§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Consideration oil Report resumed: Clause 15.
Lord RENTON moved Amendment No. 47:
Page 16, leave out lines 8 to 11.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 47. This is principally a drafting amendment and I suggest that the words which I propose to leave out are not necessary. It is certainly not intended as a paving amendment for Amendment No. 48: the two matters are quite separate. I should like your Lordships to turn to page 16 of the Bill, subsection (5)(b) where your Lordships will see that the Secretary of State, if he has given a direction under Subsection (4) and:
may give certain directions. We could quite easily paraphrase those words, which seem to me to cancel each other out, by saying that he may give a direction whether he has received a special report in the time specified or not. In other words, in law, those words all taken together are a nullity, they are of no legal effect at all. I suggest that we should not enact words which are of no legal effect, certainly not unless there is a very good reason for doing so.
§ In Committee my noble friend Lord Bellwin said of this amendment—and I moved it then as well—that it would 46 remove the requirement that the Secretary of State should give an authority the chance to explain itself and would allow him to close down a direct labour organisation on the sole grounds that the target rate of return had not been met. With great respect to my noble friend, I do not think that that was an accurate statement.
§ If we read the Bill, we see that the truth is that the local authorities are given the chance, anyway, of making a special report—they are given the chance by subsection (4) of this clause and, indeed, it could be said that that is confirmed by subsection (5)(a). Therefore, it seems to me that subsection (5)(b) is quite unnecessary. If anything, the inclusion of those words would seem to nullify the chance, but I do not wish to push my case as far as that. I merely say that these words are of no legal effect and are better left out. I beg to move.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, of course, following the discussions in Committee we have examined very closely the drafting of this clause to which my noble friend spoke in Committee. We agree with him that these two paragraphs look odd—they certainly do to me, as a layman. Nevertheless, having looked at it carefully, it seems that they do serve a useful purpose.
The Secretary of State, in directing an authority to prepare a special report, is obliged to set them a time limit within which to prepare that report. Subsection (4) does that. But, having set that time limit, must not both he and the authority be bound by it? In other words, the Secretary of State must be prevented from taking any further steps before that time has elapsed, or at least until the authority have effectively signalled their readiness by submitting their report. On the other hand, the authority must not be allowed to thwart the Secretary of State by more inaction. If they refuse to prepare the report in the time required, the Secretary of State must be allowed to proceed and that is what these two paragraphs do—they interpose a further step in the process to close down or limit. After the call for the special report, there must follow either the report, or the deadline for its completion, before the Secretary of State can consider exercising his powers to limit an authority's direct 47 labour activity. This seems to us to be a sensible and, indeed, welcome safeguard. In those circumstances, I wonder whether as regards this at least, my noble friend may feel able to accept my explanation.
§ Lord RENTON
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. His fuller explanation on this occasion was less unconvincing than the previous one. In the circumstances, I would not divide the House, but would beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord RENTON moved Amendment No. 48:
Page 16, line 11, at end insert—
(" ( ) the rate of return on the capital employed is less than the required rate.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 48. This is an amendment of substance. Quite frankly, I should tell your Lordships that I do not mind whether direct labour organisations are discontinued either generally or in particular cases. But I do mind when a matter is left vague or uncertain in an Act of Parliament, as seems to me to be the case here—as I shall explain in a moment—and I do mind when what appears to be the intention of Parliament, as requested by the Government, is not made clear, especially when it affects the exercise of ministerial powers, and affects them in this case in relation to the activities of local authorities—sometimes very important activities.
§ The whole tenor of Part III of the Bill is that works contracts may be carried out by direct labour organisations in a general way, but that where the Secretary of State directs otherwise they shall be discontinued. It was made clear in the Explanatory Memorandum—and I suggest that it is clear from the whole of the preceding part of Part III of the Bill—that the intention was that the power of the Secretary of State to suspend direct labour organisations should be used only when the required rate of return on capital has not been achieved.
§ Quite frankly, it would not worry me very much if directions could be given on other grounds. But if it is intended that they should be or could be given on other grounds, then I suggest that it should be stated. If it is not stated, and 48 if subsection (6) of Clause 15—which is the most operative part of Part III of the Bill—is left as it is, it seems to me that there is a very serious risk that if the Secretary of State gave a direction on a ground other than the ground that the required return on capital had not been achieved, then a local authority could dispute his direction and take him to court for a declaration. There would be a wrangle as to the vires of the matter and, of course, the public would pay for a dispute between the Secretary of State and local authorities—the public would inevitably pay the whole of the expenses of both parties. There might be several million pounds involved. I would not like to anticipate such wrangles.
§ That is why I think that I should again ask my noble friend if, having had a chance to consider the matter, he has any clear statement to give to your Lordships' House of the Government's intention as to the exercise of this power, if it be the Government's intention only to use the power where the required rate of return on capital has not been achieved, then let that be clearly said. However, if it is the Government's intention that the power may be used in other circumstances, then I suggest that those circumstances should be specified. Frankly, speaking for myself, I do not mind which way it is decided, so long as it is made clear.
§ I move this amendment in the hope of enabling your Lordships to carry out what seems to be the intention. Of course, if the intention was mistakenly put in the Explanatory Memorandum, if it was too narrowly expressed, or if a reading of the earlier clauses of Part III gives rise to a false assumption as to the interpretation of Clause 15(6), that is another matter, and a further amendment would be required. My amendment has been tabled in almost exactly the same form by my noble friend Lord Sandford, perhaps for a different reason. His amendment is No. 48A, the next one to be dealt with. If neither his amendment nor my amendment is accepted, then the matter will be left vague and open, and that does not seem to me to be a satisfactory situation.
§ Lord SANDFORD
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend—which will not surprise the House—because, as he 49 said, I have tabled an amendment in almost similar terms. Like my noble friend—although my interest in them is perhaps greater—I do not rise to defend direct labour organisations. In fact, I should like to preface my remarks by saying that I agree with the Secretary of State in the purposes which he seeks to achieve in this part of the Bill; because I think that there are direct labour organisations which need to be improved, controlled, curbed and made subject to the requirements imposed on them in the Bill.
However, my reason for supporting this amendment is not precisely the same as that of my noble friend. I think that he made a cogent legal point that this Bill is defective if an amendment to this effect is not moved into it. I moved an earlier amendment, Amendment No. 43A, which went rather further than these amendments because it fettered the otherwise unfettered power of the Secretary of State to interfere in the affairs of local authorities and their direct labour organisations in particular, to the extent of requiring him to investigate matters or call for reports only when it was clear that the prescribed rate of return on the capital employed was not being achieved.
But in this part of the Bill—over the page as it were—we come to the Secretary of State's "ultimate sanction", to use the phrase employed in the Notes on Clauses. He seeks the power to use the "ultimate sanction" of requiring local authorities to close down and cease operations with their direct labour organisations. I rise to defend local authorities, and in particular district councils, against the use of this undifferentiated and unlimited power of the Secretary of State to interfere in their affairs.
If we have, established by statute, local authorities with particular functions, duties and powers to perform, so far as possible they must be left free to exercise those powers in accordance with their discretion. If Parliament decides that there are circumstances in which the Secretary of State has a right—indeed, a duty or a power—to interfere, those must be carefully prescribed. At the present moment the point at which he exercises his ultimate sanction of closing down an organisation within a local authority is not so prescribed. It is for 50 that reason—in order to defend local authorities from an unfettered power by the Secretary of State—that I join my noble friend in supporting this amendment.
If by any chance my noble friend cannot accept this amendment as it stands, I have to say that for my part he will have to give us a very firm assurance that this time, when he takes the matter away, he will return with some further amendment or have something to say to us which will go a good deal further than he was able to go in Committee, when he raised our hopes, and further than he has so far gone today.
