Lords amendment: No. 2, leave out clause 2 and insert the following new clause—
2.—(1) No ordinary elections of councillors of the Greater London Council or for a metropolitan county shall be held after the coming into force of this Part of this Act; and any such councilor—
(2) In section 7(2) of the principal Act (elections of metropolitan district councillors) the reference to a year of election of county councillors shall be construed as a reference to a year of election of councillors for a non-metropolitan county.
(3) In sections 89(3) and 90 of the principal Act (filling of casual vacancies) as they apply to the Greater London Council and a metropolitan county council references to the date on which a councillor or person would regularly have retired shall be construed in accordance with subsection (1) above; and in the said section 89(3) the words after the semi-colon shall not apply in relation to those councils.
(4) Section 8(2)(a) of the principal Act and paragraph 6(2) of Schedule 2 to that Act are hereby repealed.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
With this it will be convenient to take the following Amendment (a) to the proposed Lords amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), leave out clause 2.
Lords amendments Nos. 3 to 7 and 17 to 19.
§ Mr. Jenkin
Amendment No. 2 goes to the heart of the Bill. Before I make a case for accepting the amendment it might be convenient if I remind the House briefly of how matters stand in the light of the changes that have been made to the Bill in another place. I was told by Mr. Speaker that this would be an appropriate moment to do so and I am grateful to him.
There are a number of points which, in the light of some of the comments that followed the decision in another place, it is important to put on the record. First, the proposal to abolish the GLC and the six metropolitan county councils remains unchanged, as does our proposal for the date of that restructuring, 1 April 1986. That proposed date has not been altered by as much as a day. Of course, it is always subject to the will of Parliament and the passage of the main Bill in the next Session. That was always the case. Nothing that has happened recently in another place on the Bill has caused us to depart in any way from our commitment to abolish those unnecessary upper-tier councils by 1 April 1986.
Secondly, it is important to make the point—no doubt much will be made of this by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)—that the proposal which we put before the House and which was accepted to cancel the 1985 elections to the upper tier councils still stands and is embodied in the Bill as it comes back to us. There is no precedent for holding elections to authorities with only 11 months to run. That view was accepted by another place and, let me remind the House, by the substantial majority of 93. There was an amendment by the Official Opposition 44 in another place to enable the elections to go ahead, but that was defeated. Instead, the Government's amendment, providing that the existing councillors should continue in office until the councils disappear, was preferred. That is the substance of Lords amendment No. 2 and of the consequential amendments.
No doubt that defeat on the elections issue explains why the Labour party's enthusiasm for another place seems to have evaporated almost as quickly as it appeared. I am glad that it has, because the House has rarely seen such hypocrisy as we have seen from the Labour party over the House of Lords. Labour Members applaud the use of its powers when it suits them, yet we are told that a future Labour Government will destroy the other place. Every Labour Member fought the election on the clear manifesto commitmentto abolish the undemocratic House of Lords as quickly as possible and, as an interim measure, introduce a Bill in the first session of Parliament to remove its legislative powers".
§ Mr. Jenkin
I have only just begun and I want to make my point.
I want to draw the attention of the House to what was said in the leader column of The Times on Saturday 30 June about the Labour party's view of the House of Lords. It said:On this occasion, it will suit the Labour Party to hail the Lords' action as a blow for constitutional propriety. At other times it suits them to present any action by the upper house which impedes their own plans as the work of a chamber of crusty backwoodsmen.It went on to say:Worse, it is simply and solely the Labour Party's hostility to a bicameral parliament (such as virtually every democracy has) which has kept the upper house unreformed in face of Conservative attempts to reform it by agreement."—[Interruption.] I quite understand that Labour Members want of change the subject. The Lords amendments have come back to the House and Labour Members, pledged to abolish the Lords, have cheered their heads off.
The Times went on:A second chamber whose good works can be discredited by its composition is the Labour preference, if there must be a second chamber at all. That is a deeply dishonest position and the depths of the dishonesty have been exposed this week.The Times articulated the view which a great many people had when they read the Labour party's response to the amendments passed in another place.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The Secretary of State is trying to divert the attention of the House from the substance of the debate. If the right hon. Gentleman became involved in a fight down at his local pub, which he probably does from time to time, would he ask the person who came to his aid how he or she voted or whether he or she was a hereditary peer?
§ Mr. Jenkin
I am at a loss to know how to reply to that. I shall return to it in a moment.
It was the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) who put his finger on the key issue when he attacked the Leader of the Labour party for endorsing class politics and extra-parliamentary action at the miners' gala.
The Conservative party believes firmly in two Chamber Government. We believe in the revising powers of another place. That is why the Government accepted the 45 existing councillors for another year. That in turn raises the spectre of deliberate obstruction by the abolition councils. We shall listen with interest to discover the line taken by the Opposition spokesman on the recent activities of some of the abolition councils which seem to be so ready to flout the ordinary decencies of public life.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
The central issue in the debate is the right hon. Gentleman's lack of enthusiasm for elections. He will have heard over the weekend of the intention to have elections in the spring of next year in the metropolitan councils. How does he react to that? Will he be helpful or obstructive?
§ Mr. Jenkin
That is a matter not for me but for those who decide whether they wish to fight elections which many would regard as nothing more than political stunts. That is not a sensible use of election procedures.
§ Mr. Beith
The right hon. Gentleman's commendation of the work of another place on the Bill reads rather differently from some of his earlier comments. Sharing as I do with him the view that we should retain bicameral government, does he not recognise, as some of his hon. Friends have, that his readiness to abolish both authorities and elections so quickly under the Bill undermines the case that he is seeking to present for the maintenance of some essential features of our constitution?
§ Mr. Jenkin
On the contrary, the proposals in the Bill are entirely appropriate, given the Government's intention to present the House with proposals to abolish the upper tier councils that have been shown to be unnecessary and an expensive burden on ratepayers. In no way does the Bill prejudge the main issue. Opposition Members will have an opportunity of full parliamentary debate on the main substance of the issue, as the matter will be debated in this House and in another place. The Labour party's hypocrisy on this issue—wanting to abolish the other place while applauding its decisions when they happen to suit the Labour party—sticks in the gullet.
I was about to deal with the threat of obstruction which prolonging the lives of existing councils presents. During their extended term of office they will have more time to carry out what have clearly been threats of obstruction and non-compliance. In those circumstances, the Government have no option but to take preventive action. That action has taken three forms. First, there is a new clause, which we shall discuss later, which requires the abolition authorities to obtain my consent before making payments under section 137 as from 1 April 1985. That requirement applies from next year because we understand that most authorities have committed their funds for this year.
Secondly, the Government introduced new clauses in another place which require the GLC and the metropolitan county counils to obtain my consent before disposing of any interest in land and before entering any contract above a certain value. Those controls will take effect as soon as the Bill is enacted.
The third action was raised by the hon. Member for Copeland in his point of order at the beginning of our proceedings. On 24 July I announced that the main abolition Bill will contain a clause which requires the GLC and the metropolitan councils to obtain my consent before providing assistance to another local authority and before financing activities which are undertaken by other local 46 authorities under agency agreements. That control will be subject entirely to Parliament. If Parliament agrees, it will apply to all such transactions and arrangements that are entered into from 24 July 1984. When consent is not obtained, the main Bill will provide that I shall have the power to require the repayment of the moneys concerned, with interest, by the recipient authorities.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I shall develop my argument a little further and then give way.
The hon. Member for Copeland raised several points in a rather excited way at the beginning of the debate, which suggested that he might have read more into the written answer that I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) than was either in the answer or intended. It is a matter of regret to the Government that we have to take these unpalatable steps. I have been staggered by the depths of irresponsibility to which some councils now appear to have become prone.
§ Mr. Jenkin
No. In the past few months some people have urged on me the need for stringent counter-obstruction measures. I was reluctant to accept that such measures were necessary because, perhaps in my innocence, I believed that councillors who were faced with the realities would behave responsibly and with propriety. However, when evidence of such irresponsibility arises, the Government have no option but to say that they will take whatever steps are necessary to protect the interests of the successor authorities arid ratepayers in the effected areas.
§ Mr. Jenkin
It became apparent only a few days ago that the GLC planned to transfer large sums of money—some reports quoted £50 million. The Observer ran a headline,GLC to give out £100 million.The first paragraph of the article said:The Greater London Council plans to transfer £100 million to Labour controlled councils despite the Government's attempt to curb its spending powers.Other reports have said that the money is to be distributed on a party political basis to selected London boroughs. I cannot rule out the possibility of metropolitan counties being tempted to follow suit in regard to certain of their district councils.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I and the Government regard it as imperative that, pending the decision of Parliament on the continued existence of the councils, nothing—
§ Mr. Jenkin
—should be done to prejudice the interests of all of the appropriate successor authorities and their ratepayers. Our intentions are to protect the successor authorities and their ratepayers.
§ Mr. Jenkin
Therefore, I announced in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge on 24 July that I would seek powers with retrospective effect—
§ Mr. Jenkin
Perhaps I might describe our proposals, as it is clear from what the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of the debate that he has misunderstood them. Very well, I give way to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Dr. Cunningham
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I understand his desire to outline his proposals. I welcome that. Apart from the flummery that we have just heard, what is, and where, is the evidence from the GLC or the metropolitan councils to substantiate the action that he has taken? He has not produced one scintilla or one iota of evidence to support what he is doing.
§ Mr. Jenkin
If indeed there is no such proposal, the authorities have nothing whatever to fear from my legislation.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Gentleman should listen to what I am proposing, as, no doubt completely inadvertently, he misled the House earlier. I propose that, in the main abolition Bill, I should have the power to require my consent for any financial assistance by the outgoing authorities to any other authority. My consent will also be required for the financing of another authority's activities under any agency arrangement. If any such authority receives assistance without my consent, it may be required to repay that money by 1 April 1986.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Member for Copeland raised the spectre of retrospective consents and retrospective disqualification and surcharge. I should like to make it abundantly clear that that is not the Government's intention. The only provision that we intend to include in the Bill in the next Session is the power to require the repayment of money that has been paid without my consent.
If it would alleviate the hon. Gentleman's anxiety—I must speak in general terms because these are important matters of drafting—I should be prepared to include in a suitable form in that legislation a legislative expression that it is not our intention that this should have anything to do with disqualification penalties or surcharges. We envisage a sanction only if a payment is made by the GLC or a metropolitan county council to another authority without my consent. The Bill when it becomes law will make provision for the repayment of that amount, with interest, to the paying authority. Our sole purpose is to protect the interests of successor authorities and ratepayers in the GLC and metropolitan county areas.
§ Dr. Cunningham
The Secretary of State's comments show how ill-thought out the proposals are. The very fact that he must give such an assurance from the Dispatch Box shows that.
§ Dr. Cunningham
The hon. Gentleman says that it is a generous offer. The assumption of powers and the use of Executive action based on powers which Parliament has not granted and which do not exist is an abuse of power. Therefore, although the right hon. Gentleman suggests that he is making a concession, he is fundamentally wrong in requiring authorities to seek his permission under powers which he does not have.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I shall come to the question of precedent. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) suggested from a sedentary position that the only precedents for such retrospective legislation were fiscal. There are ample fiscal precedents. Again and again Chancellors of the Exchequer make announcements as early as the autumn that a particular form of tax transaction or avoidance will be dealt with in the next Finance Bill and tax charged in a particular way, and that it will apply to any transaction made after the date of the announcement. The hon. Gentleman would not quarrel with that.
I can cite two recent examples from the Finance Act 1984. The Act received Royal Assent on 26 July and contained two examples of retrospective provision. Section 74 relates to avoidance devices involving capital and income bonds and closes a loophole arising within the provisions of section 30 of the Finance Act 1980. The intention to legislate for that was announced on 22 August 1983 and the Finance Act backdated the provision to that date.
Similarly, in section 76 and schedule 15, it was necessary to close a loophole in the qualifying conditions for life assurance policies. The intention to legislate was announced on 17 November 1983 and the provision was backdated to that date. One could go back over the years and find many such provisions.
I accept that that has now become common practice and is necessary to protect the interests of taxpayers generally, but what was the Opposition's attitude when they introduced the Control of Office and Industrial Development Act 1965? The Labour Government announced on 5 November 1964 that office development from that date would require permits. The necessary legislation did not have a Second Reading until February 1965 and Royal Assent was not received until 5 July 1965. That is a perfect precedent for stopping some action straight away if it is necessary. One may or may not have agreed with the need for office development permits, but it cannot be denied that the Labour Government and Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, as he now is, thought it right to ensure that that Act dated back to the announcement of the original provision.
Similarly, the Town and Country Planning Act 1963, the main provisions of which sought to close a loophole in planning controls, was deemed to operate from the date of the Bill's introduction, although Royal Assent came many months later.
I could cite many other examples. Today we are dealing with a threat—the hon. Member for Copeland may be right in saying that it is only a threat and that the reports of the many newspapers are groundless—which involves tens of millions of pounds, perhaps even £100 million, being salted away in a preferential way for particular authorities, to the detriment of ratepayers generally.
The Government would have been grossly irresponsible if they had not acted in a way which precluded such transactions from the date of the announcement. Obviously, that must be validated by the passage of the subsequent legislation. I contend that we are entirely right in principle, that we can cite perfectly good precedents and that on the merits of the issue we are absolutely right to proceed as we have done.
§ Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)
The matter certainly needs to be dealt with urgently, considering the 49 fact that at one meeting the Greater Manchester council rushed through more than 300 items. The GLC got rid of property in Coin street which cost it well over £2.5 million for £750,000. If ratepayers can challenge the district auditors and prove that the GLC has obtained artificially low prices when getting rid of its assets to boroughs, co operatives or whoever, will surcharges and disqualification penalties he possible?
§ Mr. Jenkin
These matters may become the subject of legislation, and therefore I must be cautious in my remarks. If a local authority wishes to dispose of property below its market value, it will normally require my consent. However, I assure my hon. Friend that my consent was not sought for that particular transaction. All the remedies of ratepayers and councillors involving the intervention of the district auditors will remain. It may be that many of the transactions which were rushed through recently will become the subject of such proceedings. We do not intend to prevent that.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I wish to assist the Secretary of State. Clearly, he is suffering from a bad information service if he must rely on newspapers to tell him what is happening at the GLC. Will he tell the House what the position is now of those boroughs—they are part of the stress areas scheme which the GLC operates—which accepted a promise of about £14 million at the beginning of the 1984–85 financial year and who set their rates accordingly? Not all that money has been paid over to them, but it was part of the GLC's consultative process when it drew up its budget.
