HC Deb 10 May 1984 vol 59 cc1133-6
Mr. Straw

I beg to move amendment No. 93, in page 3, line 11, after 'time', insert

from a date three months after an appointment.

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

With this we may take amendment No. 94, in page 3, line 14, at end insert

provided that no more than one appointment shall he so terminated in a three month period.

Mr. Straw

Clause 3 gives power to a constituent council— a district or a London borough council—'to terminate the appointment of a representative on an interim board at any time. We believe that such a power should be constrained in two ways. First, it should not be possible to terminate the appointment within three months of the original appointment. Secondly, it should not be possible for a constituent authority to terminate more than one appointment within a three—month period.

While I understand why the Government have introduced a power to terminate appointments, I do not necessarily agree with them. It is most important that, as far as possible, there should be some permanence for these people. In any event, they will be there only for 11 months. It would be wrong to have a constant merry—go—round of people having their appointments terminated if, say, they do something which does not meet the will, for the time being, of the constituent council.

I am perhaps one of the few in the Committee who has served as an indirect member of an authority. I was Islington council's representative on ILEA. It is a difficult position to be in. Those performing the function proposed in the Bill will be in even greater difficulties; they should not necessarily face the continual possibility of having their appointments terminated, as could happen under clause 3. Moreover, the attraction of termination should be constrained by providing that not more than one termination is possible within three months.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)

I understand the arguments for continuity put forward by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). I assure him that the Government do not envisage the constant merry—go—round that he mentioned. I know about the problems of indirectly elected members—not because I was one, but my wife was an indirectly elected member of ILEA. Therefore, I understand the problems of twin loyalties to two bodies.

The provisions are needed to ensure that party balance is maintained throughout the transitional period. That is necessary in case of changes in the political complexion of the constituent councils. Perhaps I may look back for a moment to clause 2(5) which expressly refers to making and terminating appointments to reflect the party balance. Clause 3 is therefore necessary to give effect to the party balance requirement in clause 2. Clause 3 will also help to ensure that appointees remain directly answerable for their actions to the council that appointed them and, through it, to the electorate.

Amendment No. 93 would guarantee that each appointee would serve for at least three months. The impact would be that, if the party balance in a constituent council changed, it could be up to three months before that was reflected in the transitional council.

Amendment No. 94 is even worse. In effect, it limits to three the maximum number of replacements which each constituent council could make in the entire 11 months of the transitional council. That would not allow a party balance to be maintained and, I suggest, would weaken accountability. Suppose that a party took control of a borough council and was entitled to more members on the transitional council; it could be caught by the three-months rule—or the ruling in amendment No. 94—and thereby be precluded from nominating additional members from its own party to the transitional council.

The hon. Gentleman's fears will not be realised. The amendments would frustrate the main purposes of the clause and so I must ask the Committee to reject them.

Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)

I support my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under—secretary. Plainly, the Government are trying to ensure that during the short, winding—down period the views of local authorities—the district and borough councils—are correctly reflected in the membership of the GLC and the other six authorities. If we interfere with the rights of councils, the political complexion of which might change, we should completely reverse the Government's objective.

If I might be allowed to appear in a white sheet, so to speak, a week or two ago, in a debate on the topic, I said that none of the authorities to be abolished would have a change of political complexion as a result of elected members being replaced by borough representatives who will take over the majority of their powers.

I may have been wrong about the GLC. I can hear derisive laughter, but I think that I should endure the shame of having made a mistake and confess that it appears—no one is more upset than the Government about this, if the truth be known—that there is likely to be a change of political representation at county hall, although not in the other six authorities.

7.15 pm

It is precisely because of the Government's desire to ensure that in the winding-down period the boroughs' and districts' views are fairly reflected, and that there is not even the appearance of imposing other views, that it is essential that this degree of flexibility be applied. Therefore, I oppose the amendments.

Mr. Straw

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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