§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I beg to move amendment No.69, in page 2, line 14, at beginning insert'Except as provided for by subsection (1A) below.'
§ The Temporary Chairman
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 70, in page 2, line 21, at end insert—'(1A) Subsection (1) above shall not apply as respects the election of councillors of the Greater London Council by local government electors for an inner London borough or the City for membership of the Inner London Education Authority.'.
No. 71, in page 2, line 22, at beginning insert
'Except in respect of membership of the Inner London Education Authority.'.
No. 66, in clause 11, page 8, line 37, at end add—
'(4) In this Act the expressions "inner London borough", "the City" and "Inner London Education Authority" have the same meaning as in the London Government Act 1963.'.
No. 67, in schedule 2, page 14, line 27, leave out subparagraph (12).
No. 68, in schedule 3, page 15, column 3, leave out lines 4 to 20.
§ Mr. Hughes
Amendment No. 69 is the first of a series of amendments which are of substantial importance and 1008 which relate to the education service in London and to the way in which it is to be run in the years ahead. Amendments Nos. 69, 70 and 71—all of which stand in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself —would have the effect of continuing uninterrupted the system whereby the members of ILEA are elected by the electors of the inner London boroughs concerned and by the City of London.
Under clause 2, there will be no election of councillors to the GLC or the metropolitan councils next year. Under the present system, whenever there is an election for a GLC councillor, there is, at the same time—because they come into office by the same route—an election for an ILEA councillor. Those elected to represent the inner London boroughs on the GLC also serve on a special committee of the GLC-ILEA. Therefore, those elected to serve on ILEA also have the responsibilities that go with being a Greater London councillor.
Our proposals are independent of whatever view the Government or the Department of the Environment, in particular, may take of the elections that are held for Greater London councillors whose work does not involve ILEA. I think that the Secretary of State and others will accept that it is quite possible for elections to ILEA to be held without necessarily holding elections for the noneducational functions of the GLC in inner London at the same time.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science may be advised to say that if we had a direct election next year for members of the Inner London education authority we should need a different formula because that would involve electing to a specific authority instead of a GLC committee. That is not a substantive objection to our proposals.
At present 35 GLC councillors are elected by local government electors in inner London constituencies. The last election was in 1981. Twelve people represent each of the boroughs comprising the inner London education area. The logic of their place on ILEA is that they are the link between that authority, the grouped education authorities in inner London and the boroughs which they serve directly. In addition, one representative of the common council of the City of London is appointed as the link between the City of London and the authority.
Ever since ILEA was set up, 35 of the 48 councillors have been directly elected. Therefore, there has been a majority at all times of people who serve by direct election rather than by nomination by borough councils or the City of London.
We should like the Government to accept the second step down the road that the Secretary of State for Education and Science announced that the Government were prepared to take when he made the announcement to the House in April.
When the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities" and its supplementary documents were produced the proposal was that a nominated body or board, not a directly elected body, should run education in inner London. The Secretary of State admitted—we were grateful to him— that the bulk of evidence to his Department in response to the White Paper was in favour of direct elections to ILEA being continued.
The Secretary of State announced that a directly elected Inner London education authority will continue. He was 1009 generous enough to make another concession. That was in response to the question which I put to him about having in this calender year, until May 1985, a directly elected ILEA. If the proposals stand, there will then be a nominated, indirectly elected ILEA. I assume that in 1986 —when the GLC ends—there will once again be a directly elected ILEA. If ever there was a recipe for muddled confusion and poor service, as well as administrative incompetence, that is it.
When London was governed by a county council and a Royal Commission was set up in 1924 under Lord Ullswater, the then increasingly important figure in London Labour party politics, Herbert Morrison argued, as he did in the 1930s, that the muddle of local government in Greater London either meant that Governments or Parliament wished it to be a muddle on the divide and conquer principle, or that they possessed neither the initiative nor courage to grasp the problem boldly and settle it.
What was manifestly the case when the Secretary of State made his announcement on 5 April was that the Department of Education and Science and the Government were not grasping boldly and settling the problem in regard to the constitution of ILEA. It is ludicrous that within one year we are likely to have three different forms of ILEA.
§ Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)
I am sure that the hon. Member would like to correct what he has just said. He said that we are moving from a directly elected ILEA. The present members of ILEA have not been elected as members of ILEA. Only about 35 per cent. are from the GLC and are elected as GLC councillors.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is not correct. I speak with a modicum of authority simply because I stood for election to that authority. I think I knew what I was standing for. I stood on a ticket that, if I had succeeded, would have put me into the GLC and entitled me automatically to serve on ILEA. As I said earlier, it is a special committee of the GLC made up automatically of those members of the GLC elected for the 12 boroughs in inner London which comprise the inner London education authority.
It is also the education authority which is parallel to every other education authority in England and Wales, all of which are directly elected, as the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) will know. In other places they are formed by the county councillors but in Greater London there are several education authorities; there is one for inner London and the other boroughs are their own education authorities. Therefore, they are directly elected, although I have made the point that it is not always a simple and clear election because people are standing in the same election for the two jobs.
The Liberal party has always argued that it would have been better, and now, therefore, something to which we look forward, to have a separate election so that electors know that they are electing someone to do exclusively the job of being on the education authority for inner London.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
We are talking about democratic accountability, which means presumably that one knows who the leaders are as well as who the members are. Therefore, can the hon. Gentleman remind us who the leader of the Labour group on ILEA was before the last GLC election, who became the leader of ILEA after the election, who the leader is now and how the electorate could have expected any of those things to happen?
§ Mr. Hughes
The old well tried and tested argument is being made by the hon. Gentleman which is that occasionally one person leads a group into an election and later the group changes its leader. That is rare, but it has happened both in his party when it was in government as well as in bodies such as ILEA. ILEA has a right to change its leader. The GLC has the right to do it and the Tory party did it. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) led the Tory Party into the election arid about a year later was replaced by the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher).
I do not think it matters particularly now who the leader of ILEA was before the last election. We are talking about the way in which the electorate elect the inner London education authority. One hopes — no doubt the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) would express the hope too if he were honest—that one is electing people on policies and not on personalities. If that is the case, one is talking about the policies for education. That is another reason why these amendments are crucial. Proper and consistent education policies cannot be developed if the authority is to be changed three times in 12 months.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Does the hon. Member agree that the elections for the GLC and ILEA have been based, certainly in regard to the Labour party, on manifestos which gave equal prominence to education matters as to other matters in London? I speak as a member of the GLC who happens to be an elected member of ILEA at the same time. I know that in my GLC constituency of Tooting education plays a prominent part during what is called a GLC election. The two authorities might be separate, but there is no great distinction between the relationship between the GLC and ILEA and the local authority that has an education committee. It is wrong for Conservative Members to suggest that when people in London vote for the GLC they do not know what they are voting for in respect of ILEA.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is right. The parallel is the elections for the county councils. One of the services that those elected provide is the management of education.. I recollect that in my election address in 1981 for the GLC election both I and my opponents dealt with education.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in inner London the position is quite clear? Anyone who votes for a candidate for the GLC in inner London knows that that person must become a member of the ILEA. In a county or borough, it cannot be guaranteed that a candidate voted into office will become a member of the education committee because the membership will be decided by the various groups on the councils.
§ Mr. Hughes
The difference is that the county councils are the education authorities, whereas in inner London there is the additional guarantee that we know exactly what function those elected will carry out.
§ Mr. Tracey
There is the additional factor that when the elections for borough councils are held people vote on the quality of the dustbin and street cleaning services. However, as candidates elected can serve on ILEA, it is possible for the control of ILEA to change.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is true. When there is an authority of 48 people, of whom 35 come by one route and 13 by another, it is possible for those 13 to change the power of 1011 the authority. My party has long believed that the best way to ensure that electors can regularly reflect their views democratically is by regular elections. For example, those who stood for London borough council elections in 1982 had the policies of their boroughs in large part determined by the fact that a Falklands war was taking place. That had nothing to do with the issues affecting Southwark or other boroughs. There was no chance for the electorate to revise its view the following year.
It is possible in some parts of the country to decide to have elections in three out of four years, which produces a more regular revision. So the point made by the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) has some merit. To have direct elections for ILEA would not necessarily mean that everybody should be elected at the same time. That argument can be developed on another occasion.
If the proposal is unamended by the Government—and I am not sure whether it needs amendment or whether it is something that they have not thought through and therefore needs development—for the first time since 1870 there will be a period when inner London will not have a directly elected education authority. It has been accepted for decades that, because of the particular needs of inner London, the cosmopolitan aspects of its education service and the problems in providing the adequate range of educational facilities for an area that has always been deprived — and on any indicator of deprivation inner London is the most deprived area in Britain — there should be one united education authority. That has been never been in doubt and the Secretary of State said on 5 April that there was no doubt that ILEA—in terms of an authority with the boundaries of ILEA as created in 1964, with its predecessors covering the same area—should continue to exist. However, the proposals would have the effect of removing for a year the directly elected mechanism of that authority.
I accept that there have been voices—for example, the leader of the Conservative group on ILEA, who for a considerable time advocated separate direct elections—speaking up for regional government in London. However, I claim boldy — although I cannot claim to have looked at every treatise put out by every party over the years — that we are the only party which has consistently advocated regional government in London, irrespective of our position, in or out of power.
Throughout the 1920s, and in evidence that we gave in the 1960s and 1970s, we argued that there should be a regional authority in London and an education authority in inner London. The Labour party, when in opposition in the GLC, wanted it to be abolished, and the Conservative party, when in government in the GLC, wanted it to be extended, so that six years on we have a complete reversal of positions in both of the major parties, whereas we have always said that inner London should have its education authority as part of a greater and wider regional authority.
How can it be right that the people who are in ILEA today and who will be ineligible to be on ILEA from 1985 to 1986—because they are not members of borough authorities and, therefore, will not be nominated from the boroughs but who will, one presumes, be eligible to stand again in 1986—will be deprived of their opportunity to continue serving ILEA for a year and will be replaced by 1012 borough councillors, with the workload of borough councillors, who will not have experience of running the largest education authority in Western Europe?
We are talking about services. We are not here to play administrative games. We are here to plan for the education of our children. It will be difficult enough for an authority, at a time of rate capping and financial stringency, to do that. It will be far more difficult if all those coming in in 1985 have not had previous experience. It is even less likely that those concerned will do a good job if they will not have responsibility for the continuity of policy beyond 1986, for they will leave office after a year, leaving others to take over as a result of the borough elections in 1986, making them caretakers without a longterm interest and without competence in the short-term to do the job.
The consequences have been set out in many documents by the officers of ILEA, for whom we have great respect, and I quote from only one to show how bad the Government's proposals are. In a report dated 28 November last, the education officer of ILEA said:
The proposed change to the membership of the education authority has the effect of removing the means by which since 1870"—the point I made—
inner Londoners have been able directly to elect representatives on to the body responsible for education. A long-standing tradition in the capital city would therefore be broken and the joint board would be unique amongst the 104 local education authorities in England and Wales. It would be the only education authority with all its members appointed by nomination from other bodies.Under the proposals members of the board"—1985-86 for one year—
will … be required to participate in the work of a borough council in addition to that of of the education authority. There is a tendency, even within the Authority, to take the demands made on elected members somewhat for granted. These are considerable and derive largely from the involvement of members in the work of the various committees and subcommittees of the Authority. In addition members have traditionally been available to take part in formal consultation and to receive delegations and deputations from parents, governing bodies and others interested in the education service. All of these require substantial personal commitment from members.
The Secretary of State or one of his ministerial colleagues may say, "In any event, these members have other jobs as members of the GLC". But they were elected to ILEA presumably because they had some interest in doing the job. Since then they have had four years' experience in doing the job. It is proposed that we give responsibility for one year only to nominees who did not stand for election to ILEA and did not show a preference to work in education. They will be concentrating on the problems of their own local authorities, which are considerable in inner London boroughs because of all the restrictions that the Government place upon them, and on their own re-election. It can hardly be guaranteed that local people will be provided dispassionately with the best service, except for those who are represented by someone who has decided not to stand again. No doubt there will be many who will spend much of their time cultivating their electorates for the next round of elections, at which they hope that they will be returned to their borough councils.
The education officer continued:
the detailed work of the Authority"—it has nine committees and I need not trouble the Committee by referring to them all. They include 1013 committees on higher education, schools, staff and appeals. The financial implications involve phenomenally detailed calculations, which one would expect as ILEA is the largest education authority in Western Europe. It is vital that we give the authority the composition that will allow it to do the best job.
We ask the Government to move on from the position at which the Secretary of State left the argument on 5 April, when he said that the arguments for three authorities in 12 months had a certain ridiculousness about them. Indeed, he put it more positively than that and said that the arguments suggesting that we should have a different system had "a certain validity". We ask him to say that it is possible and practicable to exempt from the Government's proposals the elections to ILEA so that next year we can continue to have elections to the body which runs education in inner London. This will ensure continuity of service, clarity of purpose and a far better education service than we would otherwise have. Instead, the Government propose that it should be run by a set of harassed officers who will be directed by over-worked, confused and inexperienced members for one year only. That is about the best evidence that all the proposals in the Bill are badly thought out.
The amendments that accompany amendment No. 69 are complementary but subsidiary. This series of amendments is designed to ensure elections for ILEA next year and to exempt them from the other provisions in the Bill.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
The official Opposition support the Liberal party's proposal that there should continue to be an elected Inner London education authority, with an election taking place in 1985 and with no break in the continuity of the authority. By supporting the amendment we do not derogate from the argument that we have advanced throughout the consideration of the Bill and in previous discussions, that all GLC councilors should continue to be elected.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) likened the Secretary of State for the Environment to a Caesar. Yesterday during Environment questions the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) raised a religious note, and I thought that a good comparison with the Secretary of State was a later inhabitant of Rome, Pope Alexander VI. The Secretary of State bears several resemblances to that pope. The right hon. Gentleman is doing for the integrity and independence of local government what Pope Alexander VI did for chastity. The Borgia of Marsham street has the same type of respect for political opponents as the Borgia family in Italy at the time of the Renaissance. They were always willing to snuff out a political opponent, and that is the right hon. Gentleman's attitude. The right hon. Gentleman is prepared to change the nature of ILEA more often the Pope Alexander VI was willing to change the functions of his son, Cesare Borgia.