What happens if the GLC pays over that money, which was legally promised and accepted, and the Secretary of State decides that the GLC is acting improperly, as he interprets it? What will happen to those boroughs which struck the rate for this year on the basis of a legal promise that the GLC would give them about £14 millions?
§ Mr. Jenkin
The hon. Gentleman's question is perfectly fair. If the transaction falls within the description of the transactions set out in my written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge, the local authority will have to seek my consent. Clearly, the circumstances to which the hon. Gentleman drew my attention would have to be taken fully into account before a decision was made. It would be wrong for me now to attempt to give a blanket answer to several transactions which may have happened at different dates, be at different stages and have arisen in entirely different circumstances.
§ Mr. John Heddle (Mid-Staffordshire)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the newspaper reports are entirely unfounded Opposition members have nothing to fear? However, to pursue the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson), will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the event of the GLC or the Greater London Enterprise Board being persuaded to transfer some of its property assets to some friendly boroughs, bearing in mind that 10 of the 18 rate-capped boroughs in the GLC are Labour-controlled, and that no money changed hands but the vendor authority granted a 100 per cent. mortgage to the acquiring authority, he would still have the power to protect ratepayers?
§ Mr. Jenkin
The transfer of an interest in land will be covered by a clause which we shall discuss later during our debate on Lords amendment No. 10. As to the transfer of resources from one authority to another, the only provision is that which I demonstrated in my written answer o f 24 July: if it falls within the provision of that answer and has been made without consent, the main Bill will include a power to require the receiving authority to repay it. All ratepayers should be protected from the sort of financial dealings that we have seen during the past few days, notably in the GLC.
§ Mr. Boyes
I have been very patient. Will the Secretary of State answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) about the evidence for introducing this legislation? As a representative of the Tyne and Wear area, it seems that councillors from that area are being judged on the basis of a newspaper article. Will the Secretary of State make it clear that there is a distinction between retrospective fiscal regulations, which protect people against speculators who might make private gains, and councillors who are simply transferring an asset from one public sector body to another, with no gain to the councillors and with the asset remaining in the public sector?
§ Mr. Jenkin
There is no difference at all. We are discussing the proper handling of ratepayers' money which has no doubt been raised properly through the rating system and is in the authority's coffers. If that is used in advance of abolition, and apparently with the intention of rushing through the transaction to escape the provisions of the Bill, which will take effect only after Royal Assent, we must protect the ratepayers.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Why have such proposals been introduced only now, when the Conservative party introduced legislation in relation to all the councils about which we are talking and his predecessor Administration asked the Audit Commission as well as district auditors to carry out exactly the job for which he is now seeking additional powers? Why now and why so late?
§ Mr. Jenkin
I have already explained that I was reluctant to accept that such legislation would be necessary. We needed some evidence that it would be necessary before we introduced such proposals to the House. The changes that were made to the Bill in another place offer much greater scope to outgoing councils to salt away assets to the detriment of ratepayers in the area; and that, too, justifies the legislation that we have introduced.
In past reorganisations Governments have not had to deal with local authorities that are dominated by Left-wing extremists — [Interruption.] Opposition Members may jeer, but some Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen have already been frightened by such councils.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) mentioned what has happened. Some councillors on the GLC have made it clear, not least to the leaders of borough councils, that if possible they will pursue a scorched-earth policy. Some of their proposals have stuck in the throats of even some Labour councillors—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blackburn may think this funny, but it is not. On Friday 20 July and 51 Monday 23 July the GLC dealt with many separate reports — not just 50, 100 or even 200, but 430 reports involving major decisions and large sums of money. That is not local government in its ordinary manifestation; it is a travesty of local government and the prostitution of local government powers.
Last Monday, which has been nicknamed "mad Monday" in county hall, even distinguished Labour councillors such as Sir Ashley Bramall and Mr. Brannigan complained about the late arrival of papers. At one meeting several members had no papers at all, and it is no wonder that the majority party orders the public galleries to be cleared. It did not want the public to see what was going on. We have this on the authority of Mr. Jim Daly's letter to The Guardian, which states:One clue was given by Mr. Banks"—that is the hon. Member for Newham, North-West—when he offered me an explanation outside the chamber. 'I don't need to read the papers or discuss the issue. I know what to do about Coin Street.' We had an interesting chat and I told him that the world ought to know his views. He said he didn't care about that, but I thought your readers might.That is the sort of thing that has been happening.
§ Mr. Jenkin
No, I shall not give way.
One proposal on Friday was to commit £400,000 of ratepayers' money to something called the Greater London area war risk study, which is part of the initiative of being a nuclear-free zone. The GLC has asked the Polytechnic of the South Bank to undertake that study. Another rushed proposal was to spend £40,000 on the Sizewell B public inquiry; some may wonder what that has to do with the GLC. A week earlier the GLC set aside £500,000 for International Women's Week. I have nothing whatever against international women, but one wonders how much of that extra money will be spent on trips to the seaside by the women's committee.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The Secretary of State has already been speaking for 40 minutes. There have been a great number of interruptions and interventions. When the right hon. Gentleman is obviously not giving way, it is merely delaying matters for hon. Members to seek to intervene.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I want to get to the amendment. I have merely been showing why, in response to the main decision taken in another place, it has been necessary for the Government to ask Parliament to accept some provisions for preventing obstruction and for safeguarding the resources and assets of the upper tier authorities.
The Bill comes back to us from another place with important changes, but they do not undermine the main purpose of the Government's proposals, they do not affect the timing of the proposals, and they do not affect their substance.
Lords amendment No. 2 contains one of the main changes to the Bill since it left here for another place. It replaces the provisions which required the constituent councils to appoint members to the transitional GLC and MCCs for the last 11 months of those authorities' existence. Instead of that, it now provides for the 52 continuation in office until 1 April 1986 of the present members of the GLC and the MCCs. As before, and for the same reasons as the Government have always given, the May 1985 elections will be suspended. As before, that will be effected by a commencement order, which I shall not make until this House has given the main abolition Bill a Second Reading, and we have just decided that that commencement order is subject to an affirmative resolution.
Therefore, Lords amendment No. 2 forms—
§ Mr. Jenkin
It provides for the cancellation of the elections and for the extended term of office to cover the period up to abolition.
Lords amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 7, and 17 to 19, all remove the provisions in the Bill which relate to transitional councils, and which are therefore now irrelevant. Lords amendment No. 6 is simply a necessary consequential modification of the provision relating to the quorum of the extended councils.
We recognised the arguments in another place and we recognised the argument against the consequences of the original proposal for transitional arrangements. Of course, the new arrangement is not perfect, but the basic arguments remain the same. It would be absurd and unprecedented to hold the May 1985 elections, and it is therefore necessary to make some arrangement for the interim period.
The amendment to leave out Lords amendment No. 2 would, if carried, return us to the original proposal which caused so much concern in another place.
Lords amendment No. 2 and its consequential amendments—in which I include Lords amendment No. 6—provide a solution which is workable and, with the aid of the controls which we shall be discussing in detail later, the Government believe that the new arrangements are acceptable.
§ Dr. Cunningham
The intention of amendment (a) is not, as the Secretary of State said, to remove Lords amendment No. 2 but to remove clause 2 and to replace it with other provisions.
We have just heard an extraordinary speech from the Secretary of State. He referred to new proposals following amendments to the Bill, and to proposals which have been announced but which are not incorporated in the legislation. In keeping with the Bill itself and the provisions contained in it, for which there is no evidence of need, and in regard to which there has been no inquiry, financial or otherwise, the proposals that the Secretary of State has just announced are themselves not supported by any evidence of any substance.
The original provisions in the Bill for the cancellation of elections and the creation in their place of nominated councils, were defeated in the House of Lords, as the right hon. Gentleman said, but that decision has now been overtaken by events there. At the instigation of the Government, amendments have been moved to extend the terms of office of existing councillors, and the elections that were planned to take place next year will now be cancelled. The extended terms of office are to run till 1 April 1986. No provision has been made in the Bill, in the 53 amendments or in any other way, for control of the GLC and the MCCs after that date. So the right hon. Gentleman is assuming that everything will be fine, that everything he plans will take place on time, and that no such control will be necessary.
Our amendment would delete the provisions of clause 2, which cancel the elections and extend the terms, and in substitution the Secretary of State would be given the reserve power, after enactment of the main Bill, to limit the terms of office of the new, elected councillors from any date after 1 April 1986. In the meantime, as most people in the metropolitan areas and the GLC would wish, the elections would proceed on 2 May 1985 as planned.
There has never previously been an interim provisions Bill of this nature in any local government reorganisation, or a paving Bill, as it has come to be known. The intention of the Secretary of State and the Government in introducing such a Bill was wrong in the first place. The Opposition believe that the Bill was badly flawed when drafted, and the House of Lords agreed with us on some fundamental issues.
Whatever the right hon. Gentleman thinks about the amendments that have now been carried in the House of Lords, our view remains the same. The Bill is wrong. Any decision to cancel elections before the main issue has been decided is also wrong. The House of Lords was being bypassed as the Bill stood and, in spite of the amendments, it will be bypassed again. The cancellation of the elections, in spite of th right hon. Gentleman's protestations, reates a dangerous constitutional precedent. The appointment of nominated councils, which would have produced a gerymander, has now been set aside, but the House of Lords, as the right hon. Gentleman must know, has agreed to his amendments with considerable unease and misgivings.
§ Dr. Cunningham
The right hon. Gentleman says that there was a majority of 93. He must know, from the views expressed in this Chamber, that the majority given to the Bill in this House on Second Reading was a false majority, in the sense that many of his hon. Friends voted for the measure with considerable reluctance, as they said when he made his statement following the original decision of the House of Lords on these matters.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I think it is right to point out in this context—I am speaking from memory but I believe it to be true — that a majority of the Cross Bench peers supported the provisions now before us and were part of that majority of 93 in the Upper House.
§ Dr. Cunningham
I do not dissent from that. I am saying that, notwithstanding that decision, and the decision on Second Reading, the right hon. Gentleman must know, if he is honest with himself, that there is still deep unease on his own Benches about the methods being used to force this legislation through the House. In spite of the right hon. Gentleman's protestations there is no precedent for extending terms of office before main abolition issues have been decided.
The Government have consistently said that no elections are necessary next year, since the boroughs and districts are successor authorities. Under the Government's current abolition plans, at most slightly more than 40 per cent. of GLC spending, and only about 54 30 per cent. of metropolitan county council spending, will go directly to the boroughs and districts. The remainder will go to unelected joint boards and quangos. We regret that the right hon. Gentleman has ducked that issue by letting it be known that he will announce his decision about those bodies tomorrow, the day after the House of Commons is asked to decide upon the issue.
What has got into the right hon. Gentleman? Does he no longer have the courage of his convictions? Why could he not come to the House and make his announcement before we debated the issues? That would be the normal way to proceed. That is the way that any Minister confident of his proposals and confident about his position would proceed. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman make his announcement before we were asked to make our decision?
§ Mr. Jenkin
When the document is published the hon. Gentleman will find that it contains few surprises. As I said at Question Time, the purpose of the document is to bring together a number of decisions which have been announced in recent months in written answers, in debates and in statements, so that the House, the councils and the public can see under one cover the proposals which will form the basis of the legislation. The document will, of course, contain a few details which have not been the subject of public announcement, but the mass of decisions, including those concerning the joint boards, are already public knowledge.
§ Dr. Cunningham
It is clear from that that the document is available now. If it contains few surprises and, by implication, no major points of issue, why has the right hon. Gentleman not provided it for us to see and discuss today? What does the right hon. Gentleman lack? Does he lack political nerve? Why should these matters be kept from the House of Commons—from his own right hon. and hon. Friends as well as from the Opposition? The right hon. Gentleman has made unsubstantiated criticisms of local government. The right hon. Gentleman today is acting in the way that he accuses elected councillors of acting. He is denying information to the House of Commons.
The date of 1 April 1986 is unrealistic as a final date for the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties. No provision is made for after that date. That may cause the Government problems. It certainly caused Lord Bellwin problems when he spoke in another place. When he replied to an amendment similar to that which we are discussing he said:The date is 1st April 1986 and, subject to the confirmation of Parliament in due course, that is the date which will be met." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 July 1984; Vol. 454, c. 148.]Within hours Lord Bellwin was saying something different. He said:To put a specific deadline in this Bill is not only unnecessary, but it prejudices Parliament's timetable for considering the main Bill and prejudices Parliament's consideration of that Bill since it is that Bill which will specify abolition dates."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 July 1984; Vol. 454, c. 180.]Two days later the Secretary of State announced that the nominated councils would be dropped and that there would be an extension of terms into 1986. He said that the timetable will mean that a further extension of terms "into 1986", or some other provision, would almost certainly be necessary. The irony for the right hon. Gentleman and his 55 colleagues in the Government is that throughout the long discussion, public and parliamentary, about these issues public opinion in those areas of the country affected has steadily hardened against the Government's policies and against the Government's proposals.
There has been no attempt, either through an inquiry — independent or otherwise — to substantiate the Government's case for the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties. No response has been given to the Coopers Lybrand report—the only report of substance into the financial consequences of what is proposed. Even the National Ratepayers Association has been moved to pass a motion saying that the onus should be on the Government that savings will be made and that the consequences will not make matters worse for ratepayers. At least 90 per cent. of submissions to the Secretary of State are against his proposal. The weight of evidence against the proposal is overwhelming in its condemnation, yet, still the right hon. Gentleman intends to proceed.
This afternoon the Secretary of State used an expression which will cause deep offence in town halls, city halls and county halls throughout the country. In a general condemnation of elected Labour councillors, the Secretary of State said that they were "flouting the decencies of public life." That is scandalous and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. He advanced no evidence to support that wide, general condemnation of the many decent councillors who have been elected again and again by the communities that they represent. It was an appalling statement for the Secretary of State to make, especially in view of his record in this and related matters.
§ Mr. Heddle
Mr. Livingstone is investing £10 million of hard-pressed, Greater London ratepayers' money in trying to persuade people that his council should remain. Does not that directly flout local government?
§ Dr. Cunningham
Absolutely not. The Secretary of State used the phrase "counter-obstruction"— strange words. The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) suggests that democratically elected councillors should have no opportunity to state their case to the people who elect them; that they should have no opportunity to argue against one of the most authoritarian and anti-democratic pieces of local government legislation the House has witnessed. The hon. Gentleman wants opposition to be silenced. He wants quiescence. Is it any more or less valid for the Government to set up their own information unit in the Ministry of Defence to counter arguments about cruise missiles and the Trident programme or to spend many millions of pounds of taxpayers' money in support of Conservative policies? What is the difference?
