HC Deb 12 December 1984 vol 69 cc1078-184 4.59 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 8, at beginning insert 'After a Royal Commission has reported on local government in Greater London and the metropolitan counties and'.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Harold Walker)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 8, at beginning insert 'After a Parliamentary tribunal of inquiry has reported on local government in Greater London and the metropolitan counties and'. No. 3, in page 1, line 8, at beginning insert 'After a review of metropolitan counties under the provisions of the principal Act has reported on local government in Greater London and the metropolitan counties and'. No. 4, in page 1, line 8, at beginning insert 'After a committee of inquiry has reported on local government in Greater London and the metropolitan counties and'. No. 5, in page 1, line 8, at beginning insert 'After the Audit Commission has reported on local government in Greater London and the metropolitan counties and'. No. 6, in page 1, line 9, after 'force', insert 'and after the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament proposals for an independent inquiry into the administrative implications of the proposed reorganisation of local government in London and the metropolitan counties'. No. 7, in page 1, line 9, after 'force' insert 'and after a referendum held in each of the areas of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils in which a majority of those voting have approved the proposed abolition of the council in each of the areas concerned'. No. 19, in page 1, line 15, leave out '1st April 1986' and add 'such day as may be appointed by an Order by the Secretary of State after the Royal Commission referred to in subsection (1) above has reported'. No. 20, in page 1, line 15, leave out '1st April 1986' and add 'such day as may be appointed by an Order by the Secretary of State after the review of the metropolitan counties under the provisions of the principal Act referred to in subsection (1) above has reported'. No. 21, in page 1, line 15, leave out '1st April 1986' and add 'such day as may be appointed by an Order by the Secretary of State after the Parliamentary tribunal of inquiry referred to in subsection (1) above has reported'. No. 22, in page 1, line 15, leave out '1st April 1986' and add 'such day as may be appointed by an Order by the Secretary of State after the committee of inquiry referred to in subsection (1) above has reported'. No. 23, in page 1, line 15, leave out '1st April 1986' and add 'such day as may be appointed by an Order by the Secretary of State after the Audit Commission referred to in subsection (1) above has reported'. No. 24, in page 1, line 15, leave out 1st April 1986' and add 'such a day as may be appointed by the Secretary of State after a referendum has been held in each of the areas of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils to coincide with the local elections to be held in May 1986 in which a majority of those voting have approved the proposed abolition of the council in each of the areas concerned'. No. 35, in page 1, line 15, leave out '1st April 1986' and add 'such dates as the Secretary of State shall by order appoint, after he has laid before each House of Parliament reports of independent local inquiries setting out proposals and recommendations for the future administration of local government in the Greater London Council and each of the metropolitan counties, such order to be laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.'.

Mr. Straw

The departure of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) as I stood up, was not designed to reflect upon anything that I was about to say. We have started rather late and the time coincides with a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party's parliamentary committee.

The purpose of these amendments, with two exceptions, is essentially the same — to provide that there should be proper inquiry before the abolition of the Greater London council and the metropolitan counties is proceeded with. The inquiries are variously to be held by a Royal Commission, a parliamentary tribunal or the Audit Commission. In addition, there are other amendments which have the similar effect of ensuring that the proposals are subject to greater scrutiny. One of the amendments proposes that if abolition is to go through there should be direct elections to all the presently indirectly elected boards and quangos to which most of the functions of the present metropolitan counties and the GLC are to be transferred.

It is notorious that the Bill's proposals were cobbled together in haste without proper consultation or consideration even within the Conservative party, let alone outside it. As we have heard, and it has not been expressly contradicted, they were against the expressed wishes of the Conservative party policy committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland wrote last week to the Prime Minister to remind her that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) had said in the House, with all the authority that he commands, that the manifesto commitment was included nine days after the 1983 election was called and against the wishes of the Conservative party policy committee. A week later, we have had no reply from the right hon. Lady.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Patrick Jenkin)

The reply, the terms of which I have seen, is on its way. If it is of any help to the hon. Gentleman, and so that he does not go on flogging a dead horse, the date to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) referred in his speech was the date upon which the manifesto was published. The idea that the commitment was inserted on the day of publication is fanciful. On the hon. Gentleman's second point, it is not for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make public statements about internal party committees.

Mr. Straw

If it is not for the Prime Minister, who should comment about the internal organisation of the Conservative party? It is she who runs the Conservative party.

I note with interest that this is the third intervention that the Secretary of State has offered on this important matter. At no stage has he explicitly denied the charge of his right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, his former Prime Minister, that the commitment was included in the manifesto against the wishes of the Conservative party policy committee. I see that someone is about to give me some information on this.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

I shall give the hon. Gentleman information not on the Conservative party's manifesto but on that of the Labour party. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us why the Labour party manifesto says: we aim to end, if we can, the present confusing division of services between two tiers of authority. Unitary district authorities, in England and Wales, could be responsible for all of the functions in this area that they could sensibly undertake."?

Mr. Straw

That is an entirely unexceptional statement which talks about ending the division of services if we can and suggests that district authorities could be responsible for them. Had we been elected as a Government there would have been the most careful consideration of the matter. We should have listened carefully, as we have in the past and as our record shows, to representations made to us.

As so many Conservative councillors have made clear, whatever else the Bill does, it does not create unitary authorities out of the present two-tier structure; it makes a two-tier structure into a four-tier structure and transfers power to the Secretary of State. The result of the haste is that this measure is ill-considered and without merit. So much so, that the Government's case rests upon shifting sands. First, they said that the proposal was all about savings, and nothing else. We all know about the £120 million.

When the Minister for Local Government reached the Department he evidently decided that the argument about savings was not as strong as we had been led to believe. For 18 months the Government had been promising us details of that £120 million, but could never come up with it. The Minister then issued a statement saying that that was not the main issue but that the proposal was all about devolution to the boroughs. That is nonsense and a deception, according to the Conservative councillor, Mr. Robert Mitchell. I am sure that our ever-flexible Friend the Minister will offer some other explanation this afternoon.

The proposal is so ill thought out that the Government have failed to convince even those people on serious newspapers who at other times have been regarded as the Government's allies and supporters. Today, the Financial Times said: there are certain criteria which must be fulfilled for these changes to be accpetable. The first is that the new arrangement has a reasonable chance of being an improvement on the old. The second is that accountability is not reduced, so that pressure for efficiency and sensitivity to local aspirations is not diminished. The third is that democracy and democratic principles are neither weakened nor violated. The Bill fails on all three counts. I could not have said it better myself. I notice the odd guffaw at that suggestion from the Financial Times, which is, of course, the mouthpiece of international capitalism — as people may say — and a supporter of the Government, but how about the "old thunderer" The Times which has been cerebrating in its support for this Administration? Two editorials attacked the proposals. One said: The abolition bill can be examined in vain for any expression of a general philosophy of the role of government in society, or doctrine of fiscal limits. It is a document lacking any sense of future … It is a document lacking coherent principles for local administration. The second said: Ostensibly about devolving powers to districts and boroughs the local government bill becomes in too many places a recipe for decentralisation … this excess of ministerial discretion … they are a recipe for private government and the abuse of power. Those views are backed by those who normally support the Conservative Administration—the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the British Roads Federation and even Alcoholics Recovery Project.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

They could do some good business in this place.

Mr. Straw

I am sure that that was an all-party reference.

The Government went through a consultation process. They denied the Library and hon. Members copies of the documents which were submitted to them by way of consultation, as well they might, because they were overwhelmingly against the proposals. Out of 780 submissions analysed by outside bodies, 750 were against, only 10 in favour and 20 could not be classified.

Why are the Government in this mess? First, because their motives for the change are fundamentally suspect. We know that the real motive for the change was not that they thought that change was needed on its merits but because they objected to the policies being democratically carried out by democratically elected Labour authorities.

The second and associated reason for the mess is that the proposals were not thought out before they were brought forward. As the Prime Minister told the nation in her Carlton club lecture last week, the Conservative party claims to be the party which respects the conventions and traditions of Britain. The Bill flies in the face of all convention and of all principles of good government.

Every previous change in local government has been preceded by a serious and independent inquiry in which the people concerned have been able to put forward their views before and not after the Government have made up their mind and set their proposals in concrete.

The establishment of the county councils—including the London county council, in 1888—was preceded by years of public debate and consultation. Recently the Secretary of State referred to the fact that Lord Salisbury had opposed the London county council in 1898, but I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was Lord Salisbury who sponsored the establishment of the London county council in 1888. Later he may have repented for the same reason as the Secretary of State is now proposing the removal of an elected authority for London. Lord Salisbury repented later because the elections in London did not go the way that he had wished, but it was he who proposed the measure, and his hon. Friends helped to push it through this House. Whatever their subsequent comments about the policies of the LCC, at least previous Consevative administrations, even when the LCC elections went the wrong way, were willing to allow an elected authority for London to continue.

The London Government Act 1962 was preceded by the most serious consideration, not only by the Herbert Commission but within the wider confines of the London community. I remind Conservative Members that someone who was at that stage a leading light in the Conservative party, and is now the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), was a director of the London Municipal Society, which held an inquiry into the running of Greater London and produced serious and well worked out proposals—with which the Labour party did not agree — for London to be split into seven large boroughs. The Government did not say that they would act on those proposals. They looked at them and at other proposals and set up a Royal Commission, so that the matter could be considered with great seriousness, with people having a chance to put forward their views.

With regard to the government of the country outside Greater London, the Labour Government between 1964 and 1970 could have implemented proposals which suited their political book. It is a testament to the Labour Administration — as it is to the Conservative Administration under Macmillan—that they did not do so. They recognised that they were dealing not simply with party advantage but with a central part of the running of our democracy. So, again, there was a full inquiry, under Lord Redcliffe-Maud, before any proposals were made.

With regard to three of the six metropolitan areas, Lord Redcliffe-Maud recommended that there should be two-tier government. In paragraph 3 of Chapter I the report said: In the special circumstances of three metropolitan areas around Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, responsibility for services should be divided in each case between a metropolitan authority … and a number of metropolitan district authorities". To the extent that Conservative Members are now recommending unitary authorities—that is what they say but it is not what they are doing—the case for unitary authorities is overwhelmingly the strongest in the shire areas, where there are free-standing towns without surrounding conurbations. I look forward to the Secretary of State at last recognising that that is where the logic of his arguments will lead. What will he say to the proposals of the last Labour Government for organic change in the shire areas, which were carefully worked out, the subject of the widest consultation, and supported by Conservative as well as Labour Administrations? Does he believe that what is sauce for the goose in the Labour conurbation areas is also sauce for the gander in the Conservative shire areas?

The Secretary of State for Transport and his right hon. Friends have called for an inquiry into the GLC's lorry ban. The Secretary of State-I understand his reasons said: If people are adversely and discriminately affected by matters such as a new road … the Government have no hesitation in allowing a public inquiry. He added that it was a question of individuals being adversely affected compared with others." —[Official Report, 7 November 1984; Vol 2, c. 138.] 5.15 pm

If people are to be adversely affected by a lorry ban, how much more will people be affected by the abolition of the GLC? If there is a case for an inquiry into a lorry ban, there is an overwhelming case for an inquiry into the Bill's proposals, which would have a far greater impact on people in the areas concerned.

We have heard a great deal about the Conservatives' manifesto commitment and we have all read it. The Conservative party claims to be the principal upholder of the parliamentary system, so it should never be seen to override the will of Parliament and the need for important proposals, such as those in the Bill, to be scrutinised on their merits. When I talk of the will of Parliament I do not mean the use of a parliamentary majority to effect elective dictatorship of the offensive kind that Lord Hailsham once exposed and which the present Government have been practising.

I suggest to the Secretary of State that the manifesto commitment in no way precludes the reference of that commitment to a Royal Commission. If the Government were to set up such an inquiry, it would still be open to them, within the lifetime of this Parliament, to bring forward proposals, if they wished to do so, in exactly the same form as the pesent proposals. Such proposals would have a great deal more legitimacy behind them, having been the subject of independent scrutiny.

The Secretary of State should have listened more closely to his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who said: At any time it is possible to carry out a review of the 1972 Local Government Act, and for my money the longer the settling-in period the more factual evidence we shall possess upon which to make informed judgments. The right hon. Gentleman said that in 1979. Only five years have passed since the first elections following a reform of local government—the first serious attempt at that task since Queen Victoria sat on the throne. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say: We are agreed that we do not seek another major reorganisation of local government because we are certain that change in this field is likely to be expensive and divisive. The Secretary of State's Conservative predecessor was right when he said that in 1979, and he is right now.

Mr. Reg Prentice (Daventry)

I voted for the Bill on Second Reading, I expect to vote for it on Third Reading, and possibly once or twice in between, but very selectively, because it is a Bill that I dislike in many respects. I particularly dislike the way in which it was born.

I voted for the Bill on Second Reading for one reason only. Given the fact that the Bill was before the House and that we had to make a broad decision on whether we believed in the continuation of the GLC and the metropolitan counties, my own view on balance was against them. I think that those authorities are too large to be local authorities and too small to be regional authorities; therefore, I want to see some change. But I dislike the way that the change was brought about.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the analysis of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). I suggest to my right hon. and hon. Friends that a major change in the structure of local government in Britain should take place only very occasionally, and then only after the most careful study and consultation. I suggest that about twice in a century is sufficient. Such a change should be preceded probably by a Royal Commission or by some other deep study of that kind. I think that we are due for a Royal Commission or some such study into the structure and financing of local government.

We have had several studies in the past, but they have tended to be either of structure or of the method of financing local services. All were unsatisfactory for that reason. We should now have a major study of both together. It would have been compatible with the election pledge to set up a Royal Commission now, for it to report during this Parliament and then for the Government to make up their mind on their proposals towards the end of this Parliament, to be implemented in the following Parliament.

At the very least, if we do not go down the road of a Royal Commission, I suggest that there should have been a much longer period of consultation before the Government ever made that firm commitment in the election manifesto. It is rather absurd to put such a pledge into a manifesto, at a late stage, without consulting the local government world in general, and without even consulting Conservative councillors up and down the country or even Conservative councillors on the GLC and the metropolitan counties. Many of them have resented that, and they are right to resent it.

It seems to me that the pledge went into the manifesto basically because in the last Parliament the Government had failed to find an alternative to the rating system. Having failed to do so, and having disappointed the expectations of people up and down the country who looked for a change, there seemed to be a move in the leadership of the Conservative party, saying that Conservatives had to do something about the rates and wondering what could be put into the manifesto. One outcome was the unfortunate Rates Bill and the second is the Local Government Bill. That is not the way in which such major decisions should be made. I might vote for the amendment, or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, by his eloquence, might persuade me to abstain. One way or the other, I cannot vote with the Government.

I do not seriously expect the Government to accept the amendment. I expect them to go ahead with the Bill. Given the broad choice facing us, I am in favour of a change away from the large authorities, but I suggest to my right hon. Friend and the Government that unfortunately in the past few years they have produced an atmosphere in their relationship with local government, including Conservative-controlled local authorities, that is very unhappy and has caused a great deal of resentment. Several of their friends feel that they take local government too much for granted and do not sufficiently respect its traditions and successes. If I am told that that is unfair, I can only say that that is what is often said to me by county and district councillors in my constituency, and by other people whom I meet elsewhere. I hope that the Government can, in various ways, begin to put that right. It is in that spirit that I speak briefly in favour of the amendment.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice), because I agreed strongly with two of the points that he made. First, he argued that the existing GLC and the metropolitan counties are too large to be genuine local government and, in some respects, have the wrong boundaries and powers to be effective regional government. That is absolutely right. That is why there is a case for re-examining our metropolitan government in London and the metropolitan counties. Secondly, I agree that we make a great mistake in looking at the structure of local government and its financing in isolation. It means that we get the wrong structure and the wrong financing system, when we should look at the two together.

The Government are most vulnerable on this Bill because it is not the result of any independent analysis. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) rightly said that before the London government reorganisation we had the Herbert commission report and before the reorganisation in the metropolitan areas outside London we had Redcliffe-Maud. It is fair to say that the Government of the day did not stick to the recommendations of either report—they produced different formulations—but the two reports provided a basis of independent assessment against which one could judge the Government's proposals. That is not what we have in this Bill.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman cannot be allowed to get away with that statement. We should compare what was finally enacted in the Local Government Act 1972 with the Redcliffe-Maud report which, after all, recommended 61 unitary authorities across the country, and we ended up with the present pattern of shire counties and districts. When one makes that comparison, how can the hon. Gentleman say that one decision flowed in any way from the inquiry that preceded it? It is as different as chalk from cheese.

Mr. Cartwright

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not want to misrepresent what I said. I was not arguing that the one flowed from the other. I said that the independent assessment provided a background and evidence against which to judge what the Government were doing. Many of us who thought that Redcliffe-Maud was right were able as a result to oppose the local government reorganisation proposed in 1972 by the then Secretary of State for the Environment. I was saying that the independent analysis was there, and provided some independent judgment. There is nothing of that sort available against which to judge what the Government are now proposing.

We are talking about a very important area — the government of the capital and of the most important urban areas of this country. To make a change on the basis of a sudden commitment produced at the beginning of a general election campaign, if not in the heat of the campaign, is not the right way to go about it. The effect is that the commitment that was given has had to be made good in a hurry. I am reminded of the experience of the noble Lord Shinwell, who has from time to time commented on the problems that he faced when he took over the Ministry of Fuel and Power. He was given the job of nationalising the coal mines and discovered that there were no plans to nationalise them. The same sort of problem seems to have befallen the Secretary of State. No doubt when he walked into the Department of the Environment after the general election in June 1983 and said, "Let me see the proposals for the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties," the civil servants had to say that no detailed proposals had been worked out.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin


Mr. Cartwright

I should be interested to see what evidence the right hon. Gentleman has that there were any detailed— [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] The Secretary of State has not signified that he wishes to intervene at the moment. If he has any evidence that detailed proposals had been worked out either in Conservative Central Office or in the Department of the Environment, I am sure that the Committee would be interested to hear it.

What we have to go on is the White Paper entitled "Streamlining the Cities". That document appears to have been cobbled together at such speed that the joins show. If one wanted evidence of that, I suggest that it came rapidly in that snowstorm of hastily duplicated consultation documents which came whistling out of Marsham street as civil servants discovered that many practical problems had not even been addressed in "Streamlining the Cities".

Two domestic problems in my constituency have still not been sorted out. One is the problem of Thamesmead new town. The Government have still not reached a conclusion on the final arrangements for Thamesmead, which is a new town of the 21st century being developed by the GLC. It falls within two London boroughs, neither of which is anxious to take it over or has the resources to take it over. The Government are saying that the best solution that they can find is to set up a trust to take over responsibility for the development of Thamesmead. At this point, they have no firm proposal for such a trust. We look forward with great interest to seeing how that idea works out.

5.30 pm

If the proposal for the abolition of the Greater London council had been worked out in such detail, the Secretary of State would have some difficulty in persuading me that at this stage we should be discussing what on earth to do about the problem of a major housing development like Thamesmead.

My second example is that of the Woolwich free ferry. It is now run by the Greater London council. Before that, it was operated by the London county council. After the abolition of the GLC, who is going to run the Woolwich free ferry? Neither the London borough of Newham nor the London borough of Greenwich has the resources or the capability to run it. When the matter was raised in the House and outside, there was a clear statement from the Government that the ferry would continue as a free ferry, but who is going to run it we do not yet know. When I took up this point with the Minister of State, Department of Transport, I received a very civil letter from her in which she said that it was a very good question and that if I had any solution to the problem would I kindly let her have it. This shows that on what is no doubt a minor matter for the Government but an important matter for Londoners, this proposal has not been thought through.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Does the hon. Gentleman say that the same kind of consideration as for the ferry occurs in relation to the upkeep of the Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels?

Mr. Cartwright

No. They are run on a different basis. They are not the direct responsibility of the ferry which has been operated on a free basis for generations by the GLC and the LCC. The argument I am putting to the Committee is that this is another example of legislation on the hoof, something which has not been thought through and which has been produced under pressure.

If we are considering that kind of approach to the government of major urban centres in this country, I do not believe that that is the way to go about it. I agree with the right hon. Member for Daventry. He argues that if we are going to change the government of these important parts of the country, we ought to produce the kind of change which will last for a very long time. I do not believe that the proposals which are now being put before the Committee can possibly last. They are being imposed for political reasons. They have not been thought through. They are confusing to the electorate. They will be costly to administer. They involve a major switch of power and influence from local government to central Government.

The case which can be made against the Government on this batch of amendments is that they clearly do not want the best available system of government for London and the metropolitan counties. They wish to impose their system without any independent assessment of what they are doing. I hope that, even at this late stage, they will grasp the opportunity provided by these amendments. I have little faith that they will, but, nevertheless, we shall support this group of amendments.

Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)

I should like briefly to support the proposal for an inquiry before this legislation proceeds. My right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) explained how he voted for Second Reading, although he had considerable reservations about the Bill. I did not vote for Second Reading, although I had and still have sympathy with some of the objectives of the Bill. I did not vote for Second Reading because I believe that the legislation is feckless and ill-considered. Therefore, it could only be very seriously improved if there were an inquiry. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry said, local government matters are peculiarly unsuitable for rushed and ill-digested legislation. This Bill comes under that heading. I have every sympathy, therefore, for my right hon. and hon. Friends who are caught up with this legislation.

Let me give one example—waste disposal. Funnily enough, the GLC runs waste disposal very well, to the considerable advantage not only of London but of the surrounding counties. To break up that waste disposal activity would be irresponsible and would involve considerable disadvantages for Greater London and the home counties. That is just one example of the problems caused by' a Bill being brought forward before the Government have thought through the matter. It will have very damaging consequences.

There has been no consultation about the Bill and there has been no attempt to obtain wide support for the Bill's proposals. As Conservatives, we ought to be aiming for that. Not even to try to hold consultations over local government matters is surely a considerable mistake and will result in grave problems.

When moving the Second Reading my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he did not believe that anybody would wish to live with a structure that would inevitably lead to the sort of conflict that we have seen. That may well be true, but surely my right hon. Friend does not believe that these proposals will not lead to just as much conflict in the future. Indeed, they will probably lead to a great deal more conflict.

My right hon. Friend takes 123 powers in the Bill. Not all of them are new powers; nevertheless, 123 different powers are mentioned. I suggest that that will lead to a great deal of conflict, and probably even more conflict than last year's measure—ratecapping—is likely to lead to before very long. Therefore, an inquiry would be a great benefit.

Mr. Bernard Brook-Partridge, the GLC Conservative member, recently wrote an article in which he described this legislation as the last-minute, unconsidered, un-thought-out, 'populist', ignorant, insulting and constitutionally illiterate proposals relating to the GLC and the Metropolitan Counties", and said that they should be dropped immediately in favour of either a short, sharp, properly constituted public inquiry or an immediate acceptance of the fact that London-wide services should be discharged by a refined, 'slimmed-down' GLC or by a new London Assembly, democratically elected and publicly accountable". Those are strong words. I would not go quite so far myself. Nevertheless, they contain a certain amount of truth.

Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

I support all the amendments which stand in the names of my hon. Friends. In my view, these amendments expose very well the basic weaknesses of this squalid Bill. It is sometimes seen as a badge of honour for a Secretary of State to pursue a Bill which he knows is not acceptable to the country. It would be much more of a badge of honour and would require much more courage if the Secretary of State were to go back to his Cabinet colleagues, even at this late stage, and say that this hastily cobbled Bill is not worth wasting a large amount of time during this parliamentary session.

There is no denying that this Government have not been prepared to hold proper, meaningful consultations or a proper form of inquiry before deciding to ride roughshod over one third of the population of the country, including that part of the country which I have the privilege to represent. I refer to the area of the Tyne and Wear county council. In my opinion and in the opinion of the vast majority of my constituents, it has done an exceptionally good job, measured by any standards, during the 10 years since the creation of the metropolitan counties by the previous Tory Government.

My concern is that all the traditions of previous Administrations — of not being prepared to undertake major local government reform in advance of an independent inquiry or a Royal Commission—have been flung to the winds by this Government. The Local Government Act 1972 was preceded, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said, by the Redcliffe-Maud Commission. In fairness to the Tory Government at that time I should say that they were implementing the recommendation to set up two-tier authorities in the metropolitan areas or major conurbations — hence the creation of the metropolitan county councils.

I am equally concerned that the review procedures that Parliament established by the 1972 Act, which required a review of local government to be undertaken within 10 to 15 years, have been completely ignored. Parliament decided that a major review should be undertaken within 10 to 15 years. We are in the 11th year, yet the Government have introduced a Bill which rides roughshod over one third of the population and over the will of Parliament.

At the Tory party conference, the Secretary of State announced a major review of local government finance. That was not done out of a genuine desire to consider what should replace the rates, a subject on which the Prime Minister waxed so eloquent two elections ago when she committed the Tory Party to the abolition of the rates. We are still waiting. The Secretary of State was so embarrassed when he thought of the hoo-ha that would occur at the Tory party conference if he did not give some sort of undertaking that he promised to set up an inquiry into local government finance.

I give the right hon. Gentleman credit for promising at least to do something, but, having agreed to examine the financial structure of local government, the right hon. Gentleman should have gone on to look at local government as a whole.

I did not support the establishment of the metropolitan county councils. I make no apology for that, because I still believe that we should have major regional authorities, with all-purpose authorities under them. However, the best method of local government can be determined only by the sort of major inquiry proposed in the amendments.

The Bill is bound to have major knock-on effects. It will have implications for the whole of local government and not just for the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. The PA Management Consultants report has already pointed out that many shire areas have larger populations but fewer powers than the metropolitan districts. That is why there must be full consultation on the structure and financing of local government as a whole before any changes are made in the conurbations.

The Government have rejected consultation. Not only have they not commissioned an inquiry into their proposals, but they have paid little or no regard to the response to the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities". On their own analysis of responses, published in the summer, fewer than 10 per cent. of those consulted supported abolition. The Secretary of State has consistently refused to publish the responses to help us have a considered debate on the issues involved in the Bill.

We have not been told the views of 90 per cent. of those who responded to the White Paper, but I could quote ad nauseam hundreds of comments that condemn the Bill line by line, just as we shall be doing in the months ahead.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

I had not intended to speak in the debate. I avoided speaking on Second Reading because I thought that if I showed any enthusiasm for the Bill I might be put on the Standing Committee. I came in to listen to the debate in the hope that I would hear some words of wisdom. I have been sadly disappointed.

I had the advantage in the years up to 1972 of serving on a county borough council — still, in my view, the best method of effecting local government in its proper sense. I also have the advantage of being on record as having opposed the establishment of the metropolitan county councils in general and the Merseyside county council in particular.

5.45 pm

In my political peregrinations around the country, trying to get elected to the House, I was at a by-election in Liverpool in 1971 when the few people who were then inclined to support the Conservative cause said that they had no wish to see the establishment of a Merseyside county council. They did not understand what it was, and nothing much has changed in the succeeding 14 years.

Many people in that part of the world still think that the county council is something to do with the Liverpool city council.

In 1974, when I moved my political activities to Newton-le-Willows, which for some reason is now in the Merseyside county council area, though it has nothing to do with Merseyside, people asked what on earth they were doing in Merseyside and what Merseyside had to do with Newton-le-Willows.

I remember that the people involved in local politics at that time, either on the county borough council or on urban district councils, had to make judgments about their political futures. Without exception, they stood for election to the district councils within the metropolitan county council areas and not for the county councils. They could not see what the counties would do politically or how they would occupy their time. I took the same decision. Unfortunately, I was defeated by a Liberal, although I got back later.

No one of any political consequence chose to stand for election to the county councils. The young hirsute gentlemen who sit on those councils now perhaps do not have such long memories.

In 1979, I was asked why, as the metropolitan county councils had still not worked, we had not got rid of them. The same question was being asked during the 1983 general election.

It has been suggested that the people represented by the metropolitan county councils have some affection for them. That is not true. The Merseyside county council has gone to enormous expense to buy space in newspapers so that people can send me clippings saying that they wish to keep the county council. Some people have done that, but it is surprising to see how many altered the clipping to say that they agree with the abolition of the Merseyside county council.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

How many slips of paper has the hon. Gentleman received from people who support the abolition of the county council and how many people have told him that they disagree with abolition? I have not had a single call for abolition.

Mr. Porter

As the lady said, "You would, wouldn't you?" To be absolutely fair, about 60 per cent. were in favour of abolition and about 40 per cent. were against it. As it is a printed form to be sent to the person's Member of Parliament expressing disagreement with abolition, I am surprised that so many people have gone to the length of altering it and then sending it to me.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir Ian Gilmour) seemed to be suggesting that, as the GLC had run waste disposal services rather well, that was somehow a powerful argument for not abolishing it. Waste disposal no doubt took place before the GLC was set up. I do not argue about the situation in the GLC area, but on Merseyside, whatever I put in my dustbin was adequately disposed of before the county council came into being. I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of man to devise an equally efficient system under the new arrangements, so that seems a rather infantile objection to a major proposal.

Sir Ian Gilmour

I was simply saying that well-thought-out legislation would have dealt with the problem in the Bill, so I do not think that my hon. Friend's objection carries much weight.

Mr. Porter

I have no doubt that during the Committee stage, in which I intend to take little part after today and tomorrow, such matters will be dealt with, but I should not have thought that they constituted fundamental objections to the measure. I hope that those who take part in the Committee stage — [HON. MEMBERS: "This is the Committee stage"] I mean the Standing Committee upstairs. I hope that members of that Committee will address themselves postively to these matters rather than keeping people like me up all night for the next six months.

The Chairman

I share the hon. Gentleman's hope, but I also hope that he will address himself to the amendments before the Committee and not seek to make the speech that he might have made if he had caught Mr. Speaker's eye on Second Reading.

Mr. Porter

I am obliged to you for that reminder, Mr. Chairman. It might help if I had read the amendments. I shall call myself to order, conclude my remarks very shortly and leave it to the self-appointed experts to carry on.

