§ Consideration on Third Reading resumed.
§ Clause 167 [Removal of unlawfully parked caravans and their occupants]:
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 49:
Page 148, line 6, leave out from ("unless") to ("to") in line 7, and insert ("he has a written Ministerial authorisation").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, may I speak also to Amendment No. 50 and say 1140 that these two amendments are consequential to the amendments to Clause 167 we accepted on Report which were tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and which dealt with the powers of a UDC to survey land. They make it clear that a person who enters land under clause 167(1) needs to have a written ministerial authorisation in the case of an objection by a local authority or statutory undertaker to the placing, leaving or removal of apparatus. They also define what is meant by a "ministerial authorisation." On this basis I beg to move.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for tabling these consequential amendments to the amendments that I moved on Report.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 50:
Page 148, leave out lines 22 and 23 and insert ("he has a written Ministerial authorisation to do so.
(4A) In subsection (4) above "Ministerial authorisation" means—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this with Amendment No. 49. I beg to move.
§ [Amendments Nos. 51 and 52 not moved.]
§ Schedule 2 [Relaxation of controls over functions relating to clean air and pollution]:
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 53:
Page 163, line 13, after (""or"") insert (", in the second place where it occurs,").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the same as No. 66. This is a minor correction intended only to make clear that the purpose of paragraph 3 of Schedule 2 is to delete the words from the second "or" in Section 31(6) of the Clean Air Act 1956; that is, to remove the need for the Minister to be involved in any disagreement between local authorities on which should deal with any premises that straddle the boundary between them. I beg to move.
§ Schedule 7 [Highways]:
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 54:
Page 177, line 33, leave out the words ("the appropriate highway authority") and insert ("each body which is a local authority for the purposes of section 28 of this Act in relation to the land concerned.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a technical amendment to define in clear terms the appropriate authorities that the Secretary of State must consult before proposing to make a public path creation order. It is necessary because there is no interpretation in the Highways Act 1959 of what constitutes "an appropriate authority" in this context.
§ The DEPUTY SPEAKER
(Lord Greenwood of Rossendale): My Lords, I should point out that the figure "33" in the first line in the amendment should read "32".
§ Schedule 12 [Prescribed expenditure under Part VIII]:
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON moved Amendment No. 55:
Page 197, line 24, at end insert—
(". Expenditure on Direct Labour Organisations by an authority to which this part of this Act applies shall not be prescribed expenditure for this part of this Act.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may describe this as a technical and accounting amendment and I am hopeful that the noble Lord will be able to accept it. Under the various accounting provisions of Part III of the Bill, your Lordships will recall that each direct labour organisation—nay, more than that, each particular subdivision of work within the DLO—is considered to be an entity for accounting purposes; but it is only necessary to say that the DLO as a whole certainly is so and has to publish its own balance sheet, its own revenue expenditure account and the various other statements that go with it. That means that DLOs, according to the Bill, will as of right and in law acquire their own assets, which will be shown in their own balance sheets and for the balance sheets to be certified by whatever auditors do the audit, whether it be the district auditor service or outside auditors. For them to be satisfied that the balance sheet shows a true and correct view, they must be satisfied that the expenditure has been incurred on the assets concerned and that the assets exist.
§ It follows, since the DLO section of the Bill seeks to ensure that local authorities generate a proper return on capital, that the DLOs' overhead rates will have to be sufficient to cover their costs. If they do this, it will obviously involve the capital expenditure of the DLOs being charged directly against capital allocations at the time of acquisition; yet, at the same time, in order to conform with the procedures so meticulously laid out by the noble Lord, they will have to charge the cost of equipping the DLO; in short they will have to pass on some charge for depreciation, some charge for the use. There will therefore be an element of double charging. All this amendment seeks to do is to see that there is no duplication in this. Consequently, this should be accomplished by the insertion of the amend- 1143 ment I have suggested at page 197, after line 24.
§ I trust that the noble Lord has followed the accounting argument and I rather hope in these circumstances that he will find himself able to accept the amendment which, I can assure him, does no violence to the policies implicit in the Bill or to the determination of his right honourable friend to ensure that it works in accordance with its provisions. I beg to move.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, as on one or two other occasions today, I have been close to the noble Lord but just have not managed to get all the way with him. I understand the purpose behind this amendment. Direct labour organisations do work mainly for their own authorities and Part III of the Bill is concerned that the true cost of having work done by a direct labour organisation, including depreciation and replacement cost of equipment used, should always be shown. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to argue that the cost of providing that equipment for the organisation should not be controlled separately, since to do so could result in double counting—once when the asset is acquired by the authority for the organisation and once when the use of the asset is included in the cost of using it, for example, for building a school.
I am afraid, however, that we are not able to say that expenditure on a direct labour organisation shall not be subject to control. The main reason is the one which underlies the whole purpose of the annual control of local authority capital expenditure. It is the Government's duty to be able to control the acquisition of capital assets by the public sector in order to be able to achieve a proper balance in the consumption of assets by the public and private sectors. We cannot continue to accept a situation where, in effect, the public sector takes first bite at the nation's wealth and then leaves the private sector to take what might be left. This means that we have to be able to exercise control at the time of acquisition, not merely at the time of subsequent use.
There are of course other implications of the amendment. There is the difficulty of disentangling the cost of equipment which might be used for a variety of purposes within the authority. There is 1144 the possibility of equipment being bought for the direct labour organisation as a means of evading controls which would apply if it had been bought for any other service department of the authority. Or there is the possibility that little or none of the cost of equipment would be shown if the equipment was in fact little used.
My Lords, I do not want to make much or these points. The main point is the need to control the acquisition of assets as it occurs. Having said that, I am still conscious of the problem of double counting. On this, I can only say that when a direct labour organisation does work for its authority (or indeed any other) then the cost of the work for capital control purposes need not include the depreciation of assets used. I recognise that this departure from the principles of Part III of the Bill so far as direct labour organisation accounts are concerned is not entirely satisfactory and that some additional work may be necessary to identify the appropriate amounts for counting against capital controls.
I was careful to note what the noble Lord was saying, and I think that we have to say that we must look at this aspect. I do not know how far it will satisfy the noble Lord, but I am certainly prepared to say that we will look at this and, if it seems appropriate—and it might—we shall be able to take any necessary action by regulation under Schedule 12. I know that is never the same as having it on the face of the Bill, but I hope that I indicate by that that we are cognisant of this matter and appreciate the point that the noble Lord made. If we have to do something, we shall be able to do it in that way.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I am most grateful for the noble Lord's response. It still seems that there is a misunderstanding about this matter. I have tried to make it clear from the outset of these debates on the accounting methods that have been prescribed in Part III that there is no such thing as the local authority acquiring an asset on behalf of a DLO. Either the DLO acquires the asset itself and owns it itself, or no balance sheet prepared by the DLO in accordance with the provisions can contain the value of that asset. If it does not contain the value of that asset, it is impossible to determine the 1145 capital of the DLO for the purposes of determining the return on the capital employed. This is the dilemma in which his right honourable friend's determination to lay down these precise rules has landed the noble Lord.
The noble Lord has said that for the time being perhaps—and I accept his assurance immediately—it will not be necessary for the DLO, when preparing its income and expenditure accounts, to make allowance for the depreciation on the equipment that it uses or on the equipment that it "owns". This is the point. That vitiates the whole of the comparison between private enterprise firms on the one hand and the DLO on the other which, so far as I can see, it has been the main purpose of this Bill to insist upon.
The noble Lord is in some difficulty, and I have no desire to detain the House on this. I have already talked for far too long on these breathtakingly exciting accounting matters.
I am quite content, in view of the explicit assurance by the noble Lord that he will look at the matter further; but I warn him now, as I have already warned him, that if the accounts are going to be prepared on the basis of the rigid rules laid down in Part III of this Bill, then this prediction which I am going to make will come true: when the accounts are prepared at the end of the year, with all the anomalies that will arise from some of the less intelligible parts of the Bill, no self-respecting accountant is going to certify them.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
§ Schedule 14 [Amendments relating to surveys and plans]:
§ 8.15 p.m.
Lord SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 56:
Page 202 line 28, at end insert—
("(aa) subsection (5) (indication of action areas in general proposals for structure plan) shall cease to have effect except in relation to structure plans approved by the Secretary of State before the passing of this Act;").
§ The noble Lord said: With Schedule 14 we move back into planning and that part of planning which is to do with the amendments to surveys and plans. I should like, if I may, to speak at the same 1146 time to Amendment No. 58 and couple that with four further amendments. Amendments Nos. 67, 68, 70 and 71. Those four amendments amend Schedule 34 which introduces various repeals to other enactments. This package of six linked amendments—two to Schedule 14 and four to Schedule 34—constitute a third joint attempt by myself and the noble Lord's department to make an adjustment to the respective responsibilities of counties and districts that flow from the fresh division of planning functions achieved by Clause 86 of this Bill.
§ As I have spoken to this object twice already, both Committee stage and Report, in an attempt to move amendments which, in the eyes of the Government, were defective and lacking in various ways, I will not go into the whole matter again, unless any noble Lord wishes me to do so. Suffice it to say that the responsibilities which are adjusted by these amendments are those in connection with the designation of action areas, which in the past has been dealt with by the counties in the course of preparing their structure plans, and the preparation of local plans devised to be linked with those actions areas by the district planning authorities when the structure plans have been approved. The amendments are complicated because they need to look to the future, the division of responsibilities established by the Bill, but to retain some part of the existing arrangements in respect of those structure plans which were approved before the passing of this Bill.