§ Lord UNDERHILL
My Lords, on this side of the House we support the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in a very concise and cogent manner. It qualifies an arbitrary power given under this subsection to the Secretary of State. It lays down an essential qualification before the Secretary of State acts to direct a local authority that it shall cease work with its direct labour organisation. Your Lordships will see that we have tabled Amendment No. 49A, which argues the whole case. It is not my intention at this stage to argue the case for that amendment. However, the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, will well fit in with our amendment, Amendment No. 49A. Therefore, for the reason that it limits the arbitrary power of the Secretary of State, we will support Amendment No. 48.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
My Lords, I fully support my noble friend Lord Renton in this part of his tireless crusade for the better drafting of legislation. I yield to no one in my admiration for him over that. But certainly I could not support this amendment as it stands, as, although he indicated that he did not care one way or the other whether its effect would be to restrict the powers of the Secretary of State to cases in which the return on capital was below the prescribed rate, I am bound to confess that I do. I should be very disappointed if at this stage we sought to limit the Secretary of State solely to acting on that consideration. There may well be other cases in which it would be right for the Secretary of State so to act. One obviously would be if a direct labour organisation was 51 riddled with corruption. Another, and perhaps more likely, case is where the tendering policies of the local authority concerned, by way of favouring the direct labour organisation, were such that there was a perfectly adequate return on capital, but very gross unfairness to the private sector of the building industry with which it competed. I do not believe that cases of that kind would be at all frequent. However, I think it would be valuable for local authorities, which might be tempted so to act in respect of their direct labour organisations, to know that this ultimate sanction lay in the hands of the Secretary of State.
I should be very interested—as I think will be my noble friend—to hear from my noble friend the Minister what is the intention. It certainly appears that the wider interpretation, which I hope is right, seems to be inconsistent with the Explanatory Memorandum attached to the Bill as originally presented to us. But that obviously is not conclusive. Indeed, we had a case earlier this afternoon in which that situation had arisen. Therefore, I rise particularly to ask my noble friend whether it is the Government's intention to exclude all possibility of action, save where the prescribed rate of return on capital is not achieved, and—if that really is their intention—to argue why this power, which is being taken, should be so restricted. Until I hear some argument that convinces me, I shall be very much against my noble friend's amendment if it has the effect of that exclusion.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said, whenever my noble friend Lord Renton speaks on these matters one has to listen particularly carefully because of his obviously great expertise and, indeed, interest and background in all such matters. Because of that, I say that not only have I listened carefully to what he has said now, but I also listened carefully in Committee the other week, as indeed I did when my noble friend Lord Sandford was moving his amendments both on this and on past occasions. In other words, this was the amendment to impose the same restriction on the Secretary of State's power to call for a special report.
52 I have looked again at ways of reducing the Secretary of State's discretion in these matters while at the same time preserving his right to intervene in the public interest if things are going sadly wrong and public resources are being wasted and misapplied. I have had to conclude that the public interest cannot be measured merely in accounting terms, which is the point to which my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter referred, and that therefore the discretion cannot be fettered strictly to a failure to earn a specified rate of return. There are wider considerations. I mentioned earlier possible tendering abuses. There are others. The key to this is that this must all be seen in the context of the legislation as a whole. These intentions in this clause as regards direct labour organisations must also relate to such matters as efficiency, fairness or competition—and tendering policies I have mentioned. There may indeed be other things of which I do not know readily.
I take the point that my noble friend Lord Renton makes as to the unsatisfactory nature of the vagueness, if you like. Is it too wide a power. I am asking him to consider it within the context of what the legislation seeks to achieve, with what the intentions are. It may be that that is not enough in strict terms. It may be that that is too wide, and he will have to decide if that is so.
My noble friend Lord Sandford asked whether I would give a firm assurance more clearly than I had done before that we will come up with something more specific, narrower, perhaps better, to meet the points raised. I cannot say that I am able to do this. The only thing I can say, because I have such respect for the great knowledge of my noble friend Lord Renton and for the views of my noble friend Lord Sandford, is that I cannot accept this amendment, and indeed we must stand on it, for the reasons I have given.
I do not want to make another speech about the principles underlying what we are seeking to do with this section of the Bill as regards direct labour organisations, or why we consider it is so very necessary that there should be material changes. If we divide on the issue, well then, so be it, and I can do no more. If we do not divide, all I can do is to say that of course 53 we will look carefully at everything my noble friends have said, and not least on the point of vires, which I think must be always something which should concern us carefully. That of course I will do. But I should also not want to mislead. After all, we are coming now to the last stages of this Bill and I do not want to give any wrong, impression that I am going to go away and come back at Third Reading with something else. I cannot promise that. I undertake, because I consider it so important, that we will look closely at the wording, and I will discuss it again and do all that I can to take advice, but, as it stands at the moment, I would have to say that I could not accept the amendment.
§ Lord RENTON
My Lords, before seeking leave to withdraw the amendment, may I thank my noble friend for his offer of further consideration? As I said, when I moved the amendment, I do not mind very much what the powers are so long as they are clearly stated. I entirely take the point made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that there might well be other circumstances justifying the exercise of the power, but the whole tenor of Part III is such as to lead at the moment to a wrong climax in subsection (6). If we could have the climax more clearly stated, then I should be happier. In these circumstances, I think the right thing for me to do is to withdraw my amendment, by leave.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 48A not moved.]
§ 5.5 p.m.
Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 49A:
Page 16, line 12, leave out from ("that") to end of line 17 and insert ("the local authority or development body shall conduct a comprehensive review of the Direct Labour Organisation and publish the report of such review").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this continues in a different form the discussion the House has just been having on subsection (5). As has been made clear, this gives authority to the Secretary of State to direct that a local authority shall cease in effect all work by its direct labour organisation. It is one thing to encourage efficiency; it is one thing to demand accountability; but surely it is another thing to give this arbitrary power to the 54 Secretary of State, as has been made clear on the previous discussions, with no qualifications and no criteria laid down at all before the Secretary of State so acts. It is far more serious than a question of, "If he thinks fit, he shall ask for a report". It enables him, either having had or not having had a report, to tell a local authority to cease work with its direct labour organisation.
The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said at the Committee stage that this was not an unfettered power. He said:
There is protection at all times in the courts".
The noble Lord has reiterated that statement this afternoon. I am sure there will be a general feeling, as my noble friend Lord Mishcon said, that this was surely a sorry way to treat local authorities; that the only recourse was to the courts, which of course local authorities generally would not wish to make use of.
§ This provision is an interference with the right of a local authority to determine whether it is in the interests of its own people that it should continue with its direct labour organisation. The local authority is accountable to its local community, but this subsection removes all the authority of the local authority. We have often heard talk in this House about manifesto commitments. Some of these local authorities have given a manifesto commitment with regard to their direct labour organisation. There is no consideration being given to any dislocation of the work of a local authority that this arbitrary provision may cause. I have already mentioned that there are no criteria laid down. There is no provision made even for consultation with the local authority before the Secretary of State takes this arbitrary power. There is no provision for the local authority to make representations before this arbitrary power is carried out. There is no right of appeal whatever, and no report to Parliament before the Secretary of State takes this very unusual arbitrary power upon himself.
§ The amendment gives the local authority opportunity, the Secretary of State having considered any report or not considered a report, to conduct a thorough review of its direct labour organisation. But it is not to leave it there; it must actually publish details of the report. 55 In other words, it has to let its own community know; to let everybody know precisely what it proposes to do. The point of the amendment is to prevent the authority being given to a Secretary of State—any Secretary of State, not just this one Secretary of State—to take this arbitrary power. I believe that all the local authority associations have expressed concern about this particular feature. I hope that your Lordships may feel disposed to accept this amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, the ultimate sanction against an authority which fails to get its DLO operations under firm continuing control will be an intervention by the Secretary of State to remove or restrict its powers to use direct labour. Such action can come only after the submission of a special report required under subsection (4) and cannot therefore happen until the authority has had an opportunity to explain itself. Closure or restriction will not follow automatically. There may be special circumstances which explain an unsatisfactory performance, or there may be a need to retain a small direct labour force to deal with certain sorts of work—for example, winter highway maintenance in remote areas—for which no contractors can be found, and the decision of the Secretary of State will be able to take account of those factors. Furthermore, the close-down or restriction will not necessarily take even immediate effect. The subsection allows the Secretary of State to set the effective date so that authorities would have time to make the necessary alternative arrangements to enable them to fulfil their statutory duties by means other than through their own directly employed labour force.
But at the end of the day the Secretary of State must have power to act, to end the wasteful use of ratepayers' money and the nation's resources if failure persists. We expect public opinion to play its part. Local democracy is important in this respect and Clause 15 provides for information to be publicly available. Without an ultimate sanction, and when all else has failed, an awkward DLO might still
§ just cock a snook and carry on in its unreformed way. It is surely not unreasonable, albeit in these unlikely and extreme circumstances, to have in effect a weapon of last resort.
