HL Deb 30 May 1963 vol 250 cc965-78

3.0 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be again in Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

Clause 69 [Research and information on matters concerning Greater London]:

LORD CHAMPION moved, in subsection (2) to leave out "where such a requirement is made, in respect of any information which is so" and insert "any information is". The noble Lord said: This Amendment it to Clause 69, the purpose of which is designed to meet the need for an intelligence department in London—at least at local government level. The Government have decided to follow a strong recommendation of the Royal Commission in this connection, and I took the words "intelligence department" in my opening sentence from the Report of that body. The words of paragraph 758 of the Commission's Report read as follows: The first requirement of all is that the Council for Greater London should set up a first-class Intelligence Department. One of the difficulties of the present system, to which we have referred in numerous places in preceding chapters, is that no one is responsible for continuous research into these interlinked problems of Greater London as a whole. Clause 69 places this function fairly on the shoulders of the Greater London Council. We think that the powers given to the G.L.C. in the Bill are not sufficient in every respect—that is, to enable them to carry out this function of collecting all the necessary information.

Subsection (2) of Clause 69 requires the Greater London Council to supply an appropriate Minister with information when he so desires, and for that purpose enables the Greater London Council to require the boroughs and the City Corporation to supply any information which is in their possession as a result of the exercise of their powers. The Amendment we are moving here seeks to extend this provision in order to enable the Greater London Council to require information from the local authorities in any circumstances, and not only when that information is required by the appropriate Minister. This power, we think, is necessary if effective use is to be made of this job of research—if they are to be able to do the job properly.

Research necessitates the ability to call upon the boroughs to give all the available information, and the boroughs clearly ought not to be in a position to decline to give information on the ground that it might be inconvenient, or that it might lead to a fair amount of work by the boroughs. If we are to give this job of research to the Greater London Council, clearly we ought to give them the tools to enable them to carry out the job. If one borough declines to give information required by the Greater London Council for what appears to the borough to be good and sufficient reasons, the whole concept of research into the interlinked problems of Greater London could break down on that matter.

Again I quote the Royal Commission's Report. They say: The Intelligence Department which we envisage would serve not only the Council for Greater London but the central Government, the boroughs, and the general public. The boroughs themselves may well have to turn to the Greater London Council for information as to what is happening in adjoining boroughs or the other boroughs in London. One refusal by a borough to give information—and they would be able to refuse under the terms of this clause—could create a gap in the service to adjoining boroughs, and a gap in the service to the general public as well. I can well understand that the Government do not want to create the sort of situation in which the boroughs might feel that "Big Brother is watching you": that the G.L.C. was poking its nose unnecessarily into the boroughs' affairs. In other words, that was the reply given by the Government in another place. But this power to require information from the boroughs is given in the Bill in connection with the Greater London Council's function as a main drainage authority, where powers are given to the Greater London Council to require information from the boroughs. Surely if it can require information for those purposes (and powers are specifically given in the Bill) it should have also the power to ask the borough and expect the borough to reply to any request for information on any matter which falls within the powers of the new London boroughs.

This Bill is creating a Greater London Council and, as I have understood it from the Ministers, the Government expect this Greater London Council to be a responsible body which could be expected to act reasonably and, in this connection, require from the boroughs only such information as it would require for its essential purposes—the purposes projected in the Royal Commission's Report, and of course, to some extent adopted in this Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 83, line 23, leave out from (" where ") to the end of line 24 and insert (" any information is ").—(Lord Champion.)


May I support my noble friend in this important Amendment? I am quite sure the noble Earl—I presume he is replying—will regard it in such light. I am sure the noble Earl will agree that the Greater London Council will be responsible for the strategic plan, not only on development generally, but on traffic in particular. Both these subjects, and traffic in particular, require constant information and the passing of continuing information by the boroughs, and from outside the Greater London area. This information will be the framework on which strategic planning is made. Therefore it must be accepted, surely, that the Greater London Council should be in a position to obtain information from the boroughs and, for like matter, even from the various Ministries in the Government upon which they themselves can make their broad decisions on planning.