§ I hope that my noble friend, having had a part in framing these amendments, will now at last—and this is our last chance of doing it—be able to accept the amendments in this form. I am most grateful to him for his assistance. I beg to move.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, there is very little I need to add to what my noble friend Lord Sandford has said. He has explained fully the reason for this group of amendments. I am very grateful indeed for all the trouble that he has taken. I am happy to advise your Lordships that these amendments should be agreed. Amendments Nos. 67, 68, 70 and 71 are consequential on the previous amendments which I have now accepted. I am very happy to accept these, too.
§ Viscount RIDLEY
My Lords, there was a lot of talk earlier about a deal in smoke-filled rooms! Is this not a case where the ADC have stolen a march on the other local authority associations? Are they suitably contrite for what they have been doing?
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I had not noticed the ACC had done too badly out of the discussions that took place as we went along.
Lord SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 57:
Page 204, leave out lines 20 to 24 and insert—
("5A. The following subsection shall be substituted for subsections (6) to (8) of section 10C of that Act (development plan schemes):—
(6) Where a district planning authority make representations to the Secretary of State that they are dissatisfied with a development plan scheme, the Secretary of State may amend the scheme, and any amendment so made shall have effect as if made by the county planning authority.".
5B. The following provisions of that Act, namely—").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment may or may not date back to a smoke-filled room some many months before this Bill was drafted. Whatever its origins, it is again a topic to which I have alluded at previous stages, but a different topic from the one introduced by Amendment No. 56.
§ On this occasion I should like the agreement of the House to speak at the same time to Amendment No. 69 on page 12, which repeals other enactments through Schedule 34. These two amendments, taken together, amount to little more than technical amendments, limiting and adjusting the way in which the Secretary of State will be able in future to influence development plan schemes. As with previous amendments, I have had very considerable assistance from the noble Lord and his department. I hope that we have got these right as well, and I beg to move.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, this amendment makes a useful alteration to the provisions of Section 10C, giving the Secretary of State direct powers to amend a development plan scheme in response 1148 to representations by the district council, which will replace his existing powers of direction to the county planning authority. I commend it to your Lordships, and we are glad to accept it.
§ Lord SANDFORD
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 58:Page 204, line 43, at end insert—("6A.—(1) The following subsections shall be inserted after subsection (4) of section 11 of that Act:—(4A) Without prejudice to subsections (1), (2) and (4) of this section, the local planning authority may prepare a local plan for any part of their area (in this section referred to as an "action area") which they have selected for the commencement during a prescribed period of comprehensive treatment, by development, redevelopment or improvement of the whole or part of the area selected, or partly by one and partly by another method.(4B) A local plan prepared for an action area under subsection (4A) of this section shall indicate the nature of the treatment selected for the action area.".(2) Subsection (6) of that section (which imposes on a local planning authority a duty to prepare a local plan for any area indicated as an action area in a structure plan which has been approved by the Secretary of State) shall cease to have effect except in relation to structure plans approved by him before the passing of this Act.".").
§ 8.22 p.m.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 59:
Page 205, line 3, leave out from beginning to ("for") in line 18 and insert—
("(a) the following subsections shall be substituted for subsection (1):—
(1) After the expiry of the period afforded for making objections to a local plan or, if such objections have been duly made during that period, after considering the objections so made, the local planning authority may, subject to section 12 of this Act and subsections (1A), (2) and (3) of this section, by resolution adopt the plan either as originally prepared or as modified so as to take account—
(b) the following subsections shall be inserted after subsection (3):—
(3A) Subject to subsection (3B) of this section, where particulars of an objection to a local plan made by the Minister have been sent to the Secretary of State under subsection (1A) of this section, it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to direct that the plan shall not have effect unless approved by him.
(3B) The Secretary of State need not give a direction under subsection (3A) of this section if he is satisfied that the Minister no longer objects to the plan.";
(c) in subsection (4)—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, at the Report stage the House agreed to an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Stanley. As I pointed out then, and as my noble friend recognised, there were flaws in the drafting which called for correction. This amendment seeks to make a more general revision of Section 14 of the 1971 Act.
§ Although the Government consider the provision added to the Bill by the amendment tabled by my noble friend to be unnecessary, for the reasons I gave when we last discussed the matter, the purpose of the present amendment is to provide a new procedure which we consider will secure his intention more adequately than his own amendment did. Because there were already provisions relating to Section 14 of the Act in Schedule 14, the amendment incorporates one provision in addition to those covered by my noble friend's amendment, but the changes it is making to Section 14 are as follows.
§ A provision is being added to ensure that where the local authority do not 1150 propose to modify a local plan to meet an objection from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food they must notify the Secretary of State of that fact, and the new subsection (1A) provides that, in such circumstances, the local authority shall not adopt the plan until specifically authorised to do so. In addition, there are two new subsections—(3A) and 3(B)—which place a duty on the Secretary of State to call in the local plan for his own decision unless he is satisfied that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food no longer wishes to object to the plan. I believe this amendment fully meets the intentions of my noble friend's amendment, and I beg to move.
The Earl of CAITHNESS
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Government for bringing forward this amendment. It demonstrates to local planning authorities that Parliament and the Government place a special responsibility on them to reach agreement when preparing plans with the Minister of Agriculture; in other words, to make every effort to minimise the loss of good agricultural land. My noble friend referred to the fact that he considered it unnecessary. Although I hate to draw his attention to it, I will nevertheless draw his attention in this instance to an article in The Times of today and I will quote just the headline:Department failed deplorably to look after citizens' interests and protect cottages".This amendment was one moved by my noble friend Lord Stanley at Report stage in order to safeguard agricultural land. We feel it is necessary and we are grateful that the Minister has accepted its need. However, could he just confirm that he will guard against a "rogue" authority trying to evade this new responsibility by modifying the plan only slightly to take into account the Minister's objections? Also, can the Government give an assurance that in these circumstances they would use their power to direct the authority not to adopt the plan until he authorises them to do so, so that a ministerial review of the position could be made?
§ Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY
My Lords, in the past I have criticised the Government occasionally and in the future I may do so again, and so I should 1151 like to thank the Government, as my noble friend Lord Caithness has done, and in particular my noble friend Lord Bellwin, for drafting this amendment and accepting it in principle—not because I happened by chance to move it, but because a majority from all sides of your Lordships' House decided to support it, not only with their voices but with their feet. I should be less than honest if I did not say I was pleased that the Government have listened to your Lordships, particularly on an agricultural matter.
§ Schedule 31 [Urban Development Corporations: Finance etc.]:
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON moved Amendment No. 60:
Page 296, line 44, at end insert—
("( ) Any person may inspect a report of a corporation (including a copy of its audited statement of accounts for that year) under this section and shall be supplied with a copy of the report by the corporation on payment of such charge for a copy as it may reasonably require.
( ) A corporation shall publish in at least one newspaper circulating in its area notice of—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I must ask your Lordships' indulgence for having brought this matter once again to your attention. As your Lordships are aware, it concerns accounts of these urban development corporations, and all that this amendment seeks to do is to make quite sure that these accounts are open to anybody requiring to see them and that the corporation shall publish in at least one newspaper circulating in its area notice of the place and time where any report under this section may be inspected, the fact that copies of the report are available to be supplied to any person requiring them and the charge for each such copy. We are informed that the Government are in favour of open government; indeed much play was made of this in the general election which brought them into office. Here is an opportunity to do not only what is reasonable but actually what they said they would do.1152
§ Let us consider the position in regard to the accounts, not only of limited companies, whether private or public, but also the accounts of local authorities and those of direct labour organisations. These are open and can be obtained, and everything is quite open and above-board. In the case of the local authority with its DLO, the local authority itself is responsible to its local electorate. Therefore, there is a double filter, in a way, because not only are the local councillors able to inspect accounts but the public as well. Even in the case of ordinary limited companies, whether private or public, the public have access by due application to the Registrar of Companies. I am aware that these days it is a little more difficult since they are now on microfiches and in Cardiff, as against being in London, as formerly. Nevertheless, the facility is there and public companies do it in any event.
§ An urban development corporation is responsible for very considerable activities in the neighbourhood in which it is established but without the benefit—I assume the noble Lord will agree with me that it is a benefit—of any democratic representation and without the benefit of local accountability through its elected representatives because the members of an urban development corporation are in fact appointed by the Minister: they are his creatures and if one wanted to be a little sardonic about them one could say they are quangos, but this term is probably not capable of the same connotations as when it was used for political purposes a little while back. Surely, in the public interest, it is all the more necessary, if public confidence in these bodies is to be maintained, that their accounts and reports should be open in the same way as those of a local authority, a direct labour organisation, or whatever it is.
§ The noble Lord said on Report that this might, of course, be included, and that the whole purpose was to make more information available. He said that, perhaps, he could deal with it by regulation. Why is there this sudden propensity to deal with everything by regulation, when it can be put quite firmly in the Bill itself? I really must ask the noble Lord not to take refuge behind the answer: "We will include it in regulations"; or, 1153 "We will put it in a circular"; or, "We will issue instructions"; or, "We will use our best endeavours to ensure that". Why not put it in the Bill? Is it not more honest to put it in the Bill? Is it not more compelling to put it in the Bill? Indeed, is it not simpler, for the avoidance of all reasonable doubt, to put it in the Bill? My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I welcome the principle behind this amendment. It is, indeed, the Government's intention that UDCs should operate in as open a way as possible, and I am sure it is right that their reports should be made widely available at a reasonable charge, that they should be capable of inspection, and that these facts should be advertised. I am very happy to give the noble Lord an undertaking that we shall ensure that this gets done under the powers we have to give directions to UDCs.
