HC Deb 01 April 1963 vol 675 cc85-99
Sir K. Joseph

I beg to move, in page 111, line 12, at the end to insert: (cc) agree with any person for the production by that person of a work of art for acquisition by the Council. In Committee, the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) pointed out that, although the Greater London Council will be given the power by the Bill to buy works of art, it will not have the power that at present the L.C.C. has to commission works of art. The Government accepted that this is a power which should be inherited by the Greater London Council, and the Amendment ensures that it will be.

Amendment agreed to.

Sir K. Joseph

I beg to move, in page 112, line 36, at the end to insert:

Capital expenditure, loans and borrowing by the Council

25A. The expenditure on capital account and lending by the Council and the borrowing of money by the Council for such expenditure shall be regulated by annual money Acts, the Bills for which shall be promoted by the Council and each of which shall make provision for a financial period consisting of a financial year (that is to say, a period of twelve months ending on the thirty-first day of March) and the immediately following six months.

25B.—(1) During any such financial period as aforesaid, the Council may expend on capital account for such purposes as may be mentioned in the relevant annual money Act such sums as the Council think fit not exceeding the amounts specified in that Act in relation to those purposes for the first twelve months and the last six months respectively of that period.

(2) In addition to any other money which the Council are authorised by any such Act to expend for any purpose in the last six months of the relevant financial period, the Council may also expend for that purpose during those last six months any money which they are by that Act authorised to expend but have not expended for that purpose in the first twelve months of that period.

(3) Any money expended in the last six months of a financial period shall be treated as expenditure on account of the financial year comprising those six months.

25c.—(1) During any such financial period as aforesaid the Council may lend to persons of any class mentioned in the next following sub-paragraph such sums as the Council think fit not exceeding the amounts specified in the relevant annual money Act in relation to loans to persons of that class for the first twelve months and the last six months respectively of that period.

(2) The classes of persons referred to in the foregoing sub-paragraph are—

  1. (a) the London borough councils;
  2. (b) any other persons having power to levy or to issue a precept for a rate within Greater London or to make any charge on a rate leviable within Greater London or to take or charge within Greater London any due or imposition in the nature of a rate;
  3. (c) the governors or managers of educational institutions, including special or approved schools;
  4. (d) committees of school treatment centres;
  5. (c) the governors or committees of voluntary hostels, homes or other establishments;
  6. (f) persons desiring to borrow money under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts, 1899 to 1923 or the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act 1958;
  7. (g) persons of any other class specified in the relevant annual money Act.

(3) In addition to any other money which the Council are authorised by an annual money Act to lend to any class of persons in the last six months of a financial period, the Council may also lend to any persons of that class during those six months any money which the Council are by that Act authorised to lend but have not lent to persons of that class in the first twelve months of that period.

(4) A loan made under this paragraph during the last six months of a financial period shall be treated as a loan made on account of the financial year comprising those six months.

(5) Subject to the provisions of any enactment relating to the borrowing powers of the person concerned, any person shall have power to borrow from the Council any money which the Council are by virtue of the foregoing provisions of this paragraph authorised to lend to that person.

(6) Money lent under this paragraph shall be repaid to the Council with interest within such period as the borrower (with the consent of the Minister where his consent is necessary to the borrowing) and the Council may agree but the period shall not exceed—

  1. (a) in the case of money lent to a person borrowing as mentioned in sub-paragraph (2) (f) of this paragraph, eighty years;
  2. (b) in any other case, sixty years.

(7) Money lent under this paragraph may be made repayable either in one sum or by instalments or by a series of equal annual or other instalments comprising both principal and interest or otherwise as may be agreed between the Council and the borrower.

(8) Where the Council lend money to a person whose power to borrow is subject to the consent of the Minister, the consent of the Minister to the borrowing of the money shall be conclusive evidence that that person had power to borrow the money at the time when the consent was given.

25D. Notwithstanding anything in section 195 of the Local Government Act 1933, the Council may borrow money for the purpose of any expenditure on capital account or lending if, but only if, both the expenditure and the borrowing for the purpose thereof are authorised by an annual money Act; and where any such borrowing is so authorised the consent thereto of the sanctioning authority within the meaning of Part IX of the said Act of 1933 shall not be required.

When the Bill was originally drafted, it was thought that the Greater London Council would wish to raise its finances by the normal loan sanction procedure used by local authorities under the normal procedure. There was no intention to deprive it of the method of raising money that is used by the L.C.C. by an annual Money Act which passes through the House of Commons.