Merseyside county council in particular and the metropolitan counties in general have achieved popularity, although some false affection has been generated by money, activity and noise from those running them. I am in fact advocating the abolition of my own father, who in the latter part of his local government career has subsided on to the benches of Merseyside county council. It is with the greatest pleasure that I abolish his office. I am sad that he should have spent the past few years in an activity of no real consequence when he would have been better occupied dealing with local government matters in the proper manner that the Bill will achieve.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

The Government have put forward proposals for the reform of the metropolitan counties without proper consideration and almost without putting them to the public in the areas concerned. They have a very long way to go if they are to justify the wholesale massacre of local government structure. They have yet to show the logic of undermining local government in this way, as they have not yet provided the detailed analysis that both Opposition and Conservative Members have called for. In dealing with the most fundamental restructuring of local government this decade we need far more evidence to underpin the proposals before us.

One of the amendments calls for a series of referendums in the GLC and metropolitan areas. We set great store by that in Greater Manchester, where only 10 per cent. of the population strongly favour the Government's proposals. The proposals thus have almost no credible support in the area. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the people most affected by the proposals should have the opportunity to express their view. I also have considerable sympathy with the view that the proposals should be subject to detailed examination by a Royal Commission or similar body. Whatever the merits or demerits of the Bill, it is clear that the structure of local government after abolition will have to be reformed very quickly by a future Government, preferably a Labour Government, because the present proposals offer no credible structure for local government in the metropolitan areas.

The uncertainties caused by the Bill have not been adequately dealt with. The proposals for the police forces are a good example. Greater Manchester now has an integrated police force covering the whole metropolitan county, with a central headquarters and a centralised communications system. I understand that the Home Office itself, unofficially, strongly opposes the idea of breaking up that integrated force. If the Bill is passed there will be strong demands from the districts within Greater Manchester for the restoration of some democratic control over the police force because we wish a police force to be accountable. That is not the right way to achieve accountability. Having created an integrated force out of the former separate forces in the area, the correct way to proceed is to guarantee that democratic structure through a countywide body such as the present county council. The Government's proposal is unsatisfactory and unlikely to gain the support of Home Office Ministers. With such uncertainty built into the Bill, it is inevitable that the public in the metropolitan areas will look askance at the Government's proposals.

Despite the various assertions made by the Secretary of State, there has been no adequate discussion of the cost of the proposals. An annual figure of £100 million has been magicked out of the air by the Government, but there has been no in-depth examination or justification and there is not a shred of evidence to support the Government's assumptions. Credible examinations have been carried out by Coopers and Lybrand and others who have attempted to grapple with the complexities of the problem. We all admit that it is a complex matter and none of us would wish to pin our faith to the last pound on the figures in the Coopers and Lybrand report. Nevertheless, it has been the only attempt to analyse the situation and to tell the public the likely costs and benefits of abolition and people will naturally assume, in the absence of any other evidence, that the figures in that report are more reliable than those plucked out of the air by the Secretary of State. The public cannot possibly be satisfied while that uncertainty remains.

All those uncertainties point to the need for a Royal Commission to carry out a study based on something more substantial than the political prejudices of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, who dislike the county councils because of their political composition, which is merely temporary. The Government dislike the authorities because they are all Labour-controlled. It is unlikely that a Royal Commission would approach the matter purely on the basis of party political spite. It is important that we get away from such spite and set up a body on which we can rely to examine the arguments in a more dispassionate and constructive way than has been achieved so far.

One amendment refers specifically to the Audit Commission. I have had cause to write to the commission in relation to the Price Waterhouse report on the abolition proposals. I am not totally enamoured of the Audit Commission, but that is a much more reputable body to look into these matters—

Mr. Harry Cowans (Tyne Bridge)

It was set up by the Government.

Mr. Lloyd

As my hon. Friend says, it was set up by this Government to control local government spending.

The Audit Commission ought to be given the opportunity to look into the costing of these proposals and the efficiency of the existing set-up. Not even Parliament has discussed improving the county councils and the GLC, and that should be put to the judgment of a Royal Commission or the Audit Commission. It is not good enough simply to bow to the prejudices of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. It is more important to establish a local government structure that will last and which, without the present uncertainties, will be safe for a considerable number of years ahead and not simply until the next Parliament.

6 pm

Mr. John Heddle (Mid-Staffordshire)

Are not Royal Commissions, committees of inquiry and parliamentary inquiries just another form of parliamentary procrastination? Will they produce any shred of evidence which my right hon. Friend does not already possess? I think not. The Committee would be well advised to reject this group of amendments.

In 1975, to its eternal credit, the Labour party took the trouble to set up the Layfield committee of inquiry into the financing of local government. That document remains a major work on the financial aspects of local government. However, to its discredit, the Labour party did not have the courage between 1975 and 1979 to implement any of that committee's recommendations. To our credit, my right hon. Friend and his predecessors have since 1979 tried to grapple with the problem of financing local government. We have not yet been entirely successful, but at least we have taken steps which, it is hoped, will ultimately lead in the right direction. That must surely be the protection of the ratepayer against rapacious and greedy local authorities which seek to obtain funds from the ratepayer out of earned income to provide for services which are not necessarily best provided by the local authority, and which perhaps could be better and more prudently provided by other solutions.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Heddle

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He spoke many times on Second Reading, and no doubt he will do so in Committee. I am sure that he will make his own views known in his inimitable manner.

This Committee should direct its attention specifically to protecting the ratepayer, because without the wealth which the ratepayer can provide, local authorities such as the GLC and the six metropolitan country councils would not have the money with which to provide the services which, in their infinite wisdom, they believe that the ratepayer deserves.

Both the Labour and Liberal parties are united with Conservative Members in wishing to seek a solution to unemployment, the most enormous problem which confronts us. We all want to find a solution which will create jobs. We are more likely to find that solution if we give the industrial and commercial ratepayers a greater opportunity to preserve as much of their after-tax wealth as they can. Without a doubt, there has been a flight of private sector capital from the GLC and the six metropolitan county councils because that sector has paid an inordinate amount of after-tax profits in rates. This has nothing to do with reducing the rate support grant, but it has everything to do with protecting the industrial and commercial ratepayer. My right hon. Friend's rate-capping announcement yesterday will do precisely that and will go some way towards protecting jobs in our inner cities and conurbations.

Mr. Cleve Soley (Hammersmith)


Mr. Heddle

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my speech. When I sit down, he will no doubt have the opportunity of catching the eye of the Chair.

Some of the operational aspects of the Bill which will have to be further debated when it goes into Standing Committee — for example, waste disposal, planning functions, transfers of powers and transfer of rights and responsibilities under leases — are technical nuts and bolts to which the Committee will have to give deep consideration. However, these amendments simply suggest the fudge of a basic issue which affects all firms in the constituency of every hon. Member in or near the GLC and the six metropolitan county council areas. Relieving them of the additional burden of one expensive layer of bureaucracy, which takes democracy one step further away from them, will do nothing to create jobs. The Committee should reject this raft of amendments forthwith.

Mr. Wareing

As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said, all previous major local government reorganisations have been preceded by a thorough review and investigation of the needs of those who live in the various areas. So important did a thorough investigation seem that, after 1926, a borough or urban district which sought county borough status was required to present a private Bill before Parliament so that it could be thoroughly investigated before a change was made. Between 1926 and the 1960s, only one county borough was established in that way—Doncaster.

Even relatively minor changes have been the subject of real inquiry. Between 1945 and 1949, two local government boundary commissions looked at the problems of boundaries only. In 1956, a Conservative Government published a White Paper on the structure of local government. However, that was felt to be insufficient, and that Government under Harold Macmillan passed the Local Government Act 1958 which established two local government commissions—one for England and one for Wales—which in 1963.64 reported on the establishment of a number of county boroughs in the west midlands area.

The Redcliffe-Maud commission provided a mountain of information and identified the disparity in size and resources of local authorities, the overspill problems in the conurbations and the haphazard allocation of functions between urban and rural districts and the non-county and county boroughs. It was argued that the Labour party has never been in favour of metropolitan authorities, but, following the publication of the Redcliffe-Maud report, the White Paper on the reform of local government in England was published in February 1970 by the Government of which the right hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) was a member.

A common theme of the Redcliffe-Maud report and the White Paper of February 1970 was that in the metropolitan areas of Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the west midlands the two-tier system was the correct one to deal with the disparity in resources, the haphazard allocation of functions and the overspill problems in those conurbations. Indeed, the Labour Government's White Paper went further. It added to the three areas mentioned in the Redcliffe-Maud report the conurbations of west Yorkshire and south Hampshire, including the Isle of Wight. In February 1971, the Conservative Government published a White Paper on local government in England. Again, it increased from three to six the number of conurbations which were to have metropolitan authorities. Those, of course, were the areas which were the subject of the Local Government Act 1972.

Redcliffe-Maud and all the previous reports and White Papers had something else in common. They were all concerned about the growing amount of central control. They argued that, if nothing was done to reorganise local government, central control was bound to become greater.

The motive for the Local Government Act 1972 was to hold back the tide of central control. The proposition before the Committee now has exactly the opposite motive. The aim of the Secretary of State is not to increase local accountability, but to increase central control. As the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) so eloquently put it, there are about 120 powers in the Bill—I had not realised that the figure was so large — by which the Government seek to increase central control.

In answer to the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth—

Mr. Patrick Jenkin


Mr. Wareing

I am sorry. The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) referred to the increasing burden on the ratepayer. However, the burden on the ratepayer must increase when the Government reduce the rate support grant from 61 per cent. of expenditure to 48 per cent. At a time when we are still suffering from inflation—even though it has become less severe—the only alternative is to cut services. That is what the Secretary of State has in mind. He is the agent of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. At the Tory party conference, the Secretary of State announced that there was to be a review of local government finance. However, before that review can be published, the Secretary of State presents us with a Bill to alter the structure of local government. That has never happened before.

Even on the Government's own admission, they have little support. I understand that the Government received 5,000 responses to their White Paper "Streamlining the Cities" and that less than 10 per cent. of the respondents supported the Government's proposition.

Throughout the arguments of the past year, the Government have provided no concessions whatsoever to informed opinion. There is still much that one can ask about the details. We know that under this measure a number of trusts are to be established. One will cater for the arts on Merseyside. There has been no thoroughgoing investigation of the right way of presenting the arts in conurbations such as Merseyside. I dare say that, even now, the Secretary of State could not tell me who will be responsible for the Philharmonic hall in the city of Liverpool. The philharmonic orchestra may be administered by the trust, but presumably the hall itself will become the possession of Liverpool city council—and the city council has had to close St. George's hall already in order to keep its head above water in the climate created by the Government's financial policies.

6.15 pm

Government Members have argued that the Labour party manifesto favoured unitary authorities. However, "Labour's Programme 1982" included a statement on devolution. In the consideration of devolution for Scotland and Wales, the point was made that if there is devolution in Scotland and Wales, we must also consider the democratisation of regional government in England. The Labour Government of 1964–79 published a document called "Devolution: The English Dimension". Many Labour Members would be fully in favour not of reducing the second tier but of extending democratic government to the control of electricity boards, gas boards, health authorities and water authorities. That is the question that we should be considering, instead of this squalid measure.

The hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter)—the only Member from the Merseyside area who has been present on the Conservative Benches—said that most people on Merseyside are not in favour of the county council. What has he been reading? He has certainly riot read Liverpool polytechnics' survey of opinion on Merseyside, according to which, 70.3 per cent. of those questioned were in favour of retaining the Merseyside county council. Some people were in favour of increasing its powers. Over 80 per cent. of those questioned were opposed to increased central Government control. No less that 86.8 per cent. were in favour of Merseyside county council's cheap fares policy.

That survey was a test of opinion. What test of opinion have the Government carried out? How can this measure be presented to the Committee as a matter of major importance to the country? What people in the conurbations are concerned about is how services can be provided adequately to protect them in their homes and their streets. They are concerned about how to find jobs. For such areas, the question that we should be considering is unemployment, and not this nonsensical measure which is before us, merely—as I said on Second Reading—at the whim of the Prime Minister.

On the authority of someone who was very close to the Conservative party working party on this issue, I can say that, originally, the manifesto was to state that there would be a review of the local government system under the new Conservative Government. That would have been entirely in accord with the amendments. Nine days after the general election was called, that commitment was crossed out by the Prime Minister. I challenge the Secretary of State to say whether that is true or false. I understand that that is what happened.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin


Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Wareing

I will indeed give way in a moment. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) has confirmed what I say, in a sense.

Mr. Jenkin

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can have been in his place an hour and a half ago, when I replied to the same allegation when it was made by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).

Nine days after the election was called, the manifesto was published. Thousands and thousands of copies of it were distributed around the country. The manifesto had taken some time to print. The idea that such a change could have been made at that time is absurd. I shall deal with the point again when I reply to the debate, but the hon. Gentleman must not be fooled by some of the statements that have been made on the matter.

Mr. Wareing

You will have noticed, Mr. Walker, that the Secretary of State will not confirm or deny that it was the Prime Minister who determined that, in the final manifesto, there should appear the abolition of the met councils rather than a promise to review the system of local government. Such a review would not have required legislation. The Local Government Act 1972, which was put through by a Government of which the Secretary of State was a member, presaged a review of local government in 10 to 15 years. Amendment No. 1 would put that requirement into effect. As a member of the previous Conservative Government, the right hon. Gentleman should promise such a review.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

Further to the exchange between my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), my right hon. Friend must exercise care when dealing with these matters. It is widely known, as a result of the process of osmosis, that this matter was never properly discussed in Cabinet. As far as we know, it came up once at the tail-end of a general Cabinet discussion and was very much an afterthought. I must not transgress the rules and conventions on this matter but, as far as can be ascertained, it appears that two members of the Cabinet declared themselves in favour of the proposal and no one else said anything on the subject. My right hon. Friend must therefore be careful. I am sure that he is not trying to mislead the House, but he must refrain from giving the impression that the matter was given the conventional endorsement of the Cabinet, as we would expect in regard to such a controversial and sweeping measure. That is the sadness of the background to the Bill, which was referred on Second Reading.

During the Second Reading debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir J. Page) declared himself enthusiastically in favour of abolition of the GLC. I have not had a word with him about referring to what he said, but shall try to do so as soon as possible later this evening. After the Second Reading debate, one of my constituents told me that opinion in Harrow appeared to be evenly divided about abolition of the GLC and its replacement by a successor authority. I do not get that impression. I do not wish to make a Second Reading speech, but I must observe that I have been inundated with letters from people, including Conservatives, who have expressed gross dismay at the essence of the Bill and what it stands for. As several hon. Members have dealt with the metropolitan counties, I hope that I shall be forgiven for dwelling on the GLC.

Because he was interrupted so much, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West did not have time in his Second Reading speech to discuss the Bill or the proposal to abolish the GLC, but he referred to the disastrous effect of the GLC in regard to roads and said that, 15 years ago, he had tried to get a road in his constituency put right. The only problem is that the road was not in his constituency then and it is not in his constituency now. I hope to be able to bring that to the attention of my hon. Friend soon. However, that example shows how important it is, whether on Second Reading or in Committee, for right hon. and hon. Members to refer to the Bill.

Sadly, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) did not deploy a good argument and my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) came in but briefly and made a somewhat incoherent speech. Admittedly, he had not read the Bill or the amendments, but he has now disappeared, although right hon. and hon. Members might want to refer to what he said.

I shall now return to the valid objections to the Bill and therefore to an expression of support for amendments that are designed to ask the Government, with humility but forcibly and reasonably, to think again carefully about this proposal. Amendment No 1 proposes a Royal Commission. There are tempting arguments in support of that and I and other Conservative Members might consider doing that in the absence of my right hon. Friend advancing reasonable arguments to the contrary.

Several Conservative Members have proposed a formula that would produce an intra-parliamentary inquiry, which might take less time than a Royal Commission. It gives me no pleasure to support the Opposition amendment, but there are times when right hon. and hon. Members have to get up and say what they believe is right. A Royal Commission might be the right method. I mean no disrespect to parliamentarians here and in another place, but it is the only mechanism of getting a profound and outside independent inquiry which, by solemn political and constitutional convention, is an absolute engagement. It has always been the case that there should not be legislative and constitutional upheavals of local government structures without such an inquiry.

I should like to refer to what The Sunday Times said on 25 November 1984—just after the Bill was published. It said that there was not a strong case for keeping the Greater Manchester council. I disagree, but shall not go into that argument now. It continued: People do however talk of themselves as Londoners. The capital is a recognisable geographical and social entity. It requires a London-wide authority to maintain its cultural and economic viability, and we hope that in its passage through Parliament, the Bill will be amended accordingly. Even then, the Bill will be a monument to a missed opportunity. Local government can only be reformed once in a while. What was needed, this time, was a radical, fully thought-through reorganisation, embracing finance as well as structure, thus treating the whole malaise. Instead, in its haste to despatch Ken Livingstone and his comrades, the government has produced a botched job. Two months before, the Financial Times of 20 September 1984 said, in what is now a well-known quotation which was referred to on Second Reading, similar things about London being a collection of villages but a cohesive capital city of international importance, and therefore needing commensurate treatment in its structural organisation.

I have always been naive in assuming, in an old-fashioned way, that the Tory party in government has not historically been in the business of creating huge political upheavals, least of all on a decision based on people being in a political bad temper and when that decision would not save money. Indeed, the proposition will cost London ratepayers more. If the Bill goes through without being amended as proposed, it will create such a disastrous upheaval in London that it cannot possibly go into Committee upstairs without the commitment of a huge amount of time to examine it properly. The Government have the opportunity to accept these amendments or later ones tonight. As The Sunday Times said recently: a lingering question hangs over the great investment of Parliamentary time and political energy about to take place. What relevance does all this re-jigging of boundaries and functions have for the real agenda of British political economy in the second half of the 1980s? I hope that my right hon. Friend and the Minister, who have the unenviable, indeed, hapless and miserable task of getting this awful Bill through will bear in mind that a change of mind in the face of overwhelming evidence from all parts of the House, far from being a sign of weakness, is a sign of political strength.

Mr. Heddle

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Dykes

I have little time.

Mr. Heddle

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Committee has listened, as it always does, with great respect to what he has said. As he prefaced his speech with a reference to my speech, perhaps he would make it quite clear how he stood on the abolition of the GLC in the general election of June 1983. From where I was in Mid-Staffordshire, I got the impression that a considerable number of voters in Greater London supported the abolition of the GLC, as is evidenced by the presence of many of my hon. Friends who perhaps owe their present position to the wealth of opinion against the GLC at that election.

Mr. Dykes

I gave way only because I referred to my hon. Friend's remarks. I am not sad that I did, because it gives me the opportunity to repeat that I was a co-author of the 1976 pamphlet, which the Minister also wrote. Pamphlets carry collective responsibility, especially when the chapters do not have attributional names attached to them. We all enthusiastically said that London needed a strategic Londonwide authority. [Interruption.] Whips do not normally intervene from a sedentary position, but I recognise the exception this time.

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)


6.30 pm
Mr. Dykes

I shall not give way at the moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) has not been present for long. I should like to continue, because I do not wish to take up too much time.

The co-authors also said that such an authority could be called the Greater London council, or, as that was rather a corny name, something else. In January, February and March 1983, through the local press and local broadcasting in London, I made it crystal clear that I was opposed to the abolition of the GLC. That was manifest in my election campaign. I was asked two questions on the subject during the campaign and I made that clear when I answered them. Everyone, locally and throughout London, knew that that was my consistent position.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin


Mr. Dykes

I shall not give way, although I shall on a later occasion. I am explaining my position. I have already taken rather a long time to do so, and I am aware that other hon. Members wish to speak.

It is definitely not a sign of weakness for a Government to listen to arguments and realise that second thoughts are a legitimate part of the democratic response of any great Government. Because such solemn issues about democracy and accountability are at stake, the Government would receive tremendous applause by doing so. Although it has been said before, I commend to the Committee again the utterances of a courageous Conservative at county hall, Bernard Brook-Partridge, in his article, Whither, not wither, local government? He said that this was not merely a disagreement about policy but a dispute about principle and constitutional legitimacy. That is the anxiety that assails those of us who are against these proposals in detail and, therefore, in favour of this kind of amendment, and who are worried about the constitutional background to them. We know the history of the matter. On all previous occasions Conservative Governments have endorsed independent outside reports and external examinations that have concluded that London needs a Londonwide authority.

Once again we thank the wisdom of the Financial Times. A final paragraph of its leading article today entitled The reform of local councils", states: London is a conundrum. Perhaps the paper is returning to the theme enunciated in September. It continues: At least in the metropolitan areas the major cities such as Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, will still have a city-wide authority after abolition. The capital will not. The Government has had no answer to critics who point out the absurdity of ignoring the common interests which exist between the disparate villages and communities which make up one of the world's largest and most important capitals. The case for abolishing the Greater London Council is clearly much weaker than for the metropolitan counties and, on present evidence, ought not to proceed at all. An opportunity for sensible reform has been missed.

Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West)


Mr. Dykes

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for not giving way. I am aware that I am taking up time. I know that the Government Whip would like me to give way, but I have given way several times already.

Without burdening the Committee with too many quotations, I commend to all hon. Members who want a genuinely constructive solution to the question of the future of London the article by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). In an article in The Guardian of 7 December he concluded: There is however another option which could meet the obvious need to curb the wildly excessive discretionary spending powers of the GLC, to rationalise the strategic government of London and yet retain an elected voice for our capital city". He was referring to a total of 4 per cent. of the GLC's total spending, and the 1.5 per cent. of the most contentious areas of its spending, with which I also violently disagree. The 4 per cent. is the same ratio as that which existed when Horace Cutler was in charge of the GLC.

The article states that the option is to institute a directly elected representative body for London whose functions and powers would be determined by Parliament, following a Select Committee Inquiry. I shall not say any more about that in case I am out of order, because it will be the subject of a later amendment.

Whatever the form of the inquiry, whether it is a Royal Commission or not — there are arguments that that would be the best way—it might conclude that that would be its option because the present legislative proposal is a recipe for complete chaos, and disaster in future. That is why I support the amendment.

Mr. Tony Banks

It is a pleasure to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). If the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) wishes to speak, the House will be delighted to listen to him making a speech rather than to his comments from a sedentary position.

The hon. Gentleman made a good speech, as did the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) on Monday night. It is often said that the Labour party is intolerant of opposition. My eyes have been opened to the intolerance of Conservative Members to dissident voices within their ranks. That is a matter of especial concern when those dissident voices are clearly talking good sense. I ask Conservative Members for one moment to lay aside some of the prejudices that they bring with them into the Chamber and to reflect on what their reaction would be, had a Labour Government brought forward proposals to restructure local government based on such a sketchy undertaking in a manifesto.

That is the point at issue, and the central feature of the amendment. It is intellectually insulting for the House to consider how the Bill was formulated. We have heard how the abolition of the GLC got into the Conservative party manifesto. There seems to be no argument that it was introduced at the behest of the Prime Minister and against the advice of her party policy committee. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) gave us that evidence.

I understand that Prime Ministers tend at times to say, "Put this in the manifesto, or else there will be trouble". The Labour party has experienced that. A previous Labour Prime Minister made it clear that if a proposal to abolish the House of Lords were in the manifesto, he would resign. I do not know whether the Prime Minister made that sort of threat to her colleagues, but the manifesto undertaking was clearly there because she decided that it should be.

On many occasions the Secretary of State said that discussions had taken place a year before the undertaking to abolish the GLC was written into the manifesto. However, he has not said with whom those discussions took place. Did they take place in the Cabinet or in the Department of the Environment? On whose authority did they take place? What was the outcome of the discussions? The only evidence that the House has is that the Prime Minister insisted that the abolition of the GLC should be written into the manifesto. That is the intellectual insult that has been delivered to the House and the country.

Mr. Maples

The hon. Gentleman pretends constantly that the proposal to abolish the GLC is a diabolical, secret Tory plot. How does he square that with the fact that the Labour party programme of 1982 called for the same thing? It called for a root and branch reorganisation, and stated: We favour the creation in England and Wales of unitary authorities.

Mr. Banks

That is not a valid point. There is nothing wrong with any Government considering the structure of local government.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Does my hon. Friend agree that that is precisely what this series of amendments proposes should occur? Therefore, the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) will presumably support them.

Mr. Banks

If we were debating a Bill that had been the product of a Royal Commission inquiry or a public inquiry, and it was based on a measured consideration of the needs of local government in London and the rest of the country, I admit that we might still oppose it. That is a function of opposition. But the Government's case would have been much stronger, because they could have prayed in aid the fact that the Bill was based on evidence taken by Royal Commission or by a public inquiry. They cannot say that. All they can say is that the manifesto said that they would do it.

I have some sympathy with a Government who say, "It is a manifesto commitment and we shall carry it out." However, to take up the words of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, it is still for the Government to prove their case to the House. As he said, that case has not been proved. It is symptomatic of the failure to prove the case that there have been so many weak arguments from the few Conservative Members who are prepared to speak in favour of the proposals.

The Herbert commission that sat between 1957 and 1960 took millions of words in evidence. It produced a unanimous report that had great standing in local government, in the House and in the country as a whole. Hon. Members should contrast the Herbert commission's report with the back-of-the-fag-packet undertaking that brought about this proposal. How can we contrast the 66 words in a Conservative party manifesto — by all accounts written in by the Prime Minister, unaided, and against the advice of her party policy committee—with all the words of the Herbert commission, which suggested the present structure of local government in London?

Most of the Herbert commission's views were supported by the Marshall inquiry of 1978. There were two major inquiries into the structure of local government in London, both conducted under Conservative Governments. That must be contrasted with 66 words in the Conservative party manifesto.

I hope that when the Labour party is in government it will carry out its manifesto pledges, but I hope — indeed, I know—that they will have been thought out in greater depth and with more intellectual effort than has this back-of-the-fag-packet policy.

I wonder whether Ministers have re-read the report of the Marshall inquiry. I am especially interested to know whether the Minister for Local Government has done so. I will not go through all the evidence that he gave to the inquiry, because I am sure that it will be mentioned many times during the long Committee nights until March. He will have to do better than to say that it was not really his evidence. He carries much responsibility for what he wrote in 1978, with much of which the Opposition agree. Many of his proposals were similar to those contained in the 1981 Labour party manifesto. I congratulate him on his prescience in that respect, and I am only sorry that he is now trying to distance himself from the views that he held those few years ago.

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Hon. Members will remember that the Labour GLC also made a manifesto pledge in 1981, when this trouble started. Had the Labour party not won the GLC elections in 1981, and had Mr. Kenneth Livingstone not been elected to the leadership of the GLC, I am convinced that we would not now be discussing the abolition of the GLC. The GLC's manifesto undertaking to introduce cheap fares in London was challenged in the courts by Bromley council—an authority that now supports the abolition of the GLC. Although the GLC prayed in aid the fact that there was a manifesto undertaking, the then Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, said: A manifesto issued by a political party—in order to get votes—is not to be taken as gospel. It is not to be regarded as a bond, signed, sealed and delivered. It may contain—and often does contain — promises and proposals that are quite unworkable or impossible of obtainment. When the party gets into power, it should consider any proposal or promise afresh — on its merits — without any feeling of being obliged to honour it or being committed to it. It should then consider what is best to do in the circumstances of the case and to do it if it is practicable and fair.

When Lord Denning uttered those words in overturning the GLC's manifesto commitment to reduce fares in London, I do not remember many Conservative Members protesting that it was a manifesto undertaking that should be upheld. In the circumstances, it comes ill from the Conservative party to say that the manifesto is all, that the undertaking is the only relevant thing and that no other considerations should be entertained.

The Herbert commission, the Marshall inquiry and the Layfield inquiry have all considered the structure and financing of local government. I noted the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle). I tried to intervene because I wished to ask a question about a point that he made. I hope that in future, in the interests of good debate, he will give way rather than steadfastly refuse to answer the point. I shall gladly give way to him if he wishes to answer my question now. Does he support the idea in the Layfield report of a local income tax? Many Opposition Members argue that rates are not a fair form of taxation, mainly because they have a regressive impact and they take no account of the ability to pay of those who must foot the rates bill. Few Conservative Members have supported the idea of a local income tax. The Layfield inquiry also suggested greater local authority powers; that again is something with which the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire has not come to grips.

For many years, we have had major inquiries into the structure of government in London. Fights between county hall and central Government are almost part of our historical process. But every change in local government structure in London—I have confined my remarks to London for obvious reasons — has followed intense consultation and study. The Bill is not worthy of consideration by the House. It is a fag-packet proposal written into the manifesto by the Prime Minister in a fit of great passion. The House should not discuss it tonight in a fit of great passion.

Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)

I apologise to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) for not being here to hear his speech, as I was in another Committee.

I have been a Government Whip and was an Under-Secretary with responsibility for local government affairs when various new procedures were brought in in 1972–73, with the creation of the metropolitan counties. I take full responsibility, having been a Minister, for what we did then, but in retrospect I think that the creation of those councils was a mistake. However, I am extremely attracted by the arguments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and others who have said that at the moment, the Government, both with their rate-capping Bill and this Bill, are treating the symptoms and not the cause of local government problems. Therefore, what we need and what this and other amendments are suggesting, is a proper, independent look at both the structure and finance of local government, as the two essentially go together.

The Bill is a major reform of the structure, but with no independent inquiry. When I was shadow spokesman for local government from 1975 to the end of 1977, about the same time that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East was writing his pamphlets, I spent my time going up and down the country speaking with the full backing of the shadow Cabinet. I was saying that a Conservative Government believed in local government and wanted to see more powers devolved from central to local government, and not the other way round. I shall not bore my right hon. and hon. Friends with the speeches that I made then, but I draw their attention to a speech that I made in Gloucester, which sets out our philosophy in great detail. There was a Conservative Central Office handout running to 14 pages, so important was the policy statement on this. Time after time, I underlined that the fact that we trusted local government and wanted to devolve powers to it, because it was locally accountable. A considerable number of powers will be going from the Greater London and metropolitan county councils to the Government. That is against what I believed in at that time, and still believe in today, and it is a profoundly un-Tory approach to these issues.