§ I note what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, says, but this must be put into the context of all we are seeking to do in the Bill. The time really has come for there to be accountability and a greater emphasis on efficiency and achievement than ever before. That is all we are seeking to do throughout the Bill, and, while I understand the concern the noble Lord has expressed, we cannot accept the amendment.
§ Lord UNDERHILL
My Lords, I am sorry the Minister cannot accept the amendment because we want to give an opportunity for local public opinion to play its part. The Minister says this will happen when all else has failed, but there will have been no opportunity for all else to fail; no consultation, no opportunity for representation, only the demand for a report, and on that report the Secretary of State will take this arbitrary power. It is not a weapon of last resort but of second resort, the first being to demand a report and the second to act—without any conditions, not even an attempt to state in the clause that there must be opportunity for consultation and representation by the local authority.
A similar amendment was tabled in Committee, and withdrawn because the Minister said he wished to reconsider the wording of subsections (4) and (5) and we have heard the Minister's argument today. But this matter has never been tested in your Lordships' House. In our view, this arbitrary power should not be given to any Secretary of State of any Government, and for that reason we must press the amendment.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 49A) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 73; Not-Contents, 118.57
|Airedale, L.||Banks, L.||Blyton, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Boston of Faversham, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Beswick, L.||Bowden, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Birk, B.||Brockway, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Kirkhill, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Leatherland, L.||Segal, L.|
|Collison, L.||Lee of Newton, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Stamp, L.|
|David, B. [Teller.]||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Longford, E.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||McCarthy, L.||Stone, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Maelor, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Meston, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Mishcon, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Noel-Baker, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Ogmore, L.||Wade, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Oram, L.||Walston, L.|
|Gosford, E.||Paget of Northampton, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Pargiter, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Hale, L.||Peart, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Phillips, B.||Wigoder, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Abercorn, D.||Gainsborough, E.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Abinger, L.||Garner, L.||Morris, L.|
|Addison, V.||Glenkinglas, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Gormanston, V.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Gowrie, E.||Newall, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Alport, L.||Haig, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Orkney, E.|
|Atholl, D.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Halsbury, E.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Avon, E.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Barnby, L.||Hatherton, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Hemphill, L.||Redmayne, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Henley, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Hill of Luton, L.||Renton, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Holderness, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Sandford, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Ilchester, E.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Brookes, L.||Kemsley, V.||Savile, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Keyes, L.||Seafield, E.|
|Cockfield, L.||Killearn, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Kinloss, Ly.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|Craigavon, V.||Kinross, L.||Spens, L.|
|Croft, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Long, V.||Strathspey, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Loudoun, C.||Swinfen, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Torphichen, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Luke, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Denham, B. [Teller.]||Lyell, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Digby, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Dormer, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Mancroft, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Mansfield, E.||Vickers, B.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Marley, L.||Watkinson, V.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Middleton, L.||Willoughby de Broke L.|
|Exeter, M.||Milverton, L.||Wise, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Minto, E.||Wynford, L.|
|Freyberg, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Young, B.|
|Gage, V.||Monson, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amend-ment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 18 [Interpretation of Part III]:
§ 5.22 p.m.
Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 50:
Page 19, leave out line 6.
§ The noble Lord said; My Lords, this is a very simple amendment. By deleting the line referred to in the amendment we leave out of the definition of development body the Scottish Special Housing Association. There has been controversy over direct labour organisations but, as I mentioned on Committee, I have heard 59 little, if any, controversy over the activities of the Scottish Special Housing Association, and your Lordships will recall that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, and other noble Lords from Scotland paid tribute to the work of the Scottish Special Housing Association.
§ In fact the association has one job, and that is to build houses. It was given that job by Parliament. The association was created by a Conservative Government. I hear Ministers speaking about waste of public money, and saying that the Secretary of State must act. Parliament has created the Scottish Special Housing Association, but it is the Secretary of State for Scotland who appoints all the members and the chairman. They must report to him every year. He can see them at any time he wishes, and he agrees their programme with them annually. The association's finance is controlled by Parliament and by the Secretary of State for Scotland.
§ So whatever may be said about the direct labour organisations and local authorities cannot be said about the Scottish Special Housing Association. One reads of the powers that the Secretary of State takes. He already has all these powers with regard to the Scottish Special Housing Association. The only thing that he cannot do without parliamentary approval or new legislation is wipe out the association, but with the powers that he has here he virtually could stop the association from functioning. I am perfectly sure that that is not the Government's intention; the Government would be much more honest and would come forward with a clause in this Bill or in some other Bill simply to wipe out the association. On Committee I could not obtain any justification of the reason why the Scottish Special Housing Association is included in this way. I suggest that it would be sensible to omit the association from the definition of development body. That is the effect and the purpose of the amendment. I beg to move.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (The Earl of Mansfield)
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has said, there was a short but comprehensive debate on this matter in Committee. Your Lordships 60 will recall the interesting exposition given by the noble Lord, Lord Ross, during that stage, and you might also well recollect the perfectly adequate explanation given by my noble friend Lord Bellwin. The point is that this provision does not in any way reflect adversely upon the SSHA, nor is there any criticism of the SSHA. As the noble Lord, Lord Ross, said in effect in Committee, the Secretary of State can obtain information on the SSHA's DLO activities by means of the existing arrangements under the terms of its formal agreement with the Secretary of State for Scotland.
However, that is not the point of this provision, and it is not the reason why the clause is to extend to the SSHA. The main purpose of this part of the Bill is to improve the efficiency and accountability of all public sector direct labour organisations. The SSHA is part of the public sector, and in the interests of equity I could not agree with the noble Lord that it should be excluded from this part of the Bill. In other words, we want to make it plain that the same tests of efficiency and the requirements of responsibility shall apply to the SSHA as apply, for instance, to the Scottish local authorities. So there it is. It is a matter of policy and equity as to why the SSHA is treated in the way that it is under the Bill.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, that reply was very disappointing indeed. There is no equity or equality involved in respect of the treatment of local authorities and the Scottish Special Housing Association. As I pointed out, the association is the creature of the Secretary of State. He appoints the members, he can sack them, he can direct them. He sits down with them every year and decides which programmes should go on. If he is not satisfied with their efficiency, he just says, "You will not build this, you will not build that".
With regard to the point about cornpetitiveness—and this is part of the so-called efficiency test—one reason for the association being set up was so that it could build in places where there were no other builders. That was the job that it was given, to build in the Highlands and in other areas. In those days when there were local authority areas which formed small borough a penny rate would produce perhaps £500, and 61 in many cases less than that. Those boroughs had housing powers, but they could not possibly build, and so the association was created by a Tory Government to do that, and to introduce an clement of competition in some areas.
The association was told to go in and build, and so it set a standard. The Act that set up the association also contained a provision to enable it to build with experimental materials; to use Highland materials in the Highland area. Think of the cost of building in the Highlands and Islands—in many cases building perhaps only three or four houses in a rural area where no private builder wants to look at the job. I do not know whether the Minister of State realises it, but where possible private builders are used. There is simply no justification for this proposal. There is no logic in comparing the association with the local authorities; there is no comparison whatever. The Scottish Office should think again. Has there been any single complaint regarding the building efficiency of the Scottish Special Housing Association?
§ I see pictures of Ministers opening houses all over the place for the Scottish Special Housing Association. They are proudly paraded in the Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald—pictures of the Minister of State, or the Under-Secretary for this and that. Yet here, despite all their smiles, all their plaudits and all their congratulations, they come along and say, "Ah!—we do not think you are all that efficient; we do not say that you are not efficient, but we do not exactly trust you"; and for no reason at all, or for the rather specious reason of equity—comparing them with a local authority where there is no comparison whatever—they say, "We must have them in this Bill". My Lords, I think they should not be in this Bill, and I am afraid I have to press the amendment.