During the progress of the Bill it has been represented to the Government that the Greater London Council will almost certainly inherit the skilled officers concerned from the London County Council, that the method of procedure of the L.C.C. has been a useful and convenient method of getting authority for its finances, and that it has not taken up much time of the House of Commons.

Consequently, the Government now introduce this Amendment, which will give to the Greater London Council the right to carry out the same procedure of an annual Money Act for authorising its financial borrowings as is now used by the London County Council.

Amendment agreed to.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. M. Stewart

I beg to move, in page 112, line 36, at the end to insert: 26. The Council shall pay, out of the general fund, such scale of salaries to its members as the Minister shall, from time to time, by order prescribe. I move this important Amendment very briefly, in view of the time. I say at once that it is not an Amendment that I should want to press to a vote. I think that it is necessary to raise it so that we can get a declaration of opinion from the Government on this important question. I believe it to be a right principle that, with any body which is supposed to be democratically elected, the electorate should be in a position freely to choose whomever it thinks is the fittest person to sit. The case for paying any kind of public representative rests on the question whether it is necessary to pay him in order to give the electorate freedom of choice. It is the electorate's rights rather than the comfort of Members of Parliament or councillors that one consults when one decides to make membership of any elected body paid.

May I give an example from my own experience which, I think, will make this point clear? I served for a short time as a co-opted member of the L.C.C. Education Committee. I took the place of a former co-opted member of that Committee who had served until what would have been the end of his normal term. He was by occupation a bus conductor. He was a member of the Fulham Borough Council and a co-opted member of the L.C.C. Education Committee. It was just possible for him at the same time as he was earning his living as a bus conductor to do that public work. It would not have been possible for him to be a member of the London County Council. Still less would it have been possible for him to be a member of the Greater London Council.

Yet he was the kind of man who, if he had not died prematurely, might well have been regarded by his fellow citizens as fit to serve on either of those bodies. He was a man of great distinction of mind. One of the sections of the Fulham Public Library—the music section, of which we are very proud—is named after him because of the interest he took in it. I have looked at this question all the time from the point of view of Alan Jiggins. Will it be possible for the public to elect somebody like that if it wishes to? The answer is that, with the size of the powers and the scope of the Greater London Council, it will not be possible for somebody doing ordinary industrial work to be a member of it, even if the electorate keenly wishes him to be and even if he is in every sense fitted for it. That cannot be regarded as a permanently satisfactory position.

I know all the difficulties which can be brought up. We shall be asked, "How much ought the salary to be?" The reason why I have put in the Amendment— such scale of salaries … as the Minister shall … prescribe"— is that obviously the varying value of money makes it necessary to make such a provision.

There is a more serious difficulty. If this provision is made for the Greater London Council, will not some of the councillors of the great cities feel that the same argument applies there? I think that we ought to notice this. If we always say that we can never do something new until we do it on a nation-wide scale, the rate at which we make improvements of any kind can be very slow indeed. It very often happens in history that we begin an innovation in one place because the demand for it there is almost overwhelming. We then build on it from there to such extent, and to such extent only, as may be required.

It may be true that the case I have just made out for the Greater London Council could be made out for the Birmingham City Council, but I am not at the moment arguing that. I am merely saying that, from what we know of the powers of the Greater London Council, this provision ought to be in the Bill. There are some public bodies for which this clearly is not a necessary provision. A man can do almost well any kind of work and still be an effective member of a metropolitan borough council and, I would think, of any of the London borough councils in the Bill, though it would be a tight fit and he would have to be a very hard-working and public-spirited person. But so he should be.

However, he could not really be a member of the Greater London Council, particularly if it were for an inner London borough, with duties on the inner London education authority as well, and also ordinarily earn his living. The Minister is looking worried. I am saying that, if he is a member of the Greater London Council for an inner London borough, he will also be a member of the inner London education authority. His duties there will be very considerable.

That, fundamentally, is the case. We are not doing it in order to feather-bed the councillors. We are doing it in order to give the electorate freedom of choice. We do not want the electorate to find as time goes on that it can only choose people in certain special categories who are fortunately able to do this kind of work.