I do not accuse the Secretary of State for Education and Science of having any links with the papacy. We are grateful for his more liberal attitude towards democracy in London and his announcement in the House on 5 April about an elected ILEA. We have no quarrel with his welcome announcement that that will happen in the longterm. We are worried about the continuity of that body.
Because of the combination of those decisions, we shall have an Inner London education authority playing a type 1014 of administrative hop-scotch. Until May 1985, we shall have the present elected body with a majority elected by inner London constituencies, supplemented by representatives of the inner London boroughs. In the following year, there will be appointed members from the boroughs. They will not be accountable. They will not campaign on the doorstep and be directly known in the localities. I do not believe that anyone can guarantee that the third phase will occur on 1 May 1986. All sorts of things may happen between now and then. If the Government's plans go well, there will be a third phase of administrative hop-scotch when the newly elected ILEA takes office in May 1986.
There is no reasonable justification for the Government to interfere with the continuity of ILEA. I shall draw a parallel. If a democratic state—whether a federal state or a nation state—with a population of 2.5 million and a spending power of £900 million found that its elections and ability to make spending decisions were taken from it, that would be regarded as a coup and a negation of democracy. In a sense that is exactly what the Government are doing with ILEA.
The Government can find in their minds—this is not in ours—two justifications for their actions. First, the Government believe that an election for ILEA in May 1985 will be seen as a referendum on the Government's plans not just for ILEA but the whole of London. The Government are afraid of a test at the ballot box of their plans for London in May 1985. They are afraid of even a limited test of what they will do to ILEA and London government generally. That is why they want to put off the elections, at least until May 1986.
The Government's second justification for their interference is that they can thereby control ILEA. Even when we return to the Secretary of State's form of democracy for ILEA in May 1986, it will be as guided democracy, because if we look at the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities" those people who are elected in 1986 will not be able to implement their election promises. Their budgeting capabilities will be limited at least for a period of three years under the proposals in "Streamlining the Cities".
The Government's second justification, in their own mind, is that they will be better able to control ILEA's budget if there are no elections. As I understand it, but perhaps the Secretary of State can tell the Committee what his latest proposals are, the Secretary of State has in mind a cut in ILEA's budget of about £120 million during that controlled three-year period. That is about 13 per cent. of its budget.
In the Ottoman empire they used to take away every 10th child of subject races to press it into service in the Ottoman army. The Secretary of State's proposals involve, literally, taking away the cost of the education of every 10th child in London. It will cut from ILEA's budget two thirds of the money that is spent on primary education in inner London, one half of the money spent on secondary education in inner London, and five times the total amount of expenditure in inner London on nursery education. That is bound to have a serious effect on the standards of education which the people of London have chosen for themselves.
I cannot emphasise enough that not a penny comes from the Treasury to pay for the education of children in London. They are the choices that people in London made 1015 for themselves through the democratic process. If the people of London continue to choose to accord priority to their children and their education that should be a matter for them, and not a matter for the diktat of the Department of the Environment or the Department of Education and Science.
I believe that parents and people in inner London have a high political consciousness, and understand and know what they want. They are not lunatic, and they are not militant in the pejorative sense that Conservative Members use; they are a highly intelligent and political group of people who understand the choices that lie before them and want to vote for more expenditure on their children.
When writing to my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) on 17 April, the Secretary of State for Education and Science said:
I believe that direct elections will make the successor body more accountable and responsive to its electorate and more ready to look for value for money and quality in education.When they elect ILEA the people of London may feel that they do not want to save money, and cut the amount provided for education; they may want to spend more on education and improve the quality and standards of education for their children and for adults.
§ Mr. Fraser
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary asks who pays. They pay themselves, and that is a choice that they are free to make, and it is one they should be able to continue to make without an interregnum of a year, at least, between 1985 and 1986.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science said:A basic difference between democratic and authoritarian government is that in free societies, it is the job of government to find ways of enabling the values, aspirations and purposes of the people to be implemented. In authoritarian societies the government imposes its values and objectives on society.Those are the words of the Secretary of State for Education and Science, but the sentiments are those of the Opposition.
In London there is an easy way to enable parents, electors and citizens to mark out their aspirations and hopes for their children and for the society in which they live. That is by means of having uninterrupted, democratic control of ILEA. Any other formula will be disruptive, and will bring about confusion and a misunderstanding between one group and another as to who controls and pilots ILEA through a difficult period. It is for that reason that we strongly support, without prejudice or arguments about electing other people in London, the proposition that there should be continued continuity of elections for ILEA, and that is why we shall support the amendment.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)
Originally, the Government did not intend to allow elections to ILEA. Along with many hon. Members and many citizens of London, we welcomed the change announced by the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he conceded to overwhelming pressure, and to the concern that the Government were seeking to take away the democratic rights of Londoners to influence education. However, welcome though the change was, we are left in what can only be described as a mess. The effect of the Bill, which has already been described by other hon. 1016 Members, will be to put the control of ILEA under three different types of body in just over a year. That seems to make no sense.
I listened with great interest to the Secretary of State when he made the announcement about the change on 5 April. In reply to a question on this point, he said:
So far as I understand it, there is provision for some of the members of the present Inner London education authority to have a continuing existence in the successor authority. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that these important details are not for the paving Bill, but for the main Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman was right about some possible continuity of membership because, of the 13 members appointed by either the inner London boroughs or the city of London, 12 could theoretically continue to serve on ILEA for the interim period, that is from May 1985 to May 1986. Nevertheless, that was a rather lame answer, and missed the main point at issue. I cannot understand why the Secretary of State said:
these important details are not for the paving Bill but for the main Bill." — [Official Report, 5 April 1984; Vol. 57, c. I 127 .]If we are to leave the decision until the main Bill is presented to the House, we can hardly avoid having three different types of control over ILEA.
The Secretary of State nods in agreement, and if he does so, he must also nod in agreement when I say that it is unreasonable that the largest education authority in the country should be subjected to these changes. That makes no sense in terms of consistency, morale, good management or political accountability. I cannot for the life of me understand how the Government are seeking to impose such nonsense on ILEA. What is more, the worst of these phases will be the appointed body. It will have on it borough councillors who may not even have thought when they were elected a couple of years ago that they would be called on to represent their borough on ILEA. They may have no particular interest in education and, along with all their other responsibilities, they will have very little time for education in London. This will happen, as I understand it, when the Rates Bill will begin to bite. The imposition of rate capping will have to be borne by the very people who will be in office for only one year, and some of whom may have been dragooned into serving on ILEA for the interim period. They will have to make difficult decisions if the Rates Bill has the effect that the Government have suggested that it will, and it will make ILEA the Government's number one target.
I should have thought that to impose this particularly onerous and, to my mind unacceptable, burden on councillors who may not be particularly interested in education makes no sense. I can assume only that the provision has not been properly thought out or that the Government are scared of having an election that may not give them the result that they want. In other words, the election that would otherwise take place in 1986 would be an endorsement of the Opposition's policies rather than those of the Government.
The Inner London education authority has a difficult problem by anyone's standards in terms of the number of disadvantaged children, one-parent families, different languages and cultures that are encompassed in schools within the authority. Because of those problems, I believe that ILEA should be treated with rather more respect than the Government are affording it.
The tragedy of the present position is that ILEA's energies are being diverted from looking after the needs 1017 of London's children into putting forward arguments as to why the Government's proposals will be damaging to education in London. We have reached a very sorry state of affairs when people who are dedicated to the education of children in London and who want to devote their political energies to its improvement are diverted from their main task simply because of the Government's curious attitude towards local government, especially in London.
I can only urge the Government to think again and to ensure that direct elections take place, even if there must be a change in the structure. I suppose that there must be changes because the boundary changes that affected us as Members of Parliament at the previous election would, of course, apply to new members of the GLC and ILEA, if elections continued until May 1986. For that reason, if for no other, there would have to be a change in the structure of elections but that could be taken in their stride by those standing for election.
I urge the Government to think again. If they do not, the effect on morale and the quality of educational administration in London is bound to suffer. That is not to anyone's advantage. If the Government cared about the education of London's children, they would concede the real point at issue and accept the amendment, so that there will be continuity of administration and of democratically elected administrations. In that way at least, ILEA could survive some of the turmoil of the proposed changes.
§ Mr. Dobson
Setting aside all questions of the Government's lack of principle in trying to gerrymander elections out of the way in London, I shall put forward some pragmatic arguments. It seems, especially as loutish Tory Members are without connections with children's education, including that provided by inner London schools, that there are good, pragmatic grounds for rejecting the Government's proposals and for supporting the amendments.
Since 1979, Ministers have made successive attacks on ILEA in Parliament, as have some of their extra-parliamentary supporters in London. As a result, much uncertainty has been created in the authority about its future. Those attacks have diverted a dramatic amount of effort by parents, teachers and the elected members of ILEA from what they would regard as their main role in maintaining and improving education standards in inner London. All that effort had to be diverted into defending ILEA's very existence. That has meant half a decade of damage to the interests of most children in inner London schools and of young people in inner London colleges.
We now need to end that diversion of effort and to bring about the stability that the children of Inner London need if they are to get a decent education. I speak as a parent of children who go to ILEA schools and as someone who represents parents who are most concerned about the disturbance to their children's education over the past five years.
Therefore, it was welcome to most people in Inner London when the Secretary of State on 5 April announced, rightly, that he would go back on what appeared to be the Government's proposition — the abolition of direct elections—and to accept the principle of direct elections to the ILEA continuing. But in view of that it seems quite mad for the Government not to accept that the direct elections should go ahead next year when the currency of 1018 the term of office of the present elected members runs out. It is strange that, having swallowed the camel or the horse of the principle of direct elections, the Secretary of State and his colleagues are straining at the gnat when they are brought in. The only thing that can happen if there is an interim regime between the present ILEA and the subsequently elected one is that there we will be damage to the education service in London and to the education provided to the children and young people of inner London.
Anybody who thinks about it must recognise that that damage is almost bound to result. Therefore, we are forced to look for ulterior motives for what the Government are proposing. What stands out when one considers what the Government are proposing both in the Bill and in the other measures which are going through both Houses is that the Government want a weak, incompetent and unrepresentative group of people running ILEA from the spring of 1985 to the spring of 1986 because that would make it easier to put through the rate capping of the inner ILEA to the infinite damage of the education service in London.
The Secretary of State cannot have any other grounds for not accepting that there should be direct elections to the ILEA this time next year. We in the Labour party in London challenge the Conservatives and all other parties to call elections for ILEA this time next year because we are confident that the people of inner London will support ILEA as they have done for the past decade and will return Labour people to control that authority and to continue to pursue the progressive ILEA policies which are designed to bring about a better education service for our children.
We do not believe by any means that ILEA or the service that it provides are anywhere near perfect and we are horrified at the prospect of a weak and incompetent interim arrangement which would allow the Government to do even more damage than they have done in the past.
§ Mr. Corbyn
We are all grateful to the Secretary of State for being here tonight. I hope that he is not too tired later when he has to face an audience of over 2,000 parents of ILEA children at a large meeting at Central hall, Westminster. Many of those parents will be extremely interested in the answer that he gives as to why it is necessary for ILEA to have three administrations in two years and why he is deliberately denying them the right to have an elected authority for the interim year between the time the Government propose to end the existing arrangements and introduce the elective ones.
The Secretary of State must realise the concern there is all over Inner London about the way that ILEA has been treated and about the way that the concept of an elected education authority has been treated. Those Conservative Members who find this so amusing should perhaps visit some ILEA schools. They would then find out exactly how strongly parents and children feel about the way in which the Government have been treating ILEA.
ILEA is a unique education authority in many ways. It is a uniquely good education authority in its attempts to provide a decent standard of education for children throughout inner London and in recognising the difficult social backgrounds from which many of the children come. It is also unique in the way that it has been treated by the Government. It is the only education authority to receive not one penny from the Government for education spending. It is also unique in that it is being told the amount of money that it should cut off its existing budget. 1019 In the current financial year ILEA's budget will be £912 million. That is a great deal of money. All of it is being raised from within inner London because the Government have refused to recognise the education needs of children in inner London. It demonstrates their contempt for poorer people that they will not pay a penny towards fulfilling those needs.
It is also a demonstration of the Government's arrogance in their attitude to education in London that they are informing ILEA that, to be even within target to receive Government grant in the future, there should be a cut of more than £120 million in its budget. If anyone imagines that such a cut could be achieved without the most devastating consequences on parents, non-teaching staff and teaching staff in the schools, I ask him to visualise a few schools and to think of the services that would be affected. A cut of that size would be disproportionate across a great many services. It would be disproportionate on the non-statutory services. Further and higher education would be especially hard hit, as would pre-school and nursery services. Those are the areas most in need and most valued by people in London who rely on the education service to fulfil their own potential, and they are treated with the greatest contempt by the Government.
I hope that the Government will recognise that the very last need of inner London is the removal of its right to elect people to its education authority and, instead, having to go through this sordid period of appointed quangos during which all sorts of havoc can be wreaked on the service.
I also ask the Committee to consider the effect of having three administrations in a period of two years on those who work for ILEA. Before my election to the House, I spent seven years as an organiser for the National Union of Public Employees in ILEA. Many of those who get up at six o'clock in the morning to clean schools, to cook meals for children or to do the dirty jobs in schools that many Government supporters would like to see privatised, feel very strongly about these matters, because they would much prefer to be employed by an authority that had been directly elected and that had some sense of responsibility towards them and some concern for their well-being. That is also behind much of the Government attitude towards ILEA. The non-teaching side would be as badly hit as the teaching side and the direct education side if the Government' policies were implemented and their cuts were introduced. Thousands of part-time women workers would lose their jobs as a result, which would increase unemployment and impose yet more charges on another branch of the Government, the Department of Health and Social Security.
The way that the ILEA is being treated is a microcosm of the way that working-class communities all over the country are being treated.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Speaking as one who is connected with education, I can assure the Committee that the struggle to defend the Inner London education authority is close to the hearts of all those in the teaching profession. The work that the authority has done with deprived, dispossessed and coloured children has earned the admiration of everyone involved in education and teaching. Today, teachers have been on strike against the Government for a living wage.