§ 5.31 P.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 50) shall he agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 72: Not-Contents 117.63
|Airedale, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Bacon, B.||Gregson, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Balogh, L.||Hale, L.|
|Banks, L.||Hampton, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Birk, B.||Howie of Troon, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Blyton, L.||Jacques, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Bowden, L.||Kirkhill, L.||Stone, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Leatherland, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Lee of Newton, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Collison, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Underhill, L.|
|David, B.||Longford, E.||Wade, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Lowell-Davis, L.||Walston, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||McCarthy, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Maelor, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Minto, E.||Whaddon, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Mishcon, L.||Wigg, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Noel-Baker, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Ogmore, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Oram, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Gosford, E.||Peart, L.|
|Abercorn, D.||Barnby, L.||Chelwood, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Bellwin, L.||Cockfield, L.|
|Addison, V.||Belstead, L.||Colville of Culross, V.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Berkeley, B.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Bessborough, E.||Craigavon, V.|
|Alport, L.||Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Craigmyle, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Bridgeman, V.||Croft, L.|
|Atholl, D.||Brookes, L.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Avon, E.||Cathcart, E.||Davidson, V.|
|De Freyne, L.||Keyes, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Killearn, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Digby, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Redmayne, L.|
|Dormer, L.||Kinnaird, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Kinross, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Sandford, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Long, V.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Loudoun, C.||Savile, L.|
|Exeter, M.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Seafield, E.|
|Faithfull, B.||Luke, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Ferrers, E.||Lyell, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Freyberg, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Spens, L.|
|Gage, V.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Stamp, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Mancroft, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Gormanston, V.||Mansfield, E.||Strathspey, L.|
|Gowrie, E.||Marley, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Middleton, L.||Torphichen, L.|
|Haig, E.||Mills, V.||Tranmire, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Milverton, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Monk Bretton, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Halsbury, E.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Trumpington, B.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Morris, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Harvington, L.||Mottistone, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Hatherton, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Hemphill, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Watkinson, V.|
|Henley, L.||Newall, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Hill of Luton, L.||Northchurch, B.||Wise, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Orkney, E.||Young, B.|
|Ilchester, E.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Kemsley, V.||Penrhyn, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ [Amendment No. 50ZA not moved.]
§ Clause 19 (Exemption of small direct labour organisations from requirements of Part III]:
§ 5.39 p.m.
Lord SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 50A:
Page 20, line 11, leave out ("less") and insert ("other").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 50A and, at the same time, to speak to Amendment No. 50B. I must apologise to the House for my inconsistency, for having spent the earlier part of the day complaining that the Secretary of State was taking greater powers than he needed to achieve his purpose, I am here suggesting that he should have some more. We greatly welcomed, I think, Clause 19 when it was introduced as a new clause at Committee stage allowing direct labour organisations below a figure of 30 to be exempted from the provisions of this part of the Bill. The Secretary of State has taken power to amend that number by order should he see fit to so do, but only downards. I am suggesting that he should have power 64 to vary either upwards or downwards at his discretion. His discretion will be controlled by the need to lay regulations, and for those to be laid before Parliament and to be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. I would have thought that under those circumstances this would be a sensible adjustment, and I beg to move.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, the Government have recognised that there is a point at which the full benefits to be gained from the Bill will not be realised. It is a matter of judgment to decide where that point comes. We believe that point is reached when an authority employs 30 or less in its direct labour organisation. By building industry standards, an organisation employing 30 operatives and with an annual turnover of about a quarter of a million pounds is quite big. The clause will permit those organisations which are genuinely minimum-level DLOs to escape the rigours the Bill imposes. We should not wish to see a higher figure. I recognise that what my noble friend suggests gives a certain discretion; but we have been assailed on all sides for precisely the opposite reason. I do not think that at this moment we should depart from the path on which we have embarked. Therefore, perhaps he may not feel so deeply about it as to wish to press the amendment.
§ Lord SANDFORD
My Lords, I cannot press the Secretary of State to take powers if he does not want them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 50B not moved.]
Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 51:
After Clause 19, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Works undertaken on behalf of an authority
§ .—(1) Notwithstanding anything in section 101(10) of the Local Government Act 1972, the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970 or any other enactment, a local authority may enter into arrangements for the construction of buildings, or the carrying out of other works by them on behalf of an authority to which this section applies.
§ (2) This section applies to—
- (a) another local authority within the county or adjoining county
- (b) the water authority
- (c) the police authority
- (d) the Passenger Transport Executive
- (e) the Health Authority (within the meaning of section 128(1) of the National Health Service Act 1977) in the county.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, an amendment similar to the one which I am moving this evening was moved at the Committe stage but it was caught up in a debate on a number of amendments and the discussion on this particular one was very brief. At the Committee stage, the noble Lord the Minister said that authorities must first prove that direct labour is the better way of doing work in their own areas. If commercial competitiveness is proven, why should not a local authority undertake work for other public bodies and for other nearby local authorities? I would ask what principle is involved in refusing this provision if competitiveness and accountability are observed.
The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, at column 265 of the Official Report for 7th October, said:
the local authorities—
must keep their accounts clearly on a trading basis, earn a return on capital and prove all this before they can think of expanding".
§ At Committee stage, my noble friend Lord Bruce reminded the Committee that the working party on direct labour organisations which reported in August 1978 recommended that direct labour organisations should be permitted to undertake work outside, as well as inside their parent local authorities, for other local authorities and for public bodies. The terms of the amendment provide a new clause which will enable this to be done. This extension would help direct labour organisations to make their position more viable. It would further assist them to serve the desired aim of the return on capital—and this was the principle, your Lordships will remember, in the relevant clause of the Greater Manchester Bill which was approved by this House, and approved after consideration by your Lordships' Select Committee which went into this particular clause in that Bill with great care and decided that the Greater Manchester Authority should be allowed to have that extension which we are asking for in this particular amendment.
§ This provision would also help continuity of work and it would help to prevent decasualisation. It is one of the evils of the building and construction industry that when the job is done men are just pushed out. Continuity of work is an aim which I am sure this House will wish to have achieved. It will enable local authorities to be ready with adequate staff for emergencies—and we discussed the question of emergency work on an amendment last Friday. Clause 15 gives the Secretary of State control if the finances get out of hand and, therefore, there is that safeguard to what we are proposing. There is that reserve power and, while we opposed it, the House has now agreed to it; therefore there is that reserve power.
§ Lastly, there are accidents of geographical boundaries which should not prevent a local authority asking another local authority to do work for it. If the amendment is rejected, it would stop a local authority from doing that. I am sure that many noble Lords could think of examples where geographical boundaries would make it common sense that one authority should ask another with an 67 adequate direct labour organisation to do work for it. The Minister has on other matters appealed for flexibility and has justified flexibility. That has been argued in other Bills before this House. This is an example of common sense and flexibility which I hope your Lordships will agree to accept. I beg to move.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
My Lords, I should like to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. It does not seem that there can be any political or philosophical reason why the Government should not give the direct labour organisations a wide discretion to carry out new work and maintenance, unless they are saying that they want to reduce direct labour organisations to mere emergency services, which I gather they do not. It seems to me, for the reasons the noble Lord has given, that for convenience and flexibility the only way a direct labour organisation can become competitive is if they can commercially tender for a wide variety of jobs and public and various works for the list of bodies mentioned in the amendment. I think it is a valid point that, from the experience of many noble Lords, a road or something like that would pass in and out of two or three local authorities. It would be more convenient and cheaper if one direct labour organisation was allowed to deal with that, rather than that two, three or four different bodies should deal with small pieces of the work.
Finally, and probably most importantly, your Lordships will remember a certain Friday morning not long ago when we had a very rumbustious debate about the Greater Manchester Bill. It was an occasion when I saw angry passions rise to a higher point than I remember and where a number of noble Lords on the Government side voted in favour of this very principle being enshrined in the Greater Manchester Bill. As this Bill is drawn, it seems that the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill could overtake the Manchester Bill and undo all the work that was done by your Lordships on that occasion. Therefore, I should have thought that on grounds of flexibility, of economy and of logicality this amendment should be supported.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I must 68 say that I do not quite know what to make of what the noble Lord, Lord Evans, has just said, but I think I should put him right on one point. The debate on the Greater Manchester Bill was not on this issue at all; it was on the issue of constitutionality—as to whether or not something which has been decided by a Select Committee of your Lordships' House should later he reversed. It was not at all on the merits or otherwise of the particular point. I wonder also if the noble Lord quite appreciated what he was saying when he said that only if this amendment is approved can direct labour organisations become competitive. We have been hearing talk for so long now telling us how competitive they already are. I have no wish to attack direct labour organisations as such, but I hope that they have not had to rely on this type of possibility to be competitive in all they have been doing over the years.