The argument is decisive in the case of London. I am not sure that it is a valid argument to say that we cannot do it for London because there are also the beginnings of an argument for it in other cities. We should accept the plain necessity for it here if the citizens of Greater London are to have proper freedom in the choice of their elected representatives. We shall be very glad to hear the Government's view on this matter, because the few words that the Parliamentary Secretary was able to say in Standing Committee were by no means wholly hostile to this idea.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North-West)

Has the hon. Member any idea of what the remuneration might be?

Mr. Stewart

It could be put at the very modest figure of £750 a year, which is about the average industrial earnings. It could be argued that that would be too low, but I think that people generally would say of the figure of £750, "If you pay that amount then anyone who really wants to do the work can do it, will do it and will be able to keep his family at the same time". It is on the low side and it might be argued that it should be £1,000 a year—although I suppose that difficulties might arise if one offered, say, more than hon. Members of Parliament receive. As I say, I was thinking in terms of £750 to £1,000 a year.

Sir K. Joseph

I will not delay the Committee with a long disposition on the question of paying local authority members. The Government have recognised that while the present system of travelling and subsistence expenses and financial loss allowances where members have incurred a loss is, on the whole, working well, there are a number of difficulties that justify a reconsideration of the whole problem.

I have, therefore, asked the local authority associations to prepare for a full discussion with my Ministry on the whole question of the present method of making good either expenses or financial losses of local authority members. During that discussion opinions will obviously be expressed on this whole question as to whether any pay is needed for local authority members. It would be a very big departure—and I accept that the hon. Member for Fulham has not sought to deploy the whole case—and we are at the moment relying on an element of dedication. That is to some extent evidenced by the willingness of people to give up some earning time and capacity.

I cordially agree with the hon. Member for Fulham that we cannot allow this to go so far as to prevent individuals, who the citizens might choose, from offering themselves. I cannot agree with him that London is so unique that we should try to legislate for London or to consider London regardless of the rest of the country. It is true that the Greater London Council will be a uniquely powerful and comprehensive body in many of its powers. It is true that it will still retain for the inner boroughs the personal services of education and other personal aspects such as housing, on its overspill side. But I am sure that hon. Members will agree that other large local authorities in this country—the biggest county boroughs principally—do have a wide range of powers in fact, a wider range than the Greater London Council will have, including all the personal functions which involve them in so much casework. I would have thought, therefore, that the only sensible thing would be to consider the whole question on a nation-wide basis.

I hope that these discussions with the local authority associations will be fruitful, and I shall, in due course, report the results to the House. I hope that the hon. Member for Fulham will be content with that interim answer and the knowledge that the Government have recognised that there is something here to discuss.

Mr. Driberg

I appreciate the Minister's point about the local authority discussions, but it seemed to me that the matter that he raised before that—the question of doing this on a nation-wide basis and his remarks about the other big local authorities—indicated that he was either missing or evading a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart)—the point that one must not say that because one cannot do everything at once one should do nothing.

The Minister referred to the Greater London Council as "a uniquely powerful and comprehensive body". He then suggested that its members would, perhaps, not be uniquely busy since other great local authorities would obviously have more or less comparable powers.

Sir K. Joseph

No, not quite as widespread, but with many more personal functions to discharge than the Greater London Council; those involving the constituency case load.

Mr. Driberg

I can see that. But, on the other hand—as the right hon. Gentleman must agree, for he has said it all along—this is the most revolutionary change in the whole local government system that has taken place in this century or for a long time. It would seem not unreasonable to accompany that change—to make one of its corollaries—the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham for the payment of members of the Greater London Council.

I am glad that, on the whole—so far as one could gather from the right hon. Gentleman's carefully objective words—the Minister's tone was not unsympathetic. I am sure that he does not himself want the Greater London Council to be comprised solely or mainly of retired persons, useful though their contribution may be—he surely wants sonic younger people as well—and people with private means which enable them to do public work without having to earn their living in other ways. I hope therefore, that these conversations with the various local authorities will not be too long delayed and that the Minister will keep his promise of reporting to the House on any agreement that may be reached.

Mr. Mellish

Does the Minister envisage, as a result of these discussions with the local authority associations, the possibility of something being done in another place?

Sir K. Joseph

I do not think so, nor do I wish to suggest that because we are not going to do something about London at once—because we should not act on London alone—we will, therefore, defer any action which is shown to be necessary. If action is shown to be necessary—and it will probably be shown to be such on a national scale—then, no doubt, the Government will initiate action as soon as possible. This is not deferring anything which is shown to be necessary.