1020 All members of the profession are solidly behind the struggle to preserve a dignified Inner London education authority.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He has struggled for many years to achieve better education in Britain, and he recognises that the fight to maintain services in ILEA commands wide support in the community. If Conservative Members who do not have the privilege to represent inner London constituencies cared to visit schools and meet parents and children there, they would recognise their depth of feeling about this.
I understand that in response to the Government's consultation paper there were about 2,000 strong representations from organisations against the proposals in the Government's consultation paper, and only three in favour of them. If my figures are wrong, the Minister has the opportunity to correct them. I also wish to know how many people in inner London wrote in to defend their schools, nurseries, evening classes, higher education places and adult education establishments, and how many of them got a reply from the Department. The reason I mention this is that many hundreds of my constituents took the trouble of writing to the Secretary of State, and the best reply that they received was that the Secretary of State thanked them for writing to him. He did not say why he thanked them, nor did he say what he intended to do about their representations. That is disgraceful.
The way in which the Government have refused to recognise the differing problems in inner London is also disgraceful. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) mentioned the ethnic minority and anti-racist teaching programmes that ILEA had mounted. They are an example that many other education authorities are trying to follow. However, the Government's attitude is to penalise it for even attempting to introduce new teaching methods or to provide education in poor and deprived areas. ILEA has been singled out for direct ministerial control of its finances until 1990. If that is not bad enough, the ultimate slap in the face is that the Government concede the right of people in inner London to elect an education authority, but then take it away for the interim year.
I hope that the Committee recognises that that is a disgraceful way to treat inner London. If it was good enough in 1870—in Queen Victoria's time—to elect an education authority, why is it not good enough now? Conservative Members may believe that inner London is a bit of a joke and nothing to do with them because their party has so little support there, but they should remember that the battle that has been fought in London for the education service and the right to have an elected authority will continue and will spread, and will be seen as an inspiration in other parts of the country. They will rue the day when they tried to treat inner London and the rest of the country badly.
I hope that the Committee will support this amendment, because it will mean that London will always have an elected education authority. I hope that the Committee recognises that, if this anomaly is removed, the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties must also be stopped.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The Secretary of State for Education and Science is undoubtedly a rare bird on the Government Front Bench, because he appears to have something 1021 approaching an open mind on the proposals before the Committee. I do not suppose that he will ever tell me, but I have often wondered what the Secretary of State thought when he heard about the proposals of his colleagues for changes in the local government structure of London and the metropolitan county councils.
I read in Hansard a considerable number of the debates that led to the enactment of the Local Government Act 1963. The Secretary of State for Education and Science had a prominent part to play then in setting up the Greater London council. I am sure that he must have been upset by some of the comments that have been made in 1984 about the creation of which he was one of the midwives. I should like to know about the internal politicking that must have gone on inside the Conservative Cabinet, and on the Conservative Government Benches, that has allowed the Secretary of State for Education and Science to come up with a proposal that is at such variance with the proposals in the original White Paper. He has won a notable victory, and the Opposition are glad that he was able to do so. I should still be interested to read the real story. When he writes his diaries, we may all know what happened.
The Opposition will not oppose the amendment, because we want as many direct elections as we can get. However, we do not have to be grateful for the crumb that is being thrown to us, because, as Opposition Members have already pointed out, we have direct elections for the ILEA now, so we are not being given any bonus. We are merely being allowed to retain what already exists.
If it is possible to concede the case for direct elections for education, what is preventing the Government from conceding the case for direct elections for other services in London which it could be argued are of equal importance? Why not have direct elections for transport, although that has now been taken away from the GLC and is being vested in the London Regional Transport Authority, which is a quango? Why not have direct elections for the provision of housing, for the fire brigade, for public health and safety and for arts and recreation?
Democracy is not divisible, but that is the Government's objective. The haste with which the Government have conceded direct elections for the Inner London education authority has resulted from the amount of pressure brought against the proposals in London, as has already been mentioned by Opposition Members, and no doubt because of the lobbying that the Secretary of State for Education and Science has been able to do for his part of the local government structure that is being carved up. I only wish that the Secretary of State would pass on a little of the magic to the Secretary of State for the Environment, who might then be more successful in trying to strengthen his own woefully inadequate arguments.
One proposal in the White Paper was that education would be the responsibility of an indirectly elected joint board. Now there are to be direct elections. I should like to know from the Secretary of State whether he will be amending the Bill to ensure that we do not have three administrations — not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said, three ILEA administrations within two years, but three ILEA administrations within one year, because that is what the Committee is considering. Will the Secretary of State 1022 allow amendments to enable the direct elections to take place in 1985 when they would normally have been taking place?
If the Secretary of State is now conceding the case for direct elections, will he be making further amendments, or will he be altering the proposals now set out in the White Paper, Cmnd. 9063, with regard to his Department's direct control of the ILEA expenditure? It would be nonsense to concede the case for direct elections, and then effectively to take over the direct administration of the education authority. I should like to have answers to those two points.
§ Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)
Along with my hon. Friend the Members for Norwood (Mr. Fraser;) and for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), I declare my interest as a satisfied ILEA parent. I know from direct experience that ILEA is an excellent authority which is setting educational standards in very difficult circumstances. For example, 147 different languages are spoken in the authority and it has a higher proportion of one-parent families than most authorities and a higher level of deprivation. Of course, the Secretary of State and I will be holding that debate later today in front of 2,000 ILEA parents, so I shall not stray on to that territory now.
We were delighted that the Secretary of State should have been forced to accept the argument for direct elections to ILEA, and we welcome his conversion. He has been forced to accept the argument because of the strength of the case for democracy, which is that those who run education should be directly accountable to the ratepayers and parents in that authority. The right hon. Gentleman has also been forced to accept the argument because of the overwhelming strength of feeling among ILEA parents and others concerned with education in the authority, including, of course, members of the Conservative party, as well as members of other parties and of no party at all.
The trouble is that if that argument applies to education, it must, in logic, also apply to the other functions. If it does not apply, the Secretary of State must say why not, and he has not done so convincingly yet. I believe that it has been reported in the press that other members of the Cabinet apparently told the Secretary of State, when he was arguing his corner in the Cabinet, that the ILEA decision would ultimately undermine the case for abolishing the GLC and the metropolitan counties. I am sure that that is right.
Another problem involves the way in which the new plan is being presented. We shall get three different forms of government in inner London in 13 months. That is ludicrous. We get the present ILEA this year, then the rule by appointed borough representatives next year, and then the separately elected body for education in the following year. That is a recipe for muddle, confusion and irresponsibility. I should have thought that, on administrative grounds, it was far preferable to go straight for a direct election next year. Of course, the Secretary' of State may be frightened that the May 1985 election will become a referendum on the Government's decision to abolish the GLC, to introduce the Rates Bill, and on the general handling of education in inner London and perhaps in the nation as a whole.
For all those reasons, the Secretary of State may be frightened about having an election in May 1985. As we all know, democracy can be a frightening thing if one is on the receiving end of it. We have all discovered that at 1023 one time or another. But if the House accepts the argument for direct elections, it would be better to go straight to them instead of having a confused interim period in 1985–86, with this sort of bastard appointed body.
The Secretary of State may believe that it would be easier to get the swingeing and destructive cuts in the education budget of £120 million with an appointed body. I think that he is wrong, because it could well be that the appointed body will be Labour controlled. The Secretary of State should have the courage of his convictions, and the good sense to go straight for direct elections. We shall, therefore, vote for the amendment.
§ The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)
I take the debate seriously. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) tried to do his homework thoroughly in preparation. I have to point out a defect in his amendment, but that does not mean that I shall rely on that defect as a total answer. We are dealing with a complicated set of relationships. I want first to react to speeches from Benches other than the Liberal Benches.
The fact that the Government announced that there would be direct elections to ILEA is not a triumph for pressure groups or for democracy, as if the Government needed educating in democracy. Hon. Members forget that the Government deliberately published a consultation paper asking for reactions to their proposals. We did not have to be persuaded by pressure groups. We reacted to the responses to our consultation paper. I want to put that firmly on the record.
ILEA is a special committee of the GLC and entry to ILEA is via the GLC. For elections to ILEA to occur separately from GLC elections, ILEA has to be constituted as an independent body. I do not suggest that we discuss that at great length. I shall not rest the substance of my argument on that, but I must point it out to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey.
When I announced the Government's decision to move to direct elections I made it plain that we wished to be scrupulous in not anticipating in a paving Bill the contents of the main Bill. We took the view that to put in the paving Bill the exact procedure for replacing ILEA with a body responsible for inner London education would be asking Parliament to take in the paving Bill decisions relevant to the main Bill. That is why we limited ourselves to announcing the main decision about direct elections and did not deal with the interim period.
The result is that we are having a debate on the interim arrangements. I make no complaint about that. Indeed, I shall go as far as to say that the interim arrangements proposed by the Goverment are not totally perfect. —[HON. MEMBERS: "You can say that again.") I can see some of the arguments against them. However, the interim arrangements are nothing like as bad as is projected by Opposition Members. I do not claim that they are perfect.
It is said that the interim arrangements will break the continuity of ILEA's administration. I am not sure whether that is true. I do not lean heavily on this, but the 13 presently appointed members will run through as members until May 1986, and provide a degree of continuity. The work involves continuity. The interim members of ILEA, as proposed by the Government, will in most cases be chosen from those with experience and interest. They will 1024 be obliged by their membership to concentrate on the task of preparing ILEA for its new independent replacement existence. So I reject the charge that the Government scheme wil necessarily break continuity and that the members will necessarily not have a capacity up to the task.
§ Mr. John Fraser
Has the Secretary of State noticed the odd thing that may happen in the Norwood constituency? The present GLC member, Professor David Smith, who is the leader of the Conservative group on the Inner London education authority, will most certainly lose his place as a result of the interim proposals. It is feasible that the man he defeated in the GLC election, Ted Knight, will take his place. I make no comment one way or the other. Does the Secretary of State regard that as being desirable continuity or a welcome change?
§ Sir Keith Joseph
I have already agreed that the Government's interim arrangements are not perfect. [Laughter.] Before hon. Members laugh too loudly, they should wait to hear on what I want to base that thesis. I repeat that I take this debate seriously. Surely Opposition Members recognise that I could only recommend to the Committee that this groups of amendments should be regarded as worth introducing into the Bill if I thought that they represented an overwhelming improvement on the Government's interim proposals. I have to tell the Committee that, imperfect as the Government's proposals are, the proposals of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey are not overwhelmingly better, if better at all.
The hon. Member laid almost complacent emphasis on the near perfection of his proposed amendments, but they would involve the curiosity of the direct election of a special committee, being ILEA, of what by then will be an appointed GLC. It is at least a curiosity that he would be creating. Nor do I accept that his proposal would necessarily provide more continuity or more capacity than the interim proposals of the Government.
Even though the hon. Member and his colleagues may intend seriously that the group of amendments should improve the interim arrangements, I do not think that he has made out the case that they are an improvement on the admittedly imperfect interim arrangements proposed by the Government.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Is not the curiosity that there is to be a non-elected GLC rather than that there should continue to be, as proposed in the amendments, the tradition of 114 years of having an elected education authority? Is that not the curiosity rather than the other way round?
§ Sir Keith Joseph
On that proposal the Committee has already come to a decision. The group of amendments that the Committee is discussing does not quarrel with the fact that the GLC in its last year will be composed of appointed members, but it quarrels with the composition of ILEA. It is to that group of amendments that I am addressing myself.
I accept that the amendments have been put forward seriously. However, I cannot accept that in continuity, in capacity or in coherence of membership or background the hon. Member has shown that his proposals would lead to an overwhelmingly better provision than the one he is seeking to replace.
§ Mr. Dobson
I thought that I understood the interim provisions, but the more that the right hon. Gentleman says, the less I understand. Can he guarantee that no interim arrangement contemplated by the Government will involve decisions in the ILEA being made by representatives of local authorities not within the boundaries of the ILEA?
§ Sir Keith Joseph
Yes, I can guarantee that.
I recommend that the Committee rejects this group of amendments, if pressed to a Division. I hope that I have explained that had the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey put forward an overwhelming and perfect solution the Government might have been willing to consider it. He has not done that and I hope that at least my right hon. and hon. Friends will vote down the amendments.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
We live in hope that one day an hon. Member or a party in this place will come before this earthly legislature with that group of perfect proposals for legislation after which we have been groping for centuries. The tragedy is that I have never yet understood that an electorate is asked to decide whether a proposal is perfect or not. It has only to choose the better option. I am sad to think that the Secretary of State did not answer what I still believe to be considerable, even if not overwhelming, arguments for our proposals.
The right hon. Gentleman was correct to say that because of the special nature of ILEA as a special committee of the GLC, the amendments might have to be amended to deal with their technical deficiencies. However, he was generous enough to accept the point of substance behind the amendment.
The arguments against the proposal are not only not overwhelming; they did not hold up at all. ILEA comprises members of three parties and one independent. It voted overwhelmingly—only three dissented—and all parties agreed that it should continue to be directly elected. It also voted against the rate-capping proposals. The test that the right hon. Gentleman should allow ILEA to undergo next year is that of the ballot box—not least because his original proposal in the White Paper had the bizarre feature, for a Conservative Government, of proposing ILEA as a joint board. It stated:To underline the fact that the elected representatives nominated to joint boards will represent the interests of the whole of their boroughs and districts, nominations will be required to reflect as closely as practicable the balance of parties on the nominating authority.
In effect, that was a proposal for a proportionately elected ILEA.
I am asking the Government not simply to accept that they have to continue their sudden and magical conversion to proportional representation as proposed in the White Paper, but to back away from that and continue a directly elected authority — and the Secretary of State, politically, has nothing to lose—that would probably end up controlled by the same party that controls it now. It is a Labour-controlled ILEA, and would be so if there were direct elections next year because of the nature of the authorities and their political complexions.
We are not even asking the Government to do the gerrymandering that they must do for the GLC, when they will convert by parliamentary diktat — as the former Prime Minister the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and 1026 Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said some hours ago—the GLC elected with a Labour majority, albeit a small one, to one with a substantial Conservative majority.
