HC Deb 25 March 1986 vol 94 cc904-12

Lords amendment: No. 4, in page 2, line 34, leave out from beginning to end of line 5 on page 3 and insert—

"(a) in subsection (1) (power to make information available) after "other authorities" insert "mentioned in subsection (1B) below" and for "as to local government matters affecting the area" substitute "relating to the functions of the authority";

(b) after that subsection insert—

"(1A) A local authority may arrange for the publication within their area of information as to the services available in the area provided by them or by other authorities mentioned in subsection (1B) below.";

(c) in subsection (2)(a) (power to publish certain information) for "on matters relating to local government" substitute "relating to the functions of the authority".

(1A) After the subsection (1A) inserted by subsection (1) above, in section 142 of the 1972 Act insert— "(1B) The other authorities referred to above are any other local authority, the Inner London Education Authority, a joint authority established by Part IV of the Local Government Act 1985 and any authority, board or committee which discharges functions which would otherwise fall to be discharged by two or more local or other such authorities."; and in section 88 of the 1973 Act insert— "(1B) The other authorities referred to above are any other local authority and any authority, board or committee which discharges functions which would otherwise fall to be discharged by two or more local authorities,"."

Read a Second time.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, (f), in line 10, at end insert 'functions exercised'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take also the following:

Sub-amendments to Lords amendment No. 4: (g) in line 11, after 'area', insert 'exercised or'.

(i) in line 12, at end insert 'or by the other bodies mentioned in subsection (1C)'.

(j) in line 12, at end insert 'or by the other bodies mentioned in subsection ( ID) below where the material relates to a local government matter affecting the area'.

(o) in line 24, after 'authorities', insert 'and any police authority'.

(q) in line 24, at end insert— '"(1C) The other bodies referred to are statutory undertakers as defined by section 290(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, health authorities established by the Health Services Act 1980, The Post Office and British Telecom";'.

(s) in line 24, at end insert— '"(1D) The other bodies referred to are government departments, other public bodies and voluntary organizations".'.

(u) in line 29, at end insert— '"(1C) The other bodies referred to are statutory undertakers as defined by section 275 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972, health authorities established by the Health Services Act 1980, The Post Office and British Telecom".'.

(w) in line 29, at end insert— '"(1D) The other bodies referred to are government departments, other public bodies and voluntary organisations".'.

Lords amendment No. 5.

Lords amendment No. 6, in page 3, line 11, after "only" insert— (a) for the purpose of promoting the economic development of the authority's area, where the publicity is incidental to other activities undertaken or to be undertaken by the authority for that purpose, or (b) "

Sub-amendment (a) thereto, in line 3, leave out from 'area,' to 'or' in line 5.

Lords amendment No. 7, in page 3, line 14, at end insert but the following provisions of this section apply to expenditure incurred by a local authority under section 142 below on information as to the services provided by them under this section, or otherwise relating to their functions under this section, as they apply to expenditure incurred under this section.

Sub-amendment (a) thereto, in page 3, line 14, at end insert and it is hereby declared that this section is a function of the authority for the purposes of section 142 below".

Lords amendments Nos. 8 and 9.

12 midnight

Mr. Boyes

I want to deal very briefly with three aspects of this group of amendments.

First, the Government are unnecessarily introducing a distinction between functions and services, which sows even greater confusion in a Bill already riddled with anomalies and has been described a number of times as a lawyers' paradise. In Committee, in far too many instances, Ministers replied to questions that the point would have to be decided in court.

Secondly, I shall deal with the problems that face voluntary and charitable organisations, which play a vital role in our society, particularly in the present difficult economic conditions, which increase the number of social problems due to unemployment, poverty and deprivation. Our amendment aims to broaden section 142 and enable local authorities to make greater use of that section and depend less on section 137.

Thirdly, I shall examine and demonstrate the difficult and complicated situation in which many metropolitan local authorities will find themselves on section 137 cash, which is used mainly in those areas for job creation and job protection because they are areas of very high unemployment, because essential publicity will have to be paid for with the cash that could be used for creating additional jobs.

Finally, I shall show, as Hardy would say to Laurel, that the Government have got themselves into another fine mess by trying to limit the use of section 137.

First of all, with regard to amendments (f) and (g), the Government introduced the Lords amendment as a concession to costlier publicity. They realised that it was important for local authorities such as parish councils and town councils. I had the pleasure of being a member of one for more than 10 years and am well aware of the vital and valuable work they do in our communities. One of the important functions that they often carry out is the production, for example, of a brochure describing the services that are available, often provided by other tiers of government. But, as there have been more and more cuts on local authorities in other tiers, parish councils have frequently found themselves in the front line of campaigns against the closure of schools and hospitals and the cancelling of other proposed developments.