§ Mr. Heddle
The Hon. Gentleman will recall that that matter was put to the electorate at the last general election —[Interruption.]—just as the question of the abolition of the metropolitan county councils and the GLC was included in the Conservative manifesto and in the manifesto of the alliance parties. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that as recently as 1979, Mr. Livingstone said that the Marshall plan should have been implemented and that the GLC should at that time have been abolished?
§ Dr. Cunningham
I do not agree with that outburst, any more than I agreed with the hon. Gentleman's first intervention.
§ Dr. Cunningham
The hon. Gentleman saying he does not understand is like his right hon. Friend saying that we on these Benches are afraid of some Labour councillors. I am not frightened of any of the issues affecting local government or of any of the people behind them, from whatever political party they come.
The right hon. Gentleman said that elected councillors were flouting the decencies of public life. He is responsible for the most unprecedented authoritarian legislation that local government has seen. He has taken powers of a nature and scale hitherto unknown, first in the Rates Act and now in these proposals. He has announced his intention to introduce retrospective legislation on expenditure which it is within the compentence of authorities at present to incur and to introduce penal powers of disqualification.
Far from flouting the decencies of public life, the people to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred are defending long-held local democratic rights and freedoms in a plural society. That is the reality of the conflict between them and him. By his policies, including his financial policies, the right hon. Gentleman is undermining democratic local government, is abusing his office and is debasing the relationship between central and local government. It comes ill from him to make those sort of remarks about the friends and colleagues of myself and many Opposition Members, and I reject absolutely what he said.
The Secretary of State caused his office to write to me today about yet another matter associated with this legislation. The letter said that Ministers had been considering the way in which the requirements for consent to expenditure would operate, assuming that Parliament's consent to the Bill was finally obtained. That appeared on the Letter Board within minutes of this debate starting.
However, when one examines a letter, dated today, which has been sent by one of the right hon. Gentleman's officials, a Mr. Pickup, to the chief executives of London boroughs and metropolitan districts, one sees in the second paragraph a reference to seeking views on these issues. It says:I have, however, been asked to point out that while comments will be welcome, they will not be allowed to impede progress towards implementing the new controls or framing proposals for abolition.What is the purpose of this charade and of writing a letter which makes it clear that note will not be taken of our comments?
§ Dr. Cunningham
The right hon. Gentleman is wriggling again. That paragraph, taken with his decision not to allow Parliament to see the proposals that he will announce until tomorrow, says more about the right hon. Gentleman and the way in which he is approaching these matters, with an undemocratic flouting of parliamentary procedures, than anything that he might say about councillors in the metropolitan counties and the GLC.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the powers in the Bill were necessary because he had read an article in the 57 Daily Mail—[Interruption.]—and that was the sum total of the evidence that he adduced in support of his proposals. He did not advance a case of any significance or substance to substantiate what he is doing.
I remind Conservative Members of some of the decisions which have been taken by the GLC and which affect many of their constituencies. The GLC has been agreeing funding with inner and outer London boroughs. So far, £14 million has been committed in a budget agreed in February for 1984–85, and some of those decisions have not yet been implemented. That is what the right hon. Gentleman says he intends to cut across.
The boroughs being assisted this year are Brent, Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham and Hillingdon — all Conservative controlled —Waltham Forest, where there is no overall control, and Camden, Greenwich, Hackney, Haringey, Hounslow, Islington, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets, which are Labour-controlled. The total cost of a second packet— this is despite all the figures that the right hon. Gentleman bandied about—is, I am informed, £21 million, but that has not yet been fully committed.
Is it not a fact that that money has been properly committed, having been properly discussed and the expenditure lawfully decided upon? If so, should it be deemed, at the whim of the Secretary of State some months hence, to have been an unlawful decision? Is that what the right hon. Gentleman calls a reasonable way to proceed? We do not. We refute his argument, which is without substance,and we refute his proposals, which are unprecedented and dangerous, like much of the legislation and proposals for which he has been responsible.
The Secretary of State's statement today was vague and his assurance was not worth anything because, as he knows, if a council must pay back money with interest, the latter at least would be potentially surchargeable. It could be challenged by any ratepayer. If it were challenged, that could lead to the surcharging and disqualification of councillors. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman must go much further than the assurance he gave today if he is to allay the fears and disquiet that are felt on these issues.
The right hon. Gentleman claimed that these powers were needed to stop asset-stripping. No one in the GLC or elsewhere has expressed any intention of unreasonably transferring funds or property to boroughs or of acting outside the usual scope of such transactions, which have occurred in the past under Conservative and Labour control of the GLC. That is the reality of what is happening now, and the council has a legitimate right to proceed in that way. It is lawful for them so to do and it is arrogance and abuse of power to require the GLC and the metropolitan counties to seek consent from a Minister who has no power to give that consent before such transactions take place.
At each stage in our procedures the right hon. Gentleman takes a further step along the path of authoritarian central control of local government. Several more steps have been taken along that pathway with the Secretary of State's announcement of his intentions today, which are against all precedent. To require democratically elected authorities with powers to act in that way and to express an intention retrospectively is not to be compared with tax evasion and the like.
58 The right hon. Gentleman is seeking to make yet another change in the relationship between central Government and democratically elected local councils. We reject his proposals as we reject the intention lying behind the Bill. We shall be forcing these issues to a Division. Far from reassuring us in his speech, which was extraordinary — the longer it continued, the worse it became—the Secretary of State has contrived to make a very bad situation much worse.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) referred properly to a document that emanated from the Secretary of State's office about an hour ago. It is clear that the letter is relevant to the debate as it relates to the powers and the enforcement of his prospective control. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to have inquiries made to ascertain whether other spokesmen in other parties and other Back Bench Members who wish to participate in the debate might also have sight of the document before the relevant part of the debate takes place.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The Secretary of State will have heard the hon. Gentleman's point of order. I understood the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) to refer to a letter. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State has taken on board the point that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has raised.
§ Mr. Cowans
The point of order raised by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) highlights one of the main features of the Bill. There are letters, papers and books all over the place, and it seems that the one place where we should not look for the information that they contain is the Bill. That is one of the lessons that we learn in this place. We all learn that it is much more important to look in the small drawer at the back of the Minister's desk six months after a Bill has been introduced than to search through a Bill to find significant information.
The Secretary of State used the magical constitutional words,I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment,when he introduced the group of amendments that we are now discussing. If there was any enthusiasm in his voice when he uttered those words, it was lost to me. The right hon. Gentleman has been dragged screaming and kicking back to the Floor of the House to move the amendment It is clear that he doth not agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
The Secretary of State seemed to forget that Lords amendment No. 2 is directed towards elections. He spoke in detail about nearly everything but what the amendment is really about. That might be said to be the gift of a clever politician, but the right hon. Gentleman did not fool me. The right hon. Gentleman used the phrase "political stunts". That came from a Secretary of State who has been brought back to the House because of an accusation of political gerrymandering. His original proposals would have transferred the GLC to Tory control without the small benefit of elections. We were obviously listening to a master of "political stunts". The right hon. Gentleman was found out, and this afternoon he had to moveThat the House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment,when he for one doth not.
59 The Secretary of State talked about "Left-wing extremists". I shall not forget that. The only accurate part of that phrase in the context in which he used it is the word "extremists". The extremists are to be found on the Conservative Benches. The right hon. Gentleman should have his eyes examined. In the idiom of the part of the north which I represent, he needs to get his eyes chalked. He is definitely looking in the wrong direction.
The right hon. Gentleman told us on at least six occasions that there was a Division in another place which was won by 93 votes. I do not propose to tell him six times that there was another vote on 28 June which was won by 48 votes. It does not require a Bachelor of Science to work out that if the Division which was won by 48 votes had not taken place, there would have been no necessity for the Division which was won by 93 votes, and we would not be discussing the amendment.
It is clear that not all those in another place were jumping for joy at the introduction of the Bill in its original form. I have not heared the right hon. Gentleman say, "I am sorry. My intention was wrong." Of course it was wrong. He has not come close to explaining why democrats and non-extremists want to do away with elections. I thought that extremists and non-democrats wanted to do away with elections. I have now learnt that Left-wing extremists have elections and Right-wing democrats do away with them. That is the only conclusion that anyone in his right mind can arrive at after listening to the Secretary of State.
Prior to the Division in another place, which resulted in a majority of 93, Government Whips were searching throughout London for Government supporters with a view to securing a majority of about 49. They were successful to the extent that they subsequently produced a majority of 93, but on a previous occasion, having similarly scoured London for their supporters, they could not drum up a majority of 48. No doubt the Government Whips have been saying, "You do agree with something that the whole of your party has spent night and day trying to get through another place with a view to ensuring that it does not return to this place."
Their lordships were extremely concerned that the gerrymandering by the artist of the political stunt could overturn a democratically-elected council without the benefit of elections. That is why they threw out the Government's proposals. The democratic extremists come along and say, "We cannot have that. The people might vote. Whatever happens, we do not want that." The democratic extremists would not allow that, because the people might vote against the proposals. Therefore, they said, "We must see whether we can cobble up a compromise." They cobbled up a compromise by taking the unprecedented step— in accordance with the wish not of the electorate but of the democratic extremists— of extending the period in office of elected councillors. The democratic extremists took that step because people did not like the officials who were nominated. The Secretary of State has continually said that that measure was not a break with precedent. but in fact it was.
The Government were convinced that if they allowed the use of measures contained in the Lords amendment against the nominations, there would be no case for not allowing democratic elections. If there were democratic elections—this is the nub of the matter—the electorate 60 would have said, "Let us defeat the Government's measures," and the Government would have even less of a case than they have now. If any Conservative Member refutes my statement, let him stand up and say, "Let us have these elections," and there will be no argument. Either the hon. Gentleman or I will be right.
This great democratic body, which looks after the ratepayers and everyone else, is frightened to let the ratepayers have a say. How on earth have you the audacity to talk about the hard pressed ratepayers when you—
§ Mr. Cowans
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. You would be the last one I would attack, on the simple proposition that I should like to be called again.
Conservative Members have the audacity to talk about the hard-pressed ratepayers, but they do not let those people express an opinion. They say, "We shall look after you. You do not need the vote."
That brings me to those whom the Secretary of State lashes with his tongue as if it were tomorrow—the Left-wing extremists. The hard-pressed ratepayers are the people whom the Secretary of State calls, because they do not agree with him, Left-wing extremists. We are faced with a terrible position. There are the defenders of the hard-pressed ratepayers who elected the Left-wing extremists and who are not doing what the Government want. The Government, therefore, get rid of the Left-wing extremists by not allowing the hard-pressed ratepayers to vote. If an hon. Member follows that logic, he should be not in this place but in another place where he would get a little certificate proving beyond a shadow of doubt that he should not be in this place. I can think of a number of hon. Members who are well qualified to obtain that little certificate.
This measure is absolute nonsense. What I have said may have caused some laughter, but the substance of my remarks is concerned exactly with the Secretary of State's proposals. My speech has caused laughter because the meassue is barmy. The more we show up the Bill for what it really is, the better. That is, of course, the reason why the Government are frightened of the ballot box.
In other debates—I shall not transgress or meander down any side lanes, Mr. Speaker—I have heard the words, "Let them ballot." How is it that on this occasion those who shout, "Let them ballot", are the one who now shout, "Do not let them ballot"? I could follow the ideas of someone who was logical and wanted everyone to ballot. I could agree or disagree with him. When however, Conservative Members want to ballot on some occasions, but on other occasions, when they have the power to allow a ballot, refuse to hold it, one must start asking questions. One does not need to be a Bachelor of Science to work out that the Conservatives want people to ballot only when they think that they can win. If Conservative Members think that they are going to lose, they say, "For goodness sake, do not bring in a ballot." Hon. Members may not agree with me, but that seems to be the logical conclusion. Perhaps the Secretay of State will rise and tell us whether that is the reason why he will not allow a ballot.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
The reason why it is important that we insist upon a ballot for the miners and 61 the reason why this case has occurred vis-a-vis the local authoritites is that the miners and the lcoal authorities have used their powers irresponsibly.
§ Mr. Cowans
Even if I had had a plant on the Conservative Benches, I could not have done better than that. The hon. Gentleman's remark sums up the position exactly. Our case has been substantiated, because the hon. Gentlemen appears to be one of the democratic extremists. The Government say, -Those people do not do what we want, so we shall not have a ballot. If we think that those people will do what we want we will have a ballot."
When I threw this little matter up for debate, I did not know that the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) was going to make his point. I am grateful to him, because no hon. Member could have made my point better for me than he did. Therefore, there is not much for me to say, but I hope that many more hon. Members will speak like the hon. Gentleman.
It appeared passing strange that when the Secretary of State for the. Environment finished his speech, only Opposition Members rose to participate. I wonder whether there will be no opposition to those who take part in by-elections. Has the general word gone out from the Tory Central Office? Is it that we shall not hear anyone because of that, or is it that Conservative Members have nothing to say?
I believe that there is no precedent—I hope that the Secretary of State is listening carefully—for cancelling elections in peace time, unless the follow-up has already been agreed and decided. That is the bit that the Secretary of State missed out when he talked about "No precedent." In 1972 elections were allowed to go ahead while the Local Government Act set up the metropolitan county councils, which the right hon. Gentleman now wants to abolish. In 1963–64, elections were allowed to proceed until the GLC was set up. There is no precedent, even in war time, for such action as is proposed in this Bill. I understand that in war time some elections were allowed after a certain period. As far as I know, there is no war at the moment, so that cannot be the reason for cancelling the elections. The only logical reason for the Government's action is that they are frightened of the ballot box.
If we had been in Committee I could have spent quite a little time developing my argument, but I understand that many of my hon. Friends want to contribute to the debate, so I shall content myself with commenting briefly on the talk that we have heard about Left-wing extremists. I direct my remarks to Lords amendment No. 5, not because I think that it is any great shakes — for that matter, Lords amendment No. 6 does not do much for the Bill —but because of these constant references to Left-wing extremists.
I do not know any Opposition Member who knows anyone who is trying to restrict quorums. I know a great many Opposition Members who want a wider franchise and more people to have the ability to speak. But I do not know anyone who seeks for himself the power to reduce a quorum. Lords amendment No. 5 does nothing to restrict it. However, I quarrel with Lords amendment No. 6. It does not say that reducing the quorum is wrong, but it restricts the powers to do so to the metropolitan county councils and the GLC. In my book, giving any Secretary of State of whatever political colour the power to rig the quorum of a local authority is dictatorial and should be resisted by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of 62 the House. Anyone who agrees with democracy cannot possibly allow a Secretary of State, at the drop of a hat, to interfere with anyone—never mind local authorities— by rigging a quorum.