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith (Chislehurst)

I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend's remarks on the whole question of remuneration and to note that the matter has been referred to the local authority associations. I hope that in their deliberations it will be possible for them to consider people who, up till now, have not qualified for the daily payment which can be claimed for loss of employment.

As I understand it, most of the allowances made by local authorities in this connection are isolated to employed persons who can claim loss of a day's work or loss of other employment. Thus, such people can gain the appropriate allowances for that factor from the local authority. There are other people who cannot claim in this way. I am thinking of a chiropodist or a physiotherapist who might desire to work for a local authority but who, in so doing, may lose a morning's fees. Someone with a small wool shop, for example, may be an excellent person to be on a local authority, but to do this work he or she would need to pay perhaps a friend on a part-time basis to look after the shop.

I hope that the inquiry mentioned by my right hon. Friend will be wide enough to consider people who although not technically employed parsons, are nevertheless, of a modest income. Although they may be self-employed in this respect, it casts them money to attend local council meetings and perform other duties and they are at present losing money they would otherwise receive.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Lubbock

I am delighted that the Minister accepts, or seems partly to accept, the principle behind the Amendment. If, after this review that he has promised will take place, the Minister decided that he wanted to make payment to some local government members, he would need amending legislation and, in the case of this Bill, some Amendment would be then necessary. The Amendment only refers to such salaries …as the Minister shall, from time to time, by order prescribe. Therefore, although the right hon. Gentleman might not make any orders at all until the review had taken place, acceptance of the Amendment would save the time of the House at a later stage, after the review had taken place, because the Minister would already have been given the necessary power. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would think about this again and accept the Amendment as it stands.

Mr. F. Harris

Anybody who has been involved in local government work for many years will obviously concede that we are here dealing with a very important point, but I think that the consideration given by the Minister and the Government should be on the basis of the loss of normal remuneration that the ordinary person loses by giving up time to local government work. There is much in my right hon. Friend's point about dedication. It would indeed be very sad if people joined such a body as the Greater London Council as a full-time appointment and on account of the remuneration offered. This would be a disturbing feature, and would be very much misunderstood both in London and the country generally.

I hope that the Minister's mind will be directed more to making up loss of remuneration when some one gives up a few hours a day. Such a person should be compensated, and so should the person who has to pay someone to do his normal work. I hate to use the word "expense"—it seems always to be misunderstood nowadays—but it is a question of some reasonable remuneration to make up pay lost or expenses incurred rather than full-time remuneration.

That was why I asked the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) what figure he had in his mind. I know I made a quick request, and perhaps, with great respect, the hon. Gentleman was not able fully to consider it, but he worried me a little when he spoke in terms of £750 or £1,000 as basic remuneration. We all know that some people dedicate themselves to a particular task to a greater extent than do others, but acceptance of the principle of the Amendment could, unless we were careful, introduce a rather disturbing feature.

Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)

I want to reinforce what has been said about the need to look into this subject. I hope that when the Minister makes his inquiry he will consider not only the payment of expenses but the payment of salaries. I do not think that he need necessarily exclude that payment from consideration. The one very unfortunate omission in the Herbert Report was that it did not examine the methods of manning municipal government on the other side of the Atlantic. American cities have found over a long period that it is not possible to get a sufficient level of competence without some sort of payment, and we have to face that question here. I do not say how we should answer it, but we have to look at it.

It will not be possible to get the people of the ability we want to administer London's affairs unless we are prepared to recognise that there are those of ability who will not be able to serve unless they receive some remuneration. The pool of ability for local government is shrinking all the time and has become not much more than a puddle in many parts of London. I hope that my right hon. Friend will recognise that and not to narrowly circumscribe this inquiry.

Our primary purpose in this Bill is to reactivate municipal democracy in London, and we must remember that if we are to make municipal democracy a reality we must have on the Greater London Council people of sufficient ability to deal with bureaucracy. Otherwise, we shall have a new kind of sham, a mere puppet for the officials, because those concerned are not intellectually equal to the work required of them. I therefore think that the Minister should inquire, within not too narrow limits, into what sort of salaries or expenses should be paid, so that on the Greater London Council we can get people equal to the job and not prevented from doing it by financial considerations.

