HC Deb 23 January 1974 vol 867 cc1672-6

'After subsection (2) of section 81 of the Local Government Act 1972 there shall be inserted the following subsection: (2)A. In subsection (4) of section 80 the words from 'officer or servant' where they first occur to 'Transport Act 1962)' shall be omitted.

(2)B. Nothing in section 80(1)(a) above shall operate to disqualify—

  1. (a) any person for being elected or being a member of the Greater London Council by reason of his being an officer or servant of, or of a subsidiary (within the meaning of the Transport Act 1962) of, the London Transport Executive
  2. (b) any person for being elected ot being a member of the council of a county by reason of his being an officer or servant of, or of a subsidiary (within the meaning of the Transport Act 1962) of, the Passenger Transport Executive for an area which is coterminous with the area of that county." '—[Mr. Oakes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Oakes

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With new Clause 10 it will be convenient to discuss new Clause 11—Officers and servants of London Transport Executive not to be disqualified from serving on Greater London Council.

We can also discuss the following Government amendments:

No. 40 in Schedule 7, page 65, line 40, at end insert: '9A. In section 81 of the Local Government Act 1972 (exceptions to provisions about disqualification in section 80) after subsection (3) shall be inserted the following subsection:—

  • "(3A) Section 80(1)(a) above shall not operate to disqualify any person for being elected of being the chairman, vice-chairman, deputy chairman or an alderman or councillor of the Greater London Council by reason of his being employed by the London Transport Executive or any subsidiary of theirs."'.
No. 42, in page 65, line 41 leave out 'the Local Government Act 1972' and insert 'that Act'.

No. 53, in the Title, line 16, after 'amendments', insert 'of or'.

Mr. Oakes

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks) for his convenient and timely point of order. I do not know why his name is missing from this new clause. It may have been an oversight when submitting the clause because, as he suggests, his name has usually been included.

I understand from the Government amendments that at least the substance of new Clause 11 has been agreed to by the Government. This concerns London. London Transport Executive was concerned whether its employees could be members of the Greater London Council because of the effects of Section 81 of the Local Government Act 1972. The Minister for Local Government and Development gave an undertaking in Committee that he would look into this. As always, he has honoured his undertaking and has produced an amendment which deals more satisfactorily than my new clause with the position in London.

Although the Government have conceded the position in London, they have not done so for authorities elsewhere. The same problems will still arise when employees of a passenger transport executive may be prevented from serving on the relevant county council. We have discussed this on many occasions and one Friday we spent most of the day debating a motion on this subject introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) dealing with the overall question of the rights of employees of councils to serve as members if they were below a certain grade. Obviously, one would not imagine that a town clerk or a borough treasurer would wish to do so.

There seems to be no reason why a clerk or a bus driver or conductor should not sit as a member of a council. The 1972 Local Government Act, unintentionally rather than wilfully, disfranchised a further section of the community from sitting as members of a local authority. They were employees of passenger transport authorities. The Government have conceded the position regarding London, which I greatly welcome, because it would have been a glaring anomaly if the Bill had taken away existing rights of employees of the London Passenger Transport Executive who were serving on the authority. However, I regret that the Government have not seen fit to amend the law generally with regard to passenger transport employees throughout the country, as envisaged in my clause.

I shall not ask the House to divide on the clause, possibly out of gratitude for Amendment No. 40 and for the Government's acceptance of the substance of New Clause 11. However, I ask the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State to reconsider the matter. I do not think that the Government intend for one moment to prevent bus drivers, conductors and inspectors serving on county councils and local authorities. I am certain from what the right hon. Gentleman said, in particular his replies to debates, that this is an accident of the Bill. With transport having been brought under the control of county councils, these other spheres of local government have been dragged into the net and employees have been deprived of serving on local authorities, because in theory there is a possibility that a passenger transport executive would decide that the county council would personally appoint each bus driver and conductor. That could not happen in practice.

I ask the Government to look into the whole question of disqualification of the more ordinary employees of local authorities from serving on them, which neither side of the House wants. Possibly it should be dealt with in a separate Bill. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's amendment, tabled in accordance with his undertaking in Committee, which will at least relieve the position in London.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I emphasise what my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) said. I have in mind colleagues who can now stand for election to the metropolitan district authority in the Tyne-Wear area but cannot stand for election to the county authority in that area, for the reason which my hon. Friend has mentioned. That is ludicrous. There is no reason why they should be denied the opportunity of standing for the metropolitan county.

I understood that in Committee we had reached an understanding that if we could broaden the range to enable such people to stand we might need to consider that they might not be able to vote on certain subjects. It is wrong to prevent those who could make a valuable contribution from doing so. In this day and age we should look at the matter again.

Mr. Graham Page

So far as the clause deals with the London Transport Executive and the Greater London Council, the ground is covered by Government Amendment No. 40, which I shall come to in a moment. But so far as it seeks to extend the same principle to passenger transport executives outside London, the situation is different.

The existing disqualification rule applicable to employees should continue to operate here, as elsewhere in local government, until the Redcliffe-Maud Committee has reported. What I said in Committee is still relevant. The Redcliffe-Maud Committee has to consider: qualification or disqualification for service as a member of a local authority or of any of its committees. That clearly includes disqualification by virtue of employment. I accept that part of the clause which refers to the London Transport Executive, because it merely clarifies the existing law. That part is repeated in new Clause 11, and I have tried to put it in clear language in Amendment No. 40. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if we substitute the parliamentary draftsman's edition for his own in new Clause 11.

In Committee I undertook to look again at the need for a provision specifically declaring that employees of the London Transport Executive were not disqualified for membership of the Greater London Council. The legal advice I received after the Committee remained exactly the same as I had previously, namely that the provision is strictly unnecessary, but I realise that the employees concerned had also received legal advice which was exactly contrary. There is, therefore, a risk. In these circumstances I am willing to resort to the dubious device of a declaratory provision, if it will satisfy all parties. I shall ask the House to accept it when I move Amendment No. 40.

Amendments Nos. 42 and 53 are purely consequential on Amendment No. 40.

Question put and negatived.

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