Paragraph 6 of schedule 12 to the Local Government Act 1972—and I shall not repeat which Government passed that—provides:no business shall be transacted at a meeting of a principal council unless at least one quarter of the whole number of members of the council are present.I could argue with that, but one quarter does not seem to be unreasonable. However, it is unreasonable for the House knowingly to confer on the Secretary of State the power to lay down the quorum with no criterion.
The quorum could be two. It could even be one. In fact, the quorum is one. With this power, the Secretary of State takes upon himself the day-to-day running of local authorities — and he is one of those who have the audacity to talk about Left-wing extremists. No Labour Government in my memory ever gave a Secretary of State power over the day-to-day running of local government. That is exactly what this Secretary of State is doing.
This is not a political point. No democrat sitting in this Chamber would knowingly allow a Secretary of State to have this dictatorial power. Any hon. Member who votes for it can no longer call himself a democrat.
§ Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)
I enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans). He was a lot more coherent in his description of what we are discussing than was the introduction of Lords amendment No. 2 by the Secretary of State. It is not unfair to say that the historical that bordered on the hysterical outline of the constitution of Parliament and the right hon. Gentleman's searching round in the bottom of the barrel to quote legislation which had been passed in the House in 1963 to justify the retrospective legislation that he proposes was quite beyond me.
I am in favour of amendment (a) tabled by five of my hon. Friends to Lords amendment No. 2. The House will no doubt recall that when the Bill went through the House our biggest argument about it was the constitutional one. The constitutional argument was put in two ways. It was argued that it was not possible to get rid of a democratically elected authority and replace it with one appointed by the Secretary of State and change its political nature, which unfortunately the House sought to do. The other argument was that it was quite wrong to abolish elections to those authorities before we had passed the legislation abolishing the councils involved. In terms of one of the three areas that we discussed that has been put right by another place, but we still have not resolved the position of the remaining councils which at present are properly constituted.
Amendment (a) seeks, first, to retain elections to those councils until Parliament has accepted the abolition Bill, which is to be produced at some time in the future. It also allows Parliament to have the final decision on whether the abolition Bill should proceed.
Many of the comments by Opposition Members today about the act of cowardice of the Secretary of State in seeking to abolish elections are right and should be made again and again. The Secretary of State has tried to justify the abolition of South Yorkshire county council and another six local authorities with one cutting from the Daily Mail. He has tried to justify their abolition and 63 therefore the Bill by saying that he believes it to be in the interests of ratepayers that the Bill goes through unamended. It is my strong belief that that again is an act of cowardice.
If it is true that South Yorkshire county council and the others are proposing rates which are unpopular with their ratepayers and providing services costing a great deal of money which are unpopular with ratepayers, the best people to tell those councils and the House are the ratepayers involved. In the 1979 and 1983 general elections the Government talked about rolling back the power of the state. It is quite wrong for such a Government to attempt to put forward this measure prior to the abolition Bill itself going through Parliament. It is totally wrong and it flies in the face of any semblance of democratic procedures. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Lilley) wishes to intervene, I shall give way to him. He sits behind the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, presumably having been tipped for the A-team. I hope that he will stand on his own two feet to justify himself occasionally instead of making comments from a sedentary position.
I am a representative who stands before his electors in South Yorkshire, and there are many others who do the same. At present, we are quite prepared to justify to our electors our assertion that South Yorkshire county council is levying the proper rates and providing the proper services in that area.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge explained what a democrat seemed to be in Britain in 1984. If there is any democrat present in the Chamber he will support amendment (a) and next May, in the seven areas where it is proposed that local government should be abolished, we shall see elections and we shall let the ratepayers decide whether they are quite as hard pressed as the Secretary of State suggests and whether they believe that their county councils or the GLC should be abolished.
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)
I join the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) in congratulating the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans) on a characteristic contribution to our debate. My only disappointment is that the speech was one of the hon. Gentleman's briefer efforts — not one of the major contributions that enlivened the longer watches when the Rates Bill was in Committee. Who knows, the night is young and there may be plenty of opportunities for him to go into more detail on the issues before us.
The main aim of Lords amendment No. 2 in the package before us is, as we all know, to extend the period of office of the GLC and metropolitan county councillors until 1 April 1986. My first query is whether the target date for the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties will be achieved. I share much of the scepticism already voiced in the debate about the Government's ability to achieve that target. If one examines the Government's record so far with impartiality, one sees that it hardly has the smack of firm government or that sureness of touch which would guarantee their achieving the target of abolition by April 1986.
The GLC area is the one that I know best. There are considerable grounds for saying that the Government have underestimated the task of scrapping the council and not 64 putting a major body in its place. After the original proposals were published, a veritable snowstorm of hastily duplicated consultation documents was issued from Marsham street. Clearly, civil servants discovered further problems which they had not thought of in relation to the GLC's abolition.
I shall quote just two examples from my constituency. First, I shall deal with the future of Thamesmead new town, which was started in 1967. It is to be a major housing development in the Greater London area, divided between two London boroughs. The Government have still not told us who will carry forward the development of Thamesmead if the GLC, its developing authority, is removed.
My second example is perhaps more practical. Many in my part of London depend heavily on the Woolwich ferry. It is run by the GLC, and was run by the LCC before the GLC was ever thought of. It has been a free ferry for a very long time. Along came the Government, saying that they were to scrap the GLC, but put nothing in its place. What will happen to the Woolwich ferry? The Minister of State, Department of Transport has sent letters to a variety of people, and even hon. Members have been asked to make suggestions as to who might run the Woolwich ferry when the GLC has been scrapped.
What is certain is that neither of the two London boroughs on each side of the river can run the ferry. I am sure that the borough of Newham is not interested in doing so, and the borough of Greenwich has been rate-capped and is quite unable to take on that sort of responsibility. I have quoted those two examples to underline my contention that there is a grave risk that the GLC will not be ended by 1 April 1986.
In common with other hon. Members, I have talked to the GLC Staff Association, which brings a degree of professional expertise to bear on these matters. In its judgment, it will be impossible to wind down down the GLC's activities by 1 April 1986. No doubt one of the problems that will arise will be the difficulty of requiring tha staff of the GLC to co-operate in the abolition of their employer, and of their jobs. One of the least attractive parts of this very unattractive Bill is that it gives the Secretary of State the power to compel GLC employees to co-operate in winding down their council. What happens if the staff refuse so to do has not been made clear. There must be a strong possibility that the staff will not cooperate.
The Secretary of State, in his contribution to today's debate, had to rely on somewhat dubious press comment on what is happening at county hall. Perhaps that means that staff are already declining to co-operate with the Department of the Environment and the Secretary of State. That underlines the possibility that by 2 April 1986 we may find that the GLC, or the rump of it, is still in existence.
What will happen then? Under the terms of the Lords amendments there is no possibility of extending further the life of the GLC, even if some of us wanted that. I must say that many of us do not want that to happen. What will be done about the administration that will be left at county hall, without visible means of supervision? Will a new Bill be introduced? Will direct control or rule be undertaken in theory as well as in fact by the Seretary of State for what is left of the administration at county hall and, I suspect in county halls in other parts of the country?
65 A detailed problem that arises from the scrapping of elections, the answer to which the Secretary of State has not made clear, is what will happen about by-elections. We know what happened in the previous legislation. When the main abolition Bill received Royal Assent, no by-election vacancies were filled. We do not yet know what will happen when by-elections are called in the GLC or the other six metropolitan county councils. I mean by by-elections the results of genuine vacancies that airse when people decide that they have had enough and give up, or when they pass on to the great council chamber on the sky. I differentiate those genuine by-election vacancies from those to be contested on 20 September.
It is more than just an abstract issue, because we know that some Conservative members of the GLC have said that they were elected for four years and that after that time they will give up their seats. It will be interesting if there are several by-elections to replace retiring Conservative GLC members in May 1985. Will that be allowed under the Bill as well as under the main legislation that will follow it?
The Secretary of State has suggested today, and on earlier occasions, that there are clear precedents for abolishing elections. I cannot speak about the position in the metropolitan counties, but I can speak about Greater London, as I was involved in local government there from 1963 to 1965. I remember what happened. At that time, Parliament had made clear what would follow the abolition of the LCC and the old metropolitan boroughs. There was no question of abolishing elections until the issue of what would follow had been settled.
I recall that there were two separate elections in 1964, for the GLC and for the new London boroughs. Those bodies worked in tandem for the best part of the year with the LCC and the old metropolitan London boroughs. An extremely smooth handover resulted from the old and new councils working side by side in that arrangement.
On the basis of what the Secretary of State has suggested and what the Lords amendments put forward, such a smooth handover will not be possible in 1986. In fact, we still do not know for certain to what bodies the GLC and the metropolitan counties will hand over. We have clear suspicions of what will happen, on the basis of the White Paper. The Secretary of State has told us that there will be no surprises in his proposals. Why, then, does he make us wait until tomorrow, and not illuminate today's debate? It is clear that there will be a handover from elected authorities to a collection of unelected joint hoards. That cannot be based on the precedent of what took place in 1964.
The Secretary of State has made it clear that he is passionately opposed to letting the elections due in 1985 go forward. On Second Reading on 11 April he made it clear why he was so anxious not to have elections in May 1985. He said:There are those who would have wished to turn the elections into a referendum on the Bill.He asked rhetorically:Would that be a proper purpose of local elections?He came to the conclusion that it was not. I question that. We have had referendums about the constitutional arrangements for Scotland and Wales. I see nothing wrong in giving the people of Greater London and the other metropolitan counties the opportunity, through the ballot box, to express a view on whether they want their existing 66 councils to go forward or whether they are enamoured of the extraordinary collection of joint boards which the Secretary of State and the Government propose.
On 11 April the right hon. Gentleman also said thatthe referendum would have been presented as a referendum on the substance of the issue.I do not see how we could responsibly consider letting the 1985 elections proceed in such circumstances." — [Official Report, 11 April 1984; Vol. 58, c. 410.]I make is absolutely clear that I take a different view. It would be absolutely right and proper for elections to go forward and for people to decide whether they support this system for local government in their area. In refusing to allow the electors to make such a choice the Secretary of State is saying that the man in Whitehall knows best. We have been told over and over again that that is not the Conservative party's philosophy. We have always been told that the town hall knows best, not the man in Whitehall. On this occasion the town hall is not even being consulted. The man in Whitehall will impose his solution on local people without their being given the opportunity to express their view as to whether it is good, bad or indifferent. The view that is being imposed on them does not even have the benefit of an independent inquiry or impartial judgment. It is the direct result of a throw-away sentence in an election manifesto. On the basis of that, and without proper forethought and consideration, this legislation is being thrust down the throats not only of the House but of the people in the metropolitan areas.
It is an open secret that when the Secretary of State moved into his office in Marsham street and asked for the papers about the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties so that he could understand the case and know what preparatory work had been undertaken he was told that no such papers existed, so he had to cobble the thing together as he went along. That shows in the legislation.
There is one other detailed point on which I agree strongly with the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge. He referred to Lords amendment No. 6, which gives the Secretary of State the power to reduce the quorum in the GLC and the metropolitan counties during the interim period to enable them to go on transacting business. It is part of what the Secretary of State delightfully called counter-obstructionist measures. The hon. Gentleman rightly drew attention to the dangers that flow from enabling the Secretary of State to interfere with the standing orders of directly elected local authorities. If the Secretary of State is to be allowed to reduce the quorum, he might tell us what criteria he will work on, for example, wherever two or three are gathered together. Will that be the quorum in those local authorities in future?
I should like to make one general point about the Lords amendments. I and other hon. Members object strongly to the fact that the Bill is radically different from the one that left the House on 22 May. The old Bill was about cancelling elections and creating bodies to govern the metropolitan areas in the interim period before abolition. It had only one minor financial clause, which gave the London boroughs the power to challenge the GLC's audited accounts. The new Bill extends the life of the existing councils and introduces major financial controls over their ability to dispose of land, to enter into contracts and to spend discretionary funds under section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972. In other words, the Bill's purpose is different from that of the original Bill.
67 We are being given insufficient opportunity to examine the detailed new provisions. The original Bill had one complete day for Second Reading, three days in Committee on the Floor of the House, including an all-night sitting, and a whole day for Third Reading. It added-up to 51½ hours of detailed scrutiny of those proposals, many of which have now disappeared. The new Bill is unlikely to achieve much more than one eighth of that time in scrutiny. The original Bill was given its First Reading on 30 March and its Third Reading on 22 May. In other words, there were seven whole weeks during which the Bill went through the House. The new Bill will have had just about seven days between printing and completion of parliamentary consideration.
The normal process of Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading is being concertina-ed to just one stage, which we are going through tonight. This is a dangerous process for matters as important as the method of governing metropolitan areas. It unduly limits our opportunities to scrutinise the legislation carefully and to table detailed amendments to it. Apart from our objections to other aspects of the Lords amendments, those grounds alone are sufficient for us to vote against them. We shall certainly do so.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
There cannot be many people left in this country who are either honest or sane and who are not fully aware of the real reason why the GLC and the metropolitan counties are under threat and why the elections are being abolished. There is no economic sense behind the proposals for abolition. There is no social sense and certainly no local government sense. The only thing behind abolition is the Prime Minister herself. This evening we shall consider what amounts to the reduction of local government to the level of low farce. I should have thought that the Ministers responsible were the most appropriate so to reduce local government to that level.
The Prime Minister clearly despises any sort of opposition. She is a true authoritarian, and makes a great virtue out of it. My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans), who made a most amusing but relevant speech, tricked one of the Conservative Members into saying why the elections and the GLC were being abolished. He said that it was because of the GLC and the other metropolitan authorities were controlled by a party and individuals in a party with which Conservative Members do not agree. That is their only true and real justification. It has been said many times before, and I shall say it again, that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry got it absolutely right when he said:The Greater London Council is typical of this new, modern, divisive version of socialism. It must be defeated. So we shall abolish the Greater London Council".One can hardly accuse the Secretary of State for the Environment of producing great intellectual justification for the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties. It would be more fitting if he adopted the honesty and straightforward approach of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry so that the country could know precisely why we are considering this legislation.
During the 1983 election, the Prime Minister thought that there were cheap votes to be gained by promising to put Mr. Ken Livingstone and his colleagues in their place. There is no hard evidence that at that election the abolition 68 of the GLC swayed the opinions of many people when they voted. The proposal might have won favour among the mad-dog journalists on The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, which now seem to be the only source of information about the GLC upon which the Secretary of State relies. Undoubtedly, the abolition of the GLC might have pleased the assorted psychopaths who attend the Tory party conference, but there is little evidence that the electors as a whole were swayed in their masses by this issue to support the Conservative party at the election.