The Bill as drafted limits the general publicity powers in section 142 to the functions of the authority issuing the publicity. The new power contained in the Lords amendment allows publicity of the services available in the area covered by the local authority and other local government bodies. It is not clear why the Government have introduced the distinction between functions and services, and our amendment would allow publicity on both.

"Functions" are usually taken to mean both the duties and powers of local authorities, but they also include a range of discretionary powers that local authorities may or may not use. On the other hand, services would appear to be activities undertaken by a local authority, whether under mandatory duties or discretionary powers. The point of the distinction might be to exclude some publicity by one local authority about the exercise—or more likely non-exercise—of discretionary functions by other local Government bodies. For example, it would prevent a metropolitan district council from issuing publicity about the non-use by a passenger transport joint board of its discretionary powers to set concessionary fares. The amendment takes the sensible course of adding a reference to functions, and the exercise of them. Unless the Government are deliberately and actively trying to cause confusion, we cannot see why they should not accept the amendment.

Voluntary organisations will also face problems. Our amendment would broaden section 142 so that local authorities would be much less dependent upon the use of section 137 for the purpose of allowing voluntary organisations to publicise their functions. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House are active in voluntary organisations of many different kinds and will be aware of the necessity for, and will support, the amendment.

It seems peculiar that money can be used only where publicity is incidental. We cannot understand why it is that if a voluntary organisation asks for £1,000 for publicity purpose—for example the printing of a newsletter—it is not allowed to have that £1,000, but it can apply for a grant of £10,000 and use £1,000 of it for that purpose, because the printing of the newsletter is incidental to the purpose. I would be grateful if the Minister would say something about that unnecessary distinction.

Widdicombe recognised that if local authorities were to be prohibited from using section 137 for their publicity, this prohibition would have to exclude voluntary organisations, or a number of important projects such as welfare rights campaigns would also be prohibited. Therefore, he proposed, in paragraph 244(d): the exclusion of publicity from section 137 … should be so framed as not to prevent bodies funded under that section from issuing publicity to promote their own aims and objectives provided they are not acting as proxies for local authorities in unauthorised publicity". Unfortunately, as in many other instances in this Bill, the Government do not follow Widdicombe's wording.

In another place an amendment by Lord Hayter said that local authorities could incur expenditure to enable a public body or voluntary organisation to promote its own aims and objectives, providing such publicity is not otherwise prohibited. However, the Government argued on 13 March 1986 in the other place that voluntary organisations had sections 142(1), 142(2)(a) and 137(3) available for financing them except for—and a most peculiar and disparaging word was used by the Minister—a whole range of sometimes "curious" single-issue campaign groups. I have carefully read the speech of the Minister in the other place and not once does he define in any way what he means by a "curious" group? We would argue that the so-called "curious" group, which could include such things as a welfare rights take-up campaign, could not get sections 142(1), 142(2)(a) or 137(3) to finance it and if it were requesting a grant to cover costs of publicity it could not get section 137(1) cash either. We are of the opinion that the widening of section 142 would mean that local authorities could fund a far wider range of voluntary organisation publicity and there would be no danger of it becoming a loophole for political publicity because the prohibition in clause 2 would still apply. All the amendment does is make it lawful for a local authority to use its section 142 powers to fund a wider range of campaigns including such things as hospital closures and welfare rights take-up.

I am concerned about the limiting of expenditure to the 2p. Our amendment is simple in its declaration that section 137 is a function for the purposes of section 142 but it improves the financial position by not making such expenditure count against the 2p limit. My area, Tyne and Wear, has the highest rate of unemployment in Britain. On April 1 Tyne and Wear metropolitan council will be abolished. That means that we lose the product of a 2p rate that could be spent to enable us to create new jobs and protect existing jobs.

Mr. Holt


Mr. Boyes

I have asked the Minister a number of times why he will not double the amount of money that the other authorities in the metropolitan county areas can raise so that they can carry out essential functions after the metropolitan counties and the GLC have been abolished.

Mr. Holt


Mr. Boyes

I am not giving way. I have finished.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

My concern with amendment 4 is that it will weaken the Bill, especially by paragraph (c) where, instead of "matters relating to local government" the amendment would insert matters relating to the functions of the authority. Many things relate to the function of an authority but not to local government. The local authorities have the function of being responsible for civil defence, so that under the amendment they could support the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, as the authority does in Leicester city, or nuclear free zones, which have already cost the citizens of Leicester more than £1,500.

