
My point relates to young women who wish to enter local politics. Local authorities have been very considerate towards them, but we cannot attract very many because often they have young children. If women have to attend meetings held at night, their children have to be farmed out to relatives, if possible, but in many cases they have to be looked after by child minders or baby sitters, who have to be paid. My council and, I believe, many others make no allowance for baby sitting fees. A heading on the form that local councillors have to fill in is entitled "Incidental expenses." They include car parking, but no mention is made of baby sitting fees, the payment of which would encourage young women to stand for election. Some of the young women who have entered politics are one-parent families, but we do not attract enough of them.
The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) was right when he said that in many cases promotion is blocked by local government service. However, unions that have been able to negotiate proper terms and conditions have negotiated 18 days, which could amount to 36 half days of 714 time off to attend to public duties. That includes justices of the peace. Many of the major firms and banks do not, however, do that. At their board meetings, arrangements are made for employees to have time off, but that is entirely at the board's discretion.
I have asked many times why no ruling has been made, as Widdicombe suggested. There is no Government directive that 18 days or 36 half days should be allowed for time off. Is the Minister able to say whether any thought has been given to that point? Will anything be done about it? Until something is done about it, only elderly gentlemen will be prepared to serve on local government.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
I pay tribute, as did the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), to the many hundreds of hard-working councillors who enable local authorities to function. I know that they make great personal sacrifices, in addition to the financial sacrifices that some of them have to make. I am thinking particularly of late-night meetings which hardly impose a financial burden, but can put considerable strain on family life.
However, we believe that there should continue to be a strong element of voluntary public service in becoming a councillor. That element is adequately taken care of and respected in the scheme that we are introducing, which sets out as its guardian principle that allowances should be paid to ensure that councillors are not significantly worse off and do not suffer financial hardship.
Those councillors who have to incur considerable travel expenses—and hon. Gentlemen who raised this matter may be thinking particularly of the islands councils—will in future be able to claim travel and subsistence allowances which remain outside the scope of the new arrangement, so those Scottish councillors will not find that their allowances are limited.
The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) mentioned the role of women on local authorities. I, too, pay tribute to their important contribution. The personal and family sacrifices that they make are particularly acute. However, the hon. Gentleman's request illustrates the point that there are so many different groups who can claim to be special, and we could continue proliferating allowances to take account of different groups of people. We are confident that the three allowances that we are suggesting and the mix between them, which is largely at the discretion of local authorities, will take account of the circumstances of all the different groups to which he and other hon. Gentlemen have drawn attention.
In my experience, good employers are quite happy to allow their employees time off, and even welcome it. Certainly the Government encourage employers to be reasonably generous with their time, but I do not think it right that there should be a statutory requirement. The present arrangements are working fairly well, and there is no evidence that people are seriously deterred from local government service by the intransigence of local employers. With that in mind, I ask the House to reject amendment (a) and accept the Government amendments.
§ Question put and negatived.
§ Amendments made to the Lords amendment:
- (b), in line 76, leave out second 'or'.
- (c), in line 80, at end add
`(6) In this section any reference to a councillor includes a reference to a member of the authority concerned who, in accordance with regulations under this section, is to be treated as if he were a councillor.'.
§ Lords amendment No. 12, as amended, agreed to.[Special Entry.]