Whatever the Prime Minister may have thought in 1983, the story today is different. The recent opinion polls in London have shown that 69 per cent. of Londoners are against the abolition of the GLC elections. Londoners clearly want those elections. One would have hoped that, as a result of that, Conservative Members would throw up their hands and say that the elections would not be abolished, but as we know, having a majority of over 140 means "never having to say you're sorry."
The Tory party will regret bitterly its failure to call a halt to the Prime Minister's obsession with local government. She understands little, if anything, about local government service, and cares even less. In a recent Prime Minister's Question Time, which was one of her more dodgy efforts, she was stumbling around with grant-related assessments and targets that she was reading from the Department of the Environment's press release. It came over to us as though she were reading Sanskrit. She understands nothing about local government, and many Tory Members share that ignorance.
The GLC abolition in exchange for the defeat of the Tory party in the next election is something that encourages me greatly in the watches of the night. I would consider that to be fair exchange, but unfortunately in the short run it is of little comfort to the communities and organisations in London that are likely to be sorely hurt by the Government's plan. It is clear that the GLC, and the people of London, want those elections next May.
To abolish elections in advance of the abolition of the authority shows a breathtaking contempt for local democracy, for voters and for Parliament. It is rubbish for the Secretary of State to say that this is how it has been done in the past. In the past, the decision to cancel elections has been taken at the same time as the final parliamentary decision to effect a successor authority.
The Secretary of State has argued that the successor bodies in London and elsewhere already exist — in London they are the boroughs and outside they are the districts. However, it is not the individual boroughs in London that will be inheriting the bulk of the GLC powers, should the GLC be abolished, but the joint boards, or Government quangos. The boards will be made up of members from different boroughs. Parliament will not know the composition of the joint boards or the quangos before the abolition of the GLC.
The GLC is a directly elected body, and joint boards, even if they are made up of members from other directly elected bodies, are of their nature indirectly elected, while quangos are appointed. Nobody could seriously argue that this is a proper and fitting substitute for the abolition of a directly elected local authority—the GLC.
Political expediency is the only reason for the abolition of the GLC. The Government know that they would be smashed into the ground if they faced an election in May next year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge said, they know that they are going to lose and as they do 69 not want to risk anything the elections will not be held. The Government have said that it is inconvenient or inappropriate to have an election for a body that will exist for only 11 months—from May 1985 to April 1986. Three points need to made on that idea.
First, what is wrong with 11 months of democracy? What time limit do the Government set on democracy? They think that 11 months is too short, but there have been people who have called for annual Parliaments. Are we to say that the 11-month period is wrong because it is too short a time to have a democratic accountability and control? Perhaps the Tory party prefers these things to be decided by market forces, or perhaps it is something for the tinpot dictator sitting in Downing street to decide.
Secondly, no one in their right mind — clearly, I exclude Ministers from this accusation—believes that the abolition of the GLC can be achieved by April 1986. The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) made that clear. The Government have set no time limit for the successor body. The Secretary of State came to the Dispatch Box today and said that the abolition would still proceed on the day that the Government have appointed, that is to say 1 April 1986—a most appropriate date. However, I do not believe that there is any way that that can be achieved. The GLC is not some recent creation. It inherits nearly 100 years of directly elected local government in London, and it cannot easily be replaced.
Thirdly, there is no guarantee that the majority of the GLC members, whether they are Tory or Labour, will accept an extension of office. At county hall, we make it clear—I speak as a member of the GLC—that we were elected for four years, and our mandate expires in May 1985. It is only the electorate that can legitimately extend our period of office. There is no legitimacy in the diktat of a clapped-out, third-rate Minister, forced by the other place to extend the life of the GLC. Unless the Labour movement requires me to remain at county hall, I shall end my period of office next May and there is nothing that the totalitarians opposite will he able to do to stop me.
If the GLC members stay, it will be at the request of the Labour movement, and then only to frustrate the Government's plans. In 12 months' time, whoever is then Secretary of State for the Environment will be forced to come back to the House and ask leave to extend the life of the present GLC once again. It will not be a question of being a member of the GLC for another two or three years, because the Government may then have to decide to institute hereditary GLC members so that we can clear up the mess into which the Government have got us.
I have been a member of the GLC for the past 14 years. I am disgusted and appalled at the way that the Government have reduced the concept of local government service to a low farce. The confusion in local government is there because of the actions that Ministers have taken. They will live to regret this, because there are Labour Members who have feeling and compassion for local government. We shall not allow Conservative Members to forget what they have done to local government. One day, we shall have our revenge.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
What is so striking about this debate—and it must be unique in this second Tory Parliament—is the fact that Conservative Members do not have the guts to take part in the debate to defend the Government's position. It is clear that they are under strict orders from Central Office 70 to keep quiet. Conservative Members leave it to the Secretary of State to defend the Government's position, because they are not encouraged to do so.
This absence of Conservative Members is the final result of the increasing pressure coming from the daughter of darkness, who inhabits No. 10 Downing street, who wants to muzzle Conservative Members. The only defeat that the Government have had on this Bill has been in the other place, which is proof positive that, despite the tremendous feeling against the Bill in the country, it is only in that House, where the rule of the so-called Iron Lady does not extend, that there has been any real brake on the Government's policies.
When Lord Whitelaw introduced the Bill in the other place his excuse for it was that there was no time to get the main Bill through before the 1985 elections were due. Whose timetable is it? I thought that the Government claimed that they had a manifesto commitment to carry out the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties within the lifetime of this Parliament. I understood that the life of this Parliament could conceivably be— heaven help us — five years, and during that time the Government could get legislation on the statute book.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said that Conservative Members do not seem to understand local government. They certainly do not understand the work involved in local government reorganisation — not to speak of the work of civil servants—that will be necessary to put the legislation into effect. What economic catastrophe will befall the country if, on 1 April 1986, the legislation has not reached the statute book? The 3.5 million people outside this building who are unemployed, the millions who await jobs and hope, must wonder why we spend so many hours in the House discussing a measure such as this. There can be only one reason—that the Government are blinded by their own political prejudices and are hell-bent on carrying the law through.
We have been pressing in the amendments some of which are not being debated, for a full inquiry into the cost-effectiveness of the changes that the Government are planning to introduce next Session with the abolition Bill. The Secretary of State, speaking to the Westminster, North Tory party association on 21 June, posed the question:Why did the GLC not hire a firm of accountants to prove that abolition would not save anything?He answered:Because they knew very well that any reputable firm would find millions of pounds could indeed be saved.The GLC cannot win. If it employed a firm such as Coopers and Lybrand, it would be accused of squandering London ratepayers' money. But the metropolitan counties did employ Coopers and Lybrand—a reputable firm of accoutants. The Secretary of State has refused to deal with criticisms in that report. He criticises the GLC for riot doing what he himself refuses to do.
Speaking in the other place, Lord Bellwin said:one cannot tell now what will be the decisions taken on spending by local authorities for the first year when they will be taking over."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 July 1984; Vol. 454, c. 1229.]Again, he refuses to give any estimate whatever of the cost-effectiveness of the Government's plans. Surely the case for saving on the rates must rest largely on the savings 71 in administrative costs by introducing joint boards of district councils and London boroughs to take over the functions of the present GLC and metropolitan counties.
Merseyside Commissioned an independent study by Dr. David Kermode and Mr. Michael Manning of Liverpool polytechnic's department of social studies. That study found that the burden of proof for change has not been satisfied, that there are strong reasons for the services to be provided on a Merseyside scale and by a multi-purpose authority. It found that the performance, if judged by standard of service, economic use of resources, problem solving and democratic accountability, is for the most part satisfactory and does not justify the proposed reform.
A public opinion survey carried out on Merseyside found that there was not a mandate among the public for the abolition of the county council. Public opinion is solidly behind the county council to ensure its survival. Of those polled by a reputable opinion poll, 70.3 per cent. were in favour of the retention of Merseyside county council. I can understand why the Secretary of State does not want to test the opinion of the people of Merseyside. The people of Merseyside, certainly of the district of Liverpool, have served him one bloody nose this year, and he does not want another next year. He knows full well that the Labour-controlled Merseyside county council would be returned with a resounding majority if it were to fight an election on the paving Bill.
There are other tests of opinion. The Secretary of State is interested in safeguarding ratepayers. He might well consult ratepayers' organisations. For example, has he consulted the National Union of Ratepayers' Associations? It has stated:Before any fundamental alterations are embarked upon, evidence should be produced to show that the hopes of savings and better value for money have every chance of being realised in the future. The onus is on the Government to prove that its reorganisation plans will give …. ratepayers a better deal".In its response to the White Paper, "Streamlining the Cities" the NURA said:nothing should be done to reduce the direct accountability of any local authority and any changes in structure should be made only in so far as it can be proved that they would certainly result, not simply in no increase, but in a significant decrease, in the costs of operating the local services".I hope that it will not be lost on the country and that, apart from The Sun, the Daily Express and the Daily Mail, perhaps the media tomorrow will highlight the fact that this is one debate in which Conservative Members are not prepared to come to the aid of the Government. It is a scandal that in peace-time democratic elections should be foregone in the interests of sheer party spite, for that is what we face in the House tonight. The Government cannot push the matter to one side for ever. When the Conservative party has the guts to face the people nationally, it will be condemned on its economic policy and because its idea of democracy is skin deep.
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
It is only right that I should speak about the feelings of the electorate and the ratepayers of west Yorkshire towards the Government's policy on the abolition of the elections to the county council next year. In doing so, it is significant that there is no Tory Member for west Yorkshire present in the debate on this important issue, nor is there a Liberal Member present. It is only right that we should express the views of the electorate of west Yorkshire on this matter.
72 In west Yorkshire, we have five metropolitan district councils. The county council was Labour-controlled after the local government reorganisation, passed into Conservative control and is now again Labour-controlled. It is, therefore, not possible to argue that the electors of west Yorkshire do not understand local government or do not have opinions as to how it should be administered. We do not need the Secretary of State to tell us how our local authorities should operate. With the exception of Wakefield, the same is true of district councils—they have been controlled by different parties. The people of west Yorkshire should be given the opportunity to decide next May who should administer west Yorkshire. The county council's policies that are aimed at reducing unemployment are important to the area. It has worked with industrialists and commercial undertakings to reduce unemployment, which now stands about 13 per cent. The council is conscious of the problem and abolition of next May's elections will make it harder for the council to reverse the Government's policy of creating high unemployment.
We are told that, as a result of the general election, the Government were given a mandate to abolish the metropolitan county councils. That might be the Conservatives' interpretation but they were certainly given no mandate to abolish elections in 1985. On 7 April, Leeds polytechnic carried out a survey in west Yorkshire. More than 1,000 electors were asked what they considered would be the most important issue if a general election was held the next day. In its report it said:only 1.6 per cent. of the sample identified local government reform as an important issue.When the sample was asked about the importance of unemployment, nuclear weapons, local government reform, housing, the Common Market and law and order, local government reform was regarded as the least important. The Government insist, however, that local government reform is one of the most important issues, as hard-pressed ratepayers demand it. That is not true for west Yorkshire. Local authorities within the metropolitan area have expressed their views, which I share, to the Government. In response to the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities", Bradford city council declared:That this Council views with concern the Government's intention to abolish the Greater London and Metropolitan County Councils as being a further inroad into democratic control of local services.It went on to press for a Commission of inquiry. It should be noted that the majority party on that council is Tory. A Tory-controlled district council in west Yorkshire is asking for an inquiry into whether the Government are right about abolition and especially about stopping elections next May. Ratepayers in west Yorkshire would welcome such an inquiry and the opportunity to decide their destiny through the ballot box next May.
The Secretary of State and the Minister have said that it would be a waste of ratepayers' money and undemocratic to have elections that enable a local authority to continue for 12 months. It is highly questionable whether the Government will be able to transfer services to district councils, joint boards or quangos in the specified time, and it is clear that district councils in west Yorkshire will not co-operate. Not long ago there were two general elections in one year. If it was right for a Government to be elected for just a few months, 73 how can the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister insist that it is wrong to have local authority elections in May? I appeal to Tory and Liberal Members from west Yorkshire, who are all absent, carefully to consider the needs and wishes of the people of west Yorkshire. They want an election next year and an inquiry into what the Government propose.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
On 10 May last year, the Prime Minister announced that Parliament was to be dissolved. The minute of the committee of the Secretary of State and his colleagues—MISC 95—has now been revealed for all to see. I refer to the ministerial group on the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. It noted:the cabinet agreed … that the Government should introduce the main abolition legislation early in the 1984–85 session of Parliament, with the aim of completing the transfer of the GLC and metropolitan county functions by 1 April 1986.The report from which I am quoting, which appeared in The Guardian on 26 March 1984, has not been denied by the Secretary of State. It continues:The minute makes it clear that at this stage Mr. Jenkin was planning legislation to allow Mr. Ken Livingstone's GLC and Labour administrations in the metropolitan counties an extra year of office until abolition could be effected in 1986.On 13 May 1983, Parliament was dissolved. On 9 June, with a reduced majority, a Conservative Government were returned. They had lost support since 1979.
Three days before the Dissolution of Parliament— after the announcement of Dissolution and that famous weekend when the Prime Minister went to Chequers— there appeared in the Conservative party election manifesto a commitment to abolish the seven county councils. The commitment did not extend in any shape or form of words to the abolition of elections. That did not feature then, and it did not feature during the election campaign. The Government were returned to office.
On 26 March 1984 The Guardian, referring to the Secretary of State, said:His thinking had developed, however, by the time of his second minute to the Prime Minister on September 20.'Elections to the GLC and MCCs are due in May 1985. The (Ministerial) Group are agreed that they cannot be allowed to go ahead: other objections apart, abolition would be a major issue in the elections, so that there would be a major public debate going on after the House of Commons had voted for a second reading of the abolition Bill.'".Apparently the Cabinet was divided. One view was that those on the county councils should be substituted by other nominees. That was the proposal that the Government first put to the House. The second view was that the lives of the present authorities should be extended. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. Conservative Members can rightly claim that they know all about this, but I remind them of it because it reflects on their present views.
The article continues:A small majority of the Group, however, considered that both our own supporters and the wider public would find it incomprehensible that we should, in effect, extend the terms of office of the GLC and the MCCs. Moreover, to do so would provide those bodies with scope for obstruction at a time when this would be most damaging to our policies. They therefore favoured substitution.The Secretary of State and others had the majority of the group consider the legislation. Clearly they came to the view that the wider public and the Government's supporters would find it incomprehensible to extend the period in office of the councils. Yet, today, that is exactly 74 what the Secretary of State asks us to approve. That is the present state of the proposals since they were amended in the other place.