It is quite possible for elections to take place. hi practical terms, it is possible for the legislation to be before us and for arrangements to be made irrespective of what happens on this Bill or next Session on linked legislation.
No business could be successful if there was a complete changeover of those running it on two occasion within 13 months. No nationalised industry would contemplate forming a plan of activity and having a complete shakeout 12 months later. We are talking about something much more important than business. At stake here is the education, the future investment, of our young people
To leave an unelected authority, which will be at the mercy of its officers—or such time as they are able to devote to the task—is a prescription for bureaucrats to run ILEA. That is the complete opposite of the democratic, accountable, principles of the education service as we have known it for 100 years or more and of the other public services. That is giving Whitehall a job which, in Britain, people are elected to do.
Last weekend some of us were excited as we watched the final of the world snooker championship. I gather that the finalist from Tooting, who sadly lost—I say "sadly" because if Jimmy White had won, that would have been for the benefit of snooker—could not until recently read or write. That could, I suppose, be described as a tribute to the still inadequate service provided by ILEA. I am not saying that ILEA has not made substantial progress; just that people deserve the best education service that we can provide. We must make sure that when youngsters leave school they can read and write so that they can get jobs and contribute to the economy.
Politicians, rather than parents, are more interested in the form in which the elections shall take. Parents, however, are vitally interested in the service that is provided, and that is what we are debating tonight. Many hon. Members who represent London constituencies were elected by people voting in schools, with the results finally being declared in schools run by ILEA. In my case, the election result was announced in a Southwark school named after somebody who was perhaps the epitome of education, Geoffrey Chaucer.
The least that we can do is to return the compliment to ILEA and admit that we are not satisfied that the Government have resisted the amendment with an adequate case. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will support the amendment in the Lobby.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 124, Noes 270.1029
|Division No. 287]||[2.30 am|
|Anderson, Donald||Boyes, Roland|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Brown, Gordon (DTrnline E)|
|Ashton, Joe||Brown, Hugh D. (Proven)|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Caborn, Richard|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Campbell, Ian|
|Barnett, Guy||Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)|
|Barron, Kevin||Clark, Dr David (S Shields)|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Clarke, Thomas|
|Benn, Tony||Clay, Robert|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Cohen, Harry|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.|
|Blair, Anthony||Conlan, Bernard|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||McTaggart, Robert|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Madden, Max|
|Corbett, Robin||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Martin, Michael|
|Cowans, Harry||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Craigen, J. M.||Meacher, Michael|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Michie, William|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Mikardo, Ian|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|>Deakins, Eric||Nellist, David|
|Dewar, Donald||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Dixon, Donald||O'Brien, William|
|Dobson, Frank||O'Neill, Martin|
|Dormand, Jack||Park, George|
|Dubs, Alfred||Parry, Robert|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Patchett, Terry|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Pendry, Tom|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Penhaligon, David|
|Ewing, Harry||Pike, Peter|
|Faulds, Andrew||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Prescott, John|
|Flannery, Martin||Radice, Giles|
|Forrester, John||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Foster, Derek||Robertson, George|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|George, Bruce||Rowlands, Ted|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Ryman, John|
|Golding, John||Sheerman, Barry|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Haynes, Frank||Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Snape, Peter|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Stott, Roger|
|Janner, Hon Greville||Strang, Gavin|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Straw, Jack|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Wallace, James|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)||Wareing, Robert|
|Litherland, Robert||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Winnick, David|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|McKelvey, William||Mr. Michael Meadowcroft and|
|Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Mr. Paddy Ashdown.|
|Adley, Robert||Brandon-Bravo, Martin|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Brinton, Tim|
|Alexander, Richard||Brittan, Rt Hon Leon|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Brooke, Hon Peter|
|Amess, David||Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)|
|Arnold, Tom||Browne, John|
|Ashby, David||Bruinvels, Peter|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Bryan, Sir Paul|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Buck, Sir Antony|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Budgen, Nick|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Bulmer, Esmond|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Burt, Alistair|
|Batiste, Spencer||Butcher, John|
|Bellingham, Henry||Butler, Hon Adam|
|Bendall, Vivian||Butterfill, John|
|Berry, Sir Anthony||Carlisle, John (N Luton)|
|Best, Keith||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Carttiss, Michael|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Cash, William|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Chope, Christopher|
|Body, Richard||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Cockeram, Eric|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Colvin, Michael|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Coombs, Simon|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Cope, John|
|Corrie, John||Knowles, Michael|
|Couchman, James||Lamont, Norman|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Lang, Ian|
|Crouch, David||Latham, Michael|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Lawler, Geoffrey|
|Dicks, Terry||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Dover, Den||Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Lightbown, David|
|Dunn, Robert||Lilley, Peter|
|Eggar, Tim||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Evennett, David||Lord, Michael|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||McCrea, Rev William|
|Fallon, Michael||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Farr, John||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Favell, Anthony||MacGregor, John|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Fletcher, Alexander||Maclean, David John|
|Forman, Nigel||Madel, David|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Major, John|
|Forth, Eric||Malins, Humfrey|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Malone, Gerald|
|Fox, Marcus||Maples, John|
|Franks, Cecil||Marland, Paul|
|Freeman, Roger||Marlow, Antony|
|Gale, Roger||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Galley, Roy||Mates, Michael|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Mather, Carol|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Greenway, Harry||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Gregory, Conal||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)||Mellor, David|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Merchant, Piers|
|Grist, Ian||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Ground, Patrick||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Grylls, Michael||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Moate, Roger|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)|
|Hannam, John||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Harris, David||Neale, Gerrard|
|Harvey, Robert||Needham, Richard|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Nelson, Anthony|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Neubert, Michael|
|Hawksley, Warren||Newton, Tony|
|Hayes, J.||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Normanton, Tom|
|Heddle, John||Norris, Steven|
|Henderson, Barry||Oppenheim, Philip|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Ottaway, Richard|
|Hickmet, Richard||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Hind, Kenneth||Parris, Matthew|
|Hirst, Michael||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Holt, Richard||Pawsey, James|
|Hooson, Tom||Porter, Barry|
|Hordern, Peter||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Howard, Michael||Powley, John|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Raffan, Keith|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Rathbone, Tim|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Renton, Tim|
|Hunter, Andrew||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Jackson, Robert||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Rowe, Andrew|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Ryder, Richard|
|Key, Robert||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Scott, Nicholas|
|Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Tracey, Richard|
|Shersby, Michael||Trippier, David|
|Silvester, Fred||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Sims, Roger||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Viggers, Peter|
|Speller, Tony||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Spencer, Derek||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)||Walden, George|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Squire, Robin||Waller, Gary|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Stanley, John||Watson, John|
|Stern, Michael||Watts, John|
|Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Stevens, Martin (Fulham)||Wheeler, John|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)||Whitfield, John|
|Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Sumberg, David||Wolfson, Mark|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)||Wood, Timothy|
|Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman||Woodcock, Michael|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Yeo, Tim|
|Terlezki, Stefan||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Thompson, Donald (Calder V)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)||Mr. David Hunt and|
|Thornton, Malcolm||Mr. Tim Sainsbury.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire, South-East)
Would you be prepared, Mr. Walker, to group amendment No. 13 with amendments Nos. 14 to 17 which we are about to discuss? I suggest that that would save the time of the Committee because amendment No. 13 is consequential upon amendments Nos. 14 to 17, if any of them were carried. It would seem to me sensible to discuss them together. Would that be possible?
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Harold Walker)
I am afraid that it is not possible to group them as the right hon. Member suggests, but if he wishes to withdraw the amendment it would be in order for him to refer to it in the debate on the group of amendments headed by amendment No. 14.
§ Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)
I beg to move amendment No. 14, in clause 2, page 2, line 22, leave out subsection (2) to (5) and add—'The councillors of the Greater London Council and the councillors for a metropolitan county as on 1st May 1985 shall continue in office as councillor until 1st April 1986.'.
§ The Chairman
With this amendment it will be convenient to consider the following amendments. No. 15, in clause 2, page 2, leave out lines 24 and 25 and insert'currently holding office shall remain in office until 1st April 1986.'
Amendment No. 16, in clause 2, page 2, line 26, leave out subsection (3).
Amendment No. 17, in clause 2, page 2, line 32, leave out subsection (4).
§ Mr. Silvester
I speak as one who is wholly in favour of the Government's policy in respect of the abolition of the metropolitan counties. I believe in unitary authorities 1030 and also that the nearer we get to them, even in the area of ILEA, the sooner we are likely to have better government.
I also believe that it would be foolish to have elections next May to cover a period of 11 months. It would be wasteful and unnecessary, and it would be imposing a great deal on people who might be standing to ask them to stand for the purpose of tidying up and transferring duties.
Therefore, you would think, Mr. Walker, that I would be happy, but I am afraid I am not, because the Bill makes provision for those 11 months in a way that I find unacceptable.
The Government have considered two options. The first has been to prolong the life of the existing councils and the second to hand over to the successor boroughs. It has been said to me that neither option is more democratic than the other and that there is therefore nothing to get steamed up about.
Let us examine that proposition. I suggest that we can do it by asking ourselves, particularly on the Conservative Benches, two questions. The first is, "Are we really handing over to the successor authorities?" The answer to that question of course is no. We are indulging in a kind of sleight of hand.
The interim council will have all the existing functions of the MCCs and the GLC. They will be multi-purpose bodies. As I understand it, the successor bodies are to be joint bodies, almost wholly single purpose, in a form that is yet to be worked out, and on which consultations are still proceeding. Some of the functions are to be taken over by the Arts Council, some will be passed over to functions in Ministries. Therefore, it is not true to say that we are handing over to the successor authorities. In effect, we are handing over to a body that in all functions is similar to the MCCs or the GLC, but which is different in composition. In the Bill, we are not handing over to the successsor authorities, but changing their composition.
The second question that Conservative Members should ask themselves is whether we would be doing this if all the MCCs were Conservative. The answer to that question is no. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that that is the answer. In some of the speeches from our Front Bench we have almost admitted as much, as I shall show. The position is a bit worse than that. We are mesmerised by the GLC, but we are also dealing with the metropolitan counties. In the new system, all of those, with the exception of the GLC, will be controlled by the party that opposes us.
There is no reason to suppose that the people appointed by the Labour district councils will be any less trouble to us than the people appointed already as Labour members of the MCCs. The Labour Left is just as capable of creating disruption and chaos through the new method as it is through the old. It is only in the GLC that the political colour will change. If we are honest with ourselves, the purpose of the Bill is to change the political complexion of the GLC. That is the greatest compliment that we can pay to Livingstone, and an abandonment of the standards that we should set for ourselves.
We are abandoning Conservative standards. I am one of those who thinks that too often in the House we talk about principles. I am sceptical about them. When people talk about them, I look for interests, and I tire easily as 1031 pomposities ricochet from one side of the House to the other. I would not say that my right hon. Friends are less principled than I, but sometimes the still small voice should make us think that something more than interest is at stake. We should be particularly careful when we are given an answer about bureaucratic convenience or, even worse, as has been advanced in the case, that some people will rigorously oppose us. We cannot be too careful about the way that our actions treat the constitution.
All my political life has been in big city politics, and I know how awful the Left is. I am not so naive as to believe that we should treat them as though we are going out for a nice game of cricket. By all means, we have to be prepared to prevent abuses. If more powers are needed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment should come to ask for them, and the main part of the Bill provides him with additional powers. He will remember that he already has massive powers on rates, capital expenditure and so on, with which he can control the MCCs.
If my right hon. Friend says that he wants more powers, he should come and define what he means. To ask for additional power to hold in readiness in case of abuse by the metropolitan counties is different from changing the rules to give oneself power, not in response to some illegal act, or to redress some known grievance, but in response to a threat, to merely anticipated evil, and is a dangerous path to follow.
It has been suggested to me, especially in view of the lateness of the hour, that that does not matter and that it is trivial in relation to the great problems that we face. It is suggested that we shall, in the end, abolish the metropolitan county councils; surely we should not flinch from willing the means to do so. I wish that that were so. On both counts, I do not think that the issue is that simple.
Let us take the question of the means and the end. I am prepared to defend and support the policy on the metropolitan counties and I believe that that opportunity will come in the next Session. Government will be better for their abolition, and democracy will be stronger. Let us defend it boldly. It does not need, nor is it helped by having, so poor a midwife as this proposal. I believe that the Bill detracts from our policy and tarnishes it. We spend half our time defending the Bill instead of upholding the policy. I believe that prolonging the existence of the councils for the interim period of 11 months is a well understood procedure. It has been used before; it is natural and easily defensible. So far as I can see, in talking to people generally, rather than those who are deeply committed to the councils, it arouses very little opposition.
We have nothing to gain by adopting the alternative route that is set out in the Bill. If my right hon. Friend thinks that the passage of the Bill will do away with the opportunity for the Left to do mischief, I am afraid that he will soon be disillusioned. There is an infinite variety of ways in which that mischief will be caused and we shall have to fight it on the wrong grounds. We shall forfeit the strong and secure ground of simply allowing the existing councils to continue for that period, and we shall be open to the charge that we do not come to the fight with clean hands.
The other matter is not so trivial as it appears at first glance. We can all quote examples of how bad other parties and Governments have been in the past. Frankly, 1032 I do not give a fig for them. I do not care for Livingstone and his lot, nor for the Left on other councils. I want us to adopt our own standards, not theirs. If our enemies think that it is quixotic and foolish to do so, then so be it. The difference in standards is nowadays the essence of many of the political battles.
Do not let us fall for the exaggerated nonsense that anybody's democratic rights are being infringed significantly by the Bill; but something even more important is being infringed. Conservatives believe that a well ordered nation is governed according to a balance of power that is maintained according to clearly defined rules. If we evade them, even though we have the power to do so, we shall later pay the penalty.
The Secretary of State is reputed to have said—if he did not, I could well imagine that the arguments would have gone this way—that the balance of the argument between the Bill and my amendment are very narrow. It is certainly true that a change of the sort that I am suggesting would not attack the heart of the Government's policy, but it would get it off to a much better start and I urge my right hon. Friend to accept the amendment.
§ Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)
I found the arguments of the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester), very persuasive and powerful, not least because of the calm way in which they were put to the Committee.
