HC Deb 22 May 1984 vol 60 cc854-915
Dr. Cunningham

I beg to move amendment No. 120, in page 6, line 40 leave out 'or to any other body'.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments:

No. 118, in page 6, line 41, after 'other', insert 'directly elected'.

No. 121, in page 6, line 44, leave out 'or to any other body'.

No. 119, in page 6, line 44, after 'other', insert 'directly elected'.

Dr. Cunningham

Part III will be activated immediately after the legislation is agreed by Parliament. Therefore, the powers contained in clauses 7 and 8 will be available to the Secretary of State immediately. Clause 7 gives the Secretary of State for the Environment a number of powers. As with other aspects of this legislation and previous legislation that the Secretary of State has presented to the House, those powers are important and, in some cases unprecedented, regarding the position they afford him. They give him certain hitherto unknown advantages with regard to overseeing, scrutinising and controlling local government.

The Bill is another example of more power being taken to the centre to the disadvantage of local councils and local electors. For example, clause 7 places a duty on GLC and metropolitan county council officers to supply information to the Secretary of State should he so instruct. There is no existing process for that to take place and, therefore, powers of compulsion are deemed to be necessary by the Secretary of State. That is the part of this clause to which we take considerable exception.

The Secretary of State will give himself absolute discretion as to which information should be made available to him under these powers. It will be solely for him to determine and, presumably, if disputes arise about the validity of his instructions, the only recourse that local authorities or their officers will have will be to the courts. It will be for the courts to determine whether these powers are being used reasonably or properly. Local authority officers will often be placed in the invidious position of being instructed by democratically elected local councillors to take one course of action and be subjected to a directive from the Secretary of State to take another. That will be intolerable for local government officers. For that reason, if for no other, we oppose the proposals contained in this part of the Bill.

It is also proposed to ensure that elected councils can be made to transfer information to non-elected bodies which will be appointed, directly or indirectly, by the Secretary of State and others as a result of this legislation.

A great many councillors and perhaps some ratepayers will take great exception to that, as we do. It seems a rather odd course to pursue. All those powers are necessary—this is what gives the game away — because of the Government's complete failure to have any proper inquiry into what is happening in the GLC or the metropolitan counties. The Government do not know what the position is on the ground. Those authorities, naturally, have refused to co-operate in their own demise. They have been elected democratically and no case has been made out for their abolition or for the high-handed way in which the Government propose to abolish elections to overcome the embarrassment of the voters having a say about all this. The Government are in a mess.

The Government have not set up an inquiry, an investigation or a commission to discover the position. The authorities have refused to co-operate and the Government must therefore take more draconian powers to insist that councils and their officers provide whatever information the Government feel necessary.

The Opposition have said before that when the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary see a check list of all the additional powers that they have given to themselves and their successors in the Department of the Environment in legislation, they will probably pause and say, inwardly if not outwardly, "We may live to regret all this," as the Opposition believe they will. It may prevent the Under-Secretary from rushing into print about the powers of central Government as often as he has in the past.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. William Waldegrave)

So that some part of the hon. Gentleman's stricture is not based on sand, I point out that he has misread the Bill in one small respect. Non-elected bodies are given no powers to require information. The power to require information is given only to the successor elected authorities.

Dr. Cunningham

I hope that I have not misunderstood what the Under-Secretary said in that intervention, but clause 7(1)(b) refers to the transfer of functions from those councils to metropolitan district councils or to any other body. That is about functions. I had assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that the transfer of information applied also to "any other body" but if the Minister tells me that I am guilty of misinterpretation, I accept what he says. Perhaps we can return to that point later.

The first group of amendments seeks to limit the scope of the legislation to transferring existing council functions to directly elected bodies. In the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities" the Government say that on reorganisation the London boroughs and the metropolitan district councils would become the sole upper tier of directly elected local government in Greater London and the metropolitan areas. They would acquire responsibility individually or collectively for the functions currently exercised by the GLC and the metropolitan county councils, with certain exceptions.

The White Paper, and the Secretary of State when introducing the Bill to the House, stressed that the GLC's and the metropolitan county councils' functions were being transferred to the London boroughs and the district councils. In practice, joint boards will account for three quarters of the metropolitan county councils' current expenditure. Although the White Paper proposed that joint boards will consist of representatives nominated by boroughs and metropolitan district councils, nonetheless, they will not be directly elected bodies as is presently the case. It is plainly wrong to suggest that the majority of their functions will go to elected councils. That will not happen. The GLC and the metropolitan county councils have consistently opposed not just the principle of abolition without a proper inquiry but the principle of establishing indirectly elected bodies for administering those functions, which have always been subject to democratically elected control.

We have gone over this point before, but it is worth repeating. It is odd that the Government should accept, and therefore change their mind, that principle in respect of the Inner London education authority but in no other case. The amendments are intended to ensure that the principle of elected bodies can be put into practice only if and when the main abolition Bill is placed before Parliament.

From studying opinion polls, it can be seen that many people, perhaps the majority, are against what the Government are doing about the metropolitan counties and the GLC. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find anyone who believes that what the Government are doing has much sense—[Interruption.]—including, if I may say so, many of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues, as I have been reminded from the Back Benches. Notwithstanding their reservations about local authorities in general and their own councils in particular, the public almost instinctively realise that the chances of getting a better deal, better administration, more effective use of resources, and more effective management of services and communities from appointed bodies, joint boards and quangos are remote, to say the least.

5.30 pm
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

It is an interesting point that the hon. Gentleman raises. Will he tell the Committee whether he believes that the public feel that they will get a better deal on training, for example, from the Manpower Services Commission or from the Greater London training board?

Dr. Cunningham

The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that we should have to compare track records. I do not assume, as he appears to, that the Manpower Services Commission will automatically get things right and be better. As he must know, not just in the Labour party and the trade unions but in many communities, including elected councils, serious questions are being raised about the Manpower Services Commission and its powers and attitudes to various schemes. It is a debatable point. I do not concede it one way or the other.

The fundamental point is that where the use of public resources and major issues of management and the provision of public services arise, we believe that directly elected bodies are by far the best way of administering those services and public resources. This is a democracy. We are talking about the democratic process and democratic principles. On the whole my experience is that people feel more at home and happier in the knowledge that they have the opportunity to talk to and question elected councillors and to go to open council meetings or to councillors' surgeries and raise issues rather than, as is increasingly the case, to be shut out of discussions that take place behind closed doors in non-elected and appointed bodies.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Will my hon. Friend accept that the Manpower Services Commission works through agencies and is grateful to have the assistance of local authorities to help in its activities? What local authorities such as the GLC do is to augment and assist the Manpower Services Commission. Therefore, there is no conflict between the two. Will my hon. Friend accept that the MSC is grateful for the help of the GLC?

Dr. Cunningham

Yes. My hon. Friend is right. In Cumbria, where my constituency is, the biggest single project under the MSC is organised and managed by the Labour-controlled Copeland borough council; that emphasises the point that my hon. Friend has made. A scheme at Kells in my constituency is being run with the borough council as agent for the MSC. Unhappily, there are one or two problems at the moment, which gave rise to my original response to the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). Nevertheless, my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) has drawn attention to what is common practice for the Manpower Services Commission.

Returning to the central point of what I was saying about accountability, I cite the water industry as an example of what is happening as a result of Government legislation. The public and the press have been specifically excluded from discussions about the use of resources and the provision of a vital public service—water. There have been problems with health authorities and accountability although probably most of the deliberations of health authorities are open to the public. Generally the trend of public thinking—and political thinking too, I would have thought—is towards more openness and a greater desire to know and understand what is going on and to have to a say in it. That is the whole basis of the argument for freedom of information legislation, which, I am pleased to say, is gathering momentum.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises that I could not resist the temptation to intervene when he refers to water authorities. Not only are the public and the press not now present at their meetings, but after nearly one year, not one water authority has set up a consumer body to obtain consumer input as was intended.

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for supporting the point I have been making. I agree that these are important issues. That is why we make a sticking point in our approach to this legislation of the services being carried out by elected bodies. There is the world of difference, in the view of ratepayers and taxpayers, between openness and elected people — who can be defeated at the ballot box and removed if their performance is thought not to come up to scratch—and having people appointed, often by Ministers. That brings in the great power of patronage that all Ministers have and most enjoy, regardless of what they may say publicly. We have seen that power abused by this Administration in the "one of us" syndrome. I think I have said enough, if not to shut up the hon. Member for Northampton, North permanently, at least to give him something to reflect about, in view of his intervention.

These amendments seek to change the Bill, for the reasons I have given. I commend them to the Committee.

Mr. Marlow

In your elevated position, Mr. Armstrong, you probably have privileges which we as humble Back Benchers may not enjoy. One of those privileges may be not to have such devastating rubbish as the magazine which I have here sent to you in your mail. This is a magazine called "Jobs for a Change". It is produced by an organisation calling itself the popular planning unit of the GLC economic policy group. It is Designed by the GLC Supplies Department (CRS) and printed by Probook (70664) I presume that these are some of the organisations to which the clause refers. You will see, Mr. Armstrong, that one of the things recommended is that individuals should write to their Member of Parliament, whether or not they have already done so, insisting that he or she should oppose this —sic—"undemocratic Bill".

It seems to me novel that Opposition Members, who bleat so much about democracy and about this being an undemocratic Bill, should support this sort of nonsense which actually delegates members of Parliament to vote in a particular way. It further asks that Londoners, I suppose, should Sign the GLC petition against the Bill, and get others to sign it as well. It then says where petitions are available.

There is no doubt that this is an extravagant and expensive bureaucratic operation. It is using ratepayers' money to fight a democratically elected Government. It is using moneys provided—

Mr. Leighton


Mr. Marlow

I have no intention of giving way.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will relate his remarks to the amendments that are before the Committee. He has not done so as yet.

Mr. Marlow

I have every intention of doing so, Mr. Armstrong, and I am doing so now.

Mr. Leighton


Mr. Marlow

I have no intention of giving way. I wish to be brief, as I know that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate.

In discussing the amendment, we are talking about the abolition of the GLC and the transfer of functions from that council to London borough councils, to the Common Council or to any other body". One of the amendments seeks to insert "directly elected body". When considering the amendments, it is important that we realise what is happening now. There are other organisations —I presume that they are democratically elected — that are run by the democratically elected GLC, including the Greater London training board.

Mr. Leighton


Mr. Marlow

I have no intention of giving way.

The board seems to have set itself up in opposition to the Manpower Services Commission. The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) to suggest that the MSC was delighted to have its activities augmented by the board. The document to which I have referred makes it clear that the main objective of the board is to undermine the Government's training objectives and those of the MSC. It states: The training system is changing drastically. The level of skills is being lowered. Is that blessing the MSC? It further states: Large sums of money are being spent in London on training of low quality. Is that helping or sustaining the MSC? It adds: For many young people the youth training scheme is seen as useless. Is that good propaganda? Is that good publicity? Is that a good use of public money? Is it right that the board should be fighting the intentions of the MSC, which is doing all it can in difficult circumstances to improve employment opportunities?

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

You Wally.

Mr. Marlow

The magazine refers to another organisation—I presume that it is democratically elected —to which Labour Members seem to attach great importance. It, too, is involved in the publication of the magazine. I refer to the GLC's industry and employment committee. You will no doubt be delighted to know, Mr. Armstrong, that the committee is setting up some free entertainment for Londoners under the title of Jobs for a Change Festival". Apparently, it is all free. As we all know, nothing is free. The free wine, the free cabaret, the free films and videos, the free debates on youth employment, women's employment, black employment and the free and spectacular laser show which are being provided by this monstrous organisation will all have to be paid for eventually.

When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State addresses the Committee, he will direct himself to the concept of transferring power to another body or, as the amendment states, to a "directly elected body". I hope that he will tell us whether it will be possible to abolish organisations of the sort to which I have referred. Secondly, I hope that he will say what he intends to do in the short term to deal with this abuse of public money and abuse of responsibility on the part of the GLC. It is responsible for a massive propaganda campaign in which ratepayers' money is being used, as it were, to plaster the pavements of the capital. Can my hon. Friend give some hope to our people that something will be done in a short time?

5.45 pm
Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

I shall address my remarks to the amendment. I consider that the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) has misled the Committee. The proposals for reorganisation involve the abolition of the GLC and the six metropolitan councils. The abolition of those councils is due to take effect in April 1986. Many of the functions now exercised by those authorities will become the responsibility of the district or borough councils. These responsibilities include highway maintenance, planning, traffic management, waste regulation and disposal and housing for the GLC; and training standards, the arts, sport and historic buildings for the metropolitan councils.

New joint boards are to be established for other services, including fire, the police and transport. The new boards will not be democratically elected. We oppose the proposed abolition and the transfer of functions, for we believe that the prime feature of local government should be directly elected authorities that are accountable to the people.

The White Paper "Streamlining the Cities" summarises the Government's aims by stating: Abolition of these upper-tier authorities will streamline local government in the metropolitan areas. It will remove a source of conflict and tension. It will save money, after some transitional costs. Everyone is aware that that is a myth. We have the Coopers and Lybrand report, which makes it clear that the Government's assertion that money will be saved by the enactment of this measure is a myth and that the saving to the ratepayer will not be realised. The summary in the White Paper suggests that the abolition of the upper-tier authorities will also provide a system which is simpler for the public to understand in that responsibility for virtually all local services will rest with a single authority.

A survey was carried out in west Yorkshire and the result made it clear that the majority of the people of west Yorkshire consider that the present system of local government should continue. The survey was carried out on 7 April by students of Leeds polytechnic. Its purpose was to produce a sample of the public's attitude in west Yorkshire to metropolitan county government in that area. The poll revealed that the people of west Yorkshire are satisfied with the system. One of the questions asked those being interviewed what they considered would be the most important issue if a general election were to be held on the following day. Only 1.6 per cent. of the interviewees suggested that local government would be a main issue in a general election. However, the Government are saying that they have a mandate from the electorate, following the 1983 general election.

It is clear beyond doubt that the proposed abolition of the county councils did not influence voting at the last general election. The Tories should drop that argument.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

The hon. Gentleman must accept that people in Greater London took great notice of the commitment in the Conservative manifesto to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan councils. In Greater London the Conservative party won 56 of 84 seats in the general election — more than it had ever won before.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I allowed that interjection, because the hon. Gentleman was referring to remarks that the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) had made, but the debate is going wide of the amendments now before the Committee.

Mr. O'Brien

I am grateful that you have drawn the attention of the Committee to the amendment now under consideration, Mr. Armstrong. I will not be sidetracked by the question of the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey). If that is the general feeling, the Government should allow the elections to take place next year, and see what the voters of London and the counties will do.

The amendment will limit the scope of the main abolition legislation, which we have not yet seen. Nobody knows what will be contained in the main legislation. The Government want the Committee to approve a paving Bill in advance of the main legislation, about which we know little. Indeed, the public know little of what will be involved. If the Government were being fair to the Committee and to the electorate, they would bring forward the main legislation so that we knew what was entailed. I hope that Conservative Members will see the sense of the amendments, and give them their support.

I refer again to the summary in the White Paper. While the local services would rest with a single authority, and while the Government's political commitment to reorganise has been made clear in the White Paper, the case for reorganisation and the merits of the proposals advocated are inadequately substantiated. By any objective judgment, the White Paper falls short of the standards to be expected of a document intended to stimulate and inform public debate on the constitutional and economic administration of a major change in the structure of government as it operates in our main cities and towns.

There is almost no evidence to justify the Bill in its present form. The arguments for the proposed changes are not substantiated. There must be clarification of the points that have been made. The Committee should give its support to the amendments which are intended to limit the scope of the main abolition legislation that will transfer the existing county council functions to directly elected bodies.

The White Paper makes no assessment of the transitional or long-term financial costs of restructuring, no analysis of the impact of the changes on the quantity and quality of the various services involved, and no serious assessment of the merits and defaults of the operation of the metropolitan authorities over the last decade. No attempt is made to assess the impact of the proposed changes on accountability to local ratepayers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said that an inquiry should have been held into the Government's proposals before any legislation was proposed. I have commented on the lack of evidence given by the Tory party at the last general election of the need for change. The only way to test this would have been to hold an inquiry, or to put it to the ballot box.

Consideration must also be given to the inconsistent treatment of the shires and metropolitan counties. In the Division, I ask that support be given to this group of amendments to ensure continued support for local government. No evidence has been put forward to substantiate acceptance of the Bill as proposed.

Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne)

To facilitate any programme of reorganisation, it is common sense that the relevant information be made available to ensure that the plans can be put into operation. Free access to information relating to abolition of the Greater London council and of the metropolitan counties will ensure not only that there is a smoother transitional period during the restructuring, but that the final outcome of the devolution of powers is workable. Unfortunately, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), some authorities, including the GLC, have been refusing to co-operate with the Government in providing the successor authorities with necessary information to prepare for their new responsibilities. GLC officers have been told not to talk to the officers in Whitehall.