There is a central problem, which has led to this Bill, and which could have been tackled by an independent inquiry or a Royal Commission. It is that at the moment we have taxation without representation in local government. In my constituency of Ashford, about 30 per cent. of the local government electorate pay domestic rates. In the borough of Lambeth, where I have a flat, 22 per cent. of the local government electorate pay rates. That is a farcical situation and it is no good wittering on about Mr. Livingstone, Mr. Knight or anybody else until we can put that right, so that when people are voting for local government they realise that they are not only voting but will have directly to meet some of the costs themselves. When only one in five in some of the London boroughs, and even fewer than a third in my constituency, pay rates, clearly something is wrong. To tamper with that through this Bill or through rate capping is putting the cart before the horse.

Since the Layfield inquiry, modem computer technology and other developments have made it easier to have a system of local income tax, should that be the way to go, or a local service tax, or whatever. In the 1970s, it would have been difficult to do that, because the technology was not there to do it without creating vast numbers of civil servants and bureaucrats. If we wished to introduce such a system now, the technology would be there.

This Bill has been introduced without a proper investigation or report. Many of us believe that such a report would be not only practically sensible but constitutionally necessary. All the facts that have been given tonight show that on every major constitutional reform — the abolition of the largest authority in the United Kingdom is certainly a major constitutional reform —there has been a proper, wide-ranging committee of inquiry or a Royal Commission.

I shall not stray into the details of how this manifesto commitment was arrived at. I shall just say that there was a manifesto commitment about the reform of the domestic rating system, which I believe would still be possible, but that was put on one side. Therefore, we have establishd that manifesto commitments are not the Ark of the Covenant. Anyway, there is a way to get over this manifesto commitment, as Mr. Greengross, the Conservative leader in the GLC, has proved in his excellent pamphlet.

Finance is the key and heart of the problem of local government, not only in London but outside as well, but it is not being examined. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced at the party conference that another investigation would be set up, but by the time that that report is finished and there is an effective prospect of action, it will be after the next general election. By that time, the Bill will have been enacted, the GLC will have gone and there will be more central control. It will go against what many of us on the Conservative Benches, and, I am sure, even my right hon. Friend himself, who is as good a Tory as I am, believe in, which is to have local accountability and not to bring things back to Whitehall and central Government, which cannot be right.

It is breathtaking to go around the major cities in the western world and see how in each one people are either New Yorkers, Berliners, Parisiens or Londoners. Each one has a major, directly elected and accountable local authority looking after it. Once the Bill has gone through, this country will be unique in not having such a body for its major cities. What is more, that will have happened without the benefit of a rational report. That is not acceptable. I am sorry, but I believe that this is against the Conservative tradition, and I have been a member of the Conservative party for 34 years. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to look at this again, not least because of the financial and other problems and not least because, while abolishing the GLC will abolish Mr. Livingstone, it will solve no problems for Londoners or the Conservative party.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I hope that the Government will listen to the comments of experienced and caring members of their party as well as to the arguments from Opposition Benches. Hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) with experience of local government, and as a member of a Government, and other hon. Members should be listened to, if the Government are to restore any credibility to the claim that they have listened to anybody since they introduced the proposals.

Amendment No. 35 in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends is being discussed with this group of amendments and will be voted on at the end of our debate. My colleagues and I will vote in support of any of the amendments that are put to the vote because we believe that at this stage it is fundamentally important that the Government recognise that they cannot sufficiently impartially and adequately, and in the time that they have given themselves, allow for a proper reorganisation of local government in England. That is not possible, and it will not happen. Unless the Government allow some expertise, intelligence and advice to come their way, we shall be heading for an unsatisfactory and troublesome state in Britain in the years ahead.

The result of all this will be that the Government will go down in history with a reputation of having been arrogant and undemocratic. That will be to their detriment. Although they may not care to discriminate, Conservative Members who come from constituencies such as Harrow and other places on the boundaries of Greater London can speak with more authority of the feelings of their constituents on this issue than can such hon. Members as the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle). He could not have had the abolition of the GLC as the fundamental point on which he fought the last election, no matter what his colleagues were saying.

The hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) made the most amazing and incoherent contribution. I hope that it will be reported back at his home that he came here to represent his constituents not having bothered to read either the Bill or the amendments. He said that he did not want to make himself a self-appointed expert. The trouble with the Bill is that the Government have effectively made themselves self-appointed experts. They could claim that they obtained their authority to be the experts from the election. Of course, we now have a new theory in the Conservative party's political philosophy—the doctrine of the mandate. But it must first be remembered that at the last general election the Conservative party's vote fell, and thus its authority with regard to this proposal is at least arguable. Furthermore, we all know that the election of a Government does not necessarily mean that each point of their manifesto was endorsed. It is certainly alien to the Conservative party to claim that it is committed to the doctrine of the manifesto. Many arguments have already been well presented on that point, and I hope that they will serve to debunk the idea that the doctrine of the manifesto lies easily in Conservative mouths.

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The arrogance and undemocratic nature of the proposal is borne out by the fact that the Secretary of State and his colleagues regularly reassert that the counties' powers will be returned to the boroughs. In London's case that is so fundamentally inaccurate as to show that the Government obviously have not listened to the volume of accurate evidence that has been given.

The time factor is not a persuasive argument against there being some form of public inquiry, because if the Government so wished, they could accommodate an inquiry within this Parliament's timetable that would allow proposals to be put through thereafter. But there should be a public inquiry, because, unlike the occasion when the GLC and the metropolitan counties were set up, we are now seeing for the first time in the reform of English local government a dismantling and dismembering process. That is quite different from setting up such bodies. In the Conservative party's election address there was, indeed, a proposal to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties, but there were no details as to the destinations of those powers. Although we would all accept the proposition of the hon. Member for Ashford that as much power as possible should be devolved locally, that will not be the result of this legislation. Thus the Government cannot claim that they have put a simple proposition to devolve power to the people or that that is what they are doing in the Bill.

Mr. Maples

In the unlikely event that the alliance had won the last election, would the hon. Gentleman have proposed the establishment of a Royal Commission to consider its manifesto proposal to abolish a tier of local government?

Mr. Hughes

Quite clearly the answer is yes. Indeed, we specifically said so. We said that the order of events should be that we would establish, with consultation, regional government in England. I think that it is highly likely that, before the next election, the Labour party will also hold that view. I do not critisise it for coming to that view, but I think that that is the way that its policy is moving. Thereafter changes in powers between levels of local government within the regions would be the subject of discussion within them. If regions wanted slightly different forms, they could have them, because that is what devolution and decentralisation is all about.

It is not always appropriate to apply the same principles to all cities. As London has asserted over the years, it is certainly inappropriate that a capital should have the same local government structure as other cities. After all, it inevitably has a different nature. That is why it is always argued that the Metropolitan police must be under the direct control of the Home Secretary, as opposed to being under the control of a democratic police authority. Thus, we clearly said and would, I hope, never do other than ensure, that there would be an independent and proper inquiry before any fundamental local government change took place.

Until now, that was of course the Tory position. In 1970, the Tory manifesto—which was written after the Redcliffe-Maud commission had reported—said: We are convinced of the need for reform of the present structure of local government. Unfortunately, the Terms of Reference given to the Redcliffe-Maud and Wheatley Royal Commissions which examined this problem in England and in Scotland respectively were restricted. As a result, the crucial questions of devolution of power from the central government and of local government finance were not adequately dealt with in their Reports. We believe that these matters must be considered and that those concerned in local government must be fully consulted before final decisions are made. Then, and perhaps most importantly, the manifesto said: We will bring foreward a sensible measure of local government reform which will involve a genuine devolution of power from the central government and will provide for the existence of a two-tier structure. There will be full consultation about the pattern of boundaries and the effect of changes upon existing resources of local government. Even after the Royal Commission had reported, the Conservative party that gained office in 1970 — the Secretary of State was then a member of the party—said that there would be thereafter further and proper consultation. After that, the changes were brought about.

Whenever changes were made it was never even contemplated that such a substantial and radical constitutional change could be entered into without an impartial and objective inquiry. The Liberal party, together with its alliance partner, proposes a series of local inquiries. They have a specific role. Indeed, I hope that the Secretary of State will accept from me—as I am sure that he will in view of his legal background—that they have a perfectly proper constitutional role which could be used in these circumstances. The special report of the Council on Tribunals, which was published in January 1980, states: Powers to hold statutory inquiries have also existed for many years: Their essential purpose is two-fold: to provide Ministers with factual reports and recommendations which form a basis for policy decisions, and to ensure that citizens whose interests are affected have an opportunity of examining and probing the issues and putting their objections.

One of the most eminent constitutional lawyers of this century, Professor de Smith, had some relevant things to say in his last major book on this subject. I shall quote just two sentences, as they include examples that relate to this debate. He said: Local inquiries are used for three main purposes. As a means of consulting and informing local opinion, and gleaning local information as to the likely impact of a proposed administrative decision (for example, to alter constituency or local boundaries, or to amalgamate police forces) among other things, this Bill involves changing the structure of police forces— affecting the interests of persons and bodies in that locality. It was then said—and I accept it—that: This slows down the pace of decision-making but provides the decision-maker with a better fund of knowledge. It is important that the fund of knowledge should be accurate and generally available, so that even if the Government ultimately choose to ignore it, they do so in full knowledge of what they are doing and cannot then be blamed for what they will be principally blamed for after this legislation, which is perhaps not that they carried out a reform but that they did not consult.

At the next election I imagine that politically the Government's greatest weakness—as many Conservative Members know—will be that there was no inquiry. It does not matter whether or not that inquiry was into matters such as those gone into by the report of PA Management Consultants on the metropolitan counties. The fact would be that there was no inquiry, the Government had not listened and they had no objective evidence. Those factors will lead to a weakness that they will never be able to justify later.

All commentators, and particularly The Times of 24 November, have said that, as a result, this Bill has an unstable impermanent air and is a breeding ground of discontent. Consequently, in five or six years' time the House will have to go through the exercise again. It will be the taxpayers and ratepayers who pay for that. The Government will not do so, because they have no money other than that which they glean from this country's citizens. If we make a mistake this time, it will be the Government's fault. Indeed, it will be an extremely costly mistake.

The advantage of our proposal is that there would be different solutions for different areas. Perhaps districts on the edge of metropolitan counties such as Merseyside—for example, Wirral or Sefton—could establish a case for running their own services rather than being encompassed by the broad brush approach of the Bill, which is a two-stage approach—in the first instance a joint board and then the opportunity to opt out at a later date. Such a proposal would allow local people, not in a politicised or polemical way—including representatives at district and county level, hon. Members and the public generally — to put before an inspector specific ideas upon which he could report, and which could provide a factual basis for discussion in the House. It would be without the quite clear prejudice that the Government have brought to the issue.

One argument must be laid to rest, because the Government continually seek to use it in support of their proposition. They say that it is not true that throughout western Europe there are authorities for capital cities. The Institute of Local Government Studies — a highly respected body—specifically studied the administration of metropolitan areas in western democracies. In its report it states: metropolitan structures and powers are generally the result of prolonged local study, debate and consultation, in order to set up arrangements which have as wide as possible multi-party consensus and may therefore be expected to be relatively stable. Commonly their operation is the subject of thorough review by independent commissions, as well as by parliamentary committees, and changes tend to be incremental…The direction of development is strongly towards…decentralisation. The report ends: British local government is a frail and vulnerable plant compared with that in other Western European Countries, lacking their constitutional shield and their high levels of connection with central government. It is untrue to say that in any other western European country there is not a tier of government between central Government and the lowest tier of local government. I hope that the Secretary of State will not use that argument again, because there is no evidence to support it.

There are two options tonight. We either have quick justice or we have good justice; we either have quick law or we have good law. I hope that at even this late stage the Government will accept that, because the matter is of such fundamental importance. As we go into this long, proper and considered period of Committee, it is far better to have a good law at the end of the process. We shall achieve that only with independent evidence and an independent inquiry. If we do not, there will be muddle, it will be a mistake, and we shall all pay for it and regret it.

Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

Like the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), I hope that the Government will listen. However, judging by their recent record on local government legislation, there is not much hope of their doing so. If they do not, although they will get their legislation through Parliament I fear that they will create a banana skin of proportions that even they have not yet discovered.

I wish to take up a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples). He asked what a successor Londonwide authority would do. I am not saying that Lord Marshall was 100 per cent. right, but it is worth recording that he undertook an inquiry at the behest of the last Conservative leader of the GLC. He was given a free hand to respond to any criticism and to make any recommendations that he felt inclined to make after his inquiries—including the possibility of the abolition of the GLC. He did not reach that conclusion. Indeed, he identified 38 functions that a metropolitan authority should fulfill.

The GLC currently exercises 27 of those 38 functions. The London Boroughs Association, in its response to the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities", also identified 27 functions that should be managed by a Londonwide authority, and which could not be managed by individual local authorities. It is not good enough to say that there is not a job for a Londonwide authority.

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Mr. Maples

I accept that some functions remain, but it is difficult to accept that any of them is important enough to necessitate the creation of a special Londonwide authority to manage it.

Mr. Morrison

I am not saying that Lord Marshall is absolutely right. However, he recommended an increase in the number of functions, not a decrease. At least he went into the issue in some depth, as others have done—for example, Mr. Alan Greengross, who was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed). Those with experience of London government believe strongly that it is impossible for London to be administered properly without some Londonwide authority. If an inquiry was set up, I believe that it would reach the same conclusion. That is why the Government do not want an inquiry. I intend to support the amendment.

Our manifesto said that we would abolish the metropolitan counties and the GLC and return most of their functions to the boroughs and districts. In principle, I am not against the abolition of the GLC or the metropolitan councils. There is plenty of scope for evolving the GLC. However, it is absolutely certain that most of the functions under this Bill will not be returned to the boroughs and districts. Many of the functions being taken from the GLC and given either to boroughs or quangos have never been administered by the boroughs, so there is no question of returning them to the boroughs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) has already referred to the leading article in today's Financial Times. I suppose that the nearest the Financial Times comes to being a Socialist newspaper is the fact that it is printed on pink paper. It is generally thought to be a Conservative paper, albeit one that believes in good administration and good sense. The article stated: But there are certain criteria which must be fulfilled for changes to be acceptable. The article went on: The first is that the new arrangements stand a reasonable chance of being an improvement on the old. The second is that accountability is not reduced, so that pressure for efficiency and sensitivity to local aspirations is not diminished. The third is that democracy and democratic principles are neither weakened nor violated. The Bill fails on all three counts. Later the article stated: The three key areas requiring amendment are the Government's reserve powers, joint boards and London. The Bill is littered with reserve powers to give a degree of centralised control over local issues which makes efficient service provision less, rather than more, likely.

As I have always understood it, the Conservative party's principle and, perhaps, part of its philosophy, is that there should be the maximum possible distribution of power; yet in this Bill the Secretary of State tends to take unto himself these reserve powers. Day after day, week after week, month after month, leading politicians and great statesmen—even Lord Stockton, in his maiden speech in the other place—have criticised the degree of centralisation in the state. The Government's response is to make the state more centralised. That is an extraordinarily contradictory attitude. It is true that, under this Bill, some powers would go to the boroughs, but many more would go to the quangos or, indirectly, to Whitehall. Worst of all, there are rows of reserve powers.

The GLC has rightly been criticised for wasting an enormous amount of money on advertisements. The natural inclination of some of us who support the Conservative party is to believe that the advertisements do not tell the true story. Last week, not for the first time, a number of national papers contained an advertisement headed: Who Patrick Jenkin plans to put in the place of London's democratically elected councillors. Beneath the heading, there were nine photographs of my right hon. Friend who is described as the head of education, planning, traffic control, fire service, housing improvements, arts, waste disposal, grants to voluntary groups and flooding and land drainage. I said to myself, "Rubbish, that simply cannot be true." Unfortunately, on looking into the matter one discovers that, because of the reserve powers, there is a degree of truth in that advertisement. Again the point is made that the Government intend centralising power.

I do not want to go through the justification for each of the nine claims, except with regard to education. If enacted, the Bill would give the Secretary of State the power to review the functions of the Inner London education authority and to transfer education to any of the inner London boroughs either before or after 1991. The Secretary of State for Education and Science will have the power to control for the first three years staffing levels and budgets. Apart from the fact that no other education authority is subject to such controls or to the permanent threat of break-up into smaller units, the provisions that leave my right hon. Friend with these powers are guaranteed to ensure that ILEA will live in a state of total uncertainty until 1991, or possibly later. I doubt that that will lead to good administration. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will be able to assure me that it will lead to good administration, but it is difficult to believe that that will happen.

I am utterly convinced that, if there is not a proper inquiry into the future of London and the metropolitan boroughs before this legislation is passed, we shall end up with a measure which will provide, at best, poor administration and, at worst, complete chaos.

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

I support the amendments. I suppose that it is a character defect on my part that I expect others, when I discuss issues dispassionately, rationally and intellectually, both inside and outside the Chamber, to respond in the same fashion. I am always confounded in my expectations, and I am afraid that that happened once again as a result of the Second Reading. My doubts about these amendments have been resolved. This morning, as I came to the House, I had grave doubts about the desirability of setting up a Royal Commission. I am now absolutely convinced of its desirability.

On Second Reading, I raised two issues — first, damage to the arts in Hackney and, secondly, the visual arts and the continuing control of the Hayward gallery by the Arts Council, which would result if this legislation were passed. I then wrote to the chairman of the Arts Council, Sir William Rees-Mogg, and suggested that I and a couple of my advisers should see him to discuss some of the issues. Hackney and the visual arts and the control of Hayward gallery were the only issues I suggested we should discuss.

Imagine my astonishment when, this morning, I received a letter from Sir William Rees-Mogg which stated: Dear Mr. Sedgemore I do not see any point in having a discussion with you until you have made a further study of the Arts' Council's work. If you believe that our support for the Regional Arts Associations or such institutions as the Notting Hill Carnival, the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool or the Whitechapel Gallery represent the notion of an 'exclusive Mandarin art', or that they are 'restrictive, elitist, oligarchic and discriminatory', then it seems to me you insult the institutions that we do support. If you are not aware of our support for these institutions, then you should reconsider your position in the light of the work that we actually do. Leaving aside the complete irrelevance of that letter to the concern I expressed about the Arts Council's marginalising, rejecting and defining as bad the work of women artists at the Hayward gallery, the chairman of that unelected quango is saying that he is not prepared to talk to the elected representatives of this country about major items of legislation before we reach the relevant clauses in Committee. That is one of the most powerful arguments one could adduce for setting up some type of inquiry or some type of Royal Commission to discuss some of these issues.

I shall bring out some of the constitutional issues involved in supporting these amendments if I read briefly what I am thinking of saying in reply to Sir William Rees-Mogg. My handwritten draft states: Dear Sir William Rees-Mogg, Thank you for your letter of 10 Dec, which I was disturbed to read. You are a public servant and the staff under your control at the Arts Council are paid in part out of the taxes of the people of Hackney. For good or ill I am one of their elected representatives. As such my constituents want me to discuss with you or your officers two issues, namely,

  1. (1) what the Arts Council will be able to do for Hackney when the GLC is abolished and, with it, its policy for the arts and the funds which accompany it, and
  2. (2) what the Arts Council intends for the future of the South Bank if it takes over the complex under the Bill, and what plans it has to change its damaging policies over the Hayward Gallery, particularly in relation to the Gallery's treatment of women artists.
At our discussions, which I am sure that you will agree on mature reflection should take place, my constituents will expect me both to listen and to make suggestions. I have never heard of a public figure in your position refusing to see a Member of Parliament. If Ministers, chairpersons of nationalised industries, leaders of professional association, quango chiefs, and editors of great national newspapers can do so, I am not sure why you are refusing. As the Committee stage of the Local Government Bill proceeds, Conservative Ministers will be asking you for your briefings to deal with various amendments to the Bill which I shall put down in clauses which deal with the arts. In that context, your refusal to talk to a Labour MP whom you have in the past been only too happy to invite to PR luncheons will be seen as political bias. Although you are a Conservative, you are supposed to appear to be even-handed about these matters.

I then go on to explain that Sir William Rees-Mogg does not seem to understand the important practical and ideological issues involved in the Bill and that it is important for Members of Parliament to have access to him to discuss the issues involved.

7.30 pm
Mr. Tony Banks

There is one small textual amendment that my hon. Friend might like to make to his letter before he sends it. Will he make the abolition of the GLC conditional—"if" rather than "when"?

Mr. Sedgemore

My hon. Friend has made a valid point. We were discussing matters this afternoon in an unnamed Committee Room of the House, and I am sure that he will get his way. "If" will be the paramount word in the letter. I undertake to write that excellent amendment into my letter.

It is pathetic that the chairman of an unelected quango, when asked to discuss future major issues that we are dealing with in Committee, should, in effect, put his finger in his mouth and say, "I am not prepared to talk to Brian Sedgemore." We should not perhaps be too worried about what Sir William Rees-Mogg says, because anyone who can do what he did 10 years ago, and write a book and say that our economic problems could be solved by God and the gold standard is no doubt capable of writing a load of tosh about the Arts Council and misunderstanding the ideology of the authority that he runs.

We should send a clear message to Sir William Rees-Mogg from the House this evening. It is that his arrogance and ignorance are not just damaging to the impartiality of the Arts Council: they make it important that we have new procedures for considering Bills in the House. The amendments that we are talking about provide for an excellent procedure that we should have, perhaps not just on this but other Bills.

Mr. Soley

Any Secretary of State should be deeply disturbed by the number of people from all parts of the Committee and by the individuals and groups outside it who have condemned the Bill, not just because it is a bad Bill in terms of organisation, but because it is thought to be undemocratic. That is extremely important.

The problem for the Government is that many people inside and outside the Committee are deeply suspicious of their motives. It is important to put on record why we are suspicious and why many people outside the Committee, across the political spectrum, are suspicious of their motives. The first reason is that the authorities whom they seek to abolish are controlled by their political opponents. They are Labour authorities and a Conservative Government are seeking to abolish them.

I shall not build on my points in too much detail now but I may at another time in another place. The second point that needs to be borne in mind and which we have from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is that, because the Conservative party does not like the GLC's policies, it will abolish it.

Thirdly, the Government have made the point a number of times, inside and outside the House, that they want to cut public expenditure. We all know that they were elected on a ticket of cutting public expenditure and we all know that they have failed to cut central Government public expenditure. They have ended up trying to make local authorities cut their public expenditure for them. It is a classic case of, "Don't do as we do; do as we tell you."

The fourth reason for questioning the Government's motives is that it is becoming increasingly clear that they want to silence opposition. Let me spell that out. It is not just the silencing of Labour-controlled authorities, but what is perhaps more important and deeply disturbing, they wish to silence some of the minority groups that they do not like. That is why they have picked on the GLC.

I believe that the GLC has been far-sighted and brave in supporting many of the groups that it has. I wish to encourage it to do so, but the Government do not like that. No one gave the case away more than the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) when he went down what I regard as a profoundly dangerous road. He was saying that if we do not like what a local authority is raising money for, we should abolish that local authority because that level of rates should not be imposed on the individual. It follows that if a Government are spending the public's money in a way that is not popular, we should abolish the Government. I am all for abolishing the Government, but I wish to do it through the ballot box. I want that for local authorities as well.

This is a bad Bill. It is not just that the alternatives have not been thought out or that the many minority groups — the Victim Support Scheme, the ethnic minority groups—and major groups such as the police and fire service will be disrupted and disorganised as a result, but people here and outside profoundly distrust the Government's motives, and the Government must justify their actions.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

We have had an interesting and useful debate. I am sure that the Committee will forgive me if I say that much of it was a repeat of the arguments that were deployed by both sides of the House on Second Reading. I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I do not rehearse the arguments of principle on the main substance of the Bill.

The amendments call, in a variety of ways, for some form of inquiry from a Royal Commission at one end of the scale to a local inquiry of some kind, to which the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke briefly.

I shall start by reminding the Opposition Front Bench what their environment spokesman said about the Labour party's attitude to structural reform of local government about three months before the 1983 election. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) told a Labour party conference: We shall therefore legislate to create unitary district authorities which will be responsible for all the functions in their area that they can sensibly undertake. We shall, of course, consult carefully and genuinely before we introduce our legislation. However, we shall set up no more inquiries. We shall legislate and we shall legislate so that these reforms will be in force during the lifetime of the next Parliament.

If that was the view of the Labour party spokesman on the environment, I fail to understand how the Opposition have the effrontery to table and speak to this group of amendments. It is absurd. They make clear what they were going to do and that they would have no inquiries.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

We said we would consult.

Mr. Jenkin

I am coming to consultation. I take the point, but there is a second large hole in the arguments that have been addressed to the Committee about that. They said that they would undertake their reform of structure, with unitary authorities devolving to the local level as far as could sensibly be done. I repeat the words of the right hon. Member for Gorton: we shall set up no more inquiries. We shall legislate".

Mr. Tony Banks

In the context of those remarks by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), will the Secretary of State comment on the position of the Greater London council? Secondly, will he accept it from me that I disagree very strongly with the views expressed by my right hon. Friend? I ask my hon. Friends to be as rational in approaching those remarks as I have asked Conservative Members to be in approaching the Government's proposals this evening.

Mr. Jenkin

I can understand that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) may disagree with what one of his party's Front Bench spokesmen said, but the point is undeniable. The Labour party made it clear at its national conference on local government that that was its intention. According to my research, the right hon. Member for Gorton, who was the Opposition spokesman on the environment, and who presumably held that shadow portfolio throughout the 1983 election, campaign, appears not to have addressed one word on radio, on television, or to any audience to which he put out a press release, on the subject of the Conservative manifesto commitment to do the same in the metropolitan areas and in Greater London.

The hon. Member referred to what the right hon. Member for Gorton said about the GLC. His view was clear and I quoted it on Second Reading. He said: We shouldn't regard the existence of the GLC as sacrosanct. In my view it is an enormous bureaucracy which has a dubious role to play."—[Official Report, 3 December 1984; Vol. 69, c. 30.] The right hon. Member for Gorton has never made any secret of his dislike of the metropolitan county councils and of his desire to see local government powers returned to the city of Manchester, where his constituency is. He has never made any secret of his views about the unsuitability of the GLC. He made it perfectly clear that if a Labour Government had been elected they would have legislated without any inquiry.

Therefore, I listened with some cynicism to speech after speech from Labour Members saying how disgraceful it is for the Government to proceed with this sensible reform of local government without having indulged in a Royal Commission, a committee of inquiry, an audit commission, a local inquiry or anything else. It is a lot of humbug.

Mr. Straw

It is not humbug, because we have a record in government of consulting to a very great degree, as the Secretary of State knows, in the area of local government. He knows that we did so in setting up the Redcliffe-Maud Commission. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) also consulted extensively before bringing forward proposals for a much more modest measure than the Bill before the House.

The Secretary of State apparently disagrees — I understand why — with my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). Therefore, should not the Secretary of State have established a proper inquiry into the proposals before going ahead?

7.45 pm
Mr. Jenkin

I am not expressing a view on whether I agree with what the right hon. Member for Gorton said. I am saying that it is sheer hypocrisy for Labour Members to chide us for proceeding with this reform without having an inquiry, when it is clear and on the record that their own Front Bench had committed their party to do precisely the same thing. [Interruption.] So let us hear no more about that. We have consulted widely on our proposals, and I shall itemise them. In response to the views expressed, we have made a number of changes in what we originally proposed, and we have now brought legislation to the House. I found it very strange to have to sit here for nearly three hours listening to abuse of the Government for not having an inquiry before proceeding with the Bill.

With regard to consultation, there is a huge hole in the arguments which have been addressed to the Government Benches—

Mr. Favell

My right hon. Friend has dealt with the humbug of the Labour party. The 1983 manifesto of the alliance says on page 24 that the alliance would revitalise local government, restoring its independence and its accountability to the local electorate by…simplifying the structure of local government to make it more effective by abolishing one of the existing tiers of local government. This will be done by stages against the background of our proposals for the development of regional government. It would inevitably involve the eventual abolition of the Metropolitan Counties.

Mr. Jenkin

My hon. Friend is right. I think that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) quoted the provision in the 1970 Conservative party manifesto, where it was said that inquiries would be set up.

There has been complete inconsistency in the arguments from the Opposition. On the one hand, we are accused of not having consulted properly on all the details of the proposed reform, and I refute that accusation. The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) and one or two of my hon. Friends, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir Gilmore), charged the Government with preparing proposals which were not complete in every jot and tittle. We were accused of not having a proposal in the Bill for dealing with the Woolwich ferry. We were accused by my right hon. Friend of not having provided for precisely how the refuse disposal arrangements for London were to work. Yet, almost in the same breath, hon. Members have accused the Government of failing to consult.

Within a month or two of the general election we published a White Paper. As I said at the time, it was a White Paper with very green edges. It dealt in great detail with how the main proposal would be carried forward. Every chapter of the White Paper ended with a series of questions addressed to the readers. We made it clear that we were very prepared to listen to detailed arguments about the proposals.

Mr. Tony Banks

Yes, but the Government ignored them all.

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman is wrong, and I can give numerous examples showing that we took the fullest account of the views put to us by a wide range of people. We were prepared to listen to all the views that were put forward.

If there has been any lack of effective consultation on the details, the real blame rests with those authorities and those trade unions which have refused to enter into sensible bilateral discussion with the Government, with the staff commission or with anybody else, because they hoped that the whole thing would go away.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Secretary of State explain why he has refused to offer the same amount of money to the staff affected by abolition or by transfer as his right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) did in regard to the housing transfer order in 1982 dealing with former GLC housing?

Mr. Jenkin

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that if the interests that he represents—I understand that he is sponsored by the National Union of Public Employees—

Mr. Corbyn

And I am proud of it.

Mr. Jenkin

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman is proud of that; he would be proud of almost anything. If the union that sponsors him, which represents many local government employees, were prepared to respond to the invitation of the staff commission to discuss precisely that question, he would get the answer to it. As it is, his union has refused point blank to take part in any discussions. I do not know how he has the effrontery to stand up and ask a detailed question about the staff proposals. We published a lengthy document and invited the unions to discuss the matter. So the hon. Gentleman missed the point.