I hope the Government will not resist this Amendment, as they did in another place, on the basis that if we were to accept this principle that the Greater London Council could require this information it would be creating a two-tier government. That is really stretching this argument far too far. In the Bill, the Greater London Council, as I see it, require to pass information not only to the Minister but also to the boroughs. Obviously, the new intelligence department, upon which great faith is set, will be a department which will be acquiring knowledge and experience, not only five years hence, but perhaps many years further on. This information will be vital, not only to the Greater London Council itself but also to the Ministers, particularly the Minister of Transport, as to the type of development within the boroughs. Therefore, it cannot in any way be said that this small but important Amendment would suddenly create the two-tier government to which the noble Lords opposite are opposed.

This Amendment is sensible in purpose and, I should say, of vital necessity, not only to the Greater London Council and the Minister but also to the boroughs themselves. If this Amendment were not accepted, we should have a farcical situation, if I may suggest it, in that the Greater London Council would be unable to obtain information on demand or on request—I prefer the latter—from the boroughs. But if, in fact, they required urgently needed information, no doubt they would have to go to the Minister and he would have to ask the boroughs. This really would make three-tier government, which is even worse than two-tier government.

I suggest that it should be laid down in this Bill that the Greater London Council should be able to obtain this important information. I do not visualise that in fact many boroughs would not provide the information unless—and we must not forget this possibility—it might be detrimental to the borough itself. For instance, the borough might be failing in some of its duties, and if it provided that type of information its lapse would be shown up. But that is the only situation I can visualise in which a local London borough would be unwilling to provide that information. Yet that is the type of information the Greater London Council and the Minister will wish to know. If one accepts the Government case, which they have made throughout these wearisome hours, that this Greater London Council is to be responsible for the broad strategic plan, ping (and I am sorry that the noble and gallant Field-Marshal is not here, for no doubt he would come to my aid) I am afraid that I must point out that one cannot have strategic planning unless one has information. I hope, therefore, that the Government will accept this Amendment to see that all avenues of information shall be open to this new authority.

3.15 p.m.


I think we are all agreed on one thing, the importance of this Clause 69, and we are all agreed also on the potential importance of this new intelligence department to be set up under the wing of the Greater London Council. At the present time, I understand, there is no research organisation in being able to cover the whole of the Greater London area, and we feel that this new body could play a really good part in helping the Greater London Council to formulate longer-term policy. We also think that it should be of great assistance to the Central Government and the boroughs themselves, and, indeed, to the public as a whole. I, for one, was therefore very glad that more teeth were put into this clause during the Committee stage of the Bill in another place.

The effect of the noble Lords' Amendment, as explained by them, would be to enable the Greater London Council to require the boroughs in the City to supply the Council with any—and I would underline the word "any"—information in possession of, or available to, these councils without any ministerial demand necessarily having paved the way for it. I assure noble Lords (though I am afraid that I am going to disappoint them, because I shall be resisting this Amendment) that this matter of whether or not powers should be given to the Greater London Council enabling them to request information in this way was gone into very carefully indeed when the Bill was being prepared. But we came to the conclusion that it would be wrong in principle to give this new intelligence body inquisitorial powers of this sort. It seemed to us right, as the second leg of this clause provides, to give the Greater London Council power to pass on ministerial demands for information; but we felt that it was objectionable to give these wide and completely undefined powers to the Greater London Council themselves.

I do not wish to labour the two-tier argument unduly, but if we were to give these powers it would suggest that the Greater London Council were a superior authority, able, as it were, to put the thumbscrews on the inferior ones; and a glance at the clause will show how very widely it has been drawn. This has been done quite deliberately, but it means that very wide scope has been given this new intelligence department, and if we were to accept this Amendment, the Greater London Council would have an almost unlimited field of inquisition into borough affairs. I cannot believe that in practice—and I should like to dwell more on the practical aspect of this than on the matter of principle—this would encourage the sort of harmonious relationship between the G.L.C. and the boroughs which we hope and expect will develop.

Moreover, I myself cannot believe that information extorted, as it were, in this way would have much practical benefit or make for good research. But, by the same token, I believe (though noble Lords opposite may say that I am too optimistic) that no reasonable borough would refuse a reasonable request for information from the Greater London Council. I think the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was prepared to concede that, and I should expect, in the same way as we expect the Greater London Council to be a reasonable and responsible body, that the new boroughs will be reasonable and responsible. But if they were unreasonable and irresponsible in this respect, then, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd said, the G.L.C. could go to the Minister who, if he thought fit, could then compel the information to be given. But I very much doubt whether, in practice, that sort of situation would arise.