But when the noble Lord asks "In that case, why not incorporate it in the main legislation?", I have to say that these are important matters, and I hope that what I said a moment ago indicates our feelings about them. We do not want to tie UDCs down in the main legislation to a particular régime which might prove inflexible or inappropriate. For example, there could be a press strike and notice, in those circumstances, might more reasonably be given via local radio. Indeed, one might use that or other of the media as a preferential way of doing things. We might wish to ask the UDCs to make documents other than their reports available as well. This only indicates that there are also restricting factors in the noble Lord's amendment.
I have given a pretty clear assurance—and I repeat the undertaking—that we shall ensure that this gets done under the powers that we have to give directions to UDCs. That, by the way, is an assurance which I did not give at Report stage. In a way, I feel rather sad. The noble Lord and I have discussed so many matters and we have now come so close, though I have not gone all the way to where he wants to be. If he will, I think he will just have to wait and see what happens, in practice, in the light of what I have said.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, naturally, I am very indebted to 1154 the noble Lord who has given an assurance in specific terms, which he did not find himself able to give at Report stage. This marks a considerable advance and we on this side are duly appreciative of it. I am not saying that the obtrusion of extraordinary events, such as a strike, a storm or a tempest, might not prevent publication at the due date. Those are matters of force majeure, which are applicable to any clause of the Bill. They would apply equally to the accounts of DLOs.
Perhaps the period of six months, which is prescribed for the rendering of a direct labour organisation's accounts, might be frustrated by the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Minister tripping over and hurting himself in six months' time, producing a state of forgetfulness. He might forget to make a direction when he should have made it. Those are matters of force majeure, but I do not think that one can pray them in aid in refusing to enact something which presupposes that matters will proceed more or less with normality, within the context in which they are set.
But I have no desire, particularly in view of the noble Lord's very zealous efforts and the progress which we have made this evening, to detain the House any longer. I should have much preferred it to be in the statute, but I unhesitatingly accept, and recommend my noble friends to accept, the quite unequivocal assurance which the noble Lord has given and which, I am quite sure, will be noted very carefully by all those concerned. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 32 [Enterprise zones]:
§ 8.36 p.m.
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 61:
Page 297, line 32, at end insert ("and
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment deals with the designation of enterprise zones and, while I welcome and am considerably interested in the development of enterprise zones, I should warn the Government that the enthusiasm for 1155 them is to be found at its height in the area that is to be designated. In the surrounding areas, and in other areas of high unemployment, there is fear that whatever industry is attracted will pass them by and go into the enterprise zone, while firms will be worried that there will be what they consider unfair competition from the zone, which may be only two or three miles away. There the enthusiasm is a little more muted.
§ It is ironic that the Government are taking this step at the present time when, in special development areas with high rates of unemployment of 18 per cent., such as in the Cumnock-Kirkconnel area, they have stopped finance. In the Stonefield development, they have a new type of Range Rover car, which had gone through its development period and was building up the prospects of good orders, but the Government suddenly clamped down and said, "No more money". Yet here they are prepared to put money into enterprise zones.
§ Enterprise zones are not exactly new. I remember that in 1951–52, in Scotland, we had the Toothill Report. The idea then was to have growth points. This is virtually the same thing, but now it is called an experiment. In Scotland, which has one-quarter of a million unemployed, we have only one enterprise zone presently mooted, and that is at Clydebank. The Government have said that it is an experiment, but it is a strange experiment when, before it has started, they select another two areas, as they did the other week, at Corby and somewhere else. But in Scotland there is only one.
§ Clydebank is just on the North-West of Glasgow, and I believe that the area of 570 acres which has been mentioned comes slightly into the Glasgow district. Of course, it will be of concern to the whole area that the enterprise zone authority will become a planning authority. It may well be that for planning purposes it is overlapping another district.
§ But much more important is the question of the regional authority which is the major planning authority for drawing up the structure plan. The structure plan which affects the Clydebank area is before the Secretary of State. Would it not have been far better if they had brought in the 1156 regional authority, in conjunction with the district authority, to plan the enterprise zone? It would have saved conflict. Noble Lords should not misunderstand me. There is quite a wealth of generous feeling towards the enterprise zone. We want it to succeed, and if we want it to succeed, we want speed, liaison and cooperation rather than conflict.
§ One must appreciate that Strathclyde, which has the whole of West Central Scotland in its area, has the heaviest unemployment in the whole of Scotland—not just in this one part. Its resources are limited, as the resources of all local authorities are limited by the Government. We have been told that the standards are not going to be reduced so far as the enterprise zone is concerned. But who will have to provide the infrastructure? The regional authority will have to provide the infrastructure. Quite apart from the money that the Government are going to put in, there will have to be money from the regional authority. At the same time it is going to lose rateable value, although it will be made up to them by the Government, according to what has been said.
§ Would it not be better in those circumstances, and help to soothe some of the fears of neighbouring authorities, if Strathclyde were included, in conjunction with the district authority, in the planning of the enterprise zone? The sole purpose of my amendment is to bring the two authorities together at the start. It will save conflict; it will ease some of the fears that they are going to be done down by the proximity of the enterprise zone. We had the same thing when Edinburgh at one time was not a development area although the area outside Edinburgh was, and when we saw factories being built not in Edinburgh but on the periphery. This is the sort of thing which people fear. It is a good idea, but it is not a panacea for Scotland's ills. We want it to be developed, we want it to be a success and we want it to be a success quickly so that it can spread elsewhere if the Government can afford the money.
§ That is the purpose of this amendment. It is a simple amendment but it is one which anybody with knowledge of local government and of how local authorities react to the interplay of the structure plan on the strategic plan would want. I know that whoever is going to answer, 1157 whether it be an English Minister or whether it be either of the two other noble Lords who are sitting there, is going to say, "Don't worry about it. Willy. It is all there, anyway. The next subsection says that the Secretary of State may suggest that they have got to consult so-and-so". With all due respect, for the protection of interests and for the purpose of getting that co-operation the possibility of consultation is not sufficient. The other interests would be better protected and things would go along very much more quickly if the statutory obligation for co-operation were there right from the start. I beg to move.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
My Lords, I should like to support this amendment very strongly indeed. Ever since the reorganisation of local government in Scotland there has been difficulty over the responsibilities of the regions and those of the districts. The regions are the planning authorities, and it is the regions which must be consulted and which must be brought into any development anywhere in the area within which they operate. Schedule 32 lists the district councils, the London borough councils, the new town corporations, the urban development corporations. But none of those operate in Scotland. The new town corporations and the urban development corporations are not the bodies which have the authority in Scotland.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, is absolutely right. It is the regions which have the planning authority. One has to have the backing of the regions for any enterprise in any area at all. The districts are all very well, but they do not have the planning responsibilities. Planning is the responsibility of the regions. It would be most unfortunate if a Bill like this were to be passed without mentioning for Scotland the importance of enlisting the support of the regions, consulting the regions and getting them to back whatever enterprise is put forward. It will not be successful unless we do so. It is much better to start straight away with the right situation and the right consultation, otherwise we shall run into trouble as, indeed, has been the case in some of the areas—not to do with enterprise zones but to do with the relationship between the district councils and the regions. Therefore I strongly support the amendment.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, first may I try to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. I hope he will accept—indeed, the House should know by now—that a fierce Scottish heart beats here in the absence of my noble friend Lord Mansfield. I hope that the noble Lord noted that I listened carefully to his dissertation on the reason why he believed that his amendment should be included in the Bill. It is clearly desirable that in preparing a scheme for an enterprise zone, district councils should consult the regional council. Indeed, my right honourable friend intends that his invitation to district councils to prepare an enterprise zone scheme should contain a direction to this effect. If noble Lords examine paragraph 1(5) of the schedule, they will see that it is quite adequate as it stands for the purpose which I have explained.
We believe that the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, is not only unnecessary but undesirable. The whole ethos of enterprise zones is to minimise any possibility, or even procedures, which could lead to delay. To require schemes to be prepared jointly—for this is what the phrase "in conjunction with" implies—would open up the possibility of negotiation and of lengthy bargaining over a fairly extended period to produce a document which might be acceptable to both councils in all its detail.
What we propose in the Bill is both simpler and better. The district council will consult the regional council in preparing their scheme. If the region consider, for some reason, that the scheme which is published and adopted by the district fails to take proper account of the views which they, the region, have expressed, they will doubtless make representations to the Secretary of State that it would not be expedient for him to make an order which would designate that zone, which we find is provided for in paragraph 5 of the schedule. Then my right honourable friend can decide whether the issues at stake are so vital that they should hold up the designation of the zone. We certainly bear in mind all that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, in supporting the concept and the ideas behind the enterprise zone.
The reason for rejecting the amendment is that we wish to keep the legislation 1159 simple and effective. I hope that my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood will accept that this is the main reason why we are unable to accept the amendment. In conclusion, we intend to direct that Strathclyde should be consulted in the preparation of the schemes for the Clydebank enterprise zone. The noble Lord's amendment is for this purpose unnecessary. We believe that it will create an opportunity for delay, and that is the last thing which we, or indeed the House, would want.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
I do not want any delay, either, my Lords. It is eight months since we first heard of these enterprise zones. Then what we had in Scotland was a battle between part of Renfrewshire and Clydebank and other places as to who was going to be selected. I am appalled at the delay which has already taken place. I want to minimise the delay in getting the thing drawn up, designated and then functioning. The point is that the impact of this zone, which is only one little island of industrial dereliction within a greater area, has a considerably greater impact than those other areas surrounding it, and Renfrew and Glasgow and Dumbarton and Milngavie and Bearsden all want to have some kind of protection. They are not going to get it from the district of Clydebank. I know the people in Clydebank and they are pretty good, but when it comes to the industrial concern for the whole area, that is a matter for Strathclyde, by statute.