§ Mr. Heddle
I am sure that the House enjoys listening to the hon. Gentleman recycling newspaper cuttings of about 12 months ago. So that the House knows where the alliance stands on this matter, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the alliance manifesto, on which he fought the general election in June 1983, states:We propose … 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 and the GLC.Is that a correct summary of the alliance manifesto or not?
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman knows that it is. He read the manifesto to the House. The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) is reading it now. We said that quite clearly and we have said it for many years. We believe that there should be regional government throughout Britain. We would legislate for it. Regional goverment is required for many purposes. Once it was in place and there was proper regional government in London, the north-west, the north-east, East Anglia and the south-west, the GLC and MCCs would not be needed in their present form because greater, more powerful and effective councils would take over the regional activities currently dealt with by the MCCs and the GLC. There is no inconsistency in that.
A valid question was raised about the difference between the GLC and a regional council for London.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. This is interesting, but it is a long way from the amendment that we are debating.
§ Mr. Hughes
As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was on the straight and narrow before I was interrupted by the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle).
We are debating next year's local authority elections. It is clear that local authorities have suffered and are increasingly suffering from a reduction of their powers, as local government is generally doing at the hands of this centralist Conservative Government, who act completely inconsistently with their philosophy. The Greater London council and other councils would be replaced by bodies which would in areas such as London and the metropolitan counties, effectively deal at local level with the regional functions appropriate to them.
Last autumn the Cabinet considered and then rejected those proposals. Yet, today, we are being asked to adopt them. The proposals before us about a month ago were totally unacceptable. The amendment seeks to replace those proposals. At that time we considered a system of nominated authorities which, as the Secretary of State so blandly put it, would, as an inevitable and unfortunate consequence of the proposal, change a London Labour administration to a Tory one, and alter the balance of power, although not the party in control, in the other six areas.
Those proposals for nominated authorities were before us. Many Conservative Back Bench Members protested vigorously that that was abort the mast appalling constitutional proposal that any Government had suggested for many years. Happily, our protests, sometimes made during many hours, were reflected in a 75 vote on the measure in another place. The House of Lords refused to accept nominated replacements. It insisted that those who ran democratic local authorities should be elected democratically. It recognised the objections to interfering with the process. It therefore proposed the amendment that is before us now. The amendment allows the continuation of seven councils and all of their members in office until April 1986.
That presents a considerable number of problems. To have elected bodies for four years and 11 months rather than for four years is preferable to having elected bodies for four years and nominated bodies thereafter. That is right. Therefore, the amendment is better than the original proposals. But the Secretary of State cannot suggest that that has precedent, is appropriate, democratic, just or that most of the electorate find it acceptable.
Throughout the passage of the Bill the Government have argued that there is precedent for what is being done.
Many of us have argued that that is clearly not the case. The reason why there is no precedent for what the Government propose is that on the only two relevant occasions—first, when the GLC was set up in the 1960s and, secondly, when the metropolitan counties were set up in the 1970s, both by Tory Governments — there remained in office elected councillors after Royal Assent had been given to a Bill to change the functions of local Government.
I can confirm, from a research note provided for hon Members by the Library, that this proposal is unique. We rely on the services and integrity of the Library staff. The research note, in relation to the original proposals, says:These interim arrangements are unique in modern local government organisation in that full elections are to be cancelled to local authorities which are to continue alone for a period beyond the date of these elections.That was true of the original proposal, but the research note makes it clear that, even with the amendment, the only elections cancelled were cancelledin the period between royal assent for the reorganisation Acts in 1963 or 1972 and the time of the new elections.The provision is without precedent and hon. Members should be willing to say so, although this is the last step down the road for this legislation. It is the last procedural occasion for us, and it is noticeable that many Conservative Back-Bench Members who spoke against this provision are now silent, with no justification for being so, except, presumably, their own convenience.
At least the Lords managed to improve the Bill. If one thing is clear from the way in which the procedures of the House have been used, it is that any argument for a single-Chamber government must be rejected, as it would be a prescription for tyranny by a minority. Any arguments —they come often from Labour Members—that suggest only one Chamber——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Regional government is bad enough, but it is even worse to start talking about whether we should have a bi-cameral system. Will the hon. Gentleman confine his remarks to the amendment before the House?
§ Mr. Hughes
It is a compliment to the system that we have a second Chamber. The point must be recorded, because the Secretary of State introduced this subject into 76 the debate at the beginning of his speech on the amendment. It is vital to have two Chambers so that such matters cannot be steamrollered—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Irrespective of what was said earlier in the debate, which I did not hear, I am in the Chair now and I must ask the hon. Gentleman to observe the procedures of the House.
§ Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness)
May I bring the hon. Gentleman back to something that he said a moment ago? I apologise for having missed some of his earlier comments. In 1967, when I was a member of Salford city council, I was elected an alderman for a term of six years. That term expired in 1973, but in the event it was extended to 1974. What was so unique about that occasion that cannot be applied now?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman must not take up the time of the House making such explanations. I hope that he will now address the amendment before the House.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am happy to say that I explained that point a few moments ago, and it will appear on the record.
There is a fundamental objection to the Government's substantive proposal, because of practicality. The Secretary of State is presuming that Parliament will do his work for him. He is presuming that by 1 April 1986, Parliament will have passed a Bill that we have not seen and the clauses of which we have no knowledge, except that they are causing Department of the Environment staff to tear out their hair in an attempt to make them fit to present to the House. We are led to believe that the Bill will be extremely long and that the proposals contained in it will receive Royal Assent after the Bill's passage through both Houses of Parliament.
No Secretary of State, and no Prime Minister, has the right to assume that Parliament will agree to unseen and unpublished proposals until such time as its agreement has been obtained. The principal practical objection is that if a proposal is passed which requires the terms of office of people elected for four years to be continued for a further year, and if by 1 April 1986 the substantive legislation has not been passed, we shall either need different legislation or there will be no one in office, the councils will not continue and there will be no successors.
That is a practical problem, as their Lordships made clear—
§ Mr. Hughes
That question might reflect the fact that some people treat a matter of constitutional importance with levity, not with seriousness. The debate is about a matter of which Labour Members often complain—the granting of too much power to Ministers, extending the terms of office of people who are elected for only limited terms of office, and not allowing next year's elections to go ahead because the Government do not wish them to go ahead. If they are to be believed, Labour Members wish the elections to take place next May. [HON. MEMBERS: "Bring back Bob Mellish."] I thought that the Labour party was moving to the Left, but I am beginning to wonder. The Government want the amendment to succeed because it is clear that they are unwilling, although they know that 77 some people cannot imagine why the GLC and the metropolitan counties should be allowed to continue, to put it to the test before the electorate.
I challenge the Secretary of State in two simple ways—
§ Mr. Hughes
I asked the right hon. Gentleman to do that previously, but it did not produce the correct result. I would be quite happy for the Secretary of State to resign and fight a by-election. I can predict that the Labour party would not win it.
The elections, in which the Secretary of State does not believe, would have given the Conservative party an opportunity to release London and the metropolitan counties from the control of people whom the Government believe are abusing their position, although they are simply carrying out the legislation introduced by the Secretary of State and his predecessors. If the Secretary of State believed that elections next May would give the electorate an opportunity to agree with his statements that the GLC and the metropolitan counties are spending extravagantly and must be controlled, he would allow them to take place.
On 20 September there will be four by-elections to the GLC. If those elections are won by Opposition parties on the GLC, they will have a chance to control it. If it fought and won those four elections, the Conservative party could gain control of the GLC on 20 September. Therefore, it has no excuse for going through this charade, with financial amendments which should have been in other legislation such as the Rates Bill. The Conservatives are not prepared to go to the ballot box within less than two months to put their proposals and arguments before the electorate.
It is inconsistent and unprincipled for the Secretary of State to use this place, and all this paraphernalia of legislation, to extend the terms of office of Labour councillors, who form the majority in all the seven authorities with which we are concerned. They are people whom he criticises daily—usually on the basis of press reports, unsupported by facts. It is ridiculous for him to go down that road when he is not even prepared to challenge those Labour councillors on the streets and doorsteps of London in September. We have made it clear that, even though we would not have called the elections, those elections are there to be fought. That is the best way of determining whether the proposals are acceptable.
The point has been made that there is no logic in saying that electing an authority for 11 months is without principle or unjustified. Many have been the Parliaments elected for a much shorter period than that. Parliaments have been terminated, for various reasons, after a number of months, usually at the request of the Prime Minister. Many have been the occasions when people elected for four years would have liked the ability to change their policies. Having been elected on a manifesto, and circumstances having changed, they may have wanted to put a new set of proposals before the electorate.
Many people in local government — members and officers — do not believe that it will be possible, between 1985 and 1986, to make all the detailed arrangements which are required to transfer enormous authorities, together with their assets and personnel, to other functions. Many people are saying that they cannot 78 be expected to accept a period of rapid transition of about 11 months, and probably less. The major bill will probably not complete its passage through this House until after May next year, possibly in July or August, or even as late as October or November. It will not be possible for them, in the short time remaining after that, to adapt in the way that is needed. Many of them will be looking for new jobs. Many of the senior officers will not be able to give their undivided attention to the transfer of powers from their authorities. They will be out of work. They will have no authorities to work for.
We have not yet been given the details, but we are told that a number of direct boards are to be set up. Their members will have to be recruited. All that work has to be done by Whitehall — by the already overworked bureaucratic machine in Marsham street. It will have to be co-ordinated by civil servants. The Secretary of State might argue that it will be at their convenience, but, according to the leaks from his Department, that is riot what people are saying. It is that practical reason that so validly and clearly reinforces the constitutional argument that an amendment tabled at such a late stage in the proceedings is unacceptable to this House. As the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans) validly said, the amendment was tabled under pressure. It is an amendment with which the Secretary of State does not agree, but we are being asked to accept it.
As has often been made clear, the truth is that the Secretary of State and his colleagues are unwilling to accept political opposition when it is anything like as effective as present legislation has permitted it to be. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), has often had his book "The Binding of Leviathan", quoted back at him. It dealt with the abuse of centralised power. He wrote in it that one of the things most interesting about conservativism—which, to use his words, is an aspect of liberalism —isits constitutional theory designed to preserve the capacity to dissent. Conservatives value it from fundamental scepticism about the possibility of determining final truth".It is the refusal of the Government to allow dissent, and to allow that dissent to be expressed in the ballot box, that is the fundamental reason why this measure and this amendment are unacceptable.
We have before us amendments which make the Bill substantially different from the Bill as it started in the House. That is the last form of constitutional outrage that the Secretary of State is perpetuating in this legislation. He now has a Bill to give him far greater powers than he sought at the beginning.
The Secretary of State should not abuse this House. If he succeeds tonight, or tomorrow, he should think twice before coming back to the House with any measure which permits him to have power at the expense of the people who were elected to run the councils. He should not claim support for his arguments on the basis of his own prejudices, as opposed to the facts available to him, which clearly were not the same a year ago, when he argued exactly the opposite of what he is arguing tonight.
§ Mr. Boyes
It is interesting that no one has been rising on the Conservative Benches. I do not make a practice of counting the number of hon. Members present in the Chamber, but I find it remarkable that none of the 79 Conservative Back Benchers wishes to take part in the debate on the amendment. I do not think, as one of my hon. Friends suggested, that they have been gagged. I think that they have no heart for the Government's propositions. It is interesting that those propositions were rejected recently in the other House, where the Conservatives have an enormous inbuilt majority. That shows the frailty of the Government's case.
The Secretary of State's comments in relation to Tyne and Wear county council were disgraceful, unfounded and scandalous. He should not have talked about county councils in the way that he did. He may not have mentioned specifically the Tyne and Wear county council but he talked about the metropolitan counties, which of course include Tyne and Wear. I thought that it was equally disgusting of the Secretary of State to compare elected councillors, who receive an attendance allowance of about £14 a day, with friends of the Conservative party who are making massive amounts of money by speculation.
I am sure that many of my council colleagues will find the Secretary of State's language rather frightening, as I do. He referred to a scorched earth policy and to counter-obstruction. It is worrying when a Secretary of State, in an important debate, is reduced to using such terms.
The Secretary of State referred to my friends in Tyne and Wear as extremists. That allegation was dealt with adequately by my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans). The Secretary of State also accused them of being irresponsible. Indeed, he suggested that Members of Parliament were frightened of some of the councillors. That is rather juvenile language for a Secretary of State to use. You based your whole case—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. As the hon. Gentleman knows, he should be addressing the Chair and he should not bring me personally into these matters by using the word "you".
§ Mr. Boyes
I would not wish to do that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The only piece of evidence that the Secretary of State had was a story in a newspaper. Is he one of Jasper Carrott's Sun readers. I think we shall have to put the Secretary of State into that category.
I am wearing with some pride the tie of the Tyne and Wear council. The councillors do not fall into the category mentioned by the Secretary of State; they have represented the needs of the people in their area. Many of the people are unemployed and living in poverty. With limited resources, the councillors have tried to introduce policies to alleviate some of the problems.
The Conservative party is trying to smash the transport system in the Tyne and Wear. It is one of the best integrated passenger transport systems in the world—yet because it is so good, the Secretary of State and his colleagues are abusing it.
The Secretary of State mentioned section 137 funds, and I shall deal with that in more detail on another amendment. There is evidence even from Conservative Members about the Tyne and Wear council. The hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), in his book "Politics on the Rates", said clearly that that council had used its section 137 funds in a proper way and to the benefit of people in the area.
80 The Secretary of State spoke about councils wasting money. I presume that when he went for his cup of tea he read the The Standard which, in its bold headline, said,Fly back to stop Labour".The article said that three Conservative councillors were being flown back from Italy, France and, possibly, Spain to attend a single meeting of the council. When the Under-Secretary replies, I hope that he will tell us whether he thinks it better that a council should spend money on protecting and creating jobs and on providing one of the best integrated passenger transport systems in the world rather than flying councillors around Europe to attend a meeting. Who is using the money more sensibly? Which council is benefiting the people in its area?
I cannot understand the Government's strategy in rejecting the ballot box. The Government's economic strategy is to leave matters to the market place. Surely there is a relationship between that philosophy and the question of people voting in local elections. Surely, under the Government's philosophy, if the rates are too high the electors would not vote for the councillors who set the high rates. That is the exact parallel with what you believe in —[Interruption]—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would not keep attributing things to me. He should remember that he should address the House in the third person.
§ Mr. Boyes
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Not one Conservative Member has spoken. If Conservative Members wish to speak, they can do so when I sit down.