My response to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is to ask what are the basic objectives? Why are direct labour organisations set up in the first place? Surely it is to carry out a function within their own authority, using their ratepayers' money, as I have said more than once, willingly subscribed as risk capital. Here we are contemplating their going into speculative ventures in competition with the private sector. I just do not see how that does other than destroy the whole argument to justify direct labour organisations being set up by an authority. They are not there to go into business as such. They are set up for a specific purpose, and if we accept, as I accept, that certain functions that they carry out are special to them—emergency situations, certain other maintenance work, and so on—then provided they are competitive, provided they fulfil the requirements of this Bill, I accept them and think there is a place for them. Noble Lords are contemplating widening this whole area of operation in this way. I must say, without going on about it, that we find the amendment quite unacceptable.
§ Baroness FISHER of REDNAL
My Lords, it really is not extending the Bill in any way. It is putting into the Bill what local authorities have been doing for quite a long time. Many local authorities, on what one might call the periphery of their area, have need for 69 something to be done when it would be quite expensive for them to put it into operation because it is perhaps 10 or 12 miles from the base at which they normally operate, and so they ask the adjoining authority to take on the task for them. This weekend I was travelling in a part of the country and I came across a big hoarding which said, "Road improvement scheme being carried out on behalf of such and such county council". It gave the name of the local authority. This is the kind of thing that local authorities are doing. All we are asking is that it should be legalised by putting it into the Bill.
§ Lord BROOKES
My Lords, I want to refer to the underlying concern, perhaps the unspoken concern. We are talking about the capacity to be competitive; we are talking about direct labour organisations. In truth, whether they are or are not competitive is always going to be open to question. That is the underlying concern, because if one has six competitors and five can go broke by reason of their irresponsibility, and one cannot, that is not competition in terms that business understands it. I think it is best to out with these truths. We might try to rest upon return on capital employed and our accountants might like to finesse and say, "Do you mean return on capital employed? Do you mean return on assets employed? Do you mean return on assets managed?" We all know that in large organisations—not merely local authorities but large businesses—there are vested interests who commit themselves to an activity because it creates managerial status, managerial salary and privilege. Therefore, one sets up a situation which is full of inequality and which cannot, beyond all reasonable doubt, satisfy the test that it is competitive, because it lacks the ultimate sanction.
§ Lord UNDERHILL
My Lords, I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, and of my noble friend Lady Fisher. I believe they have put forward common-sense arguments as to why this amendment should be carried. It does seem so much common sense. A local authority may say, "Look here, you can do this job better for us; you are nearer or you have got a more effective organisation. Do it for us". Leaving out the public 70 bodies, that would appear to be a commonsense argument for approving this amendment.
I should like to give my impression of what took place on that Friday morning on the Greater Manchester Bill. If your Lordships will recall, your Select Committee was given instructions to look at a particular clause which was inserting similar powers in the Greater Manchester Bill. It was told to look carefully at this clause to see whether or not the provisions were unfair to the private sector. Your Committee reported that they were not unfair to the private sector. Admittedly there was a constitutional argument on the floor of this House, but there was also an amendment moved to delete that clause. The House refused the amendment to delete that clause; therefore in the Greater Manchester Bill there is this provision, approved by Parliament, and we were asking this afternoon for its extension. I think we are in a situation where, unless the building is almost going to fall down, we are not going to get amendments accepted by the Government, who seem to be in this situation because of the timetable and do not have regard to the common sense and the sensibility behind any amendment. It is not my intention to divide the House, but a principle is involved here and I will ask that the amendment be negatived.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
My Lords, before the House negatives the amendment, I think noble Lords will want to note the quite extraordinary argument used a moment or two ago by the noble Baroness. She said that at present DLOs were doing jobs which required legalisation. If that is true, it seems to me the worst possible argument for extending their powers.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
§ Clause 20 [Consequential repeal or amendment of local statutory provisions]:
§ 5.55 p.m.
Lord UNDERHILL moved Amendment No. 52:
Page 21, line 7, leave out from ("to") to end of line 8 and insert ("an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, at the Committee stage, when a similar amendment was proposed, I asserted that this was another example of the sweeping power being given under this Bill to the Secretary of State—another example of an arbitrary power. I would remind your Lordships that it is a power given to the Secretary of State to repeal or amend a local Act; in other words, a power to vary an Act of Parliament; power to amend or repeal legislation which has been approved by Parliament; and it can be amended or repealed by the Secretary of State. The amendment endeavours to preserve fully the authority of Parliament on legislation which has been approved by Parliament. I was grateful to other noble Lords who, in that debate at the Committee stage, came in to support the view of the seriousness of this power being given to the Secretary of State. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is with us this afternoon because he said to his noble friend—it is at column 269:
It is, it seems to me, quite a serious matter for a Minister to repeal part of a statute, be it a public or a local statute".
The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said that there was a safeguard that under subsection (3) the Secretary of State would be required to consult the local authority.
§ However, what type of safeguard is that? Let us say that the local authority concerned argues that there should not be repeal or amendment of its local Bill. That could be set on one side by the Secretary of State. There is no provision for any appeal, and the Secretary of State can decide, irrespective of the representation that may be made to him, that he will proceed with action by order to repeal oramend. Therefore, there are good reasons why any action of this kind should be by Affirmative Resolution and not the Negative Resolution procedure as is provided in the Bill.
§ Your Lordships will recall that there were serious arguments advanced for this. I was pleased that at the Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, was able to say that he would think very carefully about this and see what we might or might not do about it. On that basis, the amendment was withdrawn. This is such a serious matter, affecting the repeal or amendment merely by Negative Resolution procedure of any Act of Parliament 72 that has been approved, that I hope that the Minister will be able to say that on reflection he will agree to what we are asking in this amendment; that is, that we change the Negative Resolution procedure to an Affirmative Resolution. We are not arguing a great principle about the Bill but one of the authority of Parliament to take what is a rightful procedure in a matter of this kind. I beg to move.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, it is quite true that I promised the Committee that I would examine this provision and look into the procedures. I assure your Lordships that I have done exactly that and very carefully. But I have to advise that I see no case for it. Before I say anything else, I ought to say that I have been impressed by exactly what is involved in the Negative Resolution procedure. I have heard it diminished in its importance so often in your Lordships' House that I assumed, in my ignorance, that only the Affirmative Resolution procedure could be the real safeguard. But the more that one looks at exactly what is involved, the more one realises that it is indeed very much a safeguard. I think it was my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter who said something on those lines not long ago. Having had a look at it, I endorse that.
This clause is very much a reserve power. It will allow the Secretary of State to repeal any part of a local Act of Parliament whose provisions are inconsistent with this one. This provision is a standard one. There is nothing unusual about this. It is a perfectly proper way of ensuring that new requirements determined on by Parliament prevail over inconsistent provisions which may exist in local Acts. I have examined the precedents and there are many. The Administrations of both parties have provided recent examples. Section 262 of the Local Government Act 1972 is one. Section 81 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 is another. There is in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 a power of this kind which is subject to no parliamentary procedure at all.
In the clause before us now the orders will be used to amend or repeal local Act powers which are inconsistent with the provisions of Part III of this Bill. They will not remove any power to carry out 73 work which may exist in local Acts, but simply ensure that when carrying out such works, the financial requirements of this Bill bite just as they do on "works contracts" and "functional work".
I said that before the Secretary of State could make an order, he would be required under subsection (3) to consult the local authority concerned. I repeat that again because I think it is important. With this safeguard, and Parliament having signalled its approval of the requirements for competitive tendering and proper accounting set out in this part of the Bill, we believe that it is unnecessary to require specific parliamentary approval of every application of these principles to individual authorities. To do so we feel would not be an appropriate use of Parliament's time. With my other observations on the Negative Resolution procedure, I ask the noble Lord not to press the amendment.
§ Lord UNDERHILL
My Lords, the noble Lord said that it is a reserve power; but then he said that he could not ask that Parliament shall waste its time on all the applications. Therefore, there is a possibility that there may be a number of applications, not merely just a reserve power. I can recall the arguments at Committee stage about the difference between Negative and Affirmative Resolution procedures by noble Lords with far greater experience than I who came down in favour of using the Affirmative Resolution procedure in a case like this. I have looked through the Bill and there are numerous examples of where the Affirmative Resolution procedure is being proposed by the Government, and I should have thought that this is one which is of great importance. It affects the repeal or amendment of legislation. The Minister has made his position quite clear. Therefore, I will not withdraw, but I will ask this amendment to be negatived and will not call for a Division.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
§ Clause 21 [Part III—supplementary]:
§ 6.7 p.m.