I want to make it clear that alliance Members regard the proposals as very much second best, without elections in 1985. To that extent, the provision is acknowledged as a fall-back position. If the Bill were to fall at Third Reading, this proposal would fall with it, and no one would be more pleased than I would be. If we are to have the Bill, we should have some sort of position that is sustainable in argument and logic and which endeavours to maintain the continuity and principles dealt with so persuasively by the hon. Member for Withington.
I was astonished to hear the Secretary of State in an interview on Radio 4 recently blandly state that elections have been abolished on a number of occasions before. The implication was that there were precedents for what was being done in the Bill, that therefore there should be no worry, and that the Bill was not so startling and unconstitutional as was being presented. If elections have been abandoned in the past, as they manifestly have, is there a single case in which elections have been abandoned so as to put in power another group of people rather than continuing the term of office of existing councillors until there was a further election for a new authority? That is the case with which we are dealing now, not whether in the past there has been an abandonment of elections for some other purpose.
It is true that when the GLC was formed, indeed when the metropolitan counties were formed, the terms of office of the existing members of the previous authority were continued until the new authority took over. Again, that is common ground on both sides of the Committee. I am not aware of any incidents where elections have been suspended or abandoned or have not taken place so that the existing authorities could be replaced by further appointed individuals.
Previous elections for the bodies which will appoint to the interim councils if the Bill is enacted in its present form were not for the metropolitan counties or the GLC, but for the district authorities. I suspect that in a great many cases 1033 the individual members who put themselves forward, and indeed the parties which selected them, had regard to the kind of authority that they were selecting them for. The interests of those individuals were no doubt of some concern as to their propriety and appropriateness for the particular authority to which they were going. They may have had an interest in the services to be done by one or the other. They may have had an interest in transportation for the county. They may have had an interest in social services for the district. But in the case that we are now putting forward in the Bill it appears that, whether or not they were concerned about those individual functions, they are now to be thrust on to an authority for which they are not candidates previously.
A further minor point attached to that is the fact that in some cases the existence of two-tier government—the GLC and county councils — was quite important to individuals who would otherwise be statute barred. I always thought that it was sad that there are many people in our society who, when there is only one tier of local government, are thereby barred from serving on it because they are employees of that local authority. I wonder what the position would be of those individuals who might be put forward for the interim councils from the district councils and the London boroughs, who might be statute barred and be unable to stand by law. Are they now to be permitted to be members of those authorities?
The hon. Member for Withington used the words "a sleight of hand". It is a highly inappropriate way to go about the government of these huge areas to achieve a change of control without the democratic process taking place. If one cannot effect by the ballot box the kind of principles and policies one puts forward, it is illegitimate to achieve that change by appointment from the House.
Despite the fact that it is written into the Bill that there should be proportionality between parties, in a great many cases the number of members to be so appointed from the district is not sufficient to achieve that proportionality where three parties are represented on the district councils. It is even possible — for instance, in the case of Calderdale in west Yorkshire—that the party in office in a local authority is the third party in size. It is conceivable that that would not necessarily be represented on the new authority. In such situations it is bizarre to suggest that new bodies will be representative of the political opinions of the people who have cast their votes in recent elections.
I also suspect that the Secretary of State may say that there is a great fear in his mind that the existing local authorities would behave irresponsibly if they were given one more year of existence. I am not convinced by that suggestion, for two reasons. First, those local authorities are so anxious not only to remain in existence but to make the case for their future existence if the balance of power in the House were to change that they would not go out of their way to behave irresponsibly in that final year.
The Government have two weapons to inhibit misbehaviour in that final year. They have, alas, their rate-capping proposals. There is also the provision which enables them to insist that the local authorities furnish the Secretary of State with considerable detail about their affairs. With those two draconian powers in existing legislation, if the Secretary of State does not have enough power to control the authorities in their final year he has wasted his time in enacting those provisions in the past.
§ 3 am
§ Dr. Hampson
How does the Secretary of State stop what we are already seeing in the GLC, where the council uses its ratepayers' money and resources to buy assets from the boroughs and give a large bonanza to the boroughs, knowing that when abolition comes those assets automatically revert back to the boroughs and they pay nothing for them?
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
I am surprised to hear the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) say that. The prospect of execution concentrates the mind immensely. If the hon. Gentleman believes that these local authorities will quietly disappear, will not fight for their existence and will not find legitimate ways in which they can maintain those assets that they have had before, I am surprised by his naivety. It amazes me that authorities have not gone out of their way to behave in an underhand manner. They have acted openly with a view to maintaining those services for the future. If the Government bring forward draconian policies on financial control and inhibition of local authorities, I am not surprised that local authorities use all their astuteness to safeguard their services and assets.
I accept that the Government had a dilemma. They were trying to produce proposals to deal with what they regarded as the menace of Mr. Ken Livingstone and others in the metropolitan areas. If they had continued the existing authorities over the final year, they would have produced a Ken Livingstone preservation Bill. I can understand the psychological problem of the Secretary of State but, sadly, because of the personalities involved and because of the depth of the campaign being conducted by the leaders of those authorities, it in no way excuses a bad principle being enacted into bad law. For that reason, I shall have great pleasure in supporting the amendments.
§ Mr. Pym
As the Committee knows, I am opposed to the concept and principle of the Bill. It is premature, unnecessary and an embarrassing waste of parliamentary time. Because I take that view, it follows that I see little scope for improving it. There it little scope for amendments which will make it better. In my view, the whole Bill should be thrown out.
Despite that, I thought that two groups of amendments could have some effect. The first was the first group that we discussed, which attempted to constrain the powers of the Secretary of State to activate the Bill. The second is this group, which relates to the interim arrangements for the proposed reform. The amendments do not relate to the substance of abolishing the GLC and the metropolitan counties. They deal with the arrangements which are to be put into effect to carry us from the present position to the new state of affairs coming into force, whatever it is and whenever that is — we do not yet know. The amendments call for a stay of execution until April 1986, and I support entirely the admirable speech that we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester). The purpose is to keep the present councillors in office for a further year to give the Government a breathing space to prepare their proposals and develop them much more fully before introducing their main Bill. I should have thought that as each day goes by, and as each speech in the debate is made, the need for that extra time becomes ever more apparent.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that to achieve this objective we must have 1035 legislation. We must legislate to postpone the elections. However, the legislation to keep the existing councillors on the metropolitan counties and the GLC in office has been done before, and is not nearly as controversial as what is proposed here. The controversy here is the proposal to remove the elected representatives of those authorities and to substitute appointed bodies.
It is also true, as my right hon. Friend said, that those appointed bodies are elected, but they are elected for a different purpose. From the point of view of fulfilling the responsibilities now fulfilled by the metropolitan counties and the GLC, they are not, of course, elected. Therefore, they will be quasi-quangos, and this in my view is unprecedented. I am afraid that the gap between my right hon. Friend and myself on that point is as long as it ever was. To make matters much worse, in making this extraordinary change it seems highly likely that in some cases the political complexions of the appointed bodies will change. That is completely unacceptable and breaks the well-accepted rules of our constitutional practice.
In this whole reform the Government are showing too much haste, in the sense that they gave this great reform too little forethought before they rushed into it. I have no doubt that some of my hon. Friends are impatient for this reform, but all our experience shows that when making such changes in local government one needs to proceed in a careful and considered way. The Secretary of State today made great claim about the potential savings as a result of this measure. Some of us have been in the House when reforms were made to local government, and all sorts of claims about savings for the ratepayer were made. In every case the result was to increase the cost, not reduce it. It is reasonable for the Secretary of State to claim that there will be savings to ratepayers, but many of us wish to see the analysis and to challenge some conclusions.
Our experience in the 1963 and 1972 Acts shows how necessary it is to give much thought before any change is made. It is fashionable today to criticise both Acts. That criticism may be fair and justified, or it may not, but at any rate those changes were made by the House of Commons after much forethought and preparation. The main Bill, which we are told will be introduced next Session, is likely to be far worse than anything that went before unless the Government stop their headlong rush into what appears like the first solution that comes into their head. I urge them to take more time about such an important change.
My third point relates to the handling of the change. We have had no debate in the House on the broad strategy of the reform. We have received information about the new proposals bit by bit, some on Second Reading, and some in today's Hansard in a written answer. I wish that the Government would come forward with their properly considered proposals in an orderly way —in a White Paper or whatever—and give the House the opportunity to hear their case and the reasons for it, and allow the House to argue that and to put forward alternatives. There must be general consideration of the entire reform before more legislation is introduced.
My fourth point is to urge upon the Government the continuation of the existing councils and their existing representatives, as proposed in the amendments. There is, after all, a proper democratic base for this. They have been elected for the responsibilities that have to be carried out 1036 in the interim period. It is much more sensible to let those people who know about it continue for a further year or 11 months until the new arrangements are properly in place.
There has been a great deal of talk about the desirability of removing councils that are very Left wing in their views. That is a perfectly legitimate aim, but the only legitimate way to remove them is through the ballot box, and not by any other means. All hon. Members like to claim to be democrats, but I must say that I find the proposals in the Bill extraordinary undemocratic. By the device that I suggest, I think that there will be the minimum of disruption. I am sure that, when we come to that point in the Bill, there will be a great deal of argument and discussion about the extraordinary arrangements that are proposed in the Bill, and the difficulties and strains to which they are likely to give rise. To continue the existing councillors for a further year will give rise to none of that hassle. I think that it will be considered to be quite reasonable and logical, and that that is what we ought to do.
It would also have the advantage of giving the Government more time. They have imposed upon themselves, for reasons that I do not entirely understand, a time limit for putting the reform in place so that it is active in 1986. I do not see the necessity for that. If the reform would be much more widely accepted, and, therefore, less controversial, and if it would be more thought out, and people would be more prepared for it, surely 1987 would be a better date to choose than 1986. For those reasons, I think that the amendments now proposed would be extremely helpful in making the main Bill as proposed less unacceptable.
Finally, I wish to make a point That I know has been made already in the debate. Whatever mandate the Government may think they have, and whatever view one takes about a mandate—and I think that one ought to take a rather reserved view about that theory—there is certainly no mandate for the Bill. No hon. Member was elected to the House on the basis that the democratic processes belonging to these authorities were suddenly to be uprooted in this extraordinary way. That is my fundamental objection to the Bill. However, I think that it would be made slightly less bad, and slightly more acceptable, if the sense of the amendments now before the Committee were carried, and if the Government had more time in which to work out what they will do for the future.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I endorse the sentiments that have been expressed by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym), and, indeed, by his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester), although in the latter case I should have preferred it if the hon. Gentleman had not referred to "Livingstone and his crowd", but had shown a certain amount of respect for the leader of the largest local authority in the country. However, I realise that manners at any time are in short supply on the Conservative Benches.
§ Mr. Banks
At least I have a chest, which is more than the hon. Gentleman has.
While I can applaud and sympathise with the sentiments, I am unable to support the amendment. I 1037 recognise its intention, but there can be no acceptable substitute for the democratic elections that were due to be held in May 1985. The extension of a period of office for existing councillors has many precedents. Indeed, when I was a member of the Greater London council between 1973 and 1977, the life of that administration was extended by a year to bring it into line with the metropolitan county councils. Thus there is a precedent. In that case, of course, it depended on the continuation of that body, which is not the present case.
For once in the course of the debate on the Bill, I will conceivably join hands across the Dispatch Box with the Government Front Bench, while my sentiments are entirely with the Conservative Members who are desperately trying to improve what I believe is an unimprovable measure. The Government were clearly, unwilling to go along with that in their original proposals because of the embarrassment of being accused of having vilified Mr. Livingstone and his administration only to come up with a proposal to extend the life of that administration by a further year. I can well imagine the red faces of Conservative Members and the sort of questioning that they might face from their Conservative associations. Those associations would have wondered why, if everything they read in the newspapers and everything that Ministers said was true, the Government should then extend the life of that accursed administration at county hall for a further year.
It was also argued that those administrations, and the so called Left-wing that Conservative Members are apparently so concerned about, would make trouble. I can put hon. Members minds at rest immediately. No self-respecting Left-winger on a metropolitan county council or on the GLC would accept such a Judas price from Ministers. As a sitting member of the GLC there is no way that I would he prepared to go on for a further year after May 1985. What would my function as a member of the GLC be? It would be to carry out the diktats of Marsham street and Ministers in order to prepare the way for the abolition of the GLC, which we have fought against.
The amendment would be asking those of us at county hall to go out under a sentence of death and to co-operate with the hangman in preparing ourselves for that death. No one is going to give me a shovel and tell me to go out to dig my grave and stand by it while I am shot. Under the circumstances, although I accept and understand what some Conservative Members are trying to do, I am sure that I speak for the overwhelming majority of Labour members on the GLC when I say that what is proposed is totally unacceptable. If the measure were carried, we would just stand down in May 1985. We are not prepared to go on for another year as stooges of Marsham street and to carry out what the Ministers want us to do. Therefore, I am sorry, but we cannot go along with the proposal, although we might endorse the sentiments behind it.
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)
What the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has just said helps our case for the amendment. If he wants to walk out of county hall should we have given the GLC another 11 months, Conservative councillors will at least be in control legitimately. The amendment suggests that the path along which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is treading will put the Conservative party in control for that 11 months illegitimately. I fully support 1038 what my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) so clearly and effectively said in proposing the amendment. The aim of the amendment is that we should seek to be legitimate and not illegitimate.
Those who have been Members of the House for as long as I have will appreciate that we have sometimes been whipped into voting in favour of a measure that is the exact opposite of something that we were whipped into voting for in a previous Parliament. In other words, we are sometimes asked to stand on our heads. In the 1970 Parliament we introduced the metropolitan councils and now we are being asked to support doing away with them.
I am rather accident prone in local government, although I am not sure that I am as accident prone as the Secretary of State will be in the next few months. I served on the Middlesex county council in my first elected job after the war when I came out of the RAF intending to put the country right. I have been trying to put the country right ever since, with limited success. In 1962 the Government did away with the Middlesex county council. They then also tried to do away with the County of Rutland which I represented, until recently, for 24 years. We won the battle in 1962 and Rutland stood on its own until 1972 when I failed to persuade the Government to retain it.