I should like to refer to the origins of the proposals—

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

What about the changes that the Government have made?

Mr. Jenkin

If the hon. Gentleman would like it, I shall deal with the changes that we have made now. We were accused by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Brown) of ignoring consultation. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said that Ministers had not listened. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) said that there were no concessions to informed opinion. I have to tell them that they were all absolutely plumb bang wrong. The Opposition have welcomed warmly the decision, which was not in the original White Paper but which is now in the Bill, that the Inner London education authority should be a directly elected authority. In making that decision, we were impressed by the cross-party weight of opinion from Inner London that that would be an improvement in our proposals, and we accepted it.

Our original proposals on planning in the six metropolitan areas and London were criticised by planning experts as unnecessarily complicated. We therefore came forward with a radical change — the new idea of a unitary local plan, which has met with much more support. No doubt it will be debated during proceedings on the Bill, but it represents a significant change from the original proposal.

In our original proposals, we were accused of failing to take adequate account of what I might call regional arts institutions. We therefore came along with proposals, which again have been widely welcomed by the arts lobby, for more central funding of regional arts. It has almost ceased to be a factor in the abolition argument.

We were criticised that in the White Paper we were not making sufficient provision for the continuity of local government support for voluntary bodies. On Second Reading I spelt out the four measures that we have introduced, all since the White Paper, in response to consultation, to improve support for the voluntary bodies.

Originally, we envisaged that a local district council would be able to run its own bus service, but we made no provision for the fire service and the police service being devolved to the district council. In response to the many powerful representations from district councils in various parts of the country, particularly the west midlands and Merseyside, which wished to get back the powers that they had as county boroughs, we included in the Bill the power, after a reasonable period, to make an application to the appropriate Secretary of State.

On a relatively less important matter—but it was important to the people concerned — we were charged that in the White Paper we had not taken account of the value of the mobility scheme within London offering the choice of exchange of houses. We have brought forward proposals, which were spelt out in the Yellow Book, for a mobility scheme. Therefore, to say that the Government have ridden roughshod over public opinion and that we have paid no attention to people's views is a travesty of the truth. I hope that we shall hear no more of it.

I was asked a perfectly fair question by the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) and, I am sorry to say, some of my hon. Friends made the same charge against the Government, that somehow the proposal was dreamed up in the last few days before the manifesto was published.

Mr. Straw

Come on.

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman also made that charge. I regret that some of my hon. Friends made the same charge. Nothing could be further from the truth. The argument about whether the GLC should change has been going on for years in London. Motions have been passed in London borough councils, in council after council, calling for the abolition of the GLC. We all know that the metropolitan county areas have never had the support of the metropolitan district councils from the day they were set up. Resolutions were being passed, councils were subscribing to the Sheffield resolution, letters were being written—

Mr. Wareing

Which councils on Merseyside?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman knows that only in 1982 Liverpool city council passed a resolution calling for the end of the Merseyside county council, under the leadership of Sir Trevor Jones. Therefore, it is all the more surprising that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey is criticising the proposals. These arguments have raged for years. There was plenty of cross-party support for the proposal that we have now put forward. I understand that people may criticise some of the details. That is what the Committee stage of the Bill is all about, but to imagine that the proposal was somehow conjured out of nothing in the last few weeks of the 1983 election campaign is a travesty.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) made specific charges about the lack of consideration of this specific proposal within the Conservative party in the period leading up to the election and said, among other things, that it had gone to the Cabinet for the most cursory of examinations, when two Members spoke up in favour of it, and that was it. Was the hon. Gentleman correct?

Mr. Jenkin

Neither the hon. Gentleman nor my hon. Friend the member for Harrow, East has been a member of a Government. Perhaps they do not understand how the Cabinet committee system works. The details of such a proposal are most unlikely to be handled in Cabinet. The papers all go round. Those who are members of the Government know that perfectly well.

I can tell the hon. Member for Blackburn that on the issue of local government reform we had more piles of paper and hours of discussion in the year that led up to the election than on almost any other subject when I was Secretary of State for Industry. I shall refer to the point made by the hon. Member for Woolwich. There was a substantial amount of preparatory work in the Government before the election. When I arrived in the Department of the Environment after the election it was clear that a great deal of preparatory work had been done before the election in my Department and the other Departments concerned. As the Secretary of State for Industry and a member of the Cabinet, I had been aware of what was happening and was taking part in the decisions. The fact that a final decision was taken only shortly before the election does not mean that the analyses on which that decision was based were not exhaustive.

It does no credit to the case of those who seek to attack the proposals if they try to pretend that there was not a great deal of care and discussion. We did not discuss all the details because we were going to consult on them. We have put out many detailed consultation papers and have responded in considerable measure to the points that were made to us—

Mr. Dykes


8 pm

Mr. Jenkin

I have given way to my hon. Friend, and he refused to give way to me. My hon. Friend said that there was massive opposition to the proposal in Harrow. Harrow borough council supports it. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) said that there was no support for it in Greater Manchester. He is a member of the Trafford council which supports this measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), who has great experience of these matters and to whom I listened with great care, attacked the measure as creating massive centralisation. If one measures it by the budgetary expenditure this year, 95 per cent. of the expenditure will go to the boroughs, either individually or jointly. In the case of the metropolitan county councils, virtually 100 per cent. will go to them.

We shall examine the powers during the Committee stage of the Bill. This is not a massive centralising piece of legislation. It represents substantial devolution to the boroughs and districts. The hon. Member for Woolwich and many other hon. Members said that no local government reform has been carried out without it being preceded by a substantial inquiry. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Redcliffe-Maud. The fact is that the changes that took place following Redcliffe-Maud bore almost no relationship to what his committee had recommended. It reminded me of the examination question to a student who was asked to describe the principles of the Archimedes pump. He replied, "I know nothing about the Archimedes pump, but here is a list of the kings of Israel and Judaea."

When in opposition, the Labour party wants nothing but delay and indecision. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) was absolutely right. These amendments are a recipe for more delay, more uncertainty and more indecision. There is a mass of information based upon the Herbert report, the Redcliffe-Maud report and the Marshall report. Those reports give us all that we need by way of analytical background to all forms of local government. What then was needed was judgment in the light of experience. We have made that judgment. We have looked at the metropolitan county councils and the Greater London council, made our judgment and brought forward our legislation. I ask the Committee to reject these amendments.

Mr. Cowans

Before dealing with the reply of the Secretary of State may I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who has just become the father of a boy. Perhaps the Secretary of State would set up a Royal Commission, part of whose job should be to consult on the name.

I understood very well the speech of the Secretary of State. It went like this: "if you do not have a case and if you do not have any facts, try to attack everybody else." During the course of the debate, to all of which I have listened, there were seven Labour speakers, two alliance speakers and five Tory rebels. I know what rebels are because I have been a rebel. The total number of Tory Members who support the Bill is three, one of whom immediately admitted that he had not read the Bill. He made a fantastic speech. The hon. Member had not read the Bill but he spoke about abolition, which proved to me that he had not read the Bill. It would be interesting if the Secretary of State could convince the members of his own party. He has not done so up to now.

The hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) who had not read the Bill—

Mr. Tony Banks

Or the amendment.

Mr. Cowans

If the hon. Member had not read the Bill it is exceedingly unlikely that he would have read the amendment. If one has not read the Bill one cannot amend it. The hon. Member succeeded very well, not having read the Bill. He spoke at great length. If the hon. Member for Wirral, South were to read the Bill he might be able to convince the chamber of trade on Merseyside. I do not know any rabid Socialists who are members of the chamber of trade on Merseyside. Even the chamber of trade says that Merseyside county council has been successful in promoting the economic and business life of the region and has done much to promote tourism and the arts.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman will know that earlier in the year Merseyside chamber of commerce expressed views that were against the abolition of the Merseyside county council. Subsequently, it thought again about the matter and in September decided that it was prepared to support the abolition of the Merseyside county council. One or two of its members expressed doubts about the original meeting. They said that it was not a very well attended meeting. It came back a third time last month, in November and by a decisive majority decided to confirm the opinion that it supports the abolition of the Merseyside county council and the main principles of the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will now withdraw his remarks.

Mr. Cowans

So it is one down, with 55,000 to go. If the Secretary of State is right about the Merseyside chamber of commerce, stand by—here we go. Against abolition are the United Kingdom Association of Professional Engineers, the School of Advanced Urban Studies, the university of Bristol, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, and, for the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire, (Mr. Heddle) the National Union of Ratepayers' Associations. They are supposed to be on the side of the Government. Also the CBI—there are no rabid Socialists in the CBI, are there? — the National Trust and the Royal Town Planning Institute are against abolition. If the Secretary of State stands up and says that Merseyside county council has changed its mind, he ought to stand up and say how many of these other bodies have changed their mind. So it is one to the Secretary of State and eight to me.

It is absolute nonsense for the Secretary of State to stand up and talk about my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). He suggested that what my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said was bad and that the Government would do better. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said that the Labour party would consult before legislating. If the Secretary of State believes that to be bad, why does he not do better and accept the amendment about the Royal Commission? The Secretary of State should not accuse somebody of doing something badly when the Secretary of State is doing it even worse. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said that this legislation had been cobbled together on the back of a cigarette packet. That may be true, but I fancy that it was cobbled together on the back of an old grocer's bag.

The Secretary of State assures us that this is long-standing, well-planned legislation. If he is right, there was something wrong with his predecessor, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who on 23 February 1983, which is not so very long ago, said that he did not have any plans to change the existing system. So it cannot be all that well planned. Need I remind hon. Members of today's date?

Before talking about a long-standing, well-established well-thought-out plan, the Secretary of State ought to start talking to his colleagues in Cabinet. That might be infra dig, because there is only one person in the Cabinet, but the right hon. Gentleman might start a precedent, and it would be helpful if he did.

I could go on for a long while, but I am conscious of the time. I thought about preparing a few notes for the debate, but I decided against it, because I thought that I should come here with an open mind and to listen to the debate—unlike Conservative Members who have been dragged screaming from the Tea Room to support the insupportable.

I have kept an open mind and, leaving aside the speeches of my hon. Friends, the arguments that have convinced me about the merit of the amendment have come from the Tory Benches. Conservative Members have made some tremendous arguments.

I do not accuse the Secretary of State of not listening, but I do accuse him of not hearing. The right hon. Gentleman has accused the trade unions of not coming forward on this issue. But they have bombarded him with paper, left, right and centre and he has not looked at any of it. He would not even publish the replies so that hon. Members could read them. If he cannot convince his own Back Benchers and will not publish documents so that unbiased observers can read them, where is his case?

No one on the Opposition side opposes an examination of local government. Far from it. We should welcome such an examination across the board, with those who serve in local government, and those who are serviced by it having an input. Instead of that, the Secretary of State has drawn up legislation on the back of an old Woodbine packet. It means nothing to anyone on his side and nothing to anyone on the Opposition side. More important, it has got everybody outside completely confused.

As the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) said, it is not too late and it is not a sign of weakness to have another look. The Government have had another look at some matters. Dare I mention student grants? When the second look revealed 150 Conservative votes against the Government, lo and behold, the Government changed their mind. I do not think that there will be 150 Conservative votes against the Government on the amendment, but, although the case has been well made by my hon. Friends, it has been made even better by Conservative Members. The Secretary of State's hon. Friends have made our case for a Royal Commission or an independent body to examine the matter in detail. The test of any amendment is whether the case for it has been made. I submit that the Government's case for refusing to accept the amendment has not been made.

The Secretary of State's action in refusing to accept the amendment is like accusing a man of murder, taking him to court and hanging the jury.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 182, Noes 233.

Division No. 46] [8.14 pm
Alton, David Cunningham, Dr John
Anderson, Donald Dalyell, Tam
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)
Ashdown, Paddy Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Deakins, Eric
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dewar, Donald
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Dixon, Donald
Barron, Kevin Dobson, Frank
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Dormand, Jack
Beith, A. J. Dubs, Alfred
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Duffy, A. E. P.
Bermingham, Gerald Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Bidwell, Sydney Eastham, Ken
Blair, Anthony Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Ellis, Raymond
Boyes, Roland Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Ewing, Harry
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Fatchett, Derek
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Fisher, Mark
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Flannery, Martin
Bruce, Malcolm Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Caborn, Richard Forrester, John
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Foster, Derek
Campbell, Ian Foulkes, George
Campbell-Savours, Dale Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Carter-Jones, Lewis Garrett, W. E.
Cartwright, John George, Bruce
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Godman, Dr Norman
Clay, Robert Golding, John
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Gould, Bryan
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Cohen, Harry Hancock, Mr. Michael
Coleman, Donald Hardy, Peter
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Conlan, Bernard Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Home Robertson, John
Corbett, Robin Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Corbyn, Jeremy Howells, Geraint
Cowans, Harry Hoyle, Douglas
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Craigen, J. M. Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Crowther, Stan Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Janner, Hon Greville Pike, Peter
John, Brynmor Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Johnston, Russell Prescott, John
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Radice, Giles
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Randall, Stuart
Kennedy, Charles Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Kirkwood, Archy Robertson, George
Lamond, James Rogers, Allan
Leighton, Ronald Rooker, J. W.
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Litherland, Robert Sedgemore, Brian
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Sheerman, Barry
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Loyden, Edward Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
McCartney, Hugh Short, Mrs R. (W'hampt'n NE)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Silkin, Rt Hon J.
McGuire, Michael Skinner, Dennis
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)
McKelvey, William Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Maclennan, Robert Snape, Peter
McNamara, Kevin Soley, Clive
McTaggart, Robert Spearing, Nigel
McWilliam, John Stott, Roger
Madden, Max Strang, Gavin
Marek, Dr John Straw, Jack
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Maxton, John Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Maynard, Miss Joan Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Meadowcroft, Michael Tinn, James
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Torney, Tom
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Wainwright, R.
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Wallace, James
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Nellist, David Wareing, Robert
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon White, James
O'Brien, William Wigley, Dafydd
O'Neill, Martin Williams, Rt Hon A.
Park, George Winnick, David
Parry, Robert Young, David (Bolton SE)
Patchett, Terry
Pavitt, Laurie Tellers for the Ayes:
Pendry, Tom Mr. James Hamilton and
Penhaligon, David Mr. Sean Hughes.
Aitken, Jonathan Farr, Sir John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Favell, Anthony
Ashby, David Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Fletcher, Alexander
Batiste, Spencer Fookes, Miss Janet
Beggs, Roy Forman, Nigel
Bellingham, Henry Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bevan, David Gilroy Forth, Eric
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fox, Marcus
Boscawen, Hon Robert Franks, Cecil
Braine, Sir Bernard Freeman, Roger
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Fry, Peter
Bright, Graham Gale, Roger
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Galley, Roy
Bruinvels, Peter Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Budgen, Nick Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Burt, Alistair Glyn, Dr Alan
Butcher, John Gorst, John
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gow, Ian
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Gower, Sir Raymond
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Greenway, Harry
Colvin, Michael Gregory, Conal
Conway, Derek Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Coombs, Simon Grist, Ian
Cope, John Grylls, Michael
Crouch, David Gummer, John Selwyn
Currie, Mrs Edwina Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Dickens, Geoffrey Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Dorrell, Stephen Hampson, Dr Keith
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Hanley, Jeremy
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Hannam,John
Hargreaves, Kenneth Needham, Richard
Harris, David Nelson, Anthony
Haselhurst, Alan Neubert, Michael
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Newton, Tony
Hayward, Robert Norris, Steven
Heathcoat-Amory, David Oppenheim, Phillip
Heddle, John Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Henderson, Barry Osborn, Sir John
Hickmet, Richard Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Parris, Matthew
Hill, James Patten, John (Oxford)
Hind, Kenneth Pawsey, James
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Holt, Richard Pollock, Alexander
Hooson, Tom Porter, Barry
Hordern, Peter Powell, William (Corby)
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Powley, John
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Price, Sir David
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Proctor, K. Harvey
Hunt, David (Wirral) Raffan, Keith
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Rathbone, Tim
Hunter, Andrew Renton, Tim
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Rhodes James, Robert
Irving, Charles Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Jackson, Robert Rifkind, Malcolm
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rowe, Andrew
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Ryder, Richard
Key, Robert Sackville, Hon Thomas
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Lamont, Norman Sayeed, Jonathan
Lang, Ian Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Latham, Michael Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lawler, Geoffrey Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lawrence, Ivan Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lee, John (Pendle) Shersby, Michael
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Silvester, Fred
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Sims, Roger
Lightbown, David Skeet, T. H. H.
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lord, Michael Speller, Tony
Luce, Richard Spence, John
Lyell, Nicholas Spencer, Derek
McCrindle, Robert Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
McCurley, Mrs Anna Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Macfarlane, Neil Squire, Robin
MacGregor, John Steen, Anthony
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Stern, Michael
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Maclean, David John Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
McQuarrie, Albert Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Madel, David Stradling Thomas, J.
Major, John Temple-Morris, Peter
Malone, Gerald Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Maples, John Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Marland, Paul Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Marlow, Antony Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Thurnham, Peter
Mates, Michael Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mather, Carol Trippier, David
Maude, Hon Francis Trotter, Neville
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Twinn, Dr Ian
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Mellor, David Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Merchant, Piers Waddington, David
Meyer, Sir Anthony Waldegrave, Hon William
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Walden, George
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Waller, Gary
Miscampbell, Norman Ward, John
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Moate, Roger Warren, Kenneth
Monro, Sir Hector Watson, John
Montgomery, Fergus Watts, John
Murphy, Christopher Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Wheeler, John Yeo, Tim
Whitney, Raymond Young, Sir George (Acton)
Wiggin, Jerry Younger, Rt Hon George
Wilkinson, John
Winterton, Mrs Ann Tellers for the Noes:
Winterton, Nicholas Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Wolfson, Mark Mr. Tony Durant.
Wood, Timothy

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 2, in page 1, line 8, at beginning insert 'After a Parliamentary tribunal of inquiry has reported on local government in Greater London and the metropolitan counties and'.—[Mr. Straw.]

The Committee divided: Ayes 185, Noes 229.

Division No. 47] [8.25 pm
Alton, David Edwards, Bob (Wh'mpt'n SE)
Anderson, Donald Ellis, Raymond
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Ashdown, Paddy Ewing, Harry
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Fatchett, Derek
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Barnett, Guy Fisher, Mark
Barron, Kevin Flannery, Martin
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Beith, A. J. Forrester, John
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Foster, Derek
Bermingham, Gerald Foulkes, George
Bidwell, Sydney Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Blair, Anthony Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Garrett, W. E.
Boyes, Roland George, Bruce
Bray, Dr Jeremy Godman, Dr Norman
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Golding, John
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Gould, Bryan
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Hancock, Mr. Michael
Bruce, Malcolm Hardy, Peter
Caborn, Richard Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Campbell, Ian Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Home Robertson, John
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Howells, Geraint
Cartwright, John Hoyle, Douglas
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Clay, Robert Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cohen, Harry Janner, Hon Greville
Coleman, Donald John, Brynmor
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Johnston, Russell
Conlan, Bernard Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Kennedy, Charles
Corbett, Robin Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Corbyn, Jeremy Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cowans, Harry Kirkwood, Archy
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Lamond, James
Craigen, J. M. Leighton, Ronald
Crowther, Stan Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Cunningham, Dr John Litherland, Robert
Dalyell, Tam Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Loyden, Edward
Deakins, Eric McCartney, Hugh
Dewar, Donald McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Dixon, Donald McGuire, Michael
Dobson, Frank McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Dormand, Jack McKelvey, William
Dubs, Alfred Maclennan, Robert
Duffy, A. E. P. McNamara, Kevin
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. McTaggart, Robert
Eastham, Ken McWilliam, John
Madden, Max Sheerman, Barry
Marek, Dr John Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Short, Mrs R. (W'hampt'n NE)
Maxton, John Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Maynard, Miss Joan Skinner, Dennis
Meadowcroft, Michael Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Snape, Peter
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Soley, Clive
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Spearing, Nigel
Nellist, David Stott, Roger
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Strang, Gavin
O'Brien, William Straw, Jack
O'Neill, Martin Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Park, George Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Parry, Robert Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Patchett, Terry Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Pavitt, Laurie Tinn, James
Pendry, Tom Torney, Tom
Penhaligon, David Wainwright, R.
Pike, Peter Wallace, James
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Prescott, John Wareing, Robert
Radice, Giles Welsh, Michael
Randall, Stuart White, James
Redmond, M. Wigley, Dafydd
Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S) Williams, Rt Hon A.
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Winnick, David
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Robertson, George
Rogers, Allan Tellers for the Ayes:
Rooker, J. W. Mr. James Hamilton and
Ross, Ernest (Dundee W) Mr. Sean Hughes.
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Aitken, Jonathan Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Ashby, David Garel-Jones, Tristan
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Glyn, Dr Alan
Batiste, Spencer Gorst, John
Beggs, Roy Gow, Ian
Bellingham, Henry Gower, Sir Raymond
Bevan, David Gilroy Greenway, Harry
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gregory, Conal
Boscawen, Hon Robert Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Braine, Sir Bernard Grist, Ian
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Grylls, Michael
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Gummer, John Selwyn
Bruinvels, Peter Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Budgen, Nick Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Burt, Alistair Hampson, Dr Keith
Butcher, John Hanley, Jeremy
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hannam, John
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Hargreaves, Kenneth
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Harris, David
Conway, Derek Haselhurst, Alan
Coombs, Simon Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Cope, John Hayward, Robert
Crouch, David Heathcoat-Amory, David
Currie, Mrs Edwina Heddle, John
Dickens, Geoffrey Henderson, Barry
Dorrell, Stephen Hickmet, Richard
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Hill, James
Farr, Sir John Hind, Kenneth
Favell, Anthony Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Fletcher, Alexander Holt, Richard
Fookes, Miss Janet Hooson, Tom
Forman, Nigel Hordern, Peter
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Forth, Eric Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Fox, Marcus Hunt, David (Wirral)
Franks, Cecil Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Freeman, Roger Hunter, Andrew
Fry, Peter Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Gale, Roger Irving, Charles
Galley, Roy Jackson, Robert
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Raffan, Keith
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Rathbone, Tim
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Renton, Tim
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rhodes James, Robert
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Rifkind, Malcolm
Key, Robert Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Lamont, Norman Rowe, Andrew
Lang, Ian Ryder, Richard
Latham, Michael Sackville, Hon Thomas
Lawler, Geoffrey Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lawrence, Ivan St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Lee, John (Pendle) Sayeed, Jonathan
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lightbown, David Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Shersby, Michael
Lord, Michael Silvester, Fred
Luce, Richard Sims, Roger
Lyell, Nicholas Skeet, T. H. H.
McCrindle, Robert Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
McCurley, Mrs Anna Soames, Hon Nicholas
Macfarlane, Neil Speller, Tony
MacGregor, John Spence, John
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Spencer, Derek
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Maclean, David John Squire, Robin
McQuarrie, Albert Steen, Anthony
Madel, David Stern, Michael
Major, John Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Malone, Gerald Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Maples, John Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Marland, Paul Stradling Thomas, J.
Marlow, Antony Temple-Morris, Peter
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Mates, Michael Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Mather, Carol Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Maude, Hon Francis Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thurnham, Peter
Mellor, David Townend, John (Bridlington)
Merchant, Piers Trippier, David
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Trotter, Neville
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Twinn, Dr Ian
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Miscampbell, Norman Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Waddington, David
Moate, Roger Waldegrave, Hon William
Monro, Sir Hector Walden, George
Montgomery, Fergus Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Murphy, Christopher Waller, Gary
Needham, Richard Ward, John
Nelson, Anthony Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Newton, Tony Warren, Kenneth
Nicholls, Patrick Watson, John
Norris, Steven Watts, John
Oppenheim, Phillip Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Wheeler, John
Osborn, Sir John Whitney, Raymond
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Wilkinson, John
Parris, Matthew Winterton, Mrs Ann
Patten, John (Oxford) Winterton, Nicholas
Pawsey, James Wolfson, Mark
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Wood, Timothy
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Yeo, Tim
Pollock, Alexander Young, Sir George (Acton)
Porter, Barry Younger, Rt Hon George
Powell, William (Corby)
Powley, John Tellers for the Noes:
Price, Sir David Mr. Michael Neubert and
Proctor, K. Harvey Mr. Tony Durant.
8.30 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 1, line 9, after 'force', insert— 'and after the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament proposals for an independent inquiry into the implications for the unit cost of local government services and local government spending in London and the metropolitan counties'.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Paul Dean)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 9, in page 1, line 9, after 'force', insert— 'and after the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a detailed analysis of the implications for public expenditure in the three years following the abolition date'.

No 30, in page 1, line 15, leave out '1st April 1986' and add: 'such day as may be appointed by an Order by the Secretary of State. (3) No order shall be made by the Secretary of State under subsection (2) above until the Secretary of State has presented to parliament a report on—

  1. (a) the percentage of the expenditure of those councils in the financial year 1984–85 which would have been the expenditure of London boroughs of metropolitan districts had this Act been in force during that year;
  2. (b) the percentage of the expenditure of these councils in the financial year 1984–85 which would have been the expenditure of bodies other than London boroughs, metropolitan districts or ministers of the Crown had this Act been in force during that year; and
  3. (c) The percentage of the expenditure of those councils in the financial year 1984–85 which would have been the expenditure of Ministers of the Crown had this Act been in force during that year.'.

No. 31, in page 1, line 15, leave out '1st April 1986' and add: 'such day as may be appointed by an order by the Secretary of State. (3) No order shall be made by the Secretary of State under subsection (2) above until the Secretary of State has submitted an analysis of the savings he anticipates from the abolition of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils to a Select Committee of the House of Commons. (4) The Select Committee referred to in subsection (3) above shall be empowered to commission such studies of the costs and savings likely to result from abolition of those councils as it sees fit.'.

No. 39, in page 1, line 15, at end add: 'provided that the Secretary of State has by that date laid before Parliament a report setting out the basis on which the provisions in subsections (3), (4) and (5) below shall be given effect. (3) For a period of three years from the abolition date no increased expenditure shall fall on the Consolidated Fund other than expenditure set out in the Financial Memorandum to this Act; (4) For a period of three years from the abolition date no borough or district shall receive greater or reduced financial support from the Exchequer or from other local authorities as a result of the provisions of this Act; (5) For a period of three years from the abolition date services provided before the abolition date by the Greater London Council and metropolitan county councils shall be continued by successor authorities at the same level and same unit cost as in the financial year 1984–85'.

Dr. Cunningham

From the outset of the announcement of this policy, the Government and sucessive Ministers have made great claims about the savings which would result from the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. Indeed, in the beginning the savings were said by Ministers to be of primary importance. That has changed somewhat, particularly since the appointment of the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), who in a short time has slightly changed the emphasis of Government policy.

These amendments address themselves to this crucial issue. It has been our contention, and the position of the councils, from the outset that, far from large potential savings, at best there will be no savings to ratepayers or taxpayers as a result of these cobbled-together proposals. The likelihood is that there will be significant costs.

It has not gone without notice that the Financial Times today carries a withering leading article about the Government's proposals, and argues that on none of the tests it applies does the Bill stand up to the questions posed. It is a devastating criticism of what the Government are proposing. That is not surprising, because on this issue perhaps above all others, the Government are in a terrible mess and have indulged in claims, counter-claims, contradictions and in some cases plucking figures out of the air in briefings to their own supporters for this and previous debates.

The Government began by claiming that savings of £120 million per annum would result from the abolition of these seven Labour councils and that 9,000 jobs would go. There was no apology for getting rid of 9,000 people who are at present employed by these authorities. However, there has never been — and there still is not — any systematic or authoritative justification for that claim, which incidentally has in the latest briefing now slipped to £100 million per annum. In reality, it is likely to slip much further.

The Government have simply never gone beyond assertions and generalities in attempts to justify their claims. Those attempts have never been taken seriously in the House by the majority of the Government's own supporters, let alone by my hon. Friends and myself. They have never been taken seriously by the GLC or the metropolitan county councils, nor by any of the independent bodies and organisations which have systematically examined them.

The Government seem to have been relying on abolition to make savings related to policy. That in itself is an interesting question. It implies that the real reason for abolition is not that there was some unnecessary tier of government but simply that the present Administration did not like the policies pursued by the Labour-controlled authorities. There has been a considerable change since, following a Conservative victory in the GLC, the Prime Minister said: This is our greatest prize. That was the Prime Minister's description of Conservative control of the GLC at that time.

During Second Reading on 4 December, a former Conservative Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)—I wish that the right hon. Gentleman was in his place now—said that the proposals were pushed into the Conservative manifesto a few days before it was published and after the election had been announced, and that that was done against the wishes of Conservative party policy committee, After the right hon. Gentleman made that speech, I wrote to the Prime Minister to ask her whether that statement was true. I received a reply from No. 10 Downing street early this evening. The letter is not very long, and if the Minister would like a copy I should be happy to provide one for him. In no sentence in her reply does the Prime Minister deny what her right hon. Friend said. In the final paragraph, she says: You should be aware…that the commitment to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan Counties was the result of long and detailed preparatory work and members of the Cabinet were involved in that policy-making process.

The Minister for Local Government is not a member of the Cabinet, much as he would like to be and much as some of us would like him to be too. If he were, it might be a more sensible body. However, if the proposals before us are the result of long and detailed preparatory work", that simply shows what a confused and convoluted state of mind exists collectively in the policy thinking of the Conservative Cabinet. That will be no surprise to the 4 million people who are out of work and the many others who are suffering as a result of the Government's policies.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

When I heard something about this matter, I asked the Prime Minister in a written question on what date she had become publicly committed to these proposals. The Prime Minister replied—I speak from memory, and will correct myself if I am wrong—that the date was 18 May 1983.

Mr. Cunningham

I have seen the instructive reply to which my hon. Friend refers. There is no evidence that there was much preparatory research, consideration or discussion of what, by general consent—not only in the House but outside—is a shambles of a Bill.

However, during the period between the publication of the White Paper and the publication of the Bill, other people with real interest in these matters, principally in the GLC and the metropolitan counties, have put their considerable expertise and experience—and that of other bodies such as Coopers and Lybrand—to work on these issues. Some serious analysis of the cost of the proposals has been done. As the Minister knows, the Government have never responded to those reports and documents. Coopers and Lybrand found, in brief, that with a high level of co-operation between district authorities and boroughs, a saving of £4 million to a cost of £9.5 million per annum could be expected. That is a minimal saving, and it assumes the best possible level of co-operation. Those eminent consultants thought it more likely that cooperation would be limited. In that case, they said, instead of any savings, abolition would involve a cost of between £36 million and £61 million per annum.

