Sir Charles Carter told the Lords committee on local/central government relations of the dangers of any further reduction in the powers and duties of British authorities.
'I often say to my colleagues that they should look with some concern at what has, for very good reasons, happened in Northern Ireland where the largest single function of local authorities is the collection of refuse,' he said.
'They have lost all the major functions councils used to have, and the result is that those who are attracted to the service of local authorities are those who like to make long speeches but are not actually very interested in doing anything.'
There was also the fear that the remaining functions would be 'inadequate to enable them to perform a good job and to attract councillors and staff of quality'.
Tory Lord Beloff told Sir Charles: 'I happen to be personally sympathetic to your affection for local autonomy and local judgment. But, looking at the British public, I think this may be a minority view.'
Gerry Stoker, politics professor at Strathclyde Univer- sity, commended the Swedish example of 'free communes', where certain councils were allowed to experiment with service provision.
Labour frontbencher Lord Dubs, a former MP, criticised the idea of elected mayors. 'It would take away from existing councillors some of the power they have. Executive power is an attractive thing, and being in a 'legislative assembly' may not be as attractive.'