Much has been said in the debate on earlier clauses about the lack of definite figures relating to the costs and savings that will result from abolition. One reason why no positive figures can be made available in London is that the GLC has made sure that no information is available on which accurate assessments can be made.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)


Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. The subject to which the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) is referring is the subject of the next group of amendments. This group of amendments is concerned with quangos. I wonder whether the hon. Lady is in error.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. All hon. Members must relate their speeches to the amendments that are before the Committee.

Mrs. Roe

I was touching on comments that were made earlier in this debate.

Speaking as the only serving Conservative member of the Greater London council in the Committee, I assure hon. Members that this is a typical confrontation tactic employed by the present Labour administration in county hall to frustrate the implementation of Government policies.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mrs. Roe

I shall not give way.

I remind hon. Members that Ken Livingstone, when he was advocating the abolition of the GLC in 1979, said that it was not only because he did not believe that two tiers of local government were necessary, but because I think it would have been a major saving and would have released massive resources which could have been put to far more productive use and I think that there would have been a lot of support on the Labour side for that. One can only conclude that Ken Livingstone does not want information made available to the Government to prove that he was right then, and that he is wrong now.

Mr. Leighton


Mrs. Roe

I shall give way in a moment.

Bearing in mind the commitment that has been stressed by GLC members to preventing abolition, there is doubt that the GLC will co-operate in providing information to the Secretary of State, unless it and its officers are statutorily obliged to do so. Most of us who have been involved with the GLC appreciate that the Labour administration thrives on gimmicks. The sad aspect is that so many people are fooled by them.

To put Ken Livingstone's anti-abolition programme into perspective, hon. Members should be aware that, when this important item on the paving Bill was being discussed at the GLC meeting of 17 April, only one Labour committee chairman was present in the council chamber. It would appear that the leader of the GLC was so little interested that he decided not even to be in the council chamber to listen to the debate. I saw him walk out of the chamber as the debate started, and he did not return.

6 pm

In a subsequent letter to the Labour chief whip, the Labour chairman of ILEA expressed disappointment and disapproval at the lack of genuine concern shown by Ken Livingstone. Therefore I say to all who may be persuaded to Ken Livingstone's cause by the slick publicity campaign which is now being promoted in London that while Socialists sprinkle the word "democracy" freely throughout any arguments that they present, no matter what the subject, on investigation it becomes obvious that their understanding of that word is completely different from that of everybody else.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the hon. Lady admit that she is speaking as a GLC member and very much as a minority among minorities in that members of her party on the council are in favour of retaining the GLC? She is accusing Ken Livingstone of having made certain remarks in 1979. Does she agree—in my view, what he said at that time was wrong—that he was then saying that power should be devolved to the boroughs, whereas what is now being proposed is the creation of a whole layer of quangos, which means that the boroughs about which Ken Livingstone was speaking in 1979 have become unelected quangos?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. This is an example of how wide we shall get if we become too tolerant. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) and all hon. Members must relate their remarks to the amendment under discussion. We have a great deal of work ahead of us.

Mrs. Roe

The answer to the intervention by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is that his case—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. If the hon. Lady were to answer that intervention, she would become right out of order. She must keep to the subject of the amendment.

Mrs. Roe

The will is there. If I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman now, perhaps I shall have an opportunity to do so at another time. I assure him that I have answers. For example, I draw attention to the agenda for the GLC's full council meeting, which is taking place today at county hall. It contains a motion for debate tabled by the Conservative opposition relating to the purchase of properties by the Greater London enterprise board, known as the GLEB, which was set up by the GLC. That board—

Mr. Leighton

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. The hon. Lady is now talking about proceedings at county hall this afternoon. Is that subject relevant to this debate?

The First Deputy Chairman

Hon. Members can safely leave it to the Chair to decide what is and what is not in order. We are listening carefully to what is being said. As I made clear, hon. Members must keep to the amendment under discussion.

Mrs. Roe

The argument that I am adducing will become clear to Labour Members as I proceed. I am illustrating a point that is very relevant to the amendment that is before the Committee.

The Conservative opposition on the GLC has tabled a motion for debate this afternoon relating to the purchase of properties by the GLEB, a body that was set up by the GLC. It would appear that the GLEB is building up a massive land bank with the assistance of generous mortgages from the council. To date, the GLEB has—

Mr. Leighton

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. Surely we are entitled to be told what relevance the hon. Lady's present remarks have to the series of amendments that we are debating.

The Temporary Chairman (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) was asked by the former occupant of the Chair to relate her remarks to the amendment before the Committee. I have worked with the hon. Lady in Committee and know that she is able to do that.

Mrs. Roe

I am relating my remarks to the argument that information should be made available. If Labour Members will stop interrupting me and allow me to continue, they will see how relevant my argument is.

The GLEB is building up a massive land bank with the assistance of generous mortgages from the GLC and to date the GLEB has spent £13.774 million on acquiring 28 sites. From where did that money come?

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

On a point of order, Miss Boothroyd. The amendment is about the transfer of information to non-elected bodies. The hon. Lady said that she could not get information. She is now quoting figures which would seem to disprove that earlier remark. A number of hon. Members are waiting to speak and it is clear that we are in for a long night. I am wondering when the hon. Lady intends to get to the point.

The Temporary Chairman

The clause relates to a narrow issue and I am sure that the hon. Member for Broxourne will come to the point. I suggest that if she is allowed, she will complete her remarks rather sooner.

Mrs. Roe

The point will become clear to Labour Members — I am sure that my hon. Friends already appreciate it—if they will allow me to to proceed. None of the facts that I am giving was made public, and that is why my argument relates to the need for information to be made available.

From where did the GLEB get the money for those purchases? It came from the GLC in the form of mortgages. It is obvious what is happening. The current Labour administration, fearful for the future and resigned to the fact that the council will shortly disappear, is ensuring the survival of the GLEB by endowing it with substantial assets. It will be possible to sell those assets to provide the GLEB with cash to finance its future activities. Indeed, in some cases the council has loaned money to the GLEB to enable it to purchase property from the GLC itself. This is, in effect, a transfer of assets — assets which belong to London ratepayers—to a non-elected, unaccountable, private limited company.

There are 11 such examples, including sites in the London boroughs of Islington, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth and Westminster. The GLC's sale of these properties to the GLEB has been done privately, under the seal of "confidential", and without most of them having first been offered for sale on the open market. The loans are repayable over 30 years, and in some instances interest does not have to be paid for the first two years.

If a Conservative administration were to do a deal with a private company, agreeing to sell public assets without first offering them on the open market and advancing public money to the purchasers to enable them to finance the deal, and allowing them to roll up interest payments, there would, rightly, be hell to pay. Socialists would be purple-faced with indignation. Yet all these deals have taken place between a Socialist administration and what is, in effect, a private company, without a murmur.

In addition to the properties acquired by the council, the GLEB has been advanced money to enable it to purchase 21 other properties. It will, no doubt, be argued by the Labour GLC and by the GLEB that some of the properties in question have not been purchased by the GLEB and that the companies making the purchases are not subsidiaries of the GLEB. However, in the confidential committee reports recommending that mortgage moneys be advanced, it is pointed out that although the companies are not subsidiaries of the board, they will be structured to protect the GLEB's interests.

Mr. Leighton

On a point of order, Miss Boothroyd. We have sympathy with the hon. Lady in the propaganda point that she is trying to make about a debate at county hall which, I gather is happening or may happen this afternoon.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

She is speaking in it now.

Mr. Bob Clay (Sunderland, North)

Yes, and she is doing it in the wrong place.

Mr. Leighton

Perhaps my hon. Friends are right; the hon. Lady may be confused and think that she is speaking at county hall.

Even the paving Bill has not yet been passed. so there is no question of their being obligations on the GLC at this stage. One must ask, therefore, what relevance debates at county hall today have to our deliberations here. The hon. Lady's remarks cannot be relevant to the amendment. I appreciate her frustration—

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I am aware of the point of order that the hon. Gentleman is making. I urge the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) to relate her remarks specifically to the amendments, which are narrow in scope. I have been tolerant, but she must now restrict her remarks to the substance of those amendments.

Mrs. Roe

Thank you, Miss Boothroyd. I am coming to the end of my speech.

All the property transactions to which I referred were, until recently, covered by confidential classifications. In fact, the confidentiality of the relevant reports was lifted only last week after the Conservative GLC opposition raised the matter in a motion for debate on the full council agenda to draw attention to the disgraceful way in which public assets were being sold off in a partisan way. With antics of that sort occurring at county hall it is vital that officers from Whitehall and the successor authorities are given access to the information that will allow them to plan for London's future.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) spent so much time making an argument that was deployed in the wrong place and in an ineffective way. As a Member of Parliament whose constituency includes the area governed by the GLC, I am aware of the issues she raised but, with respect, those issues do not feature in discussing this part of the Bill.

The amendments deal with matters that I thought were clear, until the Under-Secretary of State made an intervention a little earlier. Clause 7 provides for the handover of information that is required by the various authorities, which are presently empowered to have that information and to run their areas—the GLC and the metropolitan authorities. Subsection (1) states that the clause has effect for the purpose of facilitating the formulation and, in the event of their being approved by Parliament, the implementation of proposals—

  1. (a) for the abolition of the Greater London Council and the transfer of functions from that Council to the London borough councils, to the Common Council or to any other body".
The amendments state that we should not empower the Government to have the authority to claim information unless that information is to go to a democratically elected body. The Under-Secretary of State will, I believe, assist the Committee on this matter. As I understand it, the words or to any other body deal with indirectly elected bodies, especially the joint boards which are at the core of the Bill.

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) got it wrong when he said—I think this was just a slip of the tongue, and I should not like to make too much of it—that we were empowering non-democratically elected bodies to demand the information to which reference is made in subsections (2) and (3). We are not doing that, and that is quite clear in the Bill.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. The amendments seek to delete those words in the clause referring to the power to transfer information in those cases in which the information would end up going to a quango, joint board or non-elected authority.

The White Paper and subsection (1) establish a general provision, and that is a danger. We are giving an enormously wide power. The phrase for the purpose of facilitating the formulation and … the implementation of proposals is almost indefinable. The most fundamental question—it goes to the heart of the argument about the subsections — is: how will that phrase be defined? Who will decide? How is the recipient of a request from Marsham street to know whether the information requested is necessary in relation to the formulation and implementation of proposals for the abolition of the councils?

We have all heard the arguments before. We have not seen the proposals. How can someone be empowered to hand over information as part of the proposals for the handing over of power when the proposals have not been seen? I should be intrigued to know—last week, when debating these measures the Under-Secretary of State was modest enough to say that he did not pretend to be a lawyer —what his officials have told him about the definition of the limits of this power. We should always be cautious when giving any Government authority more power than is clearly defined. Our first objection—the amendments seek to control the Government's power—is that the definition is too wide for the purposes of this clause.

"Any other body" effectively means joint boards and quangos. The proposals have been outlined. The White Paper "Streamlining the Cities", supplementary White Papers which have come out in dribs and drabs, occasional statements by the Secretary of State and bits of information in response to questions from Back Benchers have made it clear that we shall start with a proposed joint board for the fire service in London and the metropolitan counties and a proposed joint board for the police and the public transport services outside London, but not in London. Obviously, if the Government have their way, London Transport will be a nationalised industry and that is one of the anomalies of this Administration. The police authority has no democratic accountability in the normal sense.

6.15 pm

There are other less obvious and less well-reported proposals. The powers for land drainage and flood protection are to go to the Thames water authority, according to the White Paper's proposals. The destination of the arts and museums is even less clearly defined. Power over the arts and museums will be transferred either to public trustee museums—there are some wonderful proposals for attaching museums, for example, the Walker gallery in Liverpool to the Tate, which is hardly the most obvious museum to which that gallery would be linked —or to the Arts Council of Great Britain.

Instead of something called a planning authority for London, a London planning commission is to be set up to advise the Secretary of State on planning issues. We do not know whether that body will be public, who will be on it, whether it will sit in regular session or comprise civil servants or elected members. A small, residual body is to be appointed by the Secretary of State to deal with what may be regarded as substantial matters, especially by employees of the GLC and the metropolitan counties—superannuation, remaining funds, manpower and debt management. About a fifth of the present costs of most counties—I believe that is the figure for the GLC and for my local authority — is spent on debt repayment. Those matters will be taken over by another unelected body.

If the words or to any other body remain in subsection (1), presumably all or any of the members of those bodies, and all or any of their officers — their numbers will grow like Topsy, with officers filling the council chambers — will be permitted to demand information.

Mr. Waldegrave

That is the point I was trying to clarify. That is exactly what the Bill does not say. The formulation of subsections (2) and (3) would have to specify that. The hon. Gentleman is under the same misapprehension as the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). He is wrong.

Mr. Hughes

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I do not doubt that, if those bodies turn to the Secretary of State and say, "We need this information," he will say, "Please, may we have it?" The legal request will come from the Secretary of State, a Minister, someone in the Civil Service or an elected authority, whether it is a borough council or other body, but the prompting will come from all the other bodies.

One problem is that the other bodies which will be set up at various stages will have in relation to their tasks all the information for which the Secretary of State can ask. Not just the functions to which I referred will be transferred to the elected authorities. Tourism, for example may—God forbid—be run not on a London-wide basis but by the 32 London boroughs. We shall have "Come to Sunny Southwark" and "Come to Beautiful Brent" advertisements, competing with each other—

Mr. Allan Roberts

"Come to Flourishing Bootle".

Mr. Hughes

—and "Come to Flourshing Bootle" advertisements. All those bodies will be seeking information and that will be unhelpful.

We have a fundamental objection to the principle of joint boards taking over from elected authorities. Our objection is based on practical experience in all the areas in which those powers have been handed over.

First—it is obvious—joint boards are hardly likely to be very responsive to the public will. Members of joint boards do not have to stand for election, as we do. They do not have to explain how they spend their money, whereas we have to. They have contracts of employment and are appointed by the Secretary of State, or employed in some other way. They are not accountable in the same way that we are. Furthermore, once they are appointed, they fight to defend their existence. Once created, quangos have a great desire to expand their power base.

The amazing thing is that the Conservative party has among its members people who set about quango-hunting as one of their tasks. They produce lists of the quangos that should be abolished. We are trying to nip this exercise in the bud as early as possible because at the end of it more quangos will be set up by a declaredly anti-quango Government.

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

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, although the Government say that they are opposed to quangos, since May 1979 well over 100 quangos have been established, including the one in the south London docklands area, and the Merseyside development corporation? I believe—perhaps the hon. Gentleman believes the same—that the Government intend to put ever more local government functions into the hands of quangos such as the Merseyside development corporation.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman and I may not agree on many things, but we certainly agree on that. I have lost count of the number of bodies that have been set up. The hon. Gentleman and I share an interest in that we both have in our areas dockland corporations that are not accountable. When we seek to serve the people who elect us, it is frustrating when there are bodies running parts of the constituency that do not have to explain what they are doing. That is exactly the problem that is being trailed by the proposals.

Secondly, when one has joint boards, for example for planning, waste disposal and something else side by side, in economic terms each board grows its own identity, spends its own money and plans its own budget. Economies of scale do not work. Whether we are talking about cutting the national economic cake, the county council economic cake or the borough council economic cake, one fights one's own corner within the constraints of knowing that what one wins, another may lose. There is an example of that in the Cabinet, and we complain when it goes wrong. It makes the system of establishing priorities more efficient.

However, joint boards will not do that. There will not be one authority — for example, the Greater London council — that has to allocate its resources among planning, the fire service, water pollution, the Thames barrier and arts and recreation. Instead, there will be different bodies, with their own budgets. They may be controlled and rate-capped by the Secretary of State, but it will make no difference to one body what the others are doing. That will not work in the interests of the elector, whom they are meant to serve.

The third major objection is that joint boards with single functions often make bad decisions. They often do not seek to reduce their workload, but increase it. They often do without the disciplines that are imposed by a regular cycle of accountability. They often do without the constraint of knowing that if the public are watching, they should behave a bit better. The valid argument has been put forward that if people waste money and put their hands in the till, it is more likely to be found out, but it is a sad fact that when things happen behind closed doors, there are often more abuses, and larger sums of money can be spent without anyone ever knowing.

The fourth objection is that joint board members have no incentive to do a good job. They do not have to depend upon public approbation or disapprobation. They have no responsibility to anyone other than the Secretary of State, to each other, or to their future. They do not even have the same constraints as people in private industry and business, and those working for their living who are not civil servants.

Mr. Tracey

On a point of order, Miss Boothroyd. I should like to seek your guidance. It strikes me that the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) would have been better made either on Second Reading or on amendments to an earlier clause.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I find the speech by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) more in order than most I have heard this afternoon.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful to you, Miss Boothroyd. I try to make sure that I deal with specific problems. In a short Bill with widely drawn clauses, and with a short White Paper, many of the questions that we have asked are unanswered. I am trying to state the objections. I am sure that you accept them, Miss Boothroyd. We are enabling the Government and elected authorities to seek information for the bodies to which I am referring, which will not be capable of doing their job in the public interest. That is the view of the Liberal party and, I am sure, of the other Opposition parties.