8.45 pm

With the publication of the Government's yellow document or statement a few months ago, Coopers and Lybrand were commissioned to produce an update of their estimates in the light of the Government's proposals. They concluded that an extra cost of up to £69 million would be incurred in the six metropolitan councils.

With the publication of the right hon. Gentleman's statement on 29 November, Coopers and Lybrand again considered their findings. Given that no new evidence was contained in the right hon. Gentleman's statement, they stood by their estimates. There will be a real cost to the taxpayer and ratepayer from abolition. The officers of the GLC have estimated that there will be transitional costs of about £65 million in 1986–87 for redundancy payments, administrative costs, the setting up of the new joint boards and quangos, and other odds and ends in this mish-mash of a Bill. The figures do not include the substantial costs likely to result from less efficient delivery of services.

Ministers should try to reconcile the independent consultants' estimates with the Government's arguments. They have made no attempt to do so. The reports and investigations have been brushed aside, dismissed, and in some cases derided, and no realistic attempt has been made to counteract the arguments. Such behaviour sits ill on a Secretary of State—I understand why the right hon. Gentleman is not in his place at the moment—who, at a Conservative party conference in 1983, said: I am a Tory, and I have been brought up as a Tory, and I believe that the burden of proof is upon the man who advocates change, and if he does not satisfy that burden of proof, then change should not be made. The Opposition endorse those sentiments. In this case, on the question of costs and savings, there is no proof; what is worse, no serious attempt has been made by the Government to produce any proof.

A number of questions arise about the proposal to establish residuary bodies. The proposals are a mess. It is plain that the Government do not have much idea what the residuary bodies are to do or how they are to do it. They are to take over certain responsibilities such as debts of the MCCs not specifically allocated elsewhere, superannuation functions and funds, and property of the MCCs not specifically passed to the district councils. Those are almost all long-term functions.

The same is true for the GLC. The Secretary of State is giving himself power to pass debt management and superannuation functions to one district council in each area if all the districts ask him to do so. What are the chances of that being agreed in practice? We should like to hear the Minister's thoughts on and answer to that. What will happen if the districts do not agree? What will happen to costs and savings and the management of those functions?

The residuary bodies are enjoined to secure that their work is completed within five years but, as their work is ill-defined and as such bodies have never before existed on this scale, is that realistic? If they are to be under pressure to dispose of assets and land holdings in that time, is there not a real danger that the value of those assets will not be realised to the public good? Is that not a hidden cost to the public?

Residuary bodies are to be required to make proposals for their own demise. They are to wind themselves up. However, such proposals can include proposals for successor bodies or for keeping the residuary bodies in being in some other form. There is no estimate of the cost of any of that either. In addition to the well-known and much-rehearsed arguments about the costs of joint boards, the quangos and the seven new precepts or charges on the district rates, a bombshell was dropped recently when Mr. Maurice Stonefrost of the GLC reported that there were likely to be significant real costs because of the way in which the GLC has funded its operations from its capital fund and from the results of winding that fund up.

I must draw attention to the fact that the fund was established when the GLC was under Conservative control. It has been used efficiently and effectively by successive administrations to fund projects. On 29 November 1984, the Minister for Local Government wrote to the chairman of the council concerning arrangements for its outstanding debts. He had set out his proposals in a written reply which appears in the Official Report for 16 November. He reported that account had been taken of representations received on the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities". It is clear from examination of his proposals that, like the rest of the burden of evidence which was submitted following the publication of that White Paper, little if any account has been taken of the main points made by the GLC in response to the White Paper. That is especially true of the implications of the GLC's capital fund.

To service its debts and accounts, the authority has made repayments of £113 million a year. The charging of a market rate of interest enhances the value of the fund and ensures that all services are treated equally and bear the full economic cost of their consumption of capital. The fund has been built up from some £58 million in March 1978 to £820 million in March 1984. It is a significant fund. It is important to note that the GLC finances 26 per cent. of the total debt under its management. That was £3.18 billion in March 1984. That should be compared with the 2 per cent. which is financed from the London boroughs. All these statistics are provided by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.

More than 60 per cent. of net capital expenditure on the council's services is now financed from the fund. At the end of March this year, the fund's value—£820 million—represented 65 per cent. of the total debt of directly administered GLC services. That way of funding its activities brings major benefits to the council, such as a reduction in public borrowing, which is in line with Government policy and a strengthening of the council's borrowing position. The council has relatively low interest costs which average £15 million a year. That is lower than the London boroughs for the past five years. The fund also safeguards the credibility of the council's reputation, thus enabling it to contribute to present and future financing of London's capital programme.

This is an important issue. The implications of writing the capital fund off will—no doubt this is one of the Government's subterfuges — probably result in short-term rates reductions through the cessation of repayments. However, in the longer term, writing the fund off is likely to lead to an increase in public sector borrowing. According to Mr. Stonefrost's argument, it could lead to an increase in the medium term of perhaps £750 million, given that the boroughs are likely to finance only a small percentage of capital expenditure from their capital funds. Writing off the fund is also likely to lead to an increase in rate costs in the longer term of about £20 million a year because of the relatively higher average interest rates borne by the boroughs as compared to the GLC and because rates of interest charged to market lenders to finance a constant volume of assets are greater than those required by a capital fund.

It appears that the Government have taken none of that into account. I understand that the Minister or the Secretary of State—I am not sure which—has sent an urgent message asking for consultations about the implications of all this. That shows that, here again, there is a glaring hole in the Bill and in the Government's thinking and preparation for what they are proposing.

To take all the evidence into account, the reality is that there will be no savings, except perhaps as an expedient in year one or year two. There may be a reduction in the rates, which the Government seek to engineer for their own political purposes. The reality is that, in the longer term, it will cost everyone much more. It will cost significantly more for less effective services, less democratic control and less accountability and for organisations which will be more remote and obscure to the people of London and the metropolitan county council areas. There is no case, argument or evidence for or substance in what the Government have said about savings through these proposals.

It is also significant that the widespread calls from the Labour party, other political parties, the House of Lords, CIPFA and other bodies are for an independent investigation into the financial implications of the proposals. The Government have brushed them aside and ignored them. That confirms our belief that the Government have no evidence to substantiate their case.

Even Government supporters, such as the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, say of the Government's existing claims: These targets, however, seem unduly modest. If the whole exercise of abolition, which carries the considerable risk that non-co-operation between district councils might damage certain services, is to prove worthwhile in the long run, substantial savings for business ratepayers…must be obtained.

The Association does not even think that the Government's present, false, transparent and unsubstantiated claims make abolition worth while, not to mention the reality of the real costs to those who will be affected.

That sums it up. The Government have no friends, no arguments and no evidence. They deserve no support.

9 pm

Mr. Maples

I wish to spend some minutes addressing one aspect of the pubic expenditure and cost implications for local authorities. It relates to the way in which block grant and grant-related expenditures will be redistributed among them, and how the London boroughs in particular will have to pay for the services that they will have to take over from the GLC.

In the White Paper the Government made the correct and acceptable statement that no authority should be unduly financially advantaged or disadvantaged by the change. They then published two consultation papers in the original round of consultation papers. One was about block grants and the other about the London rate equalisation scheme. It would not understate the case to say that both papers left various questions unanswered. The paper on the London rate equalisation scheme, which is clearly the more complicated, states: It is not possible at this stage to produce a detailed model of the effects on individual London Boroughs of the disappearance of the GLC precept.

It is disappointing that in the Yellow Book published in the summer the argument is taken no further. We seem to be left in a position where discussions are still continuing on a complicated and extremely important matter, especially for the London boroughs which are effectively subsidised by the GLC rate now.

I shall ask my right hon. Friend to deal with two specific aspects. Regarding the block grant, will the GREs that are allocated to the boroughs in respect of the GLC expenditure that they take over be at the level of the GLC's present GREs, or will they be closer to what the GLC actually spends? If it is to be somewhere between those two points, how will it be calculated? If a borough takes over services which are similar to those which it provides now—for example, by taking on an extra park or leisure service—will its new GRE in respect of that be less than the sum of what it had before and what the GLC had? Will it always be a case of adding the two?

For many London boroughs, especially my own, it is not the GRE that is important but the expenditure limit and the target. Therefore, most important, how will those two figures be set? How will the target be set, and how will the expenditure limit be set for rate-capped authorities? Will it be set in relation to the GLC's GREs in respect of the expenditure that is taken over, or in relation to what is actually spent? I expect that it will be set somewhere in between, and I shall be interested to know how that will happen. I hope that the boroughs will not be asked to adjust the GLC's expenditure to their GRE assessments immediately.

As the difference between what the GLC will spend next year, even under its expenditure limit, and its grant-related expenditure assessment is over £2 million, this matter is important, and we shall wish to know how the Government envisage it being adjusted by the boroughs. I fear that the shortfall, if there is one, will impinge, as always seems to happen, more heavily on the poorer boroughs, of which mine is one.

If the boroughs are to attract additional block grant in respect of GLC expenditure, which the GLC does not presently receive, from where will that additional block grant come? If the overall figure for block grant remains fixed, some of it must come from the existing grants to the London boroughs to pay for expenditure that they are taking over. By the mechanism of the block grant, the boroughs will probably be worse off.

It is not enough to make up the GREs. We must know how the targets and expenditure limits will be set, and how the penalty system will operate. Even if a borough spent below its target, could it lose block grant if it failed to reduce expenditure to the level of the GLC's previous GRE? I am sorry that there are so many initials in my speech, but I did not invent them. The purpose of block grant is set out most clearly in the Government's consultation paper, which states that a central aim of the block grant system is to compensate authorities for differences in their expenditure needs and their rateable resources so that, in broad terms, local government in each area can provide similar services by charging their ratepayers the same rate poundage. It would be comforting to have an assurance that that will be the effect of the changes, that similar authorities will charge similar rate poundages, and that the re-allocation of the GLC's expenditure and targets will not result in their being prejudiced.

Will my right hon. Friend develop the Government's thoughts on how the London rate equalisation scheme will be extended? One of my few worries about abolition is that the GLC carries out the redistribution of resources from the wealthier boroughs to the poorer ones. We know that three of the 32 London boroughs subsidise the others. The two boroughs that pay most — Westminster, including the City, and Camden—which contain only 6 per cent. of London's population, contribute 36 per cent. of the GLC's income. That is a subsidy to the other London boroughs of 30 per cent., or £240 million at present. In addition, those authorities contribute to the existing London rate equalisation scheme by about another £80 million a year. The total subsidy from those three boroughs to the other 29 is about £320 million. I do not know Lewisham's share of that, but if it lost only £10 million on a pro rata basis, that would mean another 30p on the rates. I am sure that the Government will ensure that that will not happen, but I wish to know a little more about the mechanism by which they will ensure that it does not happen. The consultation paper recognises the difficulties, but neither it nor the Yellow Book takes the argument much further.

Will the London rate equalisation scheme be extended by equalising expenditure and subsidy on the GLC's present grant-related expenditure assessments, or on the GLC's present expenditure? Will the boroughs have to find the full £320 million, or will the sum be calculated on the basis of the GREs? If it is the latter, the boroughs will have considerable difficulty, because the expenditure that they take over will, of necessity, be higher than the GREs. It is considerably higher at present. It is impossible to envisage the boroughs reducing it to GRE level in the foreseeable future—it certainly could not happen within a year or two. Although some reductions could be made, if the rate equalisation is based on GREs, the other 29 boroughs will be seriously prejudiced.

Mr. Tony Banks

The hon. Gentleman is making a characteristically thoughtful speech about local government finance. Does it not occur to him that the pertinent questions that he is directing to his Front Bench are the questions that should have been answered during the long consultation in the run-up to the proposals, about which we heard?

Mr. Maples

I thought that that was what I was seeking to do. I said that I was disappointed that the Yellow Book did not come up with answers to these questions. I asked my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government to say where the Government think that they will find solutions to these problems. I would rather hear my right hon. Friend's reply before saying whether I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

On the London rate equalisation scheme, will the subsidy be extended on the basis of the GREs or on the basis of the GLC's expenditure? If it is somewhere between the two, how will that be done so that the boroughs are not prejudiced? What mechanism will be used for doing this? Are we to have a negative block grant, which would have serious implications for the principles behind the rating system, or is it to be done on some other basis? If so, is that other basis to be statutory so that we know that it will go on in the future? Of paramount importance, do Westminster and Camden agree to whatever arrangements the Government have in mind? Under the present system of levying rate by the GLC, this is not open to debate, but it might be if we were simply asking them to write the cheque for a pool or to accept a negative block grant system.

If I understand it correctly—I may be wrong because every time I think that I know something about local government finance I find that I know far less than I thought — the London rate equalisation pool at the moment is distributed to the other boroughs on the basis of their total rateable values. That is a strange way to do it because, by distributing the pooled subsidy on the basis of a borough's total rateable value, it is likely that the wealthier boroughs will do rather better than the poorer ones. Would it not be more appropriate for whatever goes into the London rate equalisation pool in the future to be distributed like the block grant, with the intention of equalising, as far as can be, the rates that have to be charged in different boroughs for the same services, and not simply on the basis of a borough's total rateable value?

These are matters of general importance. They are the remaining points about which I have concern if the GLC is abolished. I think that the figures for my borough are that the GLC spends about £25 million a year and raises about £10 million in rates. Effectively, we are subsidised to the tune of £15 million. I would be concerned if I felt that any of that £15 million had to come out of the already heavily picked pockets of the ratepayers of Lewisham. I would welcome my right hon. Friend's assurances about that and his reasons as to why that will not be so.

Mr. Chris Smith

I rise to support the amendment. I do so because I do not think that the Government have told us the whole truth, or even very much of it. about the costs of the abolition proposals. That is especially true of the Greater London council. I shall pass briefly over the obvious costs of the operation of the abolition—the new offices, the new boards, the servicing of the network of enterprises that will be set up, the cost of any redundancy payments if the Government go ahead with their proposals for the sacking of staff and so on. Anyone with any common sense will know that the proposed operation of abolition, with more diverse operations being brought in in place of a centralised organisation and existing functions being carried out by those diverse entities, will cost more rather than less.

Having looked briefly at that, one has to look at what lies behind the Government's claims of potential savings. My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) touched on the reality when he spoke about the Government seeking policy rather than administrative savings. It is surely true that if the Government are to achieve the savings that they have so far spoken about both inside and outside the House, they will have to do so by means of policy changes and by the removal or diminution of functions presently carried out by the GLC.

9.15 pm

I shall briefly consider two areas of policy. I want first to ask the Government what they have in mind as to how funds will be devoted in those areas, and as to the costing of the future operations of the various boards, quangos, enterprises and boroughs that are to take over the GLC's functions. If the boroughs take over the housing functions that the GLC now has, what will the provision be for the repair and maintenance of the transferred GLC stock? At present provision flows through the housing investment programme allocations made to the GLC and thence to the boroughs. What also will he the fate of the projects in support of the single homeless that are presently carried out by the GLC?

There are brief references in the yellow document, although there have been none in ministerial speeches or in the Bill, as to what will happen to the houses in Thamesmead and Tower Hamlets. What will be the exact fate of the seaside and country homes to which the GLC now has right of access? The yellow document promises us a guarantee in the legislation of continued allocations for Londoners, yet the Bill has only an extremely vague and broadly worded clause that does not offer the guarantee being sought.

What will happen to the fund of housing association schemes, including those in the pipeline and those that might have been expected to be built with GLC funding? Above all, what will happen to any mobility schemes for those wishing to transfer across London from one property to another? At present all of those functions are carried out by the GLC. They cost money, and if the Government have their way and seek to produce the savings that they say that they can make through these proposals, some at least of those functions will have to go, and the Government should tell us which. Alternatively, to which of those functions will they dovote less money than is at present devoted?

The funding of voluntary organisations is a matter of great concern to Londoners. It is estimated that the GLC will spend about £53 millon this year on the support of voluntary organisations. What are the Government's intentions? A later clause talks about provision for boroughs jointly to fund individual organisations and projects. It specifies a limit that the Secretary of State can set. So far we have been told that it is likely to be £10 million, so what will happen to the remaining £43 million? The Government speak about making large savings as a result of the GLC's abolition, but if they are to make them by reducing the funding of those organisations, as we can only suspect from the details that have so far been given, they should come clean and tell the people of London what they will stop funding and what they will continue to fund. We can then have a sensible and reasonable debate on these issues.

I have cited only two specific policy areas. I could go through a whole list of functions carried out by the GLC, and ask the Government exactly which of them will go and which will be carried on. But over and above that, there is the overall question raised by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) — which is especially important for the poorer areas of London—and relates to the GLC as a redistributive mechanism in taking money from the richer parts and peoples of London and putting it into the areas of greatest need. Who or what will perform that function when the GLC is abolished? What arrangement do the Government have in mind to ensure that that happens?

The Government must either accept the amendment, which would ensure some independent analysis of costs, or they must be far more honest about the amount of money that they expect to save and from where it will come. If it is to come from services and functions carried out by the GLC, which are likely to disappear with abolition, they must tell the people that so that they can make up their minds about the Government's plans.

We are asking for some honesty from the Government. I know that it is a rare commodity these days, but we have the right to expect it.

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

The amendments and the preceding debates have been about abolition—will it be simpler or cheaper and has there been any in-depth inquiry into the costing? The response from the GLC and the metropolitan counties makes it clear that the impression given by the Secretary of State that their observations about the proposals and the costings had been carefully considered was not true. The Government have ignored arguments in favour of the retention of county councils. They have rejected the argument about the effect on services. They have rejected the argument about the future of transport, consumer services, economic development, art, culture, leisure and emergency services — especially the fire brigade, the police, planning, conservation and waste disposal.

Does the Secretary of State seriously believe that the public will accept the claim that an in-depth study has taken place into the financial implications and effects of the abolition measure? The Government have been dismissive of the majority of the replies that they have received. The whole exercise is one of deceiving the public — an attempt to persuade the public that the Government are going through a democratic process before any decision is made. Yet the decision has already been made—the die has been cast.

This is an ill-conceived piece of legislation that will be forced through despite the protestations of the GLC, the metropolitan counties and the voluntary organisations.

Although the latest proposals differ from the original, the Government have given no further scope for consultation. They stand accused of making major changes without meaningful discussion and without realising the consequences of their actions. Is it any wonder that such proposals give the impression that this legislation is nothing more than a politically motivated act to take control of and undermine local democracy—which, in turn, means the loss of accountability? That danger has already been recognised by the amended proposals to allow ILEA to become a directly elected authority.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science claimed that the nature and scale of the importance of the education service in inner London, taken together, justify a directly elected authority in this special case. If that is a special case, what about the Greater Manchester council and the met counties which are responsible for police, the fire service and public transport? The joint boards will not have the same accountability as these bodies. They will be indirectly elected and will not be answerable to the electorate. Why should the Secretary of State make a concession with ILEA, yet have a blinkered approach to the overtures of the met counties? That is gross inconsistency, and that fact is recognised.

The observations put to the Secretary of State about the fact that he will be empowered to control for the first three years the expenditure and manpower of those boards and the fact that they will be administered by nominated representatives can only lead to the conclusion that this legislation is a further attack on the responsibility of local government, especially in vital respects such as police accountability. The police authority in Greater Manchester spends about £10 million above the sum the Government say should be spent. About £4 million above the Government's figure is spent on fire services. The multifunction GMC has the necessary flexibility to determine its priorities in the light of local needs.

What real consultation has there been about the cost of police and fire services? The GLC and the met counties cannot accept the statement by the Secretary of State that the proposals will lead to a transfer of power to the London boroughs and the metropolitan district councils. Those councils would claim that the suggestion by the Secretary of State—that functions will devolve either individually or jointly to local democratically elected councils, thereby decentralising powers at the local level—is totally false and misleading. The major and vital functions, such as police, fire and public transport services, and minor functions, such as the registration of animal trainers, will be allocated at the district level. Fewer than 20 per cent. of the services will devolve to district councils, where full acountability will be preserved.

The Government's arguments about the spread of local democracy are extremely bogus. Bodies will be able to precept the district councils and will at the same time be acountable only to the Secretary of State. The Government have not shown where savings will be made. The Government do not know what the financial outcome will be. The GLC and the met counties are urging the Government to publish as a matter of urgency their detailed estimate of the minimal savings that will be made, with information of how those savings will be achieved by successor authorities.

For all their arguments, the GLC and met counties know that the abolition die is cast. The Government have closed their ears to any intelligent argument. As the Times editorial on 1 August said: Ministers will seem to believe that in this matter assertion can substitute for argument. Does the Secretary of State truly believe that the GLC and met counties take him at his word when he says that the abolition issue has not been settled yet? The Government believe that they have a mandate to abolish those county authorities and, at the same time, to rid themselves of political opposition. The name of the game is to rid themselves of Ken Livingstone and the GLC. That is why the Government are willing to take these draconian steps which put democracy at risk.

The Government have completely ignored local government. Mr. G. A. Harrison, the chief executive of the Greater Manchester council, said: The Bill is very similar to the White Paper 'Streamlining the Cities' and, quite clearly, the Government have ignored the mass of comment received when only 9 per cent. of respondents supported the proposals. If the Government is serious about wanting to make local government cheaper, simpler and more local, the Bill must be regarded as a failure in that all the information available confirms that none of these will be achieved. What is more likely to happen is that the proposed successor bodies will be blamed for not making the system work. An independent inquiry must be held if yet another costly reorganisation of local government in the metropolitan areas is to be avoided in the very near future.

The question has not been answered. Will those arrangements lead to simpler, cheaper and more accountable local government? The Opposition know the answer; I do not believe that the Government have considered it.

9.30 pm
Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

If one were looking for an object lesson in how not to go about reforming local government, I suspect that what we have seen over the past 18 months would be a good example.

First, we have had no Royal Commission to discuss the functions, role and structure of local government. Secondly, we have introduced proposals that apply to a percentage of the country only, under the bogus argument that we are abolishing two-tier local government whereas, in relation to the shire counties, we are maintaining two-tier local government, and the Government seem pleased to be doing so. Thirdly — this is the point of the amendments—we are making major structural changes in local government without any understanding of the costs involved.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) made a thoughtful contribution. I congratulate him on being the only one, I suspect, to understand the language of local government finance. He may be seated in the wrong position, in view of the contribution that he can make. He pointed out some of the many difficulties involved in financing the new structure. Those questions should have been answered by the Government or by an independent inquiry before we reached legislation.

If one studies the history of these proposals, one sees that the Government have tried throughout to obscure the issue of costs. During last year and the early part of this year, we considered the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Act 1984 which took the right to rote from people in the GLC and metropolitan county areas. En the run-up to that Act, the Government talked glibly about the possibility of savings from the metropolitan counties being about £120 million. In all, 12 parliamentary questions asked the Government to detail and substantiate that figure. At no time did the Government say how that figure was arrived at. We went into a legislative procedure whereby we took away people's right to vote on a blank cheque and blank prospectus. People lost the democratic right to vote on their services without understanding the costs involved in the proposed changes.

I should have thought that any responsible, decent Government, before taking away people's right to vote, would have told them what the costs or savings 'were. Some of my hon. Friends would rightly point out that no financial saving is as great as losing the right to vote and exercise a democratic choice. We went through the first part of the year losing the right to vote without the Government substantiating that figure of £120 million.

We have now come to the latter part of the year and to the Local Government Bill. The Government are now saying that there will be savings of £100 million, half of which will apply to the metropolitan counties. During the past 12 months, the savings in relation to the metropolitan counties have been halved. The Secretary of State may well leave the Department of the Environment in the same way as he left the Department of Industry. If this process goes on much longer, we will have a Government who will say, "We shall make a loss on the proposals rather than a saving." With the present rate of inflation, in terms of the potential costs, and deflation in terms of the potential savings of devolution, if the Government are managing the country's money in the same way, we have a great deal to worry about. I suspect that all the evidence is that they are managing the Government's money in exactly the same sort of way. The figure has changed during the year but yet again we have a figure that the Government are not prepared to spell out in detail or put to any independent inquiry.

I am not saying that the Coopers and Lybrand report or the PA Management report—both of which cast doubts on the Government figures — are correct to the last penny but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said, it is up to the Government to substantiate and support change. One would have thought that the Government would produce the figures rather than spend time sniping at the Coopers and Lybrand report and the PA Management report. The Government have significantly failed to do what they should have done.

We are now legislating without any indication whatever of the costs. I take the simple view that if a large organisation, enjoying certain economies of scale, is abolished, there is a cost to the ratepayer. In other capacities the Minister has often talked of the advantages of economies of scale, but in terms of local government some of those advantages seem to have disappeared.

Waste disposal in west Yorkshire is very eficient. It is now to be moved from a county level, where there are considerable economies of scale, to five individual districts. In regard to land, labour, computer services, secretarial and legal services, additional costs must be involved.

I believe that the Government can deliver cost savings. Conservative Members should recognise how those savings can be delivered. They are not intrinsic to the Government's proposals and do not flow from them. They can be delivered only by taking away our right to vote, so that those of us in the GLC area and in the metropolitan counties do not have the right to make a choice, and by rate-capping the new joint boards and committees, so that Whitehall sets the level of service, of expenditure and of jobs.

The Minister can get his savings, but he will not get them honestly. He will get them by imposing on all of us who live in the metropolitan areas a loss of services and of jobs. The measure is not about saving money by the reform of local government; it is not about creating a better local government structure. It is a further attempt to reduce services and jobs and to ensure that those in local communities who depend on local government will have less to look forward to in the future.

Mr. Cartwright

I support the group of amendments because I believe they are crucial to our discussion of the Bill.

The Government's claim that cost savings will result from abolition is a central factor in the argument for the Bill. The Government have regularly argued that streamlining cities, and removing a bureaucratic tier of government which is no longer needed, will produce substantial savings for the ratepayer. But, as other hon. Members have said during the debate, it has been impossible to get any clear and convincing evidence to support that claim.

The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) rightly drew attention to the very different assessments made about the transitional costs by GLC officers and by the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill. Both accept that there will be transitional costs, but there is a wide variation between the two calculations. Ministers will no doubt argue that the GLC officers are interested parties in making their calculations and producing their figures, but it is just as easy to say that the Department of the Environment is an interested party and that its figures might be open to some challenge and doubt.

The situation gets even more complex in regard to the metropolitan counties, where we have celebrated firms of accountants reaching very different conclusions. The Coopers and Lybrand report was referred to earlier. It states clearly that savings will not result from abolition. Its study concluded: the proposed structural changes cannot be expected to lead to savings in themselves … Savings, therefore, can only be sought as a result of policy changes about the levels of services, and hence expenditure in an area. That was the judgment of Coopers and Lybrand. Price Waterhouse, an equally celebrated firm of accountants, was retained by another group of interested parties—a consortium of district councils. It came to a different conclusion. Having looked at three of the metropolitan counties, it said in its study: in the area of rationalisation alone, excluding any policy or efficiency changes, a saving in staff costs of around £20 million can be made. Therefore, those are two very different judgments by two firms of accountants of national repute. Surely it is difficult for hon. Members to reach a balanced judgment when there is such conflicting evidence. That alone is enough to make a case for an independent and impartial judgment.

What do our constituents make of all this? I think that my experience will be like that of many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. My constituents make a simple judgment that every time we reorganise local government, it costs them money. I was reminded of that when I read the editorial in this evening's edition of The Standard. It had some unkind things to say about the Secretary of State, for example that he "has a credibility problem." The editorial goes on to say: As a gift bringer to ratepayers, he is about as believable as Santa Claus, and a lot less jolly. That seems unkind, but The Standard goes on to advance some criticisms about the claims made by the Secretary of State yesterday about the impact of rate capping and the great benefits that it is held to bring to ratepayers. The judgment of The Standard is: The trouble is, most people just don't believe it. We certainly don't … Much the same goes for the plans to sweep away the GLC. Most people just don't believe they will save money or improve matters. Faced with such a judgment from a newspaper such as The Standard, I suggest that the Secretary of State would be well advised to take on board the idea of an independent inquiry into the financial implications of the Bill. Whether he does or not, I shall advocate that course by voting for the amendment.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

I agree with the sentiments expressed by hon. Members who have spoken so far in the debate. I share the concern of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples), who has forebodings about the effect on local authorities in the London area of the abolition of the GLC. There will be financial consequences, particularly on poorer authorities such as my own in Waltham Forest.

In my time in the House I have never seen a Bill so shoddily presented in terms of its financial consequences. The explanatory and financial memorandum is vague in the extreme. In the Secretary of State's speech on Second Reading there was little of substance on that important point, yet the savings to be made were one of the major arguments put before the people of London — to the extent that any arguments were put before them—in the general election and subsequently. If one judges by the Secretary of State's speech on Second Reading, the main area of savings that the Government estimate will be made will come in the area of local authorities taking over services. That means either that the functions transferred to local authorities in London and the metropolitan counties will not be adequately funded or that money will be handed over and pressure will be put on them through the block grant, penalties, and so on to reduce their expenditure.

What is being proposed will put pressure on local authorities' existing resources when the GLC's and other functions are transferred. It will mean a crowding out, a pressure on existing local authority services. Local authorities in London will be in a real dilemma. Those which accept their responsibilities to the ratepayers and electors in their areas for maintaining services as far as possible within the rate-capping legislation, will have to put up their rates to cope with the consequences of transferred functions, particularly if they are not adequately financed, which is probably the Government"s intention.

9.45 pm

The extra costs that will be incurred by local authorities have not received much attention. The Bill will mean that in both the Greater London area and the metropolitan counties an increased burden will be placed upon local authorities and their councillors. The extra work that is to be transferred has to be carried out not merely by public servants employed by local authorities but by democratically elected local councillors. I challenge the Minister to deny that there will be more local authority committees and quangos, which will have to be attended by local authority councillors. This will impose a heavier burden upon councillors. They will be unable to carry out their job as well as they carry it out now because of the extra functions, which they do not want, which will be thrust upon them. This will have an impact upon the services that they can offer to their electors.