Perhaps I might mention, in passing, that the L.C.C. have powers under Section 192 of the Local Government Act, 1939, to spend money on matters of importance to the county and to the people of the County of London, but they have no power to requisition information from anyone. I do not believe, however—although here I speak subject to correction by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth—that it has ever found that requests for information were not met. Also, and tangentially (this point has not been mentioned by noble Lords, but perhaps I might refer to it), it seemed to me that some people might be worried that a borough might refuse a reasonable request for information from the G.L.C. because they thought it would be imposing a very big intelligence-gathering responsibility on the borough concerned, and that the borough would not wish to impose that burden upon their ratepayers. If that is a fear on anybody's part all I can say is that I am advised that Clause 69 is so widely drawn that it would certainly cover grants by the Greater London Council to the boroughs or, indeed, to anybody else—the London School of Economics, for example—to conduct research on the Council's behalf.

All in all, therefore, while we are just as anxious as noble Lords opposite to see that this new body is as effective as possible, I cannot believe that this Amendment is right. Nor can I advise your Lordships to accept it, although I am advising you in this respect with some reluctance, in view of the extremely objective way in which the two noble Lords have moved it.


May I ask two questions of the noble Earl? I can see some of the points the noble Earl has made, but as I understand it, within the clause as it now stands, the only way in which the Greater London Council can obtain information which might be resisted by the borough is if the Minister gives his consent—or (shall we say?) if the Minister requires that information he shall require the Greater London Council to obtain it from the borough and the borough must then give it. Other than that, the Greater London Council will not have a right to call for information from a borough. Am I right?


They would have the right to call for it but not necessarily to obtain it.


That is so. My problem, frankly, is to see how, having made the Greater London Council the development authority for the whole of the Greater London area, they can obtain information, unless they have to set up an entirely new service that will carry out its own investigations within the borough. And I should have thought that that was quite objectionable; I should not have thought the boroughs would be very pleased if they knew the Greater London Council had investigators operating in their boroughs and seeking information on which to carry out the development plan or even on the regulations dealing with alterations in the main streets that run through the boroughs.

Perhaps I may put this extra point here. Time comes into it. Certainly when you put out your request for information the information should be brought back within a reasonable time, and there should be no undue delay in carrying out the plans. Can the Minister give an assurance that, should occasions arise when there is not the right sort of cooperation—I think he will agree on occasions this position does arise—the Minister will in fact give support not just to the Greater London Council but to this rather exciting idea of an intelligence bureau, to provide the organisation on which broad strategic planning can be based?


I think I answered the first question the noble Lord put as we went along. With regard to the second question, I could not give an "off the cuff" assurance at this stage. I would certainly be very willing to take the point he has made back to my right honourable friend and discuss it with him between now and Report stage. I would be perfectly willing to do that.


The noble Earl spoke very kindly about this Amendment, at least the whole idea, but he firmly rejected the proposal in the Amendment. He seemed to do it mainly on the grounds that had been advanced in another place, that the Government do not want to establish inquisitorial powers and vest them in the G.L.C. as against the boroughs. The purpose of the clause is fairly narrow, one of research, obtaining information and having it available for presentation to the public or other boroughs or the central Government or whatever body may reasonably require information from the Council. The Minister also made some play about powers possessed by the London County Council at present and said that they had been in being for a long time. But as I understood the Royal Commission's Report on this matter, what they complained of was the fact that the powers were not sufficient; that clearly there were not sufficient powers or they were not sufficiently used in order to provide the intelligence required for the intelligence department.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. As I understood it—I may have understood it wrongly—what they were complaining about was that the powers would not run over the whole Greater London Council area. I do not know that they were specifically directing attention to whether the L.C.C. powers were adequate for its area. I think they probably were adequate. I think the Commission had in mind the adequacy of powers over the whole area. That was my understanding of the Royal Commission's Report. I apologise for interrupting. Perhaps I should just mention with regard to the two specific points which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was worried about, the G.L.C.'s ability to exercise its development authority responsibilities and its responsibilities in the traffic field, that it is my understanding that since those are statutory functions it would, as I explained earlier, have express or implied powers to require information in those fields.