When it comes to the expenditure—suppose we have to block up highways. Who does it? Not Clydebank but Strathclyde. If we want a new road, who does it? It is Strathclyde. We have already been told by the Government that they are not going to extend cash limits, so the authorities have to take it out of their resources. The noble Lord speaks about minimising delay, but when one is faced with a situation like that there is a recipe for delay, when the decision is that of one person and the expenditure is that of someone else.
I knew that there was consultation but we want more than consultation there, and one of the dangers about speed in consultation is that the consultation becomes perfunctory. We have been told 1160 to do it and we have done it. I want to make it co-operation rather than consultation, and I am very disappointed indeed in the answer that we have got from the junior Minister tonight. I would rather the Minister of State had been here, but I can quite understand that he is away in Liverpool tonight watching Aberdeen play Liverpool and that his fierce Scottish heart is beating in football terms. Maybe not—he may be in the Gallery of the other place listening to the debate on the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Amendment Bill. I am disappointed. I am not prepared to withdraw the amendment but I am not going to divide the House. I will allow the amendment to be negatived.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
§ 8.53 p.m.
Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE moved Amendment No. 62:
Page 304, line 23, at end insert ("not being a major retail space development.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, at various stages during the progress of the Bill amendments have been tabled to remove major retail space users from the rating exemptions proposed in the enterprise zone concept. In opposing these amendments the noble Lord made a number of sympathetic statements but said nothing more positive than that. At Committee stage he said:
I should have thought that this was arguably one of the most difficult aspects of the proposals—some would say the most difficult aspect of the proposals"—
I say again, we realise that there are arguments on both sides on this issue and strong and genuine differences of opinion and it is because we want to have the right answers that we are still having discussions about this".
Then we moved on to Report stage, when the noble Lord took the House further into his confidence and said:
Noble Lords might like to know that the possible solutions under discussion at present are about planning restrictions and not so much about changes to rating exemption, because our conclusion is that rating exemption itself should stand".
It is because of this sympathetic response from the noble Lord that I have tried to deal with this problem today in the way suggested by the noble Lord at Report stage. The amendment will have the
effect of removing a major retail space development from the planning exemption granted in an enterprise zone. There is considerable concern about this proposal and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, is seized of this problem.
§ Today the Association of Metropolitan Authorities—and I would say in parenthesis one would hope that the AMA are as successful as the ADC and the ACC were in earlier amendments—held a meeting of representatives from all those authorities involved in the initial list of areas that are to be invited to establish enterprise zones. At this meeting particular concern was again expressed about retailing in enterprise zones. The meetings that many of these authorities are having with the Department of the Environment officials suggests that in practice the Government are much less flexible than your Lordships might have supposed from the remarks made by the noble Lord at earlier stages of the Bill.
§ For example, in Swansea, planning control will operate only for retail developments above the very large figure of some 65,000 square feet, although Swansea apparently did not want any retailing in their enterprise zone. Below 65,000 square feet any number of developments can go ahead and there will be no geographical restriction. At a meeting today a delegation from Swansea was again unable to get more specific controls.
I have also been sent a copy of a letter which may have been circulated to a number of your Lordships by the Manchester Chamber of Trade, enclosing a copy of a letter sent by the Chamber of Trade to the Secretary of State. In this, they expressed their alarm about the possibility of retail outlets becoming established in the Trafford Park enterprise zone. In their letter to the Minister, they say:
It is understood that the Manchester Ship Canal Company have leased, subject at present to planning permission, an area of some 23.4 acres of land at Salford Docks to Hypermarket Holdings Limited to construct a supermarket of some 170,000 square feet, which would be by far the biggest in Greater Manchester. As you are aware, retail trading in the big cities has been very difficult for some and the recent increases in rates and services have almost wiped out what little trading profit was left. The advent of a privileged competitor on our very doorstep could prove disastrous to many of us and lead to the closure of some".
They go on to say:
Since the advent of the new Arndale Centre we are already over-shopped and there is no prospect here of a larger cake to share between us. The county structure plan forecasts a further fall of 1.5 per cent. in local population up to 1986 and the unit for retail planning information does not forecast any further significant growth".
We therefore ask you that retail distributors should be excluded from the Trafford Park enterprise zone or if they are included they should be subject to the same planning controls and rates as the rest of us. Members of this Chamber have paid their way in this City without subsidies of any kind for upward of 100 years and we want to stay that way".
§ My Lords, these voices of concern are voices which I know the noble Lord hears. He is seized of the problem here and I only hope that he will be able to give us firm assurances tonight on this matter. I do not want the noble Lord's reassurances merely to steer this Part of the Bill safely through. The Minister must give a clear and categorical statement that local authorities will be allowed to control retailing above a certain size, either throughout an enterprise zone or in part of that zone. If local authorities are to be coerced into allowing any form of retailing, then the experimental basis of such zones is called into question.
During the Committee stage of this Bill in another place, the Minister for housing made a statement which has not been followed up. He said:
The matter of resources for enterprise zones, particularly in regard to infrastructure, is one that we shall consider, but of course we cannot consider it until we know which will be the enterprise zones and whether they will or will not have infrastructure implications. But we shall be anxious to consider that and to see whether help is needed".
At least one authority which embraces an enterprise zone has been told that grants will most definitely not be available for infrastructure provision. Many of these sites will require major capital investment, expenditure which will have to compete against the overall capital allocation under the provisions in this Bill, and Government resources must be made available if the schemes are to be a success. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some positive assurances on this this evening. I beg to move.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
My Lords, may I say very briefly that I fully 1163 support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I have had a very large number of worried people contacting me about this possibility. I think there is a genuine and quite well-founded belief that it would be very unfair competition for a hypermarket to have the advantage of an enterprise zone competing with established shopping centres. In relation to the Speke enterprise zone this will cause a great deal of concern. I have had representations made to me from the Greater Manchester area. We have in my part of the world already turned down planning applications for hypermarkets in various parts of the Merseyside region. I am sure many of your Lordships have had representations made to you about this problem. I know the Minister is well aware of the problem and I hope he is going to be able to give real assurances to your Lordships' House, because this is a problem causing concern to people who have spent many years and a great deal of money in building up successful and competitive businesses.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I can say immediately that I cannot give the kind of undertakings the noble Lord asks me to do specifically. The fact is that there are still questions to be answered in this area and the whole thing turns on discussions with individual authorities. Clearly I am not going to comment upon what any particular authority is saying, because I shall need to be discussing it with them myself before I could do so. But the fact is that it is the authorities themselves who have applied to us to be included in this. When I said earlier that we were concerned about hypermarkets, I meant exactly what I said. But I cannot give an undertaking to accept an amendment which places a restriction in this way when I know how different the circumstances are in different areas and that what applies and is right and proper for one may be quite wrong for another. Nor would I want to mislead the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, or this House that I would do so.
We fall back again and again on the point that this is an experiment. No one guarantees its success. With it comes the kind of problems we are talking about. I have responded to this in your Lordships' House; I have indicated that the Government are aware of this problem and are 1164 not seeking to coerce local authorities, as the noble Lord suggests; not at all—that is the last thing we want to do. We are not trying to coerce anyone about any aspect of this. We are saying here is an opportunity. We want to play a role in this. It will cost the Government money, but because we think that these are areas of such dereliction that they need some special treatment we are prepared to see that money goes in in that way.
But, in doing that, we recognise the concern of those, not so much in the area but on the periphery or in nearby areas, who may be adversely affected. I must say that other than in the retailing area—and there is one other area I can think of in which someone has approached us—in the main I think the benefits to be gained will more than outweigh any such difficulties that may be thrown up. But, at the end of the day, this is going to have to be decided by the authorities themselves not by the Government coercing anyone. All we can do to help them in making their decision as to whether to proceed is to say that of course we recognise this difficulty; we will be willing to take a different approach in different areas where what may concern one may not concern another. That is why I cannot accept this amendment which seeks to restrict it and tie it down. If that means that noble Lords are not able to go along with it. I am regretful, because I think it is recognised by everyone that this is a real attempt to try to do something. Therefore, I hope it would receive even reserved approval by everyone in your Lordships' House, and I still hope that will be the case. But I am not in a position to give the undertakings the noble Lord asks for.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
My Lords, I am sorry the noble Lord is not in a position to give those undertakings. As I have said in earlier debates we have had on this issue, the establishment of these major retail users within enterprise zones can have a very serious effect on the peripheral areas immediately outside. It seems to me right that such matters should be reserved to the local authorities within those areas. I am sorry the noble Lord has not been able to give the undertakings which I have asked for this evening, and I shall divide the House.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 62) shall be agreed to?
§ [Amendment No. 63 not moved.]
§ Schedule 34 [Repeals.]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 64 and 65 not moved.]