In addition, there will be extra expense. Councillors obtain allowances for attending meetings. There will be many more committee meetings. There will also be many more outside committee meetings, which councillors will have to attend. I do not know whether the Government have taken that point into account. The Government claim that there will be financial savings. I invite the Secretary of State to undertake to conduct an inquiry within a year after abolition into the savings made so that after the Bill is passed we are able to judge whether savings have been made.

In the case of hospital closures, one of the main arguments for closures put forward by district health authorities is that financial savings will be made. My own experience is that if one tries to find out whether financial savings have been made after a hospital has been closed it is impossible, because of the accounting arrangements, to do so. If we do not pin down the Secretary of State we shall find that he will make assertions and claims that can never be contested after the event because figures will never be available.

Mr. Tony Banks

By any objective standards, the Government's failure to make out their financial case is manifest. It is interesting to note that only one hon. Member on the Conservative Benches stood up to state his position. A number of very important and leading questions have been asked. I look forward to the summing up by the Secretary of State as, I am sure, will the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) who could refer to an internal Department of the Environment document, reference LGFIDG, which indicated that the Government were concerned about the fact that the passing of the GLC functions to the boroughs would result in rates being raised. If GLC expenditure at 1983–84 levels were maintained, an 8.2 per cent. rate increase would be required in Lewisham.

The Department of the Environment document states that some form of safety net should be written into the calculations. There are three ways in which this could be done. I ask the Secretary of State to say whether these ways are being considered by him and his Department in order to engineer rate reductions in the boroughs, following abolition. This could be by means of an enhancement of the take from the rate revenues of the three boroughs which provide the vast bulk of the GLC's finance: Camden, Westminster and the City and to enhance the take from rate revenue by the London equalisation scheme. The second way would be substantially to increase GREAs and targets within the individual boroughs so that they could obtain the whole of the GLC's disaggregated GREA and target and thereby be eligible for a greater block grant. The third option would be so to engineer the GREAs and targets for the boroughs in 1986–87 as to ensure that major reductions in costs are achieved.

These are the ways I assume the Government will operate if they are to produce savings but, as has been said by Labour Members, that could be achieved only by a substantial increase in unemployment through cuts in services and large numbers of redundancies.

We are in great difficulty, because we do not know precisely what the Government's financial case is or the background to their calculations. In their 1983 manifesto, the Government justified abolition by saying that the GLC and the metropolitan counties were wasteful and unnecessary. The estimates of savings have gradually diminished almost to the point of disappearing—from £120 million down to transitional costs.

We need to know the figures and we need to have them judged objectively. It is for the Government to make their case. If the Government would accept an independent and impartial audit of their financial claims and the counterclaims made by the GLC and the metropolitan county councils, the public would be able to judge for themselves who is speaking the truth.

I give the Minister the undertaking that I gave on Second Reading, and I should like him to respond to it. I have full authority to say that, if the Government will commission an independent audit into their claims on savings and the services that will be devolved to the boroughs, the GLC will co-operate with him and the inquiry and will provide all necessary facts and figures to the independent auditors so that at last the electorate can see who is speaking the truth—the Government or the local authorities.

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

The debate has ranged more widely than the amendments. I shall seek to answer some of the broader points that have been made as well as those related to the amendments.

The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) referred to an article in the Financial Times by Mr. Robin Pauley, who wrote about the capital debt. As we announced in our White Paper "Streamlining the Cities", we proposed to write off the debt to internal capital funds. However, that is not real debt; it is simply a method of internal financing by which the ratepayers have paid over time for the GLC's capital spending programme. Writing it off does not lead automatically to an enormous increase in public sector borrowing.

It will be for the successor authorities to decide, within the capital control system established by the Government, how far they need to replicate the GLC's capital programme and whether to finance that spending through internal sources, including capital funds, or from external borrowing.

Attempting to make this rather old story a little more interesting, Mr. Pauley speculated about the Treasury beginning to worry and Department of the Environment officials asking the director general of the GLC for urgent advice. As usual, the truth is a little less exciting. I am at one with my Treasury colleagues and I have followed the usual path of consulting the local authority associations and the GLC about our debt proposals before reaching final decisions. They have been invited to comment by the end of January.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) made a well-informed speech about GREAs and targets. Those will be debated in detail and, no doubt, at length on clauses 64 to 78, but I draw my hon. Friend's attention to a letter that I placed in the Library yesterday. It was written by an under-secretary in my Department to the chief executives of the London boroughs. It is a detailed letter, but the passage on targets also answers the point made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks): Ministers have made it clear … that if targets are set, they will not be looking for a higher level of savings on those services transferred to the boroughs than would have been sought from the GLC. What we envisage is that the target which the GLC would have been given would be split between the successor bodies along with the expenditure concerned.

On GREAs amd block grant it is also rather detailed. It reads: As stated above, our aim will be to ensure that the post-abolition arrangements as a whole maintain the existing balance between ratepayers in different parts of London, and between ratepayers in London and those elsewhere. The actual details will, of course, have to be worked out in the spring of next year on the grants working group. Our proposals would lead to a report being placed before the consultative council on local government finance in July.

On rate equalisation, the letter states: At present we believe that this is likely to require the continuation of London rate equalisation arrangements in order to avoid a windfall gain to ratepayers in the high resource authorities in central London at the expense of those elsewhere. Nevertheless, the new arrangements will be designed to ensure that all London ratepayers stand to benefit if expenditure on former GLC services is reduced after abolition. In particular, Ministers have made it clear that, provided savings are achieved, London authorities can expect to benefit from the grant which the GLC has forfeited as a result of its exceptionally high rate of spending in recent years.

Mr. Maples

I had hoped that my right hon. Friend would go further into that as it is important to many of us to know exactly how it will operate, whether it will be a statutory obligation, what Westminister and Camden think and whether they are willing, as well as the level and whether it will be related to the GLC's GREAs or its spending. I hope that we may have that information at an early stage.

Mr. Baker

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. As he would expect, I have a working group on this. We certainly see the continuation of rate equalisation as an important part of the financial arrangements. It is a statutory scheme at the moment.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) spoke of problems that could arise from policy changes not taken into account in the explanatory and financial memorandum. He raised a mass of questions about housing and voluntary organisations. I believe that voluntary organisations are best dealt with when we reach clause 46, although the subject will come up on several other clauses, as will the subject of housing. The GLC's HIP allocation comes out of London's allocation and would go direct to the boroughs. The mobility scheme will continue as a statutory scheme.

On the more general issues actually relevant to the amendments, the hon. Member for Manchester. Central (Mr. Litherland) raised broad questions of accountability. I do not criticise that as, all Committee debates on the Floor of the House range fairly widely. It has been suggested that joint boards will not be truly accountable and that they will not be as representative as the present arrangements for fire and police committees. I wish to draw attention to certain anomalies in the present system. I am told that on the Greater Manchester police authority there are no county councillors from either Bury or Rochdale, which have a combined population of 380,000, whereas in the future both will be represented.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

As a constituent I can approach my county councillor who has access directly to those on the police committee and is also a member of the parent body, the county council, the police committee being a committee of that council. With joint boards that access will no longer exist.

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman supports my point. At the moment the county councillors representing the areas covered by those metropolitan districts do not serve on the police authority. The fire service is different because that is a committee of the authority. I think that it is fair to say that there will be direct representation in the future. Solihull, with a population of 200,000, is also not directly represented on the west midlands police authority.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Central asked about the distribution of money among successor bodies. In the metropolitan counties, only a fractional part—less than 1 per cent. of current spending — will become the responsibility of bodies outside local government. For example, the Arts Council is taking on certain responsibilities in the metropolitan counties, but it is a fraction.

Much has been made of the proportion of expenditure that will become the responsibility of the joint authorities, but I remind the Committee—

It being Ten o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress.

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Local Government Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour. — [Mr. Archie Hamilton.]

Again considered in Committee.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Mr. Baker

I was referring to the split between the responsibility for expenditure now and in the future. In London the situation is clear. The GLC proper has current spending of about £530 million this year. That is not in dispute. That excludes ILEA and the payments to LRT. That is a reasonable measure of the level of service activity. A small amount of that—about 5 per cent.—will go to bodies outside local government, for example, the Sports Council and the Arts Council. The boroughs jointly or individually will be responsible for the rest—about one quarter for the fire service and three quarters for the other activities taken over by the boroughs.

Mr. Tony Banks

We are back where we started, and there are arguments on both sides about the figures. The figures provided to me for 1984–85 expenditure show a GLC net expenditure of £950 million. Is the Minister leaving out of his calculations debt servicing, housing deficits and waste disposal? If he is, he should not. If he is not, the figures just do not tally.

Mr. Baker

I would be happy to answer a question and to set out how the figures reconcile. The £530 million to which I have referred covers waste disposal and housing deficit. It does not cover debt interest, which is additional.

That brings me to my next point about residuary bodies. Those bodies will really be trafficking the money provided by the lower-tier boroughs. They will provide that money to service the debt and the pension obligations, but it will be the obligation of the boroughs to do that as this is borough money. Indeed, half the GLC capital debt today is already the responsibility of the London boroughs, although it is paid through the GLC because the housing has been transferred. For that function the residuary body will, as it were, stand in the place of the GLC.

Various points were made about the Coopers and Lybrand report. It is certainly a professional job. However, just the other day I read a cutting from the Liverpool Daily Post and noticed that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), when asked about costs and savings in this report, said with his rather earthy wisdom: My experience of management consultants is that in the main they do the job they are employed to do. They come up with the answers that are required by their 'masters'. It in no way surprises me.

On our estimates for savings, we have made it clear from the outset that a detailed assessment of the savings that will result from abolition will depend on the various separate decisions made by all the authorities involved. At this stage, therefore, one can only make broad statements, and that is what we have done. We have stated our views in the financial and explanatory memorandum, and I gave the background to those estimates in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey).

We identified three areas where savings will be made. I am not talking about policy savings, as the hon. Member for Islington, South, and Finsbury suggested, but savings resulting from the abolition. Savings will be made in central administration, in connection with highways, and in planning. The county councils will cease to be planning authorities.

I shall reiterate the key points in our estimate. First, I find it hard to believe—and I am sure that other hon. Members share my view — that the elimination of a whole tier of government will not bring savings. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) said that there would be more committees. At present, the GLC has 60 committees, sub-committees and panels to administer its affairs. When the Tories were in command, they needed only about 30.

An Hon. Member

How many Cabinet Committees are there?

Mr. Baker

When a Minister is asked how many Cabinet Committees there are, even if he knows the answer—which I do not—he is not allowed to give it.

The existence of large bureaucracies in the authorities brings with it inevitable overheads. Those overheads will go.

Secondly, in the case of some services, the existence of two tiers with related jobs means overlap and duplication. Even the MCC consultants agree that savings might be found in central administration and central services. I certainly agree with them on that point.

The expenditure of the councils under consideration is some £432 million a year above their targets and some £600 million a year above their grant-related expenditure assessments. To say that there will be no savings from better adminstration and from an examination by the boroughs and districts of—

Mr. Tony Banks

It is done by manipulating the GREAs.

Mr. Baker

No. As I have said, the savings are not policy savings. They are made in the areas of administration, highways and planning—in the internal organisation.

The hon. Member for Copeland has said that some people consider the savings to be modest. As the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr Cartwright) rightly said, there have been other reports. It would be fair for me to draw the attention of the Committee to the Price Waterhouse report.

Mr. Fatchett

It would be useful if the Minister could tell us how much of the overspend is derived from additional administration, and how much from the provision of services. If it is derived from services it is true that there is a policy objection to the metropolitan counties; if from administration, we are talking about the structure of government. Which is it, or what is the balance between the two factors?

Mr. Baker

I will answer that question as soon as I have dealt with the Price Waterhouse report. That report considered some of the metropolitan counties and districts and estimated that there would be a manpower saving of some 3,500. That is close to our own estimates.

There was also a joint report by the chief executives and borough treasurers of Bury, Rochdale, Stockport and Trafford. They suggested a saving of £11.5 million in the Greater Manchester council alone. Such figures point to levels similar to those that we have estimated in the Bill.

There has also been a report by four London boroughs —Bromley, Kensington, Wandsworth and Westminster — which estimated that they would save about £35 million on the administrative side—this will interest the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) — and that by changing policy they could save another £65 million, making £100 million in all. We have not included those policy savings. If the hon. Gentleman presses me about whether it should be administration or policy, I should say that there are substantial savings to be made in the administration of the GLC. I have mentioned its tremendous number of committees and the superstructure that has been built up. In the 12 months from September 1983 to September 1984, its staff records show an astonishing increase of 1,280 in the number of staff in post. That is a 6 per cent. increase in staff in an authority which has little more than one year to live.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Baker

Perhaps I might be allowed to conclude as I think that the Committee wants to move on to the next group of amendments. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friends in some part of our proceedings. There are substantial savings to be made from efficiencies, changes and the elimination of duplication and from the removal of a tier of unnecessary, costly and remote government. For those reasons I hope that the Committee will reject these amendments.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

The Minister has failed to answer major criticisms about the Government's proposals concerning savings. If the Minister is convinced that savings are justified, why is he afraid of these amendments? Why is he afraid of amendment No. 8 which asks for an inquiry into the implications for local government unit costs? If what he says is to be believed, he would not be afraid to accept it. Why is he afraid to lay before Parliament, as requested by amendment No. 9, a detailed analysis of implications for public expenditure? If his arguments are justified, he could give us such an analysis. Why is he afraid of amendment No. 30, which would enable us to know what percentage of expenditure of the councils that are to be abolished will be borne by the districts and London boroughs, what percentage will be borne by the quangos and joint boards and what percentage will be the responsibility of the Minister? If what he says is true, and there are savings to be made, why does he not accept that amendment and tell us the facts? Why is he afraid of amendment No. 31, which would set up a Select Committee to examine the costs of his proposals? We should remember that it was the Conservative Government who established Select Committees for such purposes.

As suggested by amendment No. 9, Parliament must be entitled to assurances that the same costs and levels of expenditure will be maintained by the London boroughs, the metropolitan districts, the joint boards and the quangos. Has the Minister given the game away? Will there be significant savings only if there are changes in policy? That means cuts in services and job losses. Is this not another attack, not on councils, but on people most in need, who are served by the councils that are to be abolished?

I should like to consider the Government's argument that they are streamlining the cities and getting rid of two-tier local government. Earlier today, the Labour party manifesto was quoted as favouring one-tier local government where possible. The Redcliffe-Maud commission favoured one-tier local government where possible but concluded that it was not possible in urban areas and conurbations. The Bill does not set up one-tier local government. It establishes and maintains two-tier local government, but one of the tiers is not to be democratically elected. That is the difference. If the Government really were streamlining the cities and getting rid of a local tier of local Government, we might accept that savings could be made.

Irrespective of the arguments about joint boards and other proposed arrangements, none of them can work without management costs. The Government want to replace seven authorities with at least 19 joint bodies, a host of joint committees and other co-operative arrangements often with statutory backing. Where will the administrative savings come from? Seventy per cent. of Merseyside county council's expenditure will go not to the districts there but to the joint boards and quangos that will be established. How can we therefore envisage administrative savings? Has the Minister given the game away? Are not the savings those which will result from changes in policy and from the continuation of the trend that the Government have established, in which 61 per cent. of local authority expenditure funded by central Government has dropped to 48.8 per cent? Grant has been cut in metropolitan areas, and indeed, throughout the country, which is causing cuts in services and the rate increases, for which the Government criticise the GLC and metropolitan counties.

10.15 pm

The tremendous upheaval that abolition will cause will not be justified by the estimated savings, which could be a mere 2 per cent. of the metropolitan counties' total expenditure. Local government expenditure as a proportion of GDP and public sector spending has fallen during the past five years, while central Government expenditure has risen.

To take Merseyside county council as an example—this is true for all authorities—much of the increase in costs borne by the local authoritiy, which is to be abolished, has been caused by matters outside its control. I refer to police pay, the needs of the regions, penalties on grants and so on.

If the amendments are not accepted, these proposals will be a recipe for increased bureaucracy, the continuing duplication of services, and the continuation of two tiers, one of which will no longer be democratically elected. The proposals are opposed by the Labour and alliance parties and by all informed opinion outside the House. Despite what the Secretary of State says, they continue to be opposed by voluntary organisations, which see their funding cut and the duplications that the system will create, and recognise that that will cause them and the electors great difficulties.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 186, Noes 231.

Division No. 48] [10.16 pm
Alton, David Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)
Anderson, Donald Carter-Jones, Lewis
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Cartwright, John
Ashdown, Paddy Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)
Ashton, Joe Cohen, Harry
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Coleman, Donald
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Conlan, Bernard
Barnett, Guy Cook, Frank (Stockton North)
Barron, Kevin Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Corbett, Robin
Beith, A. J. Corbyn, Jeremy
Benn, Tony Cowans, Harry
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Cox, Thomas (Tooting)
Bermingham, Gerald Craigen, J. M.
Bidwell, Sydney Crowther, Stan
Blair, Anthony Cunliffe, Lawrence
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Cunningham, Dr John
Boyes, Roland Dalyell, Tam
Bray, Dr Jeremy Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Deakins, Eric
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Dewar, Donald
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Dixon, Donald
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Dobson, Frank
Bruce, Malcolm Dormand, Jack
Buchan, Norman Dubs, Alfred
Caborn, Richard Duffy, A. E. P.
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Campbell, Ian Eastham, Ken
Ellis, Raymond Maynard, Miss Joan
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Meacher, Michael
Ewing, Harry Meadowcroft, Michael
Fatchett, Derek Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Faulds, Andrew Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Fisher, Mark Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Flannery, Martin O'Brien, William
Foot, Rt Hon Michael O'Neill, Martin
Forrester, John Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Foster, Derek Park, George
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Parry, Robert
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Patchett, Terry
Garrett, W. E. Pavitt, Laurie
George, Bruce Pendry, Tom
Godman, Dr Norman Penhaligon, David
Golding, John Pike, Peter
Gould, Bryan Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Gourlay, Harry Prescott, John
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Radice, Giles
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Randall, Stuart
Hancock, Mr. Michael Redmond, M.
Hardy, Peter Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Richardson, Ms Jo
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Heffer, Eric S. Robertson, George
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Rogers, Allan
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Rooker, J. W.
Home Robertson, John Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Howells, Geraint Sedgemore, Brian
Hoyle, Douglas Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham) Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Short, Mrs R. (W'hampt'n NE)
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
John, Brynmor Snape, Peter
Johnston, Russell Soley, Clive
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Spearing, Nigel
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Stott, Roger
Kennedy, Charles Strang, Gavin
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Straw, Jack
Kirkwood, Archy Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Lamond, James Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Leighton, Ronald Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Thome, Stan (Preston)
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Tinn, James
Litherland, Robert Torney, Tom
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Wainwright, R.
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Wallace, James
Loyden, Edward Warden, Gareth (Gower)
McCartney, Hugh Wareing, Robert
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Welsh, Michael
McGuire, Michael White, James
McKelvey, William Wigley, Dafydd
McNamara, Kevin Williams, Rt Hon A.
McTaggart, Robert Winnick, David
McWilliam, John Young, David (Bolton SE)
Madden, Max
Marek, Dr John Tellers for the Ayes:
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Mr. John Maxton and
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Mr. Allen McKay.
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Butcher, John
Ashby, David Carlisle, John (N Luton)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Batiste, Spencer Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Beggs, Roy Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bellingham, Henry Colvin, Michael
Bevan, David Gilroy Conway, Derek
Biffen, Rt Hon John Coombs, Simon
Boscawen, Hon Robert Cope, John
Braine, Sir Bernard Crouch, David
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Currie, Mrs Edwina
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Dickens, Geoffrey
Bruinvels, Peter Dorrell, Stephen
Burt, Alistair Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Farr, Sir John Luce, Richard
Favell, Anthony Lyell, Nicholas
Fenner, Mrs Peggy McCrindle, Robert
Fletcher, Alexander McCurley, Mrs Anna
Fookes, Miss Janet Macfarlane, Neil
Forman, Nigel MacGregor, John
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Forth, Eric MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Fox, Marcus Maclean, David John
Franks, Cecil McQuarrie, Albert
Freeman, Roger Madel, David
Fry, Peter Malone, Gerald
Gale, Roger Maples, John
Galley, Roy Marland, Paul
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Marlow, Antony
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Marshall, Michael (Arundal)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Mates, Michael
Glyn, Dr Alan Mather, Carol
Gorst, John Maude, Hon Francis
Gow, Ian Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Gower, Sir Raymond Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Greenway, Harry Merchant, Piers
Gregory, Conal Meyer, Sir Anthony
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Grist, Ian Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Gummer, John Selwyn Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Miscampbell, Norman
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Hampson, Dr Keith Moate, Roger
Hanley, Jeremy Monro, Sir Hector
Hannam,John Montgomery, Fergus
Hargreaves, Kenneth Murphy, Christopher
Harris, David Neale, Gerrard
Harvey, Robert Needham, Richard
Haselhurst, Alan Nelson, Anthony
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Neubert, Michael
Hayes, J. Newton, Tony
Heathcoat-Amory, David Nicholls, Patrick
Heddle, John Norris, Steven
Henderson, Barry Oppenheim, Phillip
Hickmet, Richard Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Osborn, Sir John
Hill, James Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Hind, Kenneth Parris, Matthew
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Patten, John (Oxford)
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Pawsey, James
Holt, Richard Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hooson, Tom Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Hordern, Peter Pollock, Alexander
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Porter, Barry
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Powell, William (Corby)
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Powley, John
Hunt, David (Wirral) Price, Sir David
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Proctor, K. Harvey
Hunter, Andrew Raffan, Keith
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Rathbone, Tim
Irving, Charles Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Jackson, Robert Renton, Tim
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Rhodes James, Robert
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Rifkind, Malcolm
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Rossi, Sir Hugh
Key, Robert Rowe, Andrew
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Ryder, Richard
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Sackville, Hon Thomas
Lamont, Norman Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lang, Ian St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Latham, Michael Sayeed, Jonathan
Lawler, Geoffrey Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lee, John (Pendle) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lightbown, David Shersby, Michael
Li Hey, Peter Silvester, Fred
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Sims, Roger
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Skeet, T. H. H.
Lord, Michael Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Speller, Tony Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Spence, John Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Spencer, Derek Thome, Neil (Ilford S)
Spicer, Jim (W Dorset) Thumham, Peter
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Squire, Robin Trippier, David
Stern, Michael Trotter, Neville
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton) Twinn, Dr Ian
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Stradling Thomas, J. Waddington, David
Temple-Morris, Peter Waldegrave, Hon William
Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M. Walden, George
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Waller, Gary Winterton, Nicholas
Ward, John Wolfson, Mark
Wardle, C. (Bexhill) Wood, Timothy
Warren, Kenneth Yeo, Tim
Watson, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Watts, John Younger, Rt Hon George
Wheeler, John
Whitney, Raymond Tellers for the Noes:
Wilkinson, John Mr. John Major and
Winterton, Mrs Ann Mr. Tony Durant.

Question accordingly negatived.

10.30 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes

I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 1, leave out line 10.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments:

No. 12, in page 1, line 10, after 'Council', insert 'shall be replaced by a directly elected authority representing the area presently administered by the Greater London Council, such authority's functions and powers to be determined by Parliament following an enquiry by a Select Committee of the House of Commons into the functions and powers of the Greater London Council.'.

No. 46, in page 1, line 15, at end add— '(3) On the abolition date there shall be established for each metropolitan county and for Greater London a body corporate to be known by the name of that county with the addition of the words "Precepting Authority" or to be known as the Greater London Precepting Authority, as the case may be. (4) The authorities established by subsection (3) above shall consist of members elected by the local government electors of the metropolitan county of Greater London, as the case may be, in accordance with this Act and the Representation of the People Act 1983. (5) The authorities established by subsection (3) above may in respect of any financial year, or part year, beginning with the abolition date issue precepts to the appropriate rating authority for the levying of rates to meet, to the extent the authority considers reasonable in all the circumstances, the expenditure of the bodies or persons or joint committees (other than directly elected bodies) to whom functions are transferred by this Act.'.

Mr. Hughes

I have the privilege to move this amendment which stands in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends in what I sense is the most important debate on the most important amendments to the most important clause to be debated during the Committee stage of this most important Bill.

The amendment would delete the GLC from the list of councils that the Government propose to abolish. The effect of all the amendments would be to ensure the continuance of directly elected government for London across London. We seek to do no less than to take the heart out of the Bill. We seek to do so because we believe that to do away with a single tier of Londonwide government without any proposal for a better Londonwide alternative is mindless as well as heartless. We seek to do so because we believe that the obsession with abolition that only as recently as last year entered the mind of the Prime Minister and her Government, if carried into legislation, will take the democracy from the city that is at the heart of our nation.

To abolish the GLC and to put no Londonwide democracy in its place is to decapitate democracy in our capital. So it is to retain the GLC that we move the amendment, with retention as its first objective. We know that the GLC is not and has never been perfect. We also know that, before it, the LCC was not perfect. The GLC is not the model regional authority that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I would wish, but it is easier and, we believe, cheaper to improve government in our capital city by extending and improving the existing structure than by knocking down the edifice that was first erected in 1889 and making no real attempt to replace it with any structure at all.

It is not that there will not be one structure to replace the GLC, but that there will be no replacement and many replacements at the same time. The Liberal party has always been in favour of regional government for London, as for elsewhere, and we have a record of consistency that is unparelleled for any party that has been in the House since before the Herbert commission reported. Compared with all our partners in Europe, Britain does not have a happy track record, and this is not a very happy, altough unique, proposal.

The report of the Institute of Local Government Studies was published last year, comparing the proposal for London with other metropolitan and capital cities in western Europe and north America. Page two states: The turbulent history of recent local government change in England amazes our continental neighbours … While reform outside the United Kingdom has generally been gradual, through a long programme of amalgamations which give priority to initiatives by local municipalities and tailor metropolitan institutions to the particular case, the English metropolitan areas have undergone one traumatic reorganisation in recent times, and in the case"— not our concern at the moment— of the West Midlands, two in the space of eleven years.

The report continues with this telling phrase: Amongst European democracies British local government must now seem a very tender plant.

The Government intend to pull up by the roots the best example of the tender plant of local government primarily and quite clearly because they do not like the colour of the flower. Our objections are clear. The proposal to abolish the GLC is not based on an objectively strong or argued case. The economies asserted have not been proved. But, even more important, the clause that we seek to amend would try to ensure that instead of London logically having, as it does have, a unity throughout its area, there would be no co-ordinating tier of government. We believe that there should be a tier of Government to co-ordinate and complement the functions of the boroughs across the square miles of Greater London, the boundaries of which are, for most people and most purposes, artificial and of little day-to-day relevance.

We say also that to abolish the GLC will not, as has often been said, result in government not being carried out for London—it will be carried out in a much less co-ordinated, much less simple and much less accountable manner. This clause, unless amended, will result in the fragmentation and dispersal of the functions of London's government.

The proposal was put forward in the manifesto because the Government said that the GLC was wasteful and unnecessary. They said that they would return most of the functions to the boroughs. Of course, that is untrue. Most of the functions were previously not with the boroughs, but were at county level. If the proposals go through, two thirds of the expenditure will go elsewhere than to borough councils. Only 15 per cent. of the services will go to them.

The Government accept that only 12 per cent. of the cost of local government in Greater London is borne by the GLC, so on any scale of values it cannot, even at its worst, be that wasteful. In the argument about what is necessary, the Government do not appear to have struck a supportive chord among the people of London and its surrounding areas.

We do not accept that joint boards are an acceptable alternative. If the Secretary of State does not understand that, I can tell him that, rather than a GLC, whose councillors I and the other residents of London elected four years ago, working for London, there will be running London a Secretary of State whom I did not put in the job, a joint board which I did not choose for the job, or a quango appointed to the job by other than those who pay for the services.

Rather than 33 relationships across London, there will be 500 different relationships—different bodies levying the moneys from the ratepayers to pay for services. At the end of the day, the process of democracy will not work. Democracy is about choosing between priorities — making choices to do one thing rather than another. When the roads are the responsibility of one department, industry and employment policies of another, and the fire service of a joint board, when planning is the responsibility of the Secretary of State advised only by a planning commission and when waste disposal goes elsewhere, choices about priorities—which is what democracy is all about—can no longer be made.

It is untrue to say that decisions will be left with democratically elected representatives. Under the Bill, those who take over the government of London will have an enormous plethora of controls ultimately exercised by the Secretary of State and his right hon. Friends at the top of the bureaucratic tree of the Civil Service and Whitehall Government.

The overwhelming view of Londoners—50 per cent. in January and 74 per cent. when they were last polled—even in the constituency of Finchley, represented by the Prime Minister — and, I have no doubt, in the constituency of Enfield, Southgate, as we shall see tomorrow—is that the Government must think again. The chaos and confusion, let alone the inevitable job losses, jobs that the transition will cause are complex and unnecessary.

From 1885, when the metropolitan board of works was set up, London has had an unbroken line of multifunctional, democratically elected governors for its services. This Government propose to break that line. Our amendment would solve for the Government the problem of the embarrassing position they have got themselves into by their political misjudgment of the views of the people whom they are meant to represent.

I end with a quote from the report comparing these proposals with those affecting other European capital cities. The report states: It is easy in the United Kingdom for a government to abolish an institution. It can almost invariably find support from those who see themselves likely to gain powers from its abolition. It is much more difficult to replace it with sound and robust alternatives that will have the public support on which they will depend to succeed. I ask the Committee to accept either the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) as a second-best alternative, or our amendment as an even better alternative, and to reject the proposal to abolish the GLC. The proposal is unacceptable. We resist it, and we ask the Government and those hon. Members who would normally support the Government to think again on this issue and to change the Government's mind.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was kind enough to trail my amendment, so perhaps I can make it plain to hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber that I intend to confine my remarks to amendment No. 12 which stands in the name of a number of right hon. and hon. Friends and myself and which is preferable to the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey.