My fifth point is that the professional bureaucracy that goes with joint boards is also unhelpful. That is where experience is most evident. The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) has had experience, and made a valid contribution. Unless things have changed recently, in the one exceptional case of the Welsh water authority, water authorities — as well as health authorities — are frustrating because of the inadequacy of their accountability. We read just this week in the papers that the Anglian water authority is to increase its rates by 14 per cent., and other water authorities will raise their rates by even more. They are responsible to no one.

Mr. Holt

The poor ratepayers of the Southern water authority will have to fork out £500,000 to allow for the introduction of metering in certain sectors of the community. Those who are charged according to the rateable value of their homes will suffer, without relief, whereas people in other sectors that could bear an increase in prices will not.

Mr. Christopher Hawkins (High Peak)

On a point of order, Miss Boothroyd. I am sorry to interrupt, but I am slightly confused. Are we debating a paving Bill to abolish water authorities in England and Wales?

Mr. Hughes

If the hon. Gentleman did not just come into the Chamber as voting fodder and if he read the Bill, he might not ask such idiotic and insane questions.

Mr. Allan Roberts

I should like to give another example of the bureaucratic and inefficient nature of the water authorities, by referring to the North West water authority. The Bill is about establishing organisations that are unaccountable and non-democratically elected, like water authorities. I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many legal cases had been brought against the North West water authority, how much it had paid in claims and in solicitors' fees, and how many such cases had been settled with and without proceedings. The answer was that the information was not available, was not kept centrally and could not be obtained from the North West water authority. That is a typical example of the bureaucracy in water authorities. If they were democratically elected, the information would be available.

Mr. Hughes

I believe that most hon. Members are now trying to recover from the sight of the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) at the Dispatch Box, with the lean that comes only from experience. I suppose that he must have crept in after dark to practise. His point is perfectly valid. There are similar examples in the health authorities. Only this week clinicians from Guy's hospital in my constituency complained that the Lewisham and North Southwark health authority, like all the others, never properly listens to the arguments of its professional electorate, let alone the people whom the clinicians are trying to serve. Within the London area, there are four regions and in each region the London part of it is the minority. Within each of those areas it is impossible to put across effectively or democratically the view of the Health Service clients.

I say most strongly that it is inadequate for the Government, unless they respond and accept the amendment, to say that we should permit any authority set up under the Bill — any unelected body, named or unnamed, extant or as yet not even contemplated—to be the beneficiary of the powers proposed in clause 7(1).

The hon. Member for Broxbourne, in a speech that was, as I recall, largely irrelevant to this part of the debate, said that the reason for the clause was that the authorities in question are trying to make life difficult and are trying not to hand over information. Two points need to be made about that. One is that when the last local government reorganisation took place, there was the same opposition from the authorities that were going to be taken over, but there was no compulsion in the legislation bringing that change about.

The second is that when one is transferring power from an elected body to an unelected body, one cannot imagine that it is proper for elected bodies to say that they are willing to hand over anything that the new, unelected bodies want. The principles of democracy, which we pride ourselves on nurturing for some 800 years, normally try to give power to elected bodies, not take it away.

We shall come to how much information is available under future clauses, and if the hon. Lady checks, she may find that there is far more than she had imagined. Given the inadequacy of that part of the argument, the fundamental point is that the information is there, in the hands of elected bodies, and should be handed over only to other elected bodies.

6.30 pm
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Miss Boothroyd. You will recall that earlier today the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made an announcement on the closure of plants in Scotland and west Yorkshire, involving redundancies of over 2,000 workers—

The Temporary Chairman

Order. This is nothing to do with this Committee and the amendments that we are debating.

Mr. Madden

Further to that point of order, Miss Boothroyd. You will recall that there was a successful application under Standing Order No. 10, and the Leader of the House said that he would be coming to announce the business for tomorrow. Two hours have elapsed, and no statement has been made. Have you received any information as to when the Leader of the House will interrupt the proceedings of the Committee to make such a statement, or could a message be conveyed to him, as many of us wish that statement to be made quickly because constituents are anxious to know when the debate will take place?

The Temporary Chairman

I understand the hon. Member's point, and his concern. I am sure that other hon. Members share that concern, and no doubt his point has been noted.

Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

Like other hon. Members, I can see a long night ahead of us, and we may even talk tomorrow's business out, so I shall be brief.

The amendments that we are discussing would limit the scope of the main abolition legislation transferring existing county council functions to directly elected bodies. The need for the joint boards has been brought about by the Government's wish to introduce a Bill that will abolish the elections to the GLC and the MCCs in 1985. Why have they thought that to be necessary? I have not yet met anyone anywhere who supports joint boards. We have all had experience of such bodies, and we all know what they lead to.

Although the Government say that these boards will be manned by members of other directly elected bodies, and therefore it can be claimed that they have been democratically elected, the Government must know that that argument will not hold water. These members will not have been elected to the body, and will be responsible to no one. They will not be responsible to the district councils to which they were elected, or to the electors, and before we know where we are, history will repeat itself, and we shall have selected members of joint boards operating behind closed doors. That is the likely result, if we base our evidence on what has happened in the past. I heard one chairman of a water authority saying that his board operated behind closed doors because his members were not used to handling the press.

Is not the truth about the debate today, and about these amendments, that all this is being brought about by Government dogma? They do not believe it themselves. They made this plan, and they intend to see it through, whatever the arguments and the logic against joint boards —they have just closed their ears. I sometimes wonder how many Conservative Members really agree with this plan. If the attendance here this afternoon is anything to go by, Conservative Members are running away from the debate—it is too hard for their ears, and they cannot stand it because they do not agree with the Bill, and they know that it is wrong. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister will give serious consideration to the amendments.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) said, there have been surveys in west Yorkshire and other parts of the country. If the Government feel that this measure has the backing of the public, why do they not test that idea in the elections in 1985? The Conservatives are supposed to be the party of democracy, and Conservative Members do not mind shouting in the Chamber "Ballot, ballot, ballot" every time the miners' strike is mentioned. Why do they not ballot in 1985 to give the people the opportunity to say whether they believe in this legislation to appoint these joint boards and to abolish the elected bodies?

Is it not disgraceful to talk about this Bill before putting through the legislation to abolish the GLC and the MCCs? If there were any Conservative Members with any fire in their belly, the abolition would never get off the ground. There is no case for abolishing these councils, which makes it necessary to form these joint boards.

I suppose that although we shall hear a few noises against the Bill, tonight we shall see the usual stream of Conservative Members going through the Lobby in support of something in which they do not believe. It makes a mockery out of democracy when that Government, at their whim, can decide that they will take the vote away from 18 million people, leaving joint boards without directly elected members, responsible to nobody, with no authority to fix a rate, and not responsible to the public. Before we know where we are, the Government will be changing the system of directly elected district councils into one of councils selected by the Secretary of State. That will happen as sure as night follows day. I hope that the Committee will support these amendments.

Mr. Tony Banks

Clause 7 is about the Government requiring information to be provided. That is a bit rich, when the Committee thinks about it. Here we have a Government who have positively refused to give Members of Parliament any information, but they are now requiring information to be given by the GLC and the MCCs. At the least, it is somewhat two-faced of the Government to include the clause.

The Conservative Benches are rather sparsely occupied, and we have another 12 hours of debate ahead of us. Perhaps Tory Members have cleared off because they cannot stomach seeing their Front Bench being butchered. The contribution from the hon.. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) at least proved that he could read, even if he could not understand what the GLC is about—

Mr. Tracey


Mr. Banks

Give me a chance. There is no support for the Government's proposals. The clause wants directly elected local authorities to provide information to unelected and unaccountable quangos. I am not sure that the clause details the full range of the quangos that will be set up. Will the clause be equally applicable to the quangos that already exist?

Mr. Waldegrave

I have long since learnt that the hon. Gentleman, like the character in the Thurber cartoon, will not be convinced by mere fact. The Bill does not say what he claims it says. The information is to be provided to elected bodies and the Secretary of State.

Mr. Banks

That information will be conveyed to the unelected, unaccountable quangos. If it is not, what is the point of the clause? If information will not go to the quangos, the Minister should accept the amendments. That would be the logic of what he has said. I shall gladly give way if the Minister wants further to clarify that point.

Mr. Waldegrave

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is making such heavy weather of this point. The first subsection details what the information is about, and the second and third say to whom the information will be given.

Mr. Banks

Precisely. We want to know what other bodies will be given the information. We assume that they must be the unelected and unaccountable quangos about which we have heard so much. If they are not, perhaps the Minister will let us into the secret. We could then all discuss the matter with the same level of information. He has not yet revealed to the Committee the information that he possesses about the legislation. We are batting around in the dark because the Government are deliberately keeping us in the dark, and they have done so from the beginning. The clause and everything relating to it is part of the ill-conceived, badly thought-out legislation now before us.

I read with great interest the press statements from the Department of the Environment. I have one about a speech made by the Secretary of State at the Penta hotel at Heathrow. Perhaps he was on his way out of the country. I would not mourn the news of his long absence. In the press statement, the right hon. Gentleman said about the GLC: we will dispense its services to authorities that already exist. That is not true. Nearly half of the services in London will be transferred to unelected, unaccountable quangos —those connected with buying, the joint board for debt management, the joint voluntary committee for traffic management, the London planning commission and the board to run the South Bank. I advise the Secretary of State to look at the figures. Of the £867 million of net rate-borne expenditure in 1983–84, the Department of the Environment considers that only £436 million is transferable to borough responsibility — the remainder will be the responsibility of unelected, unaccountable quangos. I assume that those bodies will be given information from the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. An elected body should not be required to hand over information to unelected bodies.

I am sure that, in view of what the Secretary of State has said, the Minister will be prepared to accept the amendments.

Mr. Holt

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak at this early stage in the debate. As a relatively new Member I have little parliamentary experience upon which to call. My speech will draw upon 20 years of local government experience in an elected capacity as a member of a unitary London borough authority, a county council, as leader of a district council and as a member of a water authority.

I understand that the Bill is known as a paving Bill

Mr. Boyes

The crazy paving Bill

Mr. Holt

The hon. Gentleman has pre-empted some of my thoughts. There are many amateur paviours, mostly dealing with patios that they lay outside their homes. When someone puts down a patio, it is essential to have the foundation right. If it is not, the paving cracks and the weeds come through very quickly.

The Government have missed a supreme opportunity to took at local government in the round, thoroughly and in depth, and to have dealt with it properly. This paving legislation has many defects, although it also has some good points. It does not look at the duties, role and responsibility of the shire counties. In my heart, I can see no justification for taking away one tier of local government in one area while retaining it in other areas.

6.45 pm

As a member of Buckinghamshire county council, I can say that almost all duties and responsibilities have been reduced to a manageable and well-understood size. I represented a seat in High Wycombe and I had little or no interest in what happened in Milton Keynes. I am sure that the Labour members in Milton Keynes had little or no interest in what happened in High Wycombe. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that the Government should have looked further at the abolition of the shire counties.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but we are dealing specifically with a narrow amendment. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will relate his remarks to the business before us.

Mr. Holt

I accept that, Miss Boothroyd. As the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has taught me so well during my 11 months in the House, I shall ultimately relate my remarks to the business. I am sure that you will accept my point on that, Miss Boothroyd.

While talking about the shire counties at the larger end, and adding to my point that they should be looked at in depth, I must say that any information should be sought also from parish councils. No one has established the rights, duties and roles of the parish councils. When, in the fullness of time, my hon. Friend the Minister reflects on the legislation—and all legislation is littered with reflections of where it has gone wrong — he will understand my point. The time to reflect is before the legislation goes wrong.

In the not too distant future we shall conclude our proceedings on the rate-capping legislation. An integral part of the whole aspect of what local government is about is the important information that goes backwards and forwards between those elected and those who elect. Nothing in the legislation before us, in the main Bill or in the rate-capping legislation concerns itself with the way in which parish and town councils can raise and spend money. I wonder, in an educative sense, how many hon. Members actually know the scope of the opportunities available for spending under the parish and town council precepts.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but I must remind him that we are in Committee. He is making a Second Reading speech. We are dealing with a specific amendment and I must ask him to relate his remarks to that.

Mr. Holt

With respect, Miss Boothroyd, I am trying to say that the provision of information — my point relates to money and to the information aspect of the Bill — should also apply to parish, town and district councils. In the round, the current situation is absolutely fraught. It is like a colander. We should consider what parish councils can spend parish rate money on, and have spent it on in the recent past.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. Parish authorities are not mentioned anywhere in the Bill. I ask the hon. Member to come to the point, or perhaps to bring his remarks to a conclusion.

Mr. Holt

I am talking about the importance of the provision of information. Some of the successor authorities will have parish councils within their areas. The joint boards may well wish to draw upon members of the parish councils. I seek to draw attention to the information on the financial aspects of parish councils which may or may not be available to the joint boards. There will be a conflict of interests between the joint boards and parish councils on financial matters.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

In the clause to which the hon. Gentleman is nearly talking, there appear the words: or to any other body". That might include a parish council, or any of the other excellent elected bodies about which the hon. Member is talking.

Mr. Holt

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In mitigation, I must say, Miss Boothroyd, that on Second Reading I sat for seven hours waiting to be called, and was not called, although I did not miss an opportunity to rise. I therefore feel that the present debate gives me a reasonable opportunity to express my views.

The people of Hartlepool will want information about what Cleveland is doing, and people of Cleveland will want to know what Langbaurgh is doing. I want to know when my Government plan to bring in paving legislation to do away with Cleveland. Cleveland has no friends on either side of the House. It is a see-saw authority which moves backwards and forwards according to the political ins and outs of the day. It does very little except spend money, and no doubt it will fail to give the information which it will be asked to provide to the joint boards.

Mr. Tony Banks

Elections are a bit of a yawn after a while, are they not?

Mr. Holt

I do not seek to abolish elections. I seek to draw attention to the opportunity to provide a unitary system similar to that introduced in 1963, when Middlesex was abolished and the outer London boroughs were set up and were put in control of almost all aspects of their destiny. If the committees were open to the press and the public and if the information was made available, a great service would be done to local government as a whole. As it is, we are discussing paving legislation and an amendment which has neither merit nor demerit.

I believe that the mistakes that are being made will come home to roost. I hope that at some point in the passage of the legislation I shall be able to catch Mr. Speaker's eye — I hope that Mr. Speaker will be as indulgent as you, Miss Boothroyd—and read out a full list of the ways in which parish councils can spend money, including influence under class 4, covering propaganda and contributions. I need hardly say more to my hon. Friends.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

I am sure that the House has listened with enormous attention to the hon. Member's speech. I trust that the Under-Secretary, while perhaps accepting that much of what the hon. Gentleman said was irrelevant, will accept that he has considerable knowledge of local government and that his assessment of the Government's approach should not be lightly dismissed. As an enthusiastic supporter of the parish councils in my own constituency I can understand the hon. Gentleman's affection for them, but I am sure that my hon. Friends do not regard parish councils as suitable repositories for the functions of the metropolitan councils or the GLC.

The amendments would bring the Bill closer to the Government's original intentions. The White Paper suggested that there would be only a few exceptions to the transfer of power from the MCCs to the metropolitan districts. However, it now seems that a vast part of the functions of the metropolitan counties will be transferred not to the elected metropolitan districts but to the joint boards. Our attachment to democracy and our concern for common sense lead us to question whether the Government were wise to move so far from their original intention.

I subscribe to the theory that history repeats itself, and I am reminded now of the legislation introduced by a Conservative Government in my first Parliament. There was a reorganisation of water provision, the health services and local government, and the Government of the day made a howling mess of all three. The present Government are seeking to restore balance and efficiency, but I believe that the legislation introduced in recent years to change the arrangements of the early 1970s will fail because the present Administration are repeating the mistakes of the former one.

After the Local Government Bill was introduced in 1972, many changes were made in the Bill during its passage as the Government sought to show that they were flexible. They had suggested that, as there was a shortage of planners, we should reduce the number of planning authorities. During the passage of the Bill, because of pressure by one or two Conservative Back Benchers, they changed their minds on that point, and the Act which appeared on the statute book led to duplication and strained planning resources to the limit.

The present Government are approaching this Bill—certainly clause 7— in the same way. Originally, the Government said that they would transfer the great bulk of the MCCs' functions to the directly elected metropolitan boroughs or the London boroughs. Now, the opposite is to be the case. More and more functions are to be transferred to the joint boards. My hon. Friends have already pointed out that this is likely to lead to inefficiency, greater expense and a remarkably lower level of responsibility.

The Government have not yet been able to convince the people of this country of their case, and they certainly have not been able to convince those in the metropolitan boroughs upon whom the responsibilities will fall. The metropolitan boroughs recognise that the change is not likely to be efficient. The recognise that, apart from being undemocratic, it is unlikely to be fair. Until the Government can persuade the metropolitan boroughs that the change is wise, I suggest that they should not be in their present haste to implement these proposals.