Baroness FISHER of REDNAL moved Amendment No. 53:
Page 21, line 23, at end insert—
("Provided that no such order shall specify a date prior to 1st April 1982".).
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this particular amendment, it is true to say that all the local authority associations, the Association of Municipal Authorities, the Association of County Councils and the Association of District Councils, while they may not be exactly agreeing to the words of the amendment, have the same feeling that there is a need to give local authorities more time than is specified by the Secretary of State when he has given a date for commencement. That is, so far as I understand it, to come into operation on 1st April next year.
§ All the local authority associations have drawn attention to the Minister the fact that there is a great deal of work to be done on the implementation of the procedures to do with accountancy. These have not yet really been worked out. There are all the regulations and directions. Heaven knows! there are enough regulations to keep the Civil Service happy for years, I should imagine, in this first part of the Bill. All those have to be put to the local authorities. The Minister said in Committee that they would continue to listen to further arguments from the local authorities on what they wanted to put in on timing, but they would have to see how things went. They would need good, hard evidence if they were to move away from the targets set for this Part of the Bill.
§ The progress of the Bill—and I do not need to remind your Lordships about this—has been very, very seriously altered. The Bill will not get the Royal Assent until practically at the end of this session. Therefore, this gives perhaps four months for local authorities to start changing over their procedures, especially those matters that are to do with maintenance. This is going to be a new set of documentation; a new set of alterations; and it will be of profound importance to local authorities that, to start with, they get this right. The tendering documents that will have to be issued for maintenance are something that the local authorities have to feel their way on and make sure that the right action is taken in the beginning, bearing in mind that that depends on whether or not they stay in business. If they do not get the tendering documents correct to start with, that might be a future hazard for them.75
§ So I would ask the Minister to recognise the great difficulties that local authorities are to be placed in and some of the difficulties that are being put in their path. I would ask the Minister whether he would look again at this matter and make sure that all the negotiations have been gone through with the local authority associations. What we are asking for in this amendment is for the date to be delayed for 12 months. That will obviously help those local authorities which are going to work with the Secretary of State to try to make this work. The three-year period in earning a rate of return on capital will be much easier for them if they are given that 12 months' grace. I beg to move.
§ Lord SANDFORD
My Lords, I again rise to support this amendment, as I did in Committee and as did my noble friend Lord Ridley on behalf of the Association of County Councils, because it is perfectly true that all the associations feel that this part of the Bill is being thrust upon them. On the other hand, I have an amendment of my own shortly to be considered and I should like to speak to that now, because it seeks to apply this delay in respect of this Part of the Bill in connection with one or two items. As my noble friend said at Committee stage, it is true that the authorities know what is to be contained in the regulations to control tendering, as set out in Clauses 5 and 7. I still think the time is short to get all this into operation, but the Government have made that clear.
On the other hand, when we turn to the accounting and financial side of the matter, my noble friend said in Committee that the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accounting is developing, with the Department of the Environment's support, a standard computer system to enable authorities to meet the requirements laid down in the Bill. That may be so, but I am advised that it will not be ready in time to meet the requirements of the Bill that come into force in April 1981. It may be ready at some time after that and will then be useful, but it is certainly not going to be available and put into effect by the introduction date of April 1981. Although it is true to say that a draft code of practice prepared by the same Chartered Institute has been 76 available since July, a draft is not the same thing as a settled set of regulations approved by Parliament. Therefore, for those two reasons I think there is a case to be made for considering delay in introducing the accounting parts of this procedure, even if there is not quite such a strong case for delaying the tendering arrangements. I shall be interested to hear how my noble friend justifies the introduction of the accounting and financial side of this matter when the preparations are at this early stage.
§ Lord DIGBY
My Lords, the county councils have only a small number of direct labour organisations, but we have done a survey of our members and this shows that this part of the Bill will result in the need for 331 new technical officers and 54 new accountants. These will be required regardless of when it comes into force, but in the first year it is obviously going to be that much more difficult to get the organisation going. I should particularly like to support my noble friend Lord Sandford, who says that the CIPFA computer accounts programme will not be ready until probably next year. The noble Lord, Lord Bell-win, said that we had had lots of warning, but when you are talking of this number of staff, surely you cannot employ them in advance of a code of practice which has not yet been approved and the form of which you do not exactly know. Most local authorities do not have surplus manpower.
§ Lord BELLWIN
My Lords, I do not know where this figure of 331 technical officers comes from and, with great respect to my noble friend, I just do not accept it at all. I should want a lot more information (a) as to exactly how the figure is arrived at, and (b) how this work would fit into the existing work which such officers already carry out; because time and time again when new requirements have been put upon local authorities and when so many of them have said: "That's going to need so many extra staff" I have heard them go on to say, "How are we going to absorb this with our present staff"? It means everyone pushing up; it means looking again at the distribution of work; it means considering doing exactly what a private business would do, faced with extra work imposed upon it. So while I do not for a 77 moment say that my noble friend is wrong—and indeed how can I, when I do not even know the basis of how he makes it up?—I must nevertheless put a reservation on it as such.
I fully understand the local authorities' wish that the implementation of this part of the Bill should be delayed. On the other hand I am equally conscious of the strength of the concern in the building industry and among ratepayers who foot the bills for DLOs that we should act as soon as possible to ensure that no further public money is wasted by inefficient building departments. In saying that, I do not mean all of them. The noble Baroness and I had a little interchange on that point the other day and I think we probably agreed at least upon this point between us: that they were not all inefficient and that they were not all efficient. How could they be?
But, my Lords, we have to strike a balance. We believe that the authorities have had time to put their houses in order, though not, as my noble friend Lord Digby said, to be able to look at the nuts and bolts of exactly what is required: that is understandable. But the fact is that we are going back in time to August of last year, and I should have thought that responsible local authorities would have started moving in the right direction. Indeed I am sure that most of them have, and that implementation is still possible. We have made concessions to ease the burden of starting the new system, with easier tendering requirements—particularly the freeing of all maintenance work below £10,000 and of all highway authorities' winter maintenance programmes from compulsory tendering, together with de minimis exemption for the smallest authorities.
There have been concessions also in one or two other minor ways. But we really cannot offer further relaxations. Whenever the time comes, it is always at that moment that you have to get to it. I believe this is what local authorities will do, because in matters of this kind the track record is a very good one. I have seen so many things brought in that had to be taken on board, and were taken on board. My goodness me! I pay a tribute to many of them for the way they have done those things. I am sure they will do this the same way.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord for a little information? Having declared a moratorium on all building, where is the opportunity for all this wastage that is somewhere in the lost horizon? What would it do to the Government to delay the implementation, as asked for by a number of experts, and give the local authorities a chance to think about how to get the increased staff they will need? There will be a need for increased staff, and I sincerely ask him whether he can say if the moratorium on housing has altered the meaning of this clause and its implementation and purpose.
§ Baroness FISHER of REDNAL
My Lords, I am sorry that the Minister has given the reply that he has. As the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said, together with the noble Lord who spoke on behalf of the ACC, these are the local authority bodies speaking for the whole of the country. I might have thought that the Minister would not accept it because I was speaking: that might be the voice of the Association of Municipal Authorities and therefore not perhaps particularly important to his party's thinking. I should not have disagreed with that. But the fact that all the local authority associations are concerned about the starting date shows that the Government think very poorly of those who serve on local authorities up and down the country, and take no notice of those officers who guide and give information to councillors.
The noble Lord who spoke on behalf of the ACC gave some figures. I should be the last one to challenge those figures, but the authorities themselves would challenge them, especially the ACC. They would want to make sure that they were doing their best for the Government and helping to get the Bill through. It seemed quite serious for those figures to be challenged.