The Government are guilty of reflex politics in this regard. It all began on a night in 1981 when there was a putsch or pogrom, or whatever one likes to call it, and Mr. McIntosh was replaced by Mr. Livingstone. Incredulity became hostility, and a Tudor attitude of "off with his head" became the whim of the moment. We found in last year's manifesto a commitment which, I suggest to my hon. Friends, had not been sufficiently clearly thought through — a commitment to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties. I know that many of my hon. Friends feel strongly about manifesto commitments, and that is reasonable. Manifestos are a general expression of intent by a political party; but we still have a constituency system. Each of us is individually answerable to our electorates.

It so happens that in my constituency we had 50 copies of the Conservative election manifesto. I think that we got rid of 23 of them—I believe that three were bought and 20 were given away. I know that 53,000 copies of my election address, or thereabouts, went out and that the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties did not feature in the document—comprehensive and excellent though it was. Therefore, I do not feel that I am at all bound by that last-minute pledge, rushed in as it was without adequate consultation. Yet, at the same time, I am deeply sensible of the susceptibilities of my hon. Friends who feel that the otherwise excellent document that emanated from central office has a binding effect. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have devised this amendment.

10.45 pm

We have accepted the logic and logistics of a large majority. We understand that the metropolitan counties, which a Conservative Government of whom my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was proud to be a member brought into existence a decade ago, are likely to be swept away. We accept that there is strength in the argument and that the cities within those metropolitan counties will have directly elected authorities governing their affairs. We also accept that many legitimate critcisms can be made of the GLC, although I rather think that if Sir Horace Cutler had been returned to power in 1981 we would not be debating this measure.

My biggest objection to the Bill—that is why I have not and will not vote for it on any occasion—is that it is entirely peripheral to the major issues facing our nation today. Be that as it may, my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister have decided that the GLC will go. So, in a spirit of conciliation and compromise, which used to be the hallmark of the Tory party before it exchanged a philosopy for dogma, we are prepared to say, "All right, let it go, but at the same time"—

Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

My hon. Friend will never make PPS now.

Mr. Cormack

My hon. Friend talks about PPSs. We have in this Government more PPSs than in history. It is the largest collection of eunuchs in high places since the Pope disbanded the castrati.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

Just because my hon. Friend did not become a PPS.

Mr. Cormack

I was a PPS long before my hon. Friend was out of nappies. I found it a delightful but somewhat restricting experience and I did not continue.

We are saying, "All right, we will accept what you are seeking to do in respect of the metropolitan counties, albeit reluctantly; we will accept what you are seeking to do with the GLC, albeit reluctantly, but we will not accept that London, the flower of cities all, the greatest city in the world, should be without a directly elected council".

It is a sad coincidence that this week we should be commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Dr. Johnson, who said of London: when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford"— in 1984, all that life affords apart from a directly elected council. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend's knowledge of history is about as profound as his knowledge of parliamentary tactics. I just wish that he would listen for a moment. He can have his own go later if he catches your eye, Mr. Armstrong.

In the amendment we are seeking to say to the Government, "Here is an opportunity to heed the words of those who, over the past few months, since the paving Bill"—that iniquitous measure—"was brought before the House have said, 'Please think again. We are not calling in aid a galaxy of pseudo-intellectuals of the Left; we are calling in aid men of great experience who have served local government well and nobly for many years. They are people like Sir Horace Cutler and Lord Marshall—

Mr. Dykes

Bernard Brook-Partridge.

Mr. Cormack

And Bernard Brook-Partridge. My hon. Friend can mention many Conservatives, and doubtless he will do so. There is also Desmond Plummer. All those who have had deep and proper experience of London government believe that it is necessary that London should have a centrally elected co-ordinating authority.

This week a letter came into my possession. It was written by an eminent elder statesman of the Tory party. He said: No one person or a collective is entitled to take the Conservative party along a course fraught with difficulties during the necessarily long gestation period without keeping an ear to the ground to see that the earth is not shifting. They are wise words, uttered by a very eminent Conservative local statesman, as I shall call him. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who was it?"] I shall reveal the source later. I was given the letter by a colleague who received it from the person in question and does not wish the writer's name to be revealed at the moment. I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the Committee are prepared to accept my word.

I should like to quote from a speech made by Neville Beale, the GLC member for Finchley, who happens to represent an area that is not entirely unfamiliar to the leader of our party. He says: Sir Horace … commissioned a detailed study of local government in London by the man who is now Lord Marshall and, until recently, vice-chairman of the Party. Whether everyone agrees with Lord Marshall's conclusions or not, it is a matter of some regret that the incoming Tory Government in 1979 appears to have ignored his report. He says of Mr. Livingstone: the case against Ken Livingstone is not the same as the case against the GLC. Nor is the case against the GLC the case for the particular proposals in the Abolition Bill which received its Second Reading in the Commons … It is painfully obvious that many Tory MPs and many Tory Peers are deeply troubled by what is happening, even if reluctant to defy the Whips.

I suggest to my hon. Friends that there is deep unease throughout the country at what is being proposed. Supporting amendment No. 12—modest proposal that it is—would give my hon. Friends an opportunity to say to the Government, You do not have to tear up your whole measure but you can rethink this particular central provision in it". I should be disappointed if we did not get a positive and helpful reply from the Secretary of State this evening.

Infallibility is a characteristic of few Governments. It is no answer to cogent arguments to ride roughshod over them. We have seen that happen too often in recent years. We have seen the attitude that there is a God-given right to govern. There is sometimes a case for a little humility when looking at the voting figures. A few weeks ago Mr. Walter Mondale polled in the popular vote roughly the same as the Conservative party polled in the popular vote in this country last year. He has retired from politics; we are assuming that we have a right to do whatever we want to do.

I urge my right hon. Friend to remember that he was a distinguished member of a Government who brought in the very apparatus that he is now seeking to destroy. He has a great knowledge of London. His own county councillor has told him that on this occasion he might well be advised to think again. He should listen to Alan Greengross, Horace Cutler, Neville Beale and the voices on his own Back Benches. I hope that he will—

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Don't knock me over.

Mr. Cormack

I must apologise to my hon. Friend. The last thing that I would wish to do is knock her over. Her contributions to our deliberations are always elegant and enlightened.

Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State please think carefully before he rejects the amendment'? We do not wish to press it to a Division, but press it to a Division we most certainly will unless there is a categorical assurance that there will be a directly elected authority to represent this great capital city.

Mr. Pavitt

The House always enjoys listening to the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), because he is one of the few Members who not only enlighten the House but relieve some of the acres of boredom that my late right hon. Friend Nye Bevan warned us about when we first came to this place.

I should like to go back into history and say why, much to my regret, I think that the hon. Gentleman's case is falling upon deaf ears on the Conservative Front Bench I should like to refer to directly elected representatives. I suppose that I am the only person in the Chamber who spent long and weary hours in 1963 on the Standing Committee of the Bill that created the GLC. During my 20 years in the House I have been bedevilled by two Tory Ministers—one is the right hon. Member for Leeds, North East (Sir K. Joseph), who inaugurated that Bill and afterwards had a disastrous reorganisation of the National Health Service—I served on that Standing Committee—and the other is the present Secretary of State for the Environment, who later had the task of undoing the mess that had been made of the NHS. Of course, I served on that Standing Committee. Now we reach this Bill.

The history has been made plain in previous debates. In talking about the colour of the flowers, the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) put his finger on the important point. The purpose of the original Bill in 1963, which this one now seeks to obviate and obliterate, was entirely the political motive that Herbert Morrison's LCC had to be changed because it had been Labour-controlled since it was established. To do so, that original 1963 Bill incorporated pieces of Kent, including Bromley, and eliminated the Middlesex county council, to arrange boundaries. It looked as if two things would happen — first that the GLC would become Conservative-controlled instead of Labour, and secondly that many of the 32 boroughs that were created would also be Conservative. Neither of those things happened.

When the Secretary of State for the Environment, who followed the history of that first Act closely, was consulted about the Bill, he realised the great mistake in the Conservative party's judgment: following the establishment of that new large body, there were elections. Therefore, when the Bill was first mooted, there was a good deal of discussion in the contacts that the right hon. Gentleman was having with the Prime Minister of whether or not to have an election or how the Government would get out of having one. The right hon. Gentleman is a serious political operator. He was not going to face the possibility again of having a directly elected responsible body in charge of all the strategy that is needed for the greatest capital city in the world because the last time that was done by his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East, the Tory party lost out. Therefore an excellent case has been made out by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who moved the amendment.

11 pm

Throughout our debates a plea has been made from this side of the Chamber that the Conservative party should not desert its democratic principles, but it has fallen on deaf ears. Although I hope that the Secretary of State for the Environment will come to the Dispatch Box and say, "We shall return to the philosophy of Disraeli, kin Macleod and Macmillan. We will accept the amendment so that there will be democracy for an elected authority" I do not believe that it will happen. I have passed the age when I believe in miracles.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

I do not intend to spend long upon discussing the merits and demerits of Amendment No. 12. Even though I may take no further part in the debates I believe it to be essential that one hon. Member for London should endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) has proposed.

I supported the Bill on Second Reading. I believe that it is desirable to abolish the Greater London council and to redistribute its functions. I have also supported the Government in defeating various amendments. However, I do not favour abolition unless some of the strategic functions can be replaced. I cannot agree that 7 million Londoners should flounder at the mercy of a disparate collection of 32 boroughs. This will lead either to chaos, or to a vacuum, or to an alternation of both.

If the amendment is passed I shall be glad to continue to support the Government in their efforts to abolish the GLC. If the amendment is not accepted or if, worse, is defeated, I shall give no further support to what I believe to be a fundamentally deficient Bill. I shall oppose it if it remains unaltered after the Report stage, at its Third reading.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I do not wish to apportion blame. All hon. Members on the Government side of the Chamber agree that the Greater London council should be abolished. Our only concern is what should replace it. We are concerned about accountability, a point which was made frequently during the debate on Second Reading. I do not wish to deal with that subject tonight, but with the provision of a framework for London that is both effective and efficient. If the Bill remains unamended it will create a multiplicity of precepting bodies. They will impose precepts upon the boroughs either individually or as a group.

Secondly, each precepting body will be orientated towards its own functions and will not have an overall view of London. Each precepting body will require its own premises, equipment and staff and it will also require borough councillors to serve upon it. This could impose an intolerable work load upon them, given their borough duties.

Lastly, I do not believe that my right hon. Friend can deny that as a result of the quangos and joint boards there will be fragmentation, which will lead to less efficiency.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I have listened with some astonishment to my hon. Friend. He does not appear to have taken on board that there are no extra precepts for the outer London boroughs. There is one extra precept for the Inner London boroughs. There is to be one joint board for London. During the last few minutes my hon. Friend has spoken as though there is to be a plethora of precepts and joint boards. I must ask him to address himself to the proposals contained in the Bill, not to a figment of his imagination.

Mr. Leigh

All that I can do is to refer my right hon. Friend to those who are involved in local government in London and particularly to members of the Conservative group on the GLC, who have studied the proposals carefully and are convinced that there will be major rate increases in outer London. The difficulty with the new structure is that it will not be directly elected and, therefore, it flies in the face of accountability.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) is asking for a new structure which will be directly elected and primarily concerned with policy-making and not with executive government. It will not be a local authority for the purposes of the Act and will not have section 137 and 142 powers to abuse. Its functions will be precisely defined. It will not be able slowly to acquire powers and thereby become a GLC Mark II.

Mr. Wheeler

I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend's argument. Can he tell us precisely what function he would give to the new authority? As he is proposing a new authority, he ought to be able to tell us what he would give it to do.

Mr. Leigh

I am about to deal with that. The authority's functions would include the fire brigade, civil defence, flood prevention, land drainage and refuse disposal. It would also have planning functions and be involved with the structure plan and the resolution of conflicts between the boroughs. It would also have financial functions.

Dr. Ian Twinn (Edmonton)

My hon. Friend started by saying that the strategic authority would not have executive functions, but he is now outlining functions that are all executive functions.

Mr. Leigh

I say that all the powers that can possibly be devolved to the boroughs should be so devolved. As my hon. Friend knows, some powers cannot be devolved to the boroughs and have to be vested in some sort of authority.

The new authority could have financial functions for debt management and rate equalisation, and ad hoc functions, including responsibilities for historic buildings, arts, regional policy and the green belt. Those are all Londonwide functions. For funding, the authority could make an annual bid to the Secretary of State.

What are the advantages of such an authority? It would be accountable, cost-effective and efficient. It would not be a local authority, and it would provide a voice for London, avoid the multiplicity of joint boards and quangos, provide a framework for policy-making, avoid the centralisation of power in the Secretary of State, provide an easy mechanism for rate equalisation, eliminate duplication, strengthen and not weaken the executive arm of the boroughs, by ensuring co-ordination, and standardise delivery of services.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

My hon. Friend stressed that the authority should be accountable, but he says that it could be financed by a direct bid. I have always understood that one of the essences of accountability is that the authority raises money. According to my hon. Friend it will not raise money, but will simply apply to the Secretary of State. Is my hon. Friend commending that form of accountability to the House?

Mr. Leigh

I am simply trying to be helpful to the Government. I am not proposing a GLC Mark II. We are trying to devise a framework that is efficient.

My hon. Friends who support the Bill face a difficulty. What will they do about the functions that cannot be devolved to the boroughs? There must be a Londonwide voice for London.

Let me throw out a last lifeline to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. If he is not prepared under any circumstances to accept a directly elected body, I hope that he will listen to Mr. Bob Vigars who is a member of the GLC and is worried about the Bill. He does not believe that the good government of London would be helped by fragmentation. I do not say that his solution is a desirable one, but it is better than we have at the moment. He is asking for a statutory LBA. I do not believe that that is necessarily the best solution but at least it would provide a Londonwide framework and a voice for London. If my right hon. Friend is not prepared to accept the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South, I hope that we will consider that alternative.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Earlier this week I said that the Opposition were the true democrats and custodians of democracy and that we wanted an extension of democracy. It is painful to hear the reactions of the Conservatives who are in the process of taking democracy from the people in the GLC and metropolitan county areas. I make no apology for my position. It is absolutely clear. I am for the continuation of the GLC and all the metropolitan councils. I shall take the example of Tyne and Wear to illustrate my points.

In an area of high unemployment, deep economic problems and all the consequent social problems, it is essential to have elected representatives accountable to the people through a strategic authority which can help to solve some of those problems despite the attitudes of the Government. That is why I support amendment No. 46.

Democracy must also be simple and clearly understood. The Government's proposals will make the situation extremely complex and difficult to understand. One authority for Tyne and Wear is to be replaced by seven authorities, each with its own functions. That is absurd. How people in the area are to understand the differences in how the bodies operate is beyond imagination. I have personal experience of a similar situation, having lived in a new town, where there was a development corporation, controlled centrally, a elected town council, an elected district council and an elected county council, and many people were confused about the functions of those bodies.

In my area things are fairly simple at present. There is the borough council—in this case, Sunderland—and the county council. In place of that, we are to have eight different bodies directly accountable to the Secretary of State, the joint boards and joint committees accountable to a body consisting of elected representatives from the district and borough councils, and then the local council.

Despite what the Government say, it is clear that only minimal power is to be transferred from the strategic county authority to the borough council. It is estimated that it will amount to a maximum of 20 per cent. in terms of spending power, while the joint boards, joint committees and residuary authorities will have 80 per cent. In other words, the main services now administered by Tyne and Wear county council will go to three different bodies.

By no stretch of the imagination can Conservative Members claim that that is an extension of democracy. It is an extension of confusion and of Government control and an increase in centralisation. We want an increase in decentralisation. We believe in accountability. We believe that elected representatives should do what they believe is right in their elected authorities for three, four or five years and then come before the electorate to answer for their actions during that period. How can that be accepted when there will be a plethora of committees? In fact, no one can forecast how many committees there will be.

11.15 pm
Mr. Cowans

My hon. Friend is making a tremendous case. While the case put forward by Conservative Members in respect of the GLC is valid, it is equally valid in respect of every metropolitan county. The case is that there is no need for residuary boards if there is another authority in London, and that applies to every met county.

Mr. Boyes

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting the argument so succinctly.

I guarantee that, as a result of this reorganisation, the job prospects and conditions of the people of my area will become worse. When Labour is in power in a few year time, it is absolutely inevitable that the outcry will be such that it will be necessary to reintroduce a tier of strategic government to carry out the functions needed to get our people back to work and to raise their standard of living.

Mr. Dykes

Although as time goes on some of the peripheral and tangential arguments change about what local authorities should do, the central arguments always persist. That theme was part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), who ably presented the amendment on behalf of a number of my hon. Friends following the amendment proposed by the second Bench below the Gangway.

Whatever may now be said by Ministers in their awkward position—and we all sympathise greatly with the dilemma faced by my right hon. Friend and his colleague—the essential truth always remains.

I hope that colleagues from outside the capital city will accept our apologies for talking about London. The central function of London government was best summed up and encapsulated — despite the fact that he had recent difficulties over another political battle of a totally different kind—by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science in his former capacity as Minister for Housing and Local Government. During Second Reading of the London Government Bill he rightly, and with great conviction and enthusiasm, quoted the masterly Report of clarity, humanity and vision of the Herbert Commission and said that it formed the basis of the … Bill". He said that Greater London is, in a very real sense, a single city unit needing a directly elected Greater London council. He added: One would have thought that this proposal that Londoners should have an effective say in the shaping of their own environment would have an obvious appeal". He continued: Those who find it unpalatable must face up to the question of what they would have instead". He also rejected specifically and with great clarity and enthusiasm the use of joint boards or a joint board for Londonwide strategic functions. In the same debate, he said: No solution can be found by submitting these great tasks to delegates of local authorities responsible for part only of the area and its problems and some of which have responsibilities which are not only different from but often in conflict with the interests of London."—[Official Report, 10 December 1962; Vol. 669, c. 51–53.] If we examine these matters in a dispassionate way, there is no reason why we should conclude that the basic rationale for the creation of a Greater London authority is no longer valid. It has not been changed by the short-term political considerations that may have arisen in various accidental ways since the last general election.

The basic arguments remain entirely valid. None of my hon. Friends could say tonight, in all honesty and with conviction, that everything has been fundamentally changed by a multitude of tangible factors that necessitate an entirely different basic structure for London's Government, which must now be devolved to some extent to the boroughs but mostly to central Government or to quangos and joint boards. In the old days such an idea would have been anathema to any Conservative Government. I find it most disappointing that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues on the Front Bench do not have the courage to admit the solemn obligation of Conservative Governments to the traditions of our own policy, which I had assumed to lie in devolution, decentralisation, passing down local functions, though at the same time they could encompass creating—as we did in the early 1960s — a dramatic new authority to undertake the strategic planning of the whole Greater London area.

There is no reason for any basic change. My right hon. Friend and his colleagues use an entirely spurious argument when they say that some or most of the functions would be returned to the 32 borough councils. On all the evidence, that is entirely wrong. Most of the GLC's citywide functions were inherited from the London county council, Middlesex and other county authorities. They cannot easily be divided among the boroughs. Hence there is to be an elaborate jungle—a nightmare structure—of quangos, joint boards, trusts and agencies, all relying on the patronage and decision-making powers of the Secretary of State.

The abolition scheme is designed to look like a plan for decentralisation but we know that in practice it is a very different thing. The financial breakdown reveals the true position in clear statistical terms.

As a traditional old-fashioned Tory, I will resist to the end of time — like my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) — the idea that all power should end up in Whitehall. That was the traditional philosophy of the Labour party. Indeed, it still is that party's philosophy, although for tonight's purposes the Opposition are pretending that that is no longer so.

The Bill is a sad reflection of the opportunistic change in the Government's proposals since the general election. It results from an ill-thought-out, ill-considered proposal. Because it was not discussed with anyone in the Conservative party structure at any level, even the Cabinet, we are now lumbered with pretending to want to pass this ill-judged proposal into law.

The amendment is a valid proposal and should be supported not only by Conservative Members but by hon. Members in all parts of the Committee. The Government have achieved only very modest majorities on the previous amendments. They should think again before the Bill goes upstairs, and have the courage to change their mind.

Mr. Tony Banks

Although I have sat through so many debates about the GLC and the met councils since June 1983, I still find it unbelievable that this proposal is seriously made. I know that I should not, but I find it unbelievable that, after 95 years of directly elected citywide government in London, the Government are proposing that that voice is no longer needed. The Government might not have agreed with the noises that have come from county hall. They certainly have not agreed with the politics of those who control it, but surely that is not an argument for abolition of the GLC—that is an argument for getting out on the doorsteps and campaigning through the ballot box to get a change in that political control, not to steamroller it aside saying, "We do not like its politics and the people who control it, so we shall abolish it."

It is monstrous to suggest that 32 London boroughs can speak for London or, indeed, that the Secretary of State can speak for London. I understand that his Department has rejected the idea of a Minister for London, so who will speak for London?

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Quango speaking.

Mr. Banks

It is marvellous how strong tea can produce so much wit. It is amazing that the Government should persist in the idea that 32 boroughs can speak for London. The London Boroughs Association has never been able to speak for London. Even if it were suggested that it should be a statutory body, I do not believe that its ability to speak for London would be improved. People on that association are there to represent their boroughs. They will, as is their right, fight their corner and for their boroughs, not with a Londonwide voice. The continuing battle between county hall and this place has gone on for many years. I shall quote from a pamphlet written by the Progressive party in 1898, when a Conservative Government under Lord Salisbury again proposed the breaking up of London's government. It was called tenification at that time. The pamphlet said: There cannot be a town of Kensington or a town of Whitechapel, because the town life of a Londoner is not restricted to his own parish. Live where he may, the interests of his life are metroplitan, and no paper constitution of local mayors and councils can make it otherwise. That is as true today with 32 London boroughs as it was then.

If the GLC's powers are devolved, not to the boroughs but to indirectly elected boards, as is suggested in the Bill, the following factors will arise. First, the boards will have a single purpose orientation. They will look after only one service. There will not be the argument on those boards that is found among Labour groups in county hall, or among Conservative groups, about conflicting demands of service. Secondly, the board will have no mandate for its services. It will have no programme for action on a citywide basis. Thirdly, it will be ineffective in resolving conflict because, as with the London Boroughs Association, representatives on indirectly-elected joint boards will argue for their small part of London. That is not good for London. It does no make good Londonwide sense. Although I have grave reservations about amendment No. 11, I share the desire of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) for citywide government. We have it at the moment—it is called the GLC—and this amendment will in no way act as a substitute.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

In moving Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said: To most Londoners London is a series of separate local areas with very diverse characteristics. Camden has little in common with Croydon; Hackney has little in common with Harrow; Redbridge has little in common with Richmond."—[Official Report, 3 December 1984; Vol 69, c. 27.] That is correct to an extent, but I do not believe that it is possible to consider London, our great capital city, merely as a collection of 32 Greater London boroughs. There is a need for a central voice to discuss many issues—for example, traffic. The GLC proposes very soon to introduce a ban on lorries in the London area at night and at weekends. That is a dotty proposal, which will do great damage to commerce in London if it is implemented.

11.30 pm

Under my right hon. Friend's proposals, those matters will pass to the Ministry of Transport. I have no great quarrel with that, but if the Department gets it wrong, where will we be able to criticise the proposals and discuss them? I doubt whether we will be able to do so on the Floor of the House, although I believe that it should be within the ambit of Parliament.

The issue of roads transcends the interests of individual local London boroughs.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Will my hon. Friend clarify one matter? In common with other hon. Friends and Opposition Members, he calls for a city wide voice. Is he asking that the authority should be merely a talking shop, capable of expressing opinion, or that it should be cloaked with executive powers? They are not one and the same thing.

Sir Philip Goodhart

I am not arguing for executive powers. The mere impact of debates has an influence on Ministers and the civil servants who prepare Ministers for them.

Mr. Cormack

Is it not interesting that many of those who are most vociferously against our suggestion are most vociferously in favour of the European Parliament?

Sir Philip Goodhart

I am not sure whether it has executive powers or not. I think that it is limited. The debates on some matters may have only a degree of interest.

The issue of roads transcends the interests of the individual Greater London boroughs. At least once a week I travel on the south circular road. If ever one wanted a monument to a lack of planning ability on the part of the GLC, the south circular would prove the case. At long last the Secretary of State for Transport has asked for a survey of needed improvements to the south circular. It may get it right, but it may get it wrong. The matter must be discussed by a central body.

Public transport also transcends the interests of one single Greater London borough. Obviously, our constituents have an interest. We are delighted that at long last politicians have been removed from the day-to-day control of London Regional Transport. To think that our constituents will not have an interest in the plans, performance and policies of London Regional Transport is absurd. We cannot spend one or two days a year discussing this on the Floor of the House, nor can it be effectively discussed by the London Boroughs Association.

We need a special Committee of the House to discuss such Londonwide issues, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will introduce an amendment on Report showing that the Government support the idea. I note that my right hon. and sometime Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) did not think much of the idea on Second Reading, when he said: Such a Committee would not have been democratically elected for London." — [Official Report, 4 December 1984; Vol. 69, c. 191.] I could not believe my ears when I heard him say that, but I checked it in the columns of Hansard, and there it was. It is difficult to imagine a more nonsensical argument against the concept. Whatever one may say about hon. Members who represent London constituencies, all of us received a higher proportion of votes at the general election than did any candidate at the GLC elections. To suggest that such a Committee would not be democratic is to misunderstand the meaning of democracy. I hope that the Government will be able to support this concept.

Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)

As a London Member of Parliament, may I begin by making it clear that I regard the GLC as outdated, expensive and outmoded, and I have no hesitation in welcoming its departure. However, in January 1983 I chose to have a public debate in my constituency —my colleagues will tell me that that is a dangerous precedent — and invited for that purpose one of my hon. Friends and colleagues from London. We were to discuss the need or otherwise for a Londonwide body. We had a good, ding-dong debate that covered all the issues, and at the end of the meeting it was clear that a large majority of those present—most of whom were Conservatives—concluded that there was a need for a Londonwide body.

Invigorated by my practical demonstration of accountability, I was a little nonplussed a few months later when the election manifesto arrived, and I realised that the odd problem had appeared. As a consequence of that commitment, the Government are no longer addressing the central question, which is how best local government should be organised in Greater London. Instead they are addressing the question how best to dispose of the functions of the Greater London council. That is a very different matter, but one that, in the context of the way in which the debate has developed, has become almost the inevitable one, rather than the one I would wish.

It is true to say that one can distribute services in almost any way and they will still work.

The Government's proposals will work with fewer problems than has been suggested by the Opposition and with more problems than my hon. Friends have suggested. However, I am concerned that they lay great stress on the operation of joint boards. I speak as the former leader for several years of a large outer London borough, with all the powers, such as education and social services. My experience led me to believe that arguably the weakest role in local accountability was the operation of joint boards. It requires members who have been elected in a borough or district capacity to position themselves instead on a county or boroughwide basis. Above all, the role tends to fall on the shoulders of those who are not necessarily the most competent, but on those who happen to be available for day-time meetings, and those whom the Leader can rely on, rather than on those who have great expertise in the subject under discussion. Therefore, I am concerned at any proposals that would increase existing joint board activity, and remove a Londonwide authority elected for that purpose.

My colleagues will be relieved to hear that I do not want to make a long speech, but I should like my right hon. Friend to bear in mind my fears, and those of other hon. Members who have spoken. If this amendment is unacceptable, for whatever reason, will he at least keep an open mind on the subject, because many of us remain concerned, through public debates and private conversations? We want to see more than we have so far seen to be satisfied that the current proposals are necessarily the best.

Mr. Ashby

In debating this amendment, we have to ask ourselves what the current functions of the GLC are. We have had a lot of nostalgia from hon. Members who were members of the GLC some 15 years ago, but they do not know that the GLC is now a eunuch. It is a body with no powers. I was a member of the GLC between 1977 and 1981. I was vice-chairman of the development committee for a year. In that year, I drew up a list of all the land that the GLC possessed, which extended from Land's End to John o' Groats. Little of it was in London, and little of it was of any relevance to London. We got rid of it, and so the GLC ceased to have a relevant function.

I was chairman of the legal and parliamentary committee where my prime function was to prepare the Greater London Council (Money) Bill, which I notice went through on the nod the other day. That is an unnecessary function of the GLC. My next role was three years as chairman of the housing committee, and in that time, we devolved housing from the GLC to the boroughs. If housing had not been so devolved, we should not be able to debate this Bill, because that was the major function of the GLC. Once the housing was gone, there was nothing left for the GLC to do.

Parks are virtually non-existent, and what parks there are could easily be devolved to the boroughs. What importance is there in the parks? The GLC makes no impact on the environment. Road repairs are nearly all done locally, and the major thoroughfares are looked after by the Ministry of Transport. The only major road being built is the Rochester way, which will soon be finished. The fire brigade runs itself— [Laughter.] Oh yes it does. Hon. Members should reflect that the GLC had the ambulance service for a few years until it was taken from it. There was no outcry about that, and the ambulance service runs very well. What happened to the fire service before 1964? We had a first-class fire brigade service in London, which was running very efficiently. We could easily return to that.

11.45 pm
Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ashby

I shall not give way for the moment.

The GLC's real function was strategic and was to produce the development plan. I believe that the development plan must be updated from time to time, but that is something that could easily be done by an ad hoc forum composed of the various elements of the boroughs. The only great hope for the GLC was docklands, but it is not developing that, because that has gone to the docklands development corporation. The board is doing a first-class job. After docklands what else was left?

I believe that the support for the GLC that we have heard represents a misunderstanding of its present lack of functions. I well remember the pamphlet of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). But 1976 was before housing was devolved. Once housing had gone, what was left—

Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend is saying only that the Government can take more and more powers away from the GLC. We know that, but does he or does he not believe in democratic accountability?

Mr. Ashby

It is not a question of democratic accountability. The fact is that those functions have gone. What is left? Well, something very important is left.

