HL Deb 02 February 1965 vol 262 cc1097-103

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, if I may be allowed to intervene for a moment, I should like with your Lordships' permission, to read a Statement that is being made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government in another place in answer to a Question about the reorganisation of London Government,

The Statement is as follows:

"The Government have examined all the changes timed to come into full operation on April 1. Our initial reservations about the London Government Act remain, but our return to office came too late to allow us to reshape the new system in any material way. The new borough councils and the Greater London Council had been elected and were far advanced in their detailed preparations for the assump- tion of their new responsibilities. The desirability of a different allocation of functions had to be weighed against the danger of disrupting services by a last minute change of direction.

"None the less, we have been considering whether, in view of the strong feeling which exists in certain quarters, we should not, even at this late date, legislate to transfer to the Greater London Council responsibility for certain specialised aspects of the children's service in the Greater London area. Consultation between my right honourable and learned friend the Home Secretary and the interests concerned showed, however, that, while there is considerable support for such a step, opinion is not unanimously in favour. There is, moreover, a widespread fear that a change of arrangements at this stage might be detrimental to the operation of the children's service and to the interests of the children themselves. We have therefore concluded that we must allow the transfer of functions to take effect without amendment.

"In this situation we shall now do our utmost to ensure the success of the new system. But we propose to keep the working of the Act under review, to ensure, for instance, that housing loses none of its impetus. We shall maintain close consultation with the Greater London Council, the London borough councils and the Common Council, and we will not hesitate to introduce amendments at a later date, should experience suggest that it is right to do so. In particular, we shall reconsider the requirement to review educational arrangements in Inner London before 1970, which is imposed on my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science by the London Government Act, 1963.

"In the meantime it is essential that local authorities in the Greater London Area should work closely together to co-ordinate the operation of the social services, and particularly the children's service."

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, when one remembers the many statements made by the Leader of the House (I am sorry he is not here at the present moment), and others in the Party opposite, as to what changes they would definitely make in the London Government Act if they came into power, this is indeed an astonishing Statement. It uses a great many words to seek to justify the fact that this is another instance of the Party opposite eating words uttered before they came into power. I am not seeking to dispute the Tightness of their conclusion, and I certainly welcome the statement that they will now do their utmost to ensure the success of the new system.

I am puzzled about one passage in the Statement. It says that the Government propose to keep the working of the Act under review. Then, a little later, the noble Lord, quoting the words of his right honourable friend, said: In particular, we shall reconsider the requirement to review educational arrangements in Inner London before 1970 … May I ask him what that means? There is the requirement to review those arrangements before 1970. To reconsider that requirement would appear at least to indicate the possibility of introducing legislation to dispense with it. That does not seem to me to accord very well with the general statement that they will keep the working of this Act under review. I shall be grateful if the noble Lord will explain what is meant by those words.

I, too, endorse the concluding paragraph of the Statement where the Minister of Housing has said: … it is essential that local authorities in the Greater London Area should work closely together to co-ordinate the operation of the social services and particularly the children's service. We always recognised that as being essential under the provisions of the Bill we introduced.


My Lords, I am glad to hear that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, is in favour of co-operation in this matter. It is indeed seriously needed, and it should be the concern of all who have the children's service at heart. I am a little surprised that he is surprised. I think he must have missed the second sentence of the Statement which I made, and I will read it out again: Our initial reservations about the London Government Act remain, but our return to office came too late to allow us to reshape the new system in any material way. If the noble and learned Viscount will look at the statements made at the time by various members of my Party he will find that they all contained, I think, a reservation that they would not attempt to do what was impracticable. Even if they did not, I should have thought that was obvious and would be well understood by everyone concerned.

As to the last paragraph, I am not here to add to anything that my right honourable friend has said (or is saying) in another place, but I took the statement to mean that he would keep this matter under constant review, as the usual phrase goes, and would re-examine it in that sense. It seems to me unwise to preclude a Minister charged with these very grave responsibilities in the matter of London Government from examining any side of it. It was a single sentence. I so understood it; I may have been wrong—I do not know—but I will gladly, if the noble and learned Viscount wishes, pass the question on to my right honourable friend and ask him to let the noble Viscount have an answer. I have given him my own reading.