This is an unwelcome amendment, because it will give power to authorities such as Leicester to indulge in national politics at a local level. In other words, Leicester city will be able to undertake national campaigns against the deregulation of buses and the Transport Bill, as indeed it did on local government reform, or against the social security Green Paper. This is totally unacceptable. The advertising expenditure on national campaigns was £209,800 in 1983–84, £284,400 in 1984–85 and £377,300 in 1985–86. The amendment is therefore unacceptable to me, and I very much regret the fact that the House of Lords has sent it to us for approval.

12.15 am
Mr. Simon Hughes

Two of the amendments selected for discussion in this group are in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends. The first is on a specifically London point. Several of the amendments suggest additional authorities about which local authorities should give information. It is suggested for example, that the health authorities, the gas boards or the electricity boards should fall into this category and that it would be relevant for the local authority to provide information about them. We believe that we should add not just the fire, civil defence and police authorities elsewhere, but also the police authority in London, which at present is excluded. The specific reason is a practical one. The police authority in London is the Home Secretary. That does not change the point that it is appropriate for local authorities, for example, to give information to the public about general crime prevention, neighbourhood watch or anti-theft measures, and it is a ludicrous anomaly that such information might be excluded by the provisions of the Bill.

Our amendment (a) relates to Lords amendment No. 6 which now allows that expenditure should be permitted on the promotion of the economic development of an area relevant to the local authority. We do not believe that the local authority should be allowed to spend money on promoting the economic development of an area only if the expenditure is incidental to other expenditure on economic development under section 137 or 142 or otherwise.

We agree with the Widdicombe interim report that, generally, powers of publicity should be under section 142, and our two selected amendments tie in with that. For reasons that the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) has advanced and that are well known to all who have an informed concern about these matters, we do not believe that money should be spent on information only if it is incidental to the main purposes. We do not believe, as the Government believe, that information should be excluded if that is the only purpose for which funding is provided by local authorities.

The Government have still not appreciated the nature of the practical responsibilities of local government. I hope that they will show signs of being willing to learn from the suggestions of amendment (f)—which we will support if it is pushed to a vote—the amendments in the names of right hon. and hon. Friends and the other amendments that would make the measure more relevant to the day-to-day needs of local councils.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) commented on the use of the word "curious" to describe single-issue bodies. Single-issue organisations sin more often through misadventure than through malice. Enthusiasts for a certain cause get together. They tend to mix only with others who are similarly interested in that cause. Little by little they often lose sight of the alternative argument—the alternative way of answering the question that lies at the heart of the allocation of priorities outside their own narrow circle. Their newsletters and literature and their applications to local authorities for grants are often perceived by others who do not share their central preoccupation as being subversive and one-sided. One sided they often are. Subversive they very seldom intend to be, although sometimes they are subversive.

I should be glad if there were a longer period in which to assess the effects of this legislation, because considerable dangers affecting the central functions of many voluntary organisations are enshrined in too narrow a definition. I should like the Bill to be interpreted in a spirit which encourages people to fight for their corner but which also lays upon them an obligation to look beyond their own narrow interests and to take into account the often extremely respectable arguments that weigh against their preferred solution.

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) said that the widening is in response to the points that were put to the Government first by parish councils and then, in another place, by other local authorities. We have tried to meet those concerns in a reasonable way by saying that in addition to being able to publish information relating to their own functions, local authorities will be able to publish information relating to the services of the different tiers of local authorities. As the hon. Gentleman said, we could have widened it to include the functions of other authorities. We thought that "services" was a reasonable compromise, and the Government stand by that decision.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the incidental publicity of voluntary organisations. Our purpose has been to follow Widdicombe: to get rid of the information function per se in section 137 and put it into section 142. However, in relation to the hon. Gentleman's 2p rate point we have had to follow the recent court judgments and say that information under section 142 that is incidental to a function under section 137 should, like the other overhead costs of section 137 functions, be charged to the 2p rate. I think that is the right decision. The hon. Gentleman's other points on the 2p rate are not a matter for discussion tonight, but we are well aware of the anxieties in the ex-metropolitan areas about them.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred to the Metropolitan police. His point on crime prevention is reasonably met by the housing powers of boroughs. To give a general power to local authorities to comment on the Home Secretary as a police authority would represent a great widening of their powers which we do not intend to implement in this Bill. The hon. Gentleman's amendment No. 6 (a) would widen the powers of local authorities and enable them to carry out publicity campaigns on economic development. We do not wish to give new powers to local authorities to fund economic development promotion in advance of the Widdicombe inquiry's main report. I urge him, therefore, not to press that amendment.