So, I am accident prone, in local government, but I have never stood as a member of the Greater London council. I was not enthusiastic in 1972 about the measures that we proposed for local government because I was affected by them in Rutland. I was whipped then and today I am being whipped in the opposite direction. Today I propose to support the amendment.
At the time, I thought that the 1972 proposals were an attempt by the Ministry and the big battalions in local government to find better jobs for the boys—they did that—and to provide better salaries. They did that too. We were told that the proposals would save money. In the event, the salary and other bills connected with reorganisation increased.
The Minister will spell out what he will save on this. He should halve the figure and if he waits for a few more years he will lose even that half. I do not think that in the end we shall save anything.
I accept that the proposal was in our manifesto, even though I had reservations about it. But I want to keep our good conscience as a party. 1 want to retain the belief of others that we believe in democracy. The Government can do that by accepting the amendment. If my right hon. Friend does not accept the amendment, we shall he charged with gerrymandering. We shall be charged with handing over the GLC for 11 months to an authority which is not representative of the present GLC but, on the figures available about likely nominees, to a Conservative body. It will be a temporary quango, but it will be of our creation and will not be representative of the electorate.
People would be told that we had manipulated the authority. The Opposition would say, as indeed they already have, that we had manipulated that authority. Many people would believe that we had manipulated. All those uninformed about politics or indifferent to politics except for the occasional vote would accept the message that we had manipulated.
I suppose that the Minister can put his hand on his heart and say, "We have not manipulated it. That is just the way it worked out. We have to do it that way because it will 1039 not work any other way." If we are likely to be charged with manipulation, the Minister and his Department should find another way.
We will have put up with the Labour party running the GLC for the four years that they will have been in office by the time the elections are due. We can surely put up with it for another 11 months. It has been shown that there are powers in the Bill to prevent abuse. The Minister can take other powers himself. Under the rate-capping legislation at present being considered in another place the Government will have power to prevent abuse.
If Ken Livingstone continues on his eccentric and extreme path he can be contained. In any case, if he behaves eccentrically, that will damage the Labour party more than the Government. Indeed, in a few months from now the Government may be pleased that an eccentric Ken Livingstone is doing things that may boost their support in the country on the basis that people will say that it is better to have the devil they know than Mr. Livingstone or those who follow him.
It is not impossible for my right hon. Friend to accept the amendment. Yesterday in the House of Lords the Government laid an amendment to the Rates Bill that arose out of representations that we made here and on which my right hon. Friend promised to do something. That amendment will be helpful to counties that were threatened with rate capping even though they had not been extravagant.
There is a limit to the concessions that my right hon. Friend should make to the House of Lords. He should make concessions to this place. When we propose reasonable amendments, he should make concessions here and not wait to do so in the House of Lords. If he does not accept this amendment, I believe that something similar will be proposed in the House of Lords and the Government will have to accept it. Lets have it now.
§ Dr. David Clark
I shall not detain the Committee long because many of my points have been made tellingly by hon. Members from both sides of the Committee. It is no secret that we find many parts of the Bill repugnant. We find it ill-timed, ill-conceived and ill-advised, but in particular we find repugnant that part of the Bill which seeks to abolish the 1985 elections and to replace councillors by appointed personnel. That theme has come up time and time again and it is completely unprecedented in the United Kingdom. It is fundamentally undemocratic to abolish the elections in advance of this sovereign Parliament taking a decision on the matter and, indeed, in advance of Parliament even seeing the Bill that the Secretary of State has promised to introduce. It would be preferable to hold the elections.
I take the point raised by the hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Sir K. Lewis) about people accusing the Government of manipulating. Of course they will be accused of that because they are the democratic processes. I do not know whether the Secretary of State understands this, but it is as undemocratic to fiddle with the structure of local government as it is to gerrymander the electorate. The right hon. Gentleman is manipulating the electorate. I ask him the question that has been asked time and time again—how can he justify a Labour-elected GLC being turned into a Tory-run quango? It is preposterous.
1040 Given the fact that the right hon. Gentleman intends to proceed with the legislation—to which we are opposed —what do we do if he manages to persuade and whip his hacks into supporting him in the Lobby? We must think of what is good for the governance of the metropolitan counties. That is what we are charged with and what we want to achieve. The official Opposition see this set of amendments very much as second best, but preferable to the establishment of a quango to look after the affairs of the citizens of the metropolitan counties. It is more preferable for democratically elected councillors to run the service than to have appointed personnel. No genuine democrat could disagree with that.
This set of amendments has a practical application that has not been fully developed. The key point is that the deferral of the 1985 elections would be a no-lose position for the Government and the electorate in the metropolitan areas. It would retain the expertise and experience during those 11 months. Those appointed to the quango would not have the expertise or experience in running the services. It does not make for good management or administration to have such people running the services. It would be much better to have the councillors originally elected to do the job continuing to do it.
I hope that the Secretary of State will not imagine for a moment that he is certain to get his substantive Bill through the House. I hope that this Parliament, if he brings in a Bill that we do not like, is sovereign enough to reject it. If that Bill is rejected, the Secretary of State must go through the procedure of abolishing his quangos and so on. It would be so much easier if elected councillors continued for a further year. Nothing would be lost and the election could take place as usual.
The Government's proposals to establish an interim board, which would last for only 11 months, mean that in a three-year period the administration of the metropolitan areas would have three different structures—one year it would have the democratically elected councillors, the next year it would have the council-appointed quango and third year would see the permanent arrangement. That is not the most sensible way to run any organisation.
I recall all the promises that were made in the 1970 Parliament. We were told how the country and ratepayers would be saved money, but things did not work out that way. What the Government are proposing will not even begin to meet the dreams of the Secretary of State, and that is why—although, as I say, it is very much second best—we urge support for the amendment.
§ Dr. Hampson
With respect to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), we are not discussing the rights and wrongs of abolition. Coming from a metropolitan county, I am strongly in favour of it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) is against it. Nor are we discussing the costs involved.
The excellence of the arguments adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) prompted me to speak. The issue is that my right hon. Friend, in deciding to abolish the metropolitan counties and the GLC, had a simple choice to make. Are the successors of the existing bodies to be those who are currently in those bodies and who will cease to be in them—the outs, so to speak—or will the successors be those who will be the inheritors, those who are already in the system?
1041 The precedents show that one carries on for the extra year with those who will be out, but this is creating a new precedent for a new situation. This is new in the sense that there is no immediate successor body. According to precedent, most of those who will carry on for the extra year will be the very councillors who will be elected for the successor bodies. That happened when moving from the old to the new county councils in 1974.
In the present circumstances, we are faced with the fact that the existing county councillors, or GLC councillors, will end up with nothing. We are taking away their power base, and that is a world of difference. The arguments boil down to two. The object of the proposal is not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Withington said, to change control of the GLC. It is totally wrong to levy the charge at my right hon. Friend that his object is to do that.
With respect to him and his ministerial team, I should have thought that that was the biggest embarrassment that they faced—the fact that power in the GLC is changing —and while that is not the object, it seems logical to say that it is helpful, for ease of transition, that those who will inherit these functions should operate during the period of transition, rather than have a fag-end administration. I know of no instance in this country or, speaking as an American historian, of an example from United States administrations, where a fag-end administration could be relied on to be responsible.
We should face in these circumstances probably the biggest asset-stripping operation we have ever seen in public life in this country. We should have a group of people, whether in the metropolitan counties or in the GLC, who would not have a function after the Bill was enacted, who had huge assets at their disposal and who would seek the extra year, if they were given it, to make sure that those assets were transferred to their party political friends at the borough or district level.
Whatever the constitutional principles, that is the reality with which the Secretary of State must deal. It seems perfectly valid, therefore, for us to be asked to act in accordance with reality, providing on the one hand for the minimum disruption by ensuring that those who will succeed continue on through the transitional period and, on the other, to prevent one of the biggest abuses of political power that could possibly occur.
§ Mr. Benyon
This is probably the most important debate that will take place during our consideration of the Bill and it is a tragedy that we must discuss it at this ridiculous hour. However, I make no excuse for delaying the Committee for a few minutes to make it clear how much I support the amendment.
As I said earlier in an intervention, I do not challenge the right of Parliament to change the structure of local government. Nor do I challenge the contention that it is necessary to postpone the elections in order to do so, but it is that aspect of the Government's proposals that sticks in the gullet of so many, who consider that it is an undemocratic way of proceeding.
Conditions change and it is impossible to maintain the structure and powers of local government in some fossilised state. In November there will be an argument about whether the Government's proposals are better than the present position or whether there is an alternative that is better still. I make no comment on the proposals or on the enormous speculation that surrounds them. It is all speculation and the kindest thing to say is that the case is 1042 not proven. If the Government are persuaded that they will produce better local government, I shall support their proposals when the time comes.
We are discussing whether the councils should remain in control for the extra year, in other words, the arrangements for the interim. Should the existing councils continue for the extra year in accordance with precedent or should they be replaced? I am depressed because I am conscious of the similarities between the devolution proposals of the Labour Government and the proposals that are now being made. Both sets of proposals were introduced with the best of intentions and in this instance my right hon. and hon. Friends feel that they will reduce the rate burden. I am certain that as the discussion proceeds the situation will become more and more difficult and the problems will become more and more evident.
If we do what is proposed in the Bill, we shall embark on a recipe for inefficiency for the interim year. I take up the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson), which was answered earlier in our proceedings by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). My right hon. and learned Friend said that the argument could be easily catered for by the introduction of a small enabling Bill, which would avoid the irresponsible actions that would take place during the final year, such as the sale or purchase of assets, the appointment or dismissal of staff or the implementation of section 137 powers.
By replacing the elected body with an indirectly elected body we are changing the political composition of the council, and that is where the crunch comes. I know that the Opposition are making a great deal of this proposed legislation but it is really on the Government Benches that the decision lies. The Opposition can only talk; we can act. The question that we must ask ourselves is whether the Government's proposals are right, and the answer must be no.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
I do not disagree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) has said about this being one of the most important debates that we shall have on the Bill. It is interesting to recognise that those who have spoken in it have taken different views on the merits of the abolition proposal and the method Mat we are adopting to implement it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) made- it clear in a quiet but impressive speech that he firmly supports the main proposal of abolishing the metropolitan councils and the GLC. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym), he agrees that we should legislate to postpone the elections. I am grateful for that, because it is important. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East is unhappier on a wider range of grounds. He believes that we are pursuing this course with too much haste, and for that reason we run the risk of not getting it right.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) made it clear that he could not support the amendments because he passionately felt that the GLC should be retained and elections should occur next year. He believes that those aims ate not in any way consistent with the amendments.
1043 3.45 am
My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes regards the whole case as not proven and remains to be convinced that there is a case for abolishing the upper tier councils in the metropolitan areas.
A number of speeches were made on the amendments, most in support, but from differing standpoints. The main point to emerge from the debate is that we face a clear choice. I do not entirely disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson). It is an unprecedented choice for an unprecedented case. That point is becoming clear as the debate proceeds. There are precedents for cancelling elections, but there is no precedent— I accept this point — for entrusting the interim council to the successor council. There is no precedent for having the successor councils in existence from the moment the whole process starts.
The argument of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) was unconvincing. He believes that, if the main Bill fails, somehow it will be easier to restore elections and return to the previous pattern if the existing councils have run on than if the interim councils consist, as the Bill states, of councillors nominated by the successor councils. I have much respect for the hon. Gentleman's ability, but I do not believe that his argument carries any weight.
This is a paving Bill. If the main Bill fails, the status quo will be restored. If that happens on Second Reading, the commencement order will never be laid and the elections will occur. If the commencement order has been laid, the elections will be suspended. Depending on the date—we had to deal with that point when considering the other changes to electoral law that might be necessary —the elections will be reinstated, and the councils will again consist of directly elected members.
It does not make the slightest difference whether we have accepted the Bill's proposals on nominated councillors or whether the existing councils have run on. The hon. Member for South Shields had in mind the point made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West—many of those councillors will not have served if the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Withington is carried.
Granted that we are interfering perfectly legitimately —I recognise that many Opposition Members do not accept this point, but many of my hon. Friends do—in the election pattern, is our proposed solution more democratic than the alternative pressed upon us? My hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Sir K. Lewis) used the word "manipulation". Is that so unacceptable that it must be changed?
The second issue is the practical one of deciding which of the two options is likely to prove the most practical solution and likely to lead to the most successful and smoothest transition. Those are the two questions to which we must address ourselves.
I have listened with great care to my hon. Friend the Member for Withington, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshre, South-East and my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding, who have argued that the proposal contained in the Bill is undemocratic whereas their proposal in more democratic. I do not believe that the argument is nearly as clear—cut as my right hon. and hon. Friends suggested.
§ Mr. Jenkin
With the greatest respect, if I may develop the point, in either case this House would be substituting for the interim period, councillors who would otherwise have been elected in the elections that we shall be suspending. In the case suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Withington the existing councillors would be asked to continue to serve for a further 11 months. In effect, they would be put there by this House.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West made it clear that that would be unacceptable and that he would have no mandate for a fifth year. He and many of his friends on the GLC would not serve because they would regard that process as undemocratic. Mr. Livingstone and others are on record as having said that they would not serve because they would regard it as undemocratic.
One choice is councillors put in to serve by fiat of the House. The other is to give the existing elected councils the opportunity to nominate from among their own number those who will serve in the interim period. Both are, in a sense, substituted councillors for the interim period, but that is inherent in the pattern of cancelling the elections and having an interim council. The question is whether one is more democratic than the other.
I do not see that the argument is anything like as clear-cut as my right hon. and hon. Friends have said. After all, the existing GLC and metropolitan councillors were elected in 1981 and will have served for four years, and the suggestion is that they should carry on and serve for a fifth year. None of the borough and district councillors will have been elected before 1982 and some of them in the metropolitan districts a good deal more recently.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I understand the point that is made, but, with respect, I am not sure how much weight it should carry. Perhaps I can deal with the point in a moment.
We should be offering elected councils the opportunity to nominate from among their own number those who would serve during the interim period. I do not see that that is any less democratic than the fiat of the House seeking to continue in office councillors whose terms has already elapsed.