§ 9.14 p.m.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 66:
Page 318, line 13, after (""or"") insert (", in the second place where it occurs,").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment when I dealt with Amendment No. 53, which was the same. I beg to move.1166
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 33; Not-Contents, 69.1165
|Amherst, E.||Irving of Dartford, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Jeger, B.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Blease, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Simon, V.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Lockwood, B.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Collison, L.||Maelor, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|David, B. [Teller.]||Mishcon, L.||Stone, L.|
|Denington, B.||Peart, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Phillips, B.||Underhill, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Wade, L.|
|Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Raglan, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Ferrers, E.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Avon, E.||Ferrier, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Bellwin, L.||Fortescue, E.||Mottistone, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gainford, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Gisborough, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Glenkinglas, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Gowrie, E.||O'Neill of the Maine, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Grimthorpe, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Caithness, E.||Hanworth, V.||Renton, L.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Harvey of Tasburgh, L.||Ridley, V.|
|Chelwood, L.||Harvington, L.||St. Germans, E.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Sandford, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Croft, L.||Inglewood, L.||Savile, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Kemsley, V.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Killearn, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Digby, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Long, V.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Lyell, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Elton, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Vickers, B.|
|Faithfull, B.||Marley, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Middleton, L.||Young, B.|
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord SANDFORD moved Amendments Nos. 67 to 71:
Page 324, line 50, after ("7") insert (", in subsection")
Page 324, line 54, at end insert ("and subsection (5)")
Page 325, line 2, leave out from ("section") to end of line 12 and insert ("10C(2), the words" Subject to regulations under this section".").
Page 325, line 20, at end insert ("; subsection (6)")
Page 326, line 5, after ("end,") insert ("paragraph 6,").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have spoken to each of the five amendments which now follow in my name and as they are all amendments to the same schedule, I believe that I would be in order in suggesting that they should be moved en bloc. I beg to move these amendments en bloc.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.1167
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 72:
Page 330, line 2, column 3, at end insert—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a purely technical amendment consequential on the repeal of Section 174(3) of the 1972 Act by subsection (2) of Clause 25. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord LYELL moved Amendment No. 73
Page 330, line 7, at end insert—
|("1973 c. 65.||Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.||Section 46(2).")|
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Mansfield, I beg to move Amendment No. 73 which stands in his name. I hope that the House will agree that this is a technical amendment which inserts into Schedule 34 Section 46(2) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, which is repealed by Clause 25(2) of this Bill. The amendment is identical in effect to that which has just been moved by my noble friend Lord Bellwin. Having said that, I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 74:
Page 330, line 10, at end insert—
|("1976 c. 70.||Land Drainage Act 1976.||Section 65(8).")|
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the very last gasp! This amendment is consequential upon the acceptance by the House of Amendment No. 173A which was moved by my noble friend Lord Mottistone at the Report stage. Is it not appropriate that at the very end of the day I should say that we are very pleased to accept this amendment, which is why we move it in this way. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, this is a long-awaited moment; I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. It is virtually three months since we approved the Second Reading of this Bill, and although it is a long Bill and in some parts a somewhat complicated one, we have had a 1168 very thorough go at it. We spent almost seven hours over the Second Reading debate, in which 27 speakers took part. We spent very nearly 50 hours over the Committee stage, covering seven days and usually late nights—a length of time which I should imagine is not often surpassed in your Lordships' House. Having examined the Bill in such detail and having argued the merits of so many alternative approaches, we returned to the attack again the next time round and spent over 25 hours over four more days on Report stage. And even today, in that part of the Third Reading which is given over to the consideration of amendments, we have taken up no negligible space of time. That is good going for a revising House, and I think that we and our respective colleagues in another place can be satisfied that this Bill has been gone over thoroughly and revised where appropriate.
As to the merits of the different amendments we have made, these will appeal or not, according to one's point of view. Perhaps I might mention briefly just some of those which the Government see as more significant. It is part of the fruits of our deliberations that authorities whose expenditure is less than their grant-related expenditure will not thereby suffer a loss of grant; that urban development areas will, in general, be restricted to the inner cities for which they are designed; that the publication of information provisions in Part II designed to further local democracy will apply to Scotland and to public bodies other than local authorities proper. We have done a good deal of tidying, perhaps particularly in Part XVI but also in dealing with such important matters as education pooling, the Metropolitan Police and passenger transport executives.
Most of these changes were at the Government's behest, but we have seen a fair amount of, dare I call it, private enterprise as well. My noble friend Lord Ridley secured the addition to the controls schedules of a large number of useful items dealing with highways and road traffic. My noble friend Lady Faithfull led us to reverse the effect of the Liverpool judgment which has been an obstruction to the valuable work of the local ombudsman. The noble Earl, Lord Minto, has persuaded us to repair the long-standing anomaly whereby vice-convenors of Scottish local authorities are 1169 not entitled to the allowance enjoyed by their English and Welsh counterparts. My noble friend Lord Colville moved some successful amendments to extend domestic rate relief to separately assessed garages; and similarly in the rating field are those amendments of my noble friend Lord Thurso, which attracted so much support from all quarters of the House and which we hope will give to fish farms the same benefits as those enjoyed by the more conventional kinds of agriculture.
I should also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hill, whose powerful arguments backed up those of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and persuaded the House to accept an amendment against my original advice but which, in the end, as I said earlier, we have not asked the House to reverse. Nor should I omit to mention at this stage the deep interest in the system of structure and local plans shown by my noble friends Lord Ridley and Lord Sandford, together with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon and others. And finally, there is the new Part XVII of the Bill, dealing with gipsy sites, for which we are indebted, I suspect in some sense collectively, to the noble Lords, Lord Irving and Lord Avebury, the noble Baroness, Lady David, and my noble friend Lord Ridley.
Nor would I like to pass over the miscellaneous improvements which have been made to the Bill. Clause 186, for example, although its title is rather dry, is none the less a useful provision; and as late as last Thursday we added a helpful new clause about land drainage, at the behest of my noble friend Lord Mottistone. That was the last amendment, with which I have just dealt. I do not see that I can leave this subject without mentioning the many invaluable corrections to the drafting which have been made at the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Renton, whose keen eye has picked up many slips of our pen.
All these amendments, however, have left intact the lineaments of the inner dignity and thrust of the Bill. I know that there are still those on the Benches opposite who hold fast to their original conviction that Part VI, the heart of the Bill, will have an adverse effect on the 1170 future of local government. I respect their opinions, even though they are diametrically opposed to mine. Our debates, of course, have not been confined to the amendments I have mentioned; they have ranged widely, as widely as the alternative system of rate support grant which was proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton. But in the end we have approved, in all the various stages, the substance of the Bill as it was introduced, and I am grateful for the support which the House has shown to the Government's point of view.
I respect, as I have said before, the opinions of those on the Benches opposite, who doubtless will shortly rise to disagree with me; but I have made clear throughout my absolute conviction that they are utterly and irredeemably wrong. But that does not mean that we have not had constructive and helpful debates, for we have had both, in large measures. We have, indeed, been able to accept many of the amendments proposed from across the Floor, and we have listened to many helpful interventions and many fine speeches.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, has carried the major burden of opposing this Bill; it is a heavy task, to which my own experience can bear witness. I pay tribute to her unreservedly for her constant courtesy, and, may I say, charm; for her tirelessness—an essential requisite, I am afraid—and for the valiant way she has coped with the sometimes very complex issues which the Bill presents. I am deeply grateful to her. In these virtues she has been most ably supported by her colleagues: the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the always so compelling, eloquent and persuasive Lord Mishcon.
The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, has carried a very substantial burden on the Liberal Benches. I should mention our admiration for the enthusiasm with which the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, threw himself into the battle for direct labour organisations. I especially appreciated his restraint, and it will always be a matter of some regret to me that at the last I was not able outrightly to accept at least one of his amendments; but there you are, that is in the way of things.
1171 I also acknowledge the expertise of the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, and the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. The local authority associations have been ably represented in our debates by their presidents, and Cambridgeshire in particular has found doughty protagonists in its three noble Baronesses who were so active in our debates. Nor shall I forget the always stylish and respected interventions of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek.
My last and most pleasant duty in this last debate upon the Bill—and I say at once that I apologise to any noble Lord or noble Baroness who I do not mention, whom I would dearly like to; I know they will forgive me—is to express my warmest thanks to my colleagues here on this Bench who have provided such able and agreeable help in bearing the Government's flag in this House. I know the others will not mind my saying that we have perhaps benefited most from the deep and intimate knowledge of the rating system possessed by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who, together with the Minister of State for Scotland, has also taken the lead when our debates have strayed away from England and Wales. May I say as an aside that it has at all times been a great comfort to me to know that when technical legal points have come up at short and unexpected notice my noble friend has sat there next to me. He really is a great comfort in every way. I am grateful to him. My thanks are also due to my noble friend Lord Belstead, who has coped with an unusual range of Home Office matters, stretching from police to pleasure boats.
My noble friend Lord Ferrers, not content with covering agricultural matters, has taken responsibility for some of the rating and for many of the complicated controls in Part I of the Bill. And I shall not forget the sterling services rendered in Committee by my noble friend Lord Sandys on new towns, and by my noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, who helped with some of the urban development provisions. Last, but by no means least, there is my new colleague at the Department of the Environment, my noble friend Lord Avon, 1172 who has proved bold and resolute in this baptism of fire and has taken on such controversial issues, single handed I may say, as gipsies, and he has done it without flinching. So my special thanks are due to all of them for the hard work they have put in, and indeed for their kindness in the first place in agreeing to relieve me of some of this task. May I also thank the Whips and the business managers for their patience, skill, tolerance and understanding. This indeed was paramount.