My Lords, I appreciate that the noble Lord is in some difficulty in explaining what is meant by a sentence spoken by his right honourable friend in another place. I should be grateful if he would take steps to find out exactly what is meant and inform us of the precise meaning. Having said that the whole operation will be kept under review—and, of course, any Government would keep the operation of the Act relating to local government under review—he then apparently picks out this requirement to review before 1970 as something special, and says that that requirement will be reconsidered. It does not seem to me to follow. I may have missed something and I will not pursue it. But I hope the noble Lord will take that step.

In regard to the noble Lord's remark about the second sentence, that any pledge given was conditional on the practicability of the fulfilment of the pledge, may we take it that the same applied to a pledge given with regard to the reduction of mortgage interest rates?


My Lords, if I may say so, that is really, to the noble and learned Viscount's own knowledge, an entirely different matter. On the first point, I would thank him for his courteous understanding of the position in which I find myself over this matter, and I will ask my right honourable and learned friend whether he can add anything to what he said. Personally—and I am speaking only personally—I have not much doubt about the meaning, which I gave to the noble and learned Viscount, but he well knows that one can read things which appear clear to one person and less clear to another.


My Lords, many of your Lordships who remember the passage of the London Government Bill through this House will understand exactly what I mean when I say that this Statement to-day has given me the most profound satisfaction and also caused me a considerable amount of amusement. I had to bear the brunt of the then Opposition's attack because of the provisions in the Bill which concentrated all the personal services in the London boroughs—opposition, which was very often ferocious, led by the noble Earl, the Leader of the House (I can well understand why he was not here to listen to this Statement), and nobly supported by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. Now, so far as I understand the Statement, there is complete vindication of what we put into the Bill. My satisfaction is profound.


It is Hobson's choice.


My Lords, may I be allowed to read, for the third time, the second sentence of the Statement I read out? It says: Our initial reservations about the London Government Act remain, but our return to office came too late to allow us to reshape the new system in any material way. That is what the: Statement says. It indicates no change of attitude at all, except that that which might have been practicable if there had been an earlier Election became impracticable when the Election, for certain reasons, was postponed till October.


Let me say this, my Lords. It is very difficult for the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, to justify his Statement, because he was not a Member of your Lordships' House at the time the London Government Bill passed through it.


My Lords, may one who was a Member at that time interject to say that I was one of those who offered to rescind the original measure. But we were expecting that the Government would go to the country at a reasonable hour and not wait until we were faced with a fait accompli.


My Lords, the noble Viscount who spoke for the Opposition expressed some surprise at the Statement which has now been read. I express surprise that he dared to speak in the kind of way he did. His Government clung to office until the very last moment. When certain statements were made in this House and in another place, it was thought that there would be a General Election at a much earlier date than when it actually occurred. But the Government of which the noble Viscount was a Member stayed in office until the last moment, and to expect the Government which has succeeded it in those circumstances to make changes in the very complicated matter of the government of London and of Greater London is an unreasonable and a Party point which no responsible speaker for a Party ought to make in this House. I am saying this because the criticism which has been made from the Front Bench and elsewhere on the other side of the House has been dealt with on this side with great reasonableness, moderation and caution; and charges of the kind which have been made from the Opposition require to be met with the kind of language which the noble Viscount used.


My Lords, may I suggest, as there is no Motion before the House, that we are now going into a debate, which I think is quite unreasonable. There will be ample opportunity to put down a Motion on this matter if it is felt desirable, but I think that we should now resume the debate on the Dogs Bill.


My Lords, before that happens, I think, in view of what has just been said, that I ought to say this. I was just rising to my feet to say that we are not debating when the date of the Election was, and if the noble Lord thought it right to deliver an attack upon me I do not propose to answer him or to reply to it. I do not think it is worthy of him. All I do say to the noble Lord is that I understand quite clearly from him that there is no prospect now held by the Government of making any changes. They do not propose to make any changes at all, despite what they said, in the terms of the London Government Act until they have seen how it works in operation. That I welcome.


My Lords, may I just add one word in conclusion? The first sentence used by Mr. Michael Stewart, who was then attending to these matters from the Opposition Front Bench in another place—true, it was said at a Press conference but it will serve—was this: What we do is bound to be governed by the date at which we come into power. That was said as long ago as March, 1963. I feel confident that my right honourable friend will exercise the same foresight in managing our foreign relations as he showed in another sphere by that sentence at that time.