This meets the reasonable concerns of hon. Members and of another place that local authorities should be able to comment on each other's affairs in a reasonable way. I am aware of the anxiety of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) that the Government may have gone too far, but the powers of local authorities are being very considerably constrained and we have to decide where to draw the line. If we made it impossible for local authorities to comment on each other's services or to give information on each other's services, we should find ourselves in considerable difficulties. Therefore, I must ask for my hon. Friend's indulgence.

Question put, That the amendment to the Lords amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 78, Noes 170.

Division No.116] [12.25 am
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Haynes, Frank
Alton, David Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Barron, Kevin Howells, Geraint
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Beith, A. J. Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Bermingham, Gerald Kirkwood, Archy
Boyes, Roland Leadbitter, Ted
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Livsey, Richard
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Loyden, Edward
Caborn, Richard McCartney, Hugh
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) McWilliam, John
Campbell-Savours, Dale Madden, Max
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Marek, Dr John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Maxton, John
Clarke, Thomas Meadowcroft, Michael
Clay, Robert Michie, William
Clelland, David Gordon Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Nellist, David
Corbyn, Jeremy Parry, Robert
Cunningham, Dr John Patchett, Terry
Dalyell, Tam Pike, Peter
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dewar, Donald Prescott, John
Dixon, Donald Redmond, Martin
Dormand, Jack Rogers, Allan
Duffy, A. E. P. Rowlands, Ted
Eadie, Alex Skinner, Dennis
Eastham, Ken Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Spearing, Nigel
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Stott, Roger
Fisher, Mark Straw, Jack
Foster, Derek Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Godman, Dr Norman Wallace, James
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hardy, Peter Welsh, Michael
Wigley, Dafydd Tellers for the Ayes:
Williams, Rt Hon A. Mr. Allen McKay and
Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe.
Alexander, Richard Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Hawksley, Warren
Amess, David Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney
Ancram, Michael Heathcoat-Amory, David
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Heddle, John
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Hickmet, Richard
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Baldry, Tony Hind, Kenneth
Batiste, Spencer Hirst, Michael
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Holt, Richard
Bellingham, Henry Howard, Michael
Bevan, David Gilroy Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Blackburn, John Hunter, Andrew
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Jackson, Robert
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Boscawen, Hon Robert Jessel, Toby
Bottomley, Peter Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Jones, Robert (Herts W)
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Key, Robert
Brandon-Bravo, Martin King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Bright, Graham Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Brinton, Tim Knowles, Michael
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Lang, Ian
Browne, John Latham, Michael
Bruinvels, Peter Lawler, Geoffrey
Burt, Alistair Lawrence, Ivan
Butcher, John Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam Lester, Jim
Butterfill, John Lightbown, David
Carlisle, John (Luton N) Lilley, Peter
Carttiss, Michael Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Cash, William Lord, Michael
Chope, Christopher Lyell, Nicholas
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) McCurley, Mrs Anna
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Conway, Derek MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Coombs, Simon McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Cope, John Major, John
Couchman, James Malins, Humfrey
Cranborne, Viscount Malone, Gerald
Crouch, David Marland, Paul
Currie, Mrs Edwina Mather, Carol
Dickens, Geoffrey Maude, Hon Francis
Dorrell, Stephen Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Dover, Den Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Dunn, Robert Meyer, Sir Anthony
Durant, Tony Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Eggar, Tim Moate, Roger
Eyre, Sir Reginald Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Fallon, Michael Moore, Rt Hon John
Favell, Anthony Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Moynihan, Hon C.
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Newton, Tony
Forth, Eric Nicholls, Patrick
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Normanton, Tom
Franks, Cecil Norris, Steven
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Osborn, Sir John
Freeman, Roger Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Gale, Roger Pawsey, James
Galley, Roy Powell, William (Corby)
Gow, Ian Powley, John
Grant, Sir Anthony Raffan, Keith
Greenway, Harry Rathbone, Tim
Gregory, Conal Rhodes James, Robert
Ground, Patrick Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Grylls, Michael Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Hanley, Jeremy Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Hannam, John Rowe, Andrew
Harris, David Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Harvey, Robert Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Sayeed, Jonathan Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Waldegrave, Hon William
Shersby, Michael Waller, Gary
Skeet, Sir Trevor Watts, John
Spencer, Derek Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Wolfson, Mark
Stokes, John Wood, Timothy
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Thurnham, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Trippier, David Mr. Archie Hamilton and
Viggers, Peter Mr. Michael Neubert.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment to the Lords amendment negatived.

Lords amendment No. 4 agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 5 to 9 agreed to.

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