The point was made, and the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) has just repeated it, that those borough and district councillors were elected for a different purpose. Technically, of course, that is right. I should not deny that for one moment, but surely all of us who have been members of local authorities recognise that when we stand for the local authority many of us find ourselves serving on committees and outside bodies that we did not have the remotest idea even existed when we stood for election.
This is perhaps a minor example, but when I was first a borough councillor I found myself appointed to serve on the metropolitan district committee of the North Thames Gas consultative council.
§ Mr. Jenkin
One has to start somewhere. My point is that councillors are frequently asked to undertake tasks that may not have been remotely in the contemplation either of the electorate that elected them or themselves when they sought election. For such a short period, in the 1045 special case of a local government Bill, we should not attach too much weight to the argument that borough councils were elected to run different services. I shall come to the practical argument in a moment.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Perhaps there should be elections for the North Thames gas consultative council as well. Is not the right hon. Gentleman opposing the need to have elections next year in what he calls the interim year because he fears that his party will be slaughtered at the polls, and the polls would be seen as a referendum on the Government's legislation?
§ Mr. Jenkin
We touched on the subject of elections in an earlier debate, and the argument against that is clear. When a local government reorganisation is in progress and the Bill is before the House, it is difficult to see how such elections could sensibly be held, or what the issues would be
I understand that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and his hon. Friends reject that argument, and want the elections to take place, but that is because they are against the main substance of the Bill. The House will, I hope, pass that main substance, whereupon, it is right that the elections should be suspended. I return to the question of, if and when they are, what should happen. On the first argument about democracy, I do not see the solutions of the Bill as intrinsically any less democratic than the solution being pressed on us by some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, so the argument is evenly balanced. The second argument is the one of practical—
§ Sir Ian Gilmour
Will my right hon. Friend answer the point about the change in political complexion? The first course recommended to him would not change the political complexion of the GLC, while his proposals do. That is surely an important democratic argument.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I understand my right hon. Friend's difficulties. I firmly refute any suggestion that this has been done to secure that objective. In all the MCCs, that objective could not be achieved unless there are some unusual by-election results between now and then. It so happens that by applying the same rules, it would seem probable that there would be such a change in London. The change would be because the borough councils have a stronger Conservative representation than the 1981 elected GLC—the former were elected at a time when political sentiment in the capital was different from what it was in 1981. It is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West said, a by-product, and inevitable consequence of the solution that we have chosen. I firmly refute any suggestion that this should be seen as manipulation. I said that the arguments as to which is the more democratic case are more evenly balanced than my right hon. and hon. Friends who have spoken in the debate would allow.
I come to the second, practical, argument about what is likely to be the best solution in the practical circumstances that we face. I say firmly that the arguments advanced to the Committee by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) seem to the Government to be overwhelming. The argument is simply about who is likely to have the greatest interest in making sure that services are run economically and efficiently, that assets are properly safeguarded, that finance is carefully 1046 husbanded and that the staffs of existing services, most of whom will be transferred to the successor bodies, are properly looked after. Will they be those who have nothing to do with those problems after 1986 or those who will be carrying the responsibilities directly, either in borough and district councils, or as members of the joint boards that will be running the services? One has only to pose that question for the answer to become immediately apparent.
§ Mr. Jenkin
When one adds the fact that those running the upper tiers of metropolitan councils have steadfastly refused to offer any co-operation to the Government or the successor councils in facilitating the transfer, the argument becomes overwhelming. Therefore, I wish to put the case to the Committee that the arguments on the grounds of democracy and propriety are evenly balanced. In an earlier debate, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred to The Guardian article by Mr. John Carvel. It must have been reassuring to the Committee that that article showed that the argument had been talked through by the Government before a decision was reached. It is evenly balanced.
When one considers the most practical outcome, offering the best prospect of a smooth and efficient transfer in the interests of the services and their clients, the case for the Bill's proposal becomes stronger.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. To return to the point with which my hon. Friend the Member for Withington began, I do not think that an obvious solution emerged immediately. It is right to discuss the matter. On balance, however, the Government came down to the view that on grounds of propriety and democracy—(Interruption.]—the case was evenly balanced. The practical considerations of ensuring the smooth and efficient transfer from the metropolitan councils to their successor bodies — the argument in favour of nominating the interim council — is the deciding factor.
I am putting the case that I put to the House on Second Reading. I hope that the Committee will feel obliged to reject the amendments.
§ Mr. Wareing
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. He is insisting that there is an even balance of argument between extending the term of office of the existing councils and of allowing district councils to appoint indirectly some of their members to control the councils during the transitional year. Has he not missed the essential point? On Merseyside, for example—I am sure that the case will be the same for the other metropolitan councils — only 49 councillors will be indirectly appointed by the district councils to serve the whole of Merseyside. Merseyside county council has 99 councillors. To whom would a constituent go with a complaint or a problem relating to the fire, police or bus service? The Secretary of State misses the essential point that in 1047 practical terms there is no accountability on the part of those councillors to the people who elect them. He is putting an undue burden on the backs of the existing district councillors.
§ Mr. Jenkin
There are two separate arguments there, neither of which really arises on this amendment. If a constituent happened to be represented on the Merseyside county council by a county councillor who, like the hon. Member for Newham, North-West was refusing to serve, one might legitimately ask to whom he should go if he wanted to make a complaint about the fire service. If he has district councillors who are serving on the upper tier body, obviously they are the people to whom he should go.
The questions of the number of, and the burden on, councillors arise on later amendments. So the hon. Gentleman has not made a case that would lead me to change the advice that I gave to the Committee a few moments ago, that these amendments should be rejected.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 118, Noes 260.1049
|Division No. 288]||[4.8 am|
|Adley, Robert||Faulds, Andrew|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Forrester, John|
|Ashton, Joe||Foster, Derek|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||George, Bruce|
|Barron, Kevin||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Godman, Dr Norman|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Golding, John|
|Benn, Tony||Ground, Patrick|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Hamilton, James (M'well N)|
|Benyon, William||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Haynes, Frank|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Blair, Anthony||Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)|
|Boyes, Roland||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Proven)||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Caborn, Richard||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Campbell, Ian||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Clarke, Thomas||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Clay, Robert||Litherland, Robert|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Conlan, Bernard||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||McKelvey, William|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Corbett, Robin||McTaggart, Robert|
|Cowans, Harry||Madden, Max|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Martin, Michael|
|Deakins, Eric||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Dewar, Donald||Meacher, Michael|
|Dixon, Donald||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Dobson, Frank||Michie, William|
|Dormand, Jack||Mikardo, Ian|
|Dubs, Alfred||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||O'Brien, William|
|O'Neill, Martin||Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|Park, George||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Parry, Robert||Skinner, Dennis|
|Patchett, Terry||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ki'ds E)|
|Pendry, Tom||Snape, Peter|
|Penhaligon, David||Spearing, Nigel|
|Pike, Peter||Stott, Roger|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Strang, Gavin|
|Prescott, John||Straw, Jack|
|Pym, Rt Hon Francis||Wallace, James|
|Radice, Giles||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Rathbone, Tim||Wareing, Robert|
|Redmond, M.||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Robertson, George||Winnick, David|
|Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Sheerman, Barry||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Mr. Michael Meadowcroft and|
|Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)||Mr. Fred Silvester|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Alexander, Richard||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Dover, Den|
|Amess, David||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward|
|Arnold, Tom||Dunn, Robert|
|Ashby, David||Eggar, Tim|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Evennett, David|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Fallon, Michael|
|Baker, Nicholas(N Dorset)||Farr, John|
|Batiste, Spencer||Favell, Anthony|
|Bellingham, Henry||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Bendel!, Vivian||Fletcher, Alexander|
|Berry, Sir Anthony||Forman, Nigel|
|Best, Keith||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Forth, Eric|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Fox, Marcus|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Franks, Cecil|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Freeman, Roger|
|Body, Richard||Gale, Roger|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Galley, Roy|
|Bottomley, Peter||Gardiner, George(Reigate)|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Bowden, Gerald(Dulwich)||Gow, Ian|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Greenway, Harry|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Gregory, Conal|
|Brinton, Tim||Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Grist, Ian|
|Browne, John||Grylls, Michael|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Bryan, Sir Paul|
|Budgen, Nick||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Budgen, Nick||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Hannam, John|
|Burt, Alistair||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Butcher, John||Harris, David|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Harvey, Robert|
|Butterfill, John||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Carlisle, John (N Luton)||Hawkins, C. (High Peak)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hayes, J.|
|Cash, William||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Heddle, John|
|Chope, Christopher||Henderson, Barry|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Hickmet, Richard|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hind, Kenneth|
|Cockeram, Eric||Hirst, Michael|
|Colvin, Michael||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Couchman, James||Howard, Michael|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Crouch, David||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)|
|Dicks, Terry||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Raffan, Keith|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Hunter, Andrew||Renton, Tim|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Jackson,Robert||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Rowe, Andrew|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Key, Robert||Ryder, Richard|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Knowles, Michael||Scott, Nicholas|
|Lamont, Norman Lang,||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Lang, Ian||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Latham, Michael||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Shersby, Michael|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Sims, Roger|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lightbown, David||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Lilley, Peter||Speller, Tony|
|Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)||Spencer, Derek|
|Lord, Michael||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|McCrea, Rev William||Squire, Robin|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Stanley, John|
|MacGregor, John||Stern, Michael|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Maclean, David John||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Made!, David||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Malins, Humfrey||Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)|
|Malone, Gerald||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Maples, John||Sumberg, David Taylor,|
|Marland, Paul||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Marlow, Antony||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Mates, Michael||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Mather, Carol||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Thurnham, Peter|
|Mellor, David||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Merchant, Piers||Tracey, Richard|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Trippier, David|
|Mills, ain (Meriden)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Mitchell, David (NW Hants)||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Moate, Roger||Viggers, Peter|
|Montgomery, Fergus||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)||Walden, George|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Neale, Gerrard||Waller, Gary|
|Needham, Richard||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Nelson, Anthony||Watson, John|
|Neubert, Michael||Watts, John|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Normanton, Tom||Wheeler, John|
|Norris, Steven||Whitfield, John|
|Oppenheim, Philip||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Ottaway, Richard||Wolfson, Mark|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Wood, Timothy|
|Parris, Matthew||Woodcock, Michael|
|Patten, John (Oxford)||Yeo, Tim|
|Pattie, Geoffrey||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Porter, Barry||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Mr. John Major and Mr.|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Archie Hamilton.|
Question accordingly negatived.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I beg to move amendment No. 52, in page 2, line 29, after 'councils' insert 'and the Common Council'.
§ The Chairman
With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 63, in schedule 1, page 9, line 42, at end insert'Common Council of City of London.'
§ Mr. Hughes
I am happy to tell the Committee that I do not propose to be very long, which means that everyone knows that they will be able to get home to bed.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) has returned to the Chamber to discuss the City of London.
The two amendments will deal with yet another bizarre anomaly which shows how badly thought out the Bill is. They deal with the Government's proposal that the interirn body to run the GLC should be made up of nominees from the authorities. Clause 2(2) states:As from 7th May 1985 the councillors of the Greater London Council and the councillors for a metropolitan county shall be persons appointed in accordance with this Part of this Act by"—what are described as "the constituent councils." In subsection (3) the constituent councils in London are defined as the London borough councils. The amendments seek to insert the one part of the Greater London council area whose electors, if the proposals are adopted, will have no say in the running of the GLC.
The amendments would increase the size of the transitional GLC by one person, that one person to be a mominee of the City of London Common Council. The purpose is to ensure that the residents of the City of London, of whom there are about 8,000, and who at present are able to vote in GLC elections in the constituency of the City of London and Westminster South, will be represented, even if only by an elected method. At present they would not be represented directly or indirectly. We believe that the amendments have merit, although not because we support the way in which the City of London and its electors are represented. Indeed, we have not defended the composition of the Common Council of the City of London for the last 60 years.
In its original composition, the City of London was the first form of elected government, and it was then a progressive and radical innovation. That is the reason for its present formation. It is made up of people representing not just the electors, but also the business community. Paradoxically, it represents the business community that the Government seek to have represented in other ways, in other authorities. It has now got left behind with the times. We believe that the electors who live in the City of London should be represented in the way that the rest of the electors of London are represented. The structure of local government in the City, which Royal Commissions have never been brave enough to meet head on as an issue, should be amended so that the City of London is incorporated in one of the adjacent authorities.
There are many anomalies about the City of London that I will not go into now. I refer to one only that I discovered when I became a member of the Inner Temple — indeed, the Secretary of State became a member a short time before me. As a member of the Inner Temple 1051 and a tenant of one of the two inns in the Temple, one automatically has a vote in the City of London. The electors of the ward in question, which is Farringdon Without, are those who are tenants of the two inns of court but who do not live in the City of London.
The Committee may be surprised to learn the following fact, and the amusing paradox of it. The electors of London have some needs which ought to be represented. The blight of unemployment and the inadequacy of transport affect them just as much as they affect people who live elsewhere. Some people who were born in the City of London still live there, such as the children of caretakers, schoolkeepers in schools in the City of London, and people whose families have lived there for generations. It is not confined to people who have moved into flats in the new Barbican development.
In the 1971 census, the ward with the highest rate of unemployment was the Bishopsgate ward of the City of London, where unemployment was 34 per cent. Although the number is small, the point is validly made that the electors of the City of London should be represented, and that all authorities that purport to represent Greater London, whther they are transitional or permanent, should represent all the electors of Greater London, and not only the vast majority of them. It is unsatisfactory that one group will be left out.
We do not have much faith that the electors in the City of London are represented in the best way possible or that the Common Council represents the best way of doing so. However, last week, when an election was held in one ward, I noted that all 18 electors turned out to vote. For as long as the Common Council exists—and given the Bill's long title, we cannot abolish it now—it should at least be able, as at present, to nominate a member to ILEA, and to nominate somebody to the transitional council for the GLC.