New clause 4 can be mentioned in this connection. I am not sure whether or not we are to debate it in the early hours, but the point of that new clause is central to the amendments under discussion. If the Government can persuade the borough councils which will have to provide the personnel of the joint boards that they will be engaging in an economically sensible enterprise, they will be more sympathetic towards the legislation. They cannot be sympathetic to the Government's proposals unless they have evidence that they will be efficient. The Conservative party's record in the management of local government in the past decade does not inspire confidence among local authorities, and certainly not in metropolitan areas. The Government therefore have an obligation to persuade metropolitan councillors that what they will be about will be in the interests of those whom they represent.

7 pm

The 1973 local government reorganisation was supposed to save money. It followed detailed and intellectually respectable considerations, documents, debates and deliberations for almost a decade. Serious words were written and published and grave consideration was given to the subject, but in the end we had the most inflationary exercise that the United Kingdom has ever experienced. Although there might have been other reasons for the inflation, the Tory reorganisation was structurally and inherently inflationary. Nevertheless, the 1973 Bill followed far more serious, mature and intellectually respectable study than this one. The Government must show the people in local government who will man the joint boards that their function is sensible.

The Secretary of State has yet to defend himself against the charge that my hon. Friends the Members for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) and for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) mentioned. Until he can produce evidence that counters the statement in the Coopers and Lybrand report, the Bill does not deserve to be treated seriously. Unfortunately it has the power to destroy democracy and to raise contempt. My hon. Friends the Members for Normanton and for Pontefract and Castleford said that there is no support for the Bill in west Yorkshire. There is none in south Yorkshire either.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Indeed, there is no support for the Bill in south Yorkshire. Many people there are worried about what will happen to the functions of the county council when they are handed down to selected or "any other bodies". "Any other body" can mean anything.

I should like to put again the questions to which I am sure the Under-Secretary of State has had time to prepare an answer. If he has not thought of a real answer I do not want him to give the type of answer that he has already given. The question concerns people who will make up the bodies and metropolitan councillors who work for the county council. What will happen to them when the Bill comes into force? Will they be able to continue their role as metropolitan borough councillors bearing in mind the fact that they could also be on the so-called "other bodies" on behalf of the metropolitan council? They might work in the fire service, in the transport department or in the road service. In Barnsley metropolitan borough council, an entire ward of councillors will be wiped out if something is not done quickly. Will the Minister say what will happen to them?

The amendments attempt to draw the Committee's attention to what will happen. The quangos will take over responsibility for perhaps three quarters of county council finance, as they will be responsible for the police and for transport. We are to have selected people; although they sit on elected bodies now, they will not have been elected to perform the function that the Secretary of State will ask them to carry out. Moreover, they will take on a budget with which they have nothing whatever to do. That is dangerous.

In regard to quangos, will the process be the same as that which applied to water boards? Water boards used to belong to the local authority and then became the responsibility of selected bodies. Those bodies have now disappeared — because they were comprised of elected councillors — and became entirely selected by the Secretary of State. We are disturbed that the press and the public will not be able to go to meetings to find out what is going on, with the result that the bodies will become accountable to nobody.

In regard to the bodies taking on the police function, has the Minister considered what will happen when the police are accountable to nobody? Will they eventually become accountable to the Secretary of State? We have asked these questions before and the Minister has declined to answer them. They must still be answered. Although the Minister might not think so, the amendments are important as they help to explain why people in my area do not want county councils abolished. The Bill will create difficulties in metropolitan and borough councils because, as the chairmen and vice-chairmen of the main committees and the sub-committees have been selected the people who are left will have to run county council functions. Such people already have difficulty with their employers. Will the Secretary of State make it mandatory for employers to allow them time off to carry out their duties, or shall we need more elected metrapolitan borough councillors?

The Government have rushed the Bill and it is not necessary now. It should not have been introduced before the main abolition Bill. The Government have put the cart before the horse and have caused great constitutional problems.

Mr. Freud

I should like to speak briefly and particularly in respect of this group of amendments. Their point is no more than to delete the obscure wording "to any other body" and to write in the words "directly elected" which must be close to the hearts of all right hon. and hon. Members.

It would be fair to future generations who might read Hansard to point out that the debate on amendment No. 120, which will doubtless be opposed by the Government, is being attended by a total of five Back Bench Conservative Members, one Parliamentary Private Secretary, two duty Whips and a junior Minister.

The hon. Member for — I am not sure how to pronounce it—Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt)—

Mr. Holt

It is pronounced "Langboff".

Mr. Freud

I am grateful to learn that it is pronounced "Langboff" as I have seen it written but never heard it spoken.

The hon. Member for Langbaurgh talked about the importance of parish councils. I believe that we are the most over-governed country in the world. Most of us, and certainly all of my constituents, have representatives at parish or town level, at district level, at county level, at Westminster and in Europe. If there is one thing to be said in favour of this great mound of representation, this tower of representatives, it is that all of them are elected. Each has a vested interest in doing a good job of work because, come the next election, he or she will be accountable to the people on behalf of whom he or she works. By denying the Oppostion these modest amendments, the Government are trying to formulate yet another body such as the water authority, the health authority or the many quangos that hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken of and against.

I believe that no Secretary of State or Minister has ever deliberately appointed the wrong people, just as no wine merchant has ever deliberately sold wine to infuriate, annoy or disappoint the consumer. However, when the Government try to put together "any other body"—as they do in clause 7—the great danger is that they will be too careful, and so get it wrong. They will not appoint the right people. They will say that they must have a token woman or a representative black, that it is important to have both academic and non-academic people, and that there should be a representative of this or that profession, district or religions petsoasion. Thus, instead of having an efficient "any otter body", we shall end up, as ever with such quangos, with people who are so carefully assorted to represent all views that they are a rag-bag that does nothing at all.

In denying us these amendments, the Government will deny us the right to be represented by elected people and will appoint whomsoever should come into their minds. Is "any other body" to be an already established body, such as the Lions or the Buffaloes? Will it be the women's institute or the National Farmers Union? The answer is obviously no. "Any other foody" will consist of whomever ingratiates himself or herself with the Government.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Freud

I shall gladly give way, and I should like to say here and now that for the rest of the debate I shall give way to whoever wants me to give way.

Mr. Roberts

Does the hon. Gentleman recall a body that has been appointed by a Conservative or Labour Minister that has not ended up, either openly or secretly, being Conservative-controlled?

Mr. Freud

It would be fair to say that the answer is "yes—outside my constituency". I am sure that much of that goes on in the country.

On this occasion, I simply warn the Government that, if this modest amendment is rejected, they will deserve to be in for a hard time. The few words "any other body" that we want to take out and the important words "directly elected" that we want to include are at the crux of our argument. If the amendment is to be denied us, breakfast will be late tomorrow morning.

7.15 pm
Mr. Waldegrave

We have had a wide-ranging debate. Under your wise guidance, Miss Boothroyd, we have had Second Reading speeches on several Bills concerning the abolition of parishes, water boards and misleading propaganda from the GLC. With persistent nudges from you, hon. Members have occasionally returned to Second Reading speeches on the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill. You must have been so grateful to the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), Miss Boothroyd, who brought us back to the amendments under discussion. That was a great and difficult feat, given the point at which he took over the debate.

As often happens, I found myself agreeing with a good deal of what the hon. Member for Wentworth said. He was right to say that the Government believe that we should devolve as many functions as possible to the lower-tier authorities, and regard any attribution of functions to bodies other than the boroughs or districts as something that should be avoided if possible. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is, like me, a genuine devolutionist. There have been many devolutionists among the Opposition, although they have not always been as open about it as the hon. Gentleman was.

There has always been a strong feeing among Conservative Members, particularly in London, in favour of devolution to the boroughs. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) referred to that on Second Reading. That lies of course, at the heart of the Bill's origins. The idea that boroughs and lower-tier authorities should be the recipients of as many of the services as possible goes right back, in Conservative thinking in London, to 1894.

Opposition Members have used this rather narrow amendment — as you rightly described it, Miss Boothroyd—which simply seeks to limit in a particular way the sort of information that can be obtained by the elected councils and the Secretary of State, to argue against the joint boards. Some hon. Members would like, where possible, to devolve more radically, and in that the Government are very close to them. Others, of course, argue for the status quo. The amendment simply limits the sort of information that the successor boroughs and districts and the Secretary of State can seek. It would take information about the services that go to the non-directly elected bodies out of the Secretary of State's scope.

Of course, the Government have agonised over whether there is room to move yet further towards giving all these functions to the lower-tier authorities. In a recent statement, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that we should not take some of the joint board functions as being the end of the story, and that if in due course the lower-tier authorities could show that there were gains in further devolution, any sensible Government would want to consider that.

As a debating point, Opposition Members described the joint boards as quangos. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) has just slipped out of the Chamber, but he will no doubt return in due course. He described the joint boards as if they were going to be appointed. He went into a very philosophical thesis about the basis for any appointments to them. But of course, they will not be appointed by the Secretary of State or anyone else. They will be creatures of the lower-tier authorities. Members will be sent up to them by the lower-tier authorities, and those representatives will be directly elected members of those lower-tier authorities.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Secretary of State's recent announcement that the Government would consider allowing the transfer of, for example, the fire and police services to individual boroughs where they were satisfied that that was appropriate. The Secretary of State limited that possibility of transfer to after the joint boards had come into operation. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that a very large city such as Birmingham might make a strong case for the immediate transfer of those services? If it did, would the Government consider it?

Mr. Waldergrave

I suspect that the new administration for the city of Birmingham will make the same case just as strongly as the old administration did. The Government's policy is to say that we shall set up the joint boards first and then listen to representations on that point. I am very well aware of the strong feelings on that point in Birmingham and the west midlands.

Mr. Lofthouse

The Government may now intend simply to have representation from the district councils, but can the Minister guarantee that the bodies in question will not be selected in the future?

Mr. Waldegrave

The essence of our policy and of the legislation is to devolve powers to the districts and the boroughs, but it is necessary to ensure joint organisation through joint boards of a small number of services, which will belong to and be run by representatives of the boroughs. To move away from that to making appointments would be a complete contradiction of our policy. It would be like appointing members of the district and borough councils themselves, which would be anathema to us.

Mr. Tony Banks

Not all the services to be taken from the GLC will be administered by joint boards made up of borough representatives. Some, such as the south bank arts complex, will be run by appointed quangos. How does that square with the Minister's argument about devolving services to the boroughs?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. There are a number of such examples. The biggest is London Transport, which is going back to being a nationalised industry. Other important items, although relatively small in expenditure terms—for example, the Thames water services — will go to other areas. The driving force behind the Bill is a devolutionary move, but there is no point in denying that certain items cannot be fitted into that policy. Nevertheless, the great majority of services will go to the boroughs or districts or to their creatures, the joint boards.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) wanted us to define further limits on the information to be required. Subsection (1) does just that. I do not think that it is possible to define this more exactly, although we may be able to discuss the matter further on a later amendment regarding a test of reasonableness. The information that the Secretary of State and the successor authorities may require must relate to the formulation of proposals for the transfer of services.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Does the Minister accept that in practice that will mean as much information as they wish and that the power will be as wide as they wish to construe it?

Mr. Waldegrave

The limit is twofold. First, there is the practical consideration that the workload of officials and officers of the lower-tier authorities in the transfer period will be very great, so they will not want to ask for unnecessary information. Secondly, there is the test of reasonableness, on which frivolous requests for information could not be shown to meet the purposes of the legislation.

I am afraid, therefore, that the amendments seem to me rather less wide-ranging and full of high principle than some of the contributions that we have heard. As my hon. Friends the Members for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) and for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) said, this is an inevitable part of the process of moving towards abolition of the authorities according to the Government's policy. I have no hesitation at all in asking my hon. Friends to resist any attempt to delete the words in question from the Bill.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 173, Noes 295.

Division No. 311] [7.23 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Anderson, Donald Ashdown, Paddy
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Barron, Kevin Janner, Hon Greville
Beckett, Mrs Margaret John, Brynmor
Beith, A. J. Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Benn, Tony Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Kennedy, Charles
Bermingham, Gerald Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Boyes, Roland Kirkwood, Archibald
Bray, Dr Jeremy Lamond, James
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Leighton, Ronald
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Campbell, Ian Loyden, Edward
Campbell-Savours, Dale McCartney, Hugh
Canavan, Dennis McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Carter-Jones, Lewis McGuire, Michael
Cartwright, John McNamara, Kevin
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) McWilliam, John
Clay, Robert Madden, Max
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Marek, Dr John
Cohen, Harry Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Coleman, Donald Martin, Michael
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Conlan, Bernard Maxton, John
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Maynard, Miss Joan
Corbett, Robin Meacher, Michael
Corbyn, Jeremy Meadowcroft, Michael
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Michie, William
Craigen, J. M. Mikardo, Ian
Cunliffe, Lawrence Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Cunningham, Dr John Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Deakins, Eric O'Brien, William
Dewar, Donald O'Neill, Martin
Dixon, Donald Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Dobson, Frank Park, George
Dormand, Jack Parry, Robert
Douglas, Dick Patchett, Terry
Dubs, Alfred Pavitt, Laurie
Duffy, A. E. P. Pendry, Tom
Eadie, Alex Penhaligon, David
Eastham, Ken Pike, Peter
Ellis, Raymond Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Radice, Giles
Ewing, Harry Randall, Stuart
Fatchett, Derek Redmond, M.
Faulds, Andrew Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Richardson, Ms Jo
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Fisher, Mark Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Flannery, Martin Robertson, George
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Forrester, John Rooker, J. W.
Foster, Derek Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Foulkes, George Rowlands, Ted
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Sedgemore, Brian
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Sheerman, Barry
Freud, Clement Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Garrett, W. E. Shore, Rt Hon Peter
George, Bruce Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Gourlay, Harry Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Skinner, Dennis
Hardy, Peter Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Harman, Ms Harriet Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Snape, Peter
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Soley, Clive
Haynes, Frank Strang, Gavin
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Straw, Jack
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Howells, Geraint Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Hoyle, Douglas Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham) Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Tinn, James
Torney, Tom Woodall, Alec
Wainwright, R. Wrigglesworth, Ian
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Wareing, Robert Tellers for the Ayes:
White, James Mr. James Hamilton and
Wigley, Dafydd Mr. Allen McKay.
Winnick, David
Adley, Robert Farr, John
Aitken, Jonathan Favell, Anthony
Alexander, Richard Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Amess, David Fletcher, Alexander
Ancram, Michael Forman, Nigel
Arnold, Tom Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Forth, Eric
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Franks, Cecil
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Freeman, Roger
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Gale, Roger
Batiste, Spencer Galley, Roy
Bellingham, Henry Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Bendall, Vivian Garel-Jones, Tristan
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay) Glyn, Dr Alan
Berry, Sir Anthony Goodlad, Alastair
Best, Keith Gorst, John
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gow, Ian
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Gower, Sir Raymond
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Greenway, Harry
Body, Richard Gregory, Conal
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Bottomley, Peter Grist, Ian
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Ground, Patrick
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Grylls, Michael
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Braine, Sir Bernard Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hanley, Jeremy
Bright, Graham Hannam, John
Brinton, Tim Hargreaves, Kenneth
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Harris, David
Brooke, Hon Peter Harvey, Robert
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Haselhurst, Alan
Browne, John Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Bruinvels, Peter Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Bryan, Sir Paul Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
Buck, Sir Antony Hawksley, Warren
Budgen, Nick Hayes, J.
Bulmer, Esmond Hayhoe, Barney
Butterfill, John Heathcoat-Amory, David
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Heddle, John
Cash, William Henderson, Barry
Chapman, Sydney Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Chope, Christopher Hickmet, Richard
Churchill, W. S. Hill, James
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Hind, Kenneth
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Holt, Richard
Cockeram, Eric Hooson, Tom
Colvin, Michael Hordern, Peter
Coombs, Simon Howard, Michael
Cope, John Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Couchman, James Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Cranborne, Viscount Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Crouch, David Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Dorrell, Stephen Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Hunt, David (Wirral)
Dover, Den Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Hunter, Andrew
Dunn, Robert Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Jackson, Robert
Eggar, Tim Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Emery, Sir Peter Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Evennett, David Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Eyre, Sir Reginald Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Fallon, Michael Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Key, Robert Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Roe, Mrs Marion
King, Rt Hon Tom Rossi, Sir Hugh
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Rost, Peter
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston) Rowe, Andrew
Lamont, Norman Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Latham, Michael Ryder, Richard
Lawler, Geoffrey Sackville, Hon Thomas
Lawrence, Ivan Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Sayeed, Jonathan
Lee, John (Pendle) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lightbown, David Shersby, Michael
Lilley, Peter Silvester, Fred
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Sims, Roger
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Skeet, T. H. H.
Lord, Michael Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lyell, Nicholas Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
McCurley, Mrs Anna Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Soames, Hon Nicholas
Maclean, David John Speller, Tony
Madel, David Spencer, Derek
Maginnis, Ken Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Major, John Squire, Robin
Malins, Humfrey Stanbrook, Ivor
Malone, Gerald Stern, Michael
Maples, John Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Marland, Paul Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Marlow, Antony Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Mates, Michael Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Maude, Hon Francis Stokes, John
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stradling Thomas, J.
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Sumberg, David
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Taylor, John (Solihull)
Mellor, David Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Temple-Morris, Peter
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Terlezki, Stefan
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Moate, Roger Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Moore, John Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S) Thornton, Malcolm
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Thurnham, Peter
Murphy, Christopher Townend, John (Bridlington)
Neale, Gerrard Tracey, Richard
Nelson, Anthony Trippier, David
Newton, Tony Twinn, Dr Ian
Nicholls, Patrick van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Onslow, Cranley Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Oppenheim, Philip Viggers, Peter
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Osborn, Sir John Waldegrave, Hon William
Ottaway, Richard Walden, George
Page, John (Harrow W) Wall, Sir Patrick
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Waller, Gary
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Ward, John
Parris, Matthew Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Watson, John
Patten, John (Oxford) Watts, John
Pattie, Geoffrey Wheeler, John
Pawsey, James Whitfield, John
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Whitney, Raymond
Pollock, Alexander Wiggin, Jerry
Porter, Barry Wilkinson, John
Powell, William (Corby) Wolfson, Mark
Powley, John Wood, Timothy
Price, Sir David Woodcock, Michael
Proctor, K. Harvey Yeo, Tim
Raffan, Keith Young, Sir George (Acton)
Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Renton, Tim Tellers for the Noes:
Rhodes James, Robert Mr. Michael Neubert and
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Mr. Ian Lang.
Rifkind, Malcolm

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Roberts

I beg to move amendment No. 86, in page 7, line 1, at beginning insert 'Subject to subsection (2A) below'.