But I think perhaps I should finally extend my thanks more widely to my other noble friends on the Benches behind. There were invaluable contributions from my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter, Lord Morris and others, who I know will forgive me if I do not mention them individually; also, my thanks go to the noble Lords opposite who have spoken, and to all those Cross-Benchers who have made such a valuable contribution to our debates. My Lords, the atmosphere in this Bill, despite its contentiousness, its weight and its complexity, has usually been good-humoured and courteous, and I owe it to the whole House to thank them for this, which has eased my path in the formidable task of steering this Bill through the House. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill now pass.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Bellwin.)
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, first, I should like to offer thanks from this side of the House to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for his courtesy, his very conciliatory manner and his equanimity at all times. He has carried the heavy burden of this Bill and at times we wondered whether he was going to stay the course, but always he has remained good-tempered and kindly, and we are grateful to him. We offer thanks also to his officials for providing us with Notes on Clauses and on Government amendments, and heaven knows there have been enough of those, even another 20 today—so many that our fears have been confirmed during the passage of this Bill that it was ill-conceived and cobbled together in the first place. It leaves this House with four additional schedules 1173 and over 30 new clauses, which must be a record for any Bill.
We are drawing to the end of 13 long days' consideration of the Bill and, as the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said, it seems a very long time since Second Reading on 5th August. We said then that this was a worrying Bill, because it is an enabling measure which will give the Secretary of State far too much power through secondary legislation, and at the very heart of this Bill, in Parts V, VI and VII, are a set of proposals which have fundamentally restructured the relationship between central Government and the local authorities. We have been unable to get the right assurances as to how these parts of the Bill will work, how a fair formula will be decided upon and on what basis, and what redress authorities will have if they feel they have been treated unfairly and that their particular local problems do not seem to have been taken into consideration.
The local authority associations and everyone working in local government or serving on local councils are still unhappy about this Bill, and they feel that local government will only be responsible for a group of agency services directed and overseen by civil servants in the Department of the Environment. We still say that the local authorities should be able to make their own judgments about their expenditure needs, capital or revenue, provided they are prepared to finance them from their own resources and make their own decisions with a due sense of responsibility and local accountability.
This was a monstrous Bill on 5th August, and it is not much less so today. The Government have given very little—lots of assurances, but very little written into the Bill—and personally I very much regret that the Government felt it necessary to reintroduce in this House, after being defeated in the Lobbies, the original subsection on the sale of new town assets. I am not denying the Government's right to try to reverse that decision, but I remember that when we were in Government we were always told by the noble Lords opposite that when they defeated us in the Lobbies it was because this House was a revising Chamber, and it was sent back to the other place to give 1174 them a chance to look at it again. It makes interesting speculation as to why this course was not followed in this particular instance. Could it be that some of the Government Members representing new towns might have appreciated the danger and voted against the Government if they had had a second chance?
My Lords, the noble Lord opposite has repeatedly said they are committed to new towns; they want to see them all completed. Again we have had assurances, but again, even as late as this evening, we have got nothing written into the Bill and no future Secretary of State can be bound by any assurances given by his predecessors. At Second Reading I said that it would be a sad, sad day for democratic local government if this ill-conceived Bill ever got on to the statute book but that we would do our best to amend it and make it more sensible and workable. We have fought hard to amend this Bill. I believe we have won many of the arguments but so few of the votes, and this iniquitous piece of legislation goes forward almost as the Government intended. We still maintain that it is a constitutionally deficient Bill. It is arbitrary. It gives far too much power over local government to the Secretary of State, to any Secretary of State, and it is a covert and a dangerous Bill which has gone a long way to destroying the mutual trust and confidence between local authorities and central Government, trust and confidence that has taken decades to build up.
The overall damaging effects will be inevitable when the Bill is enacted; it is so alien to our traditions of local government. Local government will be forced to put the blame on central Government for any failures to provide the services the people want and it will be the Ministers in another place who will have to spend a lot of time answering correspondence and Questions from MPs because their constituents will have to go to MPs when it is no longer a matter for their local councillors. The aggregate expenditure on local government is what matters and it has been proved from all parts of this House and admitted by the DoE that local government aggregate expenditure was strictly under control before the Bill even emerged. Indeed, if Government departments were as much under control 1175 and managed their affairs as well as local government, we should not be in the mess with PSBR that we are today.
Many people have given long years of service to local government at every level from parish and community councils to district councils, county councils and metropolitan authorities. They have fought their elections over the years on programmes tailored to suit their areas. If they wanted to provide more ambitious services than their neighbours they could do so in the sure and certain knowledge that if their electors approved of what they were trying to do they would probably hold their seats next time round, and equally certainly if they had gone too far they would be out on their ear. They had their independence and their freedom, and the price they paid—they paid it willingly—was that they had public and local accountability.
Local government is about different authorities with different needs and different resources. Different authorities come to different conclusions and make different decisions about their spending needs, and the justification for all that is their local accountability. After this Bill is enacted, that will all be history. From next week, local government as we have known it over the years will have gone. Local government in this country has a long and honourable record and it deserves better than this Bill, which shows a complete and utter disregard for local democracy and is a deliberate move to replace local control with central dictatorship.
I asked in Committee, speaking of noble Lords in all parts of the House who have had a distinguished record of service on local authorities: would you want to continue in local government as a puppet of a Secretary of State of whatever party? I appealed for help to remove the arbitrary clauses in the Bill. I failed, but my colleagues and I have fought a good and hard fight to save local government. I am proud to have worked with every one of them and I know we would do it all over again if at the end of the day local government could remain local, could retain its autonomy, its independence and its local accountability. But that is 1176 not to be, and it is a sad day for many of us to see the Bill leave this House virtually unamended in any of the respects that are so vital to save local government.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
My Lords, I wish at the outset to join in the paeans of praise to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for the way in which he has taken the principal part in conducting this very complex Bill through your Lordships' House. He got so carried away that he described my noble friend Lord Thurso as his noble friend; I am glad that he has certain friends on the Liberal Benches. The Minister's great experience of local government and his great patience in piloting the Bill through your Lordships' House have made what I thought was an impossible task into one that has been only just possible. He has been fortunate—he said that himself—to have had his noble and noble and learned colleagues on the Front Bench to help him, but the principal praise for the way in which the Bill has been conducted must go to Lord Bellwin.
I have found working with, and very rarely against, noble Lords on this side of the Chamber a pleasant experience, particularly the consideration and understanding I received from the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and I have been most fortunate in the help and advice I have had from colleagues on my own Benches.
This is a Bill of 19 parts, 197 clauses, and 34 schedules, though I am sure that since today's proceedings it is much larger. During the period that we have been discussing it the West Germans have had an election, the Australians have had an election, and the United States have chosen a president. When one considers those points one gets some idea of the length of time that we have spent on this Bill.
An indication of the complexity and the difficulties of the Bill is provided by the fact that today when I arrived here starry-eyed after staying up very late last night watching the results of the American presidential election, I found a huge selection of further amendments from the 1177 Government. That is perhaps also an indication of the way in which, as the noble Baroness said, the Bill has been "cobbled" together by the Government.
So far as I am concerned the Bill is not only, as I originally suspected, an attack on my concept of local government—and obviously a concept which I share with the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman—but it is also an attack on the reasonable and rational use of Parliament to discuss and improve proposed legislation. Furthermore, it seems to me to be an invasion by the executive of the function of the legislature, and certainly in many ways a mockery of the role of your Lordships' House as a revising Chamber.
I repeat that this is not a criticism of the noble Lord the Minister. It is a criticism of this enormous Bill, which is really six or seven, or perhaps even nine or 10, different Bills all added together. It is not really a way in which any Government of any political complexion should go about legislating. In clause after clause, and part after part, the Bill has introduced new opportunities for the Secretary of State to make orders, to introduce regulations, and to set down codes of practice. It is a question not only of the mammoth size of the Bill, but also of the fact that it triggers off a whole new creeping, cancerous growth of subordinate legislation. I remember that during an earlier stage of the discussion of the Bill in your Lordships' House—I think it was on Report—the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, rightly pointed out that the volume of this subordinate legislation would effectively preclude any serious examination or discussion of much of it, very important though it is.
The parliamentary process of examination and control of legislation, the protection of the rights of citizens and the right at local level—I underline at local level—to manage our own affairs is in very serious danger of breaking down under the legislative programme, or blitzkrieg, of this Government. The Bill has introduced a number of minor reforms, which I welcome, giving local authorities more freedom, but in my view these are largely cosmetic. In trying to deal with the long-standing 1178 major defect of British local government, its financing, the Bill has succeeded in further emasculating and centralising local government in what I believe to be—though I am sure that the noble Lord the Minister will not agree—a very dramatic way. First, it has removed the need for regular rating reviews, and thereby the Government have destroyed the tax base of local authorities. This will increase the anomalies and unpopularity of the rating system and remove any natural buoyancy in the rate base. The Government claim that they are considering the whole question of rating; in fact they have been claiming this since they came into office. No one, least of all the Government, expects quick results. In the interim the Government have now introduced uncertainty and arbitrariness into the timing of revaluations. In my view this is bad administrative practice carried out in the name of economy.
Secondly, by introducing the block grant, the Bill has made a fundamental attack on the two central basic decisions that individual local authorities have historically been able to make: the local authority's judgment of its own need to spend, and its determination of the rate that it needs to levy. To me those are two fundamental obligations, duties, and rights of local government. What has so concerned me and I am sure several noble Lords on all sides of the Chamber is the fact that during the passage of the Bill local government has ceased to be local government and has become local agency of central Government.