The amendment seeks to make it clear that yet another issue has not been thought through, and to straighten out another of the bizarre inconsistencies in the legislation. Those inconsistencies show quite clearly that the Bill has not been properly thought out and is being rushed. It would be better if it was dropped at this stage, so that we can look at the issue in its substance instead of in this halfway-house form. That is the major complaint that Liberal Members and many other hon. Members have made in the last few weeks and hours.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I shall be even briefer than the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), although I shall have to make his speech for him. He seemed to miss the central point, and as I want to be friendly towards that point, I shall have to make it for him.
There are two ways of dealing with the transitional council. First, it can be looked at in terms of electors. There is no problem about electors who live in the City of London area, because under the Bill, as voters in the constituency represented by my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), they would be represented on the constituency basis that we propose for membership of the transitional council. Thus, representation would be on a constituency basis. It sounded as though the hon. Gentleman was putting that argument forward, but he does not really have a case.
1052 However, there is a case that can be made, although the hon. Gentleman did not apparently make it. It is that the City of London would be the only successor authority to which functions would pass. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned another function that would pass to it in his recent statement. It would be the only successor authority that did not have a representative on the transitional council. The arguments are quite evenly balanced as to whether representation should be based on the parliamentary divisions—which is the standard form of representation for GLC membership — or on the successor authorities that take over functions.
I wrote down that, having listened to the hon. Gentleman's arguments, I would reconsider the issue. However, I do not think that I can say that. Having reinterpreted the hon. Gentleman's arguments, I would say to those of my hon. Friends who are concerned about this issue that we shall reconsider whether the City of London should have a representative on the transitional council, because it is a successor authority for some of the functions. That would be the basis on which it should have representation. We can allay any fears about the electors being represented, because representation on the transitional council is based on the parliamentary constituency. Thus, that is not a problem. However, we shall reconsider the matter. Perhaps, on that basis, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.
§ Mr. John Fraser
Any amendment that gave the City of London representation would have our support on only one extremely narrow ground, which is that it might be one of the few amendments in Committee that could lead on to Report stage. There are no other grounds on which Labour Members would support it. It would have the effect of giving a disproportionate amount of representation to a very small number of people who are not directly represented, but who are represented through a basically undemocratic City of London. Furthermore, it would lead to an even greater imbalance in the representation on other bodies, because it would give an even greater built-in Tory majority on successor bodies to a council that is at present Labour controlled.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I take the Minister's point. Unless I have misunderstood the Bill, under clause 2(2) in the year 1985-86, the councillors of the GLC should bepersons appointed in accordance with this Part of this Act by the constituent council.The clause then mentions the borough councils. Schedule 1 lists the boroughs, but no reference is made to the City of London, or to the parliamentary division of the City of London and Westminster, South. There is no provision for its representative to have any say in who represents the electors of London.
I accept that the Government believe that the new authority should be the trail for the successor authority and that therefore whether one of the boroughs should be included is a secondary issue. We are talking about interim provisions.
Can the Minister confirm that my reading of the Bill is correct? We are not talking about parliamentary divisions, but boroughs. Have the parliamentary divisions no relevance to the argument? If I am right about that, will the Minister assure me that he will consider the problem? Without that assurance the Committee may be confused 1053 about the clause, which is of importance to the City's 8,000 electors. Despite our reservations, the provision seems to be an adminstrative improvement. If the Government are prepared to move amendments on Report, I shall not press our amendment to a Division.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I beg to move amendment No. 53, in page 2, line 34, leave out 'from among its members'.
§ The Chairman
With this it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 18, in page 2, line 34, after `members', insert'or from among members of the Greater London Council or Metropolitan County Councils who on the date of appointment were members of those authorities for constituencies within the local authority area of each such appointing council'.
§ Mr. Hughes
The point of the amendment is the same as that of amendment No. 9, which is not to be pursued. It deals with a further anomaly and allows the constituent authorities — the boroughs and I hope the City of London—to appoint to the transitional authority anyone they choose. One of the consequences of the Government's proposal is that the present members of the GLC will not be eligible to serve.
Because they are members of borough councils, they may not be able, from 1986 onwards, to sit on the GLC again. It can be argued that the one group with experience is rendered ineligible when the borough councils can nominate others who are not former GLC members.
Amendment No 18 in the names of the hon. Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) suggests an alternative way of phrasing that the Government may find more accurate. I do not pretend that it would be equally acceptable to us. It would mean that the transitional authorities would be composed not only of members of borough councils but would be drawn from the members of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils who, on the date of appointment, were members of the authorities for the relevant areas.
The important issue is that we are again showing up that the way in which the Government are proposing to run Greater London and six enormous metropolitan areas will make the task of the elected representatives most difficult, because they will be there on an interim basis for one year with no previous experience of running the council. The task of the officers will be most difficult because they will not have the guidance and direction of councillors with experience. Therefore, the running of the services in a difficult year will be less efficient and satisfactory.
Councillors who have already been elected to district councils in the metropolitan areas and to borough councils in London will have the additional burden of having to serve for one year on the GLC or metropolitan councils. This will inevitably mean that they will not do a good job, however hard they may try and however willing they may be, because they will already have a wide range of responsibilities.
It would be better to have people who did not have to duplicate work and do additional work to carry out the responsibilities in the remaining years of the metropolitan county councils and the GLC if the Government's proposals are accepted. As we have said throughout the debate, we reject this way of proceeding either with the 1054 interim provisions or with the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties. If we must accept a change, let us make sure that the transitional authorities have as members the best people available.
§ Mr. Shersby
The purpose of amendment No. 18 which stands in my name is to enable a constituent council to appoint as councillors of the Greater London council or metropolitan county councils personswho on the date of appointment were members of those authorities for constituencies within the local authority area of each such appointing council".In Greater London, for example, it would mean that the London boroughs, if they so wished—I emphasise "if they so wished"—would have the freedom to appoint members chosen either from the ranks of sitting borough councillors or from sitting GLC members for constituencies within their borough.
There are several reasons for this proposal, with which I trust the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) will have sympathy, as he alluded to it. First, it would introduce greater flexibility into the appointment of councillors by widening the ranks from which candidates could be chosen. Secondly, it would enable a number of experienced councillors to be appointed. This would benefit both the nominated authorities and to the local authority areas to be represented on the nominated authorities. Thirdly, it would help to solve the problem which some local authorities will experience of finding suitable candidates from among their members who have the necessary time, particularly during the day, and the necessary inclination and experience to serve on the nominated GLC or metropolitan authority.
A number of constituent authorities will have considerable difficulty in finding councillors who are prepared to give up time during the day to serve on these county authorities. The GLC meets during the day. The burden on existing GLC members is heavy and I believe that borough councils will be hard put to it to find people who have the time.
The GLC and the metropolitan county councils are a very different type of authority from the London borough councils. Consequently, there is a real need for a sprinkling of existing GLC and MCC members to be reappointed. After all, they know how the upper-tier authorities work. They could a great deal to strengthen the ranks of councillors who will be appointed by the lower-tier authorities. In short, they know how to run the machine and could do much to assist councillors from the lower-tier authorities in getting to grips with the vital work of transferring responsibilities to the boroughs and the joint boards.
I wonder what possible objection there could be to this proposal. Some may say that they do not wish to be reappointed to the GLC and MCCs—members who are opposed to abolition and would try to obstruct progress towards it. Can that objection really be sustained? I do not think that it can. After all, the provisions of part IV will, presumably, be in force and will require all nominated councillors to furnish information to the Secretary of State. They will be expected to co-operate in an orderly transfer of responsibilities. Moreover, the nominated authorities will be rate-capped by the time they transfer to the second-tier authorities. They will be operating in an entirely different climate from that which now exists.
1055 There is another important reason for accepting the amendment. If amendment No. 21, which also stands in my name, is carried, it would protect the rights of minority political parties and ensure that the nominated authority is composed of members of all the existing major parties and that the membership will comprise both seasoned councillors and new members from the lower-tier authorities.
For those reasons, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will have something to say on a matter which, despite the lateness of the hour, I consider to be of considerable importance. The House has taken some important decisions tonight on constitutional matters that exercise the minds of most responsible Members of the House. Some 40 minutes ago we took the decision not to extend the term of office of the present GLC. We are now moving towards the approval of a Bill that will require the constituent council members to find two, three or four of their existing number to serve on the metropolitan county authorities and the GLC. Many of those members, despite their distinguished record in local government at borough level, will not have experience of county authority work. They will not be familiar with its procedures or be used to working with its officers.
The House would be wise, in considering the Bill, to give greater flexibility to the appointing authorities. I am not suggesting that they should be compelled to appoint people who already serve on metropolitan county authorities or the GLC, but it would be wise and reasonable to introduce a modicum of flexibility into the appointment procedure. I hope very much that my hon. Friend can give an encouraging response to that proposal.
§ Sir George Young
The two amendments seek to broaden the eligibility of individuals to be appointed to the transitional councils. Amendment No. 53 would extend eligibility to anyone and amendment No. 18 would extend it to those serving as GLC or MCC councillors at the date of the appointment.
Amendment No. 53 would delete the requirement to appoint from among constituent council members and, as a result, anyone could be appointed. There are two fundamental objections to that. First, it would undermine the link between the upper and lower tiers in the interim period, and that link has an essential part to play in helping to ensure a smooth transition. Secondly—and this is clearly a less democratic alternative to that proposed by the Government or my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby)—the individual concerned need not at any time have stood for election or been returned at an election. Those are two good reasons for putting that on one side.
Amendment No. 18 would permit people serving as GLC or MCC councillors now to be appointed to the transitional councils. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge emphasised the advantage of continuity that that would bring. But it would not provide the essential link with the lower tier authority, which is a feature of our proposals. The electoral mandate of the individuals concerned would have expired by the time they came to serve on the transitional council.
However, I take on board the concern that my hon. Friend expressed about the appointed councillors having 1056 sufficient experience to run the transitional councils effectively. We are talking about a period of only 11 months and about having to find three or four individuals, depending on the size of the council, from among a local authority of 60 or 70 members.
We share my hon. Friend's objectives, but we feel that there are other ways of securing them. As the Bill stands, councillors who have dual upper and lower tier membership will be eligible for appointment. In addition, certainly in London, there are a number of ex-GLC councillors who are now borough council members and who will be eligible to serve, and they have the benefit of GLC experience. In the London borough of Hammersmith, for instance, there are two borough councillors who used to be GLC members, and they would be able to perform this job well in the interim period.
The constituent councils should begin to identify their appointees now so that those people can start to familiarise themselves with the upper tier responsibilities. Clause 7 will help them get the information that they need from the upper tier for this process of familiarisation.
There are, therefore, a number of ways in which experience can be brought to the transitional councils without resorting to the solution proposed in the amendment. The solution that we have put forward forges the link between the two tiers in the interim period, whereas neither of the two amendments has that advantage. For that reason I urge the Committee to reject them.
§ Mr. Shersby
I was puzzled by my hon. Friend's reply. He said that amendment No. 18 would not provide the essential link with lower tier authorities. Let us examine that statement. In the London borough of Hillingdon there will be three Greater London councillors on the nominated authority. It would be open to Hillingdon —or any other London borough; I take Hillingdon as an example—to appoint, say, one of its members, if it so wished, from among the existing sitting members of the GLC and, say, two from its own ranks, or two and one or whatever formula might be chosen. I cannot see that appointing one sitting Greater London councillor to represent one of the London boroughs would be breaking the link with the lower tier authority.
Surely my hon. Friend accepts that all conscientious Greater London councillors — and, doubtless, metropolitan county councillors — maintain the closest possible links not only with their colleagues who serve on the lower tier authorities but with the officers of those authorities, Members of Parliament and all the others concerned. It is fair to say that most of us work as a team, that hon. Members are on good personal terms with their county and borough councillors, and I cannot see that by appointing one or two existing members, if that was the wish of the local authority, there would be any breaking of the link in the way in which my hon. Friend described.
My hon. Friend spoke of a number of former metropolitan county councillors or Greater London councillors who serve on borough councils. I appreciate that there are a number, but some of them served on those councils a long time ago, and some are not so young as they were. I doubt whether, across London or across the metropolitan counties, it would be that easy to find people who were able to give up the time and be prepared to travel to the metropolitan county authority to serve in the daytime and so on.
1057 I do not think that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has made an especially convincing case for rejecting the amendment. Although I do not propose to press it to a Division at 4.49 in the morning, I ask him sincerely to consider the matter most carefully before the Bill returns to the House on Report.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I am intrigued by the amendment and I thought that the Minister might wish to accept it. I am able to suggest a situation in which he and his colleagues would be most delighted to be able to nominate individuals to the interim bodies which are outside the borough and district councils. It is not only GLC members who might resist the idea of having their term of office extended, for there is a strong possibility that borough and district councils will refuse to nominate, or will find it extremely difficult to find people who are willing to serve.
I know that some rather Machiavellian figure in the Department of the Environment has already worked this one out. There is a provision in the Bill that allows the Secretary of State to vary the quorum of a council. If that had not been included, it would have been open to Labour Members to decline to become involved and therefore ensure that the interim bodies did not function. If Conservative councillors also declined to serve, what would happen? Has the Minister thought that one through? If that were to happen there would be no interim bodies. If the Minister were to accept the amendment, the Government could get round the difficulty by having appointees who were not borough councillors or district concillors. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether he has thought this through.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I am sad that the Minister has not responded more positively to the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby). I think that there are seven members of the GLC who are presently also members of borough authorities. Therefore, there are only those councillors who will be able to continue with their responsibilities, if their boroughs nominate them, after 1985. It is vital that we do not play an administrative game to ensure that people are nominated from boroughs as a trail-in prior to ensuring that the boroughs continue to have nomination rights after 1986, when they may not nominate the same individuals. Indeed, the same people may not be re-elected to be nominated. We should try seriously to ensure continuity of the best form of competent governors for the seven councils with which we are concerned.
I ask the Minister seriously to consult his colleagues and to consider within the Department whether it is possible at least to accept the amendment of the hon. Member for Uxbridge, even if it is not possible to accept the widest amendment. The hon. Gentleman's amendment would allow competent individuals with experience to continue to do their job if the authorities in whose areas they now work wished them to continue to do so. It is logical and sensible and it would produce a slightly more experienced and better governing set of councillors. As there is no immediate response from the Minister, I shall not detain the Committee further by pressing the amendment to a Division.
To report Progress and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. Patrick Jenkin.1]
Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.