I cannot understand why the Government will not allow a ballot so that the people can judge whether the Government's policies are acceptable. There is no precedent for what the Government are doing.
During the debate in another place Baroness Birk asked about precedents for cancelling elections, and Viscount Whitelaw replied:and I say this at once, to concede the point made by the Noble Baroness—on those occasions the cancellation was done in the main Bill for abolishing the authorities."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 July 1984; Vol. 454, c. 1185.]The Government have no case. They are basing part of their argument on one report in a newspaper, which may or may not be correct. The thousands of peers in another place do not agree with what the Government are doing. Not one Conservative Member has had the guts to stand up and defend the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
I shall be brief. Unlike some hon. Members who occupy the minority parties' Benches, I do not believe that the value of words lies in their volume, length or piety.
I wish to make three brief points about this crucial amendment which changes the entire Bill from its original form. First, the amendment and the new system enshrined in it are wholly impractical. The amendment imposes a deadline of 1 April 1986, which the Secretary of State must, in his heart of hearts, know to be unimplementable. Even if the House agreed to the passage of the main abolition legislation, it is a charade to imagine that the entire apparatus of the GLC and the metropolitan counties could be dismantled and sensibly transferred in 11 months. The amendment puts the date of 1 April 1986 irrevocably into the legislation. If that is accepted, no other option is open to the Secretary of State, the Government or the House.
81 Secondly, the amendment is unconstitutional. It clearly prejudges any decision that the House may make on the main abolition legislation. It also prejudges any decision that the House may make about the time scale for any legislation. If this House or another place decided that 11 months would be too short a time in which to dismantle the operations, and decided that two years would be more sensible, the Government's hands would be tied by the amendment.
Finally, and most importantly, both the Bill in its original form, and with the proposed amendment, would remove the democratic rights of Londoners and the residents of metropolitan counties to vote in May.
The Secretary of State must tell us why the elections should not take place. On the many occasions that we have asked him that question he has simply said that it would be absurd for the elections to be held. Is it absurd to say that the people of London should exercise their vote through the ballot box? Is it absurd to say they should be entitled to decide who runs London and what powers they should have? Is it absurd that they should pass a verdict on the Government's plans for their city and their council? Of course it is not absurd. It is the right, decent and democratic thing to do. The Government have failed to pick up the challenge of the House of Lords. Instead, they have proposed a measure which is as undemocratic as the original. That is why I oppose the Lords' amendment and shall wholeheartedly support the amendment tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)
I shall be brief. Surely it is unprecedented in the history of Britain for one democratic body to seek to abolish another democratic body, for reasons of pure spite and dislike of the policies pursued by that body. That is particularly true of the Government's attitude to the GLC and is probably also true of their attitude to the metropolitan counties.
Not only do the Government object to the policies of those bodies, but to the effect of the policies on the people. The Government object to the popularity of those policies. The authorities are showing what can be done by a popular administration with a mandate and a population that believes in it. There is a lesson there for other democratic bodies such as this House.
The Government have given two reasons for wanting to abolish elections. The first is to secure a change in the political control of the GLC. That proposition has been defeated in the House of Lords. The second reason is that elections are considered inappropriate in the context of the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties. How can it be inappropriate for the people of London and the metropolitan counties to be given a chance to comment on the record of the administrations that they elected four years ago? Surely that is a democratic right. How can it be inappropriate for people to have a say in the future of the authorities? The people are being given no voice. The last election was several years ago and opinions will have changed. They should be tested in the only democratic way—by the ballot box and not through public opinion polls.
How can the Secretary of State be so positive as to put April 1986 in the Bill without any provision for qualifying that date? I remind the Secretary of State of the unfortunate experience which overtook the Secretary of State for Transport. The Secretary of State for Transport, his junior 82 Minister, civil servants and press officers told the people of London and the metropolitan counties for months after the general election last year that concessionary fares for pensioners and disabled people would be left for the London boroughs and constituent local authorities in each of the metropolitan counties to decide. The pressure of public opinion forced the Secretary of State for Transport to make a major change in policy and he had to include in the Bill setting up the London regional transport authority a statutory provision to back up his claim that the concessionary fares scheme would continue.
If the Secretary of State for Transport can be caught out by changing events and by not being able to foresee the pressure of public opinion, how can the Secretary of State for the Environment be so God-like and say that 1 April 1986 is the closing date and that there is no need to consider the possibility of extension?
In his own interests, why has not the Secretary of State included a provision for amending the date, preferably by affirmative resolution? Why is the Secretary of State so arrogantly sure that on 1 April 1986 the whole messy business of transferring power from the GLC and metropolitan counties to the local authorities and statutory boards will be finished and done with? I do not believe that the business will be finished by then.
Is the right hon. Gentleman so certain that no slip-ups or delays will occur? I remind him of the famous words:Those whom the gods wish to destroy.They first make mad.The Secretary of State and his junior Ministers are well on the way to self-destruction.
§ Mr. Franks
One essential matter goes to the heart of the legislation, but the Opposition either do not take it on board or, more to the point, they deliberately ignore it. In recent years we have experienced the virtual death of democracy in local government. The reason is simply that the ratepayer and the elector are no longer one and the same animal. The elector more often than not does not pay rates and the ratepayer is totally disfranchised. The Opposition would do well to realise that.
I back my comments with facts and figures from Manchester city council, with which I am fairly familiar and of which I was a member until last year. What happens in Manchester is no different from what happens in Sheffield, Tyne and Wear, Newcastle, Leeds or Birmingham. In Manchester, 67 per cent. of ratepayers come from business and commerce. They pay over two-thirds of the rates and yet do not have a single vote.
§ Mr. Straw
When the hon. Gentleman last spoke on this subject he condemned the Secretary of State by saying:We would expect the Fascist Left, not the Government, to change political control of a council without an election." —[Official Report, 29 June 1984; Vol. 62, c. 1286.]Does the hon. Gentleman still hold that view, or has he been put under pressure since then?
§ Mr. Franks
The hon. Gentleman has difficulty in comprehending many things, but if he can point out anything that I have said which contradicts what I have said this afternoon I shall give way to him. I am flattered and honoured that he had the sense to read carefully what has been said, even if he does not have the ability to comprehend it.
In Manchester, 67 per cent. of the ratepayers do not have a vote, but 33 per cent. of the ratepayers —the 83 domestic ratepayers—have 100 per cent. of the votes. One must analyse that 33 per cent. In Manchester 65 per cent. of domestic ratepayers receive rate rebates, so it is of no interest to them whether the rates go up 1 per cent., 10 per cent. or 1,000 per cent. Indeed, the pressure on the local authority is to spend more because that means something for nothing for the domestic ratepayers. That is the waste and arrogance of local government.
Many years ago this House, in its wisdom, decided to remove the business vote. The removal of that financial discipline led to the gradual decline and death of democracy in the cities. Those of us who have lived and worked in the cities——
§ Mr. Franks
I say that there should be a vote for everyone who pays rates. When I was in Manchester I resented the fact bitterly that I paid rates but had no vote. I provided jobs, but I had no vote. I provided employment, but I had no vote. Those who were the dross of society —[Interruption.]—who contributed nothing to, but took everything out of, society had a vote, whereas those who were putting something into society did not.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
Will the hon. Gentleman be more explicit for the people of Barrow and Furness and explain what he means by the dross of society? Who are the people to whom he refers to as dross?
§ Mr. Franks
Labour Members are specialists in that sphere. I refer the hon. Gentleman to his colleagues.
If we analyse the situation and obtain a percentage of those in Manchester who pay rates and have an opportunity to do something about what happens, we find the ludicrous situation that only 16 per cent. of these ratepayers have a vote. Yet Labour Members talk about democracy. I throw the word "democracy" back at them. If they believe in democracy, give it to those who pay the rates.
The Labour party in London is organising so called by-elections to test the so-called electorate. When the ratepayers and the electorate coalesce and become one such by-elections will have some force. So long as London's ratepayers are deprived of a vote, such by-elections will remain a charade.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) appears to believe that those who do not pay rates— because they are judged by his House to be too poor to pay rates—are dross.
§ Mr. Dobson
Those were the hon. Gentleman's words, and that was the impression he intended to create. He will have to explain away what he said to the poor people of Barrow whom he conned into voting for a buffoon like himself instead of a decent man like Albert Booth.
It is not so long ago since one had to be reasonably well off to have a vote in local government. That is the type of local government in which the Tories have always believed. They take the view that people with money should have more influence, even at the ballot box, than those without money. We reject that stinking, rotten poll tax idea on which the Tory party has always based its attitude.
Let us get a few things straight about who pays tax in this country. Rates are only one form of taxation. One of the main reasons why British businessmen object to the rating system is that rates are the only taxes that many of them pay. Under the Tories, the proportion of central Government revenue paid by big corporations and small businesses has fallen to 8.5 per cent. of companies' total revenue, so that ordinary people must put their hands in their pockets and handbags and pay the rest.
Nobody—not even Conservative Members, so far as I am aware—is suggesting, for example, that IT and T or any other multinational corporation should have a vote in British general elections. No doubt it will not be long before buffoons, such as the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness, are suggesting something of that sort.
Anybody above the age determined by Parliament has the right to vote locally. It is a precious right which Labour Members will fight to preserve from all the lunacies that come from the Conservatives. Indeed, the remarks of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness demonstrated the point that I had intended to make before he spoke—that the Secretary of State and his Government colleagues appears to base their whole local government legislation on two principles, both of which were enunciated by people outside Britain, one a Russian and the other an American.
The Russian was Molotov, who said that the problem with free elections was that one could not be sure who would win. The Government do not want an election in London and the metropolitan counties next year, not because they are not sure who would win, but because they are sure. They know that Labour would win, and therefore they do not want an election. That is the way of the autocrat, not the democrat.
When we consider the broad sweep of Tory local government measures, we see that they apply the principle enunciated by Henry Ford, the American. When asked what colours of cars manufactured by him people could purchase, replied they they could have a car of any colour so long as it was black. The Tories are saying that people can have councils of any colour, so long as they are blue. They are taking away the power of local authorities to do anything but pursue the policies of this purblind, stupid Tory Government. The people of Britain are resisting that, and we are proud to represent that resistance.
I shall concentrate on what is happening in inner London and not deal with outer London. It is clear that Conservative Members should do nothing to affect the ILEA. After all, they did not attend its schools or send their children to ILEA schools. The Conservatives have lost every election in inner London at borough, county and 85 parliamentary level. They have no mandate to put in jeopardy the schooling of 320,000 youngsters and many adults. We in inner London will not accept the measures that the Government are pushing through.
The ILEA is vilified at every turn by the Tories—and by the Government's poodle, The Standard, and many other newspapers—as are the people who are currently running the ILEA. They, and the education authority, are far from perfect, but if the Government do not like the spending and education policies of the ILEA, let them leave the law as it stands. There will then be an election next year and the people of inner London can decide, not some jumped-up bureaucrat who giggles in the Ministry Box all the way through the Minister's speech, nor the fools who have been representing the Government on their local government legislation in the House.
For those reasons, I join my hon. Friends in rejecting what was said by the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness and what the Government are putting forward. We will do away with the view that the Russian and the American propounded and, if necessary, stick with Winston Churchill and trust the people.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)
The Bill is in a different form from the measure that left the House not many weeks ago, particularly in view of the amendment that we are now discussing. I shall concentrate on one issue to which, remarkably, the Secretary of State did not refer, although it was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson)—the ILEA.
The trouble with having such major changes to the Bill as it returns to us from another place is that we are not able to give the changes the scrutiny they should have, and in that respect I hope that the Secretary of State will answer some questions about the future of the ILEA.
I understand that it is intended that the present elected members of the authority shall hold office until 1 April 1986. However, the Government have conceded that the ILEA will in future continue to be a directly elected authority. On the other hand, Lord Whitelaw, in the other place, when answering another noble Lord, said:I can give him a categorical assurance that … the main abolition Bill … will not preclude the holding of those elections in the Autumn of 1985 if that is the best course to follow". — [Official Report, House of Lords, 16 July 1984; Vol. 454, c. 1218.]So we have the hint that the next elections for the Inner London education authority will take place in the autumn of 1985, it having been abolished in the spring of 1985 by the Bill and the amendment that we are discussing. The present ILEA will be in office for several months beyond that stage. I do not understand the logic of that. We shall have two elected authorities—it is to be hoped that they will be of the same political complexion— somewhat differently comprised in terms of individuals and structure. They will both hold office, and one will be shadowing the other. Surely that makes no sense.
The Secretary of State may say that we shall have to wait for the legislation that is to be introduced next Session before we know how that difficulty will be resolved, but that is not good enough. We are being called upon to make decisions now on the future of ILEA, although the effect of the amendment may be modified beyond recognition by legislation in the next Session. By any standards that is not playing fair by ILEA. It is adding enormous uncertainty to the way in which the most important and largest education authority in London is to be run. I remind the 86 House that ILEA commands more resources and is responsible for more expenditure than the GLC. We are not dealing with a minor local authority, but we are asked to take on trust proposals that we are not able fully to assess because they depend so much on legislation that is to follow. I resent the fact that proposals are being thrown at us in truncated form in the absence of any sign front the Secretary of State of the implications for ILEA of what is to follow. We are entitled to a better explanation than has been provided by the silence of Ministers.
§ Mr. Straw
This has been a fine debate, which has been notable for the brilliant speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans)—he made the wittiest speech that I have heard in my five years in this place as well as one of the sharpest—and the remarks of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks). Unfortunately the debate has been characterised by the deafening silence of Conservative Members, broken only by the gales of laugher when my hon. Friend demolished the Secretary of State's arguments one by one and with them the Secretary of State himself.
I was not surprised that throughout the brilliant, witty and hilarious speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge the Secretary of State could not share in one of the jokes. His face sunk deeper and deeper as he recognised, I hope, the error of what he is seeking to do. We know that the Thatcherite Tory party is a far from pleasant place. Government supporters now know that the Secretary of State is backing a loser. They know also that the Secretary of State is himself a loser and they are deserting him. So idefensible, unprincipled and bankrupt is the Government policy that it will, I warrant, be the Secretary of State's political obituary. The question now is not whether the Secretary of State will be fired but when.