Mr. Dykes

I do not want to prolong the debate, but as my hon. Friend has asked what is left, perhaps I can refer him to page 15 of that pamphlet, which states: There are three main principles to put forward:

  1. 1. The GLC must become a proper strategic authority within the South East Region.
  2. 2. There must be clearer lines of responsibility between the GLC and the boroughs.
  3. 3. The boroughs must be seen to be the primary units of local government in London."
Quite apart from housing, what about that?

Mr. Ashby

My hon. Friend is saying that we should get rid of the GLC but have a strategic south-east authority that covers the whole of the south east of England. That is a different argument. Some peole are in favour of regional policy although I am not one of them. However, that is a completely different thing. I do not see how my hon. Friend can argue like that. He is arguing there for something completely different.

I said that something was left, and that is the representational role. By that I mean a purely representational role and something that has been abrogated by the present regime in county hall, which does not like being representative. I would be in favour of having a lord mayor for Greater London—

Mr. Wilkinson

My hon. Friend would be marvellous.

Mr. Ashby

I would rather enjoy that role, and am grateful to my hon. Friend for that remark. But there is a case for having someone who is truly representational with a budget of several million pounds who is able to give great dinners— [Laughter.] — and to go to the great cities abroad representing London. But the very laughter that I hear illustrates the absurdity of the only representational role that one can think of for the GLC. It would be frivolous, and it would not be acceptable or understood — [Interruption.] Wandsworth can run Battersea park. There is nothing special about that park. There is nothing special either about Burgess park. They can all be run by the boroughs.

Mr. Simon Hughes


Mr. Ashby

There is absolutely no reason for maintaining the GLC.

Many people who are now speaking against the abolition of the GLC, not so long ago were in favour of its abolition. Many ex-members of the GLC, who are not protecting their own hides and are looking at the issue objectively, are saying that enough is enough. They favour abolition. There are dozens of hon. Members with—

Mr. Charles Morrison

By giving way, my hon. Friend has saved me the need to make a speech. With his great experience and knowledge of the GLC, will he comment on the report of Lord Marshall about the future of the GLC? After all, it was drawn up on the basis of a careful inquiry. Lord Marshall was empowered to recommend, if he felt so inclined, the abolition of the GLC, but he actually came out against that.

Mr. Ashby

Lord Marshall really stressed the representational role of the GLC. Anyone who has seen the recent agendas of the GLC will realise that it is an expensive debating shop on every subject except London — [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), who intervenes from a sedentary position, wants to replace the GLC mark 1 with a similar GLC mark 2 talking shop, producing nothing. I suspect that any attempt to find a solution to the problem will produce the same results.

The remaining areas that cause some of us concern, such as historic buildings and the green belt, are dealt with effectively in the Bill. With those out of the way, there is no other function for the GLC or any GLC mark 2, 3, 4 or 5.

Mr. Straw

With this group of amendments is included amendment No. 46, which proposes that the precepting authorities should be subject to election. As many Conservative Members wish to speak in this debate, and as it will be for the convenience of the House generally if it is concluded at a reasonable hour, I shall not say anything further about that amendment. There will be another opportunity, as the vote on the amendment will not arise until tomorrow evening.

On the issue raised by amendment No. 12, the speech by the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) was frivolous and ill-informed. It emphasises how important it is that there should be the fullest parliamentary scrutiny of these matters before the House and the Government reach a final decision. Although the amendment is not perfect, it is far better than the Government's proposal, and for that reason we shall support it.

I hope that the Secretary of State will realise that he has been lumbered with a commitment with which he probably disagrees and which he believes is not worth the candle. It is still not too late for the right hon. Gentleman to listen to counsel from both sides of the chamber. Proverbs have warned of the dangers facing the Government: Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spint before a fall". Despite the fact that the Government have an enormous paper majority—they have not been able to wheel out that majority tonight; on three occasions tonight, the Government's majority has been cut to less than 50—it is important that the Government should listen to the arguments and the merits of the case and, for that reason, support the amendment.

Mr. Wilkinson

The last thing I would wish to do at this hour is to delay the Committee. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves. Throughout the spring and summer, between 12 and 15 of his hon. Friends representing London constituents sat long hours and worked hard trying to work out the best institution for London's government when the GLC was abolished. We support the abolition of the GLC. We are not convinced that the Government have adequately thought out what is to replace it.

The principle is simple: those aspects that can sensibly be devolved to the boroughs should be devolved; those that can more effectively be fulfilled at the centre should be carried out at the centre. The instrument for the power of execution should be directly elected, because in the past the Conservative party has not been afraid of direct elections. The support that the Government have enjoyed from hon. Members representing the shires has been given because they, like Conservative Members representing London constituencies, believe that the extra arrogation of powers to the Secretary of State, the degree of centralisation and the multiplicity of joint boards—the quangos—are not helping.

This legislation may prove to be boring. Indeed, the Government may wish to bore us into submission. I believe, as I said on Monday night, that, for our party, this will prove to be a devolution. Bill. It will prove to be a parliamentary morass. We shall get deeper and deeper into the morass, and that will not be for the good government of London. London needs an elected voice to represent its interests to Government and to the nation. The Government may not realise that, but most Londoners do.

Londoners will judge this measure by how it affects their pockets. The financial implications are extremely sketchy and have not been thought through. I know that a careful and thorough analysis has been done by a highly qualified person, known to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That document, which has been suppressed for the time being, proves that, far from reducing the costs to London ratepayers this measure means that they will pay more. I shall not say more than that. That document will be published shortly, and I suspect that it will, at a stroke, destroy the main rationale for what I regard as a thoroughly undemocratic measure which is not worthy of our party. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will oppose this measure in supporting the most excellent amendment on the list—amendment No. 12.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I shall be brief. I have two questions to ask my hon. Friends who are opposing this amendment. London is our capital city, and we all know what it means to us as our capital city. What is this geographical entity for which a few of my hon. Friends are pleading on behalf of some new local authority?

12 midnight

All right, it would include the City of London; it would include Westminster. I suppose that it would include Blackheath, where I was born, which used to be part of Surrey. Does it include Greenwich, Woolwich, Richmond — ancient old boroughs — Hendon, Dagenham and Camberley—umbilically attached to London? How far does it go? Does it go as far as Rugby 82 miles away and 56 minutes by train, closer in terms of communication with London than many of the places on the undefined periphery of this London that my hon. Friends are talking about?

My second question is one that has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). What is the institution that my hon. Friends want? What is the scope of it? What powers should it have? The reality surely is that either it will be an embarrassment—an unloved and unwanted extravagance like the European Assembly, forever sentenced to posturing, lacking power and forever seeking power—or it will be instead a resurrected, second GLC? That is what they have said that they do not want. If they do not want it I suggest that they vote against it.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I agree with one thing that was said by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)—that this is probably one of the most serious debates on the Bill. The amendment spoken to by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) raises one of the issues relating to London that has caused the most argument. Many issues have been aired.

If I have one criticism of the debate—it is perhaps churlish of any Minister to criticise a debate, but I think it is a fair point, and I hope I shall go some way to remedy it—it is that many who spoke about London perhaps did not do so with the historical perspective of why we are where we are and why the Government have brought forward this measure.

When the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) quoted from the document called "The fight for the county council — an elector's catechism of February 1898" he made the fair point that the argument was raging then. I shall rehearse with the Committee why I think we are where we are, and justify the decisions that the Government have taken and the proposals that we have brought before the House.

There are three amendments in this group. They all have a common theme. They all seek to retain some form of directly elected body for each of the seven metropolitan areas. The amendments are different. The amendment moved by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey would preserve the GLC as it is—warts and all—with no changes. There are few hon. Members and few people who have been involved with the GLC or local government in the London boroughs who can support that.

There are arguments for some form of Londonwide body—and I shall deal with them—but not for the GLC as it is. Amendment No. 12 relates to some form of replacement authority. Amendment No. 46 which was spoken to by the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) is different. It contains the strange proposition of an elected precepting authority separate from the joint boards that have operational responsibility for the services. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said that he hoped to be able to argue that point later. Perhaps in view of the time I will not deal with that at length now. I will say only that I hope that, when the time comes, the Committee will reject amendment No. 46.

I have just referred to amendment No. 11, which would leave the GLC untouched. I do not think that anybody wants that.

I shall devote the rest of my remarks to amendment No. 12, to which most of my hon. Friends and one or two Opposition Members have spoken. It deals with one of the key issues in the Bill. We welcome the fact that those who have put their names to the amendment recognise that the GLC in its present form must go, but I do not think that they have made out a case for a replacement body directly elected.

The word "metropolis" emerged about 150 years ago in the history of London government. That is how far the arguments go back. We have to remember that the formation of the first Londonwide body, when London was very much smaller than it is today, arose out of the need to have a sewerage system. It was the sewerage commissioners who first established the Londonwide body. I have nothing whatever against sewers; indeed, Disraeli was chided by his opponents as having a policy for sewers. But the public health legislation of Disraeli was, of course the foundation of much of our public health today. Today our main sewerage system is the responsibility of the Thames water authority.

There followed the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855. It was a compromise between those who wanted local government for the vestries and those who wanted some form of metropolitan authority. But by the end—[Interruption.] If I may say so, the Committee has asked me to take the debate seriously, and I hope I am doing so. The argument is a very real and genuine one and it has lasted for over a century. [Interruption.] By the end of the 19th century there was a strong Conservative commitment to localism and a strong Liberal commitment to centralism.

When the Conservative party established the LCC in 1899 they saw it as part of a system that would consist as well of strong London boroughs. In 1899 they went on to create the boroughs, but they did not become the powerful bodies that were envisaged at the time. Even then they were having worries, concerns and doubts about the LCC. On Second Reading I quoted the words of the then Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, and I quote them again. He said: We might have obtained a much more efficient machine if we had been content to look upon London as what it is, not as one great municipality but as an aggregate of municipalities". —[Official Report, 3 December 1984; Vol. 69, c. 28.] The argument continued. The Ullswater Commission was appointed in 1921, when the London suburbs fought off control by the LCC, but in 1950 London's rapid growth gave rise to pressure within the Tory party for reform. The hon. Member for Blackburn mentioned the "Powell plan", conceived by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) in 1955. It proposed the abolition of the LCC and the transfer of most of its functions to seven new county boroughs, which would form what is now recognised as the inner London area.

Mr. Tony Banks

The Secretary of State is giving us a very interesting historical lecture, but will he agree that each time the government of London was examined by the various bodies they carne to the conclusion that a citywide body and a citywide voice were necessary?

Mr. Jenkin

I do not deny that at all. It is a matter of history. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop the historical perspective. I was asked to treat this as the most important amendment in the Bill. I am sorry —although the hour is late, my hon. Friends deserve a full reply.

The Powell plan led to the establishment of the Herbert Commission, which reported in 1960. It recommended a single council for Greater London, originally with 52 London boroughs, smaller than the present ones, but with the enormously important provision that the London boroughs should be the primary units of local government—

Mr. Dykes


Mr. Jenkin

I am sorry. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear with me. The point is that until then there had not been powerful boroughs in London. None of the boroughs up to 1964 had ever had full powers anything like those of most purpose authorities with three exceptions—the three county boroughs of Croydon, East Ham and West Ham. All the rest had lesser powers. The creation of the GLC, so vigorously defended by the Labour party today, was bitterly opposed, line by line, clause by clause by the Labour party in 1962 and 1963.

The most important point is that the creation of those powerful London boroughs alongside a GLC—

Dr. Cunningham

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Jenkin

May I develop this argument?

Dr. Cunningham


Mr. Jenkin

All right, I shall give way.

Dr. Cunningham

Why does the right hon. Gentleman keep emphasising the point about powerful London boroughs when he introduced a Rates Act to stop them being powerful in the way that they want?

Mr. Jenkin

With respect, that is irrelevant to the argument. The great majority of London boroughs will not and will never need to be rate-capped, and the hon.

Gentleman knows that.

The point that I was making before the hon. Gentleman diverted the argument is that the creation of the strong London boroughs in 1964 contained within it the seeds of the destruction of the GLC, because what has become clear in the 20 years since then is that once one has the London boroughs, responsible as they are for over 80 per cent. of local authority spending in London, most purpose authorities with all the major local authority functions, it becomes impossible to have a viable separately elected authority on top of that without the inevitability of conflict, argument and confusion.

In a long and perceptive lecture on the history of local government in London, an academic, Mr. Kenneth Young, commented: The GLC has always been too weak to be effective. But at the same time it has been too powerful to be accepted.

Mr. Wilkinson

Could my right hon. Friend explain to the Committee who will pay in the boroughs for the cost of the additional functions transferred from the GLC, upon abolition, to the boroughs? That is an important point as this year, for example, my own borough of Hillingdon already faces a rate increase of about 40 per cent., as my right hon. Friend knows, largely because of central Government policy. This is an important point, and I ask my right hon. Friend to give the Committee a clear explanation.

Mr. Jenkin

That does not directly arise on this amendment, but I can assure my hon. Friend that in the financial provisions towards the end of the Bill there is a series of clauses designed to make sure that the GRE, rate support grant, and so on, which go or should go to the GLC if it spends at a reasonable level will, of course, be distributed among the London boroughs so that they have the resources as well as the rateable capacity to pay for the services that devolve upon them.

12.15 am

These are complicated and technical matters, but the provisions are intended to ensure that no fortuitous gain or loss occurs as a result of the redistribution of the powers among the boroughs. The London rates equalisation scheme will also preserve a substantial measure of redistribution, as happens between the wealthy and the poorer boroughs of London. We shall come to that matter at a later stage. My hon. Friend does not have anything to worry about.

It is scarcely surprising that the argument for the abolition of the GLC began to be heard quite soon after it was set up in the early 1970s. Serious thought was given within the Conservative Party to the abolition of the GLC. Before the 1974 general election a Conservative policy statement promised an urgent review of what further powers should be devolved to the London boroughs by the GLC". The same Mr. Kenneth Young put forward the view that, had the Conservative party won the general election in 1974, a Bill would have been introduced to abolish the GLC.

The conflict that has taken place during the last 100 years has represented a conflict between the centralists pressing for uniformity and central control and the localises who are arguing for as much power to be given to the borough councils as possible. It is the Conservative party which has usually, though not always, followed the localist cause while the Liberal and Labour parties have always followed the centralist cause. In his speech the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey put forward the traditional centralist argument for London: that as much power as possible should be given to the centre. He followed the very honourable tradition of the Liberals who during the last century have put forward the same argument. Those who support the Conservative party have argued consistently, and successfully in 1964, for devolution of power to the boroughs.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

It was the Secretary of State's party that took away from democratically elected local government their powers over health, water and transport and it was my party that opposed him.

Mr. Jenkin

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) made a powerful speech in which he indicated how the various powers have been withdrawn from the GLC and given to other appointed bodies, which are accountable ultimately to this House. Very few people now argue that health or the water authority functions should go back to the GLC. The Thames water authority covers a far greater area than that of the GLC. And so it should. There is a conflict between the localists who favour local government and those who favour big authorities with a strategic role. The Committee know that this Government's view is strongly localist and that it was the starting point of "Streamlining the Cities". The Bill gives effect to those principles. Virtually all of the service functions of the GLC which I spelled out on Second Reading — 95 per cent. of them — will go to the boroughs.

There will be only one joint authority for a Londonwide service to look after fire and civil defence. That is to be a joint .responsibility with the boroughs.

An interesting aspect of the debate — I say this without implying critisism— is that we have heard a variety of different views upon what this replacement, directly elected body should do. My hon. Friend for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) gave a very long list of functions which, with the exception of section 137, seemed to me to make it indistinguishable from the present GLC. My hon. Friend may have an opportunity to spell that out.

The amendment moved by my hon. Friend for Staffordshire, South approaches this problem from the other end. He does not ask what that body should do. I listened to every word that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshitre, South said and he did not address himself to what the proposed body would do. The amendment does not spell it out. It says that there should be a body and that a Select Committee should decide what it does. That is standing the argument on its head.

The only way to decide whether there should be a replacement body is to consider in detail what it would do.

Mr. Cormack

I intervene at the request of one or two of my hon. Friends to point out that the amendment refers the matter to the House of Commons and, thereby, provides an opportunity for proper consultation, which we have not had up to now.

Mr. Jenkin

I responded to that argument some hours ago on the first amendment. I told the Committee how much consultation there had been and spelt out the considerable extent to which the Government had responded.

If we are to have a replacement body, the first question to ask is what it will do. Could it have service functions? My hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West effectively made it clear that there are almost no service functions of the GLC that cannot perfectly well be devolved to the boroughs. The Government have identified the fire brigade and civil defence, but no one in his right senses would argue that we needed a separate body for the whole of London to deal with those services.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Will my right hon. Friend address himself to the question that I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) about the Marshall report?

Mr. Jenkin

I have discussed the matter with Lord Marshall. He made a number of recommendations about what the GLC might do. He has since recognised that few people accepted his proposals and thay they are now a dead letter. The fact that he reached a different conclusion in the 1970s is a fact of history which should not govern what we do now.

The real question is whether there is a strategic role for the proposed body. The word "strategic" never appeared in the Herbert report. That committee was concerned only with service functions. There is no strategic role for the Greater London area. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) asked a reasonable question. If there is a strategic planning role, it will inevitably cover a substantially wider area than Greater London.

Let us examine the major decisions that have had to be taken about London. We are now considering the future of London's airports; that is not a matter for the GLC. We have had to consider the east London river crossing; that has had to be a matter for the Department of Transport. The GLC had all the planning powers necessary to redevelop docklands, but nothing happened for 20 years until those powers were taken out of its hands.

Mr. Gorst

My right hon. Friend has not yet replied to the important question whether there are any Londonwide functions, considerations or discussions on which the London boroughs will have to reach agreement or whether there will be an enormous debate on that level that will go unresolved.

Mr. Jenkin

We have always recognised that the London boroughs will need to reach agreement on certain issues — waste disposal is clearly one — and the Bill contains a reserve power if that is necessary.

There is also the power relating to charities—[HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] I sense that the Committee is anxious to reach a conclusion on this amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

Finally, there are deep contradictions between the boroughs as main organs of local government and the idea of a separate elected authority on top. As has been shown in London, they really cannot coexist. Local government should be local and powers should be devolved to the boroughs. That is what the Bill does. I shall certainly keep an open mind, as a number of my hon. Friends have requested, but I have heard no arguments today to convince me that it is right to have a separately elected upper-tier authority for London. I therefore ask the Committe to reject my hon. Friend's amendment.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I shall take but one minute. The Secretary of State has been thrown many lifelines in the interests of democracy for London, but he has taken none of them. The 6,750,000 people of the largest capital in western Europe want to be able to participate in the way in which their city is run in the future. There are two options before the House, either of which is preferable to the Government's proposals. I urge all hon. Members to support at least one and preferably both proposals to amend the clause and keep elected government for London.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 27, Noes 237.

Division No. 49] [12.26 am
Alton, David Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Ashdown, Paddy Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Beith, A. J. Penhaligon, David
Bruce, Malcolm Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Dykes, Hugh Steel, Rt Hon David
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Gorst, John Torney, Tom
Hancock, Mr. Michael Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Hicks, Robert Wainwright, R.
Howells, Geraint Wallace, James
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Johnston, Russell Tellers for the Ayes:
Kennedy, Charles Mr. John Cartwright and
Kirkwood, Archy Mr. Michael Meadowcroft.
Knox, David
Aitken, Jonathan Fookes, Miss Janet
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Forman, Nigel
Ashby, David Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Forth, Eric
Batiste, Spencer Fox, Marcus
Beggs, Roy Freeman, Roger
Bellingham, Henry Fry, Peter
Bevan, David Gilroy Gale, Roger
Biffen, Rt Hon John Galley, Roy
Boscawen, Hon Robert Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Bottomley, Peter Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Garel-Jones, Tristan
Braine, Sir Bernard Goodhart, Sir Philip
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Gow, Ian
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Grant, Sir Anthony
Buck, Sir Antony Gregory, Conal
Budgen, Nick Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Burt, Alistair Grylls, Michael
Butcher, John Gummer, John Selwyn
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Colvin, Michael Hampson, Dr Keith
Conway, Derek Hanley, Jeremy
Coombs, Simon Hannam, John
Cope, John Hargreaves, Kenneth
Corrie, John Harris, David
Crouch, David Harvey, Robert
Dickens, Geoffrey Haselhurst, Alan
Dorrell, Stephen Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
Dunn, Robert Hayes, J.
Durant, Tony Hayhoe, Barney
Emery, Sir Peter Heathcoat-Amory, David
Farr, Sir John Heddle, John
Favell, Anthony Henderson, Barry
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Fletcher, Alexander Hickmet, Richard
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hind, Kenneth Parris, Matthew
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Patten, John (Oxford)
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Pawsey, James
Holt, Richard Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hooson, Tom Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Hordern, Peter Porter, Barry
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Powell, William (Corby)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Powley, John
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Price, Sir David
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Proctor, K. Harvey
Hunt, David (Wirral) Raffan, Keith
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Rathbone, Tim
Hunter, Andrew Renton, Tim
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Jackson, Robert Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Rifkind, Malcolm
Jessel, Toby Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rowe, Andrew
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Ryder, Richard
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Sackville, Hon Thomas
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Key, Robert St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Sayeed, Jonathan
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lamont, Norman Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lang, Ian Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Latham, Michael Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lawler, Geoffrey Shersby, Michael
Lawrence, Ivan Silvester, Fred
Lee, John (Pendle) Sims, Roger
Lightbown, David Skeet, T. H. H.
Lilley, Peter Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Speller, Tony
Lord, Michael Spence, John
Luce, Richard Spencer, Derek
Lyell, Nicholas Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Macfarlane, Neil Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
MacGregor, John Squire, Robin
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Stanbrook, Ivor
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Steen, Anthony
Maclean, David John Stern, Michael
McQuarrie, Albert Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Madel, David Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Major, John Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Malone, Gerald Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Maples, John Stradling Thomas, J.
Marland, Paul Taylor, John (Solihull)
Marlow, Antony Temple-Morris, Peter
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Terlezki, Stefan
Mates, Michael Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Mather, Carol Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Maude, Hon Francis Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thurnham, Peter
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Townend, John (Bridlington)
Merchant, Piers Trippier, David
Meyer, Sir Anthony Trotter, Neville
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Twinn, Dr Ian
Mills, Iain (Meriden) van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Moate, Roger Viggers, Peter
Montgomery, Fergus Waddington, David
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S) Waldegrave, Hon William
Moynihan, Hon C. Walden, George
Murphy, Christopher Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Neale, Gerrard Waller, Gary
Needham, Richard Ward, John
Nelson, Anthony Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Newton, Tony Warren, Kenneth
Nicholls, Patrick Watson, John
Norris, Steven Watts, John
Oppenheim, Phillip Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Wheeler, John
Osborn, Sir John Whitney, Raymond
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Wolfson, Mark
Wood, Timothy Tellers for the Noes:
Yeo, Tim Mr. Michael Neubert and
Young, Sir George (Acton) Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 12, in page 1, line 10 after 'Council', insert

'shall be replaced by a directly elected authority representing the area presently administered by the Greater London Council, such authority's functions and powers to be determined by Parliament following an enquiry by a Select Committee of the House of Commons into the functions and powers of the Greater London Council.'.—[Mr. Cormack.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:

The Committee divided: Ayes 210, Noes 233.

Division No. 50] [12.37 am
Alton, David Dobson, Frank
Anderson, Donald Dormand, Jack
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Dubs, Alfred
Ashdown, Paddy Duffy, A. E. P.
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Ashton, Joe Eastham, Ken
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Fatchett, Derek
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Faulds, Andrew
Barnett, Guy Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Barron, Kevin Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Fisher, Mark
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Flannery, Martin
Beith, A. J. Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Benn, Tony Forrester, John
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Foster, Derek
Benyon, William Foulkes, George
Bermingham, Gerald Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Bidwell, Sydney Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Blair, Anthony Garrett, W. E.
Boothroyd, Miss Betty George, Bruce
Boyes, Roland Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bray, Dr Jeremy Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Godman, Dr Norman
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Golding, John
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Gorst, John
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Gould, Bryan
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Ground, Patrick
Bruce, Malcolm Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Buchan, Norman Hancock, Mr. Michael
Caborn, Richard Hanley, Jeremy
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Hardy, Peter
Campbell-Savours, Dale Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Heffer, Eric S.
Cartwright, John Hicks, Robert
Clay, Robert Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Home Robertson, John
Cohen, Harry Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Coleman, Donald Howells, Geraint
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Hoyle, Douglas
Conlan, Bernard Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Corbett, Robin Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cowans, Harry Janner, Hon Greville
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) John, Brynmor
Craigen, J. M. Johnston, Russell
Crowther, Stan Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cunningham, Dr John Kennedy, Charles
Dalyell, Tam Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Kirkwood, Archy
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Knox, David
Deakins, Eric Lamond, James
Dewar, Donald Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Dixon, Donald Leighton, Ronald
Lester, Jim Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Richardson, Ms Jo
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Litherland, Robert Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Robertson, George
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Rogers, Allan
Loyden, Edward Rooker, J. W.
McCartney, Hugh Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
McGuire, Michael Rowlands, Ted
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Sedgemore, Brian
McKelvey, William Sheerman, Barry
McNamara, Kevin Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
McTaggart, Robert Shore, Rt Hon Peter
McWilliam, John Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Madden, Max Short, Mrs R. (W'hampt'n NE)
Marek, Dr John Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Skinner, Dennis
Maxton, John Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Maynard, Miss Joan Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Meacher, Michael Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Meadowcroft, Michael Snape, Peter
Meyer, Sir Anthony Soley, Clive
Mikardo, Ian Spearing, Nigel
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Speed, Keith
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Steel, Rt Hon David
Miscampbell, Norman Stott, Roger
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Strang, Gavin
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Straw, Jack
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Nellist, David Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
O'Brien, William Tinn, James
O'Neill, Martin Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wainwright, R.
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Wallace, James
Park, George Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Parry, Robert Wareing, Robert
Patchett, Terry Welsh, Michael
Pavitt, Laurie Wilkinson, John
Pendry, Tom Williams, Rt Hon A.
Penhaligon, David Winnick, David
Pike, Peter Woodall, Alec
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Prescott, John
Radice, Giles Tellers for the Ayes
Randall, Stuart Mr. Patrick Cormack and
Redmond, M. Mr. Hugh Dykes.
Aitken, Jonathan Dunn, Robert
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Durant, Tony
Ashby, David Emery, Sir Peter
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Farr, Sir John
Batiste, Spencer Favell, Anthony
Beggs, Roy Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Bellingham, Henry Fletcher, Alexander
Bevan, David Gilroy Fookes, Miss Janet
Biffen, Rt Hon John Forman, Nigel
Boscawen, Hon Robert Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bottomley, Peter Forth, Eric
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Fox, Marcus
Braine, Sir Bernard Freeman, Roger
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Fry, Peter
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Gale, Roger
Buck, Sir Antony Galley, Roy
Budgen, Nick Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Burt, Alistair Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Butcher, John Gow, Ian
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Grant, Sir Anthony
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Gregory, Conal
Colvin, Michael Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Conway, Derek Grylls, Michael
Coombs, Simon Gummer, John Selwyn
Cope, John Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Corrie, John Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Crouch, David Hampson, Dr Keith
Dickens, Geoffrey Hannam,John
Dorrell, Stephen Hargreaves, Kenneth
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Harris, David
Harvey, Robert MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Haselhurst, Alan MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Maclean, David John
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk) McQuarrie, Albert
Hayes, J. Madel, David
Hayhoe, Barney Major, John
Heathcoat-Amory, David Malone, Gerald
Heddle, John Maples, John
Henderson, Barry Marland, Paul
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Marlow, Antony
Hickmet, Richard Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Mates, Michael
Hind, Kenneth Mather, Carol
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Maude, Hon Francis
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Holt, Richard Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hooson, Tom Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Hordern, Peter Merchant, Piers
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Hunt, David (Wirral) Moate, Roger
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Montgomery, Fergus
Hunter, Andrew Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Moynihan, Hon C.
Jackson, Robert Murphy, Christopher
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Neale, Gerrard
Jessel, Toby Needham, Richard
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Nelson, Anthony
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Neubert, Michael
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Newton, Tony
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Nicholls, Patrick
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Norris, Steven
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Oppenheim, Phillip
Key, Robert Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Osborn, Sir John
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston) Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Lamont, Norman Parris, Matthew
Lang, Ian Patten, John (Oxford)
Latham, Michael Pawsey, James
Lawler, Geoffrey Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Lawrence, Ivan Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Lee, John (Pendle) Porter, Barry
Lightbown, David Powell, William (Corby)
Lilley, Peter Powley, John
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Price, Sir David
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Proctor, K. Harvey
Lord, Michael Raffan, Keith
Luce, Richard Rathbone, Tim
Lyell, Nicholas Renton, Tim
Macfarlane, Neil Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
MacGregor, John Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Rifkind, Malcolm Temple-Morris, Peter
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Terlezki, Stefan
Robinson, Mark (N'port W) Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Rossi, Sir Hugh Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Rowe, Andrew Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Ryder, Richard Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Sackville, Hon Thomas Thurnham, Peter
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Townend, John (Bridlington)
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N. Trippier, David
Sayeed, Jonathan Trotter, Neville
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Twinn, Dr Ian
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Shelton, William (Streatham) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Viggers, Peter
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Waddington, David
Shersby, Michael Waldegrave, Hon William
Silvester, Fred Walden, George
Sims, Roger Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Skeet, T. H. H. Waller, Gary
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Ward, John
Soames, Hon Nicholas Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Speller, Tony Warren, Kenneth
Spence, John Watson, John
Spencer, Derek Watts, John
Spicer, Jim (W Dorset) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wheeler, John
Squire, Robin Whitney, Raymond
Stanbrook, Ivor Wolfson, Mark
Steen, Anthony Wood, Timothy
Stern, Michael Yeo, Tim
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Tellers for the Noes:
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Stradling Thomas, J. Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.
Taylor, John (Solihull)

Question accordingly negatived.

Dr. Cunningham

On a point of order, Mr. Chairman. I ask the Secretary of State to recognise that he and his Cabinet colleagues have just suffered a moral and humiliating defeat.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

It is worthy of note that the Labour party did not vote for the amendment to keep the Greater London council. It has changed course. The public will be interested to note that.

To report progress and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. Patrick Jenkin.]

Committee report progress; to sit again this day.

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