I must remind the Minister that all local authorities have been trying to cut back their staffs. That is what the Government have told them to do, so that is what they have been doing. They have been doing their very best to cut back. I want to make particular reference 79 to the maintenance departments. Their whole revamping will have to be looked at in a different light. People will not follow the normal pattern of costing and there will be a completely new accounting procedure. I am sorry that the Minister cannot accept the amendment and I intend to press it to a Division.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ On Question, whether the said amendment (No. 53) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 71; Not-Contents, 108.81
|Airedale, L.||Gregson, L.||Oram, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Hale, L.||Peart, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Halsbury, E.||Phillips, B.|
|Bernstein, L.||Hampton, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Beswick, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Birk, B.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Ridley, V.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Howie of Troon, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Bowden, L.||Jacques, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Segal, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Shinwell, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Kirkhill, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Collison, L.||Lee of Newton, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|David, B. [Teller.]||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Stone, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Loudoun, C.||Strauss, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Digby, L.||McCarthy, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Maelor, L.||Wade, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Milverton, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Minto, E.||Whaddon, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Mishcon, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Noel-Baker, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Ogmore, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Abercorn, D.||Ellenborough, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Elliot of Harwood, B.||Mansfield, E.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Exeter, M.||Marley, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Freyberg, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Alport, L.||Gage, V.||Mills, V.|
|Atholl, D.||Gainford, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Avon, E.||Glenkinglas, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Barnby, L.||Gormanston, V.||Morris, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Cowrie, E.||Mottistone, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Haig, E.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Northchurch, B.|
|Boardman, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Harvington, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Hatherton, L.||Pender, L.|
|Brookes, L.||Henley, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Hill of Luton, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Holderness, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Reigate, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Inglewood, L.||Renton, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Kemsley, V.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Keyes, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Cottesloe, L.||Killearn, L.||Savile, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Kinnaird, L.||Seafield, E.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Kinross, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Croft, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|Croham, L.||Long, V.||Spens, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Luke, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Lyell, L.||Torphichen, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Trenchard, V.||Vernon, L.||Wise, L.|
|Trumpington, B.||Vickers, B.||Wynford, L.|
|Vaizey, L.||Watkinson, V.||Young, B.|
|Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 6.30 p.m.
Lord SANDFORD had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 53A:
Page 21, line 23, at end insert ("provided that no such order in respect of the accounting and financing provisions shall specify a date prior to 1st April 1982.".).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I had intended to move this amendment, but in the light of the result of the Division all I wish to say is that I think that that decision will in the end lead the Government to recognise that it will be a case of more haste, less speed, and, I am afraid, much greater cost.
§ [Amendment 53A not moved.]
§ Clause 22 [Right of councillor to opt for financial loss allowance]:
The Earl of MANSFIELD moved Amendment No. 54:
Page 22, line 33, leave out ("(7)") and insert ("(3)").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment is necessary to correct either a printing error or a drafting mistake. It is designed to ensure that the Bill is internally consistent and also to clarify any doubts about the application of this clause to Scotland. The effect of the amendment is to create a new subsection within the clause which explicitly disapplies the whole of the clause to Scotland. I beg to move.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, this is a very important amendment. I am vet y glad that the Scottish Office was awake at the time that I made the point at the Committee stage: that to put in that it would not apply to Scotland when what we are seeking to do is to put a new clause into a purely English Act, was otiose. But I hope that the Scottish Office realise what they are doing. We cannot make one amendment without making sure that all the consequential amendments are also made. If any Scot wants to know how much of this applies 82 to Scotland and starts at the beginning of the Bill and reads it through, he will have a devil of a job. No Scottish Act of Parliament should be dealt with in this particular way. But if he does want to find out, he goes to Clause 185, whose rubric is "Scotland". Subsection (1) says that Parts V, IX, XIV, XV and XVII of this Act apply to Scotland to the extent specified in so-and-so. And subsection (2) says that Parts VI, VIII, X and XII of this Act do not apply to Scotland. This means that those parts which are not mentioned there apply entirely to Scotland. Noble Lords will notice that Part IV is not mentioned there at all and it is Part IV that we are now dealing with. We have just left out one subsection of Part IV, so obviously Part IV applies to Scotland only in part. When they come to it, will the Government undertake to amend Clause 185 so that simple-minded Scotsmen who have the sense to look it up as one thing which guides the application to Scotland will be able to he assisted in respect of Part IV? Otherwise, the amendment is impeccable.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I am happy to give the undertaking that the Scottish Office, whenever it arises from its slumbers, will pay regard to the more tautologous arguments of the noble Lord. It always does so.
§ Clause 23 [Amendments relating to allowances to members of local authorities and other bodies]:
§ [Amendment No. 54A not moved.]
The Earl of MINTO moved Amendment No. 55:
After Clause 24, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Vice-Chairmen of councils in Scotland and application of Part IV to Scotland
.—(1) The following section shall he inserted after section 3 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973:—
3A.—(1) A council may appoint a member of the council to be vice-chairman of the council.
(2) The vice-chairman shall hold office until the expiry of the term of office of the council.
(3) A person holding the office of vice-chairman shall be eligible for reelection as vice-chairman but shall cease to hold that office upon ceasing to be a councillor.
(4) Subject to any standing order made by council, anything authorised or required to be done by, to or before the chairman may be done by, to or before the vice-chairman.
(5) A council may pay the vice-chairman, for the purpose of enabling him to meet the expenses of his office, such allowance as the council think reasonable.
§ (2) Section 22 above does not extend to Scotland, and this section extends to Scotland only.").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, during the Committee stage I moved a very similar amendment whose object was to bring Scotland into line with England and Wales and to allow it to have the same privileges and provisions. During the Committee stage the amendment was very much shorter. It was that a council in Scotland may appoint a member of the council to be vice-chairman of the council and then, having appointed him for the purpose of enabling him to meet the expenses of his office, to claim such allowance as the council may think reasonable.
§ This provision already exists in the Local Government Act 1972, but it does not exist in the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that it should, for at present the chairmen of the councils in Scotland are immensely overworked and rely entirely upon vice-chairmen, who are technically not vice-chairmen although they are carrying out the jobs of vice-chairmen. They also rely upon the good will of those people, since the councils are not able in any case to make suitable allowances to them. In making that particular amendment during the Committee stage, I was very grateful to receive support from all parts of the Committee. The noble Earl the Minister of State was kind enough to say that in view of that lie would take back the matter and have another look at it. On that understanding, I withdrew the amendment.
§ Since that time I have received a letter from the noble Earl the Minister and 84 Amendment No. 55 is a copy of a suggested draft that the Minister sent to me. It is slightly longer than mine was originally, for the simple reason that I had automatically assumed that if one retired from a council one would no longer be vice-chairman of it, and one or two other small items like that. But the draftsmen must be safe. Consequently, the amendment has become longer.
§ However, subsection (1) is entirely in keeping with my original amendment, and I am most grateful to the noble Earl for having sent this advice to me. Subsection (2) touches a little upon a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, commented upon a moment ago. It is a tidying-up purpose. By including in subsection (2) that Section 22 above does not extend to Scotland, and that this section only extends to Scotland, it is hoped that simple-minded Scots like the noble Lord and I will understand what does and what does not apply to Scotland.
§ In conclusion, the amendment in subsection (1) is something which I genuinely believe that councils in Scotland require. As we all know, at present they are overburdened. Individuals are unquestionably carrying a great responsibility upon their shoulders. I trust very much that this amendment may meet with the approval of your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, as the noble Earl has said, this amendment is acceptable to the Government. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the noble Earl for drawing the anomaly to our attention and for providing the means of rectifying it. The second part of the new clause, subsection (2), will require a consequential amendment to Clause 185, which has been tabled in my name.
§ The Earl of MINTO
My Lords, may I thank the noble Earl for his response and for kindly explaining the consequential aspect of subsection (2).
§ Clause 25 [Disclosure of information]:
§ 6.40 p.m.
Lord BELLWIN moved Amendment No. 56:
Transpose Clause 25 to after Clause 175.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment transposes Clause 25 from Part IV of the Bill, which deals with local government allowances, to which it is not relevant, to a more appropriate place in the Bill. I beg to move.
§ Clause 26 [New Valuation lists]:
Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 57:
Leave out Clause 26.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this matter was discussed and voted on at Committee stage, but we are still not happy about the arrangements that are laid down in this clause; neither are the local authorities nor the local authority associations. I am moving the deletion of the clause to give the Government the opportunity once again to have a look at this point.
§ Briefly, what the clause does is to remove the statutory requirement for five-yearly rating revaluations and replace it with the power for the Secretary of State to order, with the agreement of both Houses of Parliament, a revaluation from time to time. This again is giving a particular power to the Secretary of State and, as was pointed out at the Committee stage by, I think, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, there have been only three revaluations since the war, and all under Conservative Governments. Therefore, it seems odd to celebrate this by abolishing the necessity to have a look every year to decide whether there should be revaluation.