Mr. Driberg

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider the most important point just made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran), and will also consider the interpretation of this proposed Amendment given by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). The Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) that he could not do anything about this in another place because the discussions with the local authorities would not be over in time for that; but if he looks carefully at the words of the Amendment, as the hon. Member for Orpington suggested, it might be that he could adapt them slightly and do something very similar for an Amendment in another place—perhaps saying "may pay" instead of "shall pay", or something like that. I hope that the Minister will consider that suggestion.

Dr. Alan Glyn

I see in what the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) says a certain danger. If someone were paid a salary of £750 for this work it might almost be considered a whole-time job. I prefer the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith). A great number of people are precluded from local government work by the fact that they are not sufficiently remunerated for the time they lose. That is particularly so in the case of self-employed people. When the Minister asks for recommendations, I think that he should particularly look into the possibility of compensation for loss of employment rather than the offer of a fixed salary. I should not like to see the spirit of public service in local government replaced by the idea of someone doing this work for a fixed salary.

Mr. M. Stewart

Having started this hare, I am much indebted to hon. Members on both sides who have taken part in the discussion. I appreciate what has been said by the hon. Members for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris) and Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) about certain dangers inherent in this proposal, though I must say that the method of remuneration for time lost can also be very tricky in administration.

I tried my hand at three or four drafts of this Amendment before reaching that now on the Notice Paper. Even so, I was not entirely satisfied. Nevertheless, I am delighted that it has the possibilities pointed out by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), and I think that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) suggested, the Minister should consider whether, when this Measure goes to another place, he could not table some kind of "taking power" Amendment so that, after his inquiry, he could act or not act as seemed appropriate.

I do not think that we are ever likely to lose the voluntary spirit in local government. I am certain that we shall never decide to give people such salaries for doing the work as will cause any large numbers to do it for the money—if anyone enters this House for that purpose he must be very soon disillusioned. The real point is that if we want to give the electorate a free choice we have to provide a certain amount of money for those who do the work, if the work is more than a certain amount.

I am particularly grateful to the Minister for having told us of the inquiry he is starting. I quite recognise that what he says commits him to absolutely nothing more than holding the inquiry. Nevertheless, the hare has been started and, judging by the usual time lag between the starting of an idea and its execution, there is quite a sporting chance that the second generation of Greater London councillors may be adequately provided for in this respect—

Sir K. Joseph

I am frightened that the hon. Member may be going to withdraw the Amendment before I fetch a little jar of cold water which I have available. I shall be grateful, therefore, if he will allow me to make an intervention before he winds up.

Mr. Stewart

By all means.

Sir K. Joseph

I was so alarmed by the unaccustomed welcome which my words received from the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) that I thought back to what I had said. Perhaps I have given too favourable an impression of my attitude. I would not like to mislead the Committee. I do not start off with any great liking for the idea of paying members of local authorities. I am starting discussions with the local authority associations because the present system of making good financial loss, whilst generally working satisfactorily, is showing some defects. If out of those discussions there should emerge a plain need to make a radical change we shall have to consider it and I shall report back.

Meanwhile, I warn the Committee that we ought to look not only to the capacity of men and women, who might want to stand for membership of local authorities, to fit in the work and still earn a living, but we also ought to ask the local authority associations to look at the conditions in which their members have to work. This is very relevant. It might well be that until such points as changing hours and conditions and the service given to members by their officers and—to touch a controversial note when the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is back in his place—the quantity of casework which local authority members choose to take on, are looked at as well, it is not sufficient to say categorically that the only answer is to pay local authority members. I was delighted to find that at least on one point in the Bill my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris) and I are in agreement.

Mr. F. Harris

I should like to tell my right hon. Friend that I voted with him just now too.

Sir K. Joseph

Wonders will never cease.

I agree very much with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith) in what she said about looking at the financial loss allowance, and I would disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) about the reduction of the pool of talent to a puddle. The pool of talent is much larger than it was because of education and improved standards.

What has been happening is that local authorities have been fishing with less success in this larger pool. To some extent this reflects the greater competition for people of talent and vigour. There are more outlets now than there were in the past for their energies. It also reflects to some extent the times of meeting of local authorities and, to a small extent, the subject which we are now discussing. I repeat that, whilst announcing the inquiry, I should not like to mislead the Committee about my attitude, and I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) for allowing me to say this.

Mr. M. Stewart

I am also grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. The discussion has shown that there are a good many things to be considered and that it would not be right to prejudge what the answer should be. The hare having run, I should like to put it back in the hutch. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.