On this point of the L.C.C., despite the fact that they have powers, it seemed to me that the Royal Commission were complaining rather strongly about the fact that sufficient information was not available to them or anybody else upon which to base the work that has to be done for Greater London, and indeed the narrower area that will now be covered by the inner London boroughs. I do not think the Minister's reasons are really adequate, and I do not feel disposed at the moment to withdraw the Amendment, especially as my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth looked round and winked at me.


A wink is as good as a nod as long as you understand whit the wink or the nod means; but my noble friend is a Welshman and he has second sight, which is very useful in these circumstances. I think the Royal Commission were engaging in a lot of newspaper headlining when they produced this stuff about an intelligence centre. There has been one for years, ever since the old Progressive days in the London County Council; it was maintained even in the dark Tory days in the L.C.C., and we have maintained it ever since. The simple-minded Fleet Street journalists of the popular Press say, "This is a great Report. Here is a headline", and as long as they have a nice exciting headline the Report is all right. That is how they got misled about the Royal Commission Report. Not that I want to quarrel with Fleet Street—the House had a "go" yesterday; I love it. But they are simple souls now and again.

The Minister is on good ground, I think, so far as my experience goes with regard to the London County Council's getting information from the London boroughs. I myself do not recall any difficulty; there may have been a case of which I did not hear or do not remember, but I do not believe there has been real difficulty. If noble Lords will study the volume, London Statistics, published by County Hall, they will find piles of information not only from the metropolitan boroughs but from authorities outside the administrative County and the Government and so on. It is an exceedingly valuable volume, and they have published other matter too. That is what made me cross when the Royal Commission produced this great idea as if it was something new and did not give adequate credit to the L.C.C. for what it has done.

It may be that, with the L.C.C. under Labour Party control, the relationship with the metropolitan boroughs was exceptionally good, and with all due modesty I think it was very much better than it was in earlier days. But there is no certainty that there is going to be an equally good relationship between the Greater London Council and any of the London boroughs, whether inside the existing county or outside. I do not want to be spiteful, but now and again there are such human problems as the temperaments of town clerks, who are a very noble race of high dignity and authority, of great social standing in the borough. Most of them are decent fellows and co-operative, but now and again—I have met them—you get one who likes to have a row with central authority. And I do not mind it. But if anybody wants to have a row with a central authority it should be the borough and not an officer. A few can be awkward, and therefore it is important that the powers in the Bill should be adequate.

Having read the clause I fully understand the reasons why my noble friends Lord Champion and Lord Shepherd have put down this Amendment. I think they were justified in doing it, in order to get out of the Government what were their intentions. But as I read the clause the Minister may require them to get information including information from the London boroughs—of course I would assume that the Greater London Council will be getting such information anyway—and in turn (I hope the Minister of State will correct me if I am wrong) as I read the clause the Greater London Council can "require" the London borough to supply the necessary information. The question that my noble friends have raised' is: suppose there is resistance on the part of any London borough, then how is the deadlock solved. It is a point to contemplate although one does not want to because I would much sooner these people get on well together as good colleagues in the Government of London than that they get cross with each other and have rows.

The point on which we wanted satisfying is that if such an exceptional case did arise—I agree that, in all probability, it would be exceptional—has the word "require" statutory effect whereby the borough must supply the information, within reason of course, and if there is a deadlock that the Minister would use his authority, if necessary, either to persuade or to direct the London borough to supply the information? Can the Minister of State give us reasonable assurances on those two points—namely, that the word "require" does mean something both as between the Minister and the Greater London Council, and the Greater London Council and the borough; and if, on the other hand, in the case of an unhappy dispute, the Minister would use his best offices or even his powers of direction, if he has any, to require the London borough to give the information? If the Minister can give us reasonable assurances that that is so, then I feel sure that my noble friend Lord Champion would be willing not to press the Amendment.


I think I should be cautious here. I am not a lawyer. As I said just now in reply to Lord Shepherd's question, I should like the chance of discussing with my right honourable friend his intentions as to how this power under subsection (2) should be exercised. I should like the chance of further study of the precise legal implications of the word "require" in this particular context. I am quite willing to give both matters close attention and between now and Report, to inform the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and indeed the two noble Lords who have moved this Amendment, of the result of that further examination.