Try as the Government may, they cannot successfully hide, and they have failed to hide, this fundamental blow to local government autonomy. It will not do for the Government to say that local authorities can still make these decisions. The whole thrust of the transitional provisions and the block grant is to penalise heavily those authorities whose judgments and decisions differ from those of central Government. As I said earlier, during the course of the Committee stage of this Bill, the Bill introduces what I have described as the concept of democratic centralism as understood in the third article of the constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; namely, the obligation 1179 of lower bodies to observe the decisions of higher ones.
The Bill has further emasculated local independence by introducing urban development corporations to do the work that in my opinion locally-elected local authorities with a little more freedom could well have carried out themselves. Indeed, the whole purpose of setting up county councils under the 1972 legislation was to enable them to do these very things which have now been taken away from them; and by introducing fees for planning applications the Government have introduced a new and, to me, totally unacceptable principle of charging or, indeed, of taxing individuals for the privilege of accepting limitations on how an individual can use his own land and property.
My Lords, praising the noble Lord the Minister for the way in which he has conducted this Bill does not in any way diminish the view held on these Benches that this is a thoroughly bad piece of legislation, and is a blow to the very heart of democratic local government in this country.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Lord SANDFORD
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those which have already been expressed to my noble friend on the Front Bench for his conduct of this Bill. Those congratulations are all the more heartfelt because eight years ago I occupied his office. I believe I endured at least as many Divisions, and I am certain I suffered many more defeats. So I know what it feels like; and I am sure my noble friend is delighted to be at the stage we have now reached. His is, I think, an astonishing achievement, and perhaps the greatest tribute to him is that, although this friendless Bill leaves us almost as friendless as it was when it arrived, it leaves us with his personal reputation very firmly established and, if anything, very greatly enhanced. That is a remarkable achievement, and is thoroughly deserved.
My noble friend has done his persuasive best to infect us all with his own personal 1180 convictions about, and his own personal enthusiasm for, this Bill. I think he has been helped in that, if I may say so, by arranging for notes on clauses and notes on amendments to be issued to us, and that has enabled us to see more clearly what it was that the Government were intending to do. There is no doubt that his persuasiveness, coupled with those notes, has served to allay a number of suspicions and to remove a number of doubts, but I have to tell my noble friend and his noble friends on the Front Bench that there is a considerable job of work to be done before local government as a whole is persuaded that this Bill is going to be for their long-term benefit—and this work must be tackled very seriously when the Bill is on the statute book.
My Lords, I am sure we have been able to improve the Bill here and there, and I hope that another place will be able to acknowledge and accept the improvements we have made. But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. It will come when we see the way the Bill works out in practice, and whether the fears expressed by noble Lords opposite (many of which, I am afraid, I share) about the extent to which central Government will be tempted and enabled to interfere in the workings of local government are justified. It will emerge when we see the quality and the tone—particularly the tone—of the many regulations that will emerge from this Bill, and when the benefits which Ministers claim for this Bill are realised, if in fact they can be realised.
My Lords, local government is used to criticism. Members and officers know that they have to accept criticism as part of the hazards of their office and that it is not for them to enjoy the rewards of profit, as it is in the private sector. During the passage of this Bill, particularly in this House, that criticism has been greatly intensified. It has been intensified by private industry, who find themselves grappling with the recession, with redundancies and with high interest rates; it has been intensified by central Government and not least by Ministers responsible for local government as they have been left grappling, not with complete success, with their own failure to control their own targets of public expenditure for 1181 which they were directly responsible; and it has been intensified by private individuals grappling with the manifold personal problems which beset them in these hard times.
Local government has learned to live with these criticisms and, I hope, to welcome it and use it constructively; but it cannot do so unless the criticism is specific, constructive and can be substantiated. I hope that a lot of these broad, general, wide swipes of criticism of local government will begin to die down; for they are destructive, damaging to morale, quite counter-productive and no useful purpose can be made of them. If this Bill enables local government to be criticised in a specific, constructive way which can be substantiated, it will do some good.
One of the reasons for this Bill is that local government is responsible for a very large sector of public expenditure, £14,000 million; and local government in present circumstances has a very clear duty to help cut our national economic coat according to our national economic cloth; to stop spending what we do not earn and to do everything it is required to do with the maximum efficiency. For instance, we must use the housing stock we have got; and the Housing Bill will help us to do that. Planners and the district councils who are now responsible for the employment of the great bulk of planners, must learn to encourage rather than to restrain productive enterprise. That is a lesson I am sure they are now learning fast. But there is not a great deal of mileage to be gained in curbing waste and extravagance because there is not as much of that about as people would like to believe. But where it exists, of course, it must be curbed and, if necessary, penalised.
But, in addition to that, certainly we will have to reduce services. We must certainly review charges where they are already made and consider introducing charges where they are not being made. It will be necessary certainly to reduce staff, I hope by means of natural wastage; but everyone in local government must realise that high wages in present circumstances can only accelerate reductions and oblige local government to move from 1182 natural wastage to enforced redundancies. In all this, it is most important that everybody concerned with trying to help local government do what is expected of them should distinguish between the savers and the spenders. For those local authorities—and I like to think it is the great majority—that have been trying to curb expenditure and to make savings for several years, it would be very difficult to do very much more. The fact that there are a few who have been spending far more than they should have been spending under present economic circumstances does not mean to say that huge savings can be made now suddenly by the great majority. They cannot.
The only other thing I want to say is that it is now the clear priority of local authorities, and the district councils in particular, to promote and support industrial development by the private sector. This is our highest priority. It involves a significant change of attitude by our planners, and that I think is being achieved. It requires an appraisal and the dissemination of examples of the best practice in this field by districts and their associated agencies, in the promotion of wealth-creating and job-creating business enterprises. If some of the clauses of this Bill help in this way I believe that our five weary weeks will not have been spent in vain.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I should like to add a few words from this side of the House. I can understand the feelings of noble Lords about this Bill because many of them think that it is an English Bill. Certainly from the Front Bench opposite I have had nothing but courtesy—and I return nothing but admiration to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for the way that he has conducted this Bill. He has shown a knowledge of local government that must have surprised many people who did not know him. When we appreciate that this Bill has followed the Housing Bill, the cast may have changed at times but not the cast on the Front Bench, because he was there during the Housing Bill and showed the same mastery of the subject. I am delighted about that.
1183 I am not going to thank him for the Bill. As a Scotsman, I consider this to be a bloated, mongrel measure. The future of this place is under question in certain parts of Parliament. I do not know whether the Prime Minister will be all that satisfied with what we have done. Inflation is the enemy. When it came to us, the Bill had 166 clauses; now it has 197. When it came to us it had 265 pages; now it has 330. When it came to us it had 30 schedules; now it has 34. So we have played our part in inflation.
From a Scottish point of view I say "mongrel". The Minister said at one point in his "farewell" speech that the heart of the matter was Part VI. How many clauses, my Lords, in Part VI apply to Scotland? Not a single one. There are 197 clauses, and more than 100 of them do not apply to Scotland. If we take the main clauses, Parts IV, V, VI, VII and VIII, dealing with local government allowances, rates, rate support grants, miscellaneous grants and capital expenditure—those 62 clauses—only seven apply to Scotland. When we take town and country planning, land held by public bodies, and so on, right through to land in Wales, Parts IX, X, XI and XII, there are only two of the 25 clauses which apply to Scotland. This is not the way to legislate for Scotland.
Tribute has been paid to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate. I challenge him as the adviser to the Government on Scottish law. He is not a Scottish Minister. He is a United Kingdom Minister; he is the adviser to the Government on Scottish law. Is this the way to legislate for Scotland? Is it fair to ask any Scottish local authority to go through all this Bill and pick out the bits and pieces that apply to Scotland? Is it fair to the Scottish lawyers? Are we going to reprint this Bill leaving out all the English parts? That is a simple, straightforward question and I should like an answer from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate now. Is that going to be done?
This has been done before and this always happens when we get this confusion of legislation. It is not good 1184 enough for somebody to get up and say: "It is a United Kingdom Bill". We have a corpus of law in Scotland related to local government. It is nothing to do with English local government; it is an entirely different system.
The same thing is true of town and country planning. The same thing is true of the oldest subject for legislation in Scotland, land. Why should we get this mixed up? It is absolutely impossible. It is asking a bit much for the few of us in this place who are Scots to plough our way through all this business of reading English legislation and trying to translate it in those clauses which apply to Scotland. By the way, the draftsmen have had an awful time with this, I am perfectly sure. I could suggest a few more amendments, but I have a little more to do with my time than spend it on this particular one.
I listened to the noble Lord who referred to 1973 and the time he had, because that was the Bill that dealt with local government reorganisation. The year 1973 was when the Tory Government introduced local government reorganisation for Scotland. Many people, including many people sitting opposite me tonight, felt that was a disaster for local government. They said that local government ceased to be local. I tend to agree with the noble Lord who spoke from the Liberal Benches that with this Bill it tends now not to be "government". More and more what we have got is directives and regulations, the law being laid down; and the choice of decision by local government has gone.
I remember a time when elections were fought by the party opposite on the platform of freedom for the local authorities. They have shackled them and they have shown that they have no confidence in them. The statutory responsibility for the functions is still upon local authorities, but if they seek to carry out their functions in accordance with what they think to be essential, they are going to be clobbered by the central authority and by the Secretary of State, be it in Whitehall or in St. Andrew's House.