We can share with the Secretary of State his anger at his treatment by 10 Downing street. Total loyalty is the price which he pays, as do all Cabinet Ministers, for his seat at the Cabinet table. That is an attitude which is far from reciprocated, for daily is the briefing about the Secretary of State's future. We were able to read this morning an article in the Financial Times by the ever well-informed Mr. Peter Riddell, the political editor. He tells us thatAn additional Minister, possibly of Cabinet rank, is likely to be appointed this year at the Department of the Environment to deal with local authorities.If ever the fingerprints of Mr. Bernard Ingham have appeared in a newspaper article, the following sentence must be a prime example. The article continues:Mrs. Thatcher feels"—in other words, Mr. Ingham has told Mr. Riddell—that an excessive workload has fallen on Mr. Patrick Jenkin, the Environment Secretary.I believe that to be true. No Minister should be forced to bear the work load that is carried by the Secretary of State, and I say that with every seriousness. This piece of finger-printed briefing adds:Many observers at Westminster will see the proposed change as an attempt to make up for the continuing weaknesses of Mr. Jenkin in defending the local government legislation, although he is almost certain to remain as Environment Secretary for at least another year.We can take it that he will not be remaining as Secretary of State for the Environment or Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for another two years. When that journal speaks of 87the continuing weakness of the Secretary of State",it must be said that it is weakness that has characterised the right hon. Gentleman's conduct of the Government's local authority policy. It is weakness that has produced obstinacy, stubborness, arrogance and a refusal to listen, still less to yield, to argument. The right hon. Gentleman has quoted from various newspapers in support of his draconian powers to take over the GLC even before the elected period of office of the GLC and the metropolitan councils has expired. His one source of evidence was the Daily Mail, that veritable organ of the truth!
§ Mr. Straw
Yes, the forgers' gazette. I wonder why the Secretary of State did not quote his good friend and colleague, the Conservative GLC member for the constituency of Wanstead and Woodford, which the right hon. Gentleman represents in this place. He must know that GLC representative. He must face the same reselection procedures with the same constituency association as that faced by Mr. Robert Mitchell. I assume that at one stage the views of Mr. Mitchell and the Secretary of State were shared. What does Mr. Mitchell have to say about the Government's proposals? The relevant article is headed "The mandate that never was". Part of it states:The defeats and retreats which have characterisd the progress of the Government's plans to abolish the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan councils may have caused the Government to modify its strategy, but they have had no effect on its ultimate goal.Mr. Mitchell recites how badly the Government have done as a result of their local government policy. There was a 60 per cent. higher swing against the Government in London in the Euro-elections than in the country generally. Nowhere was there a higher swing against the Government than in London east, an area that is represented by the Secretary of State among others. We are deeply grateful to him for that if nothing else.
The article continues:But manifesto promises are not binding contracts. Who now recalls the 1979 Conservative undertaking to abolish the domestic rating system?We do, of course, and no one more than my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). It seems that no Conservative Members recall that undertaking. Mr. Mitchell's article states:At a recent private meeting between a Government Ministerspot the Minister—and a group of Conservative GLC councillors, the Minister expressed his appreciation of the value of the discussion and hoped that the consultation could continue. When it was suggested to him that the consultation could have been even more useful had it occurred before the manifesto was written, he registered pained surprise.If there is one epithet of the Secretary of State's political obituary, it will be pained surprise at the reaction to his policies.
Mr. Mitchell concludes his excellent article by saying:At present, when the Government is faced with an awkward function which does not fit the pattern, its response is to take it into its own grasp.As a result, the control of London is slipping increasingly into the hands of special bodies and Government Departments and not moving nearer to the people. London 88 is a great and living entity and it is inconceivable that such a city should be left without a voice of its own. That is a sentiment to which all of us will drink.
Does any Conservative Member who supported the Government and the Prime Minister's call to roll back the frontiers of the state to set the people free really believe that the Government's proposals, which are not in any way setting the people free—the people do not want to be free in the way that the Secretary of State wishes, which means that they are bound hand, foot and finger— constitute the real freedom for which the Conservative party campaigned and from which it did well in 1950 and 1951? Does anyone believe that these proposals are remotely compatible with the pledges to set the people free and to roll back the frontiers of the state on which all Conservative right hon. and hon. Members were elected?
As Mr. Mitchell said, it is with pained surprise that the Secretary of State reacts to the mounting opposition from not only the Opposition and Conservative Benches but the country as a whole. It is as if, having been caught with a smoking pistol in his hand, and having then voluntarily written a statement of confession in his own handwriting, the Secretary of State, as he goes to the gallows, still protests and believes in his innocence. It is time that the right hon. Gentleman understood that what he is doing is not just politically but morally wrong.
The Secretary of State is seeking to crush opposition. I never thought that I would hear, even in 1984, a Minister coming out with words that could have been plucked from George Orwell's "Nineteen Eight-four" and talking about the need to take powers that have never before been taken, in wartime or peacetime, to deal with opposition and with counter-obstruction to his proposals. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that counter-obstruction is democratic opposition. Although the right hon. Gentleman may be a Tory, he should also— this is a tradition of the Tory party—be a democrat.
§ Mr. Straw
Yes, it is. It may not be the tradition of the new Conservatives, but it is certainly the tradition of the old Tory party. There are one or two former adherents of the old Tory party who are ashamed to be members of a party which has thrown away its history of defending English liberties and which instead draws its inspiration and policies not from the history of the British people but from alien continental cultures, from the history of the pre-war states of Germany, Italy and Spain.
There are no precedents for what the Secretary of State is doing— no precedents for abolishing elections, for bringing forward such Bills before main Bills have gone foward and for a Secretary of State to take unto himself the power by edict to control every dot and comma of democratically elected authorities' work, just because those authorities, having been elected on a different mandate and having a majority of different councillors from a different party, dare on behalf of the people who elected them to go in for what the Secretary of State described as counter obstruction.
This is a despicable and undemocratic measure. It reflects a Secretary of State without principle and without scruple. The measure has our overwhelming opposition. However long it takes, we shall defeat this measure and the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
This was a low-key debate until my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) joined in. He hotted up the debate and produced a vintage rant from the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) tried to hot up the debate again. The hon. Gentleman gets his history back to front. As a matter of fact, for much of the time the Tories did not believe in parliaments, but believed in kings. It was the Conservatives and people such as Peel who believe in parliaments. The hon. Gentleman should take another look at Norman Gash for information about those points.
We all know that the arguments were evenly balanced on how to deal with the transitional period. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) brought up again all those leaks to The Guardian. There was argument then and there is argument now about the best way of getting through the transitional period. We have respected the wish of the other place and followed the advice of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), who, in winding up an earlier debate, said that the obvious and sensible thing to do was to prolong the life of sitting councillors. There remains a case for that argument, and we have listened to the views of the other place. The attractive picture of thousands of peers conjured up by the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) was a bit of an exaggeration. There were not thousands of peers, but sufficient to make the Government change their mind on this point.
I genuinely admired the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey — not a filibuster — on Report on the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill. The hon. Gentleman's speech today was not quite so much on the ball. We heard a line familiar to those of us who fight Liberals — both sides of the argument were deployed at the same time. The argument was along the lines of, "It is all right to do away with bureaucracy, but only if one invents a bigger bureaucracy." I thought that the accuracy of his contribution was measured by the fact that he got both the name and the date of my book wrong. That is no good for sales. The hon. Gentleman must be more accurate.
The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington and several other hon. Members pointed out that there was no evidence that any of these councils would take any of the dire actions which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken powers to prevent. The trouble is that the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington overlooked the vigorous and characteristically unpleasant little speech from the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who said that the Labour movement would instruct people to frustrate the Government's plans. We do not need to read The Observer to know that. That statement was not in the Daily Mail. If hon. Members read Hansard they will find that the hon. Gentleman said that councillors would be instructed by the Labour movement to remain in office to frustrate the Government's plans. I wrote that down, because it was of some interest. We do not need to read the newspapers. We just have to listen to the Opposition Back Benchers.
There is one aspect about all this which is totally unprecedented. I know of no Government in modern times who have tackled the business of lifting a whole tier of bureaucracy from the backs of ratepayers and taxpayers. The whole process of modern government has been a steady expansion of bureaucracies and steady increases in 90 the number of people in large black cars giving themselves airs, and all the rest of it. It is ironic that the Labour party, which has many strong roots in the William Morris tradition of small government, always stands for the maintenance and increas of all bureaucratic powers in all circumstances. All the speeches of Opposition Members have been about the representations of an interest—that interest may be legitimate — and have been about nothing more than the protection of great organisations seeking to defend themselves.
I have no shame in standing before the House and saying that the Government believe in removing unnecessary government wherever we find it, and we believe that we have found it here. We have been challenged to say whether we will meet the target date of April 1986. I accept that, to some extent, the amendment adds to the pressures to meet that target date. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and all of us in the Department of the Environment welcome that pressure, because we must have as short a period as possible of transition to the new, simpler and cheaper regime.
We have heard nothing new in this debate from the Opposition. We heard a little that was new from my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness. I believe that the House can with every confidence welcome the Lords amendment.
§ Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 312, Noes 167.93
|Division No. 453]||[8.39 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Bryan, Sir Paul|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.|
|Alexander, Richard||Budgen, Nick|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Bulmer, Esmond|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Butcher, John|
|Amess, David||Butler, Hon Adam|
|Ancram, Michael||Butterfill, John|
|Ashby, David||Carlisle, John (N Luton)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Carttiss, Michael|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Cash, William|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Chalker, Mrs Lynda|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Chapman, Sydney|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Chope, Christopher|
|Batiste, Spencer||Churchill, W. S.|
|Bendall, Vivian||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Benyon, William||Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)|
|Berry, Sir Anthony||Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)|
|Best, Keith||Clegg, Sir Walter|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Cockeram, Eric|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Colvin, Michael|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Conway, Derek|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Cope, John|
|Body, Richard||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Critchley, Julian|
|Bottomley, Peter||Crouch, David|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Dicks, Terry|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Dover, Den|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward|
|Bright, Graham||Durant, Tony|
|Brinton, Tim||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Eggar, Tim|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Browne, John||Fallon, Michael|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Farr, Sir John|
|Favell, Anthony||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Lester, Jim|
|Fletcher, Alexander||Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Lightbown, David|
|Forman, Nigel||Lilley, Peter|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Lloyd, Ian (Havant)|
|Forth, Eric||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Lord, Michael|
|Fox, Marcus||Luce, Richard|
|Franks, Cecil||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Fraser, Peter (Angus East)||McCrindle, Robert|
|Freeman, Roger||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Fry, Peter||MacGregor, John|
|Gale, Roger||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)||Maclean, David John|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Madel, David|
|Gorst, John||Malins, Humfrey|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Malone, Gerald|
|Grant, Sir Anthony||Maples, John|
|Gregory, Conal||Marland, Paul|
|Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)||Marlow, Antony|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Grist, Ian||Mates, Michael|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Mellor, David|
|Hannam, John||Merchant, Piers|
|Harris, David||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Harvey, Robert||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Moate, Roger|
|Hayes, J.||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Moore, John|
|Heddle, John||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Henderson, Barry||Mudd, David|
|Hickmet, Richard||Murphy, Christopher|
|Hill, James||Neale, Gerrard|
|Hind, Kenneth||Needham, Richard|
|Hirst, Michael||Nelson, Anthony|
|Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)||Neubert, Michael|
|Holt, Richard||Newton, Tony|
|Hooson, Tom||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Hordern, Peter||Normanton, Tom|
|Howard, Michael||Norris, Steven|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Osborn, Sir John|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Ottaway, Richard|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Page, Sir John (Harrow W)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|Irving, Charles||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Jackson, Robert||Pawsey, James|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Jessel, Toby||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Pollock, Alexander|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Porter, Barry|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Powley, John|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Price, Sir David|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Key, Robert||Raffan, Keith|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Renton, Tim|
|Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Lamont, Norman||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Lang, Ian||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Latham, Michael||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Rost, Peter||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Ryder, Richard||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Thurnham, Peter|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Trippier, David|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Trotter, Neville|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Shersby, Michael||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Silvester, Fred||Viggers, Peter|
|Sims, Roger||Waddington, David|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Walden, George|
|Speller, Tony||Waller, Gary|
|Spencer, Derek||Ward, John|
|Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Squire, Robin||Watson, John|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Watts, John|
|Steen, Anthony||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Stern, Michael||Wheeler, John|
|Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)||Whitfield, John|
|Stevens, Martin (Fulham)||Whitney, Raymond|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)||Wilkinson, John|
|Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Stokes, John||Wood, Timothy|
|Stradling Thomas, J.||Woodcock, Michael|
|Sumberg, David||Yeo, Tim|
|Tapsell, Peter||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Taylor, John (Solihull)||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.||Mr. Robert Boscawen and|
|Thomas, Rt Hon Peter||Mr.Alastair Goodlad|
|Alton, David||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Craigen, J. M.|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Ashton, Joe||Cunningham, Dr John|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Dalyell, Tam|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)|
|Barnett, Guy||Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)|
|Barron, Kevin||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Deakins, Eric|
|Beith, A. J.||Dewar, Donald|
|Bell, Stuart||Dobson, Frank|
|Benn, Tony||Dormand, Jack|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Douglas, Dick|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Dubs, Alfred|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.|
|Blair, Anthony||Eadie, Alex|
|Boyes, Roland||Eastham, Ken|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Evans, John (St. Helens N)|
|Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)||Fatchett, Derek|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Fisher, Mark|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Flannery, Martin|
|Buchan, Norman||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Caborn, Richard||Foster, Derek|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Foulkes, George|
|Campbell, Ian||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Canavan, Dennis||Garrett, W. E.|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||George, Bruce|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Clarke, Thomas||Godman, Dr Norman|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Golding, John|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)|
|Cohen, Harry||Hardy, Peter|
|Coleman, Donald||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Conlan, Bernard||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Corbett, Robin||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Cowans, Harry||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Penhaligon, David|
|Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)||Pike, Peter|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Hughes, Dr, Mark (Durham)||Prescott, John|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Redmond, M.|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport East)||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Kennedy, Charles||Rogers, Allan|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Rooker, J. W.|
|Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Lamond, James||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Rowlands, Ted|
|Leighton, Ronald||Ryman, John|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)||Sheerman, Barry|
|Litherland, Robert||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|McCartney, Hugh||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Skinner, Dennis|
|McGuire, Michael||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Snape, Peter|
|Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Soley, Clive|
|Maclennan, Robert||Spearing, Nigel|
|McWilliam, John||Straw, Jack|
|Madden, Max||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Meacher, Michael||Tinn, James|
|Michie, William||Torney, Tom|
|Mikardo, Ian||Wainwright, R.|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Wareing, Robert|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Weetch, Ken|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Welsh, Michael|
|Nellist, David||White, James|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Winnick, David|
|O'Brien, William||Woodall, Alec|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Parry, Robert||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Patchett, Terry||Mr. James Hamilton and Mr. Don Dixon|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Lords amendments Nos. 3 and 4 agreed to.