Of course, the Minister of State has sitting beside him an eminent lawyer. I am sure he could give us the meaning of "require" straight away. Could he? What is the good of having a Lord Chancellor here if he cannot answer a simple question like that? This is a case where the lawyer is even more cautious than the layman. I thought that the Minister of State went as far as I wanted him to go in his earlier observations, but I may he wrong. In all the circumstances, the Minister has undertaken that he will look into the matter not unsympathetically, and, without prejudice, that he will let the three of us know what the result of his researches are and what the intentions of the Minister are; but entirely without prejudice to our right to raise the matter on Report stage. In that case, perhaps my noble friend would let it go at that.


Having regard to the undertaking given by the noble Earl, I happily withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.36 p.m.


The noble Lord said: This is a much longer Amendment but on a much shorter point. It is all part of this matter of obtaining information by the Greater London Council for its research and information purposes. As the main drainage authority, the Greater London Council will be responsible for certain areas which are right outside the area which is to be that of the Greater London Council as defined in Clause 1 of the Bill. It may well be necessary from time to time for the Greater London Council to make investigations into matters of drainage and sewerage in the areas outside the Greater London Council area, but nevertheless within their general drainage area. We feel that this Amendment, No. 250, would enable the Greater London Council to do just that. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 83, line 29, at end insert— (" (3) The powers of the Greater London Council and of the appropriate Minister in connection with the conducting of investigations and the collection or provision of information under this section shall, as respects any matters relating to sewerage or trade effluents, be exercisable in relation to any part of the sewerage area of the Greater London Council (as defined in section 39(1)(b) of this Act) nothwithstanding that such part is situate outside Greater London and accordingly, as respects any such matters as aforesaid, any reference in subsection (2) of this section to a London borough council shall be deemed to include a reference to the council of any county district situate wholly or partly within the sewerage area of the Greater London Council.").—(Lord Champion.)


I understand that what worries the noble Lord here is that the sewerage catchment area (if that phrase is acceptable) is, in certain cases, rather wider than the political catchment area of the Greater London Council. Therefore it is felt that the Greater London Council may not be able to obtain important information in the peripheral area on matters concerning sewerage. If the noble Lords are right about this, then perhaps I might just mention that I think it would be right for the Amendment to be drawn rather wider to deal with and include those land drainage and flood control functions which have been conferred on the Greater London Council as a result of the new Schedule that my noble friend Lord Hastings introduced the other day. But I do not think that they are right about this, and I think I can reassure them, on the two following counts, that they are wrong.

In the first place I am advised, as I mentioned just now on the previous Amendment, that all local authorities have implied powers to take such necessary action as is required in the discharge of their statutory functions. By Statute, under Part V of this Bill, the G.L.C. will be the sewerage authority. As a sewerage authority, therefore, and without any reliance on this clause at all, it would be able to carry out such investigations as it needs to make in connection with its sewerage functions throughout the whole of the Greater London Sewerage area. Secondly, even if the Greater London Council were to rely on the powers of this clause alone to conduct investigations connected with sewerage and trade effluents, the Amendment would still not be needed because the powers in Clause 69(1) do not restrict the G.L.C. to investigation inside Greater London. The general powers in subsection (1) to conduct investigations or to assist others to conduct them are deliberately couched in the widest possible terms. The only limitation is that the subject of the investigation must be a matter: "concerning Greater London or any part thereof."

I hope, therefore, that I have been able to reassure the noble Lord on these two counts that his Amendment is not necessary. In view of that, I hope that he will be willing to withdraw the Amendment. I am particularly anxious that he should do so because I think that one of the side effects of this Amendment, if it were carried, would in fact be to throw some doubt upon the width of the powers contained in subsection (1) of this clause. They are wide, and in my view—at least, as I am so advised—they are certainly wide enough to cover this particular point to which he rightly attaches importance.


Having regard to the assurance given, which seems to completely to meet my point in this connection, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 69 agreed to.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I think it might be convenient if I moved that the House do now resume for me to make the statement to which I referred.

Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Lord Dilhorne.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and House resumed accordingly.

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