It is not good enough, and I think that many people will live to regret the day, 1185 having already regretted that they took away the local aspect from local government. Now I think they have restricted the "government" part. My last plea 1186 is this: Never let this happen again, so far as Scottish legislation is concerned. This is the wrong way to treat Scottish legislation.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Viscount RIDLEY
My Lords, I do not know whether or not it is a coincidence that we are passing this Bill on Guy Fawkes' night and I will not go so far as to say that it is such a threat to democracy as that gentleman was; but I do think we have provided enough bonfire material to last for many years to come.
This Bill has fundamentally altered the relationship between local and central Government. It may be for the better or it may be for the worse. We cannot see into the future and we cannot be certain about it. All I think is that nothing will be quite the same again after this Bill. We have already had many disquieting reports about the complications which the new system of rate support grant is introducing.
Those of us who have taken part in these long debates have enjoyed it; I do not deny that. This House has done its utmost to do the job for which it exists, and it has done the job very well. I have been greatly privileged personally to be able to take some part in it and occasionally to weary your Lordships with some of the views of the Association of County Councils. I think we really must welcome the way the House has tackled the somewhat tedious subjects in parts of this Bill.
Let us look for a second into the future. I think that this country must devise a better way of financing local government than the complicated house of cards which we have constructed over the years and which is in danger at times of collapsing—a system which can blend accountability, responsibility and acceptability and which does not need this sort of legislation to control it. It is about 70 years or more since the question of local government finance was raised in Parliament. I think it was under A. J. Balfours' Administration, which ought to please the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. Anyway, whether or not we have succeeded in solving it is a matter which I think your Lordships would agree is uncertain. We must give local authorities freedom, because I think democracy suffers very greatly if the local authorities are not free, and one of the essential parts of a vigorous democracy is a sound local government.
1188 I believe that this House, whether it be reformed or not, is ideally placed to look more closely at how we really can finance local government properly in the future. We need at least a year's rest from this subject—I am sure that your Lordships would agree that nobody wants to talk about it at the moment—but after such a period I do hope that we can return to it with a renewed sense of purpose and a feeling of how to make this thing work.
I should like to add a very sincere tribute to my noble friend Lord Bellwin for all that he has done to pilot this Bill through the House. I shall not repeat what has been already said, but I feel strongly that he has done a marvellous job on behalf of the Government and to help local authorities. He has explained so many difficult subjects to us with great expertise and skill. His readiness to listen, if not to concede amendments, is something that we all deeply appreciate, and he has been well supported by many other Ministers.
But I hope that he, and his friends in the Government, realise that there is concern in local authorities up and down the land at some of the measures which have been passed tonight. I hope that they are wrong, and I hope that I am wrong in saying this. I cannot help saying it, because I believe it is what people think, and I cannot deny that many local authorities think that I and some others on these Benches have perhaps not fought the Bill as hard as we might have done. But we have done our best. I think that there are bridges which now need to be rebuilt between the Conservative Party and their friends in local government, and I hope that, in some small way. I can play a little part in that process in the future.
§ 10.6 p.m.
§ Lord MISHCON
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, is so right. There is one note of unanimity in this House during the closing phases of our debates, and it is that we have had the privilege of hearing in charge of this Bill someone who is undoubtedly a very good and a very courteous Minister. I hope that I shall not be misunderstood in this 1189 expression. He is, indeed, a man of many parts, as this Bill is a Bill of many parts, and, as I said, I hope that I shall not be misunderstood if I say that if only the parts of the Bill were as comely and attractive as the parts of the Minister, my noble friends and I would be happier tonight than we are.
It is an astonishing time to hear this debate on whether the Bill should pass. Listening to some of the speeches of noble Lords opposite, I have closed my eyes and wondered why they are not on these Benches, or, if they have not been on these Benches during the passage of this Bill, where they have been in the Division Lobbies. If they had been there this Bill might have been very drastically amended.
I suppose that few of us can remember an occasion in regard to such a measure as a local government Bill of this kind when the views of the local authority associations throughout the country have been completely ignored. This is an extraordinary situation and one that, unfortunately, does not bode well for future relationships. But I suppose that we are all grateful for the offer of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, that he will serve as a bridge over this crumbling relationship and endeavour to make it better than it seems to be at this moment.
Nobody wants to repeat a Second Reading speech tonight. I only want to say this on behalf of my noble friends and myself: the pitiful part of the Bill, as we see it—and this is not just empty criticism for the sake of criticism—is that we feel that it has dealt a very harsh blow at democracy in this country. We think it has done it, not just because of the reasons that have been advanced, that government has gone out of local government, or local has gone out of local government and authority has gone out of local authority. It is not just that. It is, as my friends and I have tried to show so often—and I know that our colleagues on the Liberal Benches have done the same—the shame that we feel that people should be so discouraged from entering into the service of local government, because so many powers and discretions have been taken away that it almost makes their job meaningless.
1190 The other blow to democracy is this. Many of us who have served in local government over the years, and have loved it, have found ourselves somewhat discouraged at election time when we have seen the size of the polls. It has been a matter of grave concern to all of us. If it was small before, what has the voter been left to vote for now if all the powers, discretions, capital expenditures, limits of expenditure and so on are taken away from authorities and if all that they are left with as political parties is to say, "Well, it may be that what we have done is the fault of central Government" or, if they are on the attack, "Had it not been for the limited amount that we have been given by central Government we could have done better".
We feel that this is a sorry Bill and a bad Bill. We have done our best to amend it. We have met with courtesy on the other side—I hope that I am using my words very carefully—but with a firmness that at times has seemed to be rigidity. I am sorry for the sake of this House that there has been that rigidity, but if ever we have an opportunity on our side of the House of challenging what has happened as a result of this Bill we shall do so, in the hope that at least at some time an amending measure may be brought about.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, at this time I, too, have no intention of making another Second Reading speech, but I ought to respond as briefly as I can—I shall try to do so very briefly—to some of the points that have been made. May I begin by thanking everybody who has spoken for being so kind to me personally. I appreciate that very much indeed. It is quite a traumatic thing to go through, and even more to hear nice things said in this way. It makes one feel very humble. That is certainly how I feel at the moment. However, I must pick up some of the points which have been made. I am only sorry it seems that in debates which take place on, That the Bill do now pass? that in addition to the courtesies and the expressions of mutual respect there has to be a reference to what the legislation is about.
1191 When the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said that local government, as we have known it, will have gone as a result of the Bill, I am sure that she does not expect me to agree with her. My personal hopes and aspirations for local government are not one whit less than hers—or less than anybody else's, if it comes to that. May I repeat something which I said at some stage down the line; namely, that if I did not believe in what we as a Government were putting forward I could not do it in the way I like to feel that I have done and that many of your Lordships have been good enough to say I have done. Therefore, as always with most things in life, there is more than one point of view.
On this basic fundamental of all fundamentals—that is, the freedom for local government to do things—I would pray in aid of very much the myth of existing freedom: at least, the freedom in local government today which is far less free than it was when I came into local government in the early 1960s. When one compares what we are going to leave local government with after this Bill has been passed and what we found, then one simply has to accept that there is a great gap between us regarding how we see it. I am not going to weary the House by going through all the reasons why I think that this is so. Noble Lords would not thank me for that, and it would not be right that I should do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, made his major attack upon the financial provisions—the block grant. He referred to the two aspects to which I also wish to refer; namely, the extent to which the block grant either increases or decreases the ability of local government to make its own decisions about what it spends and about what it rates. I repeat what I have said so often: that it does not in any way affect that, because it is all about—and it is only about—the distribution of grant from the central taxpayer.
There is a finite sum of money every year which goes out to local government in the form of the rate support grant settlement. It is u fixed sum. The whole debate—you can call it block grant or 1192 you can call it what you like—is all about how you distribute that money among some 450 authorities. Everything else is peripheral. It is all about that, and I maintain that categorically because we, through the block grant, think that this is a better way of doing it than the unloved and criticised-by-everyone existing method. It is for that reason that I think we have something better. If we differ about it, as my noble friend Lord Sandford said, at the end of the day the proof of the pudding is in the eating and we shall have to see, when all the debate is done with, whether we were right or wrong.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, said such nice things to start with, and then he spoiled it! I only say that he complained so bitterly about how little in the Bill affected Scotland, when all the rest of his colleagues on this side complained so bitterly about how much it affected England. There is no doubt about it, one really cannot win !
I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord Sandford for his very kind remarks and, as I said a moment ago, he summed it up by saying "the proof of the pudding will be in the eating". I always appreciate what my noble friend Lord Ridley says. He was very kind to me, and he was right when he said that there is concern in local government. My goodness! if we do not know that now, we do not know anything. Of course there was concern before, there is concern now, and there will go on being concern. If as a Government, with this Bill under our belt—if that is the right way to put it, and probably it is the wrong way—we cannot in fact show that it is better for local government, then that concern will be justified. I submit that it will be for the good of local government.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, throughout these proceedings, as indeed in the proceedings on the other two Bills in which I have been involved, has always been so gracious and so eloquent and so persuasive, and I sometimes feel, as with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, how sad it is that one is not able to move all the way that they would like us to do. Many of their arguments were very sound and sensible, and I hope in return they will accept that where there is a balance between us I take 1193 the Government's line because I believe that just has the edge on a narrow situation. I am grateful to Lord Mishcon for all the kind things he said, and I urge him, as indeed I urge all noble Lords opposite, not to feel so disheartened about it. It is a Bill of which I myself am very proud because I think it will do for local government many of the things we always dreamed about and wanted to see. Only time will tell. With that, I wind up a very long session indeed, and I am very thankful that I do.
On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with the amendments.