The Temporary Chairman

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 64, in page 7, line 1, leave out 'and its officers'.

No. 87, in page 7, line 6, at end insert— '(2A) No request under subsection (2) above requiring the compliance of officers of the Greater London Council or of a London borough council shall be made by the Secretary of State until he has consulted bodies representative of officers concerned with the proposed terms of any such request'.

No. 88, in page 7, line 7, at beginning insert 'Subject to subsection (3A) below'.

No. 103, in page 7, line 7, leave out 'Each metropolitan county council and its officers' and insert 'The proper officer (which expression shall be construed in accordance with section 270(3) of the principal Act) of each metropolitan county council'.

No. 65, in page 7, line '7, leave out 'and its officers'.

No. 89, in page 7, line 12, at end add— '(3A) No request under subsection (3) above requiring the compliance of officers of a metropolitan county council or of a metropolitan district council shall be made by the Secretary of State until he has consulted bodies representative of officers concerned with the proposed terms of any such request'.

7.30 pm
Mr. Roberts

Clause 7 places a duty on the Greater London council and the metropolitan county councils and their officers to supply information to the Secretary of State, the borough and district councils and, as we lost the last set of amendments, to any other bodies. As drafted, the duty is not limited to the provision of information for the abolition of the respective councils. If it were, it could be understood.

The clause requires the GLC, the MCCs and their officers to facilitate the formulation of proposals for their own abolition, even before Parliament approves the Bill for the abolition of the councils and the jobs of the officers, who are being required to co-operate in that way.

The GLC and MCCs have, since the abolition proposals were first announced, constantly expressed the view that any changes in the structure of local government should be preceded by proper inquiry in accordance with well-accepted custom and practice. The clause constitutionally replaces that inquiry by an unacceptable process which requires local authority officers to provide information to that end. The Bill therefore requires the GLC and MCC staffs to co-operate in the possible extinction of their own jobs without the usual procedures being followed and in advance of parliamentary approval of the abolition of their jobs and the councils.

The Secretary of State for the Environment said that this Bill does not prejudice the main issue of abolition. II: is clear that that is precisely what the clause is intended to do. The Secretary of State also consistently maintained that the abolition of the GLC and MCCs would produce financial savings. That is one of the main planks behind the Government's manifesto commitment to abolish the councils. But so far he has significantly failed to quantify those savings.

On Second Reading the Secretary of State admitted that the Department needed the powers contained in this clause because it had been unable to obtain information. The Government, therefore, are now forcing local authority officers to provide information so that they can produce accurate assessments of the savings. In other words, the Government have never been sure that savings would result from the abolition of the councils. The clause proves that to be the case. The Government are anxious to obtain information in advance of the main abolition Bill, which will justify the main abolition Bill.

The staff of the GLC and MCCs are required to co-operate in the possible extinction of their jobs. That is an exceedingly onerous duty to lay on any employee. The Government sought to justify the inclusion of these powers in a paving Bill by referring to the short time scale for the implementation of the proposals. That time scale was set by the Government and, therefore, they have no right to use it to justify these draconian powers. That illustrates only too clearly the indecent haste with which the proposals are being brought forward. Furthermore, that indecent haste leaves no doubt as to why the Government require information from the GLC and MCCs in advance of a decision by Parliament to abolish the authorities. It is wrong to ask for that provision before the substantive measure has been debated and become law. Only when the abolition of the councils is a reality in law can the requirement to provide information be seen to be reasonable. The powers contained in the clause are an affront to the parliamentary process and should be significantly amended, if not completely rejected.

Amendments Nos. 64 and 65 are crucial. Their purpose is to place the duties to provide information upon the local authority only and not upon their officers. It is invidious to require local authority officers to provide information. If the paving Bill goes through, many of the councils will still be Labour-controlled because the Government will not be able to gerrymander a change of political control without elections in other parts of the country as they seem to be attempting with the GLC.

The duty to provide information will require officers to act against the instructions of their employing authority. There will be a conflict of duty. It is perhaps significant that one of the few precedents for imposing such a statutory duty directly upon local authority officers—section 23(5) of the Housing Act 1980, which requires officers to comply with a notice from the Secretary of State to produce a document—is expected to be repealed by the Housing and Building Control Bill currently before Parliament.

The only other precedent is the ombudsman legislation, which is completely different. He is an independent quasi-judicial person who has the right to require information to carry out an independent inquiry to produce an independent report— independent of political intervention by a local authority or in this case by a Government who are motivated by spite because Labour-controlled local authorities are resisting their proposals.

For an officer to deal with information outside the terms of his employment puts him at risk of being in breach of his duty to his employer. Common and statute law deal with contracts of employment, and the duty of local authority employees to an authority which might be of a different political persuasion to the Government, or to the body which is being set up to replace the GLC or the metropolitan county councils. It therefore cannot be appropriate directly to impose a duty upon any officer, as this clause does, to make information available to another body. The duty to do so must be that of the authority and not that of the officer. That is what the amendments seek to achieve.

If the Government wish to create a local authority officers' Clay Cross rather than a councillors' Clay Cross, that is the way to do it. The Government are once again riding roughshod over an 800-year tradition of democratic local government. They are taking these draconian powers against professional people, 99 per cent. of whom are nonpolitical and who have their professional ethics and their loyalty to their employing authorities. The clause, if unamended, will destroy their impartiality.

7.45 pm

Local government officers traditionally serve the political will of elected councils — Tory, Labour or alliance—and carry out their political wishes loyally. They do not accept political instructions from outside.

The Bill is a further example of the destruction of Britain's historical democratic freedom. It will destroy the independence, impartiality and autonomy of local government officers—the communities' civil servants. That will be replaced by direct "Big Brother" political rule from Whitehall and Westminster.

The amendments require that before requesting information the Government should consult the bodies representing local government officers because the clause could turn out to be the National and Local Government Officers Association's GCHQ. Trade union rights of being represented in respect of one's contract of employment and duty to one's employer are being ridden over roughshod by the legislation.

Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)

The hon. Gentleman is making an impassioned and effective plea on the basis that local authority servants have never previously been asked to supply the Government with information, as they serve only their elected masters in their own town halls. My understanding over the years has been that local authority servants and NALGO members are required daily, and almost hourly, to supply Governments of all complexions with information. I cannot see the difference in principle that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to demonstrate.

Mr. Roberts

Legislation requires the authorities to provide the information and they instruct their officers to provide it to Government.

If the local authority does not want to provide the information and legally instructs its officers not to provide it, the officers are not liable in law to be prosecuted. The elected councillors who have taken the political decision are liable under the legislation. The local authority and not the officers will be responsible. That is the important distinction.

The Government are trying to suggest that the appointed bodies which will take over from the GLC and the metropolitan county councils are democratic because they are indirectly appointed councillors. The legislation goes over the heads of those indirectly appointed bodies and directly instructs the officers to answer to the Government's political will and not to their employers as under their contract of employment.

Mr. Lofthouse

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Court of Appeal has held that information acquired by local government offices is the property of the council, and that it is for the council to decide what it does with the information?

Mr. Roberts

A Court of Appeal decision was made in 1982. In the case R. v City of Birmingham D. C., Lord Justice Donaldson said: As I have already said, all relevant information acquired by a local authority's social workers in the course of their duties, whether or not it be confidential, is acquired on behalf of the local authority, and becomes the authority's information. The point has now been clearly established that all information relating to the local authority belongs to the local authority and not to any one or more of its officers. How that information is to be treated and to whom it is made available is a matter for the authority alone to decide.

That decision reinforced what has been enshrined in our constitution about the relationship between local government officers and their councils. If unamended the clause will ride roughshod over that principle.

Amendment No. 103 seeks to limit the duty to provide information to an officer appointed by the council for that purpose—"the proper officer." As drafted, subsections (2) and (3) are open-ended and place no restriction on the number or level of officers through whom and to whom approaches for information may be made. Can hon. Members imagine what chaos there would be if civil servants acting on behalf off the Secretary of State approached officers at all levels within an authority requesting information? Of course, if the amendment were carried, the approach would be to the chief executive or another senior officer, who would be appointed as the proper Officer. I can see no reason why the Government should not accept the amendment.

In the run-up to the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan councils and the transfer of functions to the London boroughs, the metropolitan districts and other bodies, the staffs of the GLC and the metropolitan councils are likely to be depleted. Inevitably people will leave to go to other work. Staff me likely to be under great pressure in continuing to maintain existing services. The proposals outlined in the legislation will increase the pressure and make it very difficult for the staffs off local authorities to co-operate with the Government, even if they wanted to.

I hope that the Government will support and accept the amendments. It is obvious that the clause unamended is an attempt by the Government to try to get the officers the councils that are to be abolished to do their dirty work for them in making the case that they have so far failed to make for the abolition of the councils. The involvement through legislation in this draconian manner of the officers of local authorities in the destruction of their own authorities over the heads of their employers and the destruction of their own jobs is like passing legislation to enforce people to become quislings. It is like making them into Judases without offering them the pieces of silver. This is the kind of legislation that the Government are putting forward.

This is an insult to the democratic local government tradition that has existed in this country for so long. It is an attack not just on Labour-controlled local authorities but on the democratic independence of local government officers and their right to be accountable only to the authorities that employ them.

Mr. Tracey

It falls to welcome the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) to his party's Front Bench. I must confess that I was slightly surprised to notice earlier that none of the recognised Opposition Front Bench spokesmen were here to listen to the most important arguments—or so Opposition Members tell us—that are being put forward. While I welcome the hon. Member for Bootle to the Front Bench, methinks he doth protest too much because I suspect that this group of amendments tabled by the Opposition is more of a red herring than a Serious proposal.

The information which local authorities have is public information; certainly it belongs to the member of the authority, but the officers work within an authority on behalf of those who are elected and on behalf of the members of the authority. The clause would probably have read just as well without the words "and its officers". Appropriate information will be essential to the Government, to the transitional authority and to the borough councils. In recent months there has been a sizeable attempt, particularly by the GLC of which I have special knowledge as a London Member, but no doubt by the metropolitan counties too, to balk the plans of the Government that are embodied in the Bill and will be included in the later Bill to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties.

This clause is one of the most important in the legislation. We have had lengthy debates about constitutional points which made headlines perhaps more because the speeches were made by eminent Members than because of the importance of the points. We are coming to the real meat of the Bill in this clause which deals with information and in later clauses about consultation in regard to the financial provisions for the year 1985–86.

When the transitional council and the borough councils are moving towards taking over the powers which were previously vested in the GLC and the metropolitan councils, they will need a great deal of information statistics and background about what is planned, contracts and so on. We heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) about apparently secret manoeuvres that have been going on between the GLC and the Greater London enterprise board about vital information which the transitional councils will need as they take over the powers.

In my view clause 7 is not strong enough. In the way it deals with the call for information it makes no attempt to prescribe the manner of the response to each request, either in terms of time or content. We should be trying to find ways to strengthen this clause in another place. There are no sanctions for non-compliance. That aspect should be examined in greater depth.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the hon. Member tell us why he is calling for greater sanctions now when the precedent for this, the legislation dealing with the transfer of local government functions from one body to another, had no such provision, and worked?

Mr. Tracey

I believe it is a weakness of the clause that there are no sanctions for non-compliance and no specific details about the manner of the response to requests for information. It will be vital that the information to be handed over by the GLC and the metropolitan councils should be as full as possible and there should be a time limit on the responses and specific guidance on their nature and content. The most important bodies seeking information will be the transitional councils. Should we not be making provision in the legislation to enable the interim councils to ask for information in advance of 1 April 1985?

When the Greater London council ends its life in 1985, the interim council could come into power and be short of real information, or else information would need to be co-ordinated through many sources, and that process would involve the Government and the borough councils that make up the interim council. Perhaps the council should have the power to command information in advance of 1 April 1985.

We are discussing amendments to a vital clause that is designed to ensure a businesslike handover of the government of London and of the metropolitan councils. It should be our aim to achieve the most efficient handover that is possible in all the circumstances.

8 pm

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I support the amendments. I do not believe that they represent a red herring in the argument, despite the assertions of the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey). The hon. Gentleman cannot say that the clause and the provisions that it includes get to what he calls the real meat of the Bill and that the clause is vital, and at the same time say that when the Opposition produce detailed arguments about the way in which the Government intend to operate the provisions in the clause they are laying red herrings to the central argument. Our arguments are important and they relate to a number of important points of principle, especially the principle of how and for whom local government officers and officials should be working.

The clause requires — the word is "shall" — local government officers to provide information which is required of them. The word "request" appears in the clause as well. Perhaps a more appropriate phrase would be "as required or demanded". The necessity of providing the information is a duty that is placed upon the officers of an existing directly elected local authority, and that is the nub of the argument.

An employee has a right to know who his employer is and for whom he is expected to be working. If someone else comes along waving a piece of legislation in his hand —he need not be the Secretary of State; it could be the representative of a borough council or another elected authority for whom the said employee is not working and by whom that person was not employed—and requires the employee to provide information, that requirement will undermine the relationship between employee and employer. That is a fundamental and crucial issue. It means that someone may be required to work for someone who is not his employer. The relationship between employee and employer, which is undermined by that simple fact, is an extremely important one and it is crucial that we realise precisely what the clause is doing and what the amendments seek to avoid.

There are other arguments. One was advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts), whom I must congratulate on an extremely fine debut on the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that it will be the first of many Front Bench contributions from my hon. Friend. He mentioned the traditional independence of council officers. In the past, they have been expected effectively to work for two groups. They receive instructions from political and elected councillors. Secondly, they operate within the framework of law which governs local government functions. If the Bill is enacted, they will be subject to a further requirement; the Government are seeking to require them to operate in accordance with the specific instructions of others apart from those who are in authority over them. That is very different from operating within the existing law and the principles of legislation that have been laid down by Parliament. The Government are seeking to authorise the Secretary of State, a borough councillor or anyone else who may be referred to in the clause, to direct the work of officers of another elected body.

It is surely only reasonable to ask the Secretary of State to consult bodies that represent council officers before taking action. Two of the amendments before us merely place on the Secretary of State a requirement to consult before taking action. Surely, in all reasonableness, the Secretary of State or a borough council, when taking such a drastic step as seeking to instruct and require actions from an officer of another local authority, should at the very least consult the bodies that represent that officer. That becomes even more important when we consider that the relationship between employer and employee is being undermined. The bodies that represent employees who are placed in that position, especially trade unions, should be consulted before the Secretary of State takes action.

It must be recognised that the clause is a recipe for unworkability. This was touched on by the hon. Member for Surbiton when he said that the clause contains no sanctions for non-compliance. He advanced that as an argument in support of the clause, but I would advance it as an argument for the amendments. There are no sanctions in the clause for non-compliance and it is inevitable that there will be clashes when different instructions are issued to the same officers. One council will instruct an officer not to provide information and the representatives of another borough council, waving legislation in their hand, will instruct the officer to provide the information. The poor old officer will be stuck in the middle, not knowing to whom he should respond.

It is relevant to recall the legal actions that took place between Bromley and the GLC. That recollection leads me to think that there may be mischievous actions by many borough councils in London under the terms of the clause. History should lead us to expect that there will be many such actions. If there are, pain and difficulty will be imposed on local government officers and much time will be wasted by those officers in deciding whether to follow instructions from their employers or to accede to the request which has been made of them. Ratepayers' money will be wasted and the confusion generated will be detrimental to the smooth running of local government, in which, supposedly, we should all be interested.