§ Under the existing law, without this clause Parliament has to agree every year if a revaluation is to be postponed, whereas under Clause 26, if this were enacted and became part of the Bill (which we hope it will not) Parliament would hear of rating revaluations only when a Secretary of State saw fit to order revaluations. If revaluations are not carried out regularly the tax base is held at an artificially low level and anomalies in valuations arise both between different classes of property within a local authority area and in the level of valuations between local authorities themselves. As a result the tax base can become extremely unfair 86 as well as outdated, and can also distort the distribution of Government grants to local authorities.
§ For these reasons, in company with many local authorities and certainly the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, we believe that Clause 26 should he deleted from the Bill. I hope that in the intervening time since the Committee stage the Government have been able to take the opportunity to look into this subject and to see the really telling arguments in favour of the deletion of this clause, which are certainly not on a party political basis. I beg to move.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend. We dealt with this matter at some length in the Committee stage and we are still concerned that while this clause remains in the Bill Parliament will hear about rating revaluations only as and when the Secretary of State sees fit to order such a revaluation. We all know that if revaluations are not carried out at regular intervals the tax base is held at an artificially low level and it becomes unfair and out of date, which in turn affects and distorts the distribution of Government grants to the local authorities. That in turn gives rise to substantial injustices between individual ratepayers in the size of the rate burden that they are all asked to bear.
Nothing that has been said from the Government Benches so far during the progress of this Bill has detracted from the suspicion that the clause may be a prelude leading to the abolition of domestic rates and towards a total dependence on Government block grant. If and when that happens it will be the end of democratic local government as we know it, because unless the revaluations are kept up to date the local authorities will be put to very serious disadvantage. We said, both at Second Reading and at Committee stage, that noble Lords opposite do not seem to appreciate that rates are the tax base of the local authorities. They base their revenue estimate upon rates; rates are all that local authorities have to live on to survive, and every time revaluation is postponed it means a greater burden on local authorities to finance those services that they have to provide. Then along comes a Bill like this one, 87 seeking to introduce a system obliging the local authorities to hold their rates down to the levels prescribed by the Secretary of State. We shall go on in Part IV of the Bill to look at the reformed type of the grant, which is very much dependent on rateable value. We maintain that the block grant cannot be fairly and equitably determined unless there is a regular revaluation. I hope that since the Committee stage the Government have had time to think and to decide that this clause could go.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)
My Lords, as has been said, we had a fairly full debate on this clause in Committee and in fact the Committee divided on the Question whether this clause should stand part of the Bill before it decided to retain it in tit, Bill. I accept, of course, that the valuation lists provide the tax base for the local authorities. I also accept that the longer the time between one revaluation and the next the more there is risk of anomaly growing up, but one has to balance that against the cost of mounting a revaluation. I mentioned at the Committee stage that the party of the present Government had a reasonable record in this connection as compared possibly with that of the party opposite, not to make any political point but just to underline that the Government would not willingly depart from a system of revaluation at fairly regular intervals unless there was good reason; and we consider that there is extremely good reason in the present circumstances.
The present circumstances are that the Government are engaged in a fundamental review of the rating system and alternatives to domestic rating. While this is going on it would be quite inappropriate to proceed with a revaluation previously planned for 1982. For the future it seems appropriate to keep the position flexible, as proposed in this clause and in Clause 28. Under the provisions of these two clauses we should be able to mount a revaluation in the future if that seemed desirable following our review; and under Clause 28 such a revaluation might be either across the board, or for one class of property only; for example, for non-domestic or domestic property. These possibilities exist but it would be quite wrong to seek to tie the position down more tightly 88 before the review is complete. I think that also implicit in that is that the review is going on, no decisions on this matter have yet been reached, the review has entered a very difficult stage and there is no truth at all in the suggestion that the Government have already decided what is to be the outcome of the review. Accordingly, I ask your Lordships not to agree with this amendment.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, may I ask a question? What I find difficult is this. We are having rapid and short-term increases in everything from postage stamps onwards and now this Bill seems to he abolishing altogether the quinquennial system while we are searching for a necessary new system of rating. The frenetic changes of costs upset more than ever the lower income groups in the case of heating, lighting and rates. In a depression period I think a little stability in this area would be worth while. My idea is that this Bill will increase instability in local rates and will cause much dissension.
§ Lord MACKAY of CLASHFERN
On the contrary, my Lords, there will perhaps be even more stability available in the valuation list than under a revaluation system.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
My Lords, may I say how much I welcome the indication my noble and learned friend has given that the Government are reviewing the rating system, because the rating system is. I think rightly, extraordinarily unpopular, very unjust in its incidence, and if a better system can be evolved, as personally I believe it can be, this will be a very great improvement indeed. May I add one further thing. If another system is evolved I hope it will take into account the impact of the rating system on industry and business. In industry we carry very heavy rate liabilities, and of course we have no local government vote. It is a classic example of taxation without representation.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I think we have had from the Minister an admission that the Government are considering the abolition of the domestic rate, and in the questions that followed both my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek and the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, were really making the same sort of point from perhaps 89 a slightly different standpoint. It seems to me what they were saying, and what I am saying in winding up on this amendment, is, if the Government are intending to change the rating system then they have no right, in our opinion, to change what is happening at the present time unless they are bringing forward a viable alternative. If they are considering changing it, then why not leave well alone at the present time?
My noble friend Lord Davies was absolutely right. The Government do not seem to appreciate that this is going to mean either a 5 per cent. increase in income tax or 5 per cent. on VAT. There really has been no argument put forward by the Minister which really substantiates what is Clause 26, and we have gone quite a bit further than at Committee stage. It does seem to me quite extraordinary that the Government should be pressing on with this when they admit that they are reconsidering the whole subject and every argument put forward has been for leaving things as they are at the moment while considering what to do in the future. If the Minister cannot now say that he has seen the point, and there seems to be a reason for looking at it again on Third Reading, I am afraid I shall have to press this amendment for the deletion of the clause.
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
My Lords, I find it slightly difficult to follow every single clause through all the stages of this very complicated Bill. Did I understand the Minister to say that on this
§ particular clause we had had the same amendment and divided on it at Committee stage?
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
My Lords, I do not think that in the 11 years I have been in the House I have ever known the House divide on exactly the same amendment at two successive stages. I do not think that this is a precedent we should set, and I ask the Opposition Front Bench to think again.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, if, with the leave of the House, I may reply, it is not quite the same amendment, because this amendment is to delete the clause and I think I am right in saying that the amendment on Committee was to alter the words. If the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, thinks it is improper for the House to do this, he is wrong. This is something of such consequence—and we have heard what the Minister has now admitted, so the answer is different from the previous answer—that the House should have an opportunity to vote again. It is put in a different way.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 57) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 52; Not-Contents, 111.91
|Airedale, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Oram, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Hale, L.||Peart, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Bernstein, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Birk, B.||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Jacques, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Bowden, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Kirkhill, L.||Segal, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Lee of Newton, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Chitnis, L.||Stone, L.|
|Collison, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Strauss, L.|
|David, B.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||McCarthy, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Maelor, L.||Wade, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Mishcon, L.||Welis-Pestell, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Noel-Baker, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Ogmore, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Abercorn, D.||Allerton, L.||Barnby, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Alport, L.||Bellwin, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Avon, E.||Belstead, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Bethell, L.||Newall, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Halsbury, E.||Northchurch, B.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Hanworth, V.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Harvington, L.||Pender, L.|
|Brookes, L.||Hatherton, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Henley, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Caithness, E.||Hill of Luton, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Holderness, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Renton, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Kemsley, V.||Ridley, V.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Keyes, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Killearn, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Croft, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Sandys, L. [Teller.|
|Cross, V.||Kinnaird, L.||Savile, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Kinross, L.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|Davidson, V.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Spens, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Long, V.||Stamp, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Loudoun, C.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Digby, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Luke, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Lyell, L.||Torphichen, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Mansfield, E.||Trenchard, V.|
|Gage, V.||Marley, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Gainford, L.||Mills, V.||Vaizey, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Minto, E.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Glcnkinglas, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Gormanston, V.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Vickers, B.|
|Gowrie, E.||Morris, L.||Watkinson, V.|
|Grimston of Westburv, L.||Mottistone, L.||Wise, L.|
|Haig, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Wynford, L.|
On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Resolved in the negative and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Lord TREFGARNE
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be adjourned until 7.45 p.m.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 7.2 until 7.45 p.m.]