HL Deb 26 July 1977 vol 386 cc964-6

7.48 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Carr of Hadley.)


My Lords, I had the honour to be the Chairman of the Select Committee to which your Lordships referred this year's Greater London Council (Money) Bill for the purpose of hearing the three Petitions against it. I should like to make some brief remarks about GLC Money Bills in general. I hope your Lordships will agree with the unanimous opinion of the Select Committee that these Petitions should not be allowed because the purpose and effect of this Money Bill are too remote from the alleged injury to the Petitioners' interests to justify these Petitioners. Consequently, they fail to establish a locus standi.

Before 1976 the GLC annual Money Bill had never been petitioned against, but in that year there were five Petitions which were disallowed. However, representatives of those Petitioners were subsequently allowed to give evidence before the Select Committee appointed at that time. This year there were three Petitioners, all of whom had petitioned on similar grounds as in 1976, but they again failed to establish locus standi.

I hope your Lordships' House will accept the opinion in this Select Committee's report that an annual Money Bill authorising capital expenditure under general headings is not a proper occasion to challenge planning authority which has been previously obtained to carry out a specific development—in this case the erection of college buildings on St. Paul's playing fields, for which the Greater London Council already had powers gained independently from this Bill. Incidentally, this development was not mentioned in the Bill we are discussing tonight. I believe that if similar Petitions continue in future years against this Bill, and the Promoters were to apply for expenses, future Select Committees of your Lordships' House would be fully justified in recommending that expenses be allowed for the Promoters under the Parliamentary Costs Act 1865 on the grounds of vexatious petitioning.

I have one other point I wish to make. The annual GLC Money Bills can be traced back to 1875 when London had by far the biggest population and expenditure of any city in the country. This statutory obligation to promote annual Money Bills was again re-enacted in the London County Council Act 1963. The situation today is that London is the only local authority which is required to do so. In evidence before our Select Committee learned counsel for the Promoters of this 13i11 gave us five reasons why the GLC should continue with this unique obligation.

First, he told us the sums are very large indeed, and secondly, because of this, it is right for Parliament to review them annually. Thirdly, an annual Money Bill enables individual Members of both Houses to challenge on Second Reading specific aspects of financial proposals. Fourthly, it enables Parliament to discuss London needs on a broad basis. I must agree that London is still the largest of our great conurbations. The GLC has a population of 7¼ million against West Midlands, including Birmingham, of 2.8 million, and Greater Manchester with 2.7 million. If you were to judge it on rateable value, London has £1.9 million rateable value, whereas Greater Manchester has £390,000. Of course, correspondingly its expenditure is infinitely greater than that of the other two conurbations.

Nevertheless, I question whether Parliament is justified in giving specific treatment to London simply on account of its size, and especially bearing in mind that these days, in relation to other parts of the country, it is not as outstanding in size, as it was in 1875. The fifth reason which learned counsel gave us was that, because the GLC has an annual Money Act in which all capital finance is approved by Parliament, it is assisted in floating stock or bond issues by carrying weight with banks, finance houses, and overseas investors. That may well be so, and it may be the best reason for Greater London having this privilege; but if the authority of Parliament grants financial advantages to London, should not we accord the same privileges to the other large metropolitan authorities?

I believe that we should now rationalise this state of affairs by either obliging all metropolitan authorities to promote annual Money Bills or, in my opinion better still, by promoting a short amending Bill to amend the Act and thus release the GLC from this obligation and bring it into line with other local authorities. I believe that this is in fact the logical step. I believe it is more in keeping with our modern skills at financial control which occur right the way down the chain. Of course it would have the other advantage that it would release the GLC from the danger of being petitioned against.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.