I hope that the Government will respond to our arguments, but I will be surprised if they do. Nevertheless, there is always hope that the one hundredth sheep that gets lost may be rescued. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are the 100 sheep?"] The sheep have a habit of appearing when the Division bell rings. Unfortunately, there are a lot of them and they all seem to follow just one person.

The clause unamended will undermine the status of employees in local authorities, the traditional impartiality of local government officers and the operation and working of local government, if information is requested in this way. The Government should accept at least those amendments that require them to consult representative bodies of the officers concerned before embarking on the foolish course which they seem to have followed in drafting the clause.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

The amendments before the Committee and clause 7 indicate the desperate position of the Government. I shall comment briefly on the principle underlying clause 7 before examining some details in relation to local authority officers.

In clause 7, the Government appear to be trying to force the pace of local government change because they have not had the courage to hold an impartial inquiry into the structure and financing of local government. This has meant that they have failed to achieve consensus and support.

My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), in a debate on earlier amendments, referred to the opinion poll that has taken place in west Yorkshire which showed that only 11 per cent. of those questioned wanted the powers of central Government to be increased, and only 19 per cent. favoured the option of joint boards towards which the Government are moving. In a recent west Yorkshire county council by-election, there was a swing to the Labour party as against 1981, which itself was a year of great popularity for the Labour party. This gave a clear indication that the people of west Yorkshire rejected the sort of proposals that the Government are putting forward. Because the Government have no consensus, and have not had the courage to come forward with an impartial inquiry, they are now forced to impose a duty on each local authority officer. This is the road of cowardice that any Government bankrupt in ideas will take. It imposes a duty on those who are least able to defend themselves.

I wish to put several specific questions to the Under-Secretary of State. First, who will define the relevant information? Will it be the district council, the Secretary of State, the about-to-be-abolished Greater London council, the metropolitan council or the officer? If there is a dispute, will it finish up in the law courts? If so, are the Government not bringing forward a set of proposals as a result of which the lawyers will do very well, but which will create chaos in the administration of local government?

Mr. Cohen

Would my hon. Friend not accept that, if many disputes go into the courts and take a long time to be resolved, and the information is not handed over, the Bill in effect will have a much longer life than the Government have hitherto stated?

Mr. Fatchett

My hon. Friend is correct. Although the legislation is entitled the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill, one has to recognise that there is no limit on the interim period.

The Committee has before it an abolishing Bill—an open-ended Bill. The Under-Secretary and his hon. Friends in the Conservative party may well decide to use the law courts as a means to delay bringing forward their proposals. The law courts will have to make a judgment on whether each local authority or local authority officer is correct in withholding information. While those issues are before the court, one can only conclude, as does my hon. Friend, that the Government cannot go ahead with proposals for replacing the metropolitan councils.

The second detailed question that I wish to put to the Under-Secretary is one about which the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) was very honest.

Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)

From his experience of local government, has the hon. Gentleman any recollection under current legislation of an occasion on which an officer of a district council has refused to furnish information to any Secretary of State?

8.15 pm
Mr. Fatchett

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman raises that point. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) met the point earlier when he said that the information provided by local authority officers at present is provided under the jurisdiction and authority of the elected members. That may well not exist in the circumstances envisaged in the Bill. Therefore, I think that the hon. Gentleman's example is not particularly relevant.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I apologise for pressing the point, but I am asking the hon. Gentleman whether he has had experience in past years of an occasion on which an officer of a district council, a county council, or any other authority for that matter, has ever refused to supply information to any Secretary of State.

Mr. Fatchett

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman may not yet have got round to reading the Bill. The hon. Gentleman seems not to realise that the Bill takes authority away from elected members, and places it in indirectly elected bodies. That is a unique set of circumstances in which the elected members may well feel that they do riot want to provide the Government with the necessary information. In those circumstances, there will be a substantial difference in that, in the past, local authority officers have always provided information to the Government with the authority of their elected members, which will not necessarily be the case in future. If the hon. Gentleman were to discuss the matter with his hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton, he would realise that my point is in essence the point that was made by the hon. Member for Surbiton. The hon. Member for Surbiton wanted to impose sanctions, because he realised that we were dealing with a new set of circumstances.

I refer next to the second point which I wish to put to the Under-Secretary of State. Indeed, the hon. Member for Surbiton spoke about sanctions in what I thought was an honest approach. He was not bothered about the details of local government, local government services or democracy. He was concerned only with getting rid of the GLC and the metropolitan counties. He said, in effect, "If anything like a democratic organisation stands in our way, let us bulldoze over it, let us impose sanctions on it, and get on with the business." We have observed that sort of approach to politics in other parts of the world. I suspect that this intolerance of democracy is well represented by the hon. Member for Surbiton, and is deeply rooted in the Conservative party.

If a local authority officer says that he is not prepared to provide the information, or that it is not relevant, and the casé goes to court where the court decides that the information should be supplied, and that the information is relevant, is it not possible for that local authority officer, continuing to act under die orders given to him by his elected members, and acting in accordance with his conscience, to be sent to prison for contempt of court? Is it possible that, for the first time in the history of local government, local officers will be in court for being loyal to their elected members and their consciences? There are sanctions — the hon. Member for Surbiton must be aware of that—although I have no doubt that, when he replies, the Under-Secretary will pretend that they do not exist.

Why do the Government feel it essential to impose such a duty on local government officers? Is it because it is easy to finger them, calling them bureaucrats, paid officials and people who are dependent in some way on them for their salaries? If not, why not simply leave the duty on individual local authorities? Perhaps the Government would rather not take that course because the GLC and the metropolitan counties comprise people who have been elected and who therefore have popular support. The Government do not want to no the risk of opposition from those who have been democratically elected, and hence they impose this intolerable duty on the paid officials of local government.

This is a clause of political cowardice and I fear that, when the Under-Secretary replies, he will prove to be a political coward, a Minister who is imposing on local government officers a duty to carry out die evil deeds of the Prime Minister, to whom he does not have the courage to stand up and say that this is unnecessary legislation.

Mr. O'Brien

I shall direct my remarks to amendments Nos. 64 and 103. As has been made clear, clause 7 places a duty on the GLC, the metropolitan county councils and their officers to supply information to the Secretary of State and the borough and district councils to facilitate this measure of abolition.

My hon. Friends have pointed out how difficult it will be to operate the clause. The GLC and metropolitan county councils have consistently said that any changes in the structure of local government should be preceded by a proper inquiry. They have pointed out that for at least 100 years, all such major changes have been preceded by such an inquiry and that it is established custom and practice, perhaps even a constitutional right, for an inquiry to be held.

Those issues ware dealt with on Second Reading even by some Conservative Members. Academics and local government commentators argue that, with such important issues at stake, the public have a right to the sort of impartial inquiry that has previously accompanied major changes of this kind. The Secretary of State has consistently maintained, however, that abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils would produce significant financial savings. That has been his only argument in justification of the proposal.

Amendment No. 64 recognises the legal position. The Court of Appeal, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) pointed out, has held that information, whether or not confidential, acquired by local authority officers in the course of their duties is the property of the authority and not of individual officers. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) made the position clear when he spoke of the Court of Appeal's decision in these matters.

How that information is to be treated and to whom it is to be made available is for the authority alone to decide, and by proposing to place a duty on officers to furnish information which belongs to their employers, the Bill seeks to interfere not only with the normal considerations of confidentiality but with the proper relationship between employer and employee. That can only have the effect of upsetting to an unacceptable degree the trust which must exist between the authority and its officers.

A similar provision exists in section 23(5) of the Housing Act 1980. That provision is generally regarded as unsatisfactory and has been the subject of reference to various courts. It is widely expected that its repeal will be sought in the Housing and Building Control Bill which is now before the other place.

If the Government are determined to proceed with clause 7, they should place the responsibility on authorities and not seek to create intolerable conflicts of duty for local government officers.

Amendment No. 103 would set a reasonable limit on the open-ended requirements of subsections (2) and (3) which, as drafted, place no restriction on the number or level of officers who can be required to furnish information. In tie run-up to the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils and the transfer of their functions to the London boroughs or metropolitan districts, joint boards and other bodies, it is likely that the staffs of the GLC and metropolitan county councils will be depleted and put under great pressure. It will be important, therefore, that requests for information are properly controlled to avoid multiple approaches from different departments and authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle spoke of the morale of staff in the present situation. It is low because there is so much uncertainty about their future, about their pension rights and about the general effect of this legislation on them. Other hon. Members will have received the same volume of letters from employees and ratepayers in the areas of the counties asking us to fight the abolition. The Secretary of State's stereotyped reply to such letters has proved totally unsatisfactory to all concerned.

The proposal is that the risk of duplicating administrative chaos should be minimised by requiring all requests for information to be channelled through the officers of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. The Local Government Act 1972—the principal Act—requires certain officers to be designated as proper officers for particular functions. The amendments take advantage of the provisions to identify the proper officers as the appropriate people to whom requests for information related to their functions should be channeled. The duty in clause 7 is not limited to the provision of information to give effect to the abolition, but goes further in requiring the giving of information to help formulate proposals for the abolition.

There are proposals to lay the duty to provide information not only on the councils but on each and every one of their officers.

8.30 pm
Mr. Brandon-Bravo

My experience is that no one writes to anyone other than a chief officer. I have been a little confused during the past two or three minutes, because I have never known either the public or the Secretary of State to write to a district council or any county council, only to the chief officer of the department. Where is the problem?

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Brandon-Bravo

It is not nonsense. It happens to be true.

Mr. O'Brien

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman has no knowledge of local government.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I am still in it.

Mr. O'Brien

That does not mean that the hon. Gentleman has any knowledge of local government. His comments lead me to believe that he has a limited knowledge of local government, even though he is still a serving member.

Mr. Freud

Does my hon. Friend not accept that a competent Member of Parliament would go to the right department of local government rather than take the easy way out and write to the chief executive?

Mr. O'Brien

I accept my hon. Friend's point. The amendment says that there should be appropriate officers, but the Bill does not say that. That matter should be corrected. That is why I chose to discuss amendment No. 103, which I believe is reasonable and could be accepted without demur.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I said "chief officer", not the chief executive. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) missed my point.

Mr. O'Brien

The records will show that I was under the impression that you had referred to the chief executive.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. John Wells)

Order. I have not said anything.

Mr. O'Brien

I take that back. Obviously, Mr. Wells, you have not said anything. I was referring to the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo). We welcome you, Mr. Wells, to the Chair, and I am sure that you will keep us in order, as you have done on other occasions.

Clause 7 makes sweeping provisions in relation to staff and completely ignores any practical considerations about who will have information. The clause rides roughshod over the duty that every employee has to his employer. The measure overlooks the fact that in law information is the property of the employer and it is not for the employee to give that information.

As was pointed out on Second Reading, the staff of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils are required to co-operate in the possible extinction of their jobs. We are asking staff of the counties to give information with a view to abolishing their jobs. Anyone who believes that the officers will act readily to abolish their jobs is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.

The Government have claimed that they need these powers urgently because of the short time available in which to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. The Government are setting the timetable, and they have the power to change it. If the Government feel that there will be some problems—I am sure that the Opposition have proved that there will be problems—it is now time to change that timetable. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will explain why the measures should come into effect in 1984–85. Why is the timetable so tight? Why is it so urgent to pass on the information? The Government should not use the limited time they have made available as an excuse for demanding the provisions contained in clause 7 before the substantive measures have been debated and taken on board.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) referred to the survey carried out in west Yorkshire, to which a great deal of importance should be attached. I have referred to the number of letters that I received and which I am sure other hon. Members received also. On 7 April 1984, a survey was carried out in west Yorkshire by the students of the Leeds polytechnic. The survey stated: During the last General Election each of the major parties advocated a reform of local government. Which of the following would you favour?

  1. (a) an increase in the powers of local government or
  2. (b) things as they are or
  3. (c) an increase in the powers of central government."
Only 11 per cent. of the sample wanted the power; of central Government to be strengthened. I am a west Yorkshire representative, and the message from west Yorkshire is that 55 per cent. of the people interviewed wanted an increase in local government powers.

Mr. Fatchett

One of the arguments that we have heard many times from Ministers is that they have a mandate to abolish the metropolitan county councils. They do not, of course, have a mandate to abolish the 1985 elections.

My hon. Friend will have noticed that only 7.6 per cent. of the electorate, when asked on the same public opinion survey to write down the important issues, identified local government as an important issue. Does that show a lack of support by the people of west Yorkshire for these reforms or show that they never believed the Prime Minister when she said that she would abolish rates?

Mr. O'Brien

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. Members representing west Yorkshire constituencies are aware of the feelings of the electorate. At no time did the abolition of the county councils play a major part in the results of the last general election. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will take that point on board, because the people of west Yorkshire believe that that is an important factor. The amendments are necessary to correct this part of the legislation, and I hope that the Secretary of State will take my points on board.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I hope that, although only a few other Conservative Members are listening, the Under-Secretary will take on board the fact that there are severe defects in the clause, at all levels.

I refer in particular to amendments Nos. 64 and 65, tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends, to leave out the simple words "and its officers". If carried, the Secretary of State, the London borough councils, the common council of the City of London, or the metropolitan district councils could request information only from the Greater London council and metropolitan county councils, not from their officers. Therefore, the request goes through the constitutional channels, from one authority of the land, the Secretary of State, who is a member of the Government, or from one elected body, a borough or district council, to another elected body.

If the amendment is not passed, we would have a clause saying that the Secretary of State, any of his employees or those who work in his office should be able to demand information from the Greater London council and its officers. I should like to know whether each request will be specific and from the Secretary of State himself, or whether the authority will be delegated. If so, why is that not provided for in the clause?

Secondly, how many officers are there in the Greater London council and the metropolitan county councils? Unless we know, we cannot properly debate the matter and come to a conclusion. How does the Secretary of State define "officers"? Where is the definition? Is it in existing or secondary legislation? Alternatively, will the definition be plucked like a rabbit out of a hat when the Under-Secretary replies? I want the figures. I should like to know how many officers we are talking about. They need to know today, and not later.

The other constitutional point relates to the amazing lack of precedent for the provision. The hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) referred to this matter. There has been one substantial difference from the time when local government was last reformed in that we had a public debate with the Royal Commission and a general airing of the issues then. Instead of the Government acting stealthily and furtively, we had a public national debate, when good arguments had the chance of winning the day. When one does not allow the arguments to be aired, people are less likely to be persuaded of their validity.

I should like to know what the difference is now that makes it necessary to have this provision at all. Either the hon. Member for Surbiton is correct and one needs a provision such as this, with compulsion and the powers to enforce if those requested do not come up with the information, or one does what one did last time, when the authorities were allowed to communicate with each other. If they did not come up with the information, one had to live with that, and it was accumulated in the following year. When local government was reformed in London under the Local Government Act 1963 and the Local Government Act 1972, there was no parallel provision. Why do we need it now, when we did not have it before?

The second major and substantial objection is on the grounds of practicality. Our amendments would at least have the merit, if requests were made to the authorities as opposed to their officers, of making sure that requests for information were rationalised. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary the following questions.

Mr. Derek Fatchett

This man should have a suit on.

8.45 pm
Mr. Hughes

I almost did not hear that comment.

Why can requests for information be made in this amazingly unco-ordinated way, while the Secretary of State, who argues that the provision is in the interests of efficiency, says that this is the best way of doing it? What way is there of making sure that officers' time is not duplicated by answering the same questions from all the district or borough councils and the Secretary of State at different times, and possibly, in different ways? What is the guidance to officers on the way in which they should answer the questions? Do they have to give every possible piece of information relating to the question, or only the bare essentials? There is no guidance or detailed provision on what they are required to do.

Thirdly, how will the replies be standardised so that the information is provided in the way required and is intelligible to all concerned? Requests will be flooding on to officers' desks day after day, hour after hour, week after week, and month after month. How on earth will they do the rest of their job — the job that they were doing yesterday, are doing today and will do tomorrow? They have a practical job that they are already employed to do. and the Secretary of State is charging them with enormous additional tasks and functions. He, the great reliever of bureaucracy, the person meant to be taking government of our backs, is adding to the burden of those employed local authorities up and down the land.

A fundamental constitutional objection is that if one deals with officers, one is showing a basic disrespect for the constitution, to which people have referred regularly, under which one deals with the authorities elected for the purpose, not those employed by those authorities. If one trespasses beyond that constitutional threshold, what happens if the officers say no? Will they be taken to court? Will my borough treasurer be taken to court if he says no, or will the council be taken to court? The council will not have had the chance to make a decision whether to refuse the document. Certain officers might have different views. There might be no clear guidelines in the local authority. The information might be sought by next week, when the full council does not meet for two months or six weeks. What is the constitutional position of the officer when asked for the information? Officers are normally called on to serve not two masters, but one—their authority. That has been the tradition, and it should be continued.

Do the Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State not realise that we are talking about 1985–86? That is the year in which the councils will give the officers an enormous amount of work to do, to tidy up various matters. Local borough councils and district councils will be coming to their last year of office, and preparing their goods in the window so that they look appealing when they come before the electorate. The officers will also be involved in planning in the transitional period, when the GLC and the metropolitan counties will be run by new members, people who have not run those authorities before. Those people will say, "What on earth am I meant to do? I have no experience." I think that I am right in saying that, of the present 92 members of the GLC, only eight will be eligible for membership in 1985–86. I presume that the same will be true in the metropolitan counties. Therefore, the officers will have a particularly onerous year, trying to instruct members who are new to the job. That is the second task with which they will be charged.

Thirdly, there is a proposal to reduce the number of members, so that there will be changes in committee structure. The officers will work in a different administrative context. Fourthly, they will have their own future to think about. The director general of the GLC or the chief executive of west Yorkshire might want another job when the councils are abolished. If they do, will they not spend some time looking for another job? Is that not reasonable and proper? Will the Government guarantee that they can spend 24 or 18 hours a day answering the innumerable requests from the Secretary of State who, it would appear, will for ever want more information? It is a waste of officers' time. They will already be busy enough.

The provision is without precedent and is unnecessary. It is unnecessary for this fundamental reason. The Secretary of State wants the information. He has already had hundreds of documents, but refuses to release them. He wants to put into the bowels of Marsham street—for the gentleman and ladies who advise him and their colleagues to look at—hundreds of documents, facts and figures, without the public having the chance to know what is going on. At least, if one asks a council formally for information, it is likely that there will be a public meeting and it will be discussed. Something might appear in the minutes and in the records. However, letters between the Secretary of State and his officials are hardly likely to be published in documents.

We want to know what our elected representatives are doing. We believe in free information. We resent bureaucratic secrecy and we oppose these measures, unless the Under-Secretary will give an undertaking that any document will be available to the public, because if it is not it is secrecy, and if it is secrecy, we do not like it.

It is not as if there is not a lot of information anyway. There are already lots of documents submitted to the Secretary of State that are full of facts and figures, but are not relevant enough to be published by him. Perhaps their relevance is so apparent to the public that if they were published the argument might have to be conceded. There is much other information as well. I shall take the time of the Committee to make it clear how much information is available already. What else do the Government want? We need to know. It is no good coming here saying that the GLC, the MCCs and their officers have to furnish the state with all such information on official request. There is no limit, such as that all such information should be relevant. Therefore, we have to ask whether the Government do not already have enough such information. They already have a massive amount.

In 1979, the local authority associations drew up a list of financial returns of various sorts, made by local authorities to various central Government Departments. I could and I am half-minded to, read it all out. There are 16 pages of it, and I shall read out a few of those pages to give the Committee an idea of what information is available. It says: Govt Dept Agency: DOE; Form reference: VE50; title & brief description: motor tax — agency reimbursement; frequency: annual; why required; reimbursement claim". The second is: DOE; form reference: J.P. Grant"— that is not the name of a person, it is supposed to be a document— Brief Description; Administration of Justice Grant; Frequency: Annual; Why required: Grant Claim". The third is: Manpower Services Commission; Form Reference: WEP; Title & Brief Description: Work Experience; Frequency: Quarterly; Why Required: Grant Claim". The fourth is: DOE Community Land—Sanction Estimates; Frequency: Annual". The fifth is: DOE; Community Land—Actual Transactions". The sixth is: DOE. Form Reference 12523; Return of rates, interest payments and receipts; Quarterly". The seventh is: DOE Form Reference: 12507 Capital Payments Return and Annexe for Housing; Quarterly". The eighth is: DOE. Statement of LDS Payments"— no doubt the Under-Secretary will tell us what LDS stands for— Annual; Determination of Allocation based on actuals.

Mr. Freud

Could my hon. Friend tell us when he gets to the bottom of page 1 so that we can pace ourselves?

Mr. Hughes

Always mindful of the needs of others, I was intending to turn over very loudly so that hon. Members could see when I came to the bottom of page 1. We come to the ninth—

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

Come on, Simon.

Mr. Hughes

This is very relevant.

It says: DOE. Statutory Financial Statement for Audit Fee: Annual". The tenth starts "CSO", and I would like to know what CSO is.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way if the Under-Secretary should want to intervene now to tell us what these crucial documents mean, because I am not certain that the Secretary of State understands them?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) may think that he is being very clever with his rather schoolboyish speech. CSO stands for the Central Statistical Office, and that is to do with the collection of Government statistics. All the other information that the hon. Gentleman has read out is to do with grants. Perhaps we could reimburse local government by doing it all on the telephone, but his speech is rather childish.

Mr. Hughes

I want to know what else the Secretary of State and his Ministers need. Not only are there 16 pages worth provided regularly, but there is more. Unless I get an adequate answer, at a later stage I shall return to this document, and the Committee can share with me the delights of the other pages. There are other things already available. There are other regular statistical returns made by local authorities about the performance of their functions, for example about their manpower.

Mr. Boyes

Come back.

Mr. Hughes

I have to observe, because otherwise it would not be apparent from Hansard, that the Secretary of State is creeping away to his tents. I think that is a biblical reference, but do not ask me for the quote.

The joint manpower watch is published quarterly, and that deals with figures. Housing returns are published quarterly. Planning information is published quarterly. That even deals with planning applications that are the subject of decisions not only by the GLC and the MCCs but by the local authorities.

There are specific powers in many Acts of Parliament by which information is already obtained, and some have already been referred to, such as the Housing Act, to which the hon. Members for Bootle (Mr. Roberts I and for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) and others have referred. Section 10 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 empowers the Secretary of State to request statistics from local authorities about their holding of land. There is a vast amount—hon. Members will know how vast it is—of information about local authority activity published by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. These returns come annually, they are in book form, they are full of statistics and include actual figures, estimates, and among other things include waste management, housing, planning and development, police, fire services and highway transportation.

In addition, under sections 2 and 3 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, local authorities are required to publish information about the exercise of their functions, in accordance with codes of practice, laid down by the Secretary of State, that may be given the power of regulations. What is more — this shows the shallowness and the duplicity of the argument used by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe)—there are documents produced by the authorities themselves that come up with facts and figures. For example, there is an annual abstract of Greater London statistics, there is an annual abstract of statistics of the West Midlands county council. There is a Greater Manchester annual report of tax figures and finance and the south Yorkshire statistics, the GLC annual report, road safety section and the GLC study series and statistical series.

That information is already in the hands of our bureaucrats and the Department of the Environment. They probably do quite a good job with it—but, without good reason, we do not want them to have more. We certainly do not want the Government to have more information and more power without the rest of us knowing what is going on. We shall not allow the Secretary of State to get away with an answer that does not deal with the specifics. Unless we have the specifics, we shall continue to annoy the Government until they are eventually forced to come up with all the information. They will then be disproved in their assertion that this futile and badly presented exercise will cost less. Because of the way in which they are doing it, they are determined to make it cost more. For that reason, as well as all the constitutional, practical and important civil libertarian issues, we shall oppose the measure.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

While accepting that the mass of information currently goes from first and second-tier authorities to the Secretary of State, is not what the hon. Gentleman has just said proof positive that one tier should be abolished?

9 pm

Mr. Hughes

I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman does not yet understand what we are doing. There is a transfer of function from one level of authority to other levels. Direct boards are not the same level as the local boroughs and districts. The Government intend to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties, although six years ago they argued the opposite case. They have changed their minds because of the different political colour of the GLC. They are abolishing one tier not in the shire counties, but selectively in London and the metropolitan counties.

Mr. Peter Lilley (St. Albans)

It was in the manifesto.

Mr. Hughes

The abolition of elections was not in the manifesto, as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister well knows. Had it been in the manifesto, the Government might not have had so many people disproportionately elected.

If the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) believes that, having taken information and power away from elected people and put it into the hands of bureaucrats and the central state is a Conservative measure, we have all learnt from the wrong history books. We have always understood that the Conservative party proclaimed the unshackling from the burdens of the state. The Minister called his book "The Binding of Leviathan", and said how we must reduce state power. He has heard the argument; he knows the truth.

We want proper answers to a series of fundamental questions. It is ludicrous for the Government to imagine that they can steamroller the Bill through the House without answering the questions, and get away with it.

Mr. Boyes

During Second Reading and in Committee we established a number of points. The metropolitan county councils and the GLC are wholly opposed to abolition, especially without any inquiry. A number of leading figures on the Conservative Benches, including a former Prime Minister and former Cabinet Ministers, are also against the Bill. It is quite clear that all Opposition Members are unequivocally opposed to every word in the Bill.

The people who work within the metropolitan county councils have made their position clear. We should not expect any worker to be in favour of any clause that says of the councils: its officers shall furnish the Secretary of State…with all such information…as the Secretary of State…may request. The unwritten words in the Bill, which should have been included to complete that sentence, should be "with or without the permission of the local authority." Those are the critical words. The clause is not only an outrage and a disgrace, it is undemocratic.

The Bill is a direct attack on trade union rights. During the past 10 or 11 weeks much has been said about ballots—yet NALGO, the main union for officers of councils, conducted a ballot of its members on their attitude to the abolition of the county councils. The members were also asked whether they should co-operate with the Government in achieving their demands and desires. Overwhelmingly, the result of the ballot was that the members should not co-operate with the Government.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I have been following my hon. Friend's speech with care. The clause refers to the officers of the council, but it is not specific about who can be termed as officer and whether or not every employee of the council from the chief officer to the lowest-paid manual workers will be directly affected by the clause and will be under the direct control of the Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend has much experience of local government. He was an assistant director of social services. I hope that he can advise us about this point, which is causing a great deal of concern to members of my union, the National Union of Public Employees, and no doubt other unions who have members in local government.

Mr. Boyes

I shall refer shortly to my own position as a senior officer in local government. I shall say how I regarded my position at that time and what difficulties the clause would have created for me.

The Government are creating anti-trade union legislation in an ad hoc way. If the Government wish to deprive union members of certain specific trade union rights in local government or some other work place—it may be the miners next—they can bring in a Bill on a matter apparently unrelated to trade unions and slip in a key clause that directly attacks those members and their rights. They have done it before. Other groups of workers must be vigilant about the possibility that it will happen to them.

It is arrogant of the Government to think that they can get away with it so easily. I am not alone in taking this view. I am thinking of the words of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym), a former Foreign Secretary, on Second Reading. He said: The Bill blandly assumes that parliament will agree to whatever new proposals the Government bring forward. perhaps it will, but the presumption is hardly treating the House with the respect to which it is accastomed. That is especially important with a large majority."—[Offcial Report, 11 April 1984; vol. 58, c. 433]

A number of my hon. Friends have appealed to the Government to listen carefully to out arguments, particularly with reference to the difficulties that will be caused to the officers of a council by the clause. I hope that the Government will accept our amendment.

It is highly arrogant of the Government to expect a trade unionist to abolish his own job, but that is what the clause seeks. Those who work in the councils and whose jobs will last for only another 11 months are to be asked to work hand in hand with the Government during that time to abolish their own jobs. That is not only crazy; it is undemocratic and smells of dictatorship.

Mr. Trarey

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there should be a state of anarchy? Does he not accept that local government officers are public servants and that if they are asked by Government or by the interim councils to hand over information, they must do so? Does he follow the line put forward by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) that those officers should adopt a Clay Cross stance and refuse to give the imformation—that they should, in effect, break the law?

Mr. Boyes

The hon Gentleman should not trivialise important functions in that way. Those of us who have worked in local authorities were proud to be public servants and recognised to whom we were answerable. We were not answerable to the steward or landlord of a local pub but had defined political masters.

Trade union were formed with a specific duty to protect their members. Clause 7 tries to deprive trade unions of their right and ability to protect the jobs and working condition of their members. That is unacceptable. Above all, clause 7 gives the Secretary of State power to take action against an individual for whom he is not directly responsible. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) mentioned the legal implications of that. How the Government intend to treat such individuals is envisaged though not explicitly stated in this brief little Bill that means so much but says so little. The infamous memo of MISC 95 which was leaked to The Guardian and which I quote regularly because it says more about the Government's intentions than does the Bill, says: and to counter obstruction if necessary, is included in the legislative programme for the current session. MISC 95 agrees that we should avoid any statement in the immediate future about our determination to combat obstructive behaviour, since that night itself provoke obstruction. We would need to be ready to act quickly, however, if such behaviour began to occur". As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said, the Secretary of State can act only through the courts. It is clear that the mechanisms to deal with an officer who does not comply with clause 7 have already been laid down. It is disgraceful that the Secretary of State should take an individual, outside his local authority and outside his trade union, to court for not providing information that the Secretary of State demands of him.

I should like to lean on my own experience for a moment. Before 1979, when I became a Member of the European Parliament, I was an assistant director of social services. I therefore had access to and generated confidential information. Was that information my property to do with as I wished? [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I suggest to the Minister that it would be extremely dangerous to suggest that those who work in such a department can do what they will with confidential information on families that they obtain in their daily work. Therefore, if the answer to my earlier question is no, to whom was I answerable and responsible? In a Court of Appeal decision involving the city of Birmingham, Lord Donaldson said: As I have already said, all relevant information acquired by a local authority"s social Worker in the course of their duties, whether or not it be confidential, is acquired on behalf of the local authority, and becomes the local authority's information". It is therefore clear that the information belongs to the local authority and not to any of its officers. It is for the local authority alone to decide to whom it is to be made available. The statement by Lord Donaldson did not say that it was for the Secretary of State, the Speaker of the House of Commons, hon. Members or anyone else to decide. It said that the information was the property of the local authority. That affords vital protection for the officer as well as for those whom he is trying to help, and—

9.15 pm
Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)


Mr. Boyes

I always give way, but I do not usually do so until I have at least come to a comma, colon or full stop.

Mrs. Currie

I am not in any position to know when the hon. Gentleman is about to come to a comma. It looked as though he was going to go on for ever. As the chariman of the social services committee involved in that case, I remind the hon. Gentleman that it revolved round an officer of the council withholding information. the whole problem. The officer was refusing to give information, and the case had to go to court to prove that the officer had to give it. The clause, therefore, entirety supports the case that the hon Gentleman is trying; to make.

Mr. Boyes

The hon. Lady is wrong. Load Donaldson clarified the position about whose property was the information acquired by an officer. It does not matter whether the officer was withholding it, or what he was doing. Land Donaldson has made it clear that such information was the property of the local authority. I remind the hon. Lady that almost every other hon. Member has been in the Chamber since 4.30 pm. I believe that she has been here for about five minutes, and that shows how much interest she has in the debate.

When I was an officer I understood not only form court rulings but as a matter of integrity that I could not act without the direct and express permission of locally elected representatives. Many hon. Members have served on local authorities and I know what they would say if they read in the press about information that I had given to the media before I, as a senior officer, had given at to the council. They would say, "We are the elected representatives, and we want the information first. Don't you do that again." They would thus establish quite clearly whose information it was.

In that respect, the officer is placed in a catch-22 situation. If he disobeys his local authority, he is disobeying those who pay his wages. They have the power to dismiss him for acting unprofessionally, or whatever. Thus, he is either being asked to disobey elected local authority representatives and so risk the sack, or to disobey the Secretary of State and end up in court with a massive and costly legal action being brought against him.

I believe that the Minister is more intelligent and sensible than that and must realise the onerous and silly position that he has created for an officer of the council. I would find such a situation impossible, but it is not me, but thousands of officers throughout the country who are being put in that position. I do not refer only to those working in the authorities that are to abolished. Through the Bill, the Minister is redefining the power to demand information of any officer of any local authority. He is now saying that a couple of clauses in a Bill will determine that an officer has to give the Secretary of State for the Environment—although in other cases it could be the Secretary of State for Social Services, or the Secretary of State for Education and Science—access to information.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred to officers giving information. When I was a local authority officer I gave masses of information to central Government. Sometimes we used to think that it was too much. The hon. Gentleman has threatened to read out the tables later if necessary—perhaps at about 6 am. Those tables will show why we sometimes felt that central Government demanded so much information from us that we could not always get on with the job that we were paid to do. Social service departments suffered especially as all units were continuously feeding central Government with information.

When the Government are already getting all that information, there must be something devious going on if they now want even more information. The information that they want must relate only to the abolition of local authorities, as is their policy and intention.

Therefore, I have no alternative theoretically, as a trade unionist or as a former local authority officer and councillor but wholeheartedly to oppose the Government's proposals. I hope that the amendment will be accepted.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

This is the coercion clause. In my view, it should be scrapped, but at the very least it must be amended. The Government need the clause because they have failed to carry out the proper inquiries and analysis before introducing the Bill. Because they have not done their homework, they are less informed than they should be.

The clause places a duty on the authorities which are to be abolished and on their staff to furnish information to the Secretary of State and to the transferee authorities—the London boroughs, the metropolitan districts, the City of London and all the other quangos. The Government are in no position to talk about lack of co-operation by local authority officers. The whole run-up period to the Bill has been a chapter of lack of co-operation by the Government in providing information about the Bill to those seeking it. The Government refused to co-operate with the financial study undertaken by Coopers and Lybrand. They backed out of that when the first stage was completed and they saw that the study was going against them. They also refused to give information to Members of Parliament about the consultation process, so they are in no position to criticise local authority officers and others for not providing information.

The clause will cause duplication because the Government are forcing both local authorities and staff to provide the information. The clause as it stands amounts to coercion of staff and will undermine the relationship between employee and employer. In effect, the employee will have two employers—the local authority for which he works, plus the Secretary of State and the transferee authority. That is an invidious position for any officer to be in.

Mr. Fatchett

Is my hon. Friend sure that the unfortunate officer will have only two employers? Surely there will be a multitude of employers, not just the council by which the officer is now employed and the Secretary of State but the metropolitan district councils or London boroughs as well as the other joint bodies that the Government have so far refused to define. Are not all those bodies potential employers?

Mr. Cohen

Yes, I confirm that. As we heard earlier, the courts will also be making demands on officers to furnish information. All this puts the employee in a particularly invidious position.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

When we last debated the matter, the Under-Secretary showed a worrying lack of understanding about the authority that the staff commission would have. Will my hon. Friend give some comfort to local authority employees who feel frightened that they may have two employers telling them what to do, a staff commission that is open to direction from the Secretary of State and no clear employer whom they can take to an appellate body such as an industrial tribunal? Is it not incumbent on the Minister to set the minds of those employees at rest tonight, and inform them who their employer will be and whom they can take action against in the event of a disagreement?

Mr. Cohen

My hon. Friend makes some good points. He raised them on Thursday 10 May when we debated the clause relating to the staff commission. I shall return to those points later.

At times the format or contents of the information required may be ambiguous or controversial, and the employee and employer may disagree about how they should be presented.

In those circumstances the employee will be forced to act against the wishes of his boss and provide that disputed information. That could have serious consequences; indeed, it could destroy their working relationship.

Mr. Tony Banks

My hon. Friend speaks with great authority as a former local councillor. Will he tell the House what his attitude would be as a serving local councillor if one of his officials were intent on giving information to the Department of the Environment or another body, which he, as an elected member and therefore the officer's employer, did not wish him to provide?

Mr. Cohen

I should be worried. The information is the property of the employer. I should be worried if a chief officer handed over information which belonged to me as his employer, and one of several councillors.

Mr. Fatchett

Does my hon. Friend recognise the potential danger of creating a legal precedent? An individual could be sacked by a local authority for providing information and disobeying a local authority's orders, and, because of this legislation, be found by an industrial tribunal to have been unfairly dismissed. In other words, the legislation could create a precedent whereby an employer who sacked an employee for disobeying orders could go before an industrial tribunal and find that the dismissal had been unfair. If that precedent were set, could it be extended to other circumstances in which employers wished to take similar action?

Mr. Cohen

Such a precedent would be a recipe for chaos.

The information does not belong to the employee, but to the employer who, in this instance, is the local authority. What would the Secretary of State and the few Conservative Members who are present think if the provisions of clause 7 applied to private business, and if the employees of a small private firm were forced to hand over information to the Secretary of State? They would be upset if employees had the legal duty to do that behind the backs of their bosses. There would be an uproar. The Under-Secretary would move quickly to scrap the clause.

What would happen if the clause applied to the Civil Service? Miss Sarah Tisdall handed over information behind her employer's back and she got six months. That is what the Government are encouraging local authority employees to do. The Government are putting then in an invidious position.

9.30 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) made it clear that NALGO opposes the clause. It is an important local government union. I have a letter that the union has written to Members of Parliament. It believes that the obligation to provide information should be placed solely upon the local authority and not upon the employees. If it is the responsibility of the local authority to give information to the Secretary of State, it has the power to ensure that its employees carry out its instructions. That is the sensible way to deal with the matter.

It is at present lawful to take industrial action to protect jobs and working conditions, but it becomes illegal under the clause. There are 9,000 jobs threatened. Trade union rights are further restricted by the clause, which should be rejected on those grounds.

The Minister should address his mind to the question of which employer—if there is an industrial dispute and the trade unions come out on strike—the trade unions will be able to picket under this Bill and under trade union legislation. Under trade union legislation, they are supposed to be able to picket their employers but only their employers. If the Bill is passed, it will be pointless to picket the GLC or the metropolitan county councils because they will be powerless. Should the unions picket the staff commission that the Secretary of State will set up? He said that the staff commission was an adviser, although later he said that it would protect the interests of employees. Trade unions will lose their rights in a legitimate trade dispute. The Bill is nonsense and a disgusting infringement of trade union rights could result.

Who will be doing the sacking of staff if the Bill goes through? When we discussed the staff commission the Minister said: we do seek savings of manpower by the change. However the Staff Commission is not the instrument through that objective can be met. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said: will its priority"— the staff commission's— be the protection of the existing levels of payment and conditions of service? The Minister said: No, I cannot guarantee that. Later the Minister was asked by my hon. Friend: Who will be the employers? The Minister replied: The employers will be the employers. There is the cream of the British public education system. He continued: The staff commission will not be an employer but an adviser and persuader"— "persuader" is the right word— which will see that the reasonable interests of the staff are safeguarded.

My hon. Friend then asked if the employment would be continuous if the staff went from the GLC or the metropolitan counties to the quango. The Minister replied: That is exactly the type of issue on which the commission will advise us".—[Official Report, 10 May 1984; Vol. 59, c. 1164, 1166.] The Minister was saying apparently that the staff would not have continuous employment. He did not give that undertaking. In effect it is the commission which will be doing the sacking; if people are not taken on by the new authority and have not been sacked by the old authority, it is the staff commission that will throw them out of their jobs. The Minister should come clean on that point.

Trade unionists will resist all aspects of the Bill. They will not take lying down the loss of 9,000 jobs. They will fight against that and take industrial action to stop it. They will not give information to put themselves out of jobs, which is effectively what the clause will do. In job terms the clause is about the staff digging their own graves. They will not do that without a fight. They will take justifiable industrial action which the trade union legislation will make political. The industrial action and the chaos that result will be the Government's fault.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

It is surprising that with you in the Chair, Mr. Wells, we are discussing the responsibilities of officers in connection with the changes that are to take place in local authorities. We shall not be discussing horticulture or such things. I wish to draw an analogy between changes in the National Health Service and the way in which this disastrous clause in this dog's dinner of a Bill is destroying long-term relationships that have been built up between officials and elected representatives over decades.

I have no interest to declare although I am a member of the National Union of Public Employees. The Government have made a complete mess of the clause. My hon. Friends and I are trying to dig them out of the mess by putting forward amendments to prevent confrontation. It always amazes me that the Government do not take advantage of amendments facilitate what they obviously want to do.

When I first became a Member of Parliament I had a good colleague on the Front Bench called Aneurin Bevan. When I saw the Bill, and in particular this clause and the series of amendments, one of his speeches came to my mind. In the course of that speech he said that he did not need to look at the crystal ball when he could read the book.

This gerrymandering Bill will probably go into the "Guinness Book of Records" as the instrument that produced the greatest gerrymander of the century. As you know, Mr. Wells, I have served on almost every major standing committee for the past 25 years and it was inevitable that I should be a member of the committee that considered the Bill that introduced the Greater London council. That measure altered completely the structure of London Government.

The right hon. Member for leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), who is currently the Secretary of State for Education and Science, is a great reformer. He has given us, for example, the National Health Service Reorganisation Act 1973 and the Local Government Act 1972. I am reminded of catullus, who was a Roman consul about 2,000 years ago. He found that when relationships began to settle down with a new organizations someone came along and reorganized it, and that one could never be quite sure in which direction relationships were moving. We are still in that position.

Relationships with the GLC having settled down after about 20 years, change is now proposed. We found a way of ensuring that elected local government representatives could live successfully with those who had been appointed to serve as local government officers. The relationship between Members of this place and the Clerks of the House has developed over many years and it ensures that progress can be made.

This series of amendments is an attempt to change the clause so as to ensure that existing relationships can be better preserved and so that informations coming from council officials can be safeguarded. It is an attempt to ensure that Big Brother does not make the decisions from Whitehall.

The London Government Act 1963 was clearly designed to get rid of the London county council, which had been a Labour strongbold for decades. That attempt was successful. The LCC was very much associated with one of my late colleagues, Herbert Morrison. Conservative-controlled areas such as Bromley and Romford, and the famous constituency which is now held by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Wanstead and Woodford, which was once held briefly by Sir Winston Churchill, were brought within the area of London government to ensure that there would not be Labour-controlled GLC. In Brent there were four Labour constituencies and a relationship with local government officers was naturally built up over the years. In Willesden we had two Labour-controlled constituencies and in wembley there were two Conservative-controlled constituecies. When the boundaries were redrawn—

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman and I find it difficult to understand how his speech about boundaries has anything to do with the amendments.

Mr. Pavitt

I was waiting for you to cal me to order, Mr. Wells, on that issue. I realized that I was straying slightly from the amendments. I was referring to the gerrymandering that went on—

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I have told the hon. Gentleman that that line of argument is unacceptable, and it is still unacceptable.

Mr. Pavitt

The relationship between the officers of Labour-controlled Willesden and Conservative-controlled Wembley suffered a good deal of stress, from which it took some time to recover. The clause creates a similar problem, with the exception that nobody will be sure to whom the information is relevant. It will come back not to an elected representative assembley, but to an appointed assembly of which Government may have control, but of which Parliament will have little control.

9.45 pm

Referring to the points that have been made by my hon. Friends in the debate, I draw to the attention of the Committe the amount of information on racial problems that is give to the new quango in my constituency by officers. Ethnic minorities make up 46 per cent. of my constituency. In my area, a racial integration year was launched at the town hall last week. If the clause goes through unamended, what kind of relationship will exist to assist our endeavours to integrate the ethnic minorities who have come to my constitiuency, which is one of the London boroughs within the GLC area? What kind of relationships will exist to enable our directives, in order to curtail public expenditure, cut the amount of expenditure devoted to the integration of ethnic minorities? The officers of the council will be required by central Government to provide such information. As has been mentioned by my hon. Friends, this could affect many departments in local government, including social services, part III homes, and the way in which we help the disabled. When I served on a standing committee which was considering a previous Bill, one of the greatest problems that arose concerned care for the disabled, the blind and the deaf, where information was provided on co-ordination is not possible under the new clause, those who are at most risk in society will have fever services available to them exist under the present system.

I therefore commend all the amendments, in particular amendment No. 86, to the Committee. I hope that the Government, even if they are unable to accept some of the excellent suggestions that have been made by my hon. Friends, may at least be able to remove some of the worst effects of the clause as it stands when the Bill goes to another place.

Mr. Tony Banks

As I said in the debate on an earlier group of amendments, the clause reveals the double standards of the Government, and their total bankruptcy in having put these proposals before the Committee. The Government are thrashing around trying to obtain information that they should have elicited long before they brought the legislation to the Committee. The double standards come to mind when one realises that the clause requires officers of elected local authorities to provide information to Government, yet the Government have steadfastedly refused to provide information to the Committee.

Cmnd. 9063, "Streamlining the Cities", attracted some 5,000 responses. The Government intended to keep those responses to themselves, because the overwhelming majority were opposed to what they were suggesting. After much pressure from Opposition Members, they eventually placed some of those representations—about 14 per cent. of the 5,000 — in the Library. They are saying in this squalid little Bill that officers of local authorities shall be compelled by law to provide information, when on that occasion the Government were not prepared to provide hon. Members with information.

Had the Government moved with less haste in trying to fulfil their manifesto pledge to abolish the GLC and metropolitan county councils and decided to conduct a Royal Commission or high-powered inquiry into the provision of local government services by the GLC and metropolitan county councils, they would have received total co-operation from the officers of the GLC and the councils.

Mr. Corbyn

Can my hon. Friend think of any occasion when there has been what amounts to a constitutional change and the Government of the day have deliberately prevented the public from seeing the volume of opposition—or, as it might have been, support—from people throughout the country? Can such legislation ever have been forced through with such secrecy and with such a disgraceful demand being placed on local government officers?

Mr. Banks

I cannot think offhand of an example, although I am sure that a trawl through the history books would turn up a few at about the time of Magna Carta. Secrecy is what this Government are about. They do not want people to know what they are doing. They are anxious to keep secret their various measures to take away our freedoms. This is Fascism by stealth. That is what the Conservatives are into, directed by the chief darling herself.

Had the Government appointed a Royal Commission, which would not have been inconsistent with their manifesto pledge to abolish the GLC and metropolitan county councils, they would have had all the information they required. But because they are trying in this inept way to abolish a tier of local authority structure, they are having to resort to intimidatory methods to obtain information that they could have got in a leisurely way had they approached the matter sensibly in the first place.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

There might have been certain dangers, from the Government's point of view, in the appointment of a Royal Commission. Had a commission looked into the whole question of county authorities, it might have found it strange that the Government should want to abolish only Labour-controlled county authorities without touching the shire counties. This blatant political bias would have been clear, and a Royal Commission would have reached a different conclusion from that of the Government.

Mr. Banks

I am sure that the Government are not interested in truth and good sense prevailing when it comes to local government changes. If they believe that there is strength in their case, they should appoint a Royal Commission or hold an inquiry to examine their proposals impartially and objectively. In the same way, if they believe that the electors of London do not like the GLC, they should let the people decide at the ballot box in 1985. The Government know that they have a miserable set of arguments, which have little support, even among Conservatives.

The Under-Secretary of State is smiling somewhat quizzically. He is receiving some support from the Conservative Back Benchers because they are erroneously anticipating a Division at 10 o'clock. I should not like the hon. Gentleman to feel that the numbers now gathering on the Conservative Benches show in any way the strength of support that thinking Conservative Members are supposed to be giving him, because they do not. Speech after speech has come from Conservative Members attacking the proposals.

Mr. Fatchett

Is it not clear from this debate that there is no support from thinking Conservative Members, because the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) was the only Conservative Member to intervene in the debate?

Mr. Banks

I would not offend the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) by calling him a thinking Conservative. Insofar as the description "thinking Conservative" is not a conflict of terminology, I maintain that Conservative Members who have some feeling for local authorities are critical of the Under-Secretary of State and other Ministers. The hon. Gentleman knows that he does not have an argument.

During an earlier debate on this matter, I asked the Secretary of State whether he had read the Herbert report, and I was glad when he replied that he had done so. I asked him also whether he had read the Marshall report, and he had not. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State has read the Marshall report. It is a good report, and he is more than welcome to borrow my copy if he wishes to refresh his memory. The Marshall committee was set up by a Conservative GLC administration, and was not an inquiry in which the minority Labour party on the GLC wished to co-operate. The GLC officers gave a great deal of assistance to Marshall during his inquiry. All the evidence that the Under-Secretary of State wants can be found in publications such as the Marshall report.

Mr. Waldegrave

Some of the evidence is given in the comments on the Marshall inquiry, such as that by Mr. Livingstone, who said that it did not go far enough and ought to have recommended doing away with the GLC.

Mr. Banks

I am always glad to give way to the hon. Gentleman, hoping that he will shed a little light on the proceedings. On the last two occasions I gave way to him, he made precisely the same point, so I am forced to give almost the same answer. What Mr. Livingstone said in 1979 was incorrect, and what the present Secretary of State for the Environment said in 1979 was correct. It is now 1984, and Mr. Ken Livingstone is correct in what he has said, and the Secretary of State for the Environment is wrong. They have swapped places, and I should like the Under-Secretary of State to comprehend that fact.

Mr. Tracey

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Banks

I shall give way to any hon. Member.

Mr. Tracey

In 1982, Mr. Livingstone, when speaking to a conference of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, said that he was in favour of local government at the borough level. The hon. Gentleman tells us that Mr. Livingstone has changed his mind, but apparently that is not true.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. The debate is getting a long way from the amendment.

Mr. Banks

Abundant information is available. Various inquiries, including the Marshall inquiry, give all the information about the structure of local government in London that any self-respecting Minister and any civil servant in Marsham street would need.

I hope that the Under-Secretary of State has read another document because it is "mighty meaty, matey". There is a lot of stuff in it. Has the hon. Gentleman read the GLC's response to the Government's White Paper "Streamlining the Cities" because it contains a wealth of information?

The Temporary Chairman

Order. Whether the Under-Secretary of State has read it or not, it is a long way from the amendment.

Mr. Banks

I accept what you say, Mr. Wells. I am merely trying to say that this part of this particularly nasty Bill is not necessary, because all the information that is required is there already, much of it in published form. Therefore, to take draconian powers, which the Minister proposes to do, to coerce officers into providing information is unfair and, in many cases, unnecessary.

Perhaps the Minister would care to wander over to county hall to see the amount of published information that is available. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermonsey (Mr. Hughes) was about to give us all the information that the Department of the Environment required. A welter of information is already available. Frankly, I cannot see what more the Minister wants. This shows that someone in Marsham street has not made the journey on behalf of the Minister to gather the information that is available, which might help the Minister to get out of the problem